Monday, November 30, 2009 

Mine Fuhrer, 25 years later.

Only just been alerted (ht: John B) to a rather famous Sun front page which never was: the Mine Fuhrer Arthur Scargill front page from the height of the miners' strike in 1984, courtesy of the-sauce:

It never saw the light of day thanks to the production chapels mass-refusing to set it - something which Murdoch and MacKenzie ensured would never happen again when News International moved to Wapping two years later, smashing the print unions, something which continues to be contentious to this day.

Do have to disagree with John B's additional comments, therefore, that "printworkers shouldn't have a veto over editorial content, however vile." The old motto is "publish and be damned", but if say the printworkers could have blocked "THE TRUTH", as they perhaps could have done had the unions not been crushed, it would have certainly prevented additional pain being piled upon an already grieving city. They would have been the only ones capable of keeping MacKenzie in check - something which the hacks themselves either couldn't or were unwilling to do. More recently it has still taken union power rather than individual power to stop the Daily Star from running a "Daily Fatwa" page, which promised a page 3 lovely in a niqab, while the union reps on the same paper complained also to the Press Complaints Commission that they were under pressure to write "anti-gypsy" reports. Overruling the editorial staff when they go too far, by threatening strike action if necessary, is better than the alternative.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009 

Weekend links.

Straight into it this week. Paul Linford and Craig Murray have thoughts on the Iraq inquiry, Pickled Politics has the news that yet another "former member" of the BNP has been charged with terrorist offences, Nosemonkey and Sunder Katwala have the lowdown on Lord Pearson, the new leader of UKIP, Chris Dillow moderates a debate on whether higher taxes on the rich raise more revenue, Dave Osler and Shiraz Socialist monitor the funding of schools with links to Hizb ut Tahrir, both of which note that under the Tory education plans more such developments are likely, Paulie calls for the restrictions on industrial action to be ended, Anton Vowl sort of answers whether blogging is journalism or vice versa, the Heresiarch considers the Gary McKinnon case and Tabloid Watch takes note of the great silence on various matters.

In the papers, or at least their sites, Janice Turner compares and contrasts Jordan (i.e. Katie Price, not the country) and Dubai, while Matthew Parris says Blair saw going to war with Iraq as a "no-brainer", with Mary Dejevesky calling for the former prime minister to be brought to the witness stand as soon as possible. General Sir Michael Rose says Blair should stand trial, Peter Oborne asks who else in the cabinet at the time should be held to account and Chris Ames wonders just who decides if a war is legal. Away from the Chilcot inquiry, Pollyanna Toynbee argues good politicians try to change public opinion, while Marina Hyde won't be mourning GMTV.

As for worst tabloid article, the easy winner this week is the Sun deciding that the Ministry of Justice using "young person" instead of "youths" is political correctness. The same newspaper which in the opening sentence describes those guilty of a criminal offence for which they've been cautioned for as "yobs", which certainly isn't reverse political correctness. The editorial though deserves some kind of reward for managing to bring in a reference to 1984 and "newspeak": somehow I get the feeling that if Murdoch decried it, Oceania would have always been at war with Eastasia and not Eurasia.

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Friday, November 27, 2009 

Gary McKinnon and the special relationship.

Remember the Natwest Three? Back when bankers weren't public enemy one and were instead public enemy number two, three men who subsequently pleaded guilty to wire fraud put up a quite extraordinary if ultimately unsuccessful fight against extradition to the United States to face the charges. Initially portrayed as bankers mostly are now, they quickly, with the help of a couple of PR firms, became innocent family men, concerned not just for themselves but others at the unfairness of an extradition treaty which the US itself had not then ratified, at the potential treatment they faced at the hands of a foreign and brutal judicial and prison system, and at the impact it could have on the "business community" as a whole.

Once they were extradited, it predictably turned out that they were both guilty as hell and treated with fairness and relatively leniency, thanks to a plea bargain they agreed to. In fact, they're already back here, in good ol' cushy UK prisons and likely to be released at the end of the year. In all likelihood, if Gary McKinnon is eventually extradited to the US, he will probably be treated in much the same way, especially if he then "cooperates" on arrival in a similar fashion.

He shouldn't though have to take the chance. The key differences between the Natwest Three case are that firstly, McKinnon's crime directly involves the American state, which in time-honoured tradition seems determined to make him suffer for humiliating them by exposing their laughable computer security, secondly that the crime is nowhere near as serious, or shouldn't be as serious as the wire fraud committed by the Three, and thirdly that McKinnon, supposedly "hacking" to find information of a conspiracy to conceal evidence of extraterrestrials, has Asperger's syndrome. Also of note is that the American prosecutors deliberately waited until the extradition treaty had been ratified to make the request for him to be sent to the country for trial.

Quite clearly, McKinnon could easily have been tried in this country and put this all behind him long ago. That the government hasn't ensured that this has happened is, on one level, bewildering. New Labour has always loved populism, and to deny the extradition of McKinnon would certainly be popular, especially when the Daily Mail has launched one of its few worthwhile campaigns demanding just that. The key factor here though is that it involves America: we scratch their back repeatedly and very, very occasionally, they scratch ours in return, as when Hillary Clinton backed up the government case that revealing information related to the treatment of Binyam Mohamed could affect the intelligence sharing between the two nations. Because of the infatuation that both main parties have with the idea of the "special relationship", a relationship special only in the terms of how abusive and one-sided it is, we continue to act as little more than the 51st state, something that delights politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. They get a helpful little ally, our politicians get to feel big on the world stage. As for small things like justice, they pale into insignificance by comparison.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009 

Adapting to protest and adapting to the government's position.

It's an increasingly rare thing these days for an organisation to conduct a review into itself and actually find that not everything is as good as it could be. For that alone, Denis O'Connor and Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary, with their report "[A]dapting to protest", undertaken following the police riot at the G20 protests, deserve recognition. While hardly a blistering assault upon the piecemeal way in which the different forces police protests, it also doesn't pull its punches. O'Connor finds that there are no clear standards regarding the use of force for individual officers when it comes to policing protests; that there is little attention paid to the use by individual officers of batons or "distraction techniques"; that different forces have a different understanding of the "proper use" of public order police powers, as demonstrated by the climate camp protests in 2006 and 2008, and also at the G20; that some forces cannot even provide a "minimal accredited public order command structure"; that training and guidance is out of date; that there is inadequate training in law, especially human rights, and when it comes to the use of Forward Intelligence Teams; and that inappropriate use of public order powers is widespread.

