Tuesday, November 30, 2010 

Scum-watch: Taking the Fifa line on Panorama.

There's something almost wearingly inevitable about the Sun criticising the BBC for daring to broadcast last night's Panorama on corruption within Fifa, coming as it did only 3 days before the body decides on the host of the 2018 World Cup. After all, this is the same paper that back in March claimed Basil Brush was biased against the Conservatives, in one of its most insane outbursts since the days of the attacks on the "loony left" in the 80s.

As only a paper owned by an Australian-American can be, the Sun is nothing if not cynically patriotic. It doesn't then matter much if our bid never had much of a chance in the first place, the idea that even the possibility of "bringing football home" could be put in jeopardy by an outbreak of investigative journalism is wholly repugnant. At least, this would be the position the paper would take if it could; unfortunately, the Sun's sister the Sunday Times only 6 weeks ago exposed two members of the committee that will decide on which country hosts the tournament as either agreeing to take money in return for a vote or asking for a payment which would influence it.

Not even the Sun could be brazen enough to ignore entirely the actions of their fellow prisoners in Wapping, and so this puts the paper in a rather difficult position. How to criticise the BBC without coming across as completely and utterly hypocritical? Well, it's easy as it happens. Just misrepresent the programme broadcast entirely, as the Sun's article does. Both in the main body of the text and the "explainer" panel it claims that Panorama's accusations were either "re-hashed" or contained "few fresh allegations". While the programme did deal with previously aired claims of corruption within Fifa, Issa Hayatou's name had not been raised before in connection with what is known as the International Sports and Leisure affair. Likewise, while Jack Warner previously donated $1 million to charity after Panorama showed he had sold 2006 World Cup tickets to touts, the claim that he tried to do exactly the same thing again this year, only for the deal to fall through, was new. Both Hayatou and Warner will be among the 23-strong committee voting on the various bids. Worth noting is that through portraying Panorama in such a way, the paper is taking exactly the same line on the programme as Fifa themselves.

The paper's leader doesn't even bother to suggest that Panorama's allegations were a unnecessary dredging up of the past, or even that as the claims don't involve specific accusations of vote buying that they're irrelevant to the bidding process. Instead it just concentrates on the timing (temporary link, leader is quoted in full below):

WELL, that should do our chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup a power of good.

The BBC chose last night of all nights to accuse FIFA members of corruption - as they gathered in Zurich for Thursday's vote.

Don't the Beeb want England to win?

The timing of last night's Panorama TV investigation, targeting the very officials deciding England's fate, seemed calculated to inflict maximum damage on our bid.

Legitimate inquiries earlier by The Sunday Times, a sister paper of The Sun, have already revealed dodgy dealings involving FIFA members, for which two were suspended.

The BBC could have shown its film any time. Why pick the worst possible moment for English football?

Dismayed England bid chiefs fear our prospects could be wrecked.

Is this what we pay our licence fee for?

The reason for the timing is simple, as Tom Giles explains over on the BBC Editors blog. The key information behind the new allegations was only obtained in the last month. As for the argument the Sun appears to be making without actually setting it out, that the BBC should have delayed it until after the vote, if we ignore the risible claim that the corporation has deliberately set out to sabotage the English bid, isn't this exactly the time that such revelations should be made? It might not be exactly earth-shattering to learn that individuals within Fifa may well be corrupt, yet the very fact that those on the body which decides whom to award the tournament to have been alleged to have either taken back-handers or tried to sell tickets on the black market should cast into doubt their ability to make a decision based on the merits of the respective bids. Also of note is how the host country has to enact special legislation for the duration of the tournament, protecting the chosen sponsors, who also have to be given tax exempt status along with Fifa. Then again, seeing as Rupert Murdoch has in the past tried to avoid paying his fair share of tax in this country it's not surprising that his papers make nary a peep about such demands. The public, as the likes of the Sun would normally doubtless protest, have a right to know such details ahead of the decision being made, rather than after it.

In any case, the idea that the Sunday Times investigation, denounced by Fifa's "ethics committee"
for sensationalism and twisting the facts has been forgotten because it happened more than 3 days before the bid is made is nonsense. Also worth remembering is the Mail on Sunday's truly unnecessary publication of an indiscreet conversation the then FA chairman had, which involved unprovable claims that the Russians had been bribing referees for the Spanish, who in return would vote for their bid for the 2018 cup. The Mail, strangely, came in for very little actual criticism from its rivals who instead focused on "rescuing" the bid. Dog doesn't always not eat dog in what used to be known as Fleet Street, but what is clear is that the right-wing press always bites the BBC, regardless of how it would never allow such concerns expressed in the Sun's editorial, even patriotic ones, to influence when and what they decide to publish.

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Monday, November 29, 2010 

The illusion of secrecy.

Poor Hillary Clinton. It's a hard enough life being married to Bill without having to phone round your supposed foreign allies informing them of how the entire world will shortly know exactly what the US really thinks about their good selves. Just as depressing for her should be the eventual realisation that she - and dozens of other rent-a-mouths - have developed a conditional reflex. Mention Wikileaks and they start foaming at the mouth, spitting flecks of saliva everywhere as they denounce the criminal actions of Julian Assange and friends, putting thousands of lives at risk and jeopardising peaceful relations between nations. According to Clinton, the latest Wikileaks publication, this time of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables covering a period of 44 years isn't just an attack on the US, it's an unprecedented assault on the international community. The only thing she hasn't done so far is urge NATO to invoke Article 5 of its charter and begin preparations for the invasion of Wikileaksistan.

There really is little other way to describe the response, principally from commentators in the US, than as Pavlovian. We're dealing with the sort of mindset where releasing material which exposes the Yemeni government lying to its citizens over bombing raids conducted by US forces is more of a crime than the deaths of innocent civilians that went along with it. From their point of view, the release of a cable signed off by Clinton which urged diplomats to spy and collect "humint" on their hosts, such as their frequent flyer and credit card numbers, and if possible even their "biometric information", is more unethical than the original order. Assange, according to someone who could conceivably be president in a couple of years, should be pursued with the same urgency as al-Qaida and Taliban leaders.

Not that we should even begin to imagine the response from the related quarters in this country would be any different should Wikileaks at some point get hold of our own dear establishment's communication with embassies across the globe. If anything, our obsession with secrecy has always been even more fanatical than that of the Americans: witness the current obscene farce which is the government trying to ensure that the 7/7 inquiry can't hear the full intelligence behind the decision to discontinue surveillance of two of the bombers. This information wouldn't be heard in open court, only in a closed session where the families of those killed would be able to attend. That's the level of contempt which our security establishment has for the public: not even the bereaved can be allowed to know what they do.

