Tuesday, August 31, 2010 

The Labour leadership and the dead hand of the Blairites.

The voting papers in the Labour leadership contest are being sent out. In an unfortunate coincidence, the not especially heavy tome from Tony Blair, modestly titled A Journey, is also being distributed around the country as copies go on sale tomorrow. While it's tempting to suggest that it'll probably take less time to read Blair's memoir than it will for some in Labour's electoral college to make their decision as to who should follow in his footsteps, it's also an unwelcome further reminder as to how Blair's shadow still hangs heavy over the party.

For while it's almost as if Gordon Brown never existed, so quickly has he vanished from the public sphere, almost airbrushed out of last three years of history with only Labour as an entity itself being in governance rather than led by the man who so coveted the job, Blair still looms large, as does his extended entourage. While Brown has wisely stayed out of the leadership debate, even if it's easy to suspect he would probably be backing his supposed protege Ed Balls, the few remaining Blairite true believers have been making it all but clear whom they favour. Even Blair himself is apparently concerned with how Ed, rather than David Miliband could potentially undo all their hard work in creating the electoral juggernaut which was New Labour, leading the party as Mandelson put it into an "electoral cul-de-sac".

This is, if it really needed stating, utter nonsense. It is however instructive on at least two separate levels. Firstly, it shows the insecurity of the remaining Blairite clique. Whether they really believe they're potentially helping Miliband senior by implying that Ed would be an electoral liability or not is unclear, but it is an indication of how worried they are that anyone other than the person who doesn't even want their endorsement could well win the leadership. Moreover, to use a really obscure analogy, it's a perfect illustration of how unprepared they are to let their grip on the party go. For those who've seen the original Dawn of the Dead, the Blairite takeover of the Labour party was akin to how Peter and friends took control of the mall. In their eyes, they cleaned it out and made it viable, only now to see their creation potentially threatened just as the looters do the mall in the film. In reality, the mall itself, or the party has corrupted them and their values, blinding them to the realisation that they have become the thing which they themselves previously hated. Instead of letting the looters do what they're going to do and move on, the Blairites in this context are Stephen, who's prepared to fight against the overwhelming odds because "[we] took it - it's ours", only to die as a result.

It's not perfect by any means at entirely accurately reflecting the current battle within Labour, but it comes fairly close. Blair, Mandelson and Alastair Campbell feel as if they still own the party, such was their role in its initial success, and now when the party needs so desperately to move beyond the New Labour era they're unprepared to let even the slightest implied insult to their reign go without being answered. The reason why the current posturing from them against Ed is so ridiculous is also multi-faceted. Not just because New Labour so conspicuously failed just a few months ago to do what it was set-up to do, which was to win elections, but because the real differences between the two Miliband brothers are so slight. It's true that David stands for the continuation of much of what New Labour started - the public sector and welfare reforms, the centre-right, triangulating Blairite stance on foreign policy, civil liberties, crime etc - yet Ed's policies as stated are only slightly to the left of his elder brother's. He supports a living wage and a graduate tax, yet on much else they share all but the same platform. If anything, it's been Ed who with the exception of Diane Abbott has contributed the least amount of new intellectual thinking to the debate - David at least delivered a speech last night aimed at putting together a counter-argument to the Tories' already none too cogent "Big Society" gambit. Ed Balls and Andy Burnham meanwhile have both been putting forward alternative policies and arguments for what the party should be doing, whether it be Balls' proposal to build 100,000 new houses using the gap between the projected borrowing figures (not one incidentally I would support) or Burnham's creditable attempt to define "aspirational socialism", which deserves praise simply for being willing to use the long rejected "s" word.

In fact, perhaps the really odd thing is that the Blairites aren't backing Burnham. His ideas are by far the most radical while being in line with their thinking on the public sector. Like them, he doesn't see voting reform as a priority, and his support for the setting up of a national care service with a tax of 10% on all estates after death is one that deserves serious scrutiny. It's only perhaps with his apparent disdain for the "elites", whether affected or otherwise, and his espousal of the living wage that he falls down. What's more, he's also the most aesthetically similar to Blair, even if perhaps he doesn't have anywhere near to the same level of charisma. David Miliband, while the continuity Blairite candidate, knowing as he does where the bodies are buried, instead remains this wonkish, more than slightly nerdy character, hardly the most naturally gifted of potential leaders. Burnham is far more in the Blair mould in that respect.

Clearly, the leadership campaign has gone on for far too long, resulting in the candidates endlessly repeating themselves, and it will still be nearly a month before we know the result. While it's had little impact outside the party, as leadership contests as a whole rarely do, it has certainly energised critical thinking inside it, best epitomised by a couple of excellent posts on where the party's been and where it should go by Luke Akehurst, an ultra-Blairite now backing Ed Miliband for the leadership. His latest entry on the limits of triangulation is especially thoughtful and an indication of how those within the party are willing to learn from the mistakes of the past. This is also pertinent to the continuing interventions from Mandelson and friends, none of whom seem to be willing to recognise why Labour lost the election. It certainly wasn't because the party was too left-wing, as they seem to be implying is where Ed will move the party should he win and therefore make it unelectable. It was instead because it was collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions, with Brown both unwilling and unable to move the party beyond the Blair years, instead introducing and keeping with his own triangulation strategy. It was because it produced a tired manifesto, with almost no new ideas, and no optimistic vision of what Britain would look like in 5 years' time. It was because it had gotten too comfortable in power, had become dismissive of people's concerns, regardless of whether it was on immigration or civil liberties, while David Cameron gave hints of a brighter future even if in the short term he would be delivering austerity.

The real lesson of the election should be that there are and were millions of voters crying out for a real alternative - one which they flirted with in the shape of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, yet decided at the last minute either wasn't realistic or couldn't be elected due to the system itself. The challenge for the new Labour leader is to try to be that alternative, redefining the party, winning over lost and new potential supporters, whilst also retaining the party's traditional base. The problem is that none of them look even close to being on the level of a Nick Clegg, and that's without the millstone of Blairite support/contempt being attached to their neck.

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Monday, August 30, 2010 

Great headline, crap article...

Shopping and FCUKing, anyone?

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Saturday, August 28, 2010 

Bring forth the guillotine.





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Friday, August 27, 2010 

Quotes of the year.

Finally – and this is the mark of true class – if you can, you should insult your audience. Counter-intuitive perhaps, but it always seems to go down well. Remember James last year? He told you that you were the "Addams family of world media". And this being the British TV industry, there were quite a few people in the hall nodding wisely and thinking: "Yes of course, you're so right James, thank you for saying so."

You know, you really shouldn't encourage him. He was so pleased with his attack on the BBC here that a few months later he decided to sink his teeth into another of those sinister forces that lurks in the undergrowth of our national life. Yep, the British Library.

