Saturday, March 31, 2012 

People hold on.

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Friday, March 30, 2012 

The loveliness of by-election leafletting.

While many have rightly said the highly sectarian letter sent to mosques in Bradford West by George Galloway is very close to being beyond the pale, Political Scrapbook has the almost as ghastly leaflets from the Tory candidate Jackie Whiteley, targeted specifically elsewhere in the constituency. The result? The Tory vote fell by 78%, compared to Labour's 55%. An incredible victory for Galloway, but also an absolute one-off.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012 

From despair to where?

It's been one of those weeks when you just genuinely despair of the human race as a whole.

Never let it be said again that the average person doesn't take much notice of politics. All it seems you need to create a panic buying spree is for a cabinet minister to say the words "jerry can" and suddenly much of the nation decides they simply must fill their petrol tank right up. Being a cynic, I imagined that it was the latest desperate ploy to try and get the press to talk about something other than pasty and granny taxes, and an attempt to spike Labour's corresponding rise in the opinion polls. We might run out of fuel, and it'll all be Ed Miliband's fault! It didn't matter that they should have known the public always blames the government almost much as it does the unions when a strike happens, it was seemingly worth a go seeing as the bringing forward of the announcement of the alcohol strategy had failed so miserably, which if anything actually increased the perception that the coalition simply doesn't get it.

In fact, if we're to believe Nick Robinson, a semi-panic was precisely what the government wanted to happen. Whether down to their bizarre fixation with "nudge" political psychology or otherwise, they seemed to think that if they encouraged people to fill up now they'd be less impact if there was a strike, even though the union has to give 7 days' notice before one can take place giving plenty of time to prepare, and Unite is any case going to the conciliation service Acas in search of a compromise. The predictable result was that every halfwit in the country and plenty of other normally entirely rational individuals felt they must do exactly what Francis Maude and Cameron advised right that very second. When there's a queue three cars deep for petrol at 8:30 on a Wednesday night, as there was in the town next to mine yesterday, then there's something downright silly going on.

The problem isn't that those behind the coalition are stupid, with the exception of getting rid of the 50p tax rate, which was downright idiotic politically and it still staggers me that the Lib Dems went along with it. It's that they're trying to be too damn clever and instead ending up looking stupid when it all falls apart. Damian MacBride in his brilliantly insightful post into how the budget process works relates how under Labour every year certain changes to the VAT system would be proposed, and every year they would be rejected for being politically daft and/or unfair. This year, because George Osborne must have been flailing around looking for loopholes to raise money due to his monomania with getting rid of the 50p rate, he finally went with the one on hot food. In practice, there's no reason whatsoever why food that is being taken away to be eaten immediately should not have VAT charged on it; in reality, it means we have to go into all this unbelievably complicated nonsense about "above air-ambient temperatures".

It's also meant that every politician has had to been seen feeling the pain of Greggs, the least sympathetic business this side of Ryanair. There was a wonderful strip in Viz a while back showing the traditional baker having all his custom taken by a newly opened Greggs, resulting in his closing down and having to take a job in... Greggs, except on half the pay, natch. The same clever clever instinct was behind removing pensioner's tax allowance, which as the IFS pointed out still leaves the vast majority comfortably off compared to the rest of us, just that it should have been announced as such rather than hidden as a patronising "simplification".

When these things happen, as they do to every government, they usually do so over the course of a parliament. It's when fiasco piles very quickly upon on fiasco, and especially when the government itself seems to have deliberately engineered one that they start to affect the overall picture. The last week could yet turn out to be the a rerun of what happened to Labour during the fuel protests in 2000, the Conservatives managing to take a poll lead for less than two weeks, something they wouldn't achieve again for three years. It's a fairly safe bet that Labour won't remain ten points ahead in the polls, but then they don't have to: as long as the Liberal Democrats stay at about 15%, Labour only needs a lead of 6% over the Conservatives to get a healthily workable majority. And if, as the OECD predicts, there is a shallow technical recession when the growth figures for the first quarter of this year are announced in a month's time, then there's no reason whatsoever why the Tories should continue to keep their poll lead on economic competence. Then again, if George Galloway has won the Bradford West by-election, you can guarantee that the entire weekend will be taken over with Tory gloating. And we will have come full circle.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012 

Just what are they still scared of?

(Or, an extended review of the new DVD release of Ken Russell's The Devils. And by extended I mean almost 2,500 words.)

A couple of weeks back, as part of BBC4's Talk season of programmes, those watching the Beeb's flagship arts channel at half past midnight on a Sunday night/Monday morning were treated to a full repeat of the (inappropriately named) Friday Night, Saturday Morning discussion on Monty Python's Life of Brian. For those like me who had only seen excerpts from the debate between John Cleese and Michael Palin on the one side and Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the then Bishop of Southwark on the other, it only brings even closer into focus the breakdown it documented between the establishment, the public and the church. Stockwood is the stereotypically pompous man of the cloth, making his short sermon as Palin described it as in his diaries on how the communists had failed to get rid of Jesus, all the while fiddling with his outsize cross. Muggeridge by contrast is the austere yet even more insufferable epitome of unthinking orthodoxy, with his comments on how the incarnation had inspired every piece of art and culture we've come to hold dear, Cleese responding with how it therefore also inexorably led to the inquisition.

Cleese and Palin were understandably especially disappointed with how Muggeridge, having himself been a satirist, had failed to see that Brian was clearly not meant to be Jesus. It later turned out that Muggeridge and Stockwood had in fact missed the first 15 minutes of the film, and so had not seen the opening sequence in which the three wise men mistakenly deliver their gifts to Brian's mother, only to come back and swiftly retrieve them. In any case, how serious the pair were in their views was questionable, as once backstage Stockwood announced that he felt it had gone rather well, as though it had all been a performance making for great TV. It certainly is that, although not perhaps for the reason they thought so at the time.

While the controversy over the Life of Brian marked the beginning of the end of the debate over the censorship of opinions on Christianity (Muggeridge himself makes reference in the debate to how the Pythons couldn't or wouldn't have done the same for Muhammad, which while missing the point at the time does hold true today, as the idiotic censoring of the Jesus and Mo cartoons has shown), less well remembered is how at the beginning of the 70s a highly similar debate was had over Ken Russell's The Devils, which has just been released for the first time officially in this country on DVD. Having already challenged the then British Board of Film Censors with the full frontal nude wrestling sequence in Women in Love, a scene that managed to escape their scissors, Russell's latest work, and one which is rightly regarded as his magnum opus, was to push the boundaries to such an extent that even 40 years later the director's cut has only been shown at a select few festival screenings.