Equally, O'Connor's recommendations are difficult to fault. He proposes that the police adopt a fundamental set of principles on the use of force that runs as "a golden thread" through all policing, not just that of protests, based around the minimum use; that public order policing across the board should be codified so that the use of powers, equipment and tactics is consistent; that public order training be improved, especially since individual officers are themselves legally accountable for their actions; that the Association of Chief Police Officers should have its status reviewed, especially considering its role in policy making, most notoriously of late designating legitimate protesters as "domestic extremists"; and probably most significantly, keeping communication open constantly with protesters and the public, especially with protest groups' representatives.

All this is meant, in O'Connor's mind, to ensure that the historic principle of policing by consent, as philosophised and introduced by Robert Peel, does not break down. The obvious problem with this is that while it's difficult to pin down exactly when this compact irrevocably broke when it came to the policing of protests, although the report itself notes that the clashes between the blackshirts and anti-fascists in the 30s were far more significant breakdowns in public order than many of our modern equivalents, irrevocably break down it did long ago. Policing by consent does still exist when it comes to the average bobby on the beat, but when it comes to protests, especially those that occur on the relative spur of the moment and when they concern relative matters of life and death, it's difficult for a good-natured and friendly relationship between protesters and those that are in control of them to exist, and to pretend that it can be maintained is relatively naive. Often on these occasions relative control can still be exercised, but it depends on those who are pushing their luck either being told in no uncertain terms to calm down, or on them being arrested, potentially both for their own good and to ensure that the protest as a whole doesn't embarrass both sides. For all the times when the police are rightly criticised for their actions, sometimes even protesters recognise that those amongst them are just out to cause trouble: this was the case back in January, during the protests in London against the Israeli attack on Gaza. Some of the trouble can be put down to both sides underestimating the numbers who were going to turn out, but also down to the police failure to separate those out who were determined to attack the police or property early enough. As much as protesters loathe the Forward Intelligence Teams that indiscriminately film protests for their own records, some of it is justified, if only so that the idiots can be filtered out to the benefit of both sides.

While O'Connor himself can hardly be blamed for focusing on the present, it's instructive that the policing of protests is only now considered controversial, mainly because of how the internet and modern media has ensured that the police (and indeed, the protesters themselves) can be held to account. After all, it's not as if the police have only suddenly disgraced themselves with how they treat legitimate protests; it's been going on for decades, whether you go back to the 70s marches where the National Front was often favoured against those protesting against them, to the Battle of Orgreave, the poll tax riots, the May Day protests of the 90s and early 00s, right up to the Countryside Alliance protest outside parliament during the pass of the fox hunting bill and more recent examples. It's also not just these more notorious cases, but the other, smaller marches, where outrageous police behaviour has often gone completely unnoticed by the national media. One thing O'Connor fails to address is that often it's been the very officers that are dedicated to control protests that have been amongst the very worst offenders; whether the Special Patrol Group or the modern equivalent the Territorial Support Group, these officers often seem to be selected not because of their powers of mediation, but because of their very obstinacy, quickness to use of force and general disdain for protesters of every hue. It may be that officers drafted in to control large protests aren't trained properly, and as a result of probably being as frightened and as uncertain as the protesters themselves can lash out and act defensively, but it's often those who have been specially trained that are the very worst. A special review of those in these groups and an emphasis on facilitating the right to protest would have been especially welcome as an additional recommendation.

The largest hole in O'Connor's report though has nothing to do with the police themselves; it is the influence of government itself upon the policing of protest. It's easily forgotten that this government has been one of the most ruthless at suppressing protest in living memory, that as well as banning protests within a mile of Westminster without prior permission, it attempted and almost succeeded in banning the biggest protest march in this country of all time, the Feb 15th 2003 anti-Iraq war protest, by claiming that to do so would damage the grass of Hyde Park. More recently it has connived with those being targeted by the likes of Climate Camp, directly handing over intelligence on individuals to the companies running the power stations. The support the government has given to the police, on almost every single thing they have done or been criticised over, has been total. Even Ken Livingstone, hardly a prior fan of the Met, defended Ian Blair and his force to the hilt after the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes. When you give such total, unconditional support, and shrink from criticising anything, you invite them to believe themselves unaccountable. To be fair to New Labour when it doesn't deserve it, it's not that this is new; the Tories did much the same, but not to the same extent. Every single new power which you give to the police is abused, most recently uncovered that the granting of the power of arrest for any offence has resulted in the taking of DNA profiles to continually enlarge the database, almost certainly by stealth and without any debate. Unless the government itself decides that protest as a whole is legitimate, and should be facilitated rather than something which it has to put up with, there's little hope of the police themselves introducing such an enlightened stance.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009 

More 40 years of the Sun.

My colleague Sim-O has some more tit-bits from the latest Private Eye dealing with the Sun over on the Lies, but this from the satire pages probably captures 40 years of the Scum better than any of the various tributes paid to it:

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009 

How very strange...

Having been "cleared" by the PCC's ludicrous non-investigation into the Guardian's allegations of widespread phone hacking at the News of the World, editor at the time and now chief Tory spin doctor Andy Coulson must have thought that was an end to any controversy concerning his tabloid past. The only blot on the horizon was Matt Driscoll, a former sports reporter on the Screws, who Coulson sacked while he was off sick for stress-related depression. Driscoll, quite understandably, took News International to a tribunal, alleging that the route cause of his illness was due to the bullying he had suffered at the paper, led by none other than Coulson.

