Friday, September 30, 2011 

Glenn Greenwald on the extrajudicial execution of Anwar al-Awlaki.


What's most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What's most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government's new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government. Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President's ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki -- including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry's execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists -- criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

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In the Garden of Eden...

Ah, the BBFC. Not only deciding what we can and can't watch, but also commenting on the shape of the bodies on display in the early naturist films:

"I think Garden of Eden would provoke very noisy reactions at tough cinemas like The Elephant. There are some unconsciously funny nudes. Especially one young lady with peculiar glutial muscles."

Arses commenting on arses is though rather appropriate.

P.S. Also see BenSix's post here, with a comment from yours truly.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011 

The wonderful world of Melanie Phillips, pt. 964.

You might recall that a while back Paul Dacre's lawyers contacted Kevin Arscott of the Angry Mob blog as he'd had the temerity to say some unkind and hurtful things about the greatest newspaper editor the world has ever seen. Admittedly, hoping that someone dies a slow and painful death and that people then queue up to shit on their grave is not very pleasant; it is however certainly not defamatory, as they claimed. Their aim was however achieved: the second result on Google when you search for "Paul Dacre" is now not a post calling for his death. Rather, there are now three separate entries on the first page detailing his legal activities.

Suggesting that resorting to empty threats of legal action is becoming a habit among hacks at the Mail, Angry Mob has since been involved in an interesting exchange of correspondence with everyone's favourite Moral Maze panellist, Melanie Phillips. Having politely suggested in an email that her insistence on continuing to dredge up the "Winterval" myth is misleading her readers, she responded:

Interesting that you think all those people, including Bishops of the Church of England who were so upset by Winterval, failed to understand what you alone apparently understood. In fact, it is plain that you have zero understanding of why this term caused such offence to so many people. Birmingham council’s protestations that Christmas remained at the heart of the Winterval celebrations were disingenuous and missed the point. ‘Christmas’ is a term that does not merely refer to Christmas Day but to the period around it. There was no need for the term Winterval at all — except as a way of not referring to the Christmas season, but instead to provide a neutral term which would enable other faith celebrations around that time to assume equal prominence. That was the objection which was clearly stated at the time by the Bishops and others: Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind. Your message is therefore as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive.

Melanie

While being told that you're misleading people is never likely to immediately endear you to them, to suggest that disagreeing is arrogant, ignorant and offensive goes beyond sensitivity into the realms of being rude for the sake of it. Rudeness often tends to lead to it being delivered back in spades, and Angry Mob duly delivered:

If you read the essay I think you’d realise that you are quite mistaken. Again, you really need to start engaging with facts, rather than just reverberating around your own blinkered mind.

Your dishonest attack on Rory Weal was a staggeringly embarrassing exercise in how underhand you have to become to even engage in an argument with a 16-year-old.

I’ve responded to you via my blog [http://www.butireaditinthepaper.co.uk ], I prefer to keep such conversations public – as any writer should (although I notice you don’t believe that journalism or blogging is a two-way process, probably because it is easier to write your nonsense trapped in your own blissful bubble of ignorance).

I really think you should take a second look at some of the accusations you made about Rory Weal, because, thanks to your laziness (i.e. not bothering to look into his life situation before starting your rant), you got his situation horribly wrong and you look even more foolish than normal.

To which Mel then responded:

Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action. There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written. I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission. Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail.

While Kevin did give in to the temptation to refer to Phillips as "Mad Mel", a term of endearment much used across the blogosphere, and one to which it's known she has not warmed (the tactics of Stalin, she said, when Jackie Ashley suggested without any malice that some of her thinking could come across as "bonkers"), there's little else in his post which could be construed as defamatory, let alone for which he would have to pay out damages. The worst in fact comes in a comment, with Col describing her as a "shit human being". Not very nice, but again, likely to be classed as abuse rather than defamatory. It also seems all the more remarkable considering that it wasn't so long back that the Spectator, the former home of Phillips' blog, had to pay damages to Alastair Crooke after Mel had made err, false allegations about him. This misunderstanding almost certainly resulted in Mel deciding to "expand and develop" her own website. Then again, Mel has never had any compunction about responding in kind.

What's more, as Angry Mob relates, someone had these wise words to say on the subject of libel a couple of years ago:

Because of the difficulty of proving what may be unprovable, those who express such views are intimidated by the prospect of losing such a case – and then having to pay astronomical legal costs to multinationals or wealthy individuals who can afford to keep racking up the final bill.

So scientists, academics, authors, journalists and others are effectively censoring themselves for fear of becoming trapped in a ruinous libel suit – or are being forced to back down and apologise for statements they still believe to be true.


Wealthy or at least comfortably off individuals like Melanie Phillips perhaps, the author of the above. A statement she doubtless still believes to be true.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011 

A step in the right direction.

One of the benefits of waiting to pass judgement in this new age of instant comment and analysis is that it leaves time for the overall message of a speech to sink in. Somewhat hidden in what was, as all conference addresses by party leaders now must be, a fairly disjointed speech was a fundamental and absolute break with the era of New Labour.

Not of course that this is the first time such a break has been hinted at. Everyone else has repeatedly pronounced New Labour dead: when Northern Rock was nationalised, when the banks were bailed out, when the 50p top rate of tax for those earning over £150,000 was introduced, when Ed was elected leader last year and the heir apparent went off in a huff. The truth is that up until now the same old triangulation has been in evidence on all fronts; yes, Labour might have been demanding a Plan B on the economy, but it can hardly do otherwise when the coalition seems so determined to run it into the ground for no other reason than to ensure that Dave and George don't look like complete fools by performing their most spectacular u-turn yet. Why else did they demand that Ken Clarke resign having previously pledged to support him? Why carry on sitting to the right of the coalition on civil liberties when it achieves absolutely nothing except for the occasional mildly supportive word from the Sun? Why continue to give shadow cabinet jobs to such useless Blairite hacks as Caroline Flint and Tessa Jowell when the elections have now (rightly) been abolished? Why give the shadow chancellorship initially to Alan Johnson when Ed Balls, baggage carrying as he is, was the obvious choice?