Based on the supposed demonic possessions which took place in the French city of Loudun in 1634, for which various explanations have been posited, Russell's screenplay was modelled on Aldous Huxley's "historical novel" The Devils of Loudun, as well as also being inspired by John Whiting's play from a decade previous. Written according to Russell in a three week spell of creativity, his script was turned down by his usual collaborators United Artists after someone there finally read it in full. Warner Brothers however stepped into the breach, and apparently regardless of the contents of his screenplay, made no attempt whatsoever to intervene in the filming.

Shot mainly on the back lot of Pinewood studios, a chance meeting between an associate of Russell's and Derek Jarman led to the then struggling artist designing the sets. Russell's only requirement was that the scenes of exorcism within the convent itself lived up to Huxley's description of them as being the equivalent of "a rape in a public lavatory", something that Jarman's white yet grimy constructions of tiles and brick more than lived up to. Rather than base the outside scenes in the usual historical setting of mouldy, rock walls, Jarman instead went for something completely different: sets that gave the appearance of pure white, newly quarried stone, which were neoclassical while also resembling the post-modern architecture of Metropolis. They give the film a timeless quality, while also providing the perfect environment for David Watkin's simply stunning lighting.

Cast as the vain and womanising but charismatic Father Urbain Grandier, Oliver Reed continued his working relationship with Russell. Delivering what has widely been described as a career best performance, Reed embodies the decadent yet urbane priest, thrust into a leading role in his community by the death of his predecessor. As much as Russell intended his film to be a savaging of the sacrilege which is inevitable when church and state are one, and as much as it is, Reed's Grandier is also impossible to see without also seeing Jesus himself. The film up until when Grandier dedicates himself to Madeleine, played magnificently by the heart-stoppingly beautiful Gemma Jones, reminds of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, where he wrote of putting away childish things. Grandier's stance against Cardinal Richileu, and his relationship with Madeleine can be seen as the effective start of his ministry, and with it the challenge Jesus posed to both the Jews and the Romans in Palestine.

Just as Reed outdid himself, so too did Vanessa Redgrave, cast as the reverend mother Sister Jeanne. On first viewing her performance doesn't quite properly reveal itself; to me it felt as though it was Vanessa Redgrave playing someone mad, rather than Sister Jeanne as played by Vanessa Redgrave. Second time around it felt perfect, Redgrave giving the deranged Jeanne just the right amount of coquettishness, as well as portraying her fear, loathing and lust. It's certainly difficult to imagine Glenda Jackson in the same role, the now Labour MP having only backed out when Russell changed the ending.

The film does have its flaws: however much Russell insists in the commentary that Louis XIII could well have organised plays in which he dressed up in a bra and pants, and also ran protestants dressed as blackbirds down a gauntlet before shooting them, it isn't quite believable. It's also hard to like the two quacks who are first seen treating a plague victim and from then appear throughout, one of whom is played by Brian Murphy (who those of my vintage might well have first seen in the children's show Wizadora), although they do bring a typical Russellian air of insanity to proceedings. These though are very small quibbles, which do nothing to distract from what is one of the most visually arresting and powerful British films of the 20th century.

The brilliance of the film was also immediately recognised by the BBFC. Craig Lapper's essay in the booklet with the DVD provides the extensive background to how the film was first presented to the censors, and then mercilessly slashed to ribbons. The then BBFC Secretary John Trevelyan, in a letter to the Reverend Gene Phillips in the US (who has now been teaching the film for 40 years), said "[I]t is, of course, brilliant, and it raises the question of whether artistic quality justifies total freedom", a question which it should be noted we are still answering in the negative. Before the board had even officially seen it, Trevelyan made private recommendations to Russell, resulting in the cutting of the now notorious orgy scene, where the nuns run amok naked during the group exorcism in two. Russell begged that they leave what has become known as the "rape of Christ" scene during the orgy remain in tact, where the nuns take down a statue of Jesus on the cross and masturbate upon it, to what was eventually no avail. The scene is or should be the film's centrepiece; it is the moment when the nuns, egged on by the state and church commit the ultimate blasphemy, and the intercutting with Grandier's moments of realisation and taking of the communion shows their debasement and his epiphany.

It should be the noted that the studio also intervened, and that while they did not request the removal of the "rape of Christ" there were a further 10 changes they demanded before the film could be released. The BBFC then imposed further cuts, after successive viewings, before it was finally given an X certificate. Around 4 minutes was cut in total. Controversy ensued regardless: the newly formed Festival of Light called for it to be banned, and for the new head of the BBFC, Trevelyan having stepped down, to resign. Eight councils, as is still their right, viewed the film and imposed their own bans. It was also far from rapturously received by the critics: the Evening Standard's Alexander Walker, having misconstrued a couple of scenes in the film denounced it, and then refused to retract his arguments when confronted by Russell on live television. Russell's response was to smack the now venerated critic around the head with his own newspaper.

The BBFC's cuts were still however nowhere enough for Warners in the United States, who having been given an early screening seemed genuinely horrified at what Russell had produced, one executive later lambasting him for making "this disgusting shit", regardless of how everything filmed had been in the script. While it's dubious in the extreme whether the X-rated cut would have been passed in tact by the MPAA, Warners went back to editor Michael Bradsell with a specific instruction to remove "every pubic hair" from the film before even submitting it. The end result was a further 3 minutes of cuts, and a film that made almost no sense, but one which received the commercial R rating.

Adding insult to injury, the international prints of the film were subsequently recalled and cut by the studio, until it seemed as though only the R rated version remained in existence. As Mark Kermode details in his introductory essay, it was only when the BBC tracked down a copy of the X-rated cut for their own "forbidden cinema" season in 1995 that it was seen after its initial run in a version even resembling Russell's intentions. Kermode's obsession with the film and his own search for the footage eventually p
aid off, with some of it, including the "rape of Christ" scene, turning up in a lone canister in this country. From this Bradsell constructed the Russell approved version mentioned at the outset.

