Monday, May 31, 2010 

The suicide of Israel.

I can't really put it much better than Flying Rodent already has, yet it's still worth dwelling on for a moment longer. Commentators like Melanie Phillips ("'Peace convoy'? This was an Islamist terror ambush" is her verdict) often write about the "suicide of the West", despairing of our apparent submission to Islamic extremists, our loss of faith in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and also, of course, our moral decadence. What though, is Israel's latest act of belligerence but yet further proof of the suicidal idiocy of the country's political and ruling class?

The only conclusion that can be reached is that Israel seems to imagine that it no longer needs allies, that it no longer needs friends, except for those that can be relied upon to repeatedly defend the indefensible, for which see the above. It's true that the country has acted this way in the past, such as when it attacked the USS Liberty, but that was during the Six Day War, or when it destroyed a Libyan passenger airline that had gone off course, but then no one cares about the Libyans and that was put down as another in Israel's long line of military "mistakes". The boarding of the Mavi Marmara is however the third such act of apparently shocking stupidity in 18 months: first the murderous assault on Gaza, having provoked Hamas into breaching a ceasefire which the Israelis openly admitted they had broken first, apparently purely for electoral benefit; next the almost comically inept if successful assassination of very minor player Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, earning rebukes and diplomatic expulsions from countries which didn't take kindly to Mossad yet again forging and stealing the passports of their civilians; and now a mindbogglingly foolish assault on a peace flotilla trying to deliver aid to the impoverished and long-suffering open-air prison which is the tiny strip of land known as Gaza.

It doesn't really matter whose side of the story is the most accurate, although it's instructive that the videos released by the IDF of the commandos coming aboard the Mavi Marmara show nothing of the arrival of the helicopters that delivered them, or of the boats involved in surrounding the vessels, when the people on the boats and indeed an al-Jazeera reporter on board one claimed that they were first fired upon. All the people around the world will see is the Israelis intercepting boats with an entirely peaceful purpose out in international waters, which means they were committing an act of piracy simply by attempting to get on board. And honestly, how did they think they were going to react to commandos apparently storming their vessel? Welcome them with open arms and sit down to discuss the rights and wrongs of the siege of Gaza? It's almost as if they were actively hoping that they were going to be mobbed, record it for the world to see and then claim that their motives were far from benign after all. It seems they weren't counting on the response being so unequivocal, but again it's notable that the worst that seems to have happened to those who went on board is that one suffered "serious head injuries" after he was thrown over a rail. Accounts still differ but at least 9 on the other side are known to have been killed. Again, that all communications with the vessels were successfully severed shortly after the assault began is instructive of how the Israelis only wanted their side of the attack to be seen.

As if relations between Turkey and Israel were not stretched as they were, the only Muslim country with which Israel has anything approaching diplomatic friendship with, they've now attacked a ship carrying the Turkish flag and also it seems killed mainly Turks. After royally pissing off the Americans earlier in the year by snubbing Joe Biden during a visit to the country, they've now once again showed how they can't be relied upon to act with anything even approaching civility towards those with honourable intentions, even if they disagree profusely with them on their methods and overriding philosophy. After first responding with the usual amount of biliousness and demagoguery we've come to expect from the Israeli government PR machine, that Benjamin Netanyahu has "expressed regret", as the prime ministers of Israel always do after they've committed yet another outrage, perhaps suggests that they've realised that they've gone too far this time. The Guardian today reports that the US has been making secret overtures to Hamas, over the heads of the Israelis, fed up with impasse between Israel and Fatah. After helping to create Hamas, Israel has strained every sinew to not recognise the Islamic faction; through its apparent determination to lose friends and alienate everyone, including its closest ally, it might yet be forced to deal with those who continue to refuse to so much as recognise the Jewish state. And if they are, they will only have themselves to blame.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010 

Question Time, spin and the downfall of Laws.

The Telegraph's accusations regarding David Laws' expenses certainly put the debacle over Thursday's Question Time into a whole new light. Did Downing Street or indeed Laws himself already have an inkling of what was to come, and so came up with the pretty feeble excuse of not appearing unless Alastair Campbell was shunted off and replaced with a member of the shadow cabinet, knowing full well the BBC was never going to acquiesce to such a demand from the government? Or rather did they believe that Campbell had been tipped off about what was shortly going to appear, and so prevent the possibility of him confronting Laws with it on national television?

If Campbell did know, then he certainly isn't letting on. Neither his blog or Twitter mentions any such suspicions of the scandal in the offing, and he's even written a rather sympathetic post on the matter, although he does make clear that Laws' sexuality, having been inadvertently "outed" in the process, was another of those "open secrets" at Westminster.

It could of course just have been Andy Coulson and friends starting as they mean to go on, as was first assumed, already prepared to dictate just what is and isn't permissible as far as our new overlords go. The BBC has always been strangely indulgent of Campbell, especially considering how he was determined to bring it as close to its knees as possible after the whitewash delivered by Lord Hutton, and they did have something approaching a point that putting a former spin doctor rather than an actual politician up on the panel to represent Labour was a strange choice. Less convincing was the claim that the BBC was helping Campbell to promote the first volume of his unexpurgated diaries, which he didn't so much as mention once and neither did David Dimbleby.

Regardless of whether all this was just a happy coincidence, the response of the right-wing press to Downing Street's attempt to tell an impartial broadcaster just who it can and can't have on a political panel discussion programme has been instructive: you can guarantee if Campbell and cronies had tried the same during their tenure that they would have done their usual impression of Violet Elizabeth Bott. Distracted as they currently are by the "crossbow cannibal", they've been remarkably reticent about it. Spin it seems, as with so much else, is fine as long as it's your side doing it. Combined with Con-Dems attitude towards parliament, as shown by announcing the £5.7 billion of cuts to a press conference rather that in the Commons, it hardly shows that this new politics they've eulogised about it is any different to the old style we'd become so accustomed to.

Even more unnerving for Cameron must be that we haven't even had three weeks yet of this new fabled coalition and already it has its first "scandal" on its hands. New Labour managed to go almost six months before the Ecclestone affair punctured the party's political honeymoon, and while that involved money, it didn't also involve sex as a theme. It's not even as if Laws needed the cash: we've been treated ever since his appointment to tales of how phenomenally clever and hard-working he is, a millionaire at 28 who could be making even more dosh had he not decided to dedicate himself to the Liberal Democrats and to a public life. He's also fallen straight into the Hazel Blears trap, immediately paying back the money before any investigation has taken place, which only encourages the view that he must be feeling guilty and regrets having been caught, rather than even attempting to clear his name. That he's also the man wielding the axe, almost taking delight in slashing public spending, and yet has apparently been more than prepared to take what he thought he was entitled to also bodes ill for his ability to stay in his position.