Still, a year into the job and it does look as if Ed has finally gained enough confidence to take the party ever so slightly into a new direction. This sadly wasn't in evidence in the manner in which he delivered his speech, which has been discussed at length elsewhere. Whether it was nerves at taking this new line, or just that he's not the world's greatest speaker and is never going to be, although he certainly wasn't that bad when he was campaigning to be leader, the audience struggled to get into an address that contained far more in actual content than many of Tony Blair's efforts. Quite how far Blair's stock has fallen in the party that he led to three election victories became apparent when the very mention of his name was booed when Ed set out why he isn't like either of his predecessors; perhaps it had something to do with Peter Oborne's Dispatches documentary which aired on Monday night, the implication being that the former leader was another of those looking for something for nothing.

For while Miliband's phraseology was as clunky as we've come to expect from British politicians, his main targets were for the most part spot on. Here was a leader of a mainstream political party taking aiming at trickle-down economics; he might not have said neo-liberalism, as his strategist Stewart Wood repeatedly did in a New Statesman article, and he only said it once so many no doubt missed it, but here we finally have someone in a position of influence, on the inside as it were, saying that the past 30 years of voodoo economics has reached the end of its usefulness. It's difficult to overstate just how significant this is, at least when it comes to New Labour. The great bargain or understanding with business, which began under John Smith's leadership and was then fully implemented under Blair was that while the party would increase public spending and introduce a minimum wage, business and the City especially would be as lightly taxed and regulated as the wider party could tolerate. Tory spending plans would be followed for the first couple of years to build trust, then the full new deal as it were would begin.

By now making a distinction between predators and providers, however facile and simplistic a dichotomy that is, Miliband is recognising what has been the case all along: that not all businesses are equal, and that adopting such a policy in the first place was simply storing up problems for later. By encouraging a completely out of control consumer economy to develop, with families becoming ever more indebted as the years passed, New Labour has almost certainly lengthened the road to recovery following the crash. They shouldn't feel too guilty about this: everyone else was pursuing the same course, while the Tories were proposing even lighter touch regulation, and at one point were actively considering a flat tax. By going further than any party leader so far in making clear where the origins of the crash lie, and today responding to criticism of his stance with the far better soundbite of being anti-business as usual rather than "anti-business", he's began the crucial work of carving out a new niche for himself and Labour.

This isn't to downplay the obvious problems with Miliband's insistence that "producers" and "predators" will be treated differently should he become prime minister. How they will be identified to begin with is difficult to ascertain: Tesco for instance is without doubt one of the most predatory but also successful businesses in the country, employing thousands while riding roughshod over local objections to new stores, crushing independents and helping to kill off the high street. It also remains largely popular. This fundamental lack of detail, beyond his promise that only companies that "commit to training the next generation with decent apprenticeships" will get large government contracts, something almost certainly subject to legal challenge, is almost certainly why the response of the CBI was fairly low-key. They obviously don't believe either that Miliband can win the next election or that even if Labour does that such measures will be implemented.

At the moment, the public also finds it difficult to believe. First impressions are difficult to shake, and he continues to pay, not only for his poor performance at crucial moments, excepting on phone hacking, but also for daring to consider himself as offering something different and better than his brother. This is though still early days: as has been advised, most for now are paying little attention to Labour and won't do until the next election gets a little nearer. The problem with this view is that if Eurozone implodes, necessitating a further bank bailout and even harsher spending cuts, it's difficult to imagine the Liberal Democrats feeling able to continue to prop the Tories up. A snap election is still a distinct possibility, and with Labour's policies on everything else either remaining much the same or in utter disarray, there's not much rebuilding yet been finished. The foundations have been laid; now the real hard work begins.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011 

Short verdict on Ed Miliband's speech.

Fiddling at the margins in policy content and woefully uninspiring in delivery.

(Tomorrow, providing I haven't wasted my time stupidly like tonight, you might just get a longer one.)

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Monday, September 26, 2011 

The wonderful world of Melanie Phillips, pt. 769.

Like all right-thinking people, Melanie Phillips is up in arms over the BBC religion website's decision (and it is only their decision) to use CE and BCE instead of AD and BC. As usual, we must bear in mind that dear old Mel is quite happy to appear on the Moral Maze and Question Time at the licence-fee payer's expense, despite the corporation being dedicated to the destruction of the very culture Mel fights to defend, when she then denounces her occasional employer:

One of the most sinister aspects of political correctness is the way in which its edicts purport to be in the interests of minority groups.

This is despite the fact that, very often, they are not promulgated at the behest of minorities at all, but by members of the majority who want to destroy their own culture and who use minorities to camouflage their true intentions.

The latest manifestation stars once again that all-time world champion of political correctness, the BBC. Apparently, it has decided that the terms AD and BC (Anno Domini, or the Year of Our Lord, and Before Christ) must be replaced by the terms Common Era and Before Common Era.

Well, yes. Or it could be down to the fact that using AD and BC on a website dedicated to discussing all religions without passing judgement on them would be rather silly, when there's a perfectly good, relatively neutral system which can be used instead. The BBC's justification isn't worded very well, it must be said, but that's the real reason for doing so.

For as Mel goes on to say:

Well, I am a Jew, so I am presumably a member of this group that must not be alienated.

It so happens, however, that along with many other Jewish people I sometimes use CE and BCE since the terms BC and AD are not appropriate to me.


If the BBC really was dedicated to the destruction of Judeo-Christian culture, it would be looking towards introducing the Hijra (Islamic) calendar, where a year has 354 or (355) days and it's currently 1432. Then it might just be time to worry.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011 

Ugly duckling.



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Friday, September 23, 2011 

What did you say your name was again?

Another old link for a Friday, but who cares? Here's Aidan Moffatt, formerly of Arab Strap, tearing into Adele's ubiquitous Someone Like You.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011 

Mr Cameron goes to New York.

Yes, it's that time of year again. In what seems more and more choreographed with each passing twelve months, it's that bizarre version of musical chairs played out at the United Nations general assembly: Mahmoud Ahmadenijad takes the opportunity given to him to say something vaguely outrageous in front of the planet's dignitaries and television cameras, and out walk those who have somehow found the strength to sit through the terminally dull orations of those who went before him. It's an utterly pointless exercise, especially when Ahmadenijad's obsessions are so dull and if anything, far less controversial than the average tin-foil hat wearer's beliefs. As well as the usual allusions to the Holocaust and how the most well-documented event in modern history obviously didn't happen, he this year brought in a reference to the "mysterious September 11 incident", making him topical if nothing else.