Do you know what they actually do at the British Library? They gather books together and then encourage people to come in and read them for free. The sick bastards. Now they were proposing to put their newspaper archive online and ask some users to pay a small charge. Outrageous.

The British Army? The British Cheese Awards? Who knows where he'll strike next....


And, as for Five, well I don't think I can do better than the Daily Express: "Great new era for British television" was how they greeted Richard Desmond's purchase of the channel. Nice to see a newspaper being positive about TV for a change.

If this is the result when the BBC actually bothers to respond to criticism from the likes of the Murdochs, why on earth don't they do so more often?

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 

The sad, fascinating, prurient death of a "spy".

Gareth Williams is dead. That much we know. We also know that he worked at GCHQ, and was on a year's secondment to the Secret Intelligence Service. He was found, so we have been told, in a holdall, in his bath, where he may well have lain for two weeks. The reason he apparently wasn't missed at work was because he was on leave. He was, in any case, an extremely private person, as we've also been told. Despite this however, on the basis of the fact that women's clothing "which fit him" was found in his flat, he may well have been or either was a cross dresser, and could well have been killed by a gay lover. Or, alternatively, he could have been bumped off by another intelligence service, or even murdered by al-Qaida, although other sources are saying that is "pretty low down the list of possibilities". Whatever the truth yet to be established, he was a maths genius, a logician, socially naive, and loved cycling.

Anyone feeling slightly uncomfortable with knowing so much, or alternatively so little so quickly, and I do realise that through repeating the speculation here I'm wholly complicit in spreading it, will hardly be reassured with how his parents only identified his body today, having been "too upset" to comment yesterday, as if that somehow needed stating. Interesting however is just how the news either came to be leaked or publicised that he worked for the intelligence services, even if he was hardly the "spy" or "agent" which he is now being described as. And it's intriguing especially because the fact that he happened to work for SIS and GCHQ seems to be, based on that same speculation, both completely irrelevant and absolutely central to the attention the case is getting.

Not, it should be clear, that it's just the gutter press which is so anxious, as always, to delve into the private life of someone either murdered or missing and where the case is as yet unexplained. Jonathan Freedland, who as Sam Bourne writes Dan Brown-esque thrillers, as he both explains and plugs, mentions both Alexander Litvinenko and Georgi Markov, even though both were dissidents living in London and both were almost certainly assassinated by aggrieved foreign intelligence agencies because they either knew too much or had the insolence to defect. Williams was instead an unknown without foreign enemies (presumably), until he had the misfortune to be murdered, and while his work for MI6 and GCHQ might well have been of great worth to them, he was hardly an internationally known asset considered to be of such interest and danger that foreign agencies would have wanted him dead.

Freeland goes on to say:

The reality is much shabbier, the solitary life led by Gareth Williams surely more typical.

Well yes, although I'm not sure I'd say shabbier. The whole point of the security services and those who work for them, with the exceptions of those who rise to the very top, is that they are unknowns and have to be unknowns to remain of any worth. The likes of Gareth Williams would be highly prized by the security services, if, as friends have suggested, he was this intensely private person to begin with. Not being able to discuss your work, to have to lie to friends and family unless you can take them into your confidence, to have to potentially always be on alert, all will be so much easier on those who were already if not insular, then at least reserved.

All this is however avoiding, or rather ignoring what perhaps should be the obvious point. The very fact that Williams' employment was so willingly revealed suggests (here we go, speculating and criticising that very thing at the same time again) that his murder was almost certainly nothing to do with it. And without that detail, while his death is certainly mysterious and unusual in the way in which his body was left, with the cause of it not being immediately apparent, it would otherwise have not resulted in anywhere near the coverage and speculation which it has, and with it the almost certainly heightened discomfort his friends and family are currently experiencing. There are, admittedly, trade-offs: the coverage could result in his murderer being caught quicker than they would have been otherwise, or alternatively it could force those responsible even further into the undergrowth. Whether that will even begin to make up for the truly unnecessary photographs of his body, shrouded by a red blanket, being placed into an ambulance outside his flat and for the innuendo and prurience of so much of the speculation remains to be seen.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010 

Nick Clegg and a budget he can't be proud of.

As Tom Freeman and Sunder Katwala have gone to great pains to gently point out, Nick Clegg's complaint, repeated again today, that the Institute for Fiscal Studies hasn't taken into account what the coalition government might do in the future when delivering their verdict on the budget (even more regressive than they said previously) is not exactly the most compelling argument as to why we should disregard their reasoning.

Absurd as the notion is that the IFS should adjust their statistical models according to policies which have not yet been introduced and which probably have still not even been gestated yet, you can still just about see his point, you just have to frame it differently. The message he is presumably trying to get across is that we shouldn't judge the coalition on its first "emergency" budget, when many of the Liberal Democrat policies which the coalition agreed upon introducing are either yet to arrive or have only been started upon. And it would indeed have been perverse to judge New Labour on their first two budgets, especially when you consider what they did in the following years and how in their first two years of government they followed the spending limits bequeathed to them by the Tories.

The difference is that, as the IFS shows, it's as a direct consequence of the parts of Labour's budget which George Osborne didn't repudiate that their effort isn't even more potentially regressive, yet the coalition, in claiming that their budget is imbued with fairness and is overall progressive, gives them no credit for. The difficulty for Nick Clegg is that Vince Cable no less claimed that this budget was one they could be proud of; that's this budget, rather than an imaginary one in the future which will include measures which will show this initial IFS model to be completely inaccurate. While we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves, and 2014 is still a long way off, we can only make judgements based on Rumsfeld's known knowns, not his known unknowns. Either Clegg and his party accept that this budget did not have, as they claimed, "fairness hardwired into it", or they can instead argue that the real progressive measures are yet to come, ones which will put right the soaking of the poor yet to come. They cannot do both.

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Did al-Qaeda kill spook in suitcase?

(An occasional series in which your humble narrator answers the questions posed by newspapers which may or may not be intended as rhetorical.)

No.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010 

State collusion, cover-ups, Claudy and Lockerbie.

With the release of the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland's report (PDF) into the 1972 Claudy bombing, I'm reminded of what Martin Cadman was allegedly told by a member of the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, set up to investigate the Lockerbie bombing:

Your government and ours know exactly what happened. But they're never going to tell.

As it turns out, they knew exactly what happened in Claudy on Monday the 31st of July 1972. The difference it seems is that all those personally involved in the Claudy bombing, whether in the subsequent investigation, the government response, the Catholic church or the planning and plotting behind it are now all deceased. The only poor sods left alive are the relatives of the victims, and for them, as so often seems to be the case,
the truth has been incredibly late in arriving.