Imagining that this new director's cut could now finally be released to the masses, preparations were made for a DVD release, including the recording of a commentary featuring Russell and Kermode. Warners however refused to budge, for reasons known only to themselves. Last year the British Film Institute gave up attempting to persuade Warners to allow them to include the cut footage, and so the DVD contains only the original X-rated version. The studio also stipulated that the film could only be released in standard definition, and that the "rape of Christ" sequence, first shown in Paul Joyce's Hell on Earth documentary had to be cut from that too, lest bootleggers create their own version from the new high quality material.

Why the studio still seems to be terrified and ashamed of a film they commissioned 40 years ago is difficult to ascertain. It could simply be that they want to see how it performs in its truncated version, before launching their own expensive restoration of the film. Why though would they go about it in such a truculent and convoluted way, especially when the BFI could have bore the full costs for them? While the film is still powerful and has the power to shock, far more explicit material involving religion is now easily if not immediately accessible, even if it is not produced by major corporations. It's also highly dubious whether the Catholic church would raise a fuss: Gene Phillips's view that the film depicts blasphemy rather than is blasphemous won't be shared by everyone, but you really can't imagine it becoming a major issue.

One suspects instead that it's the film's political message, which is still as strong as ever and only enhanced by the full version that it means it will remain unreleased. As forthright as Russell's criticism of the Catholic church is, and he personally had converted to Catholicism about 10 years before he made The Devils, with the film attacking the waste of life that is becoming a nun and its clear statement that the celibacy of the clergy is unsustainable, it's the assault on convergence of church and state that retains its edge. The religious right has never been as powerful, and in Rick Santorum there's a Republican presidential candidate who has not only given speeches where he says Satan has been destroying American institutions, but is also distinctly iffy on the fundamental separation of church and state. Add in the US mainstream's squeamishness over sex, something that becomes ever more absurd when culture is saturated with every aspect of it other than the act itself, and you seem to have the real reason behind Warners' cowardice.

This is an even more incredible position to take in a post-The Passion of the Christ world. John Cleese pointed out in the FNSM debate that prior to his researching the Life of Brian he hadn't realised that crucifixion was a standard method of execution in Roman times, as indeed it was. Knowing this doesn't detract from the specific punishment meted out to Jesus, but it does put it into context. Mel Gibson's film, described by Roger Ebert as the most violent film he had ever seen, was despite the mixed reviews it received (and I personally would take Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS over the Passion every time) recommended heartily by churches across America. The violence in The Devils doesn't even begin to compare, while anyone offended by the sex would have to be quite the shut-in.

Russell's film, regardless of how it was treated, was still incredibly influential: the Wicker Man, that distinctly British horror film, would take its cue from The Devils final stages. It also more or less launched the entire nunsploitation genre, which if nothing else gave us Gilberto Martínez Solares's Satánico Pandemonium and Juan López Moctezuma's Alucarda. The Devils should though be judged purely on its own merits, and we deserve the opportunity to be able to do just that.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012 

Well, at least it's not boring.

One of the few things that we can hopefully all agree on is that parliament should not be boring. It should also be representative. As an added bonus, it's also to be hoped that those sent there should be well informed, intellectually curious and dedicated to their constituents. Seeing though as this has always been the exception rather than the rule for hundreds of years, it's unlikely to change now.

If there is one thing to be said then for the letter to the Advertising Standards Agency from Gary Streeter, Gavin Shuker and Tim Farron, representing the Christians in Parliament grouping, questioning the ASA's ruling that a Bath-based church organisation cannot continue to claim that through their praying "God ... can heal you from any sickness", it's that it's entertaining. Defending faith healing is a minority pursuit these days, as well as potentially an embarrassing position to take, and so they should be congratulated on their honesty.

Other than that, it's a travesty. It almost seems as though they haven't even read the ASA's adjudication, which is about as clear as it gets from a quango. The ASA quite obviously hasn't ruled on whether or not God can heal people, as that is somewhat outside of their remit. The law on advertising is that the onus is on the advertiser to prove that their claims are true, rather than for the complainant to do so. The only evidence that Healing on the Streets - Bath provided were testimonials, which the ASA quite rightly dismissed as being insufficient. For Streeter to then provide his own personal account of how recurrent pain in his right hand disappeared after a church meeting and has never returned since more than suggests that he has missed this point rather substantially. Streeter goes on to say that all HOTS were doing was suggesting that prayer could heal, which is not quite the full truth - the leaflet downloaded from their website named specific conditions that they suggested could be healed by God as a result of their praying. The ASA accepted that it was their sincere belief that God can heal, simply that they hadn't provided the evidence to back it up.

For the three MPs to then ask that the ASA persuade them personally that they reached their ruling on the basis of "indisputable scientific evidence" is about as silly as it gets. Not quite as silly though as their invoking of Fabrice Muamba, or their asking whether the ASA intends to intervene. Seeing as no one has suggested that Muamba's recovery has been a result of prayer rather than quick medical intervention, unless of course Streeter and friends are claiming that, then the urging from some to "pray for Muamba" was less about religion than it was about hoping that he pulled through.

More amusing than the letter itself was the contortions Stephen Tall goes through in his attempt to justify Tim Farron's involvement on Lib Dem Voice. He cites free speech (irrelevant in this instance), that you cannot prove or disprove faith (true, but his statement that "there is simply no comparison between (for example) a cosmetics company’s claims and those of a faith-based organisation" is fallacious in the extreme) and regulation-creep, which ignores that there is and has been real harm done through claiming that prayer alone can heal. There isn't a problem with individuals claiming that prayer can heal, or indeed with Tim Farron signing letters that challenge quangos to account for themselves; it's when specific claims are made and specific illnesses are cited by groupings in their literature that it becomes problematic, something that is then exacerbated if MPs make fatuous objections to rulings it seems they haven't bothered to read. And the ability to read is one of those requirements that really should go with the job.

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Monday, March 26, 2012 

How politics works.

Forgive me if I'm not in any way shocked or surprised by the revelation that Peter Cruddas, the now ex-treasurer of the Conservative party, openly suggested that donations to the value of £250,000 would win businessmen personal access to the dinner tables of Dave and George. After all, as the Graun points out, the party's website has long openly stated the benefits donors will get for pledging specific amounts of money: those with £50,000 burning a hole in their pocket gain access to "The Leader's Group", with members "invited to join David Cameron and other senior figures at dinners, post-PMQ lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches". In other words, exactly the same privileges as Cruddas told the Sunday Times hacks they'd be getting for five times that amount.

