Tuesday, July 31, 2012 

Let's do something very British: make the best of it.

I apologise in advance if this shocks anyone, but I have a confession to make. I didn't watch the opening ceremony live. I'll just let that sink in for a second.

Yes, it's true. I took one look at the pre-released extract of the nurses dancing and thought, nope, don't think I'll bother. And on that, I stand by my initial opinion: fine sentiment, not quite as good execution. As for the rest, well, it was crap, but it was crap in the best possible way. Certainly nowhere near as crap as China's reprise of 1936, or worse yet, the handover segment from the closing ceremony last time round (my predictions for the opening ceremony were thankfully not proved correct, although I was, sadly, part right about Amy Winehouse). It still had to involve the Queen, David Beckham and Seb Coe, but dear old Brenda seemed bored near to tears by the whole thing, while Seb talked out of his foot as could be expected. The bits that nearly raised it above crap were the forging of the rings and the inspired decision not to give the lighting of the cauldron to one person; I'd had a horrible premonition it was going to be Brenda doing the honours.

Some people, naturally, wanted to read far too much into it. Not just Aidan Burley, who dug himself a hole so deep he must be somewhere near Australia currently, but also Pollyanna Toynbee, who laments that Danny Boyle's vision of a "deep-dyed social democratic nation" is being torn apart by the coalition. Fair enough, the current government is a disaster, but are we really deep-dyed social democratic? Let's not kid ourselves here. That it also annoyed a certain section of right-wingers who detected socialism, political correctness or any of the other modern British "cultural evils" in it says far more about them than it does about Boyle's direction or Frank Cottrell Boyce's script. Indeed, if anything it reflects how they've become out of touch, rather than it being the other way around.

If the media as a whole appeared to love the opening, then we could perhaps have relied on the Mail to play at least one discordant note. Given the chance to sound off in the Mail Online's RightMinds comment section, Rick Dewsbury managed to make all the other criticisms and complaints seem insignificant by comparison. It wasn't just the celebration of the NHS when it's a system that occasionally fails, it was the completely unrealistically portrait it painted of mixed-race relationships:

This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up.

Almost, if not every, shot in the next sequence included an ethnic minority performer. The BBC presenter Hazel Irvine gushed about the importance of grime music (a form of awful electronic music popular among black youths) to east London. This multicultural equality agenda was so staged it was painful to watch.

Almost immediately realising this was just a teeny bit beyond the pale, the piece was quickly edited so something approaching the opposite was stated:

This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but such set-ups are simply not the ‘norm’ in any part of the country. So why was it portrayed like this and given such prominence? If it was intended to be something that we can celebrate, that two people with different colour skin and different cultural heritages can live harmoniously together, then it deserves praise. But what will be disturbing to many people is top-down political manipulation – whether consciously or unthinkingly – at a major sporting event.

Before the Mail realised it was on a hiding to nothing and the piece simply disappeared. Luckily, John Walker managed to capture it before it disappeared down the memory hole. That perhaps not everything in the ceremony was meant to be taken literally, as the last time I checked nurses no longer wear those sort of uniform, and James Bond is, err, fictional, seems to have passed some people by.

It is after all possible to think the opening was better than it could have been and enjoy the sport while still loathing the ridiculous levels of security, the areas being closed off for the duration to the public, the privileges demanded by the Olympic "family" and the sponsors, and the likelihood that there will be no real legacy to speak of despite all the promises, as Andrew Gilligan points out. It is an incredible waste of money, but let's make the best of it while it's on, eh?

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Monday, July 30, 2012 

And the gold medal for most shameless bullshit goes to...

David Cameron, for this extraordinary nonsense:

When he was first shown the images of James Bond actor Daniel Craig meeting The Queen at Buckingham Palace and then appearing to parachute down into the stadium, Mr Cameron said it brought a "tear to his eye".

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All the news that's fit to bury.

And we're only three days into the Olympics...

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Saturday, July 28, 2012 

And the gold medal for unbelievable chutzpah goes to...

the Metropolitan police, first for deciding that the usual monthly Critical Mass cycle procession had to be halted forthwith, and second for releasing this quite extraordinary justification for doing so:

As the procession last night had the potential to cause serious disruption to the life of the community, the Metropolitan Police Service applied conditions under Section 12 of the Public Order Act. The participants in the procession were informed of these conditions.
Irony? I hear it's like goldy and bronzey.

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The good old days.

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Friday, July 27, 2012 

That all-purpose pre-written opening ceremony review in full.