The Ecclestone affair went on for weeks, led to Blair doing his now infamous "pretty straight sort of guy" routine, yet had no impact whatsoever on the polls. Whether the same will be the case this time round, with the public clearly prepared for the moment to give the Con-Dems the benefit of the doubt remains to be seen. It is depressing though, as Alastair Campbell himself pointed out, that already expenses seems to be impossible to break away from. The very last thing we need is another parliament defined not by its politics but by the extracurricular activities of its MPs. Even more reason for Cameron to be rid of a minister whom he owes absolutely nothing to; just what impact it will have on the Lib Dems and the coalition itself through them, already defending Laws to the hilt, is equally difficult to predict.

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Friday, May 28, 2010 

Which came first?

Did Stephen Griffiths tell the police that he thought of himself as a "crossbow cannibal"? Or did he somehow see a copy of the Sun, which described him as such on its front page, and decide that was what he should say his name was in court?

Either way, the Sun doesn't come out of it well. Either it's so well-briefed that it knew what was being said in the interview room, before seemingly even the Crown Prosecution Service did, or the alleged killer himself was so struck by their coinage that he felt that is what he will almost certainly be known as from now on, regardless of whether he's found guilty or not.

It could of course also be neither: Griffiths might be so mentally ill that he no longer knows what's happening to him, although if that was the case he might well have been sectioned rather than apparently remanded in custody.

In any case, the charges being brought has done nothing to bring an end to the far more grotesque speculation going on in the tabloids, which seems determined to portray him as just the kind of weirdo loner who was an accident waiting to happen. He's variously accused of swallowing an alive baby rat whole, of having, amazingly, "dozens of photos of serial killers on his walls and heavy academic books on murder", just the sort of things you wouldn't expect someone doing a criminology PhD to have, and, of particular note, a mother who "dressed sexily". As for the Mail, it's baffled that someone who went to a grammar school and then to a top university could descend to the depths of living in a dingy flat studying criminology:

Despite a fine start in life, the criminology student soon became obsessed with the history of serial killers and descended into a seedy, internet-addicted existence in a housing association flat.

Quite. How deeply depressing that someone so presumably bourgeois should allegedly turn to a life of degradation like all those other murdering plebs.

If it turns out after all this that Griffiths is in fact innocent, it will hardly be thanks to a media that seems ever more determined with every case to prove the accused guilty by virtue of not being completely average and normal. It seems you don't have to watch and attempt to help the most vulnerable in society in order to stop serial murderers, but actually just flush out and persecute the "oddballs". And as we know, that's worked so well in the past.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010 

Yellow journalism and history repeating.

There's very little that shows up the true colour of our own yellow press than even the slightest gleam of the emergence of a potential serial killer. You only have to take a look back at the press coverage of the murders in Ipswich to see a media delighting in the opportunity to speculate as wildly as it possibly could, first slurring the character of a man who was completely innocent and then all but committing contempt of court in the form of the Sun publishing a front page of Stephen Wright pretending to strangle his ex-wife. To add insult to injury, Richard Littlejohn felt he simply had to strike out at the stultifying tyranny of grief he decided had descended, telling the nation the death of 5 women was "no great loss", that the only missionary position they were ever going to take was in the back of a car, and that some men are actually turned on by "disgusting, drug-addled street whores".

Marx's dictum was that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. While historians will disagree about whether history actually does repeat itself, it would be churlish to completely dismiss the similarities this time round with that of the events in Ipswich four years ago. If anything, the speculation, especially from the Sun, which always seem determined to outdo its previous reporting of shocking crimes, has even been even more lurid and distasteful. With absolutely no evidence whatsoever, it screamed on its front page today about "crossbow cannibal killings", claiming that the entire murder of Suzanne Blamires had been caught on CCTV, with every single gory detail felt worthy of salivating over and repeating. As usual with the Sun, it seems the police have been surprisingly open with them regarding what they believe to have happened, which often turns out eventually to be completely inaccurate, as it was in the cases of Rochelle Holness and Janet Hossain to name but two. Then there's the not quite equally offensive, but still dreadful quality of writing, treating readers like the complete idiots they quite obviously must be:

And shocked detectives are investigating whether some body parts may have been EATEN cannibal-style.

Presumably as opposed to any other sort of style?

At the same time, its reporting of another parallel with the Ipswich murders has been remarkably coy. The first suspect then had his MySpace and Friends Reunited pages quickly mined for any sort of details, and exactly the same has happened this time round. Stephen Griffiths kept exactly the sort of MySpace page which the tabloids couldn't of wished for, containing pictures of past serial murderers, while also describing himself as "
the misanthrope who brought hate into heaven". It also had the photograph of him shirtless, which was deemed to be the one most likely to show him as a weirdo, unlike the actual one on the main profile page where he looks completely normal, although we are having to rely on the Google cache as the actual profile itself has been swiftly removed. Strangely, despite reporting all of this and more, the Sun couldn't actually bring itself to name the social networking site on which all of this was found, doubtless absolutely nothing to do with MySpace being owned by the same parent company as the newspaper.

Not, I should be clear, that the Daily Mail has been much better. "TERROR STALKS RIPPER'S CITY", screams the front page. This terror must have set in after Griffiths was first arrested, as prior to that no indication that there was anything going on that was untoward appeared in the pages of the Daily Mail. Search for either of the first two women to go missing and you will find precisely nothing prior to yesterday, neither of whose disappearance seems to have caused any ripples outside of the local area whatsoever. The Guardian reports on the appeals made by Susan Rushworth's family for information, which only must have made local media (such as the Telegraph and Argus), as not even the Yorkshire Post has any details on her disappearance, or at least not archived. Compare this to the coverage the Daily Mail has repeatedly given to the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence, who wasn't, in Richard Littlejohn's parlance, a "disgusting, drug-addled street whore", but has been reported on almost as if she was, with the Mail repeatedly delving into her sex life. The Mail's map of the area, for reasons known only to them, has Peter Sutcliffe's former home marked on it, as if it had any relevance whatsoever to events in the city over 30 years on. Jim Greenhalf, a journalist from the time who interviewed a prostitute in Bradford's red light district notes that modus operandi behind the murders is completely different, and that the fear then was real and palpable, in completely difference to today.

Now that Griffiths has been charged, we can of course look forward, should he be convicted, to the media once again being satisfied that it provided only the finest and most in-depth coverage of the latest serial murderer to establish himself on these shores. The real lesson that we will fail to take yet again is that there was no need whatsoever for these women to be on the streets, and that it's through our continuing twin obsessions of continuing both the war on drugs and the lesser war on prostitution, ensuring that the running of brothels of whatever size remains illegal that we force them into such a dire position in the first place. The sad reality is that we can expect this pattern to reoccur yet again, with the same salacious coverage and with the same tabloids dismissing the murders simply because of the nature of the people who died.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010 

The semi-truths from which a thousand conspiracy theories are born...