The tribunal decided back in December that Driscoll had been both unfairly dismissed and discriminated against on the grounds of disability, but only yesterday did the amount of compensation which Driscoll was awarded come to light. The tribunal decided upon a quite staggering £792,736, which with legal costs will probably amount to a total bill to News International of around a million. Adding in the costs of settling with Gordon Taylor and two others over the phone hacking allegations, Coulson has cost Murdoch in total around £2,000,000. For someone who despite being fabulously wealthy is remarkably parsimonious when it comes to others spending his money, Murdoch senior (and doubtless also junior) will be seething.

Not of course that you would know any of this if you read a paper other than the Grauniad. Neither the Times nor the Telegraph has so much has mentioned, either now or back in December that Coulson had been found to be bully in chief as well as editor in chief. On the one hand, it's not exactly a revelation that tabloid editors are not often the most sympathetic and understanding of individuals, and that while it's probably not as bad as it was when the pressures were much bigger back during the tabloid hey-day of the 80s, newsrooms aren't exactly the most enlightened of offices. On the other, what's most instructive, both of the battle of egos in such workplaces, and also potentially of Coulson's own character, is the petty way the bullying of Driscoll started. Driscoll failed to stand up a rumour that Arsenal were planning to play their last season at Highbury before moving to their new stadium in purple, commemorative shirts, rather than their traditional red and white, with the scoop instead being stolen by, of all papers, the Sun. You could perhaps understand Coulson's apparent ire more if Driscoll had failed to stand up a rumour on the equivalent of say, Ronaldo moving to Real Madrid for £80 million. A fairly poxy story about Arsenal playing in a different kit seems rather inconsequential, but not apparently to Coulson.

Again, you can perhaps understand why the tribunal's ruling was never going to lead to David Cameron giving Coulson the heave-ho. After all, one of the major parts of spin doctoring is in effect bullying and cajoling journalists, not to mention politicians, and that's without wondering whether there's any truth behind the more wildly fictional antics of Malcolm Tucker. Coulson has of course become even more useful as News International has drifted away from New Labour and over to the New Tories; few doubt that Coulson has been at the heart, not just of the discussions behind the Sun switching support to Cameron, but also at the far more significant negotiations concerning the almost wholesale adoption of policies to the benefit of News International, whether it be the quick abolition of Ofcom, one of the few quangos to be directly identified by Cameron as to be hurled onto the bonfire, the attacks on the BBC or the removal of the fuddy-duddy idea that television news has to be impartial, swiftly leading to the transformation of Sky News into a version of Fox News which America knows and loves and which Murdoch senior has long wanted to do. Also likely to be dismantled are the rules on media ownership, with Murdoch probably swallowing ITV whole, although the Sun seems to treat the channel as part of the family already regardless (although the Sky shareholding of 17.9% helps).

Even so, the worst that could be said of Alastair Campbell before he became Tony Blair's chief press officer was that he always treated his bosses, regardless of who they were, with unstinting loyalty, never more exemplified than when he punched Michael White after he made a joke about Robert Maxwell shortly after his death. He certainly wasn't accused by a tribunal of leading the bullying of a vulnerable, sick man he had ultimate authority over. It's worth remembering that back during the "Smeargate" storm in a teacup, when we suddenly discovered, horror of horrors, that spin doctors say unpleasant and sometimes untrue things to others, the impression we received that it was only nasty New Labour that did spin, and spin which brought politics into disrepute in itself. Coulson though now bears the distinction of being notorious for all the wrong reasons before he even gets near to running the media operation of a political party in actual power. The real spinning, it seems, has not even begun.

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Monday, November 23, 2009 

The daft correspondence post.

Excuse the lack of an actual post today. Instead I was delighted to receive the following email from Total Politics magazine:

Dear Obsolute,



I am writing from Total Politics magazine. We are a political lifestyle magazine with a circulation of 20,400, including MPs, MEPs, political journalists and all councillors down to district level. Each month we feature a ‘Blogger Profile’ in the magazine. This is a short piece of roughly 400 words, written by the blogger, answering a few broad questions that we set out. I was wondering whether you would consider featuring in the next edition of the magazine in this way? Thanks for your help,



Best Wishes



Catherine Shannon





---------



Catherine Shannon
Editorial Intern

TotalPolitics
Heal House
375 Kennington Lane
London
SE11 5QY

T: 020 7091 1260

Twitter: @tp_interns

This message is intended to be received and read by the person(s) to whom the underlying communication is addressed. The contents of and information contained in the message may be private and or confidential. If this message has been sent by mistake or malfunction to you and you are not the intended recipient, you should not make any use of it or otherwise reproduce it for any purpose or disclose or forward it to any person , other than to tell us that you have been sent it in error, or to delete the message without further use. Please would you as a matter of courtesy tell us you have received this message in error by calling us on +44 (0) 207 0911 260



Total Politics is an imprint of Biteback Media Limited
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© Biteback Media Limited 2009

To which the inevitable reply had to be:

Dear Katherine Channon (sic),
I would rather be buggered by a badger than appear in Lord Ashcroft and Iain Dale's self-aggrandising propaganda sheet.

Best Wishes

Obsolute

P.S. A rather interesting biog of old friend Dominic Whiteman has been posted up on SpinProfiles, while the first in the series on immigration are up on Lib Con.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009 

Weekend links.

Not a lot around this weekend, so I'll keep this relatively short and sweet. Paul Linford thinks the Queen's speech was another missed opportunity for Brown, 5CC discovers, incredibly, that carol singers haven't been banned, Sim-O has a look at the BNP's view of the equality act, Anton Vowl imagines that Rupert Murdoch is completely benign, and also takes a gander at the comment of both Peter Hobbins and the red ink brigade in the Mail's section, the Heresiarch notes the EU's unelectoral politics while Sunder Katwala has a fascinating early history of ethnic minority candidates and representatives, circa the turn of the last century.

In the papers, or at least their sites, Matthew Parris doesn't think much of the Queen's speech, Janice Turner is not very convincing on how a small band of warriors turned away the scourge of modern life which is lap dancing, Andrew Grice has some background to how out of nowhere, Baroness Ashton became the EU's foreign minister, Christina Patterson notes what we have to learn from the Sikh who might become the BNP's first non-white electoral candidate and Peter Oborne thinks Blair looks haunted and has a lot to be haunted by.