(Subs please alter as appropriate)

Wow!/Well, what a surprise. Britain has once again proved through the truly fabulous/dire opening ceremony, helmed by the genius/half-wit Danny Boyle that it can equal the very best/very worst when it comes to spectacular gala extravaganzas/lazy, ill-thought through mind-numbingly expensive 3 hour long bore fests. Who could have imagined how perfectly/pitifully our national character would be portrayed, purely through interpretive dance, massed cyclists and Routemaster buses/foreign nurses prancing about, inner city teenagers break dancing and bendy buses? And what a wonderful moment/crushing disappointment/terrible tragedy it was when Roger Bannister/The Queen/Simon Cowell/Seb Coe/David Cameron/John Terry/Tulisa/Boris Johnson/Abu Qatada/Dizzee Rascal/Steve Redgrave/Richard Desmond/Eddie the Eagle/Stephen Fry/Jessica Ennis/Ian Brady/Anjem Choudrary/Jonathan Ross/Cheryl Cole/Tony Blair/The Undead General Galteri/Florence without the Machine/Tempa T/Julia Bradbury/James Murdoch/Daley Thompson/Nelson Mandela/Wayne Rooney/Max Mosley/Georgina Baillie/Will.i.am/Jiang Zemin/Bashar al-Assad/Nicolas Sarkozy/Katie Price/Jodie Marsh/The Undead Jade Goody/Nasty Nick/Simon Jenkins/Jeremy Hunt/Lord Leveson/Robert Jay/The Undead Robin Cook/Bruce Dickinson/Marilyn Manson/Ozzy Osborne/Gary Barlow/Andrew Lloyd Webber/Larry the Cat/Spot the Dog lit the cauldron/somehow managed to extinguish the flame through waving the torch too much/suffered third degree burns when they overbalanced and fell in to the giant gold pot. As for the firework finale/passenger jet crashing into Seb Coe's gigantic ego/mass shooting, this will clearly be a day that we will never forget/remember and celebrate for years to come/live in infamy.

(Brilliant/You're fired/Is this right? Ed)

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Thursday, July 26, 2012 

On Syria.

It's cards on the table time. Richard Seymour (aka Lenin from the Tomb) writes for the Graun that the anti-war left, while understandably concerned, is wrong to be either ambivalent or against the Syrian uprising. It is, he writes, a popular revolution, and the initiative lies with the people. Robin Yassin-Kassab says much the same, ridiculing "blanket thinkers" who can only see the Middle East through an "US-imperialist lens".

I don't claim to have any expert insight into Syria. All I can go by is what I've read, and by what I've been told. On this basis, I find it difficult to disagree with Seymour when he says it's a popular uprising. At least, it's definitely a popular uprising amongst the Sunni population of Syria. Much of the coverage, as Angry Arab (criticised in Yassin Kassab's first paragraph) has repeatedly pointed out, has been viciously anti-Alawite, often without any thought whatsoever being put into the underlying message it sends. 16 months into the uprising, you would have thought by now that we would have had some definitive reporting on just what section of the population supports the status quo and which supports the revolution. I say status quo and not the regime for the reason that it seems unlikely that anyone now has much love for Assad, but they understandably fear what might come next. Some of this will be down to the regime's constant propaganda, claiming that all of those in support of the revolution are al-Qaida supporters, while some will be down to very real fears of the possibility of reprisals should the uprising succeed in overthrowing the Ba'athists.

We don't know then just how far the uprising is supported by the Alawite (including other Shias), Christian and Druze minorities. It could be that they're just keeping their heads down and secretly hoping for it all to be over quickly, and will adjust accordingly whichever side eventually triumphs. It could be that there's a sizeable minority among them who support the revolution, but can't do so openly for fear of what will happen to them. It could be that they're completely opposed to the revolution and dearly love Assad and wish to retain their status, or it could be that they'd rather have Assad, murderer as he is, than either the Muslim Brotherhood or an even more fundamentalist Islamist grouping in power. The point is that we just don't properly know. Of all the protests associated with the Arab spring, only Bahrain comes close to Syria in terms of how religious background impacts as heavily on whether or not someone is likely to be for the uprising or against it.