They're some japesters, the CIA, aren't they? When they weren't transporting detainees around the globe on private jets, delivering them to the world's finest dungeons, they were looking at cornering the terrorist video market:

The agency actually did make a video purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his cronies sitting around a campfire swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys, one of the former CIA officers recalled, chuckling at the memory. The actors were drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” he said.

Those with very long memories might remember the video of bin Laden supposedly found in Jalalabad in Afghanistan back in December of 2001, featuring the al-Qaida leader helpfully talking about the September 11th attacks to a man identified as Khaled al-Harbi. A very fortuitous find indeed, and one which at the time was questioned, especially as it showed an apparently chunkier bin Laden than the one photographed a couple of months earlier.

The tape, according to the usually reliable Jason Burke, was completely genuine, simply not found as it was claimed. Instead it was recorded as part of a sting even more elaborate than the kind pulled off by Mahzer Mahmood, most likely involving Saudi intelligence and a dissident preacher named Ali Saeed al-Ghamdi. Now the conspiracy loons, already convinced the video was faked, have just the sort of background evidence they need to further justify their prejudices. As Jamie suggests, the reality of the unreleased fake bin Laden tape was likely even more primitive:

Yeah, a couple of Puerto Ricans and some bloke from Samoa in a false beard. Very convincing, I’m sure.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010 

Freedom, fairness and responsibility: all tested on the first two days.

When one of the first acts of a new government is to, in a second, throw 44,000 more young people into unemployment, there is every reason to be worried about just what the next five years will bring. As so well described by donpaskini, the ending of the Future Jobs Fund, about as close to a "Big Society" measure as Labour ever devised, will mean instead of as many as 110,000 young people working with charities on at least the minimum wage, apprenticeships will instead pick up the slack, with those lucky enough paid £55 a week, or the equivalent of jobseeker's allowance. It will however provide cheap labour for companies and businesses, the same ones presumably who protested so vigorously about the "jobs tax", even as the Con-Dems decide that making tens of thousands more individuals economically inactive is a good idea.

The cuts announced yesterday, before today's equally dispiriting Queen's speech, simply did not have to be made this year. Not just because cutting now would put the recovery at risk as argued by the likes of David Blancheflower, when it is by no means clear that the private sector can pick up the slack from the public sector, but because the borrowing figures announced last week were better than expected. The deficit, rather than reaching the £167bn height predicted by Alistair Darling, instead came in at £156.1bn, £5.5bn less than was expected after previous revisions, and only slightly less than the £5.7bn in cuts Osborne and Laws detailed on Monday. Here was an opportunity to put them off at least until the autumn, after the general spending review, yet both parties in the coalition decided that the pain should begin immediately. The Liberal Democrats explanation as to their conversion to cuts this year was deeply disingenuous, claiming the current market instability surrounding the deficits in the Eurozone was the key factor, despite there being no apparent concern whatsoever about our own problems. Make no mistake, these cuts were and are ideological, and on the child trust fund, another of Labour's few excellent policies, the Lib Dems actively pushed the Tories to the right, abolishing them altogether by next year while the Conservatives promised to keep them for less well-off families. This was also partially because, as anyone could see, there simply wasn't enough "waste" to cut.

Not that it's just the "neets" and the very young who are going to be adversely affected by the £5.7bn of immediate cuts, but also some of those applying to go to university, of whom 10,000 will probably find themselves without a place. Also gone is the one to one tuition for those who fall behind early on in school, the exact kind of help which makes up for the disparity between the rich and poor that leaves the latter playing catch up from the very beginning.

For those of us who hoped that the morphing of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats into a greenish mush would result in the best of both parties coming together, the bills announced in the Queen's speech instead suggest the opposite, with the worst of all worlds becoming a distinct possibility. Away from the easy stuff, which was always going to be the swift abolition of ID cards, one thing that does stand out on the civil liberties front is that after all the recriminations during the election over the DNA database, the apparent proposal for how many years the profiles of the innocent should be kept on it is now five years, or just a single solitary year less than Labour's admittedly bargained down six. The Lib Dems quite rightly didn't want the innocent kept on it at all, yet it seems that was one of the first principles they felt was expendable.

While the legislation this time round is in many cases far from immediately ready, and so there are almost certainly more compromises and amendments to come, that which is close to complete is remarkably Blairite. The Conservatives were always more enthusiastic about academies than Labour, seeing it clearly as the first great opportunity to inject private and "third" sector involvement into the education system regardless of the results which have been far from across the board improvement, and the inappropriately named "free" schools only further extend the possibilities, as Peter Wilby notes. This bill has never been about parents themselves setting up and running schools, something very few if any will do entirely on their own, but rather privatising education by stealth, only under the justification of parental consensus and approval. Michael Gove and David Cameron have long made clear how they intended to take on "vested interests", and in education that means teachers themselves, even as they supposedly want to give schools more say in what they teach through slimming down the national curriculum.

Much the same thinking is behind the welfare reform bill, of which they are even fewer certain details, but when it's Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and David Freud, the former investment banker who in a review he spent all of three weeks on discovered almost immediately a good proportion of those on incapacity benefit clearly shouldn't be on it going to be the ones implementing it, there's plenty to be concerned about. Again the third and private sectors will be even further brought in, although it's never been clear just where the savings are going to come from if they succeed in getting people into work where Jobcentre Plus failed, as they will paid a percentage of the benefits "saved". The buzzword is "incentivise", making clear the benefits of work, although yet again the uncertainty remains: how do you incentivise work when there simply aren't enough jobs to go round to begin with, and also when it is so dogmatically assumed that work is an end in itself when it many cases, and especially for those who have been on incapacity benefit or now employment and support allowance, it's incredibly difficult to hold down a job in the long term? Coupled with this is the further dogma of imposing yet another review of everyone on either IB or ESA, currently resulting in the mass overturning of decisions made by Atos Healthcare by independent tribunals, where seriously or even terminally ill people were declared to be fit to work.

There are good things in the speech: Equitable Life savers should have been compensated years ago for one, the energy bill looks to be a step forward, and much of the parliamentary reform agenda, with the exception of the 55% vote margin, deserves unqualified support. This is however fundamentally undermined by the above, not to mention the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, which Labour rightly abandoned, and the potential politicisation of the local police through elected commissioners, or "directly elected individuals", as they are now being euphemistically called. If the arrest of Brian Haw outside parliament set the tone there, then the shrillness of David Cameron's response to Harriet Harman, almost demanding an apology for the state of the country's finances was the churlish note that did the same inside. Everything from now on will be blamed on Labour, deservedly or not, and regardless of the Con-Dem's ultimate responsibility. Freedom, fairness and responsibility is meant to be this government's mantra, and all three of those things have been sorely tested on the first real day of something approaching parliamentary business.

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Monday, May 24, 2010 

The return of entrapment.