Best practice would be to just treat Ahmadenijad's ravings as the delegates do every other speech: in silence while paying as little attention as they can. Instead the walkouts are ever more contrived, just as Ahmadenijad's reaching for a new sweet spot each year is. When you've already made reference to the lack of evidence underpinning the Holocaust and suggested the United States itself carried out 9/11, the only place left to go, other than Nibiru, the four horseman of 2012 or sovereign citizenry is back to slavery. Should it not be, Ahmadenijad asked, an obligation upon the slave masters or colonial powers to pay reparations to the affected nations?

With the day's cabaret taken care off, by happy coincidence next on was a certain David Cameron. Last year he was excused from attending as Glam Sam Cam had just given birth to Florence; this time, and sadly considering how many times he's had to return from holidays due to various emergencies, he couldn't find a reason not to turn up. With those who didn't walk out thoroughly warmed up by the Iranian president's knock-about antics, Cameron wasted no time in delivering his A material:

You can sign every human rights declaration in the world but if you stand by and watch people being slaughtered in their own country, when you could act, then what are those signatures really worth?

Well, quite. Obviously, this doesn't apply in all cases: Mexico for instance, where around 40,000 people have been murdered over the past four years in a drug war which gets grimmer with each passing week, where the complete dismemberment of the victims of the cartels is common place, and where 35 bodies can be dumped in the street in broad daylight (NSFW). Or Bahrain, where the Saudi-backed royal family (literally) flattened the uprising with nary a squeak of protest from those self-proclaimed upholders of humanity, Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy. Just because we can't possibly intervene everywhere, as we were so sonorously reminded early on in the Libya campaign doesn't mean we can't intervene somewhere, preferably somewhere which is close by and where it's determined the military operation is likely to be over fairly swiftly. This is of course why a month after the fall of Tripoli NATO is still diligently protecting the civilians of the new Libyan army by continuing to bomb the holdouts in Beni Walid and Sirte.

In fairness to Cameron, and to come out of full cynicism mode for just a second, he plays down the NATO role in the Libyan revolution ridiculously, giving all the credit to the forces which are now failing miserably to take the two remaining hold out cities. The reality is that if NATO hadn't taken what was a limited UN resolution putting in placing a no fly zone while calling for a ceasefire to be followed by negotiations, and instead used it to intervene in a incipient civil war and from there facilitate eventual regime change, then the two sides would now still be deadlocked, Benghazi protected but all the other major cities likely under Gaddafi control. Just as everyone can welcome the downfall of another hated dictator and human rights abuser, you still can't get away from the fact a UN resolution was at best very liberally interpreted and at worst was used as the fig leaf to overthrow a sovereign government. When Cameron then lectures everyone on what a good thing this was, it's little wonder that rather than slapping him on the back and congratulating him, China and Russia are rather put out, and their recalcitrance over Syria is directly related to it.

Naturally, having spoken so many fine words about how deserving the Libyans are of their new found freedom and how everyone must help them to build their democracy, Cameron comes to the unpleasantness over the Palestinian attempt to gain recognition from the security council of their state and remains sitting on the fence. Of course they must have a viable state of their own, but only when the Israelis agree to it. Never mind that the Palestine papers brutally exposed how there is no partner for peace when one side refuses to compromise, Israel knowing full well that it can continue to colonise the West Bank without fear of sanction from the US, making a return to the 1967 borders an impossibility, only negotiations between the two sides can settle the conflict. Any attempt to jump start them by doing the one thing they previously haven't tried is simply unacceptable. Don't these Arabs know their place, which is to make our leaders look good while the economy collapses, and then only speak when they're spoken to the rest of the time?

In this at least Ahmadenijad is honest. He acts like a buffoon and gives ridiculous speeches because he is a buffoon and is ridiculous. Our leaders instead simply make it up as they go along, condemning this and ignoring that, knowing all too well of the contradictions and weaknesses in their arguments. Consistency is impossible; get used to it.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011 

Simply grateful for small mercies.

For the past few days, the main body of political journalists, having travelled to the mean streets of Birmingham for the Liberal Democrat conference with their reports pre-written on the splits, mutinous motions and Tory-bashing about to unfold have instead been almost dumbfounded by the level of unity and calmness shown by the majority of the delegates. There they were expecting blood to be spilt, or at the least a few battered ministers told in no uncertain terms how the grassroots feel about the NHS reforms, the changes to the welfare system, as well as how the party appears to be conniving in the Tories' economic stagnation strategy, and instead everyone seems to have been lobotomised.

The lack of an insurrection or even general unruliness shouldn't though be mistaken for anything approaching complete contentment. Instead, it's merely the latest stage in the Liberal Democrat acceptance of their position in the coalition: first came the (relative) elation of gaining power after having been in the wilderness since the days of Lloyd George, which lasted for a couple of months at best; this was then followed by fear and loathing, as many concluded that they were merely in the government to take the blame for everything the Tories wanted to implement and none of the plaudits for their restraining influence and own policies adopted. While that assumption has hardly been completely dispelled, those who haven't lost their position as a result of the electoral purge in May or resigned in despair at the catastrophic loss of the AV referendum are now reaching the acceptance stage. If all the other options available to the party seem worse than the status quo, which it's reasonable to conclude they are, with a major loss of seats inevitable in a snap election, then they may as well make the best of a bad situation.

As can be expected at any political party conference, you're also always going to attract a good number of the real true believers, those so loyal and devoted to their sect that they can see white as black and black as white, and these poor afflicted individuals also tend to be the ones who find themselves being asked questions by reporters or featured amongst Monday's embarrassingly optimistic Newsnight audience with Paxman, who found himself being denounced with a smile by one especially egregious on message individual. This isn't to suggest that the media hasn't perhaps slightly overdone the "party in crisis" angle, the one so loved by football journalists when any of the traditional top four in the Premier League loses more than two games in a row, and which has duly been reacted to by the attendees, but all the same this still seems a gathering where reality has only occasionally intruded.

