Wednesday, May 31, 2006 

Prescott: Time to put the mallet down and return to Hull.

The freelance photographer who just "happened" to be wandering around near Dorneywood last Thursday with his long lens must be the target of a few choice words currently in Downing Street. In the absence of any big political story, parliament having broken up for the half-term break on Thursday, the hacks on the Mail on Sunday brought back the scandal of Prescott, this time complete with a croquet mallet. The damage could only have been worse if Prescott had used the mallet to smack a nearby furry creature.

Well, at least that's one way of looking at the continuing furore surrounding Prescott. Also leaked, almost certainly by Downing Street, but which has perhaps somewhat backfired, was the news that Blair had wanted to remove Prescott's privileges, such as his salary and Dorneywood country home. Prescott, probably convincing the prime minister that if he was to leave the cabinet there'd have to be a Labour deputy leadership election, something which neither Blair or Brown want or need, managed to keep them. It was meant to make Prescott look even worse, but instead it just makes Blair look ever more the lame duck that Steve Bell has been drawing him as.

The parallels between Prescott and Blair don't just stop there. Both were once those who took the most joy from the scandals which rocked the broken and rotten Tory party of the 90s. Prescott made jokes, Blair made political capital. Now Prescott has his own sexual misdeeds and arrogance exposed, while Blair still must be worrying about the knock on the door from Knacker of the Yard, wanting to ask a few questions about loans for peerages. We are also told by no less a man than Prescott's biographer that he won't until Blair himself goes, which while being sensible, as it makes more sense to have two elections at once than two separately, makes you wonder whether Labour really does sense the danger that it's in.

From the beginning of the year, all it has faced has been scandals, some manufactured, some that should and have been fatal, and others that show no signs of going away. We had the panic over paedophile teachers, mainly cooked up in the hysteria which is the tabloid media's way of reporting on it, and Ruth Kelly survived, only to be replaced at the reshuffle because she was useless at selling Blair's trust school reforms. Tessa Jowell lied and lied and lied again about not knowing anything to do with her husband at all, but she survived. At the reshuffle, according to Jonathan Freedland, Blair wanted to move her away from culture, but she objected, and got her way. Another sign of weakness perhaps, but Jowell is such an ardent, loyalist Blairite that perhaps he just gave in because of her service. We've also had loans for peerages, Jack Dromey putting the knife in quite rightly over not being informed, the Home Office panic and complete incompetence over foreign criminals, and there is no sign that these bad news stories for Labour are going to stop coming.

And what do the public see? They see John Reid jetting off only a couple of weeks after becoming Home Secretary, and after bollocking his department and doing little else, to a holiday but quickly returning. They see John Prescott, the supposed class warrior, an ex-man of integrity but who has been so lacking in his succession of roles that all he will be remembered for is punching an egg thrower and not quite managing to shag his secretary, playing an upper class game just hours after taking control of the country from the Dear Leader, seemingly oblivious to any state of alert or problems that his party is facing.

It's the sign that Labour has not only lost its way, but that it's almost giving up governing. The Tories, with Cameron still getting the media love-in, despite continuing shows of his hypocrisy and carrying his shoes and papers behind him in a car while he rides his bike, just can't believe their luck. Labour is trying to get a grip, it must be said; but that grip just involves the same old failures. We're told that they'll be even more choice in the NHS when we need an operation, even though take up of other places for treatment has been incredibly low since it was introduced at the beginning of the year. The government just can't seem to understand that what everyone wants is good care locally, not miles away where they can choose to go. We're told unmarried couples are to get new rights, which is great and all, but doesn't really sound like much of this new agenda, how Labour has to be renewed from the bottom up.

The party badly needs renewal. The end of Prescott and Blair though should only be the first phase. If they had any sense, they would both be gone not by next year's party conference, but by the time of the Manchester conference this year. Most people are still assuming that Brown will get the job, yet increasingly he feels like more of the same, the tired old New Labour man that has never either took his chance or never had a chance. With Cameron as opposition leader, some are increasingly wondering whether there needs to be a similar generation skip from Labour. It's time then for Brown to put his foot down. He needs to tell Blair and Prescott to go this year, and he needs to expand on some of his already declared policies in the contest which has to follow. A lot of hype and bluster about "Britishness" isn't going to cut it. At the moment he seems like more of the same. If the travails of Prescott and Blair are to be quickly forgotten and forgiven, Brown has to do much more. And like Freedland points out at the end of his article, even with all this government's attacks on civil liberties, the war on Iraq, the choice agenda, the Tory measures which are the education "reforms", the NHS deficits and constant reform there, as well as the reliance on PFI projects, Labour will still be better than the Tories, even under Cameron. It may be the lesser of two evils, but it's still at the moment better the devil you know.

Update: and almost the second after I post, Prescott gives up Dorneywood. I don't think it''ll be enough to save him, especially as he keeps his salary.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006 

Knacker of the Yard can't do sums.

Sir Ian Blair just can't help being a complete and utter tool, no matter what he tries his hand at. He suggests that the media might just be as institutionally racist as the force he runs is, because the tabloids especially almost entirely ignored the death of an asian man who had been killed when robbers stole his van, while a white city lawyer who was knifed on the underground took all the attention and coverage. It then turned out it might have something to do with the fact that his PR department had sent out multiples releases on the death of Tom ap Rhys Price, while the broadsheets themselves had done the hard work on the death of Balbir Matharu.

When he said that he was amazed and could hardly understand that the case of the Soham girls, murdered by Ian Huntley had got so much media attention, it showed that he had no idea of how the tabloids work, nor of the mind of the average lay person. It also helped that it happened in the barren silly season, something he apparently hadn't noticed or considered.

He perhaps can't be blamed too much for his latest gaffe, which was saying that the removal of Brian Haw's banners and placards cost the police £7,200. A snip surely, for saving Tony Blair of all his embarrassment. Then it turned out that Ian Blair had got his figures wrong. The actual cost of the operation, conducted in the dead of night, with cameras that look into parliament square conviently turned around for the duration, was actually
£27,754. Well, his first figure was almost right if you turn around the two first numbers and add another 0. Easy mistake to make, right? An apology would make everything ok, surely. Nope, instead dear old Ian Blair instead turned on the leaker:
"I am disappointed by what seems to be a leak to the press out of what is an ordinary and internal meeting. Such behaviour appears to be contrary to the values of the organisation and this will be looked into accordingly."
Spending huge amounts of money on removing one person's vigil when it could be better used to stop actual criminal behaviour appears to be contrary to the values of the organisation. Still, it'll save Tony Blair from gnashing his teeth as he goes to PMQ's, so that's at least one thing that we can be proud of.

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Alastair Campbell's phone and fax numbers for only £2.51!

Ever wanted to ring up Labour's former bullshitter in chief and tell him exactly why he's one of the biggest cunts currently residing on the planet? Well, for the princely sum of just 2 pounds 51 pence, you can! While sorting through the Labour party election spending reciepts, Backing Blair has come across both Campbell's phone and fax numbers. It's now auctioning them on eBay. All the money raised goes towards the costs of what Backing Blair is doing, so it's all for a good cause.