As for worst tabloid article, the only real contender is Karol Sikora, who denounces NICE as a "Stalinist quango", denying cancer drugs which are available elsewhere in Europe. Clearly instead we should leave such decisions to elected ministers, who can't even begin to make a cost-effective analysis and are completely open to political pressure, from both campaigners and drug companies alike. This would also be the Mail that loathes taxes wanting even more money to be spent on drugs that give only the slightest amount of extra, often painful, life. Why not go the whole hog and call it a death panel, as the right in America seem to think the NHS is all about?

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Friday, November 20, 2009 

The war against evidence of torture continues.

How then goes our glorious government's consistent attempts to stop any primary evidence emerging of our collusion in, if not open acceptance of the use of torture when it came to interrogating suspects caught up in TWAT (the war against terror)?

This week brought rulings to please both sides. Yesterday, for the sixth straight time in a row, the high court rejected the claims of the Foreign Office that to reveal seven paragraphs of a CIA memo sent to MI5 and MI6, a memo which almost certainly details the "treatment" which Binyam Mohamed was being subjected to whilst detained in Pakistan, would damage national security and could potentially stop the CIA sharing information with us. This is, as the judges have repeatedly argued, preposterous. According to them, the memo contains no actual secret intelligence, instead rather a summary sent to the intelligence services on Mohamed. What the memo almost certainly does contain though is prima facie evidence that MI5 and MI6 knew years before they previously claimed that the US was either conniving in or actively mistreating prisoners indirectly under their care or supervision.

In the latest ruling, the judges make clear that one of the paragraphs makes reference to the infamous Bybee memo, released by the Obama administration earlier in the year. The Bybee memo details exactly how Abu Zubaydah, then the most senior al-Qaida operative in US custody, could be tortured, supposedly without breaching the prohibition against torture in the United States code. In a section which remains redacted, there is apparently a verbatim quote from the memo: apparently we can't see what the Americans have already released to the world. To infer, it looks as if the memo is justifying, or explaining to the intelligence services in this country, that Mohamed will be or has been treated in a similar fashion, and that because Bybee OKed it, there's nothing to worry about on the legality front.

The real reason then why the government is so determined to keep this memo secret is that it contradicts everything they have maintained over the alleged intelligence service collusion with torture. Not just the government story, but also the story which the intelligence services themselves have continuously thrust down our throats. They told the intelligence and security committee that they only joined together the dots on what the CIA was doing when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, claiming that despite knowing about the rendition programme, there was "no automatic connection between secret facilities and mistreatment". To call this laughable would be putting it too lightly; that the ISC believed this most blatant of lies, this lack of intellectual curiosity and complete failure to put two and two together is why it ought to be disbanded and a watchdog with real power to monitor the security services immediately set-up in its place.

While however the government will yet again appeal against the high court ruling, they must have been utterly delighted with the one made in the same parish by Mr Justice Silber. On Wednesday he ruled that MI5, MI6 and the police can potentially withhold evidence from defendants and their lawyers in any civil case, if it is determined to be "secret government information" which they seek. As the Binyam Mohamed memo case shows, what can be determined to be "secret government information" is remarkably elastic. Not that MI5, MI6 or the government could decide personally what is secret or isn't, oh no. Instead "special advocates", presumably the same that act for those being held on control orders and who can't be specifically told on what information their movement and rights are being restricted will decide. As Louise Christian complained afterwards, the judge's ruling effectively allows "government to rely on secret evidence in the ordinary civil courts ... a constitutional outrage".

As one window opens slightly, another is slammed shut. Not that is just us and the Americans who have disgraced ourselves: even the Canadians are finding that "the good war" means handing over captives to the Afghan intelligence services, and with it almost certainly into their torture dungeons. Interesting is the way that the Canadians are attacking Richard Colvin's credibility, just as the government has repeatedly done the same against the whistleblowers here. The taint on all of us is going to take an awfully long time to lift.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009 

Dumbing down Michael Gove style.

I'm not the biggest fan of Ed Balls, but anything that makes Michael Gove look like an utter tit is fine by me, via John B:



While over at Lib Con we're promised a series of articles on immigration, which look set to be essential reading.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009 

The Queen's last gasp.

The obvious response to the Queen's speech would to be to class it as the last gasp gesture of a government on its death bed; the sole remaining embers of a cigarette burnt down to the very end, offering not even the slightest nicotine kick; the last words of the condemned before being dropped through the trapdoor. For once, the obvious response is also the right one, although not necessarily for the reasons detailed by either Cameron or Clegg.

Clegg, in the increasingly hysterical fashion in which he seems to be deciding is the best way to lead his party, declared that the entire speech should have been cancelled so that politics could be "fixed". Cameron too, complained that "the biggest omission" was the cleaning up of expenses. Considering that the proposals from Sir Christopher Kelly in the main do not change anything with any great immediacy, except for the intake at the next election, the only real reason for urgency is to prove who has the hairiest shirt, as it was before. Clegg at least has purer motives in wanting the changing of the way we do politics as a whole, but the emphasis which both are continuing to place on the expenses scandal only encourages the view that nothing has changed, when it simply isn't the case. True, the complete changing of our system which some rather hopefully imagined might happen has not arrived, but then neither Labour and especially not the Tories have it in their interests to implement the likes of electoral reform. We're going to have to make do with what we have for now, and further alienating politics from the majority is not going to have a happy ending.

That said, there's not exactly anything to inspire absolutely anyone in this final dirge of bills. Labour has, unless it's saving the big hitters for the election, finally ran out of any remaining ideas it had. Cameron's ridiculously hyperbolic claim that this was the "most divisive, short-termist and shamelessly self-serving Queen's speech in living memory" was wrong, not because it's divisive, self-serving or short-termist, but because it serves absolutely no one, certainly not Labour themselves. The Tories will obviously claim that the commitment to end child poverty by 2020 is meant to embarrass them once they take over, but it would embarrass whoever's in power. Can anyone seriously believe that child poverty in its entirety will be ended at any point in time, let alone in 11 short years, without corners being cut or pledges being subtlety altered? Capitalism itself ensures that there will always be winners and losers; the poor, as the Bible earnestly predicted, will always be with us. It is, like Nick Clegg said while criticising the fiscal responsibility bill with its equivalent pledge of halving the deficit within 4 years, like legislating the pledge to get up in the morning, an empty gesture.