The details behind the bombing itself seem so familiar, so indicative of the morass which Northern Ireland had sunk into in 1972 that it almost comes across as mundane. Nearly six months to the day after Bloody Sunday, the massacre which radicalised a whole generation of young Catholics, three car bombs were left in the village of Claudy, itself only six miles outside of Derry/Londonderry. They had been planted, we now know, by an IRA cell organised by James Chesney, or as he was known to his parishioners in Bellaghy, Father Chesney. As with most bombs planted by the IRA, the intention it seems had been to issue the standard warnings prior to the time at which they were meant to detonate; only, due apparently to a previous attack, the local telephone exchange had been badly damaged and the phones both in Feeny and Dungiven where the cell attempted to inform the appropriate channels of the bombs were not working. By the time the police in Claudy eventually received the warning the first bomb had already exploded.

While it seems there was little direct evidence which tied Father Chesney to the bombing, he provided an alibi for a man owning a car similar to that which stopped in Feeny and Dungiven on the day of the bombing, saying that he had spent the morning at the parochial house with him and another man, who also corroborated the alibi. While there was also little firm intelligence prior to the bombing about Father Chesney, and none of which was related to plans for an attack in Claudy, intelligence after it connected him directly both to the IRA and the attack. One police officer wanted to have Chesney arrested and the parochial house searched, only for it to be refused by another officer in Special Branch, who advised that "matters are in hand".

Worth quoting in full was what this police officer wrote to the Northern Ireland Office:

‘For some time I have been considering what action, if any, could be taken to render harmless a dangerous priest, Father Chesney, who is leading an I.R.A. Unit in South Derry………I attach a précis of the intelligence on Father Chesney and suggest that our masters may find it possible to bring the subject into any conversations they may be having with the Cardinal or Bishops at some future date..…..’

The then secretary of state, William Whitelaw, subsequently saw Cardinal William Conway, with the following sent not only to the police officer but also to a number of senior police officers, including the then chief constable of the RUC:

‘Many thanks for your note on Father Chesney. You will be relieved to hear that Secretary of State saw the Cardinal privately on 5 December and gave him a full account of his disgust at Chesney’s behaviour. The Cardinal said that he knew that the priest was a very bad man and would see what could be done. The Cardinal mentioned the possibility of transferring him to Donegal.’

Chesney was hospitalised at the end of 1972 and subsequently posted to two separate dioceses in Donegal, before dying in 1980.

Quite why Chesney was never arrested when intelligence, if not evidence so firmly tied him to the bombings in Claudy is something that remains unexplained. The implication, as noted by another police officer, was that arresting a priest, even if the grounds on which to do so were sound, was liable to even further inflame the situation in a year in which Northern Ireland seemed to be descending into civil war:

We, here, would be only too happy, were he to be made amenable for this activity, but before we take on ourselves to arrest a Clergy-man for interrogation under the C.A.S.P. (Special Powers) Act we would need to be prepared to face unprecedented pressure. Having regard to what this man has done I myself would be prepared to meet this challenge head on.’

Making judgements now about a situation which at the time was dealt with what we have to assume was the best intentions is always fraught with danger. It's impossible to know how the arrest of Chesney, let alone the bringing of possible charges would have been responded to by both loyalist and nationalist communities. Clear however is that regardless of how the report's conclusion, tries, or rather doesn't, to define collusion, the state and the Catholic hierarchy came to something approaching an informal deal which removed Chesney from Northern Ireland, even if he seemingly continued his activities over the border. This deal, which there is little to no actual paperwork confirming outside of the reports filed by the police officers involved, the letters from the NIO, and the diaries of Cardinal Conway, effectively ensured that justice would never be done, and as almost all involved now are dead and unable to justify their actions, it is all but certain to stay that way.

Whether Northern Ireland at the certain adjunct in contemporary history is a special case or not is open to question. The next year the Diplock courts were introduced, with internment having already been brought back the year previous, and not discontinued until 1975. The Stevens inquiries also confirmed that there was active collusion when it came to the security services and loyalist paramilitaries, as had been so frequently alleged. While I find myself (as often) in agreement with Flying Rodent and Dave Osler when it comes to the recent revival of interest in the death of Dr David Kelly, and heartily recommend the asking of "cui bono?" when it is alleged that everything might not be as it seems, it's far too simplistic to always accept the official story as unalterable fact, as so many reports and subsequent investigations have proved. This isn't to fall into the trap of opening your mind so far that your brain falls out (as you would have to to believe the 9/11 truthers, say, or our own 7/7 variety), but rather to consider the possibilities when the authorised tale changes so dramatically as it did over Lockerbie. It's hard not to suspect it might take even longer than the 38 years it's been since Claudy before the full picture emerges about how Flight 103 came to be ripped apart on Wednesday the 21st of December 1988.

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Monday, August 23, 2010 

The egregious Dr Fox and the K factor.

Liam Fox's call for the new Medal of Honour game to be banned as you can play as the Taliban is hardly the first time he's said something incredibly stupid involving media coverage of the war in Afghanistan. Back in 2006 he was outraged when the BBC dared to conduct an interview with a Taliban spokesman, issuing a remarkably similar diatribe about the corporation's treachery:

"We have become used to a non-stop anti-war agenda from the BBC but broadcasting propaganda on behalf of this country's enemies - at a time when our armed forces are being killed and maimed - marks a new low. The whole thing is obscene."

As Justin and Ben have both noted, one of Fox's heroes is Henry Kissinger, having presented him with the Margaret Thatcher Medal of Freedom in November of last year when Mr K visited our fair nation, sadly one of the few it seems where he isn't liable to be arrested for war crimes. He commented at the dinner:

There is a big debate right now about Afghanistan. We need to understand that this is not an issue about troop levels. The troop levels need to reflect a conclusion about what is at stake, not a maneuvering for relative domestic positions.

When we are engaged in something we do for others, we still need to have a conviction that, in an ultimate sense, we are doing it for ourselves, because we do not want to see Pakistan as a failed state. We do not want to have this crisis shift to the borders of India. Yet we do need some co-operation in how to think about this and what is the most effective common policy.

The idea that we aren't in Afghanistan for ourselves is absurd, yet that is endlessly the position which politicians and others who continue to defend the war present the status quo ante as being. We shouldn't then be surprised when, whether it's the BBC or of all things, a video game which show the war in a distinctly uncomfortable light that the likes of Dr Fox immediately jerk their knees.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010 

Celebrate the irony.