Some things you might want to ask Campbell about: why was he so determined to "fuck" Andrew Gilligan, why he and John Scarlett were so desperate for intelligence to go in one of the dodgy dossiers that they sent out a begging email that resulted in the bogus 45 minutes launch time for Saddam's WMD leading the dossier, which in turn was reported in Daily Express and Evening Standard front page splashes which were never corrected when it turned out the intelligence report referred to battlefield munitions, whether he's pleased with the character in the BBC political comedy the Thick of It, which is clearly based on him, why he thinks his an audience with Alastair Campbell tour was such a disaster, or indeed, what it's like to turn from being such an anti-American, as he was back in his Daily Mirror days, to licking the ass of George Bush along with his best friend Blair.

Or, you could just go for the jugular and do the following, as recommended on Guido's comments on this very subject:
charlieboy said...

Are his fax details available too?

Take one sheet of black (yes, black) paper. Insert into fax machine. Tape each end carefully together, such that it forms a perfect cylinder. Press 'send'. Now leave it running, and leave for home.

It's neither big, nor clever...
No, but it sure is satisfying.

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Monday, May 29, 2006 

Skewed priorities. Again.

It shouldn't be shocking. It shouldn't be deeply depressing. It shouldn't even be surprising. Yet it's still difficult to believe that only two days after an earthquake which has now killed at least 5,000, injured 20,000 and made homeless 200,000, only the Guardian and Times find any space at all for it to feature on their front pages.

Sure, it can be argued that there's little the average person back here in Britain can do about it, other than engage in fake anguish for those that they don't know, or donate a few pounds to the numerous charities already gathering funds to send help. Even so, it seems callous and even disturbing just what the tabloids especially think is more important than the stories of those who have just had their lives destroyed.

The Sun, as well as laying in like most of the other papers into John Prescott when he was photographed on Thursday playing croquet, decides that Victoria Beckham talking to Theo Walcott's girlfriend is more important. Similiarly the naming of Angelina Jolie's child is given more prominence than the deaths of thousands.
The Sexpress, continuing the Prescott-bashing theme, also prints a photograph of Mariah Carey wearing a revealing bikini top, somehow connected to a piece about celebrity diets. Also revealed is the spy in the sky that looks into your garden. Could it possibly be the same spy that took the photographs the Daily Mail was "giving" away a few weeks back?
The Mail itself leads on how babies are increasingly be aborted for what they call "not being perfect". The story is almost entirely based on figures released from the Office for National Statistics which revealed that 20 babies between 1996 and 2004 had been aborted after 20 weeks because they had a club foot. It's worth wondering how many people who have club feet regard it, as the Mail does, as a "minor cosmetic defect". Still, 20 children which had not yet been born are obviously more important than the 4,200 confirmed dead when the Mail went to press last night. Like the Scum, except accompanied by an even larger photo, the Mail also seems to think the naming of a child is similarily fascinating.
The Mirror, like the rest of the so-called popular press, also finds the news that a celebrity has given a child a stupid name front page worthy. Alongside we have the bombshell that Big Brother contestant and former porn star Lea at one time weighed 22 stone, which comes as a surprise to those of us who thought that her comedy sized breasts must easily come close to that. That story is covered in full over two pages inside, on the 13th and 14th pages to be precise. The earthquake is relegated to 3 quarters of a page back on the 23rd.

I could go on, but I'm sure you can already guess that the Daily Star didn't hold the front page for the earthquake victims either. Nor did the Independent, which being characteristically different goes with a story about, err, plastic water bottles. Do people genuinely not seem to care, or is it the news agenda of the editors which is out of line? Both the BBC and Guardian currently consider the earthquake either second or first in line of 'priority' on their online services, something that the editors of Britain's dailies certainly don't seem to agree with.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006 

Early day motion calls Brian Haw's protest an unacceptable extreme and compares him to animal rights activists.

Congratulations then to two of the Conservative party's MPs' who have decided to line themselves up on the side of Tony Blair and the government against Brian Haw. In response to the 78 police who raided Haw in the middle of the night, Peter Luff has put down the following early day motion, in opposition to one from Lembit Opik:
leave out from first `the' to end and add `way that those who carry legitimate protest to unacceptable extremes can discredit the cause they support and endanger the liberties of the majority; notes the parallels with the animal rights lobby; and reluctantly supports the action that has been taken against Mr Haw.'.
What about how Brian Haw has been conducting himself has been an "unacceptable extreme"? Is Luff referring to how Haw used to ring a bell when Blair's motorcade passed by to go to Prime Minister's Questions, which ended up with the police removing it from him and later returning it without the clapper? How has Haw's actions discredited the cause he supports? His dedication to his cause if anything shows just deeply his feeling is, and inspires many of us who would love to do what he is doing but can't because of other commitments. How has he endangered the liberties of the majority? The only people endangering the liberties of the majority were those who drew up the laws banning protests within 1km of parliament without prior permission, an arrogant example of the worst of this government's illiberal excesses. It was an act of pure spite to get rid of Haw, who has and still is a cause of embarrassment to Blair. It is the government, and those that allege that Haw and his protest are a threat that are truly endangering liberties.

Then we have the noting of the parallels with the animal rights lobby. What part of the animal rights lobby are we talking about here? Are we talking about the protest outside the Oxford laboratory, where even stricter restrictions have now been imposed by the judge? Even under those restrictions, 50 members of the public are still allowed to protest, even if only on one day. Mr Haw is just one man. Professor John Stein, while supporting the injunction there worries about protestors becoming victimised and being tarred as extremists. Maybe what Luff is actually alluding to is the animal rights extremists who dug up the body of a relative of those who ran a guinea pig farm, who led a campaign of terror? If so, it amounts to an outrageous slur against a man who has never used violence or intimidatory tactics.

Lembit Opik's EDM sets out exactly what is behind the removal of Haw's banners and possible removal:
symbolic of the erosion of liberty in a country where the freedom to protest should be fundamental to democracy.
The likes of Peter Luff, Peter Bottomley and any others who subsequently sign his EDM are complicit in the erosion of liberties which has gone on under "New" Labour.

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Friday, May 26, 2006 

Moron interviews cat: cat miaows.



Dear oh dear. George Galloway just can't help putting his foot right in it. This time, in a interview with everyone's favourite ex-tabloid editor, Piers "Morgan" Moron, he's said that the assassination of Tony Blair would be morally justifiable.

Just for a moment, forget that the war on Iraq started with a decapitation strategy, namely to kill Saddam Hussein. It failed. What he is justifying is in essence a vigilante attack, an act of murder as a policy of revenge for what he ordered in Iraq. Galloway claims that this would be morally justifiable. Does Galloway therefore believe in the death penalty? Even if Blair was to be tried for war crimes at the Hague, he would not face the death penalty, and rightly so. Nothing morally justifies the death of another person, whatever the original actions. It may make us feel better, it may satisfy our anger and lust for the blood of the perpetrator, but it is not justice, and we should be trying to end the death penalty worldwide, not fan the flames of hatred by justifying it.