What both Seymour and Yassin-Kassab underplay is the role of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in funding and supplying the revolutionaries with weaponry, with the Turks and the Americans playing a more minor role. It may well be that this is still relatively slight in comparison to the equipment being supplied to the Syrian military by Russia, but it surely isn't a coincidence that the fighters have made major gains since the House of Saud and the Qataris upped their game. Both countries simply would not fund or supply fighters unless they were fairly sure of what they were getting themselves into; they tend not to throw guns and cash around as freely as the Americans have in the past. The Saudis have little time for the Muslim Brotherhood, regardless of past ties, as shown by their antipathy to the coming to power of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt. Qatar may have trained the forces that made the difference in Libya, where the West has claimed that a "liberal" grouping won the elections (if you can call a massive coalition which has Islamists within it liberal), but they too wouldn't be getting involved if they feared a government opposing their regional influence coming to power.

It's impossible then to ignore the fact that a major contingent of armed groups operating in Syria are at the very least Islamist in outlook, while some are straight jihadist or Salafi. This is to be expected when Islamism has long taken over from various strains of leftism as the main political resistance in the Arab world to secular authoritarian rulers, but this doesn't mean we should be any more accepting of jihadists than we were, say, in Iraq. There the likes of Seymour overlooked the fact the much of the resistance was made up of jihadists (The Islamic State of Iraq and Ansar al-Sunnah/Islam, to name the two major groups), with only one or two insurgent alliances being nationalist in politics, as they were fighting the Americans, despite how they succeeded in sparking civil war through sectarian attacks.

While it would be lovely if the Free Syrian Army was overwhelmingly secular and non-sectarian, this was unlikely to ever be the case when the regime has also turned towards sectarian attacks through desperation. All the same, it makes it impossible to support the FSA when you can't possibly know what will follow should Assad fall. At the same time, you can completely be in favour of the overthrow of Assad and his murderous clique by those sections of the opposition that simply want to be rid of a tyrant determined to cling onto power at any cost. Regardless of misgivings about the electoral triumphs by Islamists in both Tunisia and Egypt, I challenge anyone to deny that their being in power is vastly preferable to the despotisms of Ben Ali and Mubarak. In both countries however the state remained while it was the rulers who were overthrown. In Syria, like as in Libya, should Assad be overthrown the victors will have to begin from scratch, except the inevitable sectarian tensions that will follow will make the regional spats between militias in Libya look like a picnic. Syria is one of those instances where the third way is the best way: for the revolution, against sectarianism.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012 


The emperor Nero today denied that he had been fiddling while Rome went up in flames, despite official figures showing the fire had spread to 70 new districts in the last few days.

"We all know this city has deep-seated problems, and these disappointing figures confirm that. We have started to deal with the fire at its root source, by making cutbacks in our provision of public services. From now on, those sentenced to death will have to crucify themselves. Many bath houses will have to close, and aqueducts demolished. Progress has though been made, not least by experts at the Bank of the Roman Empire, who have calculated that if we harness the wind power of slaves, they could almost instantly blow the fire out by directing their flatulence in its general direction. Now all we need to do is find the 375 billion needed to achieve such a feat."

Asked whether he would consider a Plan B, namely the use of water to quench the flames, Nero stood firm. "This is not the time to resort to the failed methods of the past. When you're in a fire crisis, you don't solve the problem by stoking the flames." When it was pointed out that this was the opposite of what critics were proposing, Nero simply changed the subject. "This is all irrelevant. You'll forget about the fire now that we're just two days away from the greatest circus games Rome has ever seen. What's more, the influx of people will add to the numbers attempting to staunch the flames, meaning it'll be out by the time you've written this up on papyrus. Oh, and it was a lyre I was playing while I was away strategising, not a fiddle. Get that right or I'll report you to Senator Leveson."

George Osborne is 41 years old.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012 

Leveson and the crumbling of empires.

And so it ends, not with a whimper but a bang. In a perfect coincidence, the Crown Prosecution Service announced its decision to charge some of those arrested over alleged phone hacking on the same day as the Leveson inquiry's last public hearings. For those like me who were sceptical of the inquiry to begin with, wondering whether it would be turned into a circus by the celebrity witnesses, something that looked more than plausible when Hugh Grant was the one of the first called to give evidence, it's more than safe to say that we were wrong to be.

If nothing else, it finally provided a platform for those who have held power without responsibility for so long to be held to account. We didn't just have the Murdochs giving evidence under oath (and what evidence), but also Paul Dacre, Richard Desmond, Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and many others from the Street of Shame asked to account for the rubbish they serve up day after day after day in their papers. On occasion it wasn't so much the answers they gave as their mere presence, so many being shy and retiring types when not ordering about their underlings. Dawn Neesom, editor of the Daily Star does exist, it turns out, while Paul "double cunting" Dacre seethed his way through his appearances, unused to having to suffer such indignities.