After all, it's almost been as if an economic crisis which seems more comparable by the day to the collapse of Lehman Brothers three years ago hasn't been taking place at the same time as speaker after speaker has been trumping (and yes, I do mean trumping) on about everything the Liberal Democrats have already achieved by being in the coalition. Vince Cable, bless him, probably went too far the other way by declaring that it was the equivalent to being in a war (someone might want to tell him we're already in two, another subject the party hasn't wanted to broach), yet at least he suggested that we're close to being in a true crisis of capitalism. All we've received from the rest of the party, Nick Clegg included, is the indication that the coalition has "pulled us back from the brink". This is not only nonsense, as the borrowing figures for last month are the latest piece of evidence which says otherwise, it's also a rewriting of history: if you were to take at face value the spin of the coalition, you'd think that last May the country was about to be declared bankrupt, the creditors at the door as they now are for Greece, George Osborne's emergency budget saving us from going to the IMF as Denis Healey had to.

Instead that self-same IMF, headed by the neo-liberals and de-regulators who really did get us in this mess, now says that if things get any worse then the deficit reduction plan the coalition has made a fetish of and which Clegg praises so will have to be scaled back. Search for any reference to this by anyone other than Cable and you will do so in vain. The sage of Twickenham, who Clegg once again points out was the Cassandra of the banking crisis, is alone and must be increasingly unhappy as his colleagues seem unconcerned by the spectre of the dreaded double-dip recession. In fact, it's worse than that: in probably the most fatuous line of Clegg's facile and often deluded speech, he said you "never, ever play politics with people’s jobs", as if the coalition's refusal to consider even a Plan A+, let alone a Plan B was doing anything other than that.

The best that can be said of Clegg's oration was that as a speech it was well delivered, flows well and unlike last year's efforts from both Miliband and Cameron, genuinely enthused and encouraged his party. It's just a shame it's so lacking in facts, or ignores the unpleasant things which counteract Liberal Democrat policies. Incredibly, he managed to go through the entire thing without mentioning the changes to the welfare system which would be brutal enough during a boom. To throw those who are genuinely sick onto jobseeker's allowance when there aren't enough jobs for the able-bodied is the antithesis of liberalism. Likewise, while much was made of his 2-week voluntary classes for students falling behind prior to secondary school, Michael Gove's unaccountable educational blitzkrieg went unremarked upon. The pupil premium was naturally mentioned, but not that it comes from money already within the schools budget. The rise in the income tax personal allowance was trumpeted, but not that the rise in VAT more than takes away any gains, while the end result of changes in last year's emergency budget will be that the poorest will be even worse off. Clegg claimed that child detention had ended, when it hasn't and that his party had "led the charge against the media barons", when they simply reacted to the Guardian's journalism, as would Labour if they had still been in power. One of the few things he said which was indisputable was that they "are in nobody’s pocket", and that's only because no one other than a fraudster has ever been daft enough to give them money.

For now at least the party is simply grateful for small mercies. The worst losses are most likely behind it, and the betrayal on tuition fees was gotten out of the way as quickly as possible. It would also be churlish to deny that the party has succeeded in stopping the Tories from indulging its worst instincts, its presence having ensured that the Human Rights Act hasn't been ripped up, while Clegg's response to the riots was the one part of his speech which shone in its reasonableness. Where it has failed, and continues to fail though is on the things that truly matter, and will have the longest lasting impact: the dead end of austerity, the marketisation of the NHS and education, and the tearing up of the welfare safety net. It may be that 75% of the Liberal Democrat manifesto is being implemented, as opposed to 60% of the Tory one, but it was that other 25% which was the part worth voting for and defending. There is no reason why anyone outside the party should do either now.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011 

If you read nothing else today...

then make sure it's this superb post on OurKingdom by Justin Baidoo-Hackman.

(Apologies again for the beyond crap blogging. Must get back into the habit properly tomorrow.)

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Monday, September 19, 2011 

The Hollywood Left has done it again!

Via Angry Mob:

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Saturday, September 17, 2011 

Hex.


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Friday, September 16, 2011 

Hitchens on Prince Charles.

Only a year and three months late on this, but still:

The heir to the throne seems to possess the ability to surround himself—perhaps by some mysterious ultramagnetic force?—with every moon-faced spoon-bender, shrub-flatterer, and water-diviner within range.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011 

Playing the statistics game with Ken Clarke.

It's good to see that a week after Ken Clarke pronounced those responsible for the riots in August were a feral underclass unreformed by the prison system the Ministry of Justice has got round to publishing the preliminary data on which he based his assumption (PDF), only 10 days after certain media organisations were given an early version which they used to make similar claims.

Not in dispute is that Clarke was right to say that 75% of those over 18 who have been charged with an offence connected with the riots had received a previous caution or conviction. In fact, the actual figure is 77%, and the overall figure, including juveniles is 73% (page 5). Where it gets more interesting and informative is when you drill down further into the figures: unconnected with the riots entirely is that 28% of males aged 18-52, or more than 1 in 4, has at least a caution on their record. Also likely to be used as grist to the "feral underclass" mill is that 40% of the male juveniles charged with an offence following the disorder had committed at least one previous offence, compared with just 2% of the 10-17 male population as a whole.

So far then it does look as though the "criminal classes" were mainly those running amok. Other comparative data provided however blunts this somewhat: the 27% so far charged who didn't have a previous record is in fact a higher percentage than the 23% who found themselves up before the beak for the first time last year. Similarly, this data is meaningless without knowing the severity of the past crimes committed: 38.7% were summary and breach offences, while 23.5% were theft and handling stolen goods, the majority of which are likely to be shoplifting. The more serious burglary, robbery and violence against the person make up 4.7%, 3.6% and 6.0% respectively (Table 18, page 23). 9.6% of the 16,598 offences (1,586) were dealt with using cautions, suggesting those committing them were first or second time offenders. Crucially though, we don't yet know (and probably never will) just how long ago these previous offences were committed: the courts, as evidenced by Judge Chapple (PDF), usually ignore previous one-off minor brushes with the law when they took place over 5 years ago when passing sentence. That 28% of males between 18 and 52 have a record of some sort doesn't automatically make them a "criminal"; the same equally applies with the 77% charged so far.