Empty gestures were however the order of the day, as Jenni Russell ruthlessly exposed in her critique of the "pupil and parent guarantees" in the education bill. Politics by magic wand is though increasingly popular: it's the exact same nonsense as "sending a message", whether it's through foreign policy or on drugs, somehow imagining that by raising cannabis back up to Class B the kids will realise that this isn't a safe drug after all and so reject it in favour of those other legal highs, the ones which the government isn't also attempting to criminalise. There was yet another in the Equality Bill, with the public sector having a duty to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Will this be done by cutting the ridiculous salaries which some chief executives on councils and other managerial types take home and "redistributing" them to the lower paid in the public sector? I somehow doubt it.

We should perhaps be grateful for small mercies. While there is an umpteenth crime bill, making it even easier for the police to carry stop and searches, which is simply guaranteed to cut crime at a stroke and have no negative consequences whatsoever, there is no new immigration bill. Missing though was the health bill, which was odd enough to prompt Cameron to ask where it was, even while he was lambasting the government for being addicted to "more big government and spending" and also the housing bill, both of which would have been popular with core Labour supporters. Perhaps they're being saved for the manifesto, but it does show that for Cameron's claim that this was all about electioneering (politics, in a Queen's speech, as Martin Kettle notes, how horrible!) Labour still hasn't brought out the really big guns as yet.

It did however make you wonder what the point of the entire exercise was. How many of these bills will actually make it to the statute book is impossible to know. That there are only 33 legislative days in the Lords though between January and when an election is likely to be called suggests that it won't be many, if any. Everyone in essence was going through the motions, gearing up for the real fight, which is still some distance away. Perhaps the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh could have been given the day off and some random individuals pulled off the street, put in fancy dress and lead in to read the interminable goatskin vellum. It would have been a sight more authentic than Cameron and Brown pretending to talk to each other as they walked into the Lords.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009 

The Sun's non-birthday and Graham Dudman's letter to the PCC.

How can you trust a newspaper which even lies about its age? The Sun itself would have you believe that today is its 40th birthday, as would the adverts which the paper is running, featuring various "celebrities" quoting some of its more famous headlines, although strangely it omits both "GOTCHA!" and "THE TRUTH", just as (in)famous as the others mentioned. The only real significant thing about 40 years ago today is that it was the first time the paper was published as a tabloid - it had been a broadsheet since the 15th of September 1964, after emerging from the ashes of the Daily Herald - and under the ownership of a certain Rupert Murdoch. He also lied from the very start - he told the IPC, whom he bought it from, that it would be a "straightfoward, honest newspaper".

Murdoch's pledge that it would always be a straightforward, honest newspaper, has naturally been carried down over the years from hack to hack, from editor to editor. During Rebekah Wade's reign, Graham Dudman, the paper's managing editor, did almost all the required television and radio interviews and appearances, as Wade herself was too shy and retiring, as well as liable also to put her foot in it. In the same way it seems, rather than the editor herself respond to such nuisances as a letter from the Press Complaints Commission investigating an article potentially in breach of its code, it fell instead to Dudman to do it. At long last, Tim over at Bloggerheads has posted the letter which Dudman sent to the PCC in response to their request for more information over the "TERROR TARGET SUGAR" Glen Jenvey report back in January. It makes for a highly revealing insight into how the tabloids regard both the PCC and those that complain to the organisation:

The complaint suggests that "the intent of the thread was to start a polite letter writing campaign to persuade the influential Jewish people that what Israel is doing in Gaza is wrong". With respect, we do not agree that the intent of the thread was simply to start a "polite letter writing campaign". It is clear from even just a cursory review that the Website carries numerous extreme views and is widely used by Islamic extremists to discuss radical and/or extremist subjects. We have reviewed both the thread which prompted the article and other threads on the Website and we have no doubt that it was reasonable for The Sun to describe the Website as a "fanatics website". For example, the Website contains one message board entitled "Does anyone here recognise Israel's right to exist" which contains threads that include quotes such as "Muslims are a patient people. Jews are a greedy people. Who will win in the end?" (posted by 'AbuMusaab' at 7:56am on 4 January 2009); "you are a fool if you think that the Muslims will let you live in peace" (posted by 'SunniHammer' at 8:39am on 4 January 2009); and "you won't find any peace until all of you thieves were kicked out from the Palestine inshallah" (posted by 'Ammarcool' at 9:56am on 4 January 2009). These are just three examples.

In light of this, in our view, to regard Islamic extremists as being in the business of sending "polite letters" is naive and extreme. This is based on the expert opinion of Glen Jenvey, an expert in radical Islam. In any event, as a matter of common knowledge, we are unaware of a single incident of Islamic extremists writing polite letters. It is quite obviously a euphemism which almost does not require expert opinion to establish.


Rather then than even allow a modicum of respect for the complainer, Dudman sets out from the very beginning to smear Ummah.com, just indeed as Jenvey himself did. Just as you could cherry-pick from the MySun forums what could be regarded as "extreme" views, the Sun finds a few predictably hot-headed opinions, as was the mood back in January, and presents this as evidence that the site was and is an extremist hotbed. Such extremists couldn't possibly then conceive of such a polite and dignified way of expressing their opinion by sending "polite letters"; it simply has to be a euphemism. And what's more, our expert, Glen Jenvey, says so.

Dudman then goes on to contradict himself:

The matters raised in the article are plainly matters of public interest. Exposing, even at the earliest of stages, a proposed conspiracy to cause harm to prominent British Jews is a matter that The Sun is and should be free to report. It is not the case that public interest is and can only be served by reporting such matters to the police.