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Friday, August 20, 2010 

New entries in the Oxford Dictionary of English.

prosor n. To present an issue as fantastically simple when it is anything but. Also to put all the onus on the other side when in a dispute. "You know Gaza mate? All Hamas has to do is stop firing rockets and Israel will end the blockade. Simples". "That's a load of prosor, Ron. During the ceasefire prior to the December-January 2008-2009 war, which Israel broke, a grand total of 15 missiles were launched into Israel from Gaza, none of which it was accepted were fired by Hamas. The Israeli reward for this all but end to missile fire was to allow an extra 20 trucks into Gaza a day, while increasing the fuel supply from 55MW to 65MW. Does that sound anything like an end to the blockade?"

Ron Prosor n. prop. rhyming slang. "Have you seen the article by the Israeli ambassador in the Guardian? What a Ron Prosor."

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Thursday, August 19, 2010 

Intellectual blind spots.

Both left and right can have blind spots when it comes to certain favoured regimes or countries. Some on the left are always willing to overlook the negatives of the regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, Gaza or even Iran, while the right does much the same when it comes to Israel or Colombia, and yes, I am generalising here. Our governments, bless them, have much the same attitudes when it comes such bastions of human rights as Saudi Arabia, which can never be sold enough weapons as long as the oil keeps flowing, and that's without bringing into the equation nations such as Pakistan, our relationship with which is a complete mess of contradictions and compromises.

This sort of thing though just makes you look like a useful idiot. Within a few pages of each other in today's Graun you have this report:

Venezuela has banned its press from publishing graphic images of crime and violence for one month, fuelling a row over censorship in the runup to elections.

A court yesterday imposed the "temporary" order on print media, citing a need to protect the "psychic and moral integrity of children and adolescents".

The ruling said: "For the next four weeks, no newspaper, magazine or weekly of the country can publish images that are violent, bloody, grotesque, whether about crime or not."


Then Seumas Milne on the "transformation of Latin America":

So expect a flurry of new claims that Chávez is a dictator who has stifled media freedom and persecuted bankers and businessmen, and whose incompetent regime is running into the sand. In reality the Venezuelan president has won more free elections than any other world leader, the country's media are dominated by the US-funded opposition, and his government's problems with service delivery stem more from institutional weakness than authoritarianism.

Yes, what could possibly have given that impression? It's the intellectual dishonesty more than anything which makes you want to scream: everyone can see that Venezuela is a vastly more equal country than it was when Chávez came to power, and the short-lived coup against him was proof if it was ever needed of what sort of opposition he has always faced; trouble is, he's since turned to using exactly the same sort of methods as they did then. He might not tick all the required boxes to truly be considered a dictator, but anyone suggesting the ban on publishing "graphic" images is anything other than censorship for a political purpose is spouting the equivalent of nonsense on stilts. You can support Chávez's aims without giving succour to his methods or even him personally, yet still so many have a fundamental problem with grasping such subtlety. Is it really so difficult?

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 

The nonsense of middle class benefits.

One thing everyone should be able to agree about this septic isle of ours is the inhibiting and petty nature of our social class structure, as universally derided and mocked as anything else abroad, including by those Americans who define "middle class" as meaning not sleeping rough and eating out of dumpsters. This isn't, it should be stressed, the fault of any class in particular; anyone, regardless of what they might be defined as, can possess the most gigantic chip on their shoulder about their social status and those they consider either inferior or undeservedly superior to them. At the same time, class should never, ever be ignored. The dictum of 1-Speed-Bike is one which should always be stuck to: any movement that forgets about class is a bowel movement. Many of Labour's problems can be directly linked to the identity politics which superseded class with every other definition of self, all important, but all of which relegated the one other thing that unites and separates us more than anything else.

When certain universal benefits are therefore described or identified as "middle class", whether with those sardonic quotation marks around them or not, it's time to start making things clear. The great thing about the welfare state is in that in the vast majority of cases, it's completely blind to the claimant's background: it doesn't matter whether you're a banker who's just lost your job or a road sweeper, in almost all cases you'll qualify for either contribution based or income related jobseeker's allowance. The same is the case if you suddenly fall ill and find yourself no longer being able to work, regardless of what line of work you were doing: whether you qualify for either income support or employment and support allowance, your circumstances for the most part won't or shouldn't make that much difference. When you then describe the likes of child benefit or the winter fuel allowance as "middle class" benefits, on the virtue of the fact that you receive them for either procreating or reaching 60 years of age and so everyone who meets those criteria is eligible without having to be unemployed or ill, the implication is, even if it isn't made implicit, that the other varieties are either "working class" or "lower class" benefits. If we define what class someone belongs to purely on the basis of their financial income, which is hardly the most reliable of measures, that might just be about accurate, as despite what the tabloids will have you believe, most on JSA or IC or ESA temporarily and even long-term are only going to be scraping in the bare minimum the state decides they need to be able to live on. It almost goes without saying however that doing so completely ignores the circumstances of those prior to having to go cap in hand, a significant number of whom would not on any measure belong to what is still just about described as the working class.

Whether it says something about the prejudices or insecurity of those who describe such benefits as "middle class" or not is open to question. On the face of it, after all, the winter fuel allowance looks like a perfect example of a benefit that could be means tested in order to save money: although it's not even the beginnings of a guide, the Groan's letters page usually fills around the time it's paid with those who've given it to charity, having no need of it. Why then give it them in the first place? The difficulty comes in the expense which would come from deciding those who are economically secure enough to not need it, which would almost certainly have to be put at an arbitrary figure of either income, pension income or savings or all three combined, and which would be fiercely contested, leading to exactly the sort of dissent, grievance and bitterness which the current situation avoids. The universality of the system, some will argue, is what protects it; start chipping away at that and you end up with poor services for poor people, the benefits for the lower orders which the "middle class" ones imply already exist, and support for which will subsequently ebb away from.

It's not yet clear whether the winter fuel allowance or child benefit will turn out to be, like free milk for the under-fives, something which not even the coalition will touch for fear of coming across too much like the caricature of Tory-slashers past, and those Labour figures and partisans already crowing about how this either shows Cameron as lying or Labour's scaremongering during the election as accurate are at the very least jumping the gun, especially when as Dave Osler notes, this was exactly what Labour itself was considering doing last year. When however housing benefit is being slashed, much to the delight of many it should be noted, for the winter fuel allowance and child benefit to not at least be reviewed would be perverse, and introducing loaded labels into aspects of the welfare state shouldn't even begin to alter that.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010 

100 days later.

Look past the 44% of those who think the coalition is doing a "good job in securing the economic recovery" over the 37% who believe the opposite in the latest ICM/Groan poll, and you'll find that despite this truly overwhelming "support for the cuts-based recovery strategy", as the paper puts it, Labour already finds itself at parity with the Conservatives, both earning 37% support, with the Lib Dems back on 18%.