The real issue should be that the Sunday Times hacks indicated to Cruddas that they would be donating either from or through Liechtenstein, which is illegal. Instead we've had Cameron in his now usual fashion when a scandal hits pledging openness, telling us who he's met but not even an outline of what was discussed, which is what we actually care about. It's also meant that despite this being about bought influence in the Conservative party, it's instantly been turned round by the Tories into being a reason for destroying the Labour party through placing a cap on donations, thereby breaking the link between Labour and the unions. And so, as always, nothing changes.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012 

Acid Jackson.

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Friday, March 23, 2012 

Last shop standing.

With 14.6% of shops lying empty, Wayne Hemingway says we needn't worry as this will provide space for "quirky start-ups" while allowing "young entrepreneurs to set up in affordable rental shop fronts and market units". Bath might not be exactly affordable, but it's one place where you would expect "quirky start-ups". Stuart Campbell's survey of the retail space lying empty in the city suggests this might be ever so slightly wishful thinking.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012 

Picking over the bones.

The tradition of the last few years under both Labour and the coalition has been for the budget to only come under proper scrutiny on the day after the night before. This time round, thanks both to the unprecedented amount of leaking (or spinning) and the coalition apparently giving up even the pretence of fairness it was mostly filleted yesterday.

As a consequence we've been left with mainly bones to pick over. It was already apparent yesterday that the removal of the 50p top rate of tax was a purely ideological move, rather than one based on evidence, so more interesting was the Institute of Fiscal Studies' verdict on whether the other tax changes on the rich yesterday would raise the amount Osborne claimed they would. To no one's great surprise they regard it as extremely doubtful, and they quite rightly deride the rise in stamp duty to 7% on houses worth over £2m. Keep in mind the continuing claims today (including from Vince Cable) that the 50p rate raised almost nothing when it in fact pulled in about £1bn, despite massive one-time only avoidance, when it's announced that the "mansion tax-lite" really does bring in almost nothing.

The other major point raised by the IFS was the ever increasing numbers who will find themselves in the 40p tax bracket. With Osborne slashing corporation tax and deciding that millionaires need to be incentivised further in order to get the economy growing, the shortfall has to be found from somewhere. Welfare can't be cut by much more, neither Labour or the Tories will hear of cutting back on defence and abandoning the pretence we're still a world power, and the NHS and education are also sacred cows. What Osborne and the Lib Dems therefore give with one hand through the raising of the personal tax allowance has to be taken away with the other, and the (upper) middle classes are the ones footing the bill. With big business and the City having such a stranglehold over politicians regardless of party, crying that they'll go wherever they're taxed the most competitively, it's something they're going to have to get used to. Don't like the prospect? Start organising, stop complaining about the "scroungers" at the bottom and take on the boss class. Stop laughing at the back.

Encouraging is that while the Times was probably the most positive paper of all about the budget, the Sun was only slightly less critical than the Mirror. Where previously you would have thought the paper would have applauded such openly Thatcherite measures, it wasn't impressed one iota by the dropping of the 50p rate. Yes, it cheers the dropping of the corporation tax rate (can't think why) and does the usual moan about EU regulation, but otherwise it gives Osborne a kicking in return for the one the paper says he administered to its readers. Add in the likely response to tomorrow's brought forward announcement that booze will shortly have a 40p a unit minimum price, and this might just be the point at which the tide begins to properly turn against the coalition, as the first poll after the budget suggests. We can but hope.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012 

The shafting commences.

Today George Osborne spent just about an hour delivering the budget. He could, had he wanted, summed it up in two short sentences and saved his breath. "For all those earning more than £150,000, I'm going to cut the amount of tax you pay by 5p in the pound, despite having said last year that while those less off are being asked to make sacrifices it would not be the right time to reduce it. As for the rest of you, just how hard and how fast would you like to be shafted?"

For all the supposed deals and battles within the "quad" (the unfab four, as they won't be known) over what and wouldn't be in the budget, this was about as ghastly it gets. It was also completely and utterly underwhelming as almost every major detail had been leaked and briefed, to the point where you wonder whether they really were "leaks" and battles being fought in public or instead a week long spin operation, designed to ensure that once the "bad news" was broken that almost everything that could be said against the rises and cuts had already been gone through endlessly. The one major change that wasn't announced prior to today was the end of tax allowances for new pensioners, which Osborne incredibly dressed up as being a positive change, with poor old dears no longer having to fill in complicated forms every year. You could call it Brownian, but not even Gordon Brown, 75p pension rise taken into account, was as contemptuous and patronising as Osborne was today.

It also doesn't get more ideological than the incredible rush to ditch the 50p rate. Four months ago, as the Graun points out, Osborne gave no indication that one of the major factors holding the economy back was that after the first £150,000, half of what you earn goes to the Treasury. Osborne is basing his entire policy on just the data from the very first year of the tax's operation, when as it's become clear a large percentage of those about to be hit moved windfalls forward a year as to avoid it, something they won't be able to do again. It's true it's still given their accountants plenty of time to come up with new dodges, but anyone who was genuinely interested in seeing if it will bring in more money than the £1bn it did in the first year would have stuck with it.

Moreover, if Osborne had replaced it with something equally totemic, or even just additional tax rises that are certain to bring in the same amount as the 50p rate was projected to, it would have softened the blow. Instead what he's done is close to being laughable, and far easier to sidestep: increasing stamp duty to 7% on houses over £2m is only going to affect the stupidly wealthy, and those who simply have to live in London, as Chris points out. Will it raise as much as the Treasury hopes? If we continue to attract oligarchs who want to sue each other in our courts, possibly. If we don't, it's going to fall dismally short. The other measures on tax avoidance, while laudatory, are fairly minor and it's impossible to forecast how much they'll bring in.

All this is to raise the money needed for the pet Liberal Democrat policy, the raising of the income tax personal allowance to (eventually) £10,000. As has now been repeatedly pointed out, what on the surface does look to be a truly admirable idea, taking the lowest paid out of tax altogether, has the additional effect of giving the most back to middle earners. If you want to specifically help the lowest paid, there are two main ways to do it: either you target them, as Labour did, with tax credits, or you can cut VAT, as those on lower incomes spend more than they save. Tax credits is (very arguably) the preferred way, as cutting VAT also helps out those on high incomes who spend equally high amounts. The coalition rejects the idea of cutting VAT, possibly exactly because it's exactly what Labour having been calling for, while from April you'll have to work at least 24 hours a week before you can claim tax credits, something that single parents are finding especially difficult.