Haven't used these in a while...

The last year has hardly been a vintage one for tabloid newspapers. They didn't just collectively miss the opportunity to get exclusive rights to arguably the biggest story of the last decade, the files which enabled the Telegraph to launch its series on MPs' expenses, they in some cases actively turned them down when they were offered. Circulation across the board has mostly continued to slump, with just the Star and Sun barely managing to maintain the levels of the year before, and then only through heavy discounting. Alongside the damage caused by the Guardian's investigation into the phone-hacking at the News of the World, and the concurrent investigation by the parliamentary media committee, of even more concern will have been how social media is increasingly allowing those who were previously shouted at and invariably not allowed to respond in kind to protest about the very worst of the tabloid media's excesses, never more epitomised than by the contempt focused on the Daily Mail following the publication of Jan Moir's now infamous comment piece on the death of Stephen Gately. The Press Complaints Commission may not have agreed, but no newspaper is now likely to be so unthinking before printing something similar.

True, there was something of a success earlier in the year when John Terry, having been targeted repeatedly by the News of the World was not only exposed as having an affair (although Vanessa Perroncel continues to deny having had a sexual relationship with Terry) but in the process also had his so-called "super injunction" stopping the media from even revealing that there was one in place thrown out. The injunction however stopped the News of the World from keeping its scoop exclusive, and the media flailed around in its occasional pseudo-moralist persona, justifying the story on the grounds that Terry as captain of England was in a position of influence, meant to set an example to children around the country both on and off the pitch; he had to go, and go he did.

Nonetheless, it's in part been the revelations concerning the tabloid media's previous addiction to phone hacking and the "dark arts" that have almost certainly led it back to another of those deeply dubious and ethically questionable but far more traditional journalistic tricks of the trade: entrapment. Certainly, it's no coincidence that the three big "scoops" of the last month, if they can really be described as such, have all involved stings of two distinctly different sorts.

Just to be awkward, we'll consider the one that came along second first. Here is one of those slightly rarer examples of a newspaper not doing the legwork itself. Instead, the enterprising Melissa Jacobs, having ingratiated herself with the FA chairman Lord Triesman, recorded an incredibly dull conversation that was only slightly enlivened by his indiscreet mentioning of a conspiracy theory involving Russia bribing referees at this year's World Cup in favour of Spain, with Spain then returning the favour by voting for Russia to host the 2018 tournament. Jacobs was operating the classic honeytrap form of a sting, the attractive young woman pretending to have an interest in the male target, gaining his trust only then to either get him to break the law for her, or in this case, taping him saying something vaguely controversial. Jacobs claims that the pair were having a sexual relationship, something denied by Triesman (as always, it's worth remembering the wisdom of Mandy Rice-Davis on such matters) and not entirely backed up by some friendly but hardly damning text messages between the two, only for Jacobs to suddenly have a fit of conscience involving having an affair with a married older man, and then almost two years later apparently decide to earn some money out of him by meeting up with him and recording their conversation with a view to flogging it to the gutter press.

Quite why the Mail on Sunday decided that the conversations were worth an apparent £75,000, or indeed how they justified to themselves that the story was in the public interest are things we will never know. Something we do know is that the News of the World had been offered the story, and apparently turned it down. Not presumably because it felt the story wasn't worth paying for, but because it had a rather more acute sense of the possible effects of putting the information into the public domain: the instant implications for England's own bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Luckily for the Mail on Sunday, the rest of the tabloid press decided yet again that dog doesn't eat dog and instead focused on "rescuing" the bid rather than criticising the paper for endangering it in the first place through such an unnecessary and non-revelatory report. The only casualty was Gary Lineker, who decided he could no longer "write" (in fairness, I don't know whether his column was ghosted or not, but the vast majority of those by former players are) his column for the paper as a result.

Worth remembering is the hypocrisy of the position of the Mail on Sunday in paying such a vast sum to Jacobs when so many other such stings are based around the premise of proving the target to be, not just necessarily as corrupt or otherwise, but also as greedy, which is just what the other two exposures by the News of the World in the past month have set out to do. Both of the victims were entrapped by none other than Mazher Mahmood, whom you might remember included this blog in the terms of an injunction which he took out after he had so comprehensively failed to do his usual work on gorgeous George Galloway, who then set about distributing two blurry photographs of Mahmood which his staff had taken from the pages of none other than this site (I'd located from them from an Albanian newspaper website's report on Mahmood's activities, which itself swiftly disappeared down the memory hole). Some thought after his run in with Galloway, as well as the failure to secure convictions in the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was and in the red mercury plot that also never was that he'd be forced to take a back seat in such "investigations", and while that seemed to be the case for a while, he's now apparently back in charge.

He also seems to be using exactly the same underhand tactics and ploys which he always has. The apparent planning, subterfuge and indeed cost which went into entrapping the snooker player John Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney was staggering, as uncovered by the Sporting Intelligence website. This involved meetings prior to Higgins and Mooney being flown out to Ukraine, where the conversation about fixing frames in exhibition matches that Mahmood's fake company was to sponsor was filmed, the creation of a very professional looking website for this business, and liberal amounts of alcohol being offered at least on the first couple of occasions, presumably to loosen any concerns that Mooney might have had, Higgins not being involved until the meeting in Ukraine. According to Sporting Intelligence, Higgins and Mooney were even fast-tracked through customs in the Ukraine, further giving the impression of how much influence Mahmood's fake company had. It was only then that they revealed that as well as being involved in legitimate business, they also had a supposed role in a gambling syndicate and wanted Higgins to lose some of the frames. While some of the evidence provided by the NotW is elementary, including how Higgins would account for the money he might have been paid for fixing the matches, there are notable holes: such as where and when the frames were to be lost, how much money exactly would have changed hands, and when. Of further concern is that Sporting Intelligence believes the video itself of the discussion was choppily edited, and in some cases misleadingly subtitled, with even dialogue being added on later that doesn't seem to match with anyone in the room at the time.

This isn't to even begin to suggest that Higgins and Mooney are innocent. Indeed, the fact that they didn't immediately report the meeting to Barry Hearn, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association's chairman is undeniably incriminating, considering Higgins later issued a statement claiming that he and Mooney had only gone along with what was being discussed because they were scared that they might be dealing with the Russian mafia, especially after the sudden appearance of two men previously unknown to them, one of which was another reporter, named "Jaroslav", along with someone given the moniker "Nikail".