This could be a rogue poll: it is August after all. Regardless though, as the Graun's archive of the polls going all the way back to 1984 shows, no winning party has so quickly lost its lead over the main opposition. It took 8 months after the 1987 election before Labour reached parity with Conservatives (although it then took another 7 before the party was to take the lead again), and even after Black Wednesday Labour only equalled the Tories' percentage score of voting intentions in the next poll, six months after the election. It would be 13 years before the Tories would come out on top again. This is, as yesterday's post set out, despite the fact that Labour is currently completely rudderless, without a leader let alone a direction, before the cuts have even begun to be properly outlined, let alone bite, and, it should be noted, with the press overwhelmingly supportive of both the coalition (or at least the Conservative part of it) and that aforementioned "cuts-based recovery strategy".

True, this is still all but meaningless for the moment, and it shows that support for the Liberal Democrats, despite ratings in other polls, is holding up well, even if down 6% on the election result. No one's going to be too worried about Labour drawing level in the middle of the silly season, even if it marks the coalition's 100th day. What's really going to be interesting to see is whether Labour starts to squeeze both the Lib Dem and Tory support; 37% in any case is hardly a bad place to be after 3 and a bit months.

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Monday, August 16, 2010 

Why I'm not joining the Labour party.

You might recall that a couple of months back I wrote a pretty dreadful off-the-cuff piece on how I might be joining the Labour party, having been moved to reappraise my long opposition to the party while in power. Since then I've reappraised the reappraisal, and moved by Sunny's decision to join, it's worth taking a look at the reasons why now isn't the time to do so.

First off, the only real legitimate reason to join Labour at the moment is to vote in the leadership election. The party certainly hasn't since the general election presented any real reason to join it through its performance in opposition, which has been woeful at best and damning at worst. True, the party has been more concerned with the election of that new leader than anything else, but that hasn't stopped the current old shadow cabinet from deciding to oppose the bill setting up the referendum on the alternative vote on the specious grounds that the equalising of constituencies will amount to gerrymandering. To go from supporting AV to ostensibly opposing it in just over three months is an absolutely ludicrous position, and bodes ill for how the party intends to fight the coalition over the next potential five years. Whilst it's perfectly reasonable to want to have a say in who leads the opposition, we all know that it's going to be a Miliband. And again, while it matters which Miliband it is, and my preference would be Ed, it isn't going to make that significant a difference: both will undoubtedly keep the party either dead in the centre or move it very slightly to the left. Indeed, the only candidate who might move it further would be Diane Abbott, and she isn't going to win.

Sunny makes a good, but hardly watertight case in his piece for joining something, just almost certainly not Labour:

I don’t think it’s possible to sit by idly while the Coalition tries to better Thatcher in destroying the welfare state. I wanted to get involved in the fight-back but I also wanted to be part of a political movement that articluated an alternative.

Trouble is, we don't yet know just how far the coalition is going to go. Admittedly, the omens are far from good, and there's already much to oppose which has so far been suggested, but we're not going to find out just where the cuts are going to fall and how heavily until October. Sure, we should start to mobilise now, yet from within Labour? Almost certainly not.

Why? Because the candidates for the leadership have not even begun to articulate that alternative. The hustings so far have been raking over the past, which any party which has just lost power needs to do, yet with the exception perhaps of Ed Balls none of the candidates have set out a course on what they need to do now to oppose the coalition, let alone rebuild the party to an extent where it can win again. All of them have successfully identified areas of policy which Labour while in power got wrong, and in their Fabian essays, probably the best distillation so far of where they stand and where they're going, all recognise that the party has been too managerial, that it triangulated far too much and that it lost the support of core voters for various different reasons whom they need to win back. Andy Burnham, bless him, even makes an attempting at rehabilitating "socialism", even if he has to pair it with that other should be dead New Labour buzzword "aspirational" to do so. None of this however at the moment amounts to anything other than fine words, nor should we be surprised that it doesn't. When the coalition itself doesn't yet know how hard and how fast it's going to cut, we can't expect them to build an alternative to something which itself doesn't yet exist. Hence why joining Labour now is a daft idea: let's first see what the new leader does when the time comes.

We shouldn't however got our hopes up even then. At the moment most are assuming that even if the coalition lasts the full five years, Labour will be able to effectively clean up, such will be the anger over the cuts, the wholesale desertion from the Liberal Democrats of the floating voters and general discontent at how things will have gone. What though if that doesn't happen? What instead if this is Labour's turn to experience what the Tories did from 1997 to 2005? Just like the Tories suffered from being unable to exorcise the ghost of Thatcher, such was the grip of Blair and Brown over Labour that we now have a whole group of leadership candidates whom with the exception of Diane Abbott can be identified either as Blairite or Brownites, fairly or not. As much as the party might want to move on, it's struggling to do so for the simple reason that none of the candidates even begin to represent a clean break from the party's period in government. This would have been different if either Jon Cruddas or even John Denham had decided to stand, neither of whom fit comfortably into either category, have their own ideas and could have at least been in with an outside chance of winning. Moreover, even with many of the shadow cabinet retiring or returning to the backbenches once the leadership election is over, it's not clear where the new blood is going to come from. It's in all likelihood going to take until 2015 for the rising talent and new MPs to make a proper impact, conveniently maybe for when Labour needs to choose its next leader.

Sunny also writes:

Given the Coalition’s agenda, the time to just shout from the sidelines and hope the system changes is over. We have to campaign for it and get involved in the political system. We have to try and influence that direction. Labour’s values used to be different, and it can change again. That doesn’t necessarily mean political wilderness, because

Labour is at an intellectual juncture with the centrists devoid of ideas, vision or energy. It’s no wonder many of them are now joining the Coalition as advisers.


The problem is that it isn't just the centrists who are devoid of ideas: the entire party is. The party's election manifesto, lest we forget written by Ed Miliband, is testament to that, and even with the addition of his thinking on a living wage rather than simply a minimum one it remains a tired document, just as the party itself is tired. It needs revitalising, but while those previously outside the party can help it's fundamentally the role of those inside to recognise such is the case, and they show no indication of doing so. This is, as Jamie so succinctly puts it, the party of Phil Woolas. It's the party of Alan Johnson, declaring that he doesn't think anything the party did which affected civil liberties was wrong. It's the party of Jack Straw, disingenuous, dissembling and the consummate politician to the very last. Labour as it stands is an authoritarian, centralising and centrist party which has yet to even begin to realise where it went wrong, and in the shape of David Miliband at least has little to no inclination to change any of that.

If the cuts turn out to be as harsh as we fear them to be, let alone if the feared double-dip recession becomes reality, then the real opposition to them is unlikely to be led by Labour but instead by the trade unions and at the grassroots. The record of Labour support for such campaigns in the past has been sketchy at best, despite so many current Labour MPs and indeed leadership candidates expressing horror at their own memories of the 80s, and there's no reason to assume anything will be different this time, especially as Labour's connections with the trade unions continue to dwindle as MPs and activists fail to find common cause. A single member, even one as well connected and influential as Sunny, is highly unlikely to make much difference on that score.