Not that these were anything to those the first group of witnesses to the inquiry had went through. Again, for those like me who felt that the McCanns had brought some (not all by any means, I must stress) of the subsequent bad coverage on themselves through the way they went about enlisting the media in the search for their missing daughter, we were delivered the equivalent of a hefty slap around the chops. It's easy to forget that the likes of the Express and Star really did carry stories claiming that the McCanns had been swingers and took part in orgies, that they had sold Madeleine to help pay off mortgage debts, or that the News of the World published Kate's personal diary despite the McCann's press adviser telling them not to do so. That it was a bastardised English to Portuguese to English translation didn't put them off one bit; indeed, Colin Myler at one stage rang Gerry after the couple had given the an interview to Hello! magazine, righteously wounded that they had gone somewhere other than the Screws after the paper had helped raise £1.5m for the Madeleine fund. Similar horror stories came from Sienna Miller, Anne Diamond, Charlotte Church, the Dowlers, and Mary-Ellen Field, who lost two jobs thanks to the NotW's obsession with Elle Macpherson.

When it was the turn of the politicians to shed some light on their relationship with the press, it was a case of who knew least: was it the elected leaders of the nation, or our self-appointed representatives? David Cameron, according to the BBC, said a variation on he couldn't remember or recall 49 times during his 25,890 words of evidence, while his old pal Andy Coulson did the same on 28 occasions during just 10,531 words of testimony. Cameron at one point had to call on glam Sam to remember just how often he met with dear Rebekah and Charlie; once every six weeks or so according to his wife's social diary. While Jeremy Hunt might not have been brought down directly through the inquiry, despite it being apparent to everyone other than the compromised leader himself that he had broken the ministerial code, he surely can't survive the coming reshuffle. And despite the continuing outpourings from Rhodri Davies, QC for News International, everyone now knows that there was a shadow policy being conducted through Hunt's SpAd Adam Smith in favour of the BSkyB bid. There may not have been prima facie evidence of a pact between News International and the Conservatives, but we did learn of how Cameron knew three weeks in advance that the Sun was to plump for the Tories over Labour the day after Gordon Brown's 2009 conference speech.

We must then return once again to poor Dave's choice of mates. It was bad enough when Rebekah and Andy were charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and perjury respectively; for them to now also face trial on the specific charge of conspiring to intercept the voicemail of Milly Dowler is just about as bad as it gets. Let's give Dave the widest benefit of the doubt: that he genuinely did want to give Coulson a second chance, and he took George Osborne's advice to employ him as his chief spin doctor purely because of his ahem, array of skills, rather than his closeness to the key players at News International. Why then, when the evidence was mounting up and the warnings from numerous individuals were coming in thick and fast did he insist on taking Coulson into Downing Street with him? Consider the nightmare scenario, that both Brooks and Coulson are found guilty of all they've been accused of; is there any possible way that Cameron could remain prime minister when his director of communications was not only involved in the hacking of the voicemail of a missing schoolgirl, but also lied under oath about having no knowledge of phone hacking whatsoever?

As Alan Rusbridger told Leveson today, the fundamental reason why phone hacking happened is because News International was allowed to become too powerful. At the height of his hubris Kelvin MacKenzie honestly believed that he had the power to help a party to election victory, if only through the constant slurring and smearing of the opposition. Murdoch himself was far more subtle: he joined the winning team when their victory was inevitable, while still maintaining his influence through the menace of what he could unleash should his chosen side drift too far from his own views. MacKenzie's values were passed down through the subsequent editors of the Sun even if they altered their views as the public's own changed, while the News of the World tried to one up the daily paper, and often succeeded. What MacKenzie started, Rebekah Wade renewed and Andy Coulson then perfected. If it hadn't been for Nick Davies and the support he received from the Graun, not to forget the court cases brought which exposed further evidence, then Rupert Murdoch would almost certainly still be a director of NI and cock of the walk. He might not have been telling the truth when he told the culture committee that his appearance before them was the most humble day of his life, but he has been humbled. It's a much needed reminder that no matter how big, powerful and influential, all empires eventually begin to crumble.

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Monday, July 23, 2012 

***** **** *** *** * *****.

The Guardian asking the important questions:

How is the poor reader expected to differentiate between b******* and b*******?

Answers on a postcard please.

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Quote of the decade.

In an interview on Fox News in the US, Netanyahu said Israel had not considered specifically trying to cross the border to seize the weapons but added: "There are other possibilities."