We have then a well-meaning but fundamentally flawed policy that is meant, somehow, to make up for a nakedly ideological one. Osborne's thinking, as further developed elsewhere in this budget and last year's is that by further cutting corporation tax, slashing regulation, reforming the planning laws, setting up enterprise zones and handing out cash to teenagers with entrepreneurial inklings, doing everything he possibly can to encourage business, he'll create the growth we need to bring down the deficit and eventually, in his dreams, share the proceeds of it as the Tories originally said they would. And frankly, it will be amazing if all of this doesn't generate growth, even if it's completely unsustainable and will simply set up the next crash; the problem is that it's going to take time, time he doesn't necessarily have. The OBR's growth prediction for this year has been re-estimated at 0.8%, which is pitiful. Next year, supposedly, it's going to be 2%. The Eurozone, meanwhile, will shrink by 0.3%. All the growth therefore has to come from exports and investment, as private consumption is overall going to fall slightly. Is this going to happen? Probably yes, in the long term. Is it going to start in earnest next year? Extremely doubtful.

This, as before, is what happens in the best possible circumstances. It's more than a possibility that either this year or next Israel, or the US and almost certainly ourselves will launch an attack on Iran's nuclear programme. Even if Iran doesn't then shut the Strait of Hormuz or retaliate against Israel, the effect on the price of oil can only be guessed at. While a Greek default has been averted for now, the idea that Greece can be kept inside the Eurozone for much longer is a fantasy. Osborne has put all his money on a recovery led by the already rich, incentivising them beyond their wildest dreams, while at the other end of the scale he's doing the exact opposite. Anything that spooks the former will kill growth stone dead.

Incredibly, the Liberal Democrats have gone along with it. Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander must know they're propping up a Conservative party that is relying on the same old failed voodoo economics that got us in this mess and that the "concessions" they've extracted are pitiful. Why are they carrying on regardless? They're terrified that if the coalition breaks down that they'll be wiped out in an election, and they're probably right. They must also know though that a Conservative victory is hardly assured. The party should be thinking tonight about what it wants to do: does it want to continue to be the fig leaf for the Conservatives, and for the most regressive agenda since the 1980s? Or would it rather take the chance of stopping this in its tracks now, and potentially going into a new coalition with a party closer to its values? Fraught with risk as such a break is, it has to be better than waiting until 2015 and the same end result.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012 

Classic Mail.

Today's Mail front page is a joy to behold:

Yes, here's finally the truth about a how a THIRD of your tax bill is spent on welfare, but here's why the plan to remove child benefit from those earning over £42,000 a year is "insane" and "betrays families, aspiration and core Tory values". It's the most wonderful example of a newspaper coming right out and saying exactly why they think their readers are more deserving of "handouts" than dole scum and cheating scroungers, even when the welfare bill overall MUST be slashed. We're worth it, and everyone who isn't middle class, or part of a nuclear family or aspirational is not.

To be truthful I have been converted to the "universalist" argument for welfare provision, mainly down to how increasingly it looks as though most people haven't got the slightest idea how much the unemployed get a week. Why else would such large numbers say that those on jobseeker's allowance should get less than the pitiful £67.50 a week (£53.45 for the under 25) they currently get if they weren't completely ignorant of the true figure? At least if everyone receives child benefit regardless of their circumstances it gives them contact with the welfare state that they otherwise might not have, and so less likely to be immediately under the impression that you can live anything like comfortably on less than a quarter of the average wage.

In any case, anyone who actually looks at the proposed tax statements can see that, unsurprisingly, just less than half of overall welfare spending goes on pensions, rather than on the other social security schemes. The statements themselves are meaningless in practice, as all they do is break down the amount someone pays in tax into proportions based on overall government spending. Mr Patel for example obviously doesn't have his £2,438.12 salami sliced in such a way, as that would be ridiculous. In practice his whole £2,438.12 may well have gone towards buying what Del Boy once called a "strident missile", but he and we are never going to know exactly what our tax was spent on. What it does give is an insight, and it does rather bust a few myths: regardless of the overall spend on the EU, overseas aid and welfare other than pensions, broken down it's much harder to argue against. Someone on just about the average wage contributes less than a week's money to someone on JSA (£56.74), and just £28 to the EU. Plenty will still argue that's £28 too much on the latter but as a whole it's hardly going to turn the average person into a member of the Taxpayer's Alliance. Which you suspect was rather what Osborne and friends were hoping for.

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Not racially aggravated then.

The racially aggravated public order offence charge has then duly been dropped against Azhar Ahmed, who a couple of weeks back expressed in his own unique way that the sanctimony and mawkishness surrounding the deaths of the six soldiers in Afghanistan was just a little stifling. Well, OK, that doesn't quite cover it: he actually said all soldiers should die and that we should think just as much of those who've died as a result of our actions in the country. Was it offensive to some? Yes. Is it something he should be imprisoned for or really receive anything other than a warning, not even a caution? No.

Nonetheless, it was obvious that his status update on Facebook wasn't as expressed racially motivated in any way. Whether the initial charge when looked at in the cold light of day couldn't be upheld and the CPS realised this was the case, or whether some of the criticism online had an influence we will most likely never know. He does still face a charge under the 2003 Communications Act, which he has plead not guilty to, so hopefully he might yet be acquitted.

You do still have to wonder exactly why it is that Ahmed has been subject to the full force of the law for his outrageous statement, while those who responded to him have apparently faced no such inquiry for having used clearly racist language, just as it seems odd that Facebook have apparently no problem with continuing to host a page which originally called for Ahmed to be killed. Still, if nothing else it has provided a wonderful insight into the mindset of the English Defence League, who were outside the court protesting with signs calling for jail for those who insult troops: for those apparently professing to defend the honour of England, they seem to have forgotten that one of the values we genuinely do share is the belief in freedom of speech. The idea that soldiers can't defend themselves or alternatively are incredibly offended and saddened by the odd person with extreme views is also nothing short of hilarious.

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Monday, March 19, 2012 

Divide and rule.