Sunny concludes:

Labour has to become pluralist, outward-looking and visionary. It needs conviction in the values that it was founded on. It needs to attract back millions of voters. I feel I can better campaign for that from within the party than outside it.

All of this is true. Key will be whether the party itself is willing to be receptive to those aims, and at the moment it seems to be interested only in power for its own sake, just as it was after 97, rather than in any great internal soul-searching. I could be too pessimistic: this time next year the new leader might have articulated the alternative to the cuts in such a way that makes the coalition's blaming of Labour for everything start looking like the big fat lie which it is; the party might be leading the opposition to the worst, most destructive cuts while recognising and supporting alternatives elsewhere; it could have left behind the Blair and Brown years and be outlining the beginnings of a new era of Labour thinking; and it could have dislodged, even abandoned the authoritarianism and centralising nature previously inherent within the party. Equally, it might be just as much in the doldrums as it is now. Either way, joining the party at this time will change nothing. The left needs to unite and fight; it just doesn't need to do so from within the confines of a party.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010 

And now... part 2.






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Friday, August 13, 2010 

It's the Sun, it's what we do.


So impressed was I by Graham Dudman's bravura performance on Newsnight last night that it was well worth being made more easily available, as I suspect most of you were spending your time more wisely than watching Newsnight in the silly season, such as by sleeping. Not so much for what he said, which wasn't especially controversial or scandalous, more his fairly good summation of what the Sun sets out to do at 3:25:

"It's the Sun, it's a great story, we want to get people angry, it's what we do, we like to shock and amaze on every page, and that's what these stories are doing."

Nothing wrong of course with making people angry; after all, that's what all newspapers and indeed us bloggers set out to do on occasion. It's more that the people the Sun wants their readers to get angry about are in the vast, vast majority not those they've showcased as being worthy of outrage, and are instead those that are on either hard times or are genuinely sick. It's best in fact to quote David Cameron, who goes further than the Sun does if anything:

You know the people I mean.

You walk down the road on your way to work and you see the curtains drawn in their house. You know they could work, but they choose not to.


Yeah, those people. You know they could work, despite almost certainly not knowing anything about them. Their curtains are drawn; it's obvious, isn't it? It would be laughable if it wasn't so potentially serious: this is the basis on which the Sun is urging its readers to report their suspicions, and in Dudman's parlance the phone has been ringing off the hook, unsurprisingly.

The Sun could, if it wanted to, opt to make its readers angry about something else, like how a businessman and newspaper owner can wield so much political power while having in the past contributed as little as possible in the way of taxation to the country in which he demands to have a say. It could make them angry about how the government thinks another business person with a dubious record on paying his fair share of tax is the perfect man to audit the public finances. It could make clear how much is lost each year through active tax evasion, amounts which could substantially reduce the deficit without having to inflict savage cuts which will put even more people on benefits, from both the public and private sectors. Those are great stories, and the first two even have a human face on which the fury and exasperation of the nation could be focused on. It also then wouldn't fall on those who are trying to get by as best they can, who through little to no fault of their own find themselves in a position where they have to live off the state, however much they dislike it. It chooses instead the easy, obvious target, a far more apposite description of what the Sun often does than that given by Dudman. It kicks those who are down, and it does it because it can and because it's politically expedient to do so. It's the Sun, it's what it does.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010 

Number crunching.

£1.5bn - amount estimated to be lost each year through benefit fraud, which has led the Sun to launch "a war on feckless benefit claimants", supported by David Cameron, who describes the money as being "stolen" from taxpayers. The Department for Work and Pensions however puts the figure at £1bn, which amounts to 0.7% of total benefit spending.

£1.17bn - amount new government advisor "Sir" Philip Green paid his wife in 2005, of which the exchequer received not a single penny thanks to her residence in Monaco. Green is to carry out an external review of government spending.

£15bn - amount estimated to be lost to the exchequer each year through tax evasion.

0p - amount Newscorp Investments, the main British holding company of News Corporation, owner of The Sun, paid in corporation tax in the UK in the 11 years prior to 1999, despite making a £1.4bn pre-tax profit over those years.

(Before anyone starts yelling at me that fraud is illegal and evasion (Update: evasion is illegal, and avoidance is not, see comments) is not, I realise that. It does however say something about this government that it chooses today to announce "Sir" Philip Green's reviewing of the books at the exact same time that the Sun with Cameron's support launches its "war", which fails almost completely to separate those who are claiming what they are entitled to from those that are doing so fraudulently. Still, as Graham Dudman, the paper's managing editor just said on Newsnight, the Sun is doing so because it's a great story, that it wants to "shock and amaze on every page", and that only then might it actually pass on any details they're given to the actual authorities. Oh, and it's the silly season and they need to fill up the paper.)

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010 

An "Islamic mosque" and political language.

There's been a lot of hyperbolic rhetoric expressed against the plans to build an Islamic cultural and community centre within 2 blocks of where the World Trade Center used to stand, and also the inimitable Sarah Palin coining the neologism refudiate in the process. Best so far though has to be this effort by Bryan Fischer, from the American Family Association:

Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero. This is for one simple reason: each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government.

Not because of his casually asserted claim that every single American Muslim must therefore be dedicated to overthrowing the federal government, something that the more out there Christian organisations in the US usually stake out as their territory. No, far more interesting is his use of a tautology: why exactly would you ever need to describe a mosque, defined solely by both Chambers and Merriam-Webster as a Muslim place of worship, as an "Islamic mosque"?

The only explanation I can think of, without it being a mistake which has been left uncorrected, is that it just sounds scarier. Islamic mosque. A mosque, regardless of what goes on it, is just a building, and generally non-threatening. Islamic by comparison, feels like a harsh term, almost oppressive, harder than Muslim, colder even than Islam itself. Islamic extremist, Islamic radical, both seem to go together, or the media makes it seem like they do. Hence Islamic mosque makes perfect sense for those trying to build opposition to the Cordoba initiative, and what seems stupid on first glance is instead a cynical piece of political language, calculated and primed for maximum effect.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010 

Grim Conservative and political futures.

The inestimable Laurie Penny took upon herself the grim task of "infiltrating" a Conservative Future bash hosted by the Young Britons' Foundation and found, shockingly, that those in attendance tended to be of a right-wing bent, approving of Margaret Thatcher and perhaps a trifle strange. As unpleasant as I'm sure it was, I do sometimes wonder what the overall point of such articles is: deliberate head-on collisions of such strongly held political views are never likely to result in a meeting of minds, or an exploration of values shared by both rather than the heightening of the differences. Without wanting to question Laurie's journalistic integrity, you also can't help but wonder whether when you go into something with an already pre-determined level of contempt for those you're about to meet, you're looking from the outset for confirmation of your view. That said, having your leg stroked and your bottom pinched by your social betters is hardly likely to make you reassess your initial verdict.