Unlike Roy Greenslade
, I see far more of a public interest defence for the entrapment of Higgins, in order to expose corruption in snooker, than I do in yesterday's sting involving Sarah Ferguson. Fergie is hardly the most public or notable figure these days, and while her intention to "sell" access to her ex-husband in his role as a special representative for trade and investment, unpaid as it is, is of possible concern on ethical grounds, the ethics involved in the entrapment are again of no apparent concern. While there doesn't seem to have been as much effort put into the sting as there was in the Higgins case, the same methods were used, including an apparently large amount of alcohol. It's hardly a revelation that Ferguson has always been out for whatever she can get, having not exactly been remunerated extravagantly after her separation from Andrew (although that said, many other single mothers with two children would rip her arm off for £15,000 a year), and as has also already been pointed out, if someone wants to pay you simply for introducing them to a relative, especially when no other favours have been promised and it is not even clear that meeting alone would be achievable, how many wouldn't take the money and run?

Of most concern to me is that a pattern seems to be repeating itself. Mahmood gradually worked himself up originally from entrapping minor celebrities, most often with drugs, with John Alford and Johnnie Walker notable examples, to more ambitious schemes which caught out the Countess of Wessex. He then went even further, as the aforementioned Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was, and then the red mercury nonsense. Having been knocked somewhat off his pedestal, he's now on the up again. Despite his claims that his involvement in the "red mercury" investigation was part of his role as a police informant, he's clearly never had any qualms whatsoever about potentially ruining the lives of individuals that he imagines he can get a story out, as shown by his first ever act of grassing up friends of his parents for being involved in pirating videos. Even if the tabloid press is somewhat battered and bruised at the moment, it still only believes in one thing: making money. Everything else comes second to that, and the return of entrapment, and all the uncertainties surrounding it just goes to show that the same old lack of morals and ethics is still driving journalists just as it much as it ever did.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010 

The Labour leadership contest: This is Yesterday.

I know you don't want to, but take a good, hard look at the four main Labour leadership candidates. Go on, force yourself. Like it or not, one of these fine upstanding gentlemen is going to become the focal point of opposition to the shotgun marriage of the Conservative and Liberal Democrats. OK, you can turn away now. Dispiriting, isn't it, to say the least? I'm reminded of both high and slightly lower culture: of Ozymandias by Shelley, looking on their works and despairing, but also of the last ever episode of Blackadder, where Melchett visits the western front and comments on the nature of the troops he will soon be sending to their deaths, to which Blackadder responds with "Yes sir - shortly to become fine bodies of men".

For all the platitudes, especially from the two Milibands, about wanting the widest possible field of candidates, this line-up is the logical endgame of New Labour, the equivalent of a policy akin to Stalin's socialism in one country. Having suffocated all dissent, centralised the party to a ridiculous extent, micro-managed the selections process to parachute in favoured, endlessly loyal apparatchiks and luvvies, these four are the perfect representation of the New Labour project, while also being the finest imaginable illustration of just how the party can no longer even begin to pretend to be representative of the country at large. It's also indicative of just how limited politics in this country has become, another of the ultimate successes of the Blair era: don't like the fact that all three of the party leaders will be male 40-somethings from the white, upper middle classes? Tough.

Just like the Conservatives toiled and struggled to escape from the shadow of Margaret Thatcher, so now will Labour desperately flail in a bid to remove themselves from the legacies of both Blair and Brown. In fact, this process was already started somewhat during the deputy leadership contest back in 2007, when Hazel Blears resorted to claiming that there was no longer any distinction between Blairites and Brownites, there was just Labour. As risible as it was then, it has something approaching a smidgen of truth now: the last three years showed just how few real differences there were between two, but then that also just shows their triumph; having all but completely recreated the party in their own image. As much as David Miliband wants to leave behind the Blairite and Brownite labels, thinking only of "Next Labour", if you remove their adherences and preferences to the two separate leaders then there are even fewer ways of explaining the differences between David, the two Eds and Andy.

In any case, if you want to show that the party has moved on, then you have to come up with policies that are genuinely different and show that you've learned from your defeat. The task facing Labour is nowhere near as unforgiving as the one the Tories woke up to on the 2nd of May 1997, and that itself seems to be shaping the party's incredibly limited post-election thinking. So wedded has the party become to the triangulation strategy it pursued without mercy or hesitation in those 13 years of power that it still believes it only failed at the ballot box because it wasn't right-wing enough on immigration, "anti-social behaviour" and on those omnipresent welfare malingerers. They've adopted the excellent class-based analysis of Jon Cruddas without endorsing his solutions of giving protection to agency workers, introducing a living rather than a minimum wage and a full social housing programme. Instead they still to seem to think the only reason the public didn't appreciate their policies was because they didn't explain them well enough, as Andy Burnham, Ed Balls and ghastly Phil Woolas have all claimed. There's an element of truth in this, but far more damaging was the failure to even begin to challenge the repeated lies and misinformation which was bellowed from the tabloids on an almost daily basis on the subject. Coupled with the decision to not even begin to defend the scale of immigration, which the public will always give credit for even if they don't agree with you, it allowed a whole series of myths to develop which will be all but impossible to shift.

One of the biggest insights into just how warped the party's thinking has become is provided by the continuing obsession with middle class benefits, as elucidated by the supposed left-leaning Ed Miliband and also by Burnham. Rather than being concerned with those losing their jobs, who could presumably be depended upon to vote Labour regardless, they instead worry about the falling disposable income of those in work, embittered that those "who weren't doing the right thing" were being "rewarded" while they had to cut back ever so slightly. Rather than dismiss this as an unreasonable grievance during a recession when everyone's spending power diminishes, the party always seems to believe that the state should do more, regardless of the cost. Labour has become caught in its own trap: why vote for a party that has moved so far to the right on so many policies when you can instead plump for the real thing in the shape of the Tories?

My initial conclusion after the election was that at last Labour could have a real debate, both with itself and the country at large about where it had gone so wrong during its time in office. Instead, it seems to have already decided that rather than oppose the Con-Dem coalition from the left, it's far easier to do so from the right. The party was always going to defend its policies on crime and civil liberties, the latter of which the two opposition parties were always to the left of Labour on, yet the all the other noises being made so far have been in much the same vein. This was where Jon Cruddas could have made such a valuable impact had he decided to stand: he may have been a loyalist with a poor voting record, but he would have pushed the leadership debate leftwards without his candidacy being dismissed as irrelevant or doomed to inevitable failure. As refreshing as Diane Abbott's candidacy is, and important as her rebuttal of the consensus on how immigration lost Labour the election also was, she's now split the left vote just as Meacher and McDonnell did back in 07, making it less likely either herself or John will end up on the final ballot paper.

Labour lost on May the 6th because of a whole myriad of factors: Gordon Brown, the recession, the sheer amount of people wanting a change, and only then because of individual policies. To limit the inquiry to just the same, familiar number of issues which the party so often focused on is a sign of how it has yet to come to terms with the defeat, let alone with how it brought so much of it upon itself through its authoritarian stance on almost any dissent or difference of internal opinion. Only by being open with itself and with its supporters about all of this can it even begin to start the rebuilding work necessary. Not a single one of the four candidates with a chance has expressed anything even resembling such doubt; and as the Con-Dem coalition looks to be far more stable than anyone could ever have imagined it would be, the time the party could have to spend in the wilderness might be far longer than the five years or less which some first thought. The party desperately needs a realistic candidate without the baggage of being a Blair or Brown supporter; it doesn't look as if it's going to get one. Next Labour looks to be a very long way in the future.