I've mentioned David Cameron's new year message a couple of times now, mainly as a wonderful example of a politician imagining that what he thinks the year should be about is also what everyone else is looking forward to. The Olympics! The glory of the diamond jubilee! Many others stuck on benefits, without hope or responsibility! Oh, that last one doesn't quite work. Never mind, you can never get enough attacks on the scroungers into a political dispatch.

Now you can also read it as portent of just what the coalition was planning. Cameron might have used the past tense when he said "we've set out big plans for the transformation of our infrastructure", but obviously his new super scheme for PFI roads was waiting in the wings. Likewise, we should have realised when he said this was the " year Britain sees the world and the world sees Britain" that it meant we would soon be encouraged do about the only thing we're still world class at - shopping. Who cares that there's never been more time to keep on consuming, the big retailers quite clearly need to be able to keep their doors open longer on a Sunday leading up to the Olympics - it just wouldn't do to turn away all those tourists with cash burning a hole in their pockets.

And to show that we are truly open for business, the 50p top rate of tax for those earning over £150,000 is to be cut. There may be "a few" at the top who "get rewards that seem to have nothing to do with the risks they take or the effort they put in", but now that Occupy has been wiped from the steps of St. Paul's we no longer need to even pay lip service to the idea that we're all in this together. The young especially can get knotted - they're not even worth an extra 11p an hour. Just to rub in it, those who live in areas that tend not to vote Tory and work in the public sector have long-term wage freezes or even cuts to look forward to. Still, as Cameron says, if only "we lift our eyes to the other side we have it in our power to come through this stronger, better balanced, focused on what this fantastic country does best". It's called divide and rule.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012 

This is why we fight.

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Friday, March 16, 2012 

With apologies to George Orwell.

Benjamin felt a nose nuzzling at his shoulder. He looked round. It was Clover. Her old eyes looked dimmer than ever. Without saying anything, she tugged gently at his mane and led him round to the end of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written. For a minute or two they stood gazing at the tatted wall with its white lettering.

"My sight is failing," she said finally. "Even when I was young I could not have read what was written there. But it appears to me that that wall looks different. Are the Seven Commandments the same as they used to be, Benjamin?"

For once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:


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Thursday, March 15, 2012 

Life as a dictator isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Everything you could have expected to be said about the supposed Assad emails very kindly provided to the Graun by the Syrian opposition has duly been said. At one end of the scale there's the obvious but not cliched banality of evil references, while at the other there's the most definitely cliched allusions to fiddling while burning and letting them eat cake. If anything, as Peter Beaumont has said, the emails for the most part portray a very boring if normal couple living through what is for both them and the country they rule an extraordinary time. Whether it also makes them look more human, as he also suggests, is not so clear cut: yes, there's the affection between husband and wife, even to the point of the sick-inducing with Bashar apparently sending Asma the lyrics to an awful country song, yet there's also the aloofness that has long been associated with Assad, as well as the indulgence of bizarre conspiracy theories.

This is of course if the emails are genuine. Angry Arab has suggested they're an obvious forgery, which seems to be a very hastily reached conclusion to say the least. If they are a hoax, and there have been innumerable incredibly well crafted hoaxes in the past that have fooled some high profile experts on the subject they target, then these must rank with the very best. They would have required inside knowledge of the Syrian regime's closest confidants, including potentially access to their email accounts, as the cache given to the Guardian includes emails that have been confirmed by the senders themselves to be genuine.

This isn't to say that some of the emails haven't been planted: Assad's supposed purchases on iTunes frankly stink, and not just because of how bad the artists are. Right Said Fred, Cliff Richard, LMFAO, really? The Assads do have three children, which might explain some of it, but honestly, Sexy and I Know It? It does almost seem to be asking for a parody video, which might have been the aim of those who were "monitoring" the account. Making a dictator a laughing stock rather than someone to be feared is always a good way to start the fomentation of a revolution, yet Syria has surely moved beyond that stage. In any case, hate ought to be a far more powerful emotion in this instance, and that should be amply provided by Asma's apparent purchases of various luxury goods, all of which could be easily verified: vases from Harrods, Armani lights, jewellery, chandeliers. She might not be Imelda Marcos, to venture back into slight cliche, but she does fill the almost required role of a dictator's wife, to be both spoilt and "interested" in charity.

And that, frankly, is it. The emails might further enrage those determined to bring Assad down, and could make a few of those reluctantly still favouring the status quo reconsider, yet at this point you doubt that there's anyone who hasn't already made their mind up about what is likely to become civil war. They're an insight, and very little else.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012 

Aldous Huxley was right. Sort of.

The quote from Aldous Huxley at the top of this page is, unsurprisingly, not one I fully subscribe to. He did though have a point, and while we can hardly blame inventors and designers for how their creations are subsequently used by our far from good selves, it's not so long back that we wouldn't have so many inconsequential things shoved down our throats due to the technology involved not existing. Think back to that terrible day when it was discovered that a woman had put a cat in a bin, a story literally followed around the world. Even if I'd owned the cat, I wouldn't have posted the video of this hideous crime being committed on Facebook: what's the point?

Much the same goes for the "my tram experience" video posted at the end of last year, featuring a clearly drunk woman being gratuitously ignorant and bigoted. Why record someone who is clearly not in full control of themselves unless, and this is a big unless, you're going to hand it over to the authorities as evidence that this person is potentially endangering their child by being sloshed in public? Don't put it up on the internet as evidence of how racist Britain still is when it shows nothing of the sort, especially when you ought to know full well that the person behind the obnoxious views is then going to be subjected to what might be called the full force of hate from keyboard warriors. It's very doubtful that Emma West will be raped or killed as a result of her inebriated ravings, as so many suggested she should be on forums and social networks afterwards, but the whole incident was simply unnecessary and avoidable.

Azhar Ahmed should then have known when he wrote his status update on the reaction to the deaths of six British servicemen last week that his shall we say forthright views were likely to offend. What he couldn't possibly have known was that he would be arrested, charged with a racially aggravated public order offence and then bailed to an address outside of West Yorkshire as a direct result. While I'm one of those who believes free speech should mean just that up to the point of inciting hatred or murder, I should imagine that had Ahmed given similar vent out in the street he could well have been arrested for breaching the peace. Where though is there anything that could be considered racial in his statement, at least as far we've seen through screengrabs? He doesn't make any reference to soldiers being British, being white or any other colour; he simply says "all soldiers should die".

