Wednesday, March 31, 2010 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

If, like me, you occasionally find yourself thinking that this is an uncertain world and that there's very little we can be sure of, both in a mental and physical sense, then the last couple of days have provided a wonderful counterpoint. First up turns Tony Blair, as large as life itself and twice as ugly, still performing the same old shtick about how the Tories are vacuous and the Labour party is an intellectual behemoth that continues to be right about everything, then we have Gordon Brown's latest speech on immigration, treading the sensitive line between common sense and racism, telling all those thousands of layabout migrants that they can fuck off (I may have paraphrased this slightly), next there's the usual Britain's gone mad story which doesn't dwell on the finer details, and lastly, we have a police officer acquitted of assaulting a protester, in a turn of events that absolutely everyone predicted.


You could really leave the video itself to do the talking in the versus match which was Sergeant Delroy Smellie against benefits claimant Nicola Fisher, which in terms of fairness was even more unbalanced than Ricky Hatton against Manny Pacquiao. That's never stopped me from spitting out hundreds of words in the past though, so no reason to do that now. The footage really does set the scene: at a protest hastily arranged in the memory of Ian Tomlinson, the police had decided that their actions of the previous day, pushing over people who were daring to walk in front of them with their backs turned and sending in riot cops against an completely peaceful environmental camp hadn't already blackened their name enough, and so they were refusing to let those attending the vigil leave. One man remonstrating with the police for refusing to let him exit their cordon is grabbed and pushed back twice for no apparent reason; meanwhile, the supremely threatening Ms Fisher, not using the most diplomatic of language and not perhaps behaving in a completely helpful manner but nonetheless hardly likely to suddenly slash Smellie's throat is first slapped and then hit twice with a baton for her intransigence.

The prosecution's case, it has to be admitted, was not helped by Fisher herself deciding not to give evidence. Having already sold her to story to, of all papers, the Daily Star, with the help of Max Clifford, as well as claiming that the attack was completely unprovoked, which as the video evidence shows it clearly wasn't, she probably also wouldn't have made the most credible of witnesses. She claims to be suffering from depression, which she might well be, but I think even if I was in the pits of despair I would have made the effort to attend court to try to get someone who had attacked me in such a way convicted. It's also hard not to wonder just how hard they were trying though when the prosecution itself, according to the Graun, called witnesses that were hardly helpful to their case, emphasising that Fisher was "hyperactive", "erratic" and "playing up to the cameras". All probably true, but again, the level of Smellie's reaction is difficult to justify.

The most ridiculous evidence was however given by Smellie himself, which seems to have varied from the embarrassing for a man of his size, claiming that no video or photographs came close to "reflecting the fear" he felt as the crowd got closer to him and the officers, of which there is no indication whatsoever in the video, through to the myopic, having failed to identify that rather than carrying "weapons" she was in fact holding those deadly tools a camera and a carton of orange juice, the utterly fanciful, like his apparent thought that Fisher was deliberately coming at him from his blind spot, and then finally the smugly boastful which was presumably his attempt at showing just how restrained he was, telling the court that he could have broken Fisher's jaw if he'd used an "authorised" elbow strike, or if he'd instead hit her arm rather than her thigh how he could easily have "snapped it".

Ultimately, it's difficult to disagree with the judge when she ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove that Smellie had not used lawful self-defence. It's also equally difficult though to imagine someone who isn't a police officer being acquitted on similar lines when they had been provoked in exactly the same way in a town or city centre on a Friday or Saturday night and responded with a smack in the face and then a couple of kicks or punches. That to me seems the test to which the police in such circumstances should be tested. Smellie acted in the way he did because he was certain, despite the emergence of citizen journalism, that there was no way he would ever be reprimanded for resorting to violence when there was no real need to do so. He's been incredibly unlucky in being prosecuted, as undoubtedly some of his colleagues on the previous day behaved in an even less justifiable way and have completely got away with it. No police officer has even been disciplined for failing to show their badge numbers on last year's G20 protests, something which tells you all you need to know to about the lessons learned and how the police will conduct themselves in the future, safe in the knowledge that they can beat up anyone who steps even slightly out of line while exercising their democratic right to protest and face no consequences whatsoever.

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Migration issues.

As some of you might know, Blogger is discontinuing FTP publishing from the 1st of May. Not wanting to leave it to the last minute, I've just pseudo-migrated the blog using this tool, which in essence mirrors http://septicisle1.blogspot.com here on septicisle.info. The downsides, as I've just realised, are that I've lost the last five years of comments in a stroke, which is something of a shame, and that at the moment leaving a comment results in a lovely Blogger error, although the comment itself does seem to get through, or at least my attempts at testing it by commenting have done despite the error. There are doubtless other errors too, and if you find any I would appreciate it if you'd drop a comment in, presuming of course it can get through.

Slight update: The comments are actually still there, just on the original posts still being hosted on the FTP, which are no longer being linked to. If you remove the index.php?q=/ part from the URL, you'll be able to see them.

Frankly, I'm a bit miffed at Blogger in general for discontinuing it, and am thinking of switching to something else, although my own previous attempt at installing Wordpress on the server failed miserably. You also can't have failed to notice that this place has looked much the same for most of the past 5 years, and because it uses a custom template, it's incompatible with almost all of the new Blogger gadgets and sidebar apps. If anyone therefore is willing to offer their services at redesigning the place, and also helping with general problems with getting the place running smoothly again, please also drop a comment in or email me at kirei@septicisle.info. I can only offer meagre remuneration I'm afraid, but would appreciate the help all the same.

Further update: Fnarr. Just realised that the original feed now isn't going to update automagically. I have uploaded it manually now, although doubtless I'm going to forget to do it at times, so you might want to change any feed subscription to http://septicisle1.blogspot.com/atom.xml. Also going to change it on the feed buttons at the side now. Which is now done. Hopefully. Maybe? OK, my attempts at changing the url in the Syndicate this site (XML) link are failing miserably, redirecting to a broken feed, so the link's staying as it was originally for now and I'll just have to remember to manually upload a version when I post or edit/update one.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010 

In defence (somewhat) of George Osborne.

The best, and therefore almost certainly inaccurate story about George Osborne's formative years concerns his entrance to the now world famous Bullingdon club. His initiation, so legend has it, involved his both being called "oik", allegedly because rather than attending Eton or Harrow he instead had patronised the only slightly less posh and exclusive, not to mention less expensive St. Paul's, and him being held upside down, his head being bashed into the floor until he uttered the required words: "I am a despicable cunt".