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Friday, May 21, 2010 

Forget the horror here.

I'm one of those truly strange people that dreads being pulled away from the familiar, yet when thrust straight back into the old, miserable, mundane routine it's only then that I realise just how mechanical my daily existence in fact is. This cycle then repeats next time, a microcosm of how my life itself has turned out.

This is perhaps to be expected: there's quite a disconnect between sitting on a hill above a beach one day, in a glorious seaside town that seems to have escaped the degradation and decline the larger resorts on the coast have come to be known for, only to be returned the next to what often seems to be a city which has absolutely everything for sale but nothing that you'd ever want to buy. To go from somewhere where you could almost imagine yourself being able to shrug off all your doubts, loosen your convictions and settle into something approaching contentment, to then be almost instantly transferred back to the place that haunts you in so many ways, which culture seems to have bypassed, where the concrete itself seems to envelop you, to steal the soul which it so definitively doesn't have, is always going to have a jarring effect.

Within a week I'll have forgotten everything, and be back in the position of loathing even the suggestion of leaving this foul, stained keyboard alone for more than a day. Life will continue to rise to reach the oh so familiar plateau; my fears and prejudices will be half-swallowed, as ever, until they rise, as they will, to overwhelm everything once again. The city will stay dark and moribund, even in the heat like today, a backwater I may as well be imprisoned in, only with an incredibly long ball and chain. Until the next time. Until the next time.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010 

Human rights, the Con-Dems and hiatus.

Andy Worthington has done his usual bang up job of analysing the voting patterns of our elected representatives when it comes to anti-terrorist legislation, noting the 98 that supported human rights while countering terrorism that are still in the house. More pertinently, it also shows the disconnect between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats on such matters. Only 3 Tories made the list prior to the election, whilst only David Davis voted against the continuation of control orders, as opposed to nearly every Liberal Democrat.

He's also put together a template letter that can be used to contact your MP on the return of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo, the use of secret evidence in the courts, the renewal of control orders and our general complicity in torture. It'll be especially useful if you have a Lib Dem MP as putting pressure on them on all four matters might just focus some minds when it comes to the crunch on anti-terror policy.

And with that, I'm being dragged away again until next Friday. Keep it foolish until then.

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Friday, May 14, 2010 

10 years to spend thinking about the coming race war...

Ian Davison, the neo-Nazi who succeeded where others failed in producing ricin, must be somewhat relieved at receiving only a 10 year sentence for concocting a chemical weapon along with other terrorist offences, including making pipe bombs, one of which he recorded exploding. After all, Martyn Gilleard, the skinhead who shared a passion for potential race war with a predilection for children, was given an 11-year-stretch for similar offences while only putting together some very rudimentary nail bombs, involving film canisters. Davison's son Nicky, on the other hand, has been given what seems a far harsher sentence of two years detention for only having the almost required Anarchist Cookbook and Poor Man's James Bond manuals, both of which the judge himself noted are available to purchase from Amazon (and still are) despite their possession itself being an illegal offence.

In line with when our jihadist friends have been convicted, the police themselves have come out certain that they've prevented an atrocity, whether or not Davison and his pals in the Aryan Strike Force really were about to set out in the footsteps of David Copeland. There certainly is a parallel with the jihadists cells that have gone on supposed "training" out in the countryside, as the ASF it seems had away days in Cumbria where they seemingly spent most of their time sieg heiling and running around with Nazi banners, but again, whether they were truly prepared to act on their online rhetoric is something different entirely. That Davison had stored the ricin he'd made in a cupboard for two years gives a clue, as does the fact that he like Kamel Bourgass doesn't seem to have any real idea as to use it to its full effect; the only discussion about poisoning anything which the police came across involved the "water supplies of Muslims", which would have diluted the tiny amount of ricin he had even further.

In any event, it does once again show that far from just having a problem with Islamic extremists, there remains a significant if small threat from the very far-right. And unlike with the takfirist jihadists, and indeed the remaining paramilitaries on both sides in Northern Ireland, there are very few resources being dedicated to watching their antics with the caution with which they deserve.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010 

Callous, unfeeling scum.

One of the best ever descriptions of how the tabloid press operate was made by the partner of Rachel Nickell, the part time model murdered on Wimbledon Common back in 1992. He referred to the media as a whole, based on his considerable experience of them, as "[C]allous, mercenary and unfeeling scum".

Much the same could be said today for the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and Daily Star, who felt that the attempted suicide of a model best known for appearing in Marks and Spencer's adverts was a perfect opportunity to splash on their front pages pictures of her appearing either in lingerie or beachwear, none of them even having the dignity to call her by her actual name (Noemie Lenoir), instead deciding that "M&S girl", "M&S babe" or "M&S beauty" were all far more appropriate. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is what the tabloids consider to be a completely appropriate topic to plaster on their front pages, with all the sympathy, subtlety and understanding you can expect from those who think that putting a woman wearing few clothes on the cover might just shift a few extra copies. Presumably those who get off on knowing that the person they're salivating over came within an inch of taking their own life, and that the obvious response to that is announce it to the nation with all the feeling of a Scouting for Girls song.

Not to stress the point or anything, but how exactly would the editors of those newspapers like to have the attempted suicide of someone they knew thrust onto the pages of the "popular" press, complete with similar photographs and with the same wholesale lack of any respect whatsoever? How would they feel if it was them in the same position, already being incredibly fragile, yet knowing that the entire nation was now gawping at them and speculating on just why, when they're obviously so happy and couldn't have a care in the world, they could possibly do such a thing? I really don't think that callous, unfeeling scum even begins to cover it.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010 

The shape of the Con-Dems to come.

The more you look at this Conservative-Liberal Democrat deal, or ConDem as it's bound to become known by its detractors, the more you wonder what on earth the Liberal Democrats have gotten themselves into. To say that the Conservatives are going to be holding the whip hand over a party that has little more than subjugated itself in an act of collective lust for power is not even close to being an exaggeration.

Nick Clegg emerges as by far the biggest winner, at least in the short term. Quite how often he's going to be appearing alongside David Cameron is impossible to tell, but he's the only one from his party to be even close to having a job that will make any great difference. Not because he's deputy prime minister, which has always been a vanity title, but through his apparent role in spearheading reform. Even that though is not going to be all that it seems: apart from fixed term parliaments, the only real reform which is already being set in any kind of motion, and the already agreed referendum on the alternative vote which the Liberal Democrats haven't got the slightest chance of winning, the rest is either thin or likely to be delayed indefinitely just like so much was under Labour. There'll be yet another committee on Lords reform, reporting by December but which you can bet will be put further back than that, yet another committee on the West Lothian question, and only then at the very bottom is there "then the radical devolution of power" which both have spent so much time promising. Not very encouraging just how far down the list it comes in reality, is it?