The charge simply doesn't seem to make any sense. This has inevitably been explained in some quarters as obviously being down to the fact that Ahmed is Asian, and so therefore a Muslim, and so his comments must be either racially or religiously motivated, leading to the charge. More likely is that his remarks, even if not racist in tone, do resemble somewhat the line taken by groups such as Islam 4 UK, especially the line about women being raped, a point they often dwell upon regardless of their failure to come up with any examples of Iraqi or Afghani women being raped by foreign soldiers. It's not completely beyond credence that Ahmed has some links to such groups, or alternatively that the police decided that his remarks were so similar to their spouting that it justified the racial element.

Alternatively, there might be more to it than what we've so far seen. Harry Paterson relates some of the responses Ahmed's status received, some of them moving from the personally abusive into the realm of racism. Did Ahmed then respond in kind to some of these, with the police deciding that since he had started the discussion they would overlook the racism from the others and just deal with him? It certainly seems possible. Or have the police simply overreacted, seen something that isn't actually there, and will as a result have to drop the racially aggravated part on March the 20th?

Regardless of such concerns, Ahmed has nonetheless been subjected to much the same treatment as Emma West was. Deserving of being called an idiot as he is, the comments and responses go far beyond that. The best example is the Azhar Ahmed Scumbag!!! page over on Facebook, which until a few hours ago had as its description

"Azhar Ahmed need to be killed for what he wrote on facebook the scum! people like this should not be in our county if their not going to support it! out with the scum!!!"

Apart from being severely lacking in grammar, this goes further than Ahmed did. He merely said all soldiers should die; he didn't say they should be killed, or "need to be killed". With numerous people apparently reporting the page not just to Facebook but to the police, the description has now been subtly changed to

Azhar Ahmed need to be put away and never let out for what he wrote on facebook the scum! people like this should not be in our county if their not going to support it! out with the scum!!!

Still as lacking in grammar, and still over the top, but at least it no longer incites murder.

Hopefully we'll receive more details next Tuesday as to exactly why the charge against Ahmed is racially motivated and not a simple public order one. Until then it would be lovely if we could get things in perspective, and realise that regardless of whether we're saying it out loud or typing it, saying without irony that someone should die or be killed simply for something they themselves have said never adds much to a debate.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012 

The falsity and ritual of the "essential" relationship.

Much of politics is thoroughly pointless. The centre point of our parliamentary democracy, prime minister's questions, is a weekly exercise in miserable theatre, the very lowest rhetoric (you knifed your brother in the back!) and planted feeble jibes at the opposite party. On occasion some very worthy causes are raised but these are always dealt with behind the scenes, if at all. Similarly, you can hardly begrudge the wider public attitude towards politics when the very shows they are invited to take part in, such as Question Time, are almost always interminable, all the more so since the coalition took power, as it often means there are two all but identical party hacks on the panel completely agreeing with each other. Add in the obligatory professional attention seekers who always take the fifth seat, whether it's David Starkey, Mad Mel or Alastair Campbell, and the number of hastily switched channels as soon as David Dimbleby appears must be close to incalculable.

Neither of these rituals or any other you can think of compare though to the spectacular inanity that is the official state visit. Very occasionally they move from the pointless to the obscene, such as when the Saudis or other authoritarians come to the visit, the red carpet rolled out for some of the most venal and vile individuals on the planet, but mostly they just demonstrate that stifling protocol and appearances matter as much as they ever have.

Rather than attempting to cool down this falsity, if anything it keeps becoming more and more layered. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for David Cameron to go to Washington this week, let alone take George Osborne and William Hague along with him, not to mention the whole scrum of media following in their wake. All of the policies supposedly to be discussed tomorrow could have been settled over the phone or video conference, as we are told Cameron and Barack Obama often communicate; instead, we're being treated to sights that can never be unseen, such as Obama and Cameron having to look as though they're making small talk as they board a helicopter taking them to a basketball game. This is of course to demonstrate that both are just such ordinary, down to earth guys and to prove it they'll be giving an interview at half-time.

As is also now set down in stone, one or both of the leaders will have to give their name to a ridiculous newspaper article (written usually by a chief spin doctor, the real author of a Bill Clinton "piece" during the Blair years having been a certain A Campbell), setting out just how close the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom remains. Rebranded from being "special" to being "essential", perhaps because the very meaning of the former has changed, it goes unremarked that Obama has been fairly liberal in who he says America has an extraordinary relationship with, with both French and Israeli leaders told they are the true apple of the world superpower's roving eye. In reality, the only relationship that matters is the one with Israel, such is the now phenomenal power of the lobby, propped up by a mixture of neo-Conservative zeal, fundamentalist Christian dogma, with many evangelicals believing Israel will be the literal site of the battle of Armageddon and the massive success of AIPAC in getting prospective politicians to agree to support Israeli policies. If David Cameron were to tomorrow lecture Obama in the way that Benjamin Netanyahu has now twice done, it's a fair bet that he wouldn't be invited back any time soon.

For as previously noted, regardless of the role we've played in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the US could have easily done both alone. Cameron and Obama's joint article ends with the statement that together they believe there "is hardly anything we cannot do", yet the entire piece is made up of things that we've in fact done or are doing as part of partnerships, organisations or wider alliances. The only part where this isn't the case is in the mention of extra care for military veterans, something we wouldn't have to be putting so much aside for if we didn't keep involving ourselves in needless conflicts, or alternatively knew when to cut our losses. Obama and Cameron are not fools: they both know that our continuing blundering in Afghanistan is likely to eventually make Iraq look like a success story by comparison. Both though keep listening to the advisers and military spokesmen who haven't had a clue since the outset, the end result being the needless deaths of the six British servicemen last week, and the massacre by the American soldier at the end of it.

If there was really anything that we couldn't do together, such as provide a positive vision of the future that doesn't involve almost perpetual conflict, then there might have been some mention of a push for movement on a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, something all but forgotten now that Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions have taken precedence. The truth is that we can't even agree on a joint response to the recession, although this isn't especially surprising when the two parties in the coalition can't either. The Guardian's leader says that Cameron hasn't gone out of his way to "pursue an Atlanticist foreign policy", which is accurate up to a point, the point being that it was ourselves who were pushing for intervention in Libya whereas Obama had to be convinced, while we haven't ruled out joining in an attack on Iran. Our foreign policy has in practice not changed one jot since the days of the first Gulf War.