"Could you imagine Hezbollah, the people who are conducting with Iran all these terror attacks around the world – could you imagine them having chemical weapons? It would be like al-Qaida having chemical weapons," he said. "It's something that is not acceptable to us, not acceptable to the United States and to any peaceable country in the world."

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Friday, July 20, 2012 

I begin to go weak.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012 

No alarms and no surprises redux.

Hearing today of the verdict in the Ian Tomlinson case, it was difficult not to be reminded of Blackstone's formulation. William Blackstone, the 18th century author of the Commentary on the Laws of England, had it that it was better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.

This is not to say that PC Simon Harwood was guilty of anything more on the 1st of April 2009 than common assault. The jury more than understandably decided that it was not proven beyond reasonable doubt that Harwood caused the manslaughter of Tomlinson, and we have to respect that decision. You really can't envy those chosen to serve on this particular case, thanks to the incompetence of Freddy Patel, the pathologist who carried out the first autopsy on Tomlinson. They had to reach their decision based on conflicting accounts: Patel continues to maintain that Tomlinson died of natural causes, coincidentally just a matter of minutes after he was pushed over and struck by Harwood, while the two other doctors who subsequently carried out a re-examination decided the cause of death was internal bleeding caused by trauma associated with a blow to the abdomen. The material that would have established the cause beyond all doubt was poured away by Patel, who when giving evidence continued to insist that the bloody fluids found within Tomlinson's stomach cavity were ascites stained with blood, rather than just blood. The Crown Prosecution Service's initial decision not to bring charges was justified on this irreconcilable difference of medical opinions. The jury was not told that Patel had been suspended last year by the General Medical Council after similar failings in the autopsy he carried out on Sally White, who he found had died of natural causes. Her body had been discovered in the house belonging to Anthony Hardy, who later pleaded guilty to the murder of White and two other women.

In fairness to Patel, he wasn't aware when he conducted the post-mortem of what had happened to Tomlinson just a few minutes before he died, the footage not being uncovered until it was sent to the Guardian a week after the protests. New evidence was also presented during the trial which hadn't been given during the inquest, with trauma specialist Alastair Wilson hypothesising that the internal bleeding could have started before Tomlinson came into contact with Harwood. All the same, it still raises the question of why it was decided that Patel's suspension was considered to be prejudicial, and so withheld from the jury. It may not have made any difference, just as it's doubtful that had they known of Harwood's chequered disciplinary record, including his resignation from the Met following a road rage incident and subsequent rejoining of the force with Surrey police it would have changed their decision. When it was a majority decision of 10 to 2 though, after four days of deliberations, it could potentially have led to a retrial instead of a not guilty verdict.

All this considered, it was clearly the right decision by the CPS to change their initial decision and bring the manslaughter charges following the unlawful killing verdict of the inquest's jury. While both verdicts were delivered under the same burden of proof, beyond reasonable doubt, there's clearly a massive difference between a jury deciding a police officer was guilty of unintentionally killing a man through inappropriate use of force and a jury deciding that the police officer should potentially go to prison for doing so. Harwood's behaviour, though reprehensible as there was no reason whatsoever for him to push Tomlinson, would have been unlikely to have done lasting damage to someone who was in good health. Indeed, as I previously noted, it's a wonder there weren't far worse injuries on the day considering the number of protesters who were hit repeatedly on the head with batons.

In this respect, as much as Harwood on the day was lashing out anyone who got in his way following the humiliation he felt after failing to arrest a man who vandalised a police van, Duncan Campbell is right to lay the blame at the feet of those who authorised the completely counter-productive tactic of kettling protesters, to say nothing of the storming of the Climate Camp, later ruled to have been an abuse of power. Regardless of whether there had been violence or not, and much of it on the day was limited to the smashing of windows and spraying of grafitti rather than attacks on police, who were in any case mostly watching as it went on, officers had been briefed that a bunch of black flag wielding anarchists were coming from across Europe to lay waste to the City, while senior officers were telling the media of how ready they were for just such an eventuality.

Unlike some others, I'm not so sure that this verdict will make police officers feel that they're above the law: while it's true that there has still not been a officer convicted of murder or manslaughter while on duty since 1986, it only hasn't in this case thanks to the disagreement between pathologists. With recording equipment now ubiquitous, the chances of abuse going unchallenged have also never been slighter. Just as the police are so keen on recording us, so on protests from now on we should be recording their every move. And considering what's happened, they can hardly complain.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012 

The return of pre-emptive policing.