Galloway does then go on to slightly clarify his comments by saying that he would inform the authorities of such a plot, and says some wise words about what would happen in the aftermath, but it doesn't make his justification any more acceptable.
"My goodness, this is a moral maze. Er, yes, I would because such an operation would be counter-productive because it would just generate a new wave of anti-Arab sentiment whipped up by the press. It would lead to new draconian anti-terror laws, and would probably strengthen the resolve of the British and American services in Iraq rather than weaken it. So, yes, I would inform the authorities."
He also makes some deeply embarrassing comments, like Blair did to the Sun, about how virile he is:
GQ: So there's life in the old dog yet ?

GG: Absolutely, oh yes, I'm 51, I'm younger than Tony Blair. I don't have a dicky heart, I'm up like a broom handle in the morning. I don't drink or gamble - I'm still a catch.

As Michael White points out, this all seems like very adolescent postering. The enmity with Blair seems more than anything to be like teenage rivalry, both competing for the same girl who in this case doesn't exist. The only difference is that while Blair has his odd moments, his image was carved out in stone, how he was a pretty straight kinda guy. By contrast, while Galloway has endured smear after smear and still came out on top, he's also been completely naive, something he doesn't admit to, especially over his Big Brother appearance. His vanity is also one of his stumbling blocks. In essence, both are the ultimate politicians; strong on spin and charisma, rather than substance. Galloway is gallivanting around the world, just like Blair, but without the power back here at home. Both could have achieved so much more than they actually have, and that's really the most sad thing about them.

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Torygraph wins most memorable front page of last 100 years.

One wonders whether editors of all three of the other broadsheets, as well as the Sun are feeling rather peeved about the Telegraph winning the Newsnight vote for most memorable front page of the last 100 years with its September the 12th 2001 issue. After all, they all used the exact same photograph.

Dame Pauline Double-Barreled Name advocated it because:
An unforgettable image, of New York's Twin Towers ablaze and falling, together with a simple headline, and covering the entire page of a broadsheet newspaper.

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former diplomat and chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, argues that an event that seemingly ushered the world into a new era of uncertainty, has enduring significance.

Well yes, but that's lauding the event rather the front page itself isn't it? Her other reason was that the front page was clean. Yet the Guardian, Independent and Sun front pages were arguably even cleaner; they didn't have any other text apart from the headline, while the Torygraph had the start of the article.

Obsolete voted for the Sun's Gotcha!, mainly because it sums up everything bad about tabloid journalism in one handy front page. The Guardian front page on Jonathan Aitken and the Mail front page on the killers of Stephen Lawrence were the best actual front pages, which were not just depending on the event, but putting it in context of top class investigative and campaigning journalism.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006 

Further information about the (il)legality of the Iraq war revealed.

Last year in the run up to the general election there was a growing campaign for the full reasoning of the Attorney General in deciding that the Iraq war was legal to be published. After leaks of some of the information, the government published the attorney's thinking on the 7th of March 2003, which although the government at the time called it a "damp squib", showing that the attorney hadn't changed his mind after pressure from Blair, as alleged, did show at the very least that the Attorney was unsure of the basis for the legality of a military strike at the time. Now we have the attorney's thinking during the 7th and 17th of March 2003, following continued demands for it, which shows how he came to his much clearer decision that war was in fact "legal".

As the narrative sets out, the Attorney General had came to his original more equivocal decision that war might be legal after discussions with Foreign Office lawyers, Jack Straw, foreign secretary at the time, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the United Nations at the time, and members of the US administration who had been closely involved in the negotiation surrounding resolution 1441. The decision which the Attorney made on the 7th was based on the 4th paragraph of the resolution, which referred to what actions would be taken if there was a further "material breach" by Iraq, referring to the 11th and 12 paragraphs for what actions the security council should take. Paragraph 12 is the key. It says that the council should convene immediately in order to
consider (my emphasis) the situation. The wording is crucial, in the attorney's judgement, as it is only consider, rather than decide (my emphasis again). The attorney took this to mean that the original resolution, that authorised the original war against Iraq in 1990, could then be revived so that military force was legal.

Perhaps what is more key here is that Lord Goldsmith only took the advice of those who were in favour of war, whether they got the second resolution or not, except seemingly for the FCO lawyers, who were apparently opposed. Elizabeth Wilmhurst, the foreign office's deputy legal adviser resigned over Goldsmith's decision. Both Jack Straw and Jeremy Greenstock were by this point resigned to war, if they had been opposed at any time in the past. The US administration had originally not wanted to take Iraq back to the security council, but was eventually apparently persuaded by the dual efforts of Colin Powell and Tony Blair, mainly because Blair needed UN authorisation to sell any military conflict both to his own party and to the British public. Blair had seemingly already signed up to regime change at any cost, as the Downing Street memos have since made clear. The exercise at the UN was merely window dressing for what was going to come sooner or later anyway. On the eve of war Donald Rumsfeld had said that the US may well go it alone, as they were worries both at home and in Washington that Blair would not win the vote that parliament was given to authorise armed conflict. At the end, it was Lord Goldsmith's advice, along with the even more enthusiastic support for war from the Conservatives that got the vote for military action through.

Did the Attorney General then change his mind? To an extent he did, as the narrative released today makes even clearer. His 7th of March advice stated that a second resolution was the "safest" option, but that his legal analysis may change if a second resolution was not achieved. Change it did, but not because of the failure to achieve a second resolution but because of the meetings Goldsmith had at Downing Street where the Chief of the Defence Staff demanded "clear indication" of the legal position for the military forces, as paragraph 19 of the narrative makes clear. In Paragraph 20 it is recorded that the Legal Adviser for the Ministry of Defence asked the Legal Secretary to the Law Officers to clarify and make sure that the Attorney General was certain in his advice that action by the UK would "be in accordance with national and international law". Paragraph 21 shows the Treasury Solicitor made clear to the Attorney General that the legal advice had to be clearer. Pressure on Goldsmith was rising. Paragraph 24 shows the changing of Goldsmith's position. Rather than now thinking that a second resolution was the safest option, he had come round to the "better" view that there was a lawful basis for the use of force without a second resolution.

What then made Goldsmith come round to this better view? The second resolution was not forthcoming, which would have been "safest", but there had been no further material breach, and its arguable whether there had been one at all. Iraq was still involved in a tenuous co-operation with the weapons inspectors, and the missiles which exceeded the distance allowed under previous resolutions were being destroyed. Nothing had changed on the ground, or since Hans Blix's last report to the security council. What had changed is that the military and other parts of government needed something more concrete than his wishy-washy advice on the 7th, as President Bush was determined not to move back the war any further. Blair needed the vote in parliament to go his way, and the advice of the 7th was not convincing many backbench Labour MPs, and the military needed clearer advice to be sure that action was "legal". Goldsmith seemingly erred on the side of caution, and came round to the opinion that the better view was that a second resolution was now not needed, despite him say that getting one would be safest only days earlier. Paragraphs 28 and 29 show that on the 14th of March, after Goldsmith had revised his previous advice, he wrote to the Private Secretary of the Prime Minister to make sure that Blair's view was that Iraq had committed further material breaches. The next day the Private Secretary wrote back, confirming that the prime minister was of that view. This led to the Attorney over the weekend (15 and 16th) drawing up his new opinion of the legality of war in full, which was then given to parliament as a written statement on the 17th.