An indication of how far this is likely to be two parties working together in the "national interest" in practice is shown by the complete absence of Liberal Democrats from the great offices of state. This would have been a further encouraging concession to the party, being prepared to sacrifice a major position to show just how far they're willing to go to make this work. Instead, despite the rumours whirling around last night we have Theresa May as home secretary, which while an improvement on Chris Grayling is not even close to being Chris Huhne. Frankly, I didn't believe for a second that Huhne was ever going to be acceptable to the likes of the Sun, and so it has proved. May is however a complete unknown quantity, having never shadowed any sort of minister in the Home Office. Even more enlightening as to how the Conservatives are likely to shape law and order policy is how it doesn't even begin to rate a mention in the draft agreement - expect the party to be just as up the arse of the tabloids on the matter as New Labour ever was, and don't believe for a second that the Liberal Democrats will be able to temper them on it. Also worth noting that as well as home secretary May will also be minister for women and equality, which shows just how high up the government's agenda those two things will be - not even worthy of a full time job, and given to someone who has one of the most difficult portfolios of state.

Of the jobs which the Lib Dems have been able to snatch, the best of the bunch is undoubtedly Vince Cable as business secretary, but how he's going to work under the charmless and completely inexperienced George Osborne is anyone's guess. Alongside him for comfort will be David Laws, another of the "Orange Book" liberals that have so spectacularly triumphed and who will doubtless find themselves right at a home in a Conservative-run treasury. As for the two other cabinet positions which were made available to them, you can't really get a more uninspiring or thankless position than minister for Scotland under an erstwhile Tory government, and making Chris Huhne energy and climate change secretary is a masterstroke - all the blame can be laid on the Lib Dems for their failure to make any progress on either, while the Tories can happily ignore all of its previous commitments on the environment, which are naturally left until last in the draft agreement.

You need only look at the positions which have been filled by those from the right of the Tory party to see where the centre of gravity on so many issues is going to stand. It was always expected that William Hague would be foreign secretary, but as Nosemonkey points out, he's likely to be the most strongly Eurosceptic politician to have ever held that office, having ensured that the Conservatives left the mainstream EPP grouping in the European parliament and joined up with a band of minor right-wing parties described by none other than Nick Clegg as "a bunch of nutters, antisemites, people who deny climate change exists, [and] homophobes". Hague was strongly in favour of the Iraq war, and along with Liam Fox, the new defence secretary, is a member of the Atlantic Bridge, a neo-conservative organisation that recently celebrated the achievements of that well-known pacifist and humanitarian Henry Kissinger. Again, despite speculation that David Laws might be education secretary, Michael Gove ascended to his natural place from where he will attempt to institute the "free schools" plan that Sweden is in the process of doing away with because of the corresponding drop in exam results. Oh, and he's another member of the Atlantic Bridge and probably the most staunch neo-con of the whole bunch, having written the perfect counterpart to Melanie Phillips' opus Londonistan, Celsius 7/7. Those on benefits almost certainly have the most to fear, though: not just Iain Duncan-Smith as Work and Pensions secretary, but Chris Grayling as his underling, and with a section in the draft agreement which shows that the Liberal Democrats having completely acquiesced and given the Tories free rein to introduce their plans for welfare reform. If you thought Labour through their rigging of the successor to incapacity benefit were bad, as those terminally ill are currently being declared fit to work, then you haven't seen anything yet. The most vulnerable and those who can't help themselves that Cameron promised repeatedly to look after seem certain to be the very first to suffer under the Con-Dem coalition.

Just where then are all the concessions that the Lib Dems were so certain they had grabbed? They got their pupil premium, somewhat got their raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000 which is going to be achieved in stages which might yet be delayed, but what else is there? They certainly haven't got a guarantee that the inheritance tax threshold won't be raised later, they're allowed to abstain on the marriage tax allowance, which will mean it will almost certainly get passed, they've got nothing on Trident, which seems to have been one of their first sacrifices, only an independent commission on breaking up the banks, nothing on immigration other than a welcome end to the detention of children for immigration purposes, but that's another thing to be believed once it happens, and only a guarantee that they'll be able to abstain on the possible raising of tuition fees. So much for abolishing them, even as an aspiration! It's true that we can't ignore the incredibly welcome section in the agreement on civil liberties, but even parts of that are flaky. They've also given in on the DNA database by agreeing on adopting the Scottish model, which will mean that the profiles of the innocent will still be added to it, just for 3 years instead of Labour's proposed 6. There's also something missing from the section on civil liberties: the Human Rights Act, which the Tories promised to repeal. That it isn't mentioned is deeply worrying. As is the complete absence of anything on media policy: the support of the Murdoch press for the Tories won't have come cheaply, and the cutting of the BBC down to size is an even grimmer prospect of what might be to come.

Where does all this leave the Liberal Democrats? At a stroke they've lost the biggest reason for students to vote for them, while in Scotland their chances of keeping their seats must be growing dimmer by the hour. After all, if a Lab-Lib coalition would have had no legitimacy in England, then a Con-Dem equivalent has even less in Scotland. They haven't even got a completely fireproof agreement to fall back which guarantees this coalition will last for the full term: even with the change to 55% of parliament having to vote for an election in order to get one, should the Tories fall out with the Libs they'll easily get a dissolution with the support of Labour, who must be ecstatic with how things have turned out, almost guaranteed that they'll pick up seats at the expense of a party which has had its head turned by the very first glimpse of power. Nick Clegg seems to have been dazzled by the supposed concessions, and by the chance of being deputy, but that doesn't excuse the entirety of the parliamentary party which also went along with him. The activist base, the parts of it that haven't instantly defected, must be terrified at what lies ahead for them whenever this agreement breaks down, especially if it does last the full 5 years and the cuts are every bit as harsh as they promise to be. If the 1983 Labour manifesto was the longest suicide note in history, then the Con-Dem deal might turn out to be the one which takes the most time to be acted upon.

As for our new double act and who they most resemble, you can't help but predict that they might well turn out to be Steptoe and Son, with Cameron as Albert and Clegg as Harold. Everyone knows that the central arc of the show, that Harold couldn't escape however he tried from his father, turned into life imitating art when Harry H. Corbett became typecast in his role and found himself stuck alongside a man who he genuinely couldn't stand, resulting in a disastrous Australian tour. Cameron clearly has nothing to lose, and his party is unlikely to be too damaged by any deal, its base still there, while Clegg is putting absolutely everything at risk by joining a partnership which he has next to no control over. He faces being stuck in the shadow of Cameron for the rest of his life, having acted as his fluffer while potentially consigning his own party to oblivion. Will it be worth it, either for the policy concessions he's achieved, or for the good of the country, as is if that ever really came into it? We might know far sooner than Clegg has to hope we will.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010 

The Liberal moment has arrived!