Last week Craig Murray wrote that those visiting London during the Olympics from authoritarian states would be hard pressed to notice much in the way of difference. For those thinking that was a bit strong, then it seems the British Transport Police are trying their level best to live up to the very worst of expectations. Depending on who you believe, yesterday saw the BTP arrest either four or up to thirty graffiti artists, all of whom were bailed on draconian conditions banning them from any railway system for leisure travel, from carrying art equipment and from being within a mile of any Olympic venue.

The BTP claims that the arrests were made in connection with "incidents of criminal damage committed between January 2007 and July 2012", something that Darren Cullen, one of the men arrested finds difficult to believe. Talking to the Guardian, he says that he has never painted illegally, and considering he runs a company that works with other corporate firms to provide graffiti-style art to them that seems perfectly believable. The London Vandal blog suggests that others arrested were similarly either "retired" or hadn't touched a spray can in years, more than suggesting these were raids aimed at picking off those either well known in the community or to the police with the intention of ensuring that they wouldn't be able to go anywhere near any Olympic venues with artistic intentions. Even if the BTP's account is more accurate than that from the graffiti artists themselves, then the specific condition barring them from within a mile of any Olympic venue is ridiculously broad, and in any case the condition stopping them from carry spray paint ought to be enough to cover any eventuality.

What's more, we can look forward to the pre-emptive arrest becoming standard practice due to the ruling from the High Court today that those detained prior and during the royal wedding were dealt with perfectly legally. Among those who had asked for a judicial review into the police's tactics was someone dressed as a zombie who was on their way home. Justifying the arrest, the officer wrote in his witness statement (paragraph 51):

"… we were also told to … look out for potential breaches of the peace for which the police response would be pre-emptive, if necessary, and zero tolerance of potential disorder. While acknowledging the right to peaceful protest, the vast majority of the crowds that day would be supportive of the wedding and therefore there was a concern that, potentially, any public display of anti-wedding sentiment in the faces of that supportive crowd could lead to breaches of the peace. (By this I mean fights breaking out.) Moreover, on the basis of recent events, those displaying anti-wedding views might well be intending to disrupt the wedding itself, if they could."

In other words, the "justification" for some of the arrests was that it was for their own good, more evidence of how the Public Order Act is in desperate need of redrafting. At least in the case of the wedding some of the arrests were "intelligence" led; the BTP seems to have just picked on old hands they knew about, and without the slightest evidence they had any attention of doing anything. That this is happening under the civil liberties defending coalition rather than ZanuNuLiarbore seems to have passed some people by; where is Henry Porter now, incidentally?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012 

Outsourcing the blame.

There's one thing about the G4S Olympic security fiasco that seems to have passed everyone by: government ministers have barely directed a single word of criticism at the company itself. Take a look at Theresa May's second statement to the Commons yesterday, and if you can find her so much as saying G4S are a bit crap then you win a cookie. What she did claim was that the Home Office had absolutely no idea that G4S was unlikely to be able to fulfil its contract, and that it was completely untrue that James Brokenshire had been told about it in advance. While the hapless Nick Buckles didn't quite contradict the equally hopeless May, during his evidence to the Home Affairs select committee he did say officials knew about problems with "scheduling", and that he had had contact with Brokenshire. There was however confirmation from Buckles that the government was first told there could be a problem on the 3rd of July, 12 days before May made the announcement to parliament last Thursday, and also supposedly only the day after she herself was told there was likely to be a shortfall.

Fairly obvious is that for whatever reason, G4S and the government have drawn up something resembling a non-aggression pact. No minister has so much as criticised Buckles, let alone called for him to resign, and seemingly in return, Buckles didn't say anything today to throw the spotlight back on the government. Indeed, he took the ire of the committee entirely on his own shoulders, as part of an apparent masochism strategy. Yes, he agreed that the entire thing was a shambles, even though Theresa May had denied that was the case last week, and he accepted that this was a disaster for G4S's reputation, which is quite saying something considering the company's history. He won't though be resigning, and the company will still be taking the £57m management fee it so richly deserves, regardless of how astonishing someone as jumped-up as Keith Vaz thinks that is.

Neither it seems will Theresa May, or for that matter anyone at Locog, who signed the contract in the first place be losing their jobs. That G4S had never before provided over 10,000 security officials for one specific event was no barrier to their being awarded the contract, and besides, as far as they were concerned it wasn't for the money involved, as they'd only be making a measly £10m profit had everything gone smoothly. It was more to simply be involved with the games, as nothing provides a boost quite like being the company responsible for the pat downs everyone entering the various events enjoys. Instead that job will now fall partially to our wonderful armed forces, who are as MP after MP stood up to say yesterday the finest in the world. You might think that the finest soldiers in the world deserve better than to be tasked at the last minute with clearing up the mess left after an outsourcing disaster, able to take the holidays they'd booked in advance, or even say get married, but apparently not.