More than anything, that's the real reason why new levels of hyperbole are being reached over a very preventable breach of security. These documents not only show in unforgiving and unstinting detail how the Americans view the world, they also make clear, especially so in the case of the cable signed off by Clinton, just how little difference there sometimes is between diplomacy and spying. For years being a "member of the diplomatic service" has been the euphemism of choice for those who've hidden their real career behind a very thin layer of obfuscation. Diplomats almost always have immunity from prosecution as a result of their status, something which spies notably lack should they find themselves exposed, hence why the revelation that diplomats are being urged to do the job usually expected of spies is so unwelcome. Of course, we shouldn't pretend that all sides aren't involved in exactly the same kind of skulduggery, it's just that usually it's the lesser nations that find their undercover operatives being exposed.

The other thing to bear heavily in mind is that these leaked cables were so sensitive that only over 3 million Americans have daily access to them. An "accident" of these proportions was therefore waiting to happen. Whether Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old army private widely fingered as being responsible not only for this latest leak but also the previous Iraq and Afghanistan war logs tranches is the only source or not is impossible to tell, although unlike Craig Murray I wouldn't dismiss entirely the possibility that there may well be more than meets the eye. Certainly, that Assange is still free and only being pursued currently over what may be malicious rape allegations is intriguing; you can't imagine the previous administration being so relaxed over his organisation's continuing ability to release such treasure troves of ostensibly secret material. True, his turning over of the data to newspapers with an at least sympathetic world view has ensured that the information couldn't possibly be stopped from being released, yet there's still relatively little that's emerged so far from the three sets of logs to trouble the Obama White House.

Indeed, much of it bears their foreign policy objectives out, as you would expect it do. There's no surprise either that the Arab states ruled by Sunni authoritarians would very much like the upstart Shias of Iran to be put back in their place. Equally lacking in shock value is the possibility that both Egypt and Fatah were informed by Israel in advance of the attack on Gaza in December 2008. The cables that do contain revelations are the ones which log meetings with prime ministers or other higher up officials, such as this one, containing the minutes of a meeting between Binyam Netanyahu and some members from Congress. According to Netanyahu the main threats facing Israel were Iran's nuclear program, the build-up of rockets and missiles in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, and the Goldstone Report. That would be the Goldstone report from the UN into the attack on Gaza which found that both sides had committed war crimes. As ridiculous statements from leaders of nations go, it has to rank up there.

Even the insults and the chronicling of the mundane or prurient tell us something about the nature of those doing it. These are the people we should remember who at various points in recent history failed comprehensively to foresee the events that were going right under their noses. They didn't see the invasion of South Korea coming, nor the fall of the Berlin Wall, or 9/11, even if the warning signs were there, but at least they know essential details regarding Alan Duncan's possible relationship with William Hague, Cristina Kirchner's mental health, as queried by Hillary, or whether Gaddafi's going around with a buxom Ukranian nurse (considering he surrounds himself with female bodyguards, it's not exactly a bombshell). And perhaps, despite everything, that's the other key factor behind the furore. The details of confidential meetings they can take being leaked; it's the fact that they look stupid and shallow on so much else that really pisses them off, and as an empire, that simply won't do.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010 

Quest for the sonic bounty.





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Friday, November 26, 2010 

In which I admit getting it wrong twice in two days.

Among the more puzzling seeming attacks on Elwyn Watkins featured in Phil Woolas's election literature was the one featured on the page containing his personal address to Oldham East and Saddleworth's voters. In what I foolishly imagined to be something approaching a joke, Woolas's pseudo newspaper promised that next week they could read Watkins' plans "to scrap the Geneva convention".

It says something about the battle being joined in the constituency that rather than being an attempt at a light-hearted jibe at their opponent, Watkins in fact did respond when asked that he'd rip up not only the Geneva convention, but also the European Convention on Human Rights if it would mean that he'd be able to deport asylum seekers back to "their oppressive country" if they'd broken the law here. Asked by members of his own party to clarify his views, he finally got around to responding to them today:


Clearly there are other considerations in the case of people who have been granted asylum because it is likely their lives would be seriously endangered if they return to their home country.

Nonetheless, the position of the minority who abuse asylum is a genuine concern for local people, many of whom have raised it repeatedly with politicians of all parties.

It is not good enough to sweep these concerns under the carpet as Labour have done for 13 years. To not discuss these issues openly when they are of genuine concern to many local people allows extremist parties to get a foot in the door, and that’s something none of us want.

I welcome the coalition government’s commitment to a Commission to investigate a British Bill of Rights, with the express intention of clarifying how our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other international agreements best operate within British law and to ‘promote a better understanding of the scope of these obligations and liberties’.

Which, as many will note, is almost exactly what Woolas himself has argued. By not saying that we'll deport asylum seekers back to their home country if they break the law, regardless of concerns for their safety, we'll allow the British National Party to take advantage. Or put another way: unless we adopt the British National Party's policies, we'll lose votes to them.

Watkins' attempt at outdoing Woolas from the right seems sadly to have been unsuccessful first time round, as the Liberal Democrat vote in the constituency fell by almost 300 ballots on their 2005 performance (doubtless they would claim as a result of Labour's dirty tricks), with the Tories and UKIP the main beneficiaries. The BNP share of the vote increased by 0.8%, but it was still way down on what they achieved in 2001, the year of the riots. Quite whether Liberal Democrats will come out and support someone who hasn't retracted his views when (or if) the by-election eventually takes place should be fascinating.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010 

I'm still your fag (or the importance of being Gove).


(Apologies to Broken Social Scene for the title.)

The Guardian
opens its editorial on the schools white paper with the assertion that, if nothing else, it's palpably clear that Michael Gove cares about schools. Perhaps a more accurate line would be that he palpably cares about some schools. Someone who palpably cares about all schools would have made certain that the lists his department released concerning the abolition of the Building Schools for the Future program were accurate the first time. Instead, numerous schools were told their new buildings would still be constructed only to then to have the news broken that in fact they wouldn't. One of the Tory jibes against the Labour was that despite spending so much, they still failed to fix the roof while the sun was shining. For those now sitting in freezing cold or leaking classrooms or portacabins, safe in the knowledge that they'll be doing so for a good few more years to come, such criticisms ring rather hollow.