Was it pressure from Blair or from the military that made Goldsmith alter his opinion? Without further information, and Phillipe Sands wonders whether there is still further background data which has not yet been released that shows how Goldsmith came to change his opinion to being much more amenable to the pro-war position, then it's really impossible to tell whether he simply succumbed to pressure from both or was directly told by Blair to change his mind. As such, we're really still in the dark over the bigger picture, and both pro and anti-war camps can still argue that they are respectively in the right over the issue of the legality of the war.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006 

Deporting the easy targets.

While John Reid does everything he possibly can to suck up to the tabloids by ranting at how useless his department is, those who are searching for the foreign prisoners who were ordered to be deported at the end of their sentences seem to be picking on those who weren't even more eagerly. Two cases of this have now come to light.

The first was that of Ernesto Leal, who two years ago was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for grevious bodily harm following a fight in a pub. He was a model prisoner, released after 18 months and met all his probation requirements. His family had fled to Britain after his father had been tortured by the Pinochet regime in Chile, and was given indefinite leave to remain here. On May the 1st he was arrested and taken to Belmarsh, the high security prison which notoriously holds some of the most dangerous prisoners in the United Kingdom, awaiting a deportation hearing. Both the Met and the Home Office have made numerous mistakes in the handling of his case, and while his MP Diane Abbot has now made representations to the immigration minister, his future still hangs in the balance. You can get the early day motion about Leal sent to your MP by visiting here.

The second is that of Saqib Almas, who similarly was jailed for petty crime a few years back and had served his time. Now two years later, police and immigration officers turned up on his doorstep at 8am, ready to kick his door in. While Leal had indefinite leave to remain, Almas has dual nationality - Pakistani as well as British. This has made either no difference, or indeed, may well have been the excuse to deport him. The police, according to his sister, claim that he has no ties here - despite his whole family having lived here since he was 18 months old. He's now being held at Harmondsworth detention centre, similarly waiting to be deported.

In the hysteria surrounding the foreign criminals fiasco, it seems that as the police can't seem to find the vast majority of the 778 subject to a deportation order, that they're picking up those that have committed minor crimes who they do know the whereabouts of, so that their deportation figures are as a result slightly improved. It doesn't seem to matter to those who are ordering these raids that they're wrecking the lives of those who have contributed to this society but who have in the past had problems with the law; as long as they're pleasing their political ministers by doing their "job", anything goes. It's a sad indictment of this government that it is more inclined to listen to tabloid hysteria than to judge each case on its merits.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006 

25 (Update: 78) police destroy Haw's vigil.

And speaking of being absolutely shameless, the police last night turned up at 2:45am (darkness covers a multitude of sins) and took away all of Brian Haw's banners and placards except for those that roughly cover 3 metres (see above photo), loading them up into a container, likely to be destroyed. Their justification is that he has been repeatedly in breach of the Serious and Organized Farce Act's banning of demonstrations without prior permission with 1km of parliament, after the appeal court made its specious ruling that he could in fact be found to breach the SOCPA act.

Bloggerheads makes the following invitation:

You are invited to attend Parliament Square in solidarity with Brian Haw tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 11am ready for 11.30 (when Blair is due to drive past on his way to PMQs).

It is suggested that bells and whistles are used. Here's why.

I am going to further suggest that, instead of being in Parliament Square (where police are sure to clamp down and round people up during this short period), you merely be in that general area with a *concealed* bell or whistle at the ready... and then let fly when Baby Blair's motorcade goes past.

And, if anybody gives you any stick, remind them that:

1) SOCPA forbids the use of loudspeakers - *not* noisemakers.
2) SOCPA also fails to define what constitutes a demonstration.
3) So if they don't get out of your face, you'll be forced to have them arrested for demonstrating their ignorance.

Indymedia has more pictures and a fuller story.

Update: From the Daily Mail, of all places:
It emerged today that 78 officers had been involved and the operation had cost 7,200 pounds - 3,000 pounds on overtime and another 4,200 pounds on transport, catering and the erection of road signs. A row over the raid erupted today at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the body which oversees Scotland Yard, with one member suggesting it had brought the force into "disrepute". Another said it gave the impression, around the world, that Britain was "suppressing dissent by people opposed to the Iraq war".

All for the vanity of the Dear Leader. Good to know that instead of being spent on other police activites that £7,000 went on destroying one man's protest.

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Absolutely shameless.

Cherie Blair has at times had a rough deal from the media. Even so, there is no excuse whatsoever for what can only be described as heartlessness of the highest order, when at a Labour party event in Mayfair last Wednesday a copy of the Hutton report,
signed by both Cherie and Alastair Campbell was put up for auction, and fetched £400 for the Labour party coffers.

Cherie Blair is meant to be a highly intelligent woman, someone who has represented the persecuted and forgotten. Did it not go through her head, or that of any of the other Blairites who were present at this bash that auctioning a report that came about after a scientist killed himself when he was caught in the middle of a battle between the government and the BBC would be tasteless and offensive? That's without even getting into the fact that the report was a hideous whitewash which gave the government the benefit of the doubt and instead savaged the BBC, when their story was almost entirely right, resulting in the resignation of its director general and chairman of governors. We're still witnessing the fallout, as the BBC has become ever more supine in the face of government pressure, and in investigating this government's worst excesses.

The only explanation must be that power has finally managed to corrupt absolutely all those associated with New Labour. That their moral compass has been shown to be so completely lacking of late, and that Dave Cameron is stealing all the Labour party's attractive clothes, as yesterday when he promoted happiness over the pursuit of money, something that the left has told the government to focus on for years with little sign of them listening, seems to point to Labour completely losing its way. The result will be a Tory government that like Labour, is obsessed with looking good but underneath represents the same old interests and policies. Instead of promoting happiness, both parties just seem to be adding to the depression.

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Express-watch: More asylum distortions.

As is usual with the Express, the headline and the story have very little connection. In this case, the asylum seekers who sued were both torture victims who had fled from their own countries. They had been detained at the Oakington reception centre in Cambridgeshire, where they were meant to be examined by medical staff within 24 hours, as stipulated in Rule 34 of the 2001 Detention Centre Rules. They were in fact detained for six days before they were eventually released.

The judge, Mr Justice Collins ruled that "K", when eventually seen by a nurse, had injuries and scars which were consistent with inflicted injuries. While the other claimant, "D" was more difficult to assess, he ruled that an examination would have resulted in her also being released. Rule 34 had been introduced to safeguard torture victims from being detained while their claims were "fast-tracked", and as the rule introduced by the government stipulates that they must be examined within 24 hours, they were liable for damages, as they had been wrongly denied an exam within that time.