Let's get the mea culpa out of the way straight off. Frankly, all of us who called for a vote for the Liberal Democrats now look more than a little silly. To be sure, it was always likely to end up this way, and indeed, we wanted a hung parliament: we just didn't really expect for Nick Clegg to jump so willingly into a coalition with the Conservatives. On any realistic measure, the policies of Labour and the Conservatives outside of economics and perhaps civil liberties are closer to each other than those of the Liberal Democrats on so many things that it seemed risible to imagine that the two parties could agree to a full-blown coalition, and yet that's now what we have. The right-wing press and politicos said vote Clegg and get Brown, and yet we've received the opposite. We saw Cameron and Clegg tearing strips off each other in the final debate, and now we have them as prime minister and deputy. Clegg urged us to shake off the shackles of old politics and vote for something new, and while we've somewhat got that, just how many Liberal Democrat supporters will be anything other than mortified by the Frankenstein's monster we now have in government?

The idea that this can possibly last for a full five years, with fixed terms thrown in as another of the concessions, is fantastical. We can't for certain completely dismiss the behaviour of the Conservatives so far, which seems to have involved throwing numerous cherished policies straight on the bonfire (or not, as argued below), such has been their desperation to return to power, itself puzzling considering how they could easily have governed with a minority and/or gone almost straight away for a second election at which they would have received a majority, but does anyone truly believe that they aren't going to go at the first completely open opportunity to try and get a majority of their own, even with this ridiculous supposed agreement which has already named the date of the next election? Do the Liberal Democrats now seriously imagine that even if they get their referendum on the alternative vote, which will in many places make safe seats even safer, that they'll be able to win it when both the Tories and almost certainly Labour will oppose it to the hilt?

If the concessions made by the Conservatives look eye-watering at first sight, then examining them from a different angle is most certainly required. A majority Conservative government might just have pushed ahead with its plans on inheritance tax, but a minority one would have risked a huge backlash at the same time as it was making what look likely to be horrendous spending cuts. It was always likely to be shelved, same as the marriage tax credit, or however recognising marriage in the tax system would have been implemented, although the Lib Dems have now said they'll abstain on that, giving it a chance of passing. As it is, IHT hasn't been completely buried, just not likely in this "parliament", while the Liberal Democrats' similarly fanciful mansion tax has been sacrificed. There isn't even it seems an agreement on the always doubtful Lib Dem policy of raising the income tax threshold to £10,000, instead simply putting something towards helping lower earners, while the "jobs tax" will not be imposed, despite the Lib Dems siding with Labour over the national insurance rise during the election campaign.

In fact, the more details announced, trickling out as I write this, the worse the deal looks for the Lib Dems. Trident will be replaced, the "value for money" simply scrutinised; there will be a cap on immigration, against all liberal instincts; spending cuts will begin this year despite the warning from the IMF that it wasn't necessary and could tip economies back into recession; and a referendum on transferring any further powers to the EU, although whether that's literally any powers we're unlikely to know. Where exactly the Conservative compromises that were "embarrassingly" being made, according to one senior Lib Dem source are, is difficult to ascertain, unless you include the five cabinet posts which are to go to the party, one of which is Clegg as deputy prime minister. Rumours are suggesting that Chris Huhne could be home secretary, which would be incredibly welcome and definitely a brake on the Tories' authoritarian instincts on crime, but I'll believe it when I see it. Can we seriously imagine the Sun welcoming an actual capital L liberal as home secretary, especially when Dominic Grieve was apparently thrust aside because of how he objected to Rebekah Brooks' (nee Wade) face about her then paper's coverage of law and order?

One of the most fascinating aspects of the deal will be just how the media responds to it. One presumes that to begin with the right-wing press will welcome it, simply because it ensures that the Conservatives are in Downing Street as they predicted and so earnestly hoped for. Once the novelty wears off though, and after they've forgotten how they previously attempted to shank Nick Clegg just like the hoody gang of their collective worst nightmares, are they really going to be happy with a coalition as potentially unwieldy and with such potential differences of opinion? How on earth can they be happy with the most pro-European of all the parties actually in power, even if they have no actual control on policy? More pertinently, they're going to be chasing their own backsides over just how much influence they will have over the government: previously they were assured of their concerns not just being noted but pursued and reacted to by a Conservative majority; now they're going to have to deal with unknown quantities also exercising power that by right is theirs! How long before the first newspaper urges the Tories to shaft the Liberals and either go it alone or call another election?

There's no doubt that this is a historic moment, but then history also tells us that past coalitions or pacts have ended badly. There's every reason to believe that this trend is not about to be bucked. The difficulty is in predicting exactly when: frankly, I can't see this lasting any more than two years, which would the best possible time for the Tories to back out, before the cuts have really started to hit home and when their support is likely to be highest. The Liberal Democrat vote is almost certainly going to be slashed in any event, and their Scottish seats especially must be in danger.

The least worst outcome, even when you weigh up the Liberal Democrats acting as a moderating influence on the Conservatives, was a Tory minority government. Yes, the coalition between the two parties seems to have delivered for now on civil liberties grounds, but that may well turn out to be the least of our worries. Can they Lib Dems really be happy, for instance, with the Tories' welfare reform proposals, which they've just signed up to? There'll no end it seems to the forcing of the sick and vulnerable into work, regardless of all the other factors concerning. Admittedly, coalition government, and it's almost certainly what we would have if we did finally get a form of PR, involves compromises and the doing of deals exactly like this one, but that usually involves parties which share more than the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives do, or at least do the surface. Key, after everything, might well be that Nick Clegg didn't so much as mention voting reform in his speech after the party accepted the deal. Perhaps, after everything, the sheer lustre of power clinched it.

For the wider left, the absorption of the Liberal Democrats into the government for however long it turns out leaves us in opposition but with more space for ideas than ever. For some of us, no longer sniping at those we are sympathetic towards, even if New Labour divorced itself so inexorably from our own values, will do us the world of good. It will also unite us far more than power ever did. To quote Bob Piper, with the caveat that I'm not going to dismiss Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats as the Ramsay MacDonald(s) of the noughties just yet:

Meantime, this is the opportunity for those of us genuinely on the left of centre of politics in this country to reconnect with the electorate, re-engage with the trade union movement, and ensure the Tories are defeated next time round, and Ramsey MacClegg and his rag, tag and bobtail quasi Tories are consigned to the dustbin of history. If we can get nearly 30% of the electorate to vote Labour at a time of financial crisis, with an unpopular government and leader, it should be a stroll in the park.

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