We additionally have to take into account that a distinct percentage of the 1,715 who have so far passed through the courts charged in connection with the riots could be described as "low-hanging fruit": those already well known to the police and whom were identified by officers at the time and picked up afterwards, or later spotted on CCTV; those with records who left behind fingerprints; and those who have a "reputation", who suddenly came into possession of electrical goods and clothing at the same time as the disturbances and were duly grassed up. They were, as Paul and Reuben both point out, far easier to catch than those completely unknown to the police. The Ministry of Justice promises a further publication at the end of October covering wider "socio-economic and demographic characteristics" of those involved. Politicians and commentators alike would do well to wait at least until then before claiming any sort of vindication.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 

Irresponsibility is subjective (obviously).


For a moment during prime minister's questions, it looked as though Ed Miliband had finally managed to make George Osborne angry. David Cameron, in contrast to his chancellor, can seemingly do anger on command: he finds it especially easy when Labour has accused the Tories of planning something nefarious, a low his party has always declined to sink to. Osborne instead naturally smirks or remains aloof, like in his own Bullingdon group photo: today, just for an instant, fire flashed in Osborne's eyes as Miliband went on the attack over the "disappointing" unemployment figures. Then, just as quickly, he settled back into his seat.

Whichever sore point it was that Miliband so briefly touched upon, he needs to find it much more often. Osborne has after all never been so exposed: the 80,000 rise in unemployment in the 3 months to July appears to show the private sector's ability to absorb those losing their jobs as a result of cuts to the public sector drawing to a close. It still created 41,000 jobs, but this was nowhere near enough to cope with the staggering 110,000 former public sector workers who found themselves out of employment. Moreover, the number of vacancies, which has long stood around the 500,000 mark, is now also swiftly falling. The argument from Osborne and the government has consistently been that the private sector, suitably freed up by slashing regulation and the creation of enterprise zones, among other policies, would deliver the jobs that those then set free from the confines of government employment could walk into. This could of course be a temporary blip; more likely though is that is just the beginning of things to come. The service sector, hardly helped by the riots, is in retrenchment: this winter could yet see another round of big names going into receivership. Manufacturing has also fallen back, spooked by the Euro crisis, while America also stagnates.

Due to how the coalition's very reason for existing is to reduce the deficit, the rise in unemployment is but the latest spectre of the dreaded double dip recession which could yet deal it a death blow. Week by week, the blaming of New Labour for everything rings hollower and hollower. True as it is that under Alistair Darling's plan for halving the deficit by 2015 there would still have been major job losses, they would have not been on the scale seen over the last three months. For a government which has put work of any variety on a pedestal, and which is steaming ahead with its welfare reform programme, a scheme which seems to have been set-up with the goal of dumping ever larger numbers of those formerly on incapacity benefit onto the less generous jobseeker's allowance, it's remarkable that it seems so blasé about how its policies are having the exact opposite effect to the one it intends.

Indeed, you can't help but be instructed by the other two major economic debates of the week: just how long the fig leaf of the 50p rate of tax on those earning over £150,000 a year will stay in place, and the Vickers report on the ring-fencing of the banks' investment arms from their retail operations. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested the 50p rate may not be raising any revenue, but as Chris argues the bringing in of revenue should not be the only consideration before abolishing it, especially if there is no better targeted replacement in the offing. Meanwhile, the very institutions which got us into this mess in the first place have had their D-Day delayed until 2019, and the squeals of protests which had been expected have been so muted that it's impossible to reach a conclusion other than they are secretly delighted by the tame proposals of the commission.

The government's policies on both issues ought to be enough to rile those who are only now beginning to really feel the effect of the cuts, yet as so often before rather than aiming their ire at those above them those struck out at first are the ones below. When even the BBC joins in with programmes like Saints and Scroungers, the dichotomy as subtle as a brick, originally shown during the evening but then shifted to the morning when those "scrounging" will be the only ones likely to be watching it's apparent that the sympathy for those who can't find work because there simply aren't enough jobs to go round is running out. The TUC's latest data on unemployment blackspots shows that in Hackney there are 11,081 claimants and just 487 vacancies. Three other areas in London hit by rioting have similarly high ratios of claimants to vacancies (although the top three are all in Scotland), more than hinting that some having lost all hope felt they had nothing left to lose. The opening of palaces to materialism like Westfield only exacerbates the sense of alienation, of being excluded from a society which holds endless consumption as its highest plane of self-fulfilment.

The government does at least fear it's losing support, even if it clearly hasn't got the first idea on how to properly arrest the decline. It is it must be said being helped by a Labour party which is still intent on shafting itself: last week Ed Miliband simply couldn't raise the economy at prime minister's questions as Alistair Darling's book would have been quoted back at him in all the responses. With the unions now quite rightly balloting for strike action over pensions, he's caught in a similar bind: polls suggested the public were marginally in favour of the teachers' action earlier in the year, but whether support will extend to what could be the largest single walkout in decades is far more difficult to predict. The government wants a showdown with the unions, desperate for something else to blame, and which can be lapped up by an otherwise increasingly pouty right-wing media; Miliband wants as few reminders as possible that he owes the unions for his position. Get the tone right, and the unions will demure over a politician in not supporting strike shock; get it wrong, as he did on Tuesday, even if it was only marginally, and he looks a traitor.

Having built his reputation around being the UK being a "rock of stability", Osborne and the coalition are left now with little else to do but let the private sector rip, such would be the consequences of delaying the cuts or returning to a stimulus programme. The "reforms" to the planning laws, which have managed to unite the Torygraph and George Monbiot in opposition, are but the most obvious example of what this government is against and in favour of: opposed to rebuilding schools and infrastructure, yet content to see more construction on the greenbelt; unabashed at the decline of high streets, but happy to see out of town retail parks flourish. Some might suggest such an approach is irresponsible; that though it seems is an adjective reserved only for those without the foresight and strength of this coalition's convictions.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 

Uniform (or, always back to Dawn of the Dead).

Covering 1.9m square feet – five times the floor area of Tate Modern, 20 times that of St Paul's Cathedral – Westfield Stratford City contains multitudes of chain shops: Apple, Bose, Lego, Primark, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara. There are "exciting" food options: KFC, Krispy Kreme, McDonald's, Mr Pretzels, Starbucks and Subway. There is a "state of the art", 17-screen cinema, Vue, where you can book "luxurious VIP seats". If you need more than a day to choose from the mountain of Made in China stuff sold here, hotels have been built into the complex. "Shop then sleep", suggests the 267-bed Premier Inn. For the more active, there is a "luxury" bowling alley, while a casino, doubtless luxurious and fit for VIPs, opens in November. It boasts a panoramic window overlooking the Olympics, so gamblers chancing on chips can watch athletes turning sprints into silver and games into gold.