Labour's attack line on Gove's reforms, that they'll create winners and losers, is in fact better than it looks at first for Gove has created an at times truly bizarre concoction of changes and new measures which often contradict each other. He wants to increase freedom and autonomy for all schools, while at the same time imposing new edicts on them from the centre. He's cutting the number of modules to GCSEs and ending the practice of students repeatedly re-sitting parts of A-levels in an attempt to get a better grade, while at the same time setting up an independent review of the key stage two SATS even as he adds yet more components to them in the interim. He wants to free teachers from the worst constricts of the curriculum while, to quote from the executive summary of The Importance of Teaching, "specifying a tighter, more rigorous model of the knowledge which every child should expect to master in core subjects at every key stage", the number of which incidentally is increasing.

That's the really odd part of this white paper. For all Gove's emphasis on the freeing of schools, not only from central but also local control, encouraging all to become academies and clearing the way for his pet "free schools" program where anyone who has the time and money can start up a school and more or less anyone can also teach there, there's also much that he thinks has to be encouraged, if not demanded of these new autonomous educational establishments. Although it goes unmentioned in the executive summary, we already know of his quaint if not slightly unsettling affection for uniforms, especially blazers and ties, coming just as politicians increasingly abandon the wearing of the latter. He also favours the reinstatement of the house system, something bound to send a shiver down the spine of those of a certain age, with their children now being urged to care about the most meaningless of distinctions between peers as they were once meant to.

Alongside this real-life renactment of Tom Brown's Schooldays is an emphasis on an academic curriculum at the expense of vocational training of almost any sort. While Gove wants to introduce his English Baccalaureate,
noted by Simon Jenkins as surely something of an oxymoron, which will include the usual English, Maths and Science along with a foreign language and a "humanity", vocational qualifications merit only a single mention, where they'll be overhauled to "ensure they match the world's best". Those that despair of being forced into taking subjects they despise, knowing full well already at 14 that the academic path isn't for them are going to be in an even worse position than now.

Such changes wouldn't be complete without the also long heralded return to common sense on behaviour. A month back Gove announced an end to the "no touch" rule, a rule which it almost goes without saying doesn't exist. Likewise, it's almost equally certain that if a teacher wants to search those under their care for something then they'll do it, and if they're that concerned they'll even call in the police to do it for them. Gove's plans to restore this right will probably not then quite inspire the dread it might, yet it's still the kind of measure which is almost actively designed to make school an even less pleasant place than it already is. Much the thinking seems to be behind the bringing back of same-day detentions, indeed if they have also disappeared. The main reasoning behind giving notice of detentions was so that parents knew their offspring were being punished and thus ensure they weren't doing something with them immediately after school that day, which believe it or not tends to annoy them regardless of what their child has done to deserve the punishment in the first place.

Not quite as draconian as first advertised are the changes to the appeals panels for those who have been excluded, which were at one point wholesale threatened with abolition. Instead the process will be speeded up, while those who have committed a "serious offence" will no longer be reinstated against a headteacher's will. Teachers will still however get anonymity until proven guilty of accusations made against them, something not afforded to those in the criminal justice system, or anyone else in the public sector going through a disciplinary action. Also worthy of mention is how Ofsted will focus more strongly on behaviour and safety, including bullying. Quite how they'll be able to accurately identify the level of bullying in a school over the usual week long inspection is anyone's guess.


One thing that is clear is just how little influence the Liberal Democrats have over Gove. Apart from the intro from Dave 'n' Nick where they already seem to be settling into aping the Private Eye caricature of themselves, which only seems to be there for the purpose of Clegg emphasising the piss-poor pupil premium his party demanded, the rest is straight out of the Conservative manifesto. Granted, their proposals on education were always vague outside of their promises on tuition fees, yet you'd have thought they might have had something to say about Gove's curious glorification of prefects and other favoured aspects of private schooling which comprehensives for the most part long ago abandoned. Then again, Clegg went to Westminster; Gove coming from a Labour background, only won a scholarship to the far less exclusive Robert Gordon's College.

Every education secretary wants to leave some sort of lasting legacy behind, and Gove is no exception. Somewhere, hidden deeply in the white paper is his passion for making our current failing system world class again. It's sadly buried by the myriad of oddities outlined above, along with the baffling commitment to outdated methods which he either really does believe in or he thinks he has to include to convince his party that he isn't just a Blairite in Tory clothing. How else to explain a white paper which will deny state funding to those who only get thirds, a move which puts elitism and qualification ahead of the actual ability to teach, yet also advocates the construction of "bespoke, compressed" undergraduate courses for those from the armed forces without degrees whom they seem to think can't wait to get into the classroom? Bending over backwards to help some while shutting the door permanently on others is exactly what Gove seems destined to do.

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In which I admit to talking crap (or a word on Learco Chindamo).

I was, in hindsight, rather setting myself up for this:

All the signs are however that Chindamo is that rare thing - a truly reformed character. Giving a convicted killer the benefit of the doubt is always going to be difficult, even when Frances Lawrence has herself apparently now forgiven him and magnanimously hopes for the best. Chindamo has to live up to what is expected of him, but to do that others have to take him into their confidence as well. The Sun, the rest of the media, and the public should now give him the opportunity and the space to do just that.

Oh. Obviously, we aren't aware of the full facts, it could turn out that it's been a case of mistaken identity, a malicious complaint or otherwise and so we should reserve proper judgement. Nonetheless, if he is subsequently convicted of an offence, the people he has let down most are not that those that saw the best in him and believed in his sincerity, but those who find themselves in a similar position, having committed a heinous crime and now desperately trying to convince the authorities that they are safe to be released back into the community. It's they that may well feel the chilling effects the return of such a notorious criminal to prison will almost certainly have on parole boards.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010 

Protest hyperbole and the not completely mundane reality.


One of the less attractive traits some of us on the left have is just how easily we resort to hyperbole when in the midst of what on the surface seems to be a wonderful example of the people power we often idealise. Anyone can get swept along by the moment, yet it's difficult not to groan when faced with the exuberance and excitement of Laurie Penny describing the teenagers around her in Whitehall as being part of a children's crusade. Not just because of the unhelpful connotations which now surround use of the word in such a context, but also as to how it isn't the most helpful historical reference: most now accept that there were no children's crusades as romanticised by the chroniclers of the day, and even if there were a few such events, then they didn't actually involve what we would now classify as children.

Not that only Penny has been caught in the temporary euphoric spell, as the usually more grounded Lenin also declares today's protests to be part of the biggest student rebellion since '68. More than one generation will dispute that. It's also not as if the occupation of some university buildings is recently unprecedented; many were temporarily taken over in protest at the Israel-Gaza war of December 2008-January 2009, with deals being struck to ensure that more students from the impoverished and beleaguered territory would be able to come to study in this country to end the sit-ins.