Perhaps though we're holding the young Tories to too high a standard. After all, such behaviour would hardly be out of place at say, a dismal chain club such as Oceana; far worse would be considered almost de rigeur. Should they really know better, or do they in the first place? It's not just young Tories that are slightly weird; youth political organisations across the board are nerdish, the participants not wholly certain of themselves, almost embarrassed at how they're spending their time. This, it has to be remembered, is when politics itself is almost inherently leftfield, attracting the Milibands, the Heaths, the Browns, the Majors. Only rarely do the Blairs, the Obamas, the Reagans, the Clintons come along, and they often also bring a neurosis which only shows itself after a period of time. Hell, I'm happy to admit that having written this blog for the past five years is quite spectacularly weird; I
am weird. Politics and youth only occasionally connect in a good way, and that's almost always uniquely been at protests and within protest movements, whether against Vietnam, during '68 or back in 2003. Far too often it instead comes across as trying too hard, of over active earnestness, precociousness. No one in their right mind wants to be William Hague at the Conservative conference all those years ago.

It's often said that youth is wasted on the young, and it's certainly being exceptionally wasted by these members of Conservative Future. What's the point of being young and politically motivated if you're not radical with it? The Federation of Conservative Students of the 80s wanted to hang Nelson Mandela; the closest the current class has is calling for the left to be vilified in the same way as they vilified Thatcher. They even bemoaned how "progressive" when used in a political context is meaningless, which it is, while casting aspersions on the "Big Society", which is meant to be our job. Even this though is a reflection of where politics currently is and has been heading for some time: to a safety zone stretching from the centre to the centre-right, where anything outside of those parameters is derided, ridiculed and belittled. It therefore seems especially churlish to really lay into the young Cameroons; after all, their time has come, hasn't it? It's what we're going to do about it that really matters, in our undoubtedly insecure and uncertain way.

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Monday, August 09, 2010 

The Public and Commercial Services Union gives the OK to the "grant monkey".

On Louise Perrett's first day working for the UK Border Agency in Cardiff, a manager stated that if it was up to him, he would take all of those claiming asylum and whose cases he was deciding "outside and shoot them". None of those in the office, another colleague said, were "very PC. In fact, everyone is the exact opposite." You don't, of course, have to be "PC" or even sympathetic towards those you're working with as long as the decisions you make are on the basis of the evidence available and not coloured by political prejudice. It doesn't however inspire confidence that such independent and carefully considered judgements were being made that whenever an asylum claim was accepted the person responsible for OKing the case had a stuffed toy gorilla placed on their desk known as the "grant monkey".

As it turns out that was the only allegation made by Perrett after she went public with her misgivings about the work being carried out by the UKBA in Cardiff which was fully substantiated. This wasn't though because Perrett was telling lies: instead, as the investigation into her claims admitted, it was due to how the Public and Commercial Services Union had "circulated advice" to their members all but urging them not to cooperate with the UKBA's professional standards unit's inquiry. Or as the union's Twitter account has it, the only response seemingly from the union to do with the report, PCS merely advised members to seek representation before going into any meeting". Representation which presumably involved telling them to take the fifth.

For an union which has an entire section on its website dedicated to every form of equality under the sun, it does seem somewhat strange that it made such a recommendation to its members when such serious allegations had been made against them. It boasts of being the fifth-largest union in the country, of campaigning for "equality in the workplace and beyond", although not it would seem when it would involve equality for those seeking refuge from persecution. Then again, Perrett was apparently advised if a case was "difficult", to simply refuse it and "let a tribunal sort it out", so the chances of many such decisions being made by front-line members seems to have been low in the first place.

Whether lessons will have been learned from the investigation into Perrett's experiences remains to be seen. The most concrete recommendation made involved "considering making it a disciplinary offence for failing to challenge inappropriate behaviour", the kind of sanction which would make anyone think twice before acting in a way similar to that which Perrett found to be the norm. Anyone expecting that perhaps the union might step into the breach and discipline members involved in such behaviour or even expel them, to provide a disincentive which the UKBA itself seems disinclined to set up would be doubly disappointed.

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Can Twitter wit replace stand-up?

(An occasional series in which your humble narrator answers the questions posed by newspapers which may or may not be intended as rhetorical.)

No.

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Saturday, August 07, 2010 

And now...

And if you spot the connection between them all you win yourself precisely nothing...





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Friday, August 06, 2010 

The Quilliam Foundation and accusations of McCarthyism part two.

Maajid Nawaz from the Quilliam Foundation has responded to yesterday's Guardian article on their "secret" report in what seems to be the characteristic style of the organisation: by making a wholly unsubstantiated attack on the journalist responsible, Vikram Dodd, denouncing him as a "regressive" for writing a "one-sided propaganda piece in favour of Islamist bigots".

In fact, as Dodd points out in the comments on Pickled Politics, his piece would not have been so one-sided (although it still isn't in my view, being a fair appraisal of the document even if it doesn't focus on the recommendations made on counter-terrorism policy) if QF had bothered to defend themselves when he twice phoned them up, instead deciding not to comment. As for why the Guardian decided not to post Nawaz's response, it's patently obvious: they weren't going to publish unfair abuse of Dodd, as is more than their right.

While putting in an otherwise fine defence of the document when not resorting to ad-hominem attacks, Nawaz's explanation for why it was meant to be secret in the first place is both far from convincing or adequate:

After listening to some of our critics, Quilliam had kept this paper out of the public limelight to avoid sensationalism. It seems, however, that a disgruntled civil servant decided to leak the hard copy we sent to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) online, where it has now been read over 10,000 times.

Err, so after listening to the organisation's critics, it was decided that it was best to make sure that they couldn't read it in the first place. Well, that's certainly one way of avoiding people disagreeing with you. If Quilliam had really wanted to avoid "sensationalism", then putting it into the public domain would have ensured that would have been the case; the only reason it became a story was exactly because of the secrecy and leak. It could further have avoided it by bothering to defend the document when first asked, rather than shooting the messenger afterwards. It's this abrasive nature which QF's founders seem to relish that leads to "disgruntled civil servants" leaking documents, especially when they're all but insulted in the preamble to the document.

For all of Nawaz's bluster about leftist regressives, one of the few points he doesn't address is the remarks of Robert Lambert, co-founder and former leader of Scotland Yard's Muslim Contact Unit:

"The list demonises a whole range of groups that in my experience have made valuable contributions to counter-terrorism."