Truly key it seems to the coalition is that the outsourcing bonanza continues. It is after all relying on the privatisation of vast swathes of the public sector in order to bring the deficit down, or so it's claimed. Really going to town on G4S wouldn't have helped anything when they're expected to be the main beneficiaries of the outsourcing of back office police work, or indeed the contracting out of probation, to say nothing of the continuing selling off of the prison estate. That unfortunate things like the death of Jimmy Mubenga take place is to be expected, and the guards who restrained him will not now face manslaughter charges anyway, as his death could have just as much been caused by "a combination of factors such as adrenalin, muscle exhaustion or isometric exercise", to quote the CPS decision not to prosecute. No one truly believes the Olympic shambles has compromised security, even if ministers and the likes of Seb Coe keep saying it hasn't in an apparent attempt at proving the opposite, so what's the fuss? Just sit back, enjoy the circus, and you'll soon forget this ever happened.

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Monday, July 16, 2012 

Relaunching the relaunched relaunch.

Reality may be dawning about the fundamental differences between the parties, but Britain needs a cohesive government now more than ever. So says John Pugh, Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, in one of those wonderful articles that makes clear the last thing we currently have is a cohesive government. Further proof comes from how we've been treated again today to the latest stop in the Dave 'n' Nick roadshow, this time coming from a railway depot in Smethwick. Last time round it was a tractor factory in Basildon, although they didn't go there to announce a new 5 year plan, sad to say.

Somewhat closer was the announcement today that there will be a mid-term review come the end of the summer, which hopefully will resemble a school report. "Although David and Nicholas both try hard, neither is prepared to work outside of their own little clique. Their differences are clearly insurmountable, yet they continue to insist that they must sit at the same table as it is in the national interest. I would send both to the nurse for monitoring, but she has been sacked pending her rehiring on lower wages." It certainly couldn't be any sillier than the document we we're likely to receive, or indeed Cameron's hilarious claim that he's more committed to the coalition now than he was in 2010. If he wasn't just bullshitting for effect, as he almost certainly was, then rather than being more committed to it now than before he's in fact dependent on it. The reality is that if the Lib Dems were to walk away he'd be left at the helm of a minority government, unable to get any controversial policy through, or go to the country as the polls still show between a 5 to 10 point lead for Labour.

Why Clegg doesn't then demand more than Cameron is now promising on Lords reform is a mystery. Equally unfathomable is why he goes through with ludicrous launches like today's, where the pair of them reannounced £5.2bn of previous projects and then set out £4.2bn of new schemes which won't start until 2014 and are mostly to be paid for out of squeezing rail commuters for every last penny. Yesterday's Sunday Times poll had Clegg's net rating at -59, compared to Cameron's -25 and Ed Miliband's -21, which makes him just about as popular as Ian Brady. The one thing that would improve that rating would be his pulling the plug on the coalition, and it can't come soon enough.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012 


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Friday, July 13, 2012 

Quote of the year.

It is wrong to allege that in the runup to the Arab spring UK export controls were lax.

Alistair Burt, the same minister who gave the OK for Bahrani officials to visit the DSEi arms fair last September.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012 

And so it's almost here.

There is no question, Theresa May informed us today, of the security of the Olympics being compromised. Well, no, there clearly isn't. When you've already got more troops in evidence around the Olympic park than we currently have in Afghanistan, with another 3,500 now required to make up for the numbers G4S haven't been able to provide, missile silos on roofs, fighter jets on standby and an assault ship moored on the Thames, London is nothing if not secured. What it's being secured against isn't entirely clear, seeing as the threat level remains stubbornly at "substantial" rather than the critical setting it was at for years under New Labour, but you can never be too careful. And for those with a conspiratorial mindset, can it really just be a coincidence that there are thousands of squaddies in London just in time for the anniversary of the riots, considering how critical our holidaying politicians were of the Met's initial response?

As for it being a shambles, well, what else is new? Also mysterious is that it's only now that commentators are being fully critical of the entire set-up: the obscene sponsorship deals, which meant that workers at the site could only buy chips with fish at vendors other than McDonald's, until Locog stepped in (although customers, i.e., those that have bought tickets and should therefore within reason be allowed to do whatever the hell they like while in attendance, will still only be able to buy chips on their own and with anything other than fish from McDonald's), the sell-off of the Olympic village to the Qataris, as they clearly haven't bought up enough of the capital already, the "VIP lanes" for officials and general travel chaos that will ensue, and of course, the almost constant presence of Seb Coe and Boris Johnson on our screens.