There is however no disputing that this is an organic, fluid and highly-motivated protest movement which has put everything else so far done in opposition to both the cuts and the rise in tuition fees to shame. Even the concrete shithole I call home, so thoroughly bourgeois for the most part that the biggest ructions of recent years were over minor changes to the bus timetable, has seen the best attended protest I can remember ever being staged here with at least a couple of hundred schoolchildren and sixth-formers marching to the council's offices. Prior to the Iraq war we could only expect around between 50 and 75 to turn up for similar local action. If it's happening here, then it's almost certainly taking place in towns and cities major and minor, beyond the reports that have mainly focused on London, Bristol and Brighton, where brief trouble flared.

Brief trouble is probably putting it more dramatically than the true picture. After being embarrassed two weeks ago by deciding not to bother putting anyone outside Tory HQ, regardless of how it was only a matter of yards from where the NUS march ended, the police were out in force and back sadly to the tactics which post the G20 protests it was hoped they'd think carefully about before using again. Despite the Adapting to Protest report from Denis O'Connor, which made clear that officers were meant to facilitate demonstrations as much as control them, it was interesting to note that no one was being allowed anywhere near the Liberal Democrats' HQ, nor was Westminster itself open to access should anyone have wished to exercise their democratic right to lobby their MP. As for leaving an unprotected police van parked right in the middle of Whitehall, either someone's going to be getting severely bollocked in the morning or it was just a happy coincidence that the local constabulary had provided a focal point for the protests, not to mention the TV news and tomorrow's papers. This said, some hardly helped themselves; as amusing as it was when the kid asked what he was holding by Nick Robinson, who unlike everyone else seemed to be able to enter and exit the "kettle" no questions asked, responded with the soon to be legendary "a rasclart weapon" while holding it up, as usual the small amount of troublemakers may well have spoilt the experience for the others.

Key will ultimately be whether this in fact turns out to be the peak of the protests. Most mass-movements which spring up almost from nowhere tend to fade away just as quickly. When most of those who previously took part in the demonstrations won't be personally affected by the rise in tuition fees should they be voted through, it really is going to depend on the younger ones who first made their voices heard today who will be. As true as it is that today's protests were all but leaderless, without that vital component the chances are all the greater that this will be that one-off. Who or what fills the role will be integral to keeping up the pressure on a government which is there to be cracked. With the real cuts yet to be made, these could still be the opening skirmishes to the resistance some on the left are already eager to portray it as.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010 

Initial policies and changes for Miliband's long haul.

One of the warning signs that Ed Miliband has not become the leader of a united, happy party is that the former usual suspects are going out of their way to say that he has. The sort of mutiny, even if it wasn't directed at him over Phil Woolas hints at how the party's old, mainly Blairite or even more senior guard is prepared to object should the new leadership step too far out of line. Add to this how Alan Johnson continues to make contradictory noises relating to both policy and the party's relationship with the unions, the sort of behaviour which would have been treated as heresy under previous regimes, and it's apparent that the party has yet to get used to being led by the younger brother of the perceived heir.

It hasn't helped that Miliband's two weeks of paternity leave have felt like much longer, or that it seemed most of the party's front bench had decided to take the time off as well. Not that this appears to have had any adverse effect: the latest ICM poll shows Labour has taken a two point lead over the Conservatives, something which can almost certainly be written off as all but meaningless. As gladly as some would welcome politicians deliberately absenting themselves from the public arena, it doesn't stack up as a viable long-term strategy.

Miliband's chief problem is deciding which of those currently on offer is the best. On this, as on so much else, he seems to be uncertain and needing far more in the way of advice. In his interview with the Guardian he recognises how "opposition is a long haul", and nothing like government, just in case that wasn't bleeding obvious. Alongside the welcome announcement of a root and branch policy review, albeit helmed by the very much not of the new generation Peter Hain, there's little on how to oppose and challenge the coalition on the policies it's pursuing right now.

This is, as previously argued, a government which is in a mad rush to legislate. Labour was often accused of coming up with new policies drawn up on either napkins or the back of cigarette packets, yet the coalition's stridency and almost continual pushing of either consultations or papers ought to be seen as just as deeply alarming. This week alone has already seen the publishing of the consultation on changes to social housing and tomorrow we have the education reform white paper to look forward to. Having already outlined the cuts to come in the spending review, along with the welfare reform white paper, likely to be voted upon after Christmas, this is a very different kind of government to the one which came to power in 1997. Then the key policies which were enacted almost immediately had been well advertised in advance: the windfall tax to fund the New Deal and the independence of the Bank of England. What followed for most of New Labour's first term was relative legislative calm, especially when contrasted to the reform and criminal justice mania which later set in. This placed the Tories in the quandary of almost not knowing what to do with themselves, and left them struggling to find a theme on which to base their campaigning around, especially when faced with what according to opinion polls and historical standards was an astoundingly popular governing party.

Labour and Miliband's dilemma posed by the government is almost the diametric opposite: there has been so much policy put forward already that the party ought to instinctively oppose that it could easily fall into the trap of spreading itself too thinly and not articulating a message to the public of how the party offers a viable, full alternative. Ed Miliband's opening theme of representing a new generation for change is laughably hollow, especially when surrounded by the detritus of the past government. He's also clearly struggling, as shown in the Guardian interview, with how exactly to move beyond New Labour's orthodoxies while not burying them completely, trying to keep onside those like Johnson who still base much of their thinking not necessarily on Blairite doctrine but instead on the more basic principle of it ain't broke, don't fix it.

This said, there are already welcome moves towards repudiating some of the party's worst legacies, and not just on the issues which were previously identified during the drift of the excessively long leadership contest. Ed Balls' admission, incredibly late admittedly, that they got it wrong on both 90 and 42 days detention without charge for terrorist suspects deserves more recognition than it has so received. This is doubly important for the reason that it was at the time and most likely remains a popular policy with the public, and one which was pursued on the cynical triangulating grounds of portraying the opposition as playing around with people's lives, not giving the police and security services what they needed to deal with the jihadist threat.

Clearly however it needs to go much further. This should be made far easier by moving into the space which has been so alarmingly quickly abandoned and vacated by the Liberal Democrats. When you recall that it was only a few short years ago that their most notable and instantly recognisable policy was the proposed imposition of a 50p top rate of tax for those earning over £100,000 a year, it's all the more risible that Nick Clegg now regards such "shibboleths" as indicative of "old progressives". His entire specious and disingenuous piece for the Graun, with its shallow labelling, straw men arguments and mischievous aim of dismissing Labour for doing more than any other post-Thatcherite government to check, if not reverse income inequality can be seen either as his finally going fully native with the Conservatives or what has always been his true politics rising to the surface. It's also not as if he's the only Lib Dem wrestling with themselves over accusations of betrayal; Vince Cable has been through similar mental gymnastics on tuition fees.