There's no arguing with Quilliam's main point that government obviously shouldn't be funding organisations whose ultimate aim, even if peaceful, is the dismantlement of democracy and imposition of Sharia law, yet many of the groups listed have only tenuous real links with Islamism, and as Lambert suggests, actively help with counter-terrorism. Regarding them as irredeemable, even if as Quilliam argues, they shouldn't be banned, is unhelpful in the extreme.

The nature of Nawaz's response only underlines how QF, funded by the government, although it doesn't admit so in their annual report (PDF), despite directing readers of the FAQ on their site to it, needs to change if it is going to be taken seriously. As Sunny points out in the comments on Nawaz's piece, "funding certain groups and not others simply increases the back-stabbing and annoys the hell out of ordinary Muslims (who are suspicious of govt funded programmes as it is)". It will annoy them even more to learn that Nawaz is being effectively funded to launch such fusillades against a journalist simply reporting on a document which should never have been secret in the first place. If Quilliam is meant to lead debate on the nature of Islamism and extremism in British society, then the attempts it makes to shut down and limit those debates are at odds with its very mission and the "shared secular democratic values" which Nawaz wants Muslim-led organisations to espouse. Through their brooking of no dissent, their welcome advice on how to counter radicalisation risks being drowned out, which would be the greatest tragedy of all.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010 

The Quilliam Foundation and accusations of McCarthyism.

The Quilliam Foundation, the anti-Islamic extremism think-tank funded by the government, is a distinctly strange and shadowy organisation. It's almost impossible to know what to properly make of it, such have been the antics especially of one of its co-founders, Ed Husain, best known writing the memoir The Islamist, detailing his journey through radical Islam and his subsequent rejection of it. From first being seen by many on the right as the answer to the lackadaisical, even collaborationist left, willing to associate with and defend Islamists without understanding the ideology they were trying to propagate, Husain left them feeling cheated first by denouncing the Israeli assault on Gaza of December 2008/January 2009, even going so far as to warn the government that by not doing enough to end the conflict it was complicit in the radicalisaton of young Muslims which would almost certainly take place as a result, and then later by attacking Melanie Phillips for seeing conspiracies where there were none. A week after that crossing of swords the Foundation threatened litigation against Craig Murray for suggesting that the charity had not published its accounts for the year previously, when, it subsequently emerged, the accounts had indeed not been filed until six days after Murray's first post on the subject.

One of Murray's accusations was that QF was akin to a "
branch of New Labour tasked with securing the Muslim vote and reducing British Muslim dissatisfaction with New Labour over the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan", hardly the most generous of opinions of a counter-extremism think-tank but certainly one that wasn't actionable. It also didn't chime particularly with Husain's criticism of the government over the Gaza conflict, but it's certainly interesting that it's now, with New Labour out of office and our new overlords the Con-Dems in charge that the Quilliam Foundation has drawn up a strategic briefing paper titled: Preventing Terrorism: where next for Britain. Even more intriguing is that it's not clear whether the paper, sent to Charles Farr, the director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, was actively solicited, or drawn up at QF's own initiative. Not, it should be made clear, would we have known anything about it had the document not been leaked. The document was not intended for public disclosure, or to even be circulated within the Home Office, with QF justifying this stance in the preamble to Farr:

Based on our past experiences in this field, we believe it is sometimes useful for the government to mull over and refine sensitive policies -- such as the government's counter-terrorism strategy -- without the twin distractions of media attention and potential civil service defensiveness.

Exactly why QF didn't want the document more widely circulated is immediately apparent - it's highly critical of government departments' current counter-radicalisation policies, while finally going on to list in an appendix a whole series of organisations and groupings it introduces as "The British 'Muslim Scene'. It's also this section which Scribd doesn't want me to have access to, so I can't really comment on it. Needless to say, this compiling of various different groups and labelling them on whether the government should associate with them or not, regardless of whether they promote violence or are merely politically Islamist, something which QF argues in the document itself makes little difference as the overall aim of such groups is usually the same, just their methods differ, has been denounced as McCarthyite. One of those saying as much is interestingly
Inayat Bunglawala, the very person whom Ed Husain was defending last year against Mel P.

The strange thing is that the most controversial part of the document is in fact the justification for keeping it secret, the logic behind it being so obviously false that one of those not meant to see it almost certainly took the first possible opportunity to get it out into the open. It indeed might well be useful for the government to mull over and refine sensitive policies in private, but not without there being submissions from all of those going to be affected first. You simply can't formulate exactly the sort of policy which QF seem to want without there being a widespread debate which involves the media and the civil service, and their reasons for not wanting such oversight and debate of their own proposals are dubious at best. At worst, it suggests that despite being an organisation directly funded by the taxpayer, with apparently way above average salaries for both Husain and
Maajjid Nawaz, it rejects the openness which such comfortable surroundings demand. If this is what we're paying you to do, why aren't we allowed to read and comment on, if not outright reject your recommendations? That QF has refused to comment on the leak or the document also speaks volumes. If this is what you really think should happen to counter-terrorism policy, why not come out and defend it and defend the secrecy in the first place?

There's certainly nothing within the document which is particularly revelatory or fantastically controversial. You can quibble with the claim in the introduction that "the extremist mood music ... which draws British citizens into radicalisation, remains loud and attractive", although a think-tank which is set-up to tackle exactly that is hardly going to admit that the threat has diminished. Also worthy of critique is the way the document's introduction over-intellectualises the motivations of Salafist jihadists. It claims for instance that the infamous comments made by two of those convicted of involvement in
Operation Crevice, of "no one can even turn around and say 'Oh they were innocent - those slags dancing around'", referring to a possible plot to bomb the Ministry of Sound, is an example of a concept known as "forbidding evil", a divine obligation to enforce moral behaviour. Far more likely is that this was just casual prejudice with only a small ideological disgust for "Western decadence" behind it. It's difficult to shake off the feeling that Nawaz and Husain see all strains of Islamism through the prism in which they first encountered it and then experienced it - that of the scholarship they went through in order to progress up the leadership rungs of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The jihadist foot-soldiers far more often have very little to no scriptural reasoning, let alone knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, to fall back on when challenged, if they ever are.

If the document is an attempt to stay relevant under a new government, then it's one which regardless of its intentions deserves cold, calm appraisal and study of its recommendations. While understandable that they wanted it to remain secret, they've only injured themselves by so tortuously and erroneously arguing for special treatment that both it and they neither need nor deserve, while opening themselves up to both justified and unjustified criticism. QF remains a distinctly strange, opaque organisation, and if it wants to survive that has to swiftly change, especially when its work remains so intriguing and potentially invaluable, even if not even being close to becoming beyond reproach.

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