Err, except the Sun is only claiming that a list was to be drawn up, or so Dudman claims. Even at earliest stages? This drawing up, as noted previously, was hardly moving fast and "Abuislam", aka Jenvey, had to keep bumping the thread to get any sort of story which he could sell on.

Central to the complaint is the suggestion that Glen Jenvey, the terrorism expert quoted by The Sun in the article is connected to (or in fact may possibly be) a freelance journalist called 'Richard Tims'. Additionally the complaint suggests that it was 'Richard Tims' who posted the thread on the Website using the avatar 'Abuislam' which is referred to in the article. We have spoken to Mr Jenvey regarding the complaint, particularly in relation to the allegation that he is in some way connected to 'Richard Tims'. Mr Jenvey has categorically denied that he is, or that he uses the name, 'Richard Tims' or, indeed, that he ever met anyone by that name. Mr Jenvey also denies that he ever posted any threads on the Website.

Well, to quote Mandy Rice-Davis, seeing as we're going back 40 years plus today, he would say that, wouldn't he? Since then Jenvey has of course admitted that he was Abuislam, and as a result the Sun, in its half-hearted apology, put all the blame on him. That this was a complete failure to abide by the most basic practices of journalism, that you check and check again, and that you don't rely on the word of just one person unless you absolutely have to is neither here nor there for this straightfoward, honest newspaper.

We should add that Mr Jenvey is an extremely well respected expert on terrorism who has contributed to various radio and television programmes in this country. In this respect, we make the following points:

Since the letter was written Jenvey has been completely discredited. It's true that Jenvey didn't just dupe the Sun, but also the likes of the BBC repeatedly, and that reflects badly on all involved. That doesn't however excuse the Sun from relying on others rather conducting its own investigation into Jenvey's credentials.

5. To confirm, Mr Jenvey was not paid for his contribution to the article.

As Tim points out, this is a nifty piece of sleight of hand by Dudman. Jenvey almost certainly was paid by the Sun, but indirectly, through the South West News Service news agency which supplied the paper with the story to begin with.

The complainant would also be trying to discredit Mr Jenvey (and by implication the article published in The Sun on 7 January) without any foundation. In this respect, the complaint includes a link to a website (http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2009/01/glen_jenvey_has.asp) which contains a number of extremely serious allegations against Mr Jenvey. As well as the allegation that Mr Jenvey, 'Richard Tims' and 'Abuislam' are all one and the same, which I deal with above, the website also makes a number of personal attacks on Mr Jenvey. Those attacks include allegations, amongst many others, regarding Mr Jenvey's sexuality as well as claims that he is a paedophile (eg "or is it that he likes young muslin boys around?"). Mr Jenvey categorically denies that he is a paedophile. In this respect, we understand that Mr Jenvey has been in a stable relationship for the past 16 years. The website also contains a purported interview with an individual claiming to be Mr Jenvey's daughter. This interview is manifestly false. Mr Jenvey does not have a daughter.

It's best here to quote Tim again:

Unlike other 'leading' bloggers, I take responsibility for the comments that appear on my website, but it cannot be stressed enough that the 'daughter' content did not originate on my site, and was instead repeated under comments as part of a background information dump by a well-meaning comment contributor. It was irrelevant to the body of the post, and was publicly dismissed as irrelevant the time. In this letter, Dudman only makes passing mention of the body of the post (i.e. the part containing key evidence showing their expert to be a fraud) and instead focuses on the comments underneath, greatly misrepresenting their content and context in many ways, not the least of which being:

- The 'paedophile' text (as with the other text about Jenvey's daughter) was mirrored information from another website posted to my website as a comment, and allowed as background only. It did not originate from me, nor was it highlighted, encouraged or expanded upon in any way. The Sun imply otherwise. Further, the text The Sun claim was published by me 'to discredit Glen Jenvey' does not accuse Glen Jenvey of being a paedophile, as a wider quote from that passage reveals ("'is bin laden a gay? or is it that he just likes young muslin boys around? is jihad a form of child sex?"). The comment is about Osama Bin Laden, and was originally posted to ummah.com under the name 'saddam01', which according to Ummah.com is yet another alias of... Glen Jenvey! Yes, the 'paedophile' text wasn't *about* Glen Jenvey, and it was most likely written *by* Glen Jenvey!

(As many of you are aware, Glen Jenvey later went on to falsely accuse me of being a paedophile. Repeatedly. On hundreds of websites. What role this letter/accusation played in that decision and if Jenvey was confused enough to believe that I had done anything like that to him is unknown at this time.)


It has to be said that both myself and Tim deeply regret and apologise for linking to, providing space for and discussing the supposed interview with Jenvey's "daughter". In mitigation, as soon as we became aware that the "interview" was probably not genuine, we put up disclaimers, and when it became apparent that it was false, I removed the information completely from my post without any prompting. Are we perhaps ourselves then hypocrites for so quickly latching onto that information? More than possibly. Is it something we've learned from and will not be repeating? Most certainly. The same can hardly be said for the Sun on that score. At least though we didn't claim in correspondence to the press regulator that our source had been smeared as a paedophile by the complainant when the source himself then went on to, err, smear the person who exposed him as a fraud in exactly the same terms.

It is our view, from what I set out above, that the complainant has not been full and frank with the PCC, both as to the nature of the information discussed on the Website and the implication that Mr Jenvey was in some way responsible for posting one of the threads referred to in the article. This is a further matter which should be taken into consideration.

If it hadn't been for Jenvey finally admitting on the Donal MacIntyre show that he had been Abuislam and the entire report was a fabrication, then Dudman's attempts at smearing Ummah.com might well have succeeded. As we've seen over the last week, with the PCC "investigation" into the Guardian's allegations about phone hacking at the News of the World, the PCC is the kind of organisation that is only willing to take even the slightest action when it catches newspapers breaking the code the equivalent of red-handed. Even then the Sun only ran an apology on its 12th page, when the initial report had been a front page splash, and in effect took no responsibility, instead heaping it all on Jenvey's shoulders. Alan Rusbridger's resignation from the PCC's code committee, almost certainly a reaction to the whitewash it produced over the NotW phone hacking, where it effectively condemned the Guardian more than it did the NotW, might yet trigger some soul-searching at a regulator which has never been weaker than it is now. That is though just how those who fund it and sit on its boards like it; it will take a scandal even bigger than the Jenvey one or even the furore over Jan Moir's homophobia to persuade the industry that its regulator needs some teeth.