Fran: WHAT HAVE WE DONE TO OURSELVES?



(Apologies for the dreadful blogging so far this week. Mixture of a lack of inspiration, laziness and anything like interesting news. Ed Miliband getting booed at the TUC and a bunch of the usual blowhards complaining about their already artificial parliamentary constituencies being split up has somehow failed to get the "creative" juices flowing.)

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Monday, September 12, 2011 

100 years ago.

Thomas L. Friedman, 10 years ago:

We have to fight the terrorists as if there were no rules, and preserve our open society as if there were no terrorists. It won't be easy. It will require our best strategists, our most creative diplomats and our bravest soldiers. Semper Fi.

Both ourselves and the US managed the first part. The second, not so much.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011 

Bones.


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Friday, September 09, 2011 

Scum-watch: What a difference 4 years makes.

The Sun's editorial the day after the collapse of the court martial against six of the men accused of being involved in the abuse of Baha Mousa:

COMMON sense prevailed when two British soldiers were cleared of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Major Michael Peebles and Warrant Officer Mark Davies served with courage and bravery in the most difficult conditions.

This ludicrous show trial ? which has already seen four other soldiers cleared on the judge’s orders ? has been a waste of time and money.

These men risked their lives in Iraq but were repaid by being hung out to dry.

Every aspect of investigating so-called crimes within the military needs to be re-examined.

Our servicemen and women deserve nothing less.

Today's Sun editorial following
Sir William Gage's report into Baha Mousa's death:

NOTHING can excuse the savagery that led to the death of an innocent Iraqi prisoner at the hands of British squaddies.

As David Cameron says, it was shocking and appalling. And it must never happen again.

There are vital lessons for the Army over the scandal of hotel worker Baha Mousa, who died of 93 injuries inflicted by brutal captors in a detention centre.

The Sun's security expert, Andy McNab, points out that squaddies on active service are pumped up and highly aggressive. In war, their lives depend on it.

Responsibility for channelling that aggression, and enforcing rules on treating prisoners, falls to senior commanders and top brass at the Defence Ministry.

Yesterday's public inquiry report condemned a shameful failure of leadership. It also hit out at the conspiracy of silence over the killing of Mr Mousa.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox must act decisively with sackings — although he is right to insist that firm interrogation techniques remain an option.

Most Service personnel are fine men and women doing a tough job.

Yesterday the latest soldier to die in Afghanistan was brought home, a tragic reminder of the perils our brave troops face daily.

A handful of bad apples must not be allowed to tarnish the whole Army.

Whatever happened to common sense? And perhaps the Sun can also elaborate on whom outside the military contributed to the "conspiracy of silence" following the "savage" treatment meted out to Baha Mousa. After all, a handful of bad apples must not be allowed to tarnish the whole of the British media.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011 

Justice at long last for Baha Mousa.

When the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday finally reported, I asked whether the forthcoming report into the death of Baha Mousa, coming just 7 years after his death could shine a similar light onto the excesses of the military. To the great credit of Sir William Gage and the team whom worked with him both on the report and during the inquiry, it does. It also asks a lot of questions which have yet to be properly answered.

To call Gage's conclusions devastating and his report meticulous in its dedication to getting as close to the truth as any investigator coming up against what was described at the previous court martial as an "obvious closing of the ranks" possibly could would not quite capture the true essence of what is an indictment of the state of the military prior to going into Iraq. It's a story of very young, often naive men being thrown in at the deep end, into a city (Basra) where security was rapidly disintegrating with the population turning against them, often expected to work 16 to 20 hour days in temperatures of between 40 degrees at night and 59 during the day, all with inadequate training, most especially when it came to the arresting of both "regime loyalists" and just general criminals, and all for dispiritingly low levels of pay.

This doesn't however even begin to explain why Baha Mousa and the others who were arrested with him on the 14th of September 2003 were treated with such a staggering level of brutality by some of the members of the 1 Queen's Lancashire Regiment. Gage also doesn't a reach a single overriding reason: he does however suspect, as had long been suggested, that the soldiers who took Mousa into custody and then subjected him to prolonged beatings, "stress positioning" and sleep deprivation for the next 36 hours believed he and his friends were responsible either for the deaths of six military police killed by a mob a couple of months earlier, or for the death of the popular Captain Dai Jones, a month before, pointing to it as the "principal cause". The only evidence they had which even suggested there were possibly insurgents was a cache of weaponry found at the hotel they worked at, which included a couple of grenades without fuses, pistols, two assault rifles and a large quantity of Iraqi dinars. There's nothing to suggest that during the conditioning and "tactical questioning" they subsequently underwent that they admitted, or even alluded to being involved in either of the incidents.

He also pinpoints exactly why the ranks closed during the previous court martial: far from this being the work of two or three out of control, revenge seeking servicemen, he names 19 separate soldiers as having some role in the violence meted out to the detainees. This doesn't include those who either witnessed what was going on, heard about it, or subsequently minimised what happened. One of these was 1QLR's padre, Father Peter Madden, who Gage found to be a "poor witness". Madden it seems found nothing untoward when he visited the detainees on the Monday, by which point the conditions in which they were being held should have spoken for themselves. Likewise, while the unit's regimental medical officer, Dr Derek Keilloh, was not criticised for his attempts to revive Mousa, it seems remarkable that at the time he maintains he had noticed no injuries on the body other than blood under his nose. The photographs of Mousa which have since been published were taken just after he was pronounced dead; they clearly show the extent of the beating he had received, let alone the 93 separate injuries which were subsequently identified.

All of which brings into sharp context the response of some following the court martial. One strutting, preening cock was Colonel David Black, who said soldiers had to be able to "work without looking over their shoulders, inhibited by the fear of such actions by an over-zealous and remote officialdom", while the local Tory MP Ben Wallace accused the then attorney general Lord Goldsmith of conducting a witch-hunt. The Sun, which considers itself the forces' paper to the great embarrassment of many serving in the army, referred to it as a "show trial" and the allegations, despite the very real death of Mousa and the extensive injuries to the other men detained as "so-called crimes".