Oddly enough, the one thing that has gone well so far has been the torch relay, if you can manage to overlook its origins at the 1936 games and how the Chinese last time round used it as propaganda bludgeon. Yes, we've had to put up with the likes of Will.i.am bearing it despite his contribution to the musical apocalypse, and how it isn't so much a relay as a bus tour of England with occasional stop-offs, but it really does mean something to those ordinary people chosen to hoist the flame aloft, even if it is only for 300 metres. As for everyone else, it's impossible to know to how we'll remember the games until the err, actual sport begins. I suspect once everything gets going that the events themselves will go off without any hitches, while everyone trying to do something that isn't connected to what's going on at the venues around the country can go hang for the duration.

The truth is it was ever thus. All things going well, after the games the Olympic stadium is likely to be the new home of West Ham United; not so in China, where the magnificent Bird's Nest stadium has been little more than a tourist attraction since, or in Greece, where most of the other venues have been decaying since 2004. The entire point of the Olympics and indeed the World Cup in the modern era seems to be to provide long-term benefit not to the hosts, but to the sponsors and organisers. If there are some positives for the localised area where they're hosted, then that's just a bonus. Despite the initial scaremongering, few would disagree that the dual hosting of the Euros by Poland and Ukraine this summer was something of a triumph, but whether that will translate into long-term benefits through an increase in tourism is doubtful in the extreme.

Politicians who would never of dreamt of spending £9bn solely on regenerating the East End have naturally oversold the games from the beginning. What was a vastly expensive New Labour vanity project has become a happy diversion for the coalition, hoping above hope that everything goes well, that it boosts the economy a little and might just manufacture a feel good factor. Yeah, right. There were also additional bonuses, at least according to Seumas Milne, one minister saying the Olympics were a "tremendous opportunity to showcase what the private sector can do in the security space". Well, quite. Mainly though, as long as there aren't any more disasters, it'll fill the papers during the silly season with nonsense (no change there then) overwhelming any stories about how useless the government continues to be. And considering the year they've had, that'll be enough. Whatever conclusion the rest of us reach will be irrelevant, as our views have been from the beginning.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012 

John Yates says it's fine, so who are we to disagree?

Considering the amount of adverse comment on the holding of the Bahrain grand prix earlier in the year, it's fascinating to learn that our glorious government decided it was fine for officials from the Bahrani government to visit the DSEi arms fair in September of 2011. By contrast, those lily-livered Americans only gave the go ahead for weapon sales to resume in May of this year, and then supposedly they wouldn't be supplying anything that could be used for "crowd control".

We of course couldn't care less about the citizens of countries whose governments are just one step removed from major allies like Saudi Arabia, while we pretend to care deeply about the civilians in Syria, closely allied as the Assad regime is with Iran. It's not exactly surprisisng then that there has been almost no coverage whatsoever of the protests in Qatif in the House of Saud's happy kingdom, this New York Times piece a notable exception. When there's tens of thousands protesting against the most tyrannical ruling class in the whole of the Middle East, it's about time those who have been romanticising the Free Syrian Army changed the record.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012 

Time for Clegg to go nuclear.

And so, predictably, almost inevitably, the latest attempt to reform the House of Lords has ended in ignominy. It's difficult to know just who to blame the most, as there are so many candidates, and indeed so many traceable turds laying in this particular political creek. We can start perhaps with Nick Clegg, who just by virtue of being himself was probably enough to doom the whole enterprise. The second reason to poke Nicholas with a stick is that just as on the alternative vote, he and his party have settled on a miserable little compromise. In a desperate attempt to gain something of a legacy, they've settled on the frankly awful proposals for reform from the joint committee, who settled on a hodge podge. The only reason not to have a fully elected second chamber is pure tradition; if there really was a case for any peers to be appointed, then it would make far more sense for there to be a 50/50 split, not 80/20 as they settled on.

The joint committee also, ludicrously, said there should be a referendum. That politicians have been trying to change the Lords for 100 years and have (mostly) failed, with numerous promises in manifestos down the years having fallen by the wayside apparently makes no difference. If there was to be a referendum, then it would be a great opportunity to ask which option the public would favour, rather than just a plain yes or no on the compromise