Mr Justice Collins also added:
[my] decision should not be seen “as a charter for others seeking asylum in the UK to claim, or to seek to obtain legal aid for claiming, financial compensation for allegedly unlawful detention for short periods of time under the fast-track process.”

So if others are looking to exploit this ruling, it seems unlikely that they will get very far. If the government can't guarantee that asylum seekers will be examined within 24 hours at its own detention centres, then it shouldn't have put such a restrictive time limit into the bill. Indeed, unlike recent "Human Rights" decisions, the Home Office was magnanimous:
"The Home Office accepts today's judgment and regrets that these individuals were not seen by medical practitioners within 24 hours of their arrival and is committed to learning lessons from this incident.

"The Home Office takes very seriously the issue of healthcare within its removal centres and the health of all detainees is monitored closely, which includes access to primary and secondary medical facilities, including psychiatric professionals."

By coincedence, yesterday saw the issuing of a report from the Church of England which accused the government of draconian treatment of asylum seekers.

The most savage criticism was of the treatment of asylum seekers. "The government must lead rather than follow public opinion on immigration, refugee and asylum policy. Specifically, asylum seekers should be allowed to sustain themselves and contribute to society through paid work. It is unaccceptable to use destitution as a tool of coercion when dealing with 'refused' asylum seekers."

When we have newspapers which day after day print distortions about immigrants or asylum seekers, what chance does public opinion have? Thankfully, some are trying to readdress the balance. Natasha Walter has wrote an article about female refugees and their struggle to be heard over on Comment is Free.

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Monday, May 22, 2006 

Sun-watch: A marriage made in hell.

One of Rebekah Wade's main selling points to Murdoch must have been her closeness to New Labour. She's long been a good friend of David Blunkett, who she was dining and commiserating with on the night when she smacked her husband and spent a few hours in Inspector Knacker's cells. She also had a good relationship with Blair, leading to such wonderful interviews as the notorious pre-election 2005 one, where it was revealed that Tony has a huge penis and that he can do it all night.

Changing political times lead to changing political friends. As evidenced in recent weeks by increasingly hostile and angry editorals, directed at the Human Rights Act and the Home Office, but also at Blair's wife and the government itself, we now learn that Wade managed to get Dave Cameron tickets to the Beckham's pre-World Cup bash. She's also recently ditched Blunkett as the Sun's worst columnist and replaced him with the talentless turd that is Kelvin MacKenzie. Could that have possibly been a pre-emptive move to stop Murdoch from getting rid of her and giving the editor's seat back to MacKenzie? Her brown nosing of Cameron seems to be in line with Murdoch's own thinking of backing a winner, with the paper praising him for promising to get rid of the Human Rights Act. With Labour slumped in the polls after the local elections, and the Tories maybe finally believing they can win again, all signs suggest that the Sun and Cameron may soon be getting hitched. Watch this space.

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Do the Home Office reshuffle!

McNulty comments on the size of James Dawute.
Just when they must be thinking that things can't get any worse over at the Home Office, over two days they get hit by another 3 major cock-ups, in all senses of the term.

Firstly, everyone's favourite useless computer firm, C(r)apita (yup, the same company from which Rod Alridge resigned after being caught up in the loans-for-peerages scandal after giving £1,000,000 to the Labour party) has once again messed up, and again it's at the Criminal Records Bureau, which you might remember a few year's ago was criticised after it built up a huge backlog of cases, which meant some schools had to remain shut at the start of the year because their new teachers had not been positively vetted. This time, the boot has been on the other foot. At least 1,500 people were refused jobs or college/university places after being wrongly found to have a criminal past or record. Emma Budd for one was denied two teaching posts after being told she had been convicted for shoplifting. Why being convicted for stealing should stop you being a teacher is rather besides the point when she wasn't even guilty in the first place. To add insult to injury, Crapita and the Home Office in their usual arrogant way have refused to apologise for ruining people's lives, as err, they were erring on the side of caution, and after all, 25,000 people last year were regarded as unsuitable for such jobs as a result of their checks. That's alright then.

After the story of the illegal immigrants who were working as cleaners at the Home Office through a contractor, Sunday saw a much more regular scandal. After the Sun, in one of its rare actual pieces of public interest journalism, revealed back in January that immigration officials had been offering sex for visas, an investigation had found there was no corruption racket. Enter James Dawute, who was recorded and filmed by the Observer offering an 18-year-old Zimbabwean asylum seeker, who herself had been raped, help with her claim in return for sex. One man obviously does not sum up the whole of the immigration department and those helping them with their claims, but it rather does undermine the findings of the investigation. The Tories are understandably calling for an explanation.

And now today we have the story that our open prisons, are err, open. The Liberal Democrats obtained figures that show that 13,000 prisoners have absconded in the last 10 years. Leyhill prison had records that showed 400 had walked out over the last seven years. All rather frightening, but it bears remembering that those at open prison are those either coming to the end of long sentences and who are judged at low risk to the public, or those that are judged as no threat at all. Both are often let out to work in the community to help them readjust to society before they actually are released. The figures don't say whether they include inmates who may one night been unable to get back to the prison after work, due to traffic problems or other difficulties. They have also fought back by saying that most are quickly rearrested, and that by their nature if prisoners want to escape from open prison, they can. The penalties for doing so generally don't make it worth their while.

Even so, the solution to all of these problems is to err, swap ministers, which is exactly what John "Oh fuck, not John Reid" Reid has done, by moving Tony McNulty from Immigration to Police, and Liam Bryne, who had been in charge of policing for a whole two weeks, to McNulty's former position. Someone needs to tell Blair and John Reid that tampering with the ministers isn't going to help. The Home Office needs root and branch reform, which includes splitting the department up. At the moment it is completely dysfunctional, and responds entirely to newspaper headlines, which is exactly what today's reshuffle is meant to placate. In that way it is just like Downing Street. A headline and shouty editoral in the Sun means that Blair jumps. It's not just their fault though; it's all our faults. The result of the 24 hour news environment means that we demand instant action. It can't go on that way. Institutional incompetence needs sorting out over time, and changing jobs doesn't solve it by any stretch of the imagination.

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Academies r shit.

Well, who would have thought it? The government's cure-all for failing inner city bog standard comprehensives, are themselves, failing. According to a study by Terry Wrigley, a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University, the number of pupils that have managed to achieve 5 GCSEs at A*-C has improved by a whopping 0.2% - which those kind people at the Guardian have averaged out to the equivalent of 3 pupils - across the first 11 academies.

Now, we shouldn't really be cynical. That's 3 more students that have had their life chances dramatically improved. The academies themselves are relatively new, and just having a new building isn't going to change bad teaching, behaviour or leadership problems that have built up over a number of years. However much opprobrium the disingenuous idea of giving a private company or grouping a major influence on the curriculum is for a sum which a number of them have not even paid, they deserve to be given a slightly longer chance. But wait! That isn't the worst of it, oh no. A spokesman tried to spin the results by saying the following:

the academies' GCSE results were "outstripping" those of their predecessor schools, adding that if English and maths were not included there had been an 8 percentage point rise in those getting five good GCSEs.