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Monday, November 16, 2009 

Scum-watch: Getting it completely wrong on Labour's record on crime and prisons.

Having attacked Gordon Brown personally last week and came off the worst for it, this week the Sun seems to have decided to stand on surer ground, by attacking Labour on crime. Problem is, it can't seem to do so without telling some whopping great lies, as today's leader shows:

Prison policy, in particular, has become a joke.

Early on, Labour decided not to build more jails and instead focus on alternatives to prison and early release for prisoners.


In 1997 the average prison population was 61,470 (page 4). The population last Friday was 84,593 (DOC), a rise in just 12 years of more than 20,300. I can't seem to find any concrete figures on just what the total number of places available in 1997 was, but ministers themselves boast that they have created over 20,000 additional places, and the Prison Reform Trust agrees, noting in this year's Bromley report that the number of places has increased by 33% since the party came to power (page 5). By any yardstick, the creation of over 20,000 places is a massive increase. Labour's real success is that despite increasing the population so massively, there are still not enough places to go round, hence the early release scheme which the Sun and the Conservatives so decry without providing anything approaching an alternative solution. As statements of fact go, the Sun's claim that "Labour decided not to build more jails" could not be more wrong.

This coincided with ill-judged policies on late drinking, softening drug laws and over-reliance on cautions, all of which increased crime.

In actual fact, and predictably, levels of alcohol related crime have changed little. There is no evidence whatsoever that softening the drug laws, of which only the law on cannabis was briefly softened, increased crime, unless you count the massive rise in cautions given out for possessionwasting the time of everyone involved. Lastly, there is little evidence also that giving out more cautions increases the likelihood of re-offending. You can in fact probably narrow it down to two groups: those who would have re-offended regardless of the punishment they received and those for whom it was an aberration. The problem with cautions is the effect it has on the victims of the crime, and the implications for the justice in general, not that they increase crime.

which may previously have resulted in someone going to court for having a tiny amount of resin in their position,

The result? More criminals ought to be behind bars. But there is nowhere to send them.

Instead, jails and secure hospitals operate more as short-stay hotels.

Today The Sun reports on a murderer who hacked a mother and son to death but is on day release after just six years.


Not an exactly representative example: Gregory Davis pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, hence he is not a "murderer", as the leader claims. Psychiatrists now think that he has recovered to an extent to which he is not a danger to the public, on which I'm more inclined to trust them then I am the Sun.

Weekends out of jail for lags have trebled in the past two years.

Labour deny this has anything to do with easing prison pressure. But the facts speak for themselves.

Last year, 11,599 prisoners were let out for four-day breaks.

In 2006 the figure was only 3,813.

Is the Sun on to something here? Not to judge by the figures themselves: the latest show that there is room for around 900 more prisoners currently; back in August 2006 (DOC), to pick one set of figures at random, there were only 700 spaces available. Indeed, in October 2006, Operation Safeguard was in effect, with prisoners being held in police cells. Surely if weekends out were meant to ease prison pressure there would have been more let out back in 2006 when it was much more desperately needed. Is it not more likely that these breaks, meant to help those shortly to be released to readjust to life outside as well as for general rehabilitation are being used more widely because of the relative success of doing so?

Labour's soft approach even makes life cosy inside:

Convicts at Chelmsford jail enjoyed a talent show.


And what a talent show it was! Costing a whole £1,500, it seems the kind of thing that might actually help prisoners once they are allowed back out into the real world, but the Sun seems to think that prisoners should spend their time either locked up in their "cushy" cells or sewing mail bags.


Convicted criminals should pay the price - not just as punishment but for the protection of the public. That is the contract on law and order between voters and Parliament.

Having broken that deal, Labour have no right to criticise the Conservatives when they vow to do better.

By the same token, the Sun has no right to criticise Labour when it can't even get the very basic facts about the party's record on crime right.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009 

Weekend links.

As you probably don't know, a glorious publication which has brightened all our lives reached a significant milestone recently. Enough about Viz though, the Sun has also been celebrating its 40th birthday. In recognition of 40 years of tits, lies and propaganda Tim has put together a rather special video which is well worth your perusal. Claude also has a post with a short history of the paper's brilliance.

Elsewhere things are rather slow. Craig Murray has the latest in an increasingly bitter war of words with the Quilliam Foundation's lawyers, Paul Linford, reflecting on the Sun's misreading of the public mood over Jacqui Janes argues that sympathy is not the same as trust, Unity informs us about "EmoTrance", not the fusion of emo and trance music, in case you were wondering, voltairespriest has a fascinating post on how Nick Griffin seems to think that the English Defence League is part of a "Zionist false flag" operation, Hopi Sen attacks the idiocy which is the view that the poor are betrayed by voting Labour, and finally Third Estate has an informative piece on the ratcheting up of tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In the papers, or at least on their sites, Christina Patterson seems to be invoking the Sex Pistols song Holidays in the Sun over the plea from the Iraqi tourism minister for visitors to return, Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes an accurate in places and not quite there in others piece on the tragedy of Gordon Brown, while Peter Oborne thinks Brown has perversely just had his best week in a year. Marina Hyde notes that the partnership between Murdoch and the current incumbent or soon to be can only end in tears, Howard Jacobson says the best way to deal with Nick Griffin is to put him on Strictly Come Dancing, Andrew Grice suggests Whitehall is already gearing up for a change of government, and Esther Addley considers whether the X Factor is killing pop. Not just pop, but "mainstream" music as a whole, I'd suggest.