We clutch to the coattails of America for the reason that our politicians seem to think we have to for the sake of image and history. The French may have been ungrateful ever since the day after the liberation of Paris, but at least they're confident and comfortable in having plotted their own course. Our leaders meanwhile continue to pretend that we mean something to the Americans beyond our usefulness as a fig leaf, while even that is increasingly being regarded as more trouble than it's worth in terms of our unjustified high opinion of ourselves. Like with the pointless rituals of politics, it's time we realised that when we have nothing to offer we should offer nothing. Change and reform though is not for those who insist upon it for everyone else.

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Monday, March 12, 2012 

Mark Kermode on Sex and the City 2.

Just the 2 years late on this.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012 

Ninety three.

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Friday, March 09, 2012 

The old gags are the best.

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Thursday, March 08, 2012 

A reappraisal of the Power of Nightmares.

Not to keep banging on about Adam Curtis or anything, but it's about time that the Power of Nightmares was reappraised. Broadcast on BBC2 in 2004, it was broadly welcomed (as his films in general are) on the left and criticised by the right. As set out in his introduction to the first film, his thesis was that the threat posed by al-Qaida had been massively exaggerated by both politicians and the media, turning what was a dysfunctional and small organisation that had nonetheless pulled off a massive coup into a vast network that was close to threatening our very existence. In reality, this was a fiction: the really dangerous thing about al-Qaida was not the network itself, but the ideology. Politicians in turn had discovered that by promising to protect their voters from this existential threat, it invested them with the power they had lost as a result of the turn to neoliberalism in the 80s.

Then 7/7 happened. The Power of Nightmares, with its title apparently suggesting that jihadists were nothing but bad dreams and that the politicians, police and security services were just imagining the threats they were talking about, was ridiculed and derided and still is now. Just recently over on Liberal Conspiracy Flowerpower responded to one of my cross-posted blogs on Abu Qatada to take issue with my use of the word phantom. It was perhaps a bit careless to use phantom instead of spectre in the context of us being unconcerned about Islamic extremism in the 90s, but it was obvious I wasn't saying there isn't a threat. To quote him:

The last time some idiot lefty (Adam Curtis) started peddling that line of nonsense, Muslims soon start exploding on the London Underground.

This might be slightly unfair to Flowerpower, but his remark in itself is a caricature of most of the criticism of Curtis. Curtis most certainly didn't suggest there weren't any suicide bombers, just that politicians were abusing the threat there was, most of which was only tenuously linked with al-Qaida in Pakistan, for their own ends. If anything, as John B wrote at the time on his recently resurrected blog from back then, 7/7 proved him right. The bombers were not foreigners, but born and raised here; they were trained in Pakistan in making explosives, and filmed a couple of martyrdom videos which were subsequently released by al-Qaida's media arm, and that's pretty much the extent of their connections. It was the ideology which had brought them together. As the security services claimed in the immediate aftermath, they were not a sleeper cell waiting for the moment to attack; they were "clean skins", with few or no links to those they expected to launch an assault.

As it turned out, this was wrong. The 7/7 group were connected to those who had been arrested under Operation Crevice, although whether the attack could have prevented is doubtful. This pattern of British citizens or residents being the ones behind planned attacks continued, right up to the supposed disrupted 2009 plot, where it was Pakistani students here on visas who were arrested and later released. By that point al-Qaida central's influence, as discussed yesterday, was heavily on the wane. Instead, the very idea of al-Qaida as a brand had spread globally. Jihadist groups with nationalist motives started to pledge allegiance to al-Qaida, although this has often meant little other than a change in name. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has continued to focus on North Africa, just as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat as they were formally known had. There have been some attacks linked back to al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq/Islamic State of Iraq outside of that country, but apart from the bomb in Jordan these have been minor or failed. The same will almost certainly be the case with al-Shabaab, which pledged allegiance earlier in the year.

The one exception is Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, whose de facto leader had taken note of the foiled or failed spectaculars linked back to al-Qaida central and started to push for a change in tactics. AQAP still clearly felt there was a place for major attacks with the potential for debilitating effects, as seen in the antics of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and 2010's cargo bomb attempt, but at the same time Anwar al-Awlaki started pushing for those who had become radicalised online to do what they could for the cause of global jihad on their own. His suggestion wasn't that they become suicide bombers in foreign countries, or form cells with like-minded individuals which could be more easily monitored and disrupted, it was for them to launch what have become known as "lone wolf" attacks. Al-Awlaki had allegedly been in direct contact with the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan. Similarly, his sermons have been said to have inspired Roshonara Choudhry in this country, although her true reasoning for stabbing Stephen Timms might never be fully known, while the magazines AQAP has published also promote the same notion of individual action.

Anwar al-Awlaki's message has been so successful and influential in changing the minds of those who might have previously sought refuge for their ideas with others that the security services now regard those completely off their radar as posing the biggest threat to the Olympics. Whereas al-Qaida had felt that multiple attacks at the same time would have the most impact, their adherents now think that the best way to emphasise that their ideology isn't going anywhere is to do it alone, regardless of how this will make it much harder to achieve multiple casualties. In spite of how this makes it likely an attack, should it come, will be far less devastating than 7/7 (Anders Breivik not withstanding, and few have the resources that were available to Tim McVeigh, who was helped in any case), ever larger amounts of money are being spent to prevent it. An astonishing £1bn is going on security at the Olympics.

Adam Curtis has then essentially been proven right. Al-Qaida as a cohesive organisation directing groups of those trained in the camps in Afghanistan to attack at a precise moment was a fiction. It took the credit for the attacks that were successful mainly because those who carrying them out believed in the Salafist vision of a global caliphate, with bin Laden and al-Zawahiri in the vanguard, even if the real role those back in Pakistan had in them was slight. As consecutive plots failed, its influence began to wane. The triumph of the ideology though has been such that it can motivate individuals who have never been to a training camp to do what they are told will be their bit for the cause. At the same time, our politicians have locked us into a perpetual war against people who pose no real threat whatsoever to our way of life. It has come at an immense cost in terms of money and lives, and reality shows no sign of entering the picture any time soon.

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