As initiations go, not just to the Bullingdon but to other similar clubs, one suspects that was actually fairly tame. While the referring to him as "oik" was probably more of a joke than meant seriously, it probably reflects the attitudes which Osborne has encountered for most of his life. Far too upper class for the vast majority of the population to instantly warm to him, yet still not rarefied enough for him to be automatically welcomed into the even more exclusive establishments. You only have to look at how the City, where you'll never come across such a wide variety of stuffed shirts, has reacted towards him: with something approaching utter horror, despite the fact we currently have a Labour chancellor, a member of a party whom they've been taught all their lives to instinctively loathe. Admittedly, this might partly be down to New Labour's complete subservience to the financial sector, for which they have been rewarded in kind, yet you'd still think that getting back to what they know best would be attractive.

The class warrior in me wants to loathe Osborne for all the reasons which have been outlined ever since he became shadow chancellor, almost none of which are based on actual substance. The Heresiarch, writing on why David Cameron should get rid of Osborne while he still has a chance, openly admits that at least partly his reasoning is based on Osborne's manner and appearance. When natural Conservatives feel this way, you can't even begin to imagine what the general public thinks. In the Graun today both Lucy Mangan and Michael White, commenting not entirely seriously, but as the old saying (or cliché) goes, there's many a truth spoken in jest, voice just some of the unveiled insults thrown Osborne's way. Mangan suggests that he's a "walking justification for all the schoolyard bullying there ever was, is, or ever shall be", which is an especially unpleasant comment, not least for those who have suffered from bullying, for which there is never any justification. White, meanwhile, went instead for a startling funny joke about how this was the most momentous day for him since he "was first allowed to travel alone on the school bus". Never mind that you suspect Osborne has never had to travel on a school bus, which rather undermines the gag, it's just another riff on Osborne being a boy amongst men.

To be fair, I have myself slipped into this casual abuse, as in this post from a couple of years back:
Take as a further example George Osborne, who ought to be on an absolute hiding to nothing. He's young, resembles a caricature of the smarmy, upper-class snob that spent his tender years smashing up restaurants when he wasn't shovelling white powder up his nostrils, with a face so punchable it's a marvel that he hasn't got a broken nose and a good number of teeth missing, knows next to nothing about economics, and has all the charm (to this writer at least) of a self-portrait of Kate Moss drawn in lipstick and Pete Doherty's blood.

This is though partially what the objection to Osborne rests on. That he's young, and therefore inexperienced, something which isn't said anywhere near as often about Cameron despite the Tory leader only being a few years older, that what he did as a young man matters when it categorically shouldn't, even if he did indulge in taking wanker powder and may have used escorts as the more lurid allegations have it, and that he should be judged on what he looks like, which can't be helped, and on how much charisma he radiates, which is very little. Osborne's main problem with relating to voters is that he does seem too much of the toff, that he comes across as patronising, and that he just has that eminently punchable quality mentioned above. None of these things are barriers to being a "successful" politician; just look at the far more patronising Patricia Hewitt and Margaret Beckett, both of whom have had decent careers, even if they're not exactly the individuals Osborne himself would like to be compared to. He has absolutely nothing in the "toff" stakes compared to the offspring of William Rees-Mogg, both of whom are trying to be elected (Cameron supposedly asked whether Annunziata would consider calling herself "Nancy" in a bid to get down with the proles) as Conservative MPs, nor those featured in that now notorious issue of Tatler, and as for punchable, well, I personally would much rather lamp the egregious Phil Woolas, perhaps the most disgusting politician to have emerged from the Labour party in recent times.


When it comes to challenging Osborne on substance, the case against him is much slimmer. Yes, he was a distant third in the chancellor's debate yesterday, but he wasn't a disaster either, and he was always likely to find it difficult to compete with the sainted Vince Cable and the currently supremely confident Alistair Darling. It has to be remembered that it was Osborne's wheeze on inheritance tax three years ago which almost certainly stopped Gordon Brown from calling a snap election; that policy sticks in my personal political craw, and it was a promise which was only so popular because "middle England" thinks that IHT is going to hit them when it almost certainly won't, but it did the business. Yesterday's pledge to not raise national insurance contributions was hardly the most robust policy, exposed completely by Vince Cable in the debate as being costed by even more inefficiency savings, the same ones Osborne had lambasted the previous week, but that must have been debated at far more senior levels of the party and OKed rather just being Osborne's initiative.

The question then if Osborne was to be removed is who would replace him. The obvious answer is Ken Clarke, but the reasons for why he hasn't been given a post more senior than business secretary are apparent: the Cameroons don't trust him, and he's not prepared to temper his own views on Europe and even IHT enough to be given a more senior role without even more unwelcome stories on splits being written. Apart from Ken, just who is there ready to step in? It's not as if Osborne is also the only weak link in the Tory front bench line-up. What about the gaffe prone Chris Grayling, who when he isn't claiming that parts of Britain are like the Wire is defending using completely inaccurate crime statistics, and whose department claimed that 54% of teenage girls in the most deprived areas were getting pregnant when the true figure was 5.4%? Then there's Michael Gove at education, another eminently punchable figure, whose campaign against Unite's involvement with Labour plumbed new depths of union-baiting, is a confirmed Tony Blair lover, an unapologetic foreign policy neo-conservative and rubs people up the wrong way just as much as Osborne. Osborne may be unloved, and that might even be justifiable, but to move him now would be a sign of absolute weakness on the part of Cameron, which would be rightly seized on by the other parties. Ultimately, Cameron and Osborne were promoted together, and they should fall together.

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Monday, March 29, 2010 

Fear, panic and politics win yet again.

If ever there was a purer example of how fear, panic and politics will always win out against rationality, cold reflection and research, it's in the proposed fast-track criminalisation of Mephedrone, "Meow Meow" or 4-MMC, or whatever you want to call it. It also marks the final capitulation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which having previously argued against the government's reclassification of cannabis from Class C to Class B, and having urged that Ecstasy be downgraded to C now seems to have decided under its new leadership to simply act as the pseudo-scientific justificatory rubber stamp that the government needs.

On the face of it, the ACMD is justifying its quick decision on the grounds that 4-MMC, rather than being an actual new drug, is rather more simply an amphetamine masquerading as a designer drug. The precedent for classifying it more quickly than it usually would was last year's ban on "Spice", marketed somewhat similarly to how 4-MMC has been, but which has definitively been identified as containing synthetic cannabinoids. This is in difference to 4-MMC, which has been identified as being based on cathinone compounds found in khat, but as yet has not been so conclusively independently examined. Khat is also not illegal in this country, having been considered by the ACMD for possible criminalisation in the past, but felt to be "safe" enough for it be left outside classification, although cathinone and cathine themselves are classified as Class C. Spice has also been around for a lot longer than 4-MMC, having first been sold back in 2002, while 4-MMC dates only from three years ago.