This next point might then seem counter-intuitive: Labour should take up the mantle of fully supporting the yes campaign in the alternative vote referendum. It's true that such a position could well have the side effect of propping up the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, should the vote be won whereas at the moment it looks like it could go either way. After all, the AV referendum is the one key thing that the Lib Dems can hold out to its supporters as being achieved which is completely untainted by other deals done on policy. If Ed Miliband is serious though about changing Labour and securing the party's future under a new generation then a more pluralistic politics is the cornerstone of that, and with so many disgruntled Lib Dem voters out there that supported the party's pre-coalition policies very little will do more to attract them than an act which goes beyond narrow party self-interest. The centre-left is wide open for Labour to move into; it would be beyond foolish to not do so.

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Monday, November 22, 2010 

Stupid ideas and short posts.

1. No one has ever started smoking as a result of being drawn to the packets cigarettes come in. There are innumerable reasons as to why some start smoking and others don't, especially now that it's so relatively frowned upon: peer pressure, being friends with others who do, having brothers and sisters or parents that do, simply falling into it through trying it and enjoying it, some of which, conversely, can also mitigate against others starting. There is an argument for only allowing cigarettes to be sold in plain packets on the basis that some brands of cancer sticks are more highly regarded than others, and that by forcing them to be sold in the same basic packaging you're reducing the attractiveness on those grounds, yet that's not the one which is being made by the health secretary and the usual "we know what's best for you" suspects.

Instead, this is essentially another policy based on the premise of the state stigmatising the practice even further than it already is, without of course putting them in a banned substance category and so cut off a lucrative revenue stream. It's also ineffective as increasingly those who smoke have pack holders (or tins, especially among those who roll their own) that cover the unpleasant and graphic warning messages, which have themselves failed for these even more drastic measures to be mooted. It also ignores somewhat how basic but clear and bold designs can be the best: the government seems to have recognised this in that they're thinking of grey or brown plain packs rather than plain white ones, which are gloomy colours, although doubtless if there's a way for the manufacturers to get round such rules they will. They could have gone further and decided upon snot green or dull yellow as the pack colour, so perhaps smokers should be grateful for small mercies.

2. One of my regrets from my school years (along with a whole lot of often more pressing others) is that I didn't pay anywhere near enough attention during my German lessons, although French would probably have been a better option had I not decided to be "different" when the choice was given between the two. It's only later and increasingly now, driven by the internet, that it's become apparent how useful and valuable having even just a basic knowledge of a second language is. Most children not unreasonably take the view thanks to our relatively insular modern culture, not to mention Anglo-American arrogance that we don't need to learn anything other than English as everyone now either learns or speaks it. Also terribly unhelpful (this might have since changed) is that unlike other European nations we don't start learning a foreign language or at least anywhere near properly until around Year 6, whereas they start almost as soon as they start learning their native tongue. Unless I'm wrong it's also now completely optional whether or not you continue with a second language once you reach 14, which means the vast majority abandon it and so even more will end up with the same regrets as I now have.

It's therefore rather bemusing to learn of the Classics for All campaign, which has the on the surface laudable aim of of wanting every student to have the option to learn either Latin or Greek. There is, it should be apparent, nothing wrong with offering the choice. It's more that there seems to be something almost deranged in reducing even further the chances of most learning a living second language, as such a campaign almost certainly does, at least by general state school timetable standards. The argument goes that through learning Latin you don't just learn a "dead" language but also the entire gamut of ancient culture, and with it comes the key, as Boris Johnson states, to a "phenomenal and unsurpassed treasury of literature and history and philosophy". I don't doubt that it can be an enormously useful discipline - the problem is more that unless you're a far more diligent student than I was, and know what really is good for you when you're far more enamoured with almost everything other than learning, you'll reject not just Latin but other languages entirely, which really would be a disaster.

(What was meant to be a short post has turned into a 711 word one. It's also not clear whether mine are the stupid ideas or not. And perhaps I should learn English properly before I bemoan my knowledge of German. Ho-hum.)

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Saturday, November 20, 2010 

Reverse engineering.




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Friday, November 19, 2010 

It turns out we can go on like this.

I'd written an entire post on the new working peers list announced today, only for Blogger to decide to log me out when I came to publish it and lose the whole thing in the process, so here's an even worse, albeit more succinct version.

Our entire way of doing politics is discredited by the cesspool of patronage and corruption otherwise known as the House of Lords, and all of the parties are equally complicit. The Conservatives however directly campaigned on the basis of this being a year for change, and of how we couldn't go on like this. As far as today's appointments go, with 5 of the new Tory Lords on the list having between them donated nearly £5,000,000 to the party, and "Sir" Gulam Noon, a Labour nominee having given almost £750,000 since 2001 to his party's coffers, it's more than apparent that the status quo is in fact absolutely tickety-boo. It also means we have 142 more Lords than elected MPs, and that's before 50 constituencies are abolished by the time of the next election in the name of equalising the number of voters in each. It's quite some democracy we have, isn't it?

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Thursday, November 18, 2010 

Mark Andrews, Pamela Somerville and successful appeals against convictions for assault.

What then does the case of Sergeant Mark Andrews and Pamela Somerville tell us about the ingredients needed for a successful appeal against a conviction for assault? Firstly, it seems, you need to find a judge with a similar field of vision to Mr. Magoo. This requires a huge amount of luck. Second, the judge also has to be prepared to give the police officer more than the usual amount of the benefit of the doubt. Third, err, that's it.

Here's the curious thing. When Andrews was first convicted it seems that most if not all of the news reports and videos posted of the incident were edited to show only Somerville being thrown into the cell the once. In fact, as the video on the BBC's report shows, Andrews threw her into the cell on two separate occasions, nearly an hour apart from one another. On the first occasion she was pushed all the way to the back of the cell without sustaining any injuries, after trying to get out of the cell; it was on the second, having apparently left the cell again when Andrews effectively threw her face down onto the floor and then shut the door.

Curiouser still is that Mr Justice Bean apparently believed the claims made by Andrews' defence that the whole incident was an accident, with Somerville only being injured after she "suddenly let go" of the cell door frame. Anyone with a pair of eyes can quite plainly see from the video that the two of them were well within the cell when Andrews, who also clearly has a full hold on her, throws her dangerously onto the floor. It almost makes you wonder whether the case has been accurately reported, although both the BBC and the Guardian have much the same account in their separate stories, both of which seem to have been based on the Press Association original. The Daily Mail could be expected to be sympathetic having bought Somerville's story and also likely to have a reporter in the court, yet their account doesn't have the judge accepting Andrews' argument. Surely the judge must have seen the full video, and didn't confuse the first time she was thrown into the cell with the second?