The 73 separate recommendations made by Gage will hopefully address most of the problems identified. The one thing it doesn't comment on, and which the Chilcot inquiry must is the politicians who put them in such a desperate position in the first place, just about prepared for the initial conflict but not for what came afterwards. Ultimate responsibility must as always reside at the very top.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011 

Sympathy for Lady Dorries.

You can't help but feel a little sorry for Nadine Dorries tonight. Only a little sorry, as it's difficult to remain sympathetic for long towards someone who has proved time and again to be their own worst enemy. After all, it would have been a bad enough day for Dorries if she'd only been insulted by David Cameron at prime minister's questions, having asked the leader of her party when he was going to "show [Nick Clegg] who is the boss", with Cameron responding that he realised Dorries was "extremely frustrated", to gales of ribald laughter from all sides of the Commons; to then be abandoned by your erstwhile co-sponsor half-way through commending the amendment in question to the house must rank up there as one of the most spectacular implosions in politics for quite some time.

The only way to describe her speech is as classic Dorries. Interrupted repeatedly as she was, she still managed to speak for 58 minutes of the allotted 90, reducing massively the potential for both her supporters and those opposed to have their own say on her attempt to introduce "independent" counselling for those seeking an abortion. Before she got to the reasoning behind the amendment, much advertised ahead of time in any case, we had to hear the usual Dorries tale of woe: back in 2008 when she was pushing her 20 reasons for 20 weeks campaign she let everyone know how she was receiving "unpleasant" parcels in the mail, threatening phone calls and had had a "message" smeared on her window. This time she upped the ante:

Four weeks ago I was not sure whether I would get to the point where I could speak in the Chamber today. This has been a long and hot-under-the-collar summer. Following my announcement of my intention to table the amendment, I have been threatened with being throttled, car-bombed, burned alive and a host of other distasteful and unpleasant ways in which I would meet my end.

Chances are that Dorries may well have received a few such threats from the tiny but vocal deranged, idiotic contingent politics on the internet attracts. The problem is that she's made reference to this alleged unpleasantness so often that not only does it dim the impact, it also makes others wonder whether she's telling the truth. It also doesn't help when Dorries and her former "researcher and media inquiry representative" have both made unsubstantiated and vexatious complaints about Tim Ireland to the police simply for attempting to hold a member of parliament to account. Add in how she freely admitted to the parliamentary standards commissioner that her blog is "70% fiction and 30% fact" and it all rather undermines her overall credibility.

Having got the death threats out of the way, she went on to prove she has at best a faulty memory and at worst something approaching selective amnesia:

It has always been the tradition of the House that abortion issues have been discussed and debated in the Chamber and the media have commented on what happened, usually in a reasonable way. But the amendment has changed the game for ever. All Members in all parts of the House know, particularly from the 2008 debate, that we debate with passion. I would say that the 2008 debate was one of the best debates of the previous Parliament. However, we all remain courteous and friendly with each other following the debates. The usual parliamentary knock-about and the usual games take place—I shall say more about that in relation to the amendment in a moment—but the debate usually takes place here and the media comment on what happens here as it happens.

Dorries' insistence that everyone remains courteous and friendly with each other following the debates may come as a surprise to Caroline Flint. Dorries had complained to the parliamentary standards commissioner that 12 Labour MPs, including Flint, had their neutrality compromised by being part of Emily's List. When it was dismissed, she not only refused to apologise for questioning Flint's integrity when she was confronted by the then minister, she gloated about the incident on her blog. Her view on the quality of the 2008 debate also seems to have undergone revision since then - the day after she told the Bedford Today website that she was "flabbergasted" by what had gone on.

Dorries continued:

I have no greater opponent in the House on this issue than the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). In 2008 she was the whipper-in and the mover behind what happened in that debate, but I have no greater respect for almost any other woman in the House than I do for her. I hugely respect what she has achieved for women and humanity, and I know that she approaches the issue honourably, as I hope I do.

Again, this seems rather at odds with what Dorries alleged had happened back in 2008. Then she claimed, despite not a single other MP backing her version of events, that Labour had a three-line-whip in place on what should have been and had always been in the past a free vote, with the Daily Mail backing her claims. If Dorries objected to the paper referring to Harriet Harman as Harriet "Hardwoman" then she didn't make it clear at the time.

Time then to turn on the unions and the "left-wing" media for being so beastly too her. Having not received a single penny in funding herself, although she sadly didn't know who's funding the Right to Know campaign which has been supporting her, she simply couldn't compete with the Abortion Rights response, or the "press barons" behind the Guardian (the Scott Trust is an odd baron) and The Times (Murdoch and the Graun being on such good terms at the moment). A flowchart the Graun produced on Saturday was "reprehensible", as she didn't know 95% of the people she was linked to in it. She wondered what the response would have been had she followed Judaism or Islam rather than Christianity; to suggest this was rather rich after having asked Luciana Berger who funded Labour Friends of Israel in response to Berger questioning who was behind the Right to Know campaign would be putting it mildly.

It's quite something when the next thing Dorries said is only the second most mendacious part of her speech:

I want to mention some of the other lies that have been printed about me. I have been accused of wanting to reduce the number of abortions by introducing the amendment. That is absolutely not the objective.

We can't of course say for absolutely certain what Dorries' true objective is, as her motives as so opaque. We can however look back again to 2008, and her announcement that she was joining forces with Frank Field:

Following yesterday's attempt in the House of Commons to reduce the upper the limit for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks, Nadine is to join forces with Labour MP Frank Field in a cross party to campaign to reduce the number of abortions, tackle teenage pregnancy and improve sexual health.

Strange then that the objective then was to reduce the number of abortions, as it also was when she spoke to the Salvation Army's newsletter the year before. When did it change?

Dorries did then finally move on to her reasoning, which was much the same as she stated previously. She was interrupted occasionally by other MPs attempt to contradict her claims, such as Dr Julian Huppert who said that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists felt there wasn't a problem, by Lyn Brown who asked how she could guarantee that the counselling she was proposing wouldn't delay the abortion process (she couldn't, as that seems to be much of the point of Dorries' amendment) and most effectively by the former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston who corrected Dorries' claim that the Royal College of Psychiatrist had said there was a much higher rate of mental illness after termination of pregnancy. They in fact concluded:

Where studies control for whether or not the pregnancy was planned or wanted, there is no evidence of elevated risk of mental health problems.