As for worst tabloid article, we have a choice of two. First up is the Daily Mail with a fairly standard scare piece over the explicitness of music lyrics. This from a newspaper which has directly below the article a quite lovely report on Alexandra Burke's "never-ending legs", and how she certainly knows how to "please a crowd". Tabloid Watch points out that a search for cleavage on the Mail's site returns 987 results, even more than the equivalent on the Sun's. The winner though in my eyes is a staggering hatchet job on Professor David Nutt in the Sun, which rather than attacking the man himself instead goes for his children via their social networking profiles. They reproduce a photo of his son Steve with a roll-up in his mouth, claiming it shows him "apparently smoking dope". I'm no expert, but it looks suspiciously to me like an ordinary roll-up rather than one containing a substance more exotic than tobacco. Not content with that, his daughter is the next target, her crime having uploaded a photograph with herself with friends carrying a bottle of spirits. Lastly, eldest son Johnny is raked over the coals for having photographs on his profile of himself naked in the snow in Sweden. No hypocrisy there whatsoever, then.

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Friday, November 13, 2009 

The real story from Glasgow North East.

The story of the Glasgow North East by-election is categorically not that Labour won an overwhelming victory, especially considering the constituency is effectively a rotten borough for the party. A loss certainly would have been, though (a story, that is). It also isn't that the Conservatives received only 1,075 votes, or indeed that the British National Party was only 62 votes behind, although it might be if Chris Dillow's observation that heroin is probably more popular than the Tories was more widely disseminated. Nor is it that unsurprisingly, being a "celebrity", isn't an automatic vote winner: John Smeaton got 258 ballots while Mikey Hughes, a former Big Brother contestant, got 54. It also isn't, although it's again interesting, that the Socialist Labour vote completely collapsed on the 2005 result, when they got an astounding 4,036 votes, down this time to an appalling 47, most likely because Labour was on the ballot when it wasn't previously as a result of Michael Martin standing as the "Speaker".

The real story ought to be the catastrophically low turnout, a derisory 32.9% (Wikipedia has it as 33.2%). This can't be blamed on the lack of choice: all the main parties stood, as well as three various socialist sects, the BNP, three independents, and the Greens. While turnouts at by-elections are usually lower than at a general election, you might have thought it would have been the opposite in this instance, as there was far more choice on the ballot than previously due to the main opposition parties traditionally not standing against the Speaker, with their voters coming out this time when they might not have bothered previously. Instead it dropped from 45.8% in 2005, which was already well below the average of 61%. Did the expenses scandal have any impact? Unlikely. Instead it seems that the people of Glasgow North East, who were already poor before the recession, have lost all faith in politicians of every colour and creed. The only reassuring thing is that the British National Party didn't do better than their 1,013 votes. The current consensus is that the turnout is likely to go up next year when there is an actual, genuine alternative to the current government: Glasgow North East might yet prove to be the rule, not the exception.

Update: Slightly edited after some on Liberal Conspiracy responded with "Eh?" to the first paragraph, which is what happens when I'm trying to write something reasonably snappy and quickly to boot.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009 

Craig Murray legally threatened by Quilliam Foundation.

At the beginning of last week I wrote on how Melanie Phillips had responded to an attack on her by Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation, by making the exact arguments that he predicted she would - attacking him as still being an Islamic extremist despite now dedicating himself to helping those who had became radicalised.

Mel at least didn't set m'learned friends after Husain for his piece. That is however exactly what the Quilliam Foundation has done to Craig Murray after he reported, with good faith, that the Foundation, a charity which relies on the government for funding, had not published any accounts as of yet, in this post.

It does though seem that some of those in Quilliam who have past experience with subterfuge have put it to good use. Yesterday Craig received a phone call:

A man telephoned me and said that he had been following my blog for some time and was most impressed by it, and would like to know how to make a donation. I replied truly that I was extremely grateful, but the website really was just me, and therefore I did not request donations, unless for some specific expense like an election campaign.

You may be surprised to hear that people do not generally phone me up out of the blue and offer cash, so I was a bit suspicious. I did go on and suggest that if he wanted to be helpful he could buy my books, but he lost interest in the conversation very quickly in a manner that just seemed wrong compared to his initial eagerness.


Craig continues:

So when I got a letter today from lawyers threatening libel action, I wondered if this was an attempt to get financial information on what funds they might target. So today I phoned him back. He gave his name as Ed, so I asked directly if he was Ed Husain or Ed Jagger of the Quilliam Foundation. At first he replied "I am not Ed Husain". I had to ask again before he admitted he was indeed Ed Jagger of the Quilliam Foundation.

I put it to him that he had lied when he phoned and said he wanted to make a donation. He said that he just wanted to establish my contact details for the lawyer. I said that if he had asked me openly and honestly, I would have told him. He concluded by saying that any further communication should be through our lawyers (which will be tricky as I can't afford one: Unlike Jagger I am not funded by taxpayers' money.)

I don't suppose there is any law against Mr Jagger telephoning and lying to me about wishing to make a donation. Indeed I would write it off as a harmless ruse, and amusing he had been caught. But for an organisation funded by the taxpayer to telephone someone and lie to them is quite a different thing.

Should anyone wish to make that point to Mr Jagger, the number from which he telephoned me was 07780 685592.

Quite charming behaviour, I would say. Also charming is the lawyer's letter, from Clarke Wilmott LLP, which takes Craig's initial post and reads it in the most hyperbolic fashion imaginable. Apparently, it "constitute[s] express, clear and obvious statements to the effect that The Quilliam Foundation has acted illegally, that it is engaged in financial and accounting impropriety and that ... this impropriety is directed particularly to reward the directors of The Quilliam Foundation favourably and disproportionately". A level of disproportionality equivalent to Israel's attack on Gaza, perhaps?

Not that Clarke Wilmott has actually provided any evidence whatsoever that Quilliam has filed its accounts, despite the threatening letter, although as Unity points out in the comments, according to the Companies House website they filed them on the 10th of this month, 6 days after Craig's post. Craig's post was then at the time correct; only now that it is not have they complained about it, and rather than asking for it be clarified, they've sent the lawyers in with ominous demands for recompense.

As Craig suggests, for an organisation ostensibly set-up to defend Western values, the attempt to stifle criticism only after the foundation has actually responded to that criticism is rather at odds with their commitment to free speech. Still, the uses of public money, eh?

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