Whatever the case, his other comment which all agree on is that he told Andrews he "could have handled it better", which is more than something of an understatement. If Somerville was drunk as Mr Justice Bean apparently accepted, it was even more important that Andrews didn't throw her about like a rag doll. You do have to sympathise with Andrews in that she was being uncooperative and more than a little trying in leaving the cell repeatedly (arguably something she was fully entitled to be considering she claims she didn't know what she had been arrested for and also taking into account that being asleep in your car, even if you are drunk, is hardly the most heinous offence), yet the way in he dragged her across to the cell alone showed that he was hardly being as careful as he could have been; she could have sprained her wrist or worse simply through the way in which he held her arm. He doubtless didn't intend to hurt her when he threw to the floor that second time, yet his exasperation could have resulted in worse injuries if she had fully hit her head against the concrete floor, as so easily could have happened.

I wrote at the time that I thought a six-month sentence was harsh, and stand by that. A community sentence, fine, or even a conditional discharge would have been more than punishment enough alongside potentially losing his job. Considering his acquittal, the assumption now has to be that he won't even lose that as he was suspended on full pay the entire time, perhaps getting a formal warning about his future conduct. Some might think that was all that ever should have happened, and that the CPS were overzealous in seeking a prosecution. By any objective measure, what happened, especially if we were to turn the tables and it was a police officer being thrown to the ground, was a possible assault where a jury or judge should have decided whether there was a case to answer. Andrews was a in a position of authority over a drunk woman who was in his care, and at best he allowed his temper to get the better of him and dangerously threw her against the floor. In that sense, his successful appeal looks like a travesty of justice.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010 

Tom Watson has an incredibly short memory.

Politicians are cynical beasts. This we know. If they think they can get an advantage of something, then they almost certainly damn well will. This was never more proved than in a couple of incredibly histrionic performances put on by Tom Watson in the House of Commons just a few short weeks ago during the most recent outbreak of parliamentary discussion over the long-running News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Watson claimed during the first session that the "integrity of our democracy is under scrutiny around the world", which even by the standards of parliamentary debate was some of the most frightful bollocks recently spouted in the chamber. Watson, it should be made clear, has more reason than most to want to see the tabloid press reigned in, for perfectly legitimate reasons: both the Sun and Mail on Sunday paid out libel damages to him after claiming that he knew about the smears concocted by Damian McBride. His pursuit of Andy Coulson strangely however only began once Labour was out of office, and not before, when he could have perhaps helped to do something about what he now considers to be the out of control tabloid press.

If therefore the coalition did know beforehand that yesterday was going to see the announcement of a royal engagement, then I don't doubt for as much as a second that they would have ensured to get as much bad or unhelpful news out of the way as they possibly could. And to judge by the other stories which did break yesterday, including the highly embarrassing u-turn by Cameron himself which was to decide that his vanity staff shouldn't after all be on the public payroll, as well as the payout to the former Guantanamo detainees, this could well have been the case.

Tom Watson however doesn't suspect that news management was in operation yesterday; he's absolutely certain. In a post on Labour Uncut, which is fast becoming the place to be for former Labour ministers to write what are remarkably candid entries, as Eric Joyce did on Monday (although personally I think despite his "the voters are just as bad as we are" spiel he did have something resembling a point, even if not expressed in the most lucid fashion), he doesn't just have Coulson and co in on the scam but also the Bank of England and Greater Manchester Police, as well as the authors of the Redfern report. It's true that what would have otherwise been big or fairly big stories were as a result of the royal announcement shoved so far down the news agenda or off it altogether that most people probably didn't hear about them, yet it's difficult to believe that these weren't anything more than coincidences.

In fact, on the score of the cuts to the number of police officers serving in Greater Manchester the story was already being reported on Monday and was in Tuesday morning's papers. Hardly being buried. While politicians are capable on occasion of lying through their teeth on occasion and being wholly plausible about it, David Cameron's welcoming of the royal news seemed far too genuine to be anything but the truth, hearing about it by being passed the news while in cabinet and then relaying it to them. Even more indicative of how unlikely anyone other than the palace knew about the news was that there wasn't even a hint provided anywhere that it was going to be announced yesterday. There had been rumours that William had either proposed or was going to shortly, but not that an announcement was imminent.

If we're being incredibly charitable and cynical then, at worst the coalition rushed out the news about the sacking of Andy Parsons and Nicky Woodhouse yesterday morning knowing it would shortly be buried, while the Guantanamo payout plan was leaked on Monday night, too late for the first editions but appearing on all the news websites either before or around midnight. As argued yesterday, if anything this has had the welcome effect of significantly reducing the level of criticism of the deal when the detainees so richly deserve all they got and more besides.

As contemptible as this would be, it doesn't even began to rate on the scale when compared to the worst example of news management by New Labour. Most in the comments on Watson's posts have mentioned the notorious "burying of bad news" email sent by Jo Moore on 9/11, although whether any actual bad news was issued that would have made waves is debatable. By far the worst case was what happened on Thursday December the 14th 2006, when Tony Blair was questioned by police over the loans for peerages affair. Downing Street had known weeks in advance the Met were coming round that day, and that it would obviously lead all the newspapers and bulletins. What they didn't do was tell other ministers. Both Alistair Darling and Douglas Alexander had either "bad" or controversial announcements to make that day, while there was also the small matter of Lord Stevens releasing his long-awaited and trailed report into the death of Princess Diana, the date for which had also long been known. Just to top it all, Lord Goldsmith then went to the House of Lords and made his statement on the dropping of the inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office into BAE's Saudi slush fund. Tom Watson at the time was a parliamentary under-secretary at the Ministry of Defence.

I don't doubt that Watson knew nothing, like the other ministers, of what Downing Street had in store that day, and he most likely deplored and still deplores the way in which they went about handling the day's news. He was in fairness one of those involved in the following year's attempt to unseat Blair, which forced the then prime minister to set his timetable of departure from office. I also don't doubt dispute that the Conservatives have long issued a lot of piss and wind over spin, only to then employ the likes of Coulson and to engage in it themselves. To pretend however that yesterday's antics were up there with anything approaching New Labour's tactics is absolute nonsense.