Even after being surprised by Frank Field's intervention and advice that she should draw her comments to a close, she had been saving up the big guns for the end, and Dorries turned them on the Liberal Democrats:

I received a message informing me that the former Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Evan Harris) had approached the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and exerted pressure. In fact, he tweeted exactly that, saying that he had applied pressure on the Deputy Prime Minister, who had now forced the Prime Minister to make a climbdown. Basically, a Liberal Democrat—in fact, a former MP who lost his seat in this place—is blackmailing our Prime Minister and our Government. Our Prime Minister is being put in an impossible position regarding this amendment. Our health Bill has been held to ransom by a former Liberal Democrat MP, who has focused on this amendment.

It's a claim so in keeping with Dorries' liking for "alternative" explanations as to why her bids to restrict abortion have successfully failed that it's almost not worth responding to. The real reason why Downing Street moved away from Dorries' amendment was that they realised, as everyone else now hopefully has, that Dorries has the reverse Midas touch. Instead of turning to gold, all she comes in contact with turns to shit. Anyone else would have been happy with the middle way put forward by the health minister Anne Milton, who promised a consultation involving all parties on abortion counselling. Whether this was the "moral" or "tremendous success" Dorries was later claiming the amendment to have been is unclear; what it has demonstrated once again is that Nadine Dorries will say and claim almost anything she imagines will win her support, regardless of its veracity. As Diane Abbott concluded, calling Dorries a liar in the most parliamentary of language:

However, this amendment is not about that. It is a shoddy, ill-conceived attempt to promote non-facts to make a non-case.

Quite.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011 

Reading the riots with Ken Clarke.

It was probably for the best that Ken Clarke did a disappearing act in the aftermath of the riots. Well, one suspects he was on holiday anyway, no doubt in some agreeable resort, cigar in one hand, pint of ale in the other while the feral underclass back home were looting far more proletarian booze and fags from whichever supermarket or off-licence they managed to smash their way into. His immediate analysis, which would have almost certainly been exactly the same as the one dispensed via the Guardian today, might not have gone down too well while his more excitable colleagues were calling for the rubber bullets to be brought out and the army to be deployed, or with the wider public.

His article does however fall squarely in with all the other pieces produced, both by politicians and hacks, who took the riots as proving their prior belief: while for Melanie Phillips they were the logical conclusion of a "a three-decade liberal experiment" (liberalism it seems began under Margaret Thatcher) and for Seumas Milne the result of greed at the top of society, dear old Ken instead concludes that it's not down to the parents or a sudden moral collapse as David Cameron has hypothesised, but instead the criminal justice punishment punishing but not rehabilitating.

To suggest the evidence for this is probably even slimmer than for almost any other explanation offered, baring the blaming of rap music or the whites becoming black (® David Starkey) would not be putting it too strongly. To begin with, Clarke's quoted figure of 75% of those over 18 who have so far been arrested having previous convictions is almost meaningless without the Ministry of Justice providing a detailed breakdown of exactly what those past offences were. We don't know whether they include simple cautions, or indeed whether the convictions resulted in custodial sentences, which would at least begin to go some way towards putting flesh on the bones of Clarke's argument. The MoJ website doesn't even mention Clarke's use of the statistic, which we will almost certainly be hearing time and again over the next few months. The sentencing remarks which have been released from the first batch of cases dealt with by crown courts also provide a muddied picture: all three of those dealt with by Judge Chapple in the inner London court had past criminal convictions (PDF), but only one could conceivably be described as being a member of the "criminal classes"; the other two had convictions from six and seven years ago respectively, while the former had more recently committed the heinous offence of travelling without a ticket on the railway.

A similar, if for now anecdotal pattern seems to be emerging across the country. Just as there were a good number of those who have spent their adult lives in and out of prison taking advantage of the situation, there were also a large number with either no previous record or with cautions from years before who found themselves caught up in the moment, or indeed persuaded by the apparent breakdown in law and order to help themselves. That beyond the victims' panel set-up by Nick Clegg there seems to be little interest as yet in collecting detailed information and evidence on how and why the riots started and spread beyond the death of Mark Duggan is both worrying and informative. Ten years ago the riots in Bradford and other northern towns led to the Ritchie and then Cantle reports; despite the disorder being far more widespread and serious this summer there is still no suggestion as yet that we're going to have anything approaching the in-depth analysis provided by those inquiries, or the informed recommendations they made as a result.

What it seems we will have is a continuation of policies the government was pursuing anyway, only speeded up and intensified slightly, regardless of their efficacy. In one way, this is a good thing: that we haven't seen an immediate rush to legislate and give additional, unnecessary powers to the police is a positive, and it's something that could well have happened had the authoritarian-leaning Labour party still been in power. It does also however more than suggest we have a coalition which doesn't change its mind when the facts change, or rather, doesn't even want to gather those facts in the first place. We should have expected as much on the economy, on which the government has built its entire foundation: even when admitting growth won't be as strong as forecast George Osborne refuses to consider any possibility that a change in course is needed, as to do so would be the equivalent of saying Labour and especially the hated Ed Balls have been right all along.

Of Clarke better should be expected. His plans for reforming the prison system had already been stymied by David Cameron, responding to the familiar cries from the right-wing press prior to the blowing up of the phone hacking scandal. Having originally wanted a reduction in the prison population, he had to settle on a stabilisation. That now looks even more optimistic than it did then: even if only half of those who have been arrested following the riots receive a prison sentence, the numbers behind bars will increase by at least 1,250. Rehabilitation of any variety is more difficult in heavily overcrowded jails where inmates spend most of the day banged up, rather than working as Clarke wants increasing numbers to: the resources weren't there before the cuts, and paying providers on results, which is still in the trial stage and completely unproven can't even begin to pick up the slack.

With the original anger at those involved in the rioting beginning to dissipate, now would have been the perfect time to look beyond the simplistic explanations so far offered for why, and Clarke could have taken a leading role, as Michael Heseltine did back in 1981 when he went to Liverpool following the Toxteth riots. Clarke doing little more than repeating the line the coalition has taken almost verbatim is a sad sight indeed.

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