Yep, that's right, if you exclude those throwaway unnecessary subjects like English and Maths, then err, there's a whole 8% increase in those getting five "good" GCSEs. Perhaps the spokesman, despite working for the Department of Education, doesn't realise that English and Maths are 2 of the 3 core GCSE subjects which every student has to take, the other being Science. Then again, when those in charge already have the feeling that the kids they're teaching might well be thick, what's the point of teaching them English and Maths? All they're going to do is stack shelves and work the tills at Tesco's, where no brain power is required whatsoever. It's better that way, as they're less likely to question the amount they're getting paid as well. It seems this may well actually be what they're doing:
some academies were diverting children away from GCSEs to boost their standing in school league tables. The study found that many children had been switched from taking separate subjects at GCSE to the vocational GNVQ qualification, which counts as four GCSEs in government tables.

Indeed, shortly before Obsolete left its bog-standard comprehensive behind, all the students which were doing poorly or were evaluated to do poorly at the Key Stage 4 SATs were encouraged to take on GNVQs instead of GCSEs in their 10th year. While for some this was better than them just getting even more disillusioned and disgruntled in the more "academic" classes, there was also a reasonable amount of pressure for them to do it whether they liked it or not, purely because it helped the schools' results in the consequent league tables, and stopped the school from falling into "failing" status. As Terry Wrigley goes on:

"There seems to be something important going on here," he said. "Of course we should value vocational as well as academic learning, but false equivalents simply let down the most vulnerable young people. It may be in the school's short term interests, and the government's, to improve exam statistics in this way. However, as soon as an individual applies for a job or university place, they will face problems. How many employers regard a GNVQ in computing plus a C in art as equal to five good GCSEs in different subjects, especially if you include English and maths?"

According to Mr Wrigley the proportion of children taking GNVQ qualification has risen from 13% at the predecessor schools to around 52% at the academies.

And there lies the problem. There has undoubtedly been a lack of respect for vocational qualifications in Britain for a number of years, something that has to change. For the many the boundaries of academic schooling are both constricting and leading many to think of themselves of failures. In most places the 11+, which had done the same to children year after year, has been replaced with another system where it still fails, but at an older age. This is not to say that children should be forced into vocational subjects if they appear to be performing poorly in the likes of English and Maths. That has just as damaging repercussions at the above. There are plenty of pupils who flourish in their subjects later in life than others. Yet for many who would rather be doing something "hands on", although not in the John Prescott sense of the term, there are few opportunities. It's something which the likes of the CBI, that continues to decry poor communication and mathematical knowledge of those who leave school, both at 16 and 18, should do something about, rather than continuing to moan while doing nothing.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006 

Lining them up and knocking them down: Lies about Iran's "dress code".

It's sometimes difficult to ascertain whether a news story is pure propaganda, designed to harm and misinform, or whether it's based on a tiny amount of truth and then embellished further along the line. This is further complicated when it involves a country such as Iran, where correct translation is everything. While the latter could be the case in this instance, with the Canadian National Post printing on its front page that Iran is "eyeing" badges for Jews, it seems a lot more likely that it's the former.

What makes the story seem almost like the latter instance of the above is that is based on a small amount of fact. Amir Taheri states that the law replaces an original one from 1982 that dealt with women's clothes. That is exactly what this one also does. As Juan Cole points out, this much is true. The law is meant to further restrict women's clothing, and what is regarded as "un-Islamic" dress. Already police have been ordered to crackdown on those who wear their headscarves with too much hair showing, or on men with "outlandish" hairstyles. Apparently dog-walking is also considered a no-no.

Where the report gets into inaccuracy, and is downright misleading, is that it says that the law establishes a dress code. It does not. Nor does the law even mention "badges" or identifying marks for different religious denominations, as the only Jewish Iranian MP has come out and made clear. What makes the report seem so terrifying is in its parallels with Nazi Germany. Not only would the Jews have to wear a piece of material identifying them, but the material would also have to be yellow, exactly the same colour as the star which was imposed on them by the fascists. All this ties in exactly with what some politicians and commentators are increasingly doing; comparing Iran, and Ahmadinejad himself directly with Hitler. George Bush and his aides themselves now do this, according to a former senior intelligence official.

Not that comparing the next rogue state with our favourite historical enemy is by any means a new thing. Before the Iraq war we were constantly reminded of the dangers of "appeasement", the failed policy pursued by Neville Chamberlain. That Iraq had been bombed for twelve years, that there were UN-imposed no fly zones, that the country had no air force and that the longest range missiles it had were being destroyed was still no obstacle to this comparison. With Iran, the country is nowhere near such a miserable state. Hence why the propaganda against the Iranians and Ahmadinejad is coming on even heavier than that which we saw before the battle for Baghdad.

Amir Taheri himself, is as you might expect, a partisan figure. The end of the National Post's article mentions that he's a member of Benador Associates. A quick trip over to their website reveals that other members of Benador include James Woolsey and Richard Perle, both signatories and members of the Project for A New American Century. Another member was the recently deceased A.M. Rosenthal, an ex-executive New York Times editor, who supported the Iraq war and who supposedly suggested that other "rogue" nations should be given a 3-day ultimatum to reveal the truth about their WMD programmes after which bombing would commence. Taheri's other recent articles include his analysis of Ahmadinejad's letter to George Bush, which he claims shows that:
the present regime in Iran is the enemy of the current international system and is determined to undermine and, if possible, destroy it.
Another recent article, this one for our very own Torygraph, claims that Iran's lust for a nuclear weapon is err, all about the hidden Imam, stoopid.

As increasingly happens in the 24-hour news environment, the story was quickly gobbled up with gusto by those on the right, who seemingly didn't bother to check it before going to air or print. Taheri himself repeated the claims for Murdoch's New York Post, while his Faux News also reported the story. The Drudge Report, ex-scourge of Clinton, had the story up for 6 hours before it was removed with no explanation. Harry's Place, everyone's favourite bomb 'em and see what happens next repository also posted the story up, now with a disclaimer saying that it may well not be true. The National Post itself now has an article up reporting that experts are casting doubt on their original claims.

The most worrying thing about the whole episode is that everyone is prepared to believe the worst about Iran. Despite the disaster which has taken place in Iraq, which Ghaith Abdul-Ahad today shockingly reports on in the Guardian, we seem to be willing for the same thing to happen again. It needs urgently repeating that Iran is not Iraq. The situation could not be more complicated, but military action at any stage is only likely to make everything even worse. That Iran was earlier this week mocking the latest attempt at a deal from the EU shows that we may have left the carrot and stick diplomacy too late. With the enrichment having started, a light water reactor isn't good enough for the Iranians. Hard bargaining may yet happen, but the problem certainly isn't going to go away. With the propaganda against the mullahs not yet reached fever pitch, we may yet have a lot more debunking to do, or in the long run, accepting that Iran has gone nuclear and that any action now is more dangerous than the status-quo.

(Thanks to both Lenin's Tomb and Juan Cole for some of the sources on this piece.)

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Friday, May 19, 2006 

Express-watch: Britain's our next stop!