It also shows just how utterly useless Labour currently is as an opposition; reduced to concocting such an unbelievable farrago of misdeeds which would be comical if it wasn't so tragic. Watson was in fact one of the best ministers during Brown's last days, expressing his misgivings over the Digital Economy bill and engaging online with those looking for ways to free more government data. He's left to resort to such tactics because the rest of the party is in such a moribund position under Ed Miliband, opposing almost nothing being proposed by the coalition and being all but completely invisible. Where are all the shadow spokesmen, even Miliband (Update: Miliband is of course on paternity leave, which would explain his absence, although not that of his ministers) himself? They seem to have vanished completely, not appearing on the likes of Newsnight or stating the opposite case almost anywhere, and when they do pick up on something, it's the vanity appointments rather than the coalition's actual policies which will shortly be adversely affecting millions. Spin in such circumstances is one of their lesser offences, while Labour's collective memory seems destined to continue to trip up any of their attempts to take the moral high ground.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010 

A payout which leaves overall justice the loser.

In one way, the announcement of the engagement of two of our social betters and the compensation payouts to the former Guantanamo detainees is a happier coincidence than it first seems. Shoving the news way down the agenda as it does, far below where it should deservedly be, will also undoubtedly mean that the deal won't come in for the same crushing criticism as it almost certainly would have done from those who still continue to believe that either the security services did nothing wrong or that those who ended up in Guantanamo were "bad men" that had it coming to them.

This version of events will be encouraged by how at the pains the coalition government has been to point out that even while paying out millions of pounds to those it previously believed to be terrorists it has accepted no culpability whatsoever for what happened to them while in the custody of foreign governments. Such a detail is however just a part of the deal which has obviously been struck to protect both embarrassment and the possible prosecution of past ministers and intelligence assets. The government ensures that the files of MI5 and 6 stay firmly closed to anyone other than the very highly vetted establishment figures who are trusted to keep the criticism, if any, to the bare minimum, while the former detainees, remunerated somewhat for the mistreatment and illegality they were subjected to say no more, even if they don't withdraw their allegations, and can't boast of how much they were able to wrangle from those who may well still remain their ideological enemies.

This was the only way the case pursued by the former detainees was ever going to conclude following the ruling earlier in the year by the Court of Appeal which overturned a previous judgement that the government could use secret evidence in civil cases, with the plaintiffs represented by special advocates as in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission system. The terrifying implications of the ruling for any government and especially for the security services were laid bare just two months later when the contents of just a few of the possible 500,000 documents relating to the men were published, showing that both Tony Blair and Jack Straw had been personally involved in the process which resulted in detainees either being denied consular access or sent to Guantanamo, while the transcripts of the interrogations of Omar Deghayes by MI5 agents made clear the sort of contempt with which those suspected of involvement in terrorism were being treated at the time, regardless of their British residency or nationality. The washing of the security services' dirty laundry in public was never going to be acceptable to a government of any colour or political persuasion, especially of a nation which has long prized its draconian secrecy laws, often for very apparent reasons.

It is no exaggeration to state that some of the documents which could have been released as a result may have altered for a generation the relatively benign view most have of our intelligence agencies. Despite repeated and fierce attempts, lately by their newest and relatively untainted heads to make clear their revulsion for mistreatment and torture, the drip-drip effect of the allegations against them has as David Cameron himself said began to affect "[O]ur reputation as a country that believes in human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law – indeed, much of what the services exist to protect". Add into this the cost and the potentially unending nature of the litigation which would have followed as ever more documents were declassified and the potentially lurid details piled up, with the corresponding damage to our reputation continuing to mount, and the shelling out of the millions now was all but inevitable.

The only real losers in all of this are then ourselves. It's impossible to begrudge or question the detainees for deciding to settle, not least as they deserve all that they've been paid out and without doubt far more besides. As the Guardian reports and Andy Worthington alludes to, while some have been able to return somewhat to normal life since their release, others are still unable to move beyond both the mental and physical affects their detention has had on them. Intriguingly, one of those who has settled is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still to be held at Guantanamo, which is suggestive to say the least of the few remaining hurdles in the way of his release being surmounted. Aamer is not only one of the known "leaders" at the camp, having been involved in negotiations at the camp which were meant to lead to the effective recognising of the detainees' rights under the Geneva Convention, but has also made allegations that the 3 detainees who the US said committed suicide in 2006 in what was described at the time as an act of "asymmetric warfare" in fact died as a result of injuries inflicted whilst they were being interrogated.

No, we're the losers and justice also is because it's almost certain that now the full truth will never be known, or at least won't be for a very long time. While the long-awaited and long-called for judicial inquiry into allegations of collusion in torture and rendition is a step closer, it's also apparent that the terms of reference of that inquiry, unlikely to provide a narrative of how the situation came about where British residents and citizens considered to be "terrorist suspects" were either left without representation or to their fate, or in the very worst cases, actively handed over to their abusers will be relatively limited, especially if it is to deal only with the allegations made by those who have now settled with the government. We also know that most of it is likely to be held behind closed doors, and if the end report is anything like the ones produced by the Intelligence and Security Committee, heavily redacted. The fragments of documents released, even though they were also censored, allowed us to see into the dealings of the secret state as almost never before, and they showed us exactly why successive governments have fought to keep them locked away. They threatened to show the security services' dealings as they were, without even the slightest varnish, as only they, ministers and those given the special clearance are allowed to. That, simply, could never be allowed and will most likely never be repeated.

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First and last comment on that engagement.

Pass the fucking sick bag.

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Monday, November 15, 2010 

A short, disjointed post on nothing in particular.

As Chris argues, the measuring of happiness or well-being as something of a counterbalance to GDP would look on the surface to be likely to lead to more left-wing policies being pursued.

Just as interesting as whether those who are religious are more contented with their life than those with no faith (with the policy implications of such results) would be whether those on the left or right tend to be happier. I can only go by what my answers would be to the possible questions featured at the end of this Grauniad article, drawing on the World Values Survey, which would be almost wholly negative as an indicator; would it be strange if those most in favour of such measuring were in fact among the least happy with their lot? One of the most immediately obvious problems with such measuring is that it operates and concentrates on one's view of self, which can be especially twisted, rather than their view of society and life outside of their own minds, to which I for instance would answer completely differently. It can also be knocked completely out of whack simply by coincidence: if I was answering the how happy were you yesterday question today then small things like Arsenal winning and Chelsea being beaten at home by Sunderland would impact on it rather massively. Perhaps what we really need is a schadenfreude measurer.