A far more appropriate response from a council interested in actual evidence rather than anecdote would have been to delay making a recommendation until more research had been conducted. Indeed, it's almost certainly what the previous head of the ACMD, Professor David Nutt, sacked by Alan Johnson for criticising the government over their failure to reclassify Ecstasy following the committee's advice would have recommended. Nutt has also suggested that a new classification, a so-called Class D, should be introduced under which "new" drugs like 4-MMC could be temporarily classified until more is known about them. This would allow them to be sold but place such substances under far stricter regulation than the current free-for-all, which will incidentally continue if it is criminalised but instead mean that it will be organised crime rather than legitimate businesses in control of the supply. It's not just Nutt calling for such a change, but also the UK Drug Policy Commission, which is referring to its similar suggestion for a new emergency classification as "Category X".

With the resignation of so many members of the ACMD in protest at the sacking of Nutt and the government's general attitude towards its previous advice, the latest coming only this morning, it's difficult not to wonder whether those being pushed forward as replacements are not already more in tune with the government's favoured point of view. Even if this is a slur on their characters, then the pressure on them to make a quick decision could hardly be greater. The last month has seen what was already a stream of concern about Mephedrone turn into a veritable torrent, with the tabloids seemingly determined to whip up a moral panic, as hopefully this blog has identified. Not content with just further promoting the drug, as those supplying 4-MMC have themselves made clear the media's coverage has done, regardless of its tone, they've been actively lying about how schools supposedly couldn't confiscate it from students, selectively quoting from ministerial letters in order to continue the charade. Combined with the relatives of loved ones who believe their children have died as a result of taking 4-MMC, ignoring that almost all those who have died after using it were also taking other (illegal) drugs at the same time, politicians have had to make clear That Something Must Be Done, and will be done. Gordon Brown last week actively described an inanimate substance as "evil"; under such an atmosphere, and with an election only just over a month away, it's difficult to believe that even if the ACMD has asked for more time the government would have agreed. Instead, 4-MMC's criminalisation is to be rushed onto the statute books, and with Conservative support, seems certain to become law before the election.

This is the worst of all possible worlds. The very first step of criminalisation is that the price of the drug, which has been relative low, will sky rocket. Those that have become somewhat dependent on it, although again the evidence for this is only anecdotal, and if the drug is closer to amphetamine than methamphetamine addiction tends to be mental rather than physical (although withdrawal doesn't care which is which) will have to find the extra money to pay for it, which usually leads to acquisitive crime, or to switching to a substitute, the most likely of which are either speed or crystal meth. Due to their illegality, drugs which may well have previously been "pure" are far more likely to be doctored or watered down, potentially with far more harmful substances in the case of the former, or leading to the user needing even more in the case of the latter. As mentioned above, where previously "legal high" and drug paraphernalia shops as well as "entrepreneurs" have been supplying and selling 4-MMC, the usual lowlife will now be moving into the breach. Far be it from me to defend capitalism, but where previously the legitimate economy has at least been somewhat benefiting from the rise in popularity of 4-MMC, we're now going to see all of that growth cut off, which is clearly just the government should be doing when we're trying to pull fully clear of recession. Lastly, as 4-MMC is a so-called designer drug, there's nothing to stop a replacement being developed and appearing on the streets potentially within months, with this entire cycle repeating.

All we're doing is moving from a state of affairs where there was little known about the dangers of the drug but it was legal is to one where the position is the same but the drug is illegal. Even while the police claim that they'll be targeting "dealers", which until the criminalisation becomes law are perfectly legitimate businesses and individuals, there will still certainly be cases where recreational users will be charged and prosecuted simply for wanting to make their weekends slightly better. The very same politicians that would never argue for the prohibition of alcohol or tobacco, not just because they enjoy it themselves but also because history shows us that it doesn't work are perfectly prepared to criminalise others for their different choice of psychoactive substances. The policy of drug prohibition will one day be seen in exactly the same terms as that of alcohol prohibition, but it won't be until at least the last generation either retires or is removed from power.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010 

Alternative pledge card.

Now that we've seen Labour's 5 election pledges, a collection of the vacuous, the obvious, the reactionary and the piss-poor, all about as inspiring, innovative and and forward-thinking as the large amounts of vomit which will duly be deposited on the pavements of the nation's towns and cities tonight, I can't help thinking that the party would be better off going with this alternative, featured in the latest Viz:

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Friday, March 26, 2010 

Reporting according to your own biases.

Considering that this blog often focuses on general tabloid mendacity, it's worth taking a look at the reporting of the broadsheets on exactly the same release from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which features a graph on how the personal tax and benefit changes since 1997 have affected different incomes groups (PDF).

According to the Guardian, this shows that Labour's strategy has closed the income gap. The Indie says that "Labour 'has cost the rich £25,000 every year'", the FT went with "Rich hit hard by 13 years of Labour budgets", while the Telegraph decided upon "10m families have lost out in Labour's tax changes", with a subtitle claiming that "Ten million middle-income households have lost out because of Gordon Brown’s repeated tax rises, a study has indicated."

Admittedly, part of the reason for why the papers are likely to have gone with such different interpretations of the same material is that while a briefing accompanied the release of the report, the report itself doesn't directly explain the graphs in any great detail, although it does point out that it doesn't show how household incomes have changed over the same time period. This is the crucial part, and only the Independent gives (unless the FT goes into more detail in its actual report rather than just the cut-off us plebs are allowed to view without paying) the extra detail concerning these changes which provide the context in which to understand the IFS report:

However, taking into account all changes in income since 1997 – including growth in salaries, bonuses, rents and investment incomes – the UK is still a very unequal society, despite the Treasury's efforts, the IFS points out. Income inequality has risen in each of the past three years and is now at its highest level since at least 1961, according to the IFS.

Sevillista in the comments on Left Foot Forward furthers this:

It is being misleadingly reported.

What it is saying that the bottom 60% are paying less tax then they would have done if 1996-97 tax structures and rates were left in place, the upper middle are paying slightly more and the very top are paying significantly more.

What it is not saying is the rich are worse of – they are far better-off and have gained far more than everyone else (inequality measured by Gini has slightly worsened, post-tax incomes
of the top 1% have raced away).

Shoddy reporting. Labour in taxing rich more than Tories chose to do shock, but unable to stop inequality increasing


Newspapers in reporting the news according to their own political bias isn't perhaps the most shocking revelation, but that even the supposed serious press fails, with the exception of the Indie, to put it into actual context should be a concern to those who imagine they're being treated with anything approaching respect.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010 

The Gaza protest prosecutions and assorted thoughts.

The dropping of the prosecution case against Jake Smith, charged with two counts of violent disorder after taking part in the protests outside the Israeli embassy in January of last year, only hints at the potential mendacity of the Metropolitan police and the collusion of the Crown Prosecution Service in the out of all proportion criminal crackdown on those alleged to have taken part in the confrontation late into the Saturday evening. Smith's lawyers happened by chance to find footage of their client being beaten by riot police on YouTube, video which the police denied they had until the very last working day before his trial, when they suddenly discovered they had a full seven and a half hours of footage from the day which might be of use to Smith's defence.

Quite why the police decided to arrest Smith after the event is unclear from the footage, especially when there are almost certainly others who on the day took part in far worse confrontations with the police. Smith is clearly seen pushing the barriers to protect himself from the riot police, being bated by other protesters. Despite this attempt at blocking the police from being able to get to him, when the police next charge the protesters Smith is seen by hit by at least one officer with both a riot shield and a baton, despite posing no apparent threat to the officers. This all happened after the "kettle" had been put into place, preventing any of the protesters from being able to leave; Smith it seems was trapped and not involved with the group of other protesters who were set on confrontation. Perhaps he was picked on because he, unlike some of the others, was positively identified or gave accurate information to the police when the protesters were finally allowed to leave, albeit only after they were photographed and their details were demanded.

Smith is undoubtedly one of the lucky ones: others who took part in the protests that day have been given custodial sentences for the heinous crimes of throwing sticks (broken parts of the many placards) or empty plastic bottles in the general direction of the Israeli embassy, the police often claiming that they were thrown at them. The police presumably felt threatened by these flimsy bits of balsa wood coming towards them, being fully equipped in riot gear as they were and therefore completely unable to defend themselves.

As you might recall, I was on the protest and march that day, although I left before the "kettle" was put in place outside the embassy. What was clear then and is even more apparent now is that there was a fundamental lack of preparation by both sides. Both the Stop the War Coalition and the police themselves were not expecting the sheer number of people who turned out, and as a direct result from the moment the march itself started there were small groups who had turned up looking for trouble who were out of control, as shown by the video which featured a group all but rampaging along at the very front of the march (which I can't incidentally find at the moment). Much of the trouble which occurred later could have been prevented if they had either been arrested then or separated away from the rest of the march. The confrontation which I did personally witness outside the North Gate into Kensington Gardens, where eggs and paint were thrown at police officers who were not yet in riot gear was probably far more frightening for those in uniform than it was those who were deployed later, and yet probably because there were no specific FIT officers there from what I could see monitoring the crowd, none of those who attacked them, almost certainly unprovoked, are likely to have been prosecuted.

I can far more understand the reactions and fighting which occurred in Kensington High Street, outside the embassy's main gates as even while I was there it was becoming difficult to move, a crush developing, a direct result of the police shutting off all the other roads and leaving only one exit, which to get to you had to push past everyone else. Even then though the mood for the most part was jovial, apart from the few idiots at the very front who were pushing the barriers towards the police who were guarding the embassy's gates. Undoubtedly why some who at this point threw items towards the embassy have since been picked up was because a FIT team was set-up on the roof of a building to the right of the embassy's gates, filming the entire protest.

Once the riot police had fully moved in, kettling those remaining and not letting anyone leave even if they had done nothing except continue to peacefully protest, it's not surprising that sticks or worse was thrown at them; for Judge John Denniss, who has been passing sentences on those brought before the court for what have mainly been trivial offences, many of whom have pleaded guilty after being advised that they would receive either community sentences or fines, to then claim that he's doing so to "deter others" is ridiculous. Firstly because those who were determined to cause trouble from the outset will not be deterred from doing so, just as there is a minority of police officers who enjoy such occasions as an opportunity to hit people have not been deterred by the pathetic response from the Met to G20 protests, and secondly because those trapped in the "kettles" are always going to express their discontent, potentially in a physical way when the police themselves are acting in a completely unreasonable and violent manner, as shown in the video featuring Jake Smith.

Equally clear is that the police take protesters taking them on in such a way as a personal affront: there is no other explanation for the early morning raids on the family homes which some who took part in the demonstration have suffered. These are ostensibly justified on the grounds that they are most likely to find those they're looking for by calling early in the morning, but handcuffing the entire family and taking computers and mobile phones for evidence is out of all proportion to the offences allegedly committed. Even if it isn't intended, these are the tactics of humiliation and act as far more of a warning to those potentially willing to protest than any sentence a judge could give. While there is some hyperbole involved, there is the danger that this only encourages the view amongst Muslims already inclined towards a radical viewpoint that the British state is determined that they not be allowed to put their point across, and with that the path to full radicalisation follows. What shouldn't be obscured by all this is that despite the battles, the day's protests was angry, inclusive but overwhelmingly peaceful, unlike the target of the protests which were at the time, according to the United Nations, committing war crimes. Protests are messy, but they are also cathartic, and the police, CPS and the courts would do well to recognise that. The alternative is unthinkable.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010 

Tomorrow never comes until it's too late (or, the Budget).

Amidst the knockabout and the political dividing lines, there was a budget attempting to break out from Alistair Darling's speech. The one thing you can always depend upon is that those on both sides will respond with plenty of vitriol and very little on what they would do instead, as David Cameron did, in almost certainly one of his very weakest performances at the dispatch box. He, or almost certainly rather his writers probably thought that their football metaphor was clever while being easy to understand for all the plebs out there, describing the country as having gone from the top of the Premier League in 1997 to the Conference in 2010 after 13 wasted years. Supposedly meant to refer to Brown wanting to appear on Match of the Day, it instead just struck you as a politician resorting to hyperbole when he has absolutely nothing else to add, and which falls apart on first examination: was the country really in such fantastic shape in 97? Is it really so desperate now? What exactly would the Conservatives have done to make such a dramatic difference when in 2005 the spending pledges from the Conservatives were only £4 billion short of Labour's?

On the opposite side, you have the supposedly "non-partisan" Left Foot Forward doing the equivalent of trying to thrust their collective tongue down Darling's throat, celebrating almost every separate investment decision taken while downplaying the taking away with the other hand. Sally Hunt rather undermines the "welcome news" that the government will fund 200,00 "extra" university places when she notes that the £270m in extra funding doesn't even begin to make up for the cuts which have already been announced. She also doesn't mention that the government is to sell off the student loan book to the highest bidder, something you think might be of concern to the general secretary of the University and College Union.

Budgets tend to begin falling apart the following day or even the day after that once all the details have sunk in, the sums have been done by the likes of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Treasury red book has been thoroughly examined. It didn't even last that long when it came to the headline raising of the stamp duty threshold to £250,000 for first time buyers. The cost of doing so, heavily cheered by the Labour benches, is meant to be covered by raising the stamp duty on properties over a million from 4% to 5%, except it doesn't. It's estimated that will bring in £90m, while raising the threshold to £250k will cost £230m. Why bother to raise it by such a measly amount when it doesn't even begin to cover it? We're not talking about the so-called "squeezed middle" here, but the very well off who can comfortably afford to pay more. It is essentially a trick, used throughout the budget and especially by Brown since his ascension to prime minister: giving the appearance of soaking the rich while doing nothing of the sort. How much further Labour could have gone has been aptly illustrated by the one-off banker bonus tax: despite all the screams from the City, it raised more than double the predicted amount, helping to fund the "giveaways" which we had been told weren't going to happen.

Even if the real cuts are being postponed to after the election or until the next fiscal year, which is incidentally the right thing to do, we still have the cuts masquerading as "efficiency savings" which were announced afterwards. A staggering £4.3bn is apparently to be saved from the Department of Health budget, of which £555m is due to come by reducing "sickness absence", which translated means forcing nurses and doctors to go into work when they themselves are unwell, an idea with absolutely no drawbacks whatsoever. Another £100m will be saved from the disastrous IT programme, which even by this government's standards of waste has broken new records in terms of misuse of public money. Speaking of which, another £4bn is to be thrown into the spending chasm known as Afghanistan, a war without end and which only gets crazier as the years inexorably pass.

If the budget and the responses to it were designed to further cement the votes if not the themes on which the election campaign is going to be fought, then both could be classed as relative successes. Toby Helm describes it as anything but a boring budget, but I beg to differ, as I presume Darling himself would. The surprises were so few as to be non-existent, and away from the Ashcroft-bashing, this was hardly the budget on which any governing party would like to be going into an election. The deficit and borrowing figures prevented it being any sort of giveaway, but it also focused on the short-term at the expense of anything approaching a vision. We had a stamp duty cut for those who can already afford to buy, but nothing for those who can't or who can't even find anywhere to live. From both sides we were offered a continuation of the same old politics even when they supposedly thirst to offer everyone change, and a tomorrow which they deeply seem to hope will never come.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010 

Insert rhyme or "joke" about labour here.

Westminster was rocked to its foundations yesterday after the revelation that a woman is expecting a baby in September.

One source, speaking to Obsolete through a speculum, raved: "This changes absolutely everything. Never before has a woman been pregnant during a general election campaign. The manifestos of all the main parties will have to be completely rewritten as a result. How can Gordon Brown possibly continue with his message of Labour investment against Tory cuts now?"

The nation's press were equally awestruck by the developments. Many were so stunned that they genuinely thought that rhyming Sam Cam with "mam" was amusing, while the Daily Mail settled upon "SAM'S HAVING A BABYCAM!", in an apparent reference to Babycham, which absolutely no one got. Pages were filled with the political implications of the leader of the opposition's wife having a child, the Guardian noting in a by no means pretentious aside that "the fact she will be pregnant will give her presence on the campaign trail greater piquancy". This unfortunately resulted in the news about small matters like parliamentary corruption being shifted to page 94, to give space to Zoe Williams to write about how this changes everything in an entertaining and certainly not interminable fashion.

There was also certainly no ulterior motives in the announcement being made yesterday. That on Sunday there was an embarrassing photoshoot featuring Glam Sam Cam (soon to be mam) in the tabloids, something knocked entirely off the news agenda with the news of the pregnancy, was just a coincidence, and an unintended side effect. No one would ever be so cynical with such happy news.

One thing was however cleared up yesterday. Everyone had previously assumed that David Cameron was referring to his wife when he discussed his "secret weapon". It's now apparent that he was in fact talking about his cock.

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Monday, March 22, 2010 

Intensely relaxed about getting filthy rich comes full circle.

As scandals go, Stephen Byers declaring to an undercover reporter that he was the equivalent of a "cab for hire", albeit for a sum which even most taxi drivers would blanch at demanding, isn't even close to the worst that Labour have suffered over the past 13 years. It's also hardly a repeat of "Cash for Questions", let alone the far more dramatic downfall of Jonathan Aitken. The closest comparison is in fact an almost identical operation by the Sunday Times last year, which successfully ensnared four Labour MPs with mouths equally as large as Byers'. In that instance they too also later said that they had played fast and loose with the truth of their fantastic ability to influence, although they didn't go so far in their attempt to don the sackcloth and ashes as Byers undoubtedly has.

The denials of Tesco and National Express also has echoes of that infamous scandal, or what would these days quite rightly be a non-scandal, the Profumo affair. As Mandy Rice-Davies didn't quite tell the court, they would [say that], wouldn't they? It's impossible to know without an investigation whether Byers was in fact telling the truth to begin with and then, either in an attack of conscience or fear that he'd been nobbled decided to retract what he'd said, but the attempt by Labour to shut the whole thing down, even after Byers referred himself to the parliamentary standards committee was never likely to put an end to things. The response tonight, to suspend Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon from the party while understandable, is only likely to infer guilt on all three. Equally Downing Street must be enjoying the schadenfreude, despite the damage to the party, of being able to cut down to size the two architects of the attempted coup earlier in the year.

This has though been a scandal waiting to happen; the only real surprise is that it's happened now, and that all three of those to most cover themselves in ordure have been or were Blairites. That might seem counter-intuitive: after all, while you can say plenty about the Brownites and their own use of the tactics of spin and smear, it's always been those on the Blair wing of the party that have found themselves at the centre of scandals. Why though, when parliament is so close to the end of term, were all three so willing to advertise themselves as available to lobbyists? There might be an element of all three being demob happy, as all are standing down at the election, hence their last chance to get some lucre before descending back into absolute obscurity, but it's not as if either Byers or Hewitt are broke: Byers is the non-executive chairman of two companies while Hewitt earns almost as much if not more than she does as an MP through her directorship at BT, having formerly been a trade minister, and slightly less through her role as a special consultant to Alliance Boots, having formerly been health secretary. Only Hoon has no such interests to declare, and he suggested that his quest for cash was down to having two children at university, and seeing as he was in cabinet when tuition fees were pushed through the Commons, he only has himself to blame.

As Justin astutely notes, corruption, lobbying and Mandelson's oft-quoted riff on how they were "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich" have all been hallmarks of New Labour, or most certainly the Blair side of the party since 1997. In the first term alone there was the Ecclestone affair, when very mysteriously it was decided the Formula 1 would be exempt from the rules banning tobacco sponsorship after little Bernie had donated a million to the party, then Lobbygate, when Derek Draper (yes, him) informed Greg Palast that he was "intimate" with the 17 people who "count". As alluded to above, it's odd that this has only just come up again now: after all, party conferences these days are just one long lobbying session, when charities and companies buy up fringe events and meetings, and as ex-ministers openly flog themselves to those that formerly were lobbying them, as most egregiously Hewitt and Lord Warner have done. Labour are hardly the only offenders though, as was illustrated when Cameron attempted earlier in the year to associate Gordon Brown with those charged with offences over their expenses, commenting at the time on lobbying. Back then we still didn't know about Lord Ashcroft's tax status, while we did know that Cameron has a "leader's group", where if you donate £50,000 to the party you get behind the scenes access to all the party's luminaries. At least you know what Labour's union backers want, and equally know that they very, very rarely get it, despite the millions donated.

Whether this will have any great effect on either support for Labour, or further disillusion those still to decide whether to vote or not is unclear. Labour most be hoping that the relatively quick suspension of three MPs already due to stand down will have next to no effect on those already likely to vote for them, but far more important is that the integrity of our politics has been once again brought into question. While the lowest point has probably been reached, thanks to the expenses scandal, where it was everyone's money involved rather than that of politicians personally profiting thanks to their influence, it's those that are politically engaged who this time are most likely to be disgusted. Even then, it's not the money involved, or that any of three would besmirch their entirely spotless reputations (snigger), but the downright stupidity and way in which they walked into such a trap. Politicians are human, something we sometimes fail to make allowances for, but hopefully not completely ignorant and lacking in inquisitiveness. The Sunday Times/Dispatches scoop suggests otherwise.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010 

Scum-watch: A great victory for liars.

How then do you respond when it turns out you've been telling ludicrous lies, claiming that teachers couldn't confiscate 4-MMC when any actual teacher would have told you the absolute opposite?

Easy. Claim that the rules have been changed because of your highlighting of the problem:

TEACHERS were given the power to confiscate killer drug meow meow yesterday - in a victory for The Sun.

After dithering for days, Mr Coaker wrote to every head in England, saying: "Schools do have the power to confiscate inappropriate items, including a substance they believe to be mephedrone (or any other drug whatever its legal status). They do not have to return such confiscated substances."

As is abundantly clear, this is Coaker just reiterating what the current rules are. Here's part of his letter to schools unedited:

Some questions have been raised as to whether teachers can confiscate such substances, given that they are not prohibited substances. As current guidance makes clear, schools do have the power to confiscate inappropriate items, including a substance they believe to be mephedrone (or any other drug whatever its legal status) in line with the schools behaviour policy. They do not have to return such confiscated substances. As School discipline and pupil behaviour policies: Guidance for schools makes clear, schools may choose not to return an item to the pupil, including

  • Items of value which the pupil should not have brought to school or has misused in some way might – if the school judges this appropriate and reasonable – be stored safely at the school until a responsible family adult can come and retrieve them.
  • Items which the pupil should not have had in their possession – particularly of an unlawful or hazardous nature – may be given by the school to an external agency for disposal or further action as necessary. This should always be followed by a letter to the parents confirming that this has taken place and the reasons for such an action.

The Sun's claims that teachers had to give back 4-MMC to students as it isn't yet illegal have thus been utter nonsense from the very beginning, and their editing of Coaker's letter is cynical and misleading in the extreme.

Nonetheless, the paper's leader continues to claim that it's all thanks to them:

IN a victory for The Sun, teachers are told they DON'T have to give back a deadly drug seized from pupils...What's surprising is that there was a millisecond's doubt.

Day was when school heads could dictate what their pupils wore, how they behaved and whether they could use mobile phones during class.

Never mind not handing back meow meow because it is technically legal.

Makes you wonder precisely what those who run our schools these days are taking.


Or rather, it makes you wonder what those who write the newspapers are taking these days. The idea that heads don't decide on what pupils wear, how they behave or whether they can use mobile phones isn't just beyond ignorant, it's an outright lie. It really is impossible not to absolutely hate the scaremongering liars who write for the Sun, and to be incredibly fearful of the power which they continue to wield, both over this government and the one likely to come.

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Friday, March 19, 2010 

Scum-watch: The anti-Conservative bias of Basil Brush.

Has the BBC done something I haven't noticed to upset the Murdoch stable? I know there doesn't generally need to be a reason for the Sun to attack the corporation, only it seems rather odd to suddenly decide to "investigate" the inherent "bias" that the Beeb has against the Tories, especially when the evidence produced is so completely laughable. In fact, laughable really doesn't do justice to the dossier they've produced to prove that the BBC favours Labour over the Tories: pathetic, hilarious and carpet-chewingly insane only begin to describe the scraping of barrels involved.

This apparently is the best that Tom Newton Dunn and Kevin Schofield could come up with:

BBC News gave disproportionate coverage to the row over Tory donor Lord Ashcroft's tax status;

...

The BBC's Lord Ashcroft coverage alone triggered 104 complaints.

When the row over his "non-dom" status broke three weeks ago it led the Beeb's TV and radio bulletins for up to six days - long after commercial broadcasters dropped it.

But controversy over the similar status of up to eight Labour donors got just a fraction of the coverage.


Taking the Sun's word for it that it did lead broadcasts for up to six days, that doesn't seem "disproportionate" when compared to the coverage not just on other "commercial broadcasters" but to that in newspapers, another prism through which it should be judged. It certainly is however disproportionate when compared to the Sun's coverage of the Ashcroft affair, which to judge by the reports on their website was a complete non-story. There are only three reports dedicated to the revelations concerning Ashcroft's non-dom status, all of which are either favourable or overwhelmingly favourable to the Tories: the first is headlined Tory Lord vows to pay full tax, the second is a report on the spat between Labour and the Tories over non-doms, and the third is on Ashcroft being cleared over the donations to the Tories through his Bearwood Corporate Services company.

Next, and we're already onto hardly the most convincing of evidence:

LABOUR panellists were given more time to speak on flagship political show Question Time;

...

The Sun's analysis showed Labour politicians on Question Time were allowed to speak for a full minute longer than Tory counterparts.

On March 11 ex-Labour minister Caroline Flint got SIX minutes more than Tory Justine Greenings.

And on February 18 Labour veteran Roy Hattersley spoke for nearly three minutes longer than Tory Rory Stewart.


This couldn't possibly be anything to do with the Tory politicians giving shorter answers rather than not being allowed to speak, could it? There's also the minor point that if you're not the first to be called on, the others can rather steal your thunder with their answers, hence there being no point going over the same ground. Also worth keeping in mind is that as Labour are in government the audience often directly ask questions of them, and are sometimes also given an opportunity to respond to a criticism of the government either from a member of the panel or the audience. None of this is evidence of bias, and if the politicians themselves are annoyed with how much time they've been given they can take it up with the producers afterwards, which there has been no indication of them doing, or even during the show if they so wish by complaining to David Dimbleby. Incidentally, there is no such politician as Justine Greenings; there is however a Justine Greening.

A POLL on The One Show ignored issues with Gordon Brown to ask only, Is David Cameron too much of a toff to be PM?

...

A total of 219 viewers complained about The One Show poll, which followed a five-minute piece about Mr Cameron's "posh" upbringing.

Dozens more wrote on the show's blog.

One said: "The BBC should be ashamed of its blatant electioneering."

That would be the One Show which is renowned for its high standard of investigative journalism, would it? For those imagining that this happened recently, it was in fact screened over two months ago, and the BBC said that the piece wasn't good enough at the time. They have since ran in-depth looks at all of the political parties. In any case, why isn't Cameron's background a reasonable topic for discussion? As the New Statesman points out, Cameron hasn't received anywhere near the same amount of scrutiny as Brown.

THE Tory leader was stitched up when footage of him adjusting his hair was sneakily fed to all broadcasters;

...

Last week bosses tried to make Mr Cameron look a laughing stock by putting out footage of him checking his hair in the wind before making a serious statement on Northern Ireland.

Party chiefs complained.

And who was it that initially shot this footage? Why, that would be Sky News, who may themselves have "sneakily fed" it to all broadcasters, or they could have picked it up from YouTube. Sky News we should point out, has absolutely no connection to the Sun whatsoever. They just provide the video on the Sun's website. Oh, and the ultimate parent company of the Sun controls a third of the shares in Sky. Apart from that they're completely separate entities.

Lastly, the real clincher:

THE Basil Brush Show featured a school election with a cheat called Dave wearing a blue rosette.

...

Then last Sunday BBC2's Basil Brush Show featured nasty "Dave" - complete with blue rosette.

He beat nice Rosie, with a purple rosette, by promising free ice cream but was arrested because it was out of date.


No, I'm not making this up. The Sun really is trying to suggest that Basil Brush is biased against the Conservatives. Then again, perhaps it isn't so ridiculous: after all, the Tories have promised to bring back fox hunting. To be serious when perhaps it doesn't deserve it, when you start seeing political bias in a children's programme featuring a puppet fox, it really might be time to start questioning your own sanity. In any case, and because I'm truly sad, I went and looked to see when this episode was made: surprise, surprise, it was first broadcast on the 22nd of October 2004, before the last election, let alone this one. Unless the Sun is suggesting that the writers of Basil Brush are so prescient that months before David Cameron became Conservative party leader they were already out to get him, this really can be dismissed as the mouth-frothing madness that it is. They also got the girl's name wrong: she's Molly, not Rosie.

Away from ludicrous accusations of bias, the paper is still trying to claim that teachers are having to give 4-MMC back to students they confiscate it from:

DEADLY drug meow meow is rife in prisons, warns the Justice Department.

An urgent memo urges governors to stop inmates getting hold of it.

Yet while the Government protects convicts, it won't save schoolchildren. Teachers must return confiscated meow meow to pupils even though it may kill them.


Just in case you didn't take my own word for it, some actual journalists as opposed to scaremongering tabloid hacks bothered to ask both teachers and police what their real approach to 4-MMC is:

Despite national reports claiming teachers would be forced to hand back seized packets of mephedrone at the final bell, Plymouth police and the vice-chair of the Association of Secondary Head Teachers in Plymouth, Andy Birkett, have insisted it will not happen here.

"We already have effective policies to deal with substances found in schools; if we're in any doubt we ask the expert's opinion," said Mr Birkett.

"The police have always advised us that if we don't know what we've seized, regardless of what the child tells us, then call the police. We seek to put the child's safety and the safety of the school first and will hand over such items to police.

"As far as we're concerned, nothing has changed. We'll deal with this drug in the same way we always have."

Drug liaison officer Det Con Stuart Payne said: "The advice we have given schools is if they seize a suspected item, then they can give it to us to deal with.

"The school may wish to deal with the matter in-house or they may wish to tell us who it came from. People should note that current force policy is that those found in possession of the suspect powder will be arrested.

"It should be remembered that samples of mephedrone we have already seized have been mixed with controlled drugs, including cocaine and amphetamine, or legal drugs such as benzocaine, which is used by dentists. It emphasises that you don't know what you're taking."

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Thursday, March 18, 2010 

Scum-watch: Fuelling a moral panic over Mephedrone.

This whole post comes with a very hefty hat-tip to Carl, a crime reporter on a local newspaper.

If yesterday's reporting on Mephedrone or 4-MMC was slightly hysterical, then we now seem to be moving into full moral panic territory. Moral panics are not just driven by exaggeration and overreaction through fear, but directly fuelled by downright lies, obfuscation and completely inaccurate media reporting, all of which has come together in today's Sun in a quite remarkable fashion.

Not content with just wanting 4-MMC to be banned, it seems determined to inflate the number of deaths associated with it, claiming that there have been 5 while only 1 has today been directly linked to the drug, but also spreading likely myths. The paper is suggesting that "dealers" are adding Crystal Meth to it, which seems highly unlikely on two grounds: firstly that Meth is not a popular drug in this country, especially when compared to the US; and secondly that the most popular methods of taking it are different. Meth is almost always either injected or smoked, whereas 4-MMC is mainly taken either by snorting it, by swallowing it in capsule form, "bombing it" or mixing it into a drink. Meth can be snorted, and it can potentially be mixed with 4-MMC, but if anyone is doing so, my bet would be only those who consider themselves truly "hardcore" are likely to chance it.

The paper's main claim today though is that teachers are having to hand 4-MMC back to pupils who have it in their possession, as it has no age restriction and isn't illegal. The paper here seems to be using a typical tabloid short cut: what it does definitively report is the comments made by Mike Stewart, head of Westlands School in Torquay:

Mr Stewart said: "Both teachers and police are powerless to do anything about it.

"Items can be confiscated, but because this drug is still legal it would have to be given back at the end of the day and that's disturbing.

"This drug is highly dangerous and must be banned."


Note that Stewart doesn't actually say that he has had to give 4-MMC back to a student after it's been confiscated, because in all likelihood he hasn't. He does though seem to be one of these teachers that love to talk to the media, as this video on the BBC shows. From this the paper has directly taken the line that teachers are having to give it back, which there is absolutely no evidence for whatsoever.

My school days aren't that long behind me, and teachers then were all too confiscate happy, and the time the item was kept was often far longer than just until the end of the day. The idea that a teacher would confiscate a white powder, even if told that it was 4-MMC and still hand it back to a student is ludicrous. The very first thing that would happen is that a higher authority (probably up to head of year, deputy head, even head level) would be brought in for something so potentially serious, and then almost certainly the police as well. After all, you can't take a student's word for it that the white powder they have in their possession isn't cocaine or speed. The Devon and Cornwall police themselves issued a press release today which ought to fully debunk this claim (Update: .doc, thanks again to Carl):

"If the seized drugs are found to be mephedrone no charges will follow under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but it is possible that other offences such as those under Intoxicating Substances Act 1985 could be brought. If, after testing, the seized substance is identified as mephedrone the Force will retain and destroy the product."

No chance whatsoever then that teachers or even police would have to give it back. The Sun could have checked this themselves, but instead thought that scaring people would be a better option.

Having then created a nightmarish picture of teachers having to give potentially deadly drugs back to their students, the paper moves on to lambasting the government, its other favourite popular past-time :

Home Secretary Alan Johnson was blasted as it emerged that a decision on a ban had been delayed SIX MONTHS.

An official review was launched last October, then postponed when the scientist in charge quit in protest at the sacking of chief drugs adviser Prof David Nutt.

The committee has still not reported, meaning any ban is still months away.


Not true - the ACMD is due to give advice to ministers at the end of the month, regardless of the problems caused by the sacking of Prof David Nutt, whom the Sun previously smeared by association, targeting his own children. The government has said it will take "immediate action" upon receiving that advice, although how much they can do considering parliament will have to rise on the 6th for an election on May 6th is difficult to see. The best plan to deal with it in a prohibitive fashion, as pointed out yesterday, was to stick it in a "Class D" classification, age-restricting and taking control of the supply until more research and studies had been carried out. This though simply isn't good enough for those who have already lost loved ones, even if they don't yet know whether it was 4-MMC itself that killed them, newspapers which are determined to use any stick to beat the government and other politicians who are equally set on proving their law and order credentials.

The paper's leader has all of this and more besides:

SCHOOL heads are furious at the Government shambles over killer party drug meow meow.

Teachers seize stashes but have to return them because there is no law against the lethal substance.

Nonsense, as we've established above.

Instead of acting, Labour cobble up plans to microchip puppies - in an attempt to divert attention from the Jon Venables scandal.

Yes, that policy was directly cooked up to distract everyone. Do they really expect anyone to believe such utter rot?

Lord Mandelson admits he's never HEARD of meow meow. Shouldn't a senior minister be better informed?

When it has absolutely nothing to do with his own ministerial duties, no, he doesn't necessarily have to be.

America can ban drugs instantly for a year pending investigation.

Why can't we? Labour mumble about a decision by the summer.


Even if 4-MMC was to be banned immediately, does the paper really think that'll either solve anything or decrease the dangers of taking it? Of course it won't, it's just the same old "sending a message" nonsense which has failed now for over half a century.

Tackling meow meow is urgent.

The Government must wake up or have more deaths on its conscience.


More deaths on their conscience? Is the paper really suggesting that the government bears some responsibility for those who die as a result of taking potentially dangerous substances? This is the equivalent of claiming that the government bears responsibility for everyone who dies as a result of alcohol poisoning because that's legal, or through lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking. For a newspaper that repeatedly stresses personal responsibility, this is the complete antitheses of that philosophy. By the same yardstick you could claim that the media could have deaths on their conscience through the hype and hysteria which they're spreading about 4-MMC; you can bet that there'll be more inquisitive and inclined to try it this weekend as a result of all the coverage, regardless of the panic associated with it. If the government has a responsibility, then so does the media. The Sun has resolutely failed that test.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010 

Mephedrone - what a fucking disgrace.

It's fairly obvious to compare the current hype/hysteria over Mephedrone (Q&A PDF here), a new "legal" high to the seminal Brass Eye episode on drugs where Chris Morris invented the fictional drug Cake, and got celebrities and politicians to rail against it, but then this blog is nothing if not obvious. It really does seem almost too good to be possibly be true - sold as "plant food", called in slang, ridiculously, "Meow Meow", "Miaow" or supposedly "Bubbles", and now we have the deaths linked to it in which everyone seems to be completely ignoring the fact that the two men in Scunthorpe who died mixed it with alcohol and then apparently, and we say apparently, as it's impossible to know yet what killed them until the toxicology reports come back, used Methadone of all things to try and make the comedown smoother. Methadone has all the dangers of heroin, and is incredibly easy to overdose on, especially when you have no tolerance to it and are unable to therefore know what a "safe" dose is. Slight update: as Carl points out in the comments, while it's possible they may have overdosed on just the Methadone, it's also possible that the mixture of the three could just have well have caused their deaths.

As a drug that only emerged in 2007 as a "recreational" substance, much about Mephedrone or 2-methylamino-1-p-tolylpropan-1-one to give it its proper systematic name is unknown, including the true dangers involved in taking it and the long-term side effects. What is known is that so far only one death has been definitively linked to the drug, and that also involved the taking of it with another drug, in that case cannabis. An earlier reported death in this country of a 14-year-old girl was found to have been caused by bronchial pneumonia, and not 4-MMC, as we'll call it from here. We don't then have any solid evidence whatsoever, let alone any scientific studies, to show that the drug is inherently dangerous on its own; what we do have is reports from users that suggest that it has unpleasant side-effects, and also isolated reports that some have become addicted to it, although those have to be treated with the usual scepticism.

To put this somewhat in context, the rise of 4-MMC doesn't seem to be just because its legal status is currently in limbo, nor that it can currently be obtained easily and acquired for relatively trivial amounts of money, but because of both the relative scarcity of Ecstasy, and the perceived drop of quality in both MDMA and cocaine. 4-MMC is currently felt to be far more likely to be purer in quality because of its legality, in difference to the aforementioned drugs, although there have been rumours that some batches could have been contaminated. The other drug to rise hugely in popularity in the last few years has been Ketamine: it's no coincidence that while Ket is a controlled drug, its use as an anaesthetic in both humans and animals means that it is relatively easy to obtain, and that its quality is somewhat assured as a result.

It hardly then follows that making 4-MMC illegal, as demanded by all the usual suspects, will either halt its growth in popularity or reduce the risks associated with it. Indeed, as the ever excellent Transform blog points out, the ban on importing it into Guernsey has had two predictable effects: pushing up the price, fuelling acquisitive crime, with organised crime gangs filling in where previously dodgy if legal outfits had been supplying it. Making a substance illegal only increases the possibility of contamination when the ingredients are more difficult to get hold of (the quality of the ingredients is also bound to suffer) - witness the recent deaths of heroin users who found their supply had been contaminated with anthrax. Lastly, as the equally reasoned Prof. David Nutt makes clear, that 4-MMC is a "designer" drug only makes the possibility of a replacement substance coming along relatively quickly after a ban is put in place all the more likely.

Nutt also offers the best "prohibitive" short-term solution, a so called "Class D" classification:

This is a holding category where drugs can be put before they are well understood: sales are limited to over-18s; the product is quality-controlled so users know what they are getting, at doses limited as far as possible to safe levels; and it comes with health education messages. Society can limit sales and collect data on use.

Unfortunately this would never be close to acceptable to the "usual suspects" mentioned above. In fact, they'd consider it the government openly sanctioning the use of such dangerous substances, and if someone was to die in circumstances similar to that of the two young men in Scunthorpe where it hasn't yet been proved that their deaths were anything to do with 4-MMC, then they'd declare that the government had blood on its hands. Like the Private Eye taxi driver stereotype where hanging and flogging is the only thing that "they" understand, so in this instance only a ban is acceptable or likely to be understood. That drug prohibition has almost certainly been the most destructive political orthodoxy of the post-war years in terms of lives destroyed and lives lost continues to be completely ignored by the entire mainstream.

Where we then need knowledge, understanding and time to make informed decisions of just what harms drug pose, we instead have the equivalent of the celebrity in Brass Eye declaring that Cake could make you throw-up your own pelvis bone. What a fucking disgrace.

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