With immigration not being out of the news over the last few days, what with the civil servant giving evidence to the Home Affairs committee saying he "hadn't got the faintest idea" how many illegal immigrants were in the country, the foreign prisoner non-deportation scandal rumbling on and with five illegal immigrants turning up for work at the Home Office (although they were cleaners, employed by a contractor and were found out when security checked them over, although Channel 4 News apparently got the company to admit that have actually worked for the immigration service before, and Newsnight is currently airing its own allegations.) it's not much of a surprise that the newspaper which most frequently distorts the true picture of immigration in this country is leading on it. However, even they today seem to be completely making it up.

The Express story is about the thousands of migrants which are making the perilous trip over the sea, usually from the Atlantic ports of Mauritania and Senegal to try and reach mainland Europe. Mostly, they don't make it to Spain itself, but instead to the Canary islands. Tenerife, known mainly to Brits as a holiday island, has been receiving the most, with reports that up to 150 a day have been arriving via boat.

So where does Britain come into all this? Well, it err, doesn't really. These immigrants, who have paid all the money they have either saved or managed to get hold of to traffickers who take them to the ports and then abandon them once they've been given a boat, might have the intention of coming here, but it's huge unlikely that they'd ever be able to make it, or manage to. They have no documentation when they arrive (if they arrive, reports suggest up to 1,000 people already this year have died trying to reach Spanish territory) and no money. The Spanish have reopened an ex-army barracks to house those who have so far made the journey. The Spanish have also not found a solution to the problem, although they have suggested that they will take to using satellite monitoring to prevent yet more waves of immigrants reaching the islands. Even if the immigrants managed to get another boat once they had reached Tenerife and then get to Spain itself, they are faced with the problems of having no money. Smuggling using lorries coming through the Channel no longer works - all trucks are swept by sniffer dogs, and drivers face heavy fines if any immigrants are found. This leaves the immigrants with again making the journey by sea, or perhaps being used as one-way drug mules and there have been no reports of migrants managing to make it across the busy channel via yacht.

There's no doubting that there is a serious problem with illegal immigration, both with how it is seen and how the Home Office is dealing with it (or not, which seems to be what's happening.) The problem with those entering the country though is mainly with people traffickers who charge huge sums to get them to mainland Europe or through to Britain. Those who are making the trip from Africa via boat face almost insurmountable problems in making it to Britain. So why is the Express claiming that these migrants will be coming to these shores? Well, it makes for a nice scare story, it helps bash the Blair government and in the current climate, hardly anyone is going to bother questioning it. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story, after all?

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Summarising Big Brother.

On a day when there appears to have been a slight uprising at Guantanamo Bay, when the Express is printing blatant lies on its front page yet again (see above post) and when Romano Prodi makes an impassioned speech about withdrawing Italian troops from Iraq, the top story for the red-top tabloids is of course Big Brother. It's not just the tabloids though, the Guardian web site is getting excited about this fantastic human spectacle as well.

In line with this, Obsolete is happy to provide a cut out 'n' print guide to all the contestants, so that you'll never have to watch the programme or read about it again until the end of its run (although Obsolete is going to keep a tally of how many times it features on all newspapers front pages), in as few words as possible:

Pete - Crossdresser, Tourettes. (Although judging by the amount of swearing on the show, whether anyone will notice or not is doubtful.)
Shahbaz - Asian, gay.
Lea - surgically enhanced older slapper.
Nikki - surgically enhanced younger slapper.
Imogen - slapper.
Mikey - moron.
Dawn - misanthropist.
George - toff.
Grace - "Sloane ranger".
Lisa - Braindead loudmouth.
Sezer - "Self-made" capitalist.
Bonnie - naive attention-seeker.
Richard - gay, Canadian.
Glyn - Welsh, moron.

(That's enough fame-seeking nobodies. Ed.)

(I wrongly identified Pete as a transsexual. Apologies to transsexuals everywhere.)

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Thursday, May 18, 2006 

13 weeks of absolute fucking hell.

Yes, it's that time of year again. No longer is the British summer time the season during which the newspapers print more surveys and PR crap than usual, or concentrate on how hot or cold or rainy the weather is, because the tabloids at least now have something even worse to splash on. For those of us who actually like watching television which educates or entertains, or heaven forbid, tries to do both at the same time, it's the season which makes you want to slam your head repeatedly into the screen in a futile attempt to break both it and your skull at the same time. Oh lordy, it's time for Big Brother once again.

When first launched, the show was vaguely interesting and something slightly different than the norm. The first lot of contestants weren't really that outrageous or some would say, that interesting. The big happening was that one of the contestants had managed to smuggle in a mobile phone, and had been conspiring against the others, only to be found out and booted from the show. It was eventually won by a likeable builder called Craig, who has since gone to appear in the inevitable DIY shows on the BBC, and for a while, on Avid Merrion's celeb-mocking (and later loving) Bo Selecta!

The problem that the producers of the show then had was that while it had enthused a reasonable amount of the public, and they were likely to return, it was thought unlikely that it would happen if the show was just, well, the same thing again. The first pointing towards what was going to happen to the later series was with the late appearance of an airheaded girl called Claire, who just happened to have had a breast enlargement, which inevitably caused both interest in the house and in the papers. From then on the die was cast. Series two, while still featuring some of the likable or boring people that the first had, also had among its cast a woman called Helen who is still most remembered for saying "I like blinking, I do". Along with her, the series had its first openly gay man in Brian Dowling, who went on to win and who now is presenting ITV's new call-in game show, the Mint. In a voyeuristic and somewhat tacky turn, another gay man entered the house half way through the series, who was meant to sent Brian's pulses racing. What actually happened was that the two didn't get along at all. The tabloids, which had noticed that covering the show helped boost circulation in otherwise low-selling months, started to call the show "boring" in their droves. Frightened by this, the producers decided to turn the show "evil", along with introducing the most dysfunctional people it could find for the third series.

It worked. The third series contained Jade Goody, a complete and utter vacuous moron who was abused in the tabloids from the beginning, only for those watching the show to come to like her, which resulted in the papers' performing a famous reverse ferret. From calling her fat, ugly and stupid, she was soon turned into the nation's favourite working class gal. Her stripping naked during a poker game, while none of the others took off any clothes wasn't degrading or silly, it showed that she was up for anything and took it in her stride. After drunkenly performing fellatio on one of the men in the house under the cover of the bed clothes, it wasn't sleazy or unsettling television, it was riveting and "true to life", as well as being followed by days of discussion of whether it had happened or not. Along with Jade Goody, the show for the first time had what could be properly described as very attractive young woman on it. To the Daily Sport, this was a boon, as it managed to get hold of stills of the eventual winner, Kate Lawler, naked about to enter the shower.

The fourth series turned out to be the true turning point. The show was again derided as boring, as the producers had took fright at the criticism that when the show had been harsh and nasty that the people inside the show had suffered most. The producers changed their minds, and gave in to tabloid demand for sexier, younger and more naive and self-obsessed people to go into the house for weeks on end. Since then, all that has come from the show has been a transsexual who made a single then disappeared, numerous young women who have stripped off for the likes of Nuts and Zoo, and the ever rising star of the host, Davina McCall, despite her having no talent whatsoever, as evidenced by her recently derided attempt at a normal chat show on the BBC.