It also relies on honesty, which as the merest glance at this survey reported in the Sun makes clear, we all have major problems with. Only a third watching porn online, and the average sex session lasting 20 minutes? Some of us it seems have nothing on Billy Liar. Eric Joyce in what isn't really a post on Phil Woolas notes this: our politicians, like it or not, reflect ourselves. Many of us are living lies, and tell lies to either keep our jobs or stay on benefits. We expect better from our elected representatives when we ourselves are weak. We rant and rave when we ourselves are hypocrites. We are nakedly self-interested, and come up with arguments that put the case for ourselves whether we intend to or not. The same doctors that Joyce has making irrational arguments about student fees despite going on to earn six-figure salaries are those that are convinced they know best about how alcohol should be more heavily-taxed to cut back the harm it does to society. This ignores the impact it will have on those who drink not to get drunk but to make life slightly more bearable - and so could despite good intentions improve our physical health yet impact considerably on our mental well-being. And so we come full circle.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010 

Meditate on bassweight.




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Friday, November 12, 2010 

Let's hear it for the Sun!

Last night on Question Time Douglas Murray argued that waterboarding, rather than constituting torture, was instead on the "borderline" and a "grey area". One person in the audience challenged him to undergo the technique and then see whether he still believed that to be the case.

While Murray, sadly, seems unlikely to take up the offer, the Sun's Oliver Harvey did volunteer to try it. His account doesn't quite reach the same literary heights as Christopher Hitchens' when he experienced the practice and then wrote about it for Vanity Fair, although it's still compelling reading. Harvey's verdict?

This is no "interrogation technique" but torture pure and simple with no place in a civilised society.

Harvey lasted 12 seconds before he made his "interrogators" stop. Hitchens could only tolerate being slowly drowned for a similar amount of time, although he lasted slightly longer when he underwent it again shortly afterwards at his own insistence. Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee upon whom waterboarding was used by the US with the explicit permission of President Bush, had it performed on him 83 times in one month. The only shame is that the Sun, rather than passing a leader comment on Harvey going beyond the ordinary call of journalistic duty instead focused on Muslims Against Crusades, without mentioning how the group ensured the media knew about their demonstration by sending them press releases beforehand. Can't have it all though, can we?

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Thursday, November 11, 2010 

This joke isn't funny anymore.

Calling something common sense is a much abused turn of phrase, especially when deployed by either politicians or tabloid newspapers. It is however incredibly difficult not to conclude that the very inverse of common sense has been the order of the day ever since someone from Robin Hood airport near Doncaster searched Twitter, found Paul Chambers' clearly facetious update about blowing it sky high in a week if the then closed terminal wasn't reopened and reported it to the police. The mindset alone of the person who reported it has to be questioned: while you can understand those who joke about having bombs in their luggage when being searched before boarding are treated with the utmost seriousness because they really could have explosives on them, however unlikely it is, it's a different order of threat entirely when someone lets their frustration out on a social networking site.

If we were only dealing with the malevolence of a passive aggressive, jobsworth employee at one of the nation's lesser airports then Chambers would never have become something approaching a cause célèbre. Instead it's been that same level of by the book officialdom, combined with the hysterical climate regarding terrorism in which we unfortunately live which has followed at every stage of Chambers' interaction with the authorities which is so completely baffling. While the police are obliged to investigate every report which they receive and will have undoubtedly had to treat what could have been something far more serious with a certain level of care, that doesn't explain what possibly made the Crown Prosecution Service think that this was a case which was worth pursuing through the courts, having had everything laid out in front of them. It doesn't explain how not one, but two judges haven't been able to see Chambers' message as anything other than menacing, and tell the CPS to stop being so silly and wasting everyone's time and money. Indeed, it also doesn't explain how a supposedly learned woman, Judge Jacqueline Davies, could say in all seriousness, regardless of the context in which the message was being sent, that Chambers' tweet was "menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed."

Well, as such a statement almost demands in response, this ordinary person reading it sees it as an obvious joke, in poor taste perhaps and ill-advised, but about as genuinely menacing as Chambers and crazycolours look as posed on her Twitter page. Perhaps that however is the whole point. It's not ordinary people that have sat in judgement on Chambers since the very beginning - it's instead those in positions of authority, however slight, who have seen fit to treat Chambers not as a frustrated and anxious individual on his way to meet someone in person for the first time, someone he now lives with, but as an actual potential terrorist on whom the full level of the law must fall. Unintentionally, Chambers mocked the ridiculous situation in which we find ourselves, called upon to find everyone and everything potentially suspicious until proved otherwise, and for that has been dealt with in a shocking manner by a system which we usually rely upon to make the distinction between the frivolous and the deadly serious.

We can't however pretend that it is purely those in positions of power that are so puffed up with pride that they regard anything that dents that façade as the equivalent of a violent blow against their person. Yesterday the Tory councillor Gareth Compton was mainly being held up as a hypocrite after he jokingly called through a tweet for Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to be stoned to death, only later to then condemn the violence on the student protest in no uncertain terms. Alibhai-Brown didn't see the funny side, and whether as a result of her own report to the police or someone else's, he was today nonetheless arrested, subsequently bailed, and then suspended from his party. Worth highlighting is Alibhai-Brown's reaction as reported by the Guardian:

"It's really upsetting. My teenage daughter is really upset too. It's really scared us.

"You just don't do this. I have a lot of threats on my life. It's incitement. I'm going to the police – I want them to know that a law's been broken."


While I don't wish to be insensitive, and different people will always react to such things in different ways, my response would be the same as to those who failed to treat Chambers' tweet in the context in which was sent: to tell them to get over their fucking selves. I might have developed a blasé attitude to similar "threats" having spent a considerable time in some of the internet's less salubrious locations, yet surely it's impossible not to view Compton's message as anything other than an exasperated response to the arguments she was making, intended for a small audience of his followers and no one else.

This is however what I see personally as one of the key problems with Twitter: there are so many ways in which misinterpretations can arise as a result of the 140-character limit, something not a problem when there's far more space to let your argument breathe as it were, and also so many who are more than willing to do the misinterpreting. In fact, from what I can tell from my ivory tower of disdain, that seems to be one of the reasons to use it when you're politically minded: to take part in pointless arguments with your ideological enemies while circle-jerking with your fellow-minded followers. While then Compton has been unfortunate, and Alibhai-Brown has been overwrought, he's brought it all on himself through his own stupidity, regardless of the considerations set out above. He certainly shouldn't be prosecuted, but he should have known better.


The same cannot be said for Chambers. When Judge Davies says "[A]nyone in this country in the present climate of terrorist threats, especially at airports, could not be unaware of the possible consequences", she's right but her point is also completely irrelevant. He couldn't have expected in his wildest nightmares for his throwaway tweet to be reported to the police, let alone for it to have been dealt with in such a way. Some people have long held that there are some subjects on which jokes should never be made; such a po-faced attitude is itself deserving of ridicule. It should always be whether the joke itself is funny or not, and that's for you personally to decide. When others are deciding that for us and doing so in the courts without the slightest understanding, it really is time to start wondering who the real enemies of freedom are.

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