So what's wrong with the show you might ask? Isn't it just catering for a young audience which acts exactly like those it sees in the house? Well yes, that is was what it does to a certain extent. Yet you have to wonder about the sanity of those who enter and whether it further warps them or prevents them from leading a normal every day life after they leave. As mentioned above, it seems that some of the young women who have entered have become so desperate for cash and or recognition that they have given in to the no doubt abundant offers from the men's magazines to get their baps out, whether they had the intention of doing so in the first place or not. Also of concern is the way that the push for ratings has meant those selected to enter the house are meant to annoy one another and lead to ructions between them all. Last year's was only really notable for two things. A mass violent brawl, which led to the channel being strongly rebuked by Ofcom, and one of the female contestants decision to sit in the middle of the garden outside the house and masturbate with a bottle, after getting very tired and emotional. Both caused uproar, and questions over whether something even worse could possibly happen which the producers would not be able to control. By what's been reported so far, it seems that the new series is carrying on where the old one left off.

This is without going into those of us who were at first fairly interested in the show's premise and how people could live with only having a few others they had met before, working together to get over the challenges set. Now the show is simply a launchpad for a celebrity career, massive greed and cheap pornography. It could have been something like the Stanford prison experiment, except in a social setting. Instead it's been turned into a dumbed-down atmosphere which only exists for conflict to arise between those foolish enough to enter, or for the tabloids to leer and jeer at whether the equivalent of pandas will indeed decide to fuck while under the gaze of millions.

So no, Obsolete won't be watching. It's a shame when Channel 4, which has been one of the TV innovators, and has recently produced the likes of Peep Show, Nathan Barley, Black Books, Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights and Green Wing, as well as excellent Dispatches documentaries can't have the heart to end what has become a glorified freak show. Like the travelling circuses, it will eventually die out. Whether someone will die as a result before that is impossible to tell.

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Move along please.

It's not just demonstrations against government policy which are now being stopped under the Serious and Organised Farce Act's banning of protests within 1km of parliament without getting prior permission. Yesterday Annabel Holt tried to protest outside the annual general meeting of GlaxoSmithKline, that same company which got the outrageously broad injunction which makes publishing the address of any Glaxo shareholder an imprisonable offence. Let's hope that or BT are taking note, otherwise Inspector Knacker might be making a call.

Anyway, you can guess what happened next. Approached by three police officers, she was told to move on or face arrest. She moved on. The only other protestor was a Sylvia Bailey, from a group called the Stevenage Ladies, who seemingly had asked permission. One can only wonder if defence or oil companies will move their AGMs into the restricted zone at short notice to take advantage of the government's ban on protests, which remember, in no way removes the right to protest or to free speech.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006 

Blair: Nuclear is back with a vengeance.

Despite all that has recently happened, Tony Blair is still going out of his way to anger his own party. In a speech last night to his favourite group of people, the "voice of business", the CBI (expect him to become chairman or member of the boards of a few companies that belong to it when he leaves office), he seemingly decided to pre-empt the government's own energy review which is due to report in July, by saying that "failing to replace the current ageing plants would fuel global warming, endanger Britain's energy security and represent a dereliction of duty to the country".

All the signs are that new nuclear plants are going to be pushed through, whether anyone likes it or not. Parliament seems unlikely to get a vote or even a say in the process, those who might build the plants are demanding that the normal planning restrictions be bypassed so they can get right on with it, and the Guardian reports that the ex-environment minister sacked in the reshuffle has said that the figures behind the case for new nuclear power stations have been a fit-up. This is without going into the fact the North Sea gas and oil fields are nowhere near as dry as they have been claimed to be. The reality is that the quantity that remains is just harder to get at, which means that those precious profits will have to be eaten into a little, and the companies aren't prepared to do that.

John Vidal over on Comment is Free has nine questions which Blair has to answer. I wouldn't hold out too much hope that he will.

Related post: Shiny new Chernobyls.

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Sun-watch: How journalism works.

Apart from whether Jane Moore will ever manage to free her hand from her face, the main question recently regarding the Sun is why Wayne Rooney is currently getting such nice coverage from the Scum. The reason? You might remember that not so long ago Rooney had been getting ready for a legal battle against the newspaper, after both the News of the World and the Sun had printed stories alleging that he had hit his girlfriend, and then told her to "fuck off home" in front of other Manchester United players. The Sun, realising that a possible legal battle over libel with England's wunderkid might not be very good publicity for it during the World Cup campaign, as well as possibly leading other players to give interviews and exclusives to its rivals, settled the case for a cool £100,000. That doesn't include the costs of the action, which are estimated to have run to £500,000 for Rooney and £300,000 for Screws (sorry, News) International. Since then the Sun have run headlines such as "MAKE OUR DREAMS COME TROO" (geddit??) and today has been very sympathetic all over its front page about the fact someone took a hammer to Rooney's cars. Even so, why such a story is front page news when there was by no means a dearth of news yesterday raises eyebrows at just how arslikhan the Sun is going to become to him.

That Rooney has since broken his foot must be causing Wade worries. Wasting £800,000 of Murdoch's money seeing it's unlikely he's to play in the World Cup will not go down well with the Dirty Digger. That said, all may be forgiven if Rooney does by a miracle make the cup, or if even more dream-like, England somehow manage to win. Hunter Davies, who is currently ghosting the first part of Rooney's autobiography, was supposedly meant to be phoned by Rooney every day during the event with his thoughts on what was happening. The publisher which Rooney chose to sell his story to? HarperCollins, owned by one Mr Rupert Murdoch. It perhaps goes without saying that the Sun or Times may well get first rights to the serialisation, which would be expected to boost circulation and help get Murdoch's hard-stolen (surely earned? Ed.) cash back.

Not that Rooney's legal problems with the newspaper are all finished. Patricia Tierney is suing the Sun after it printed her photo and named her as the older prostitute that Rooney slept with after his notorious visits to brothels with other footballers. Tierney maintains that she had only ever worked as a part-time receptionist at the massage parlour, and that her life has been ruined by the article. Rooney may yet be called as a witness.

In other Sun-related news, the parents of the murdered teenager Rochelle Holness are furious at a story which the newspaper published about the circumstances in which she was killed by John McGrady. The Sun, probably informed by a police-source who was completely and utterly wrong, splashed that she was strapped to a table and then dismembered while still alive. The toothless Press Complaints Commission is investigating their complaint, and her parents have said that the paper has been as cruel to them as the murderer was. Not very good publicity for a newspaper which screams for tougher and tougher punishments and removal of rights legislation but falls victim to its own lust for lurid stories about death and sex. Perhaps that's why the Sun has offered a £10,000 reward to anyone who comes forward with information which helps catch the killer of Nisha Patel-Nasri, a police special constable who was apparently murdered outside her own house with one of her own kitchen knives. That bit of information made the commentators who were screaming for anyone caught with a knife in public to be sent to prison look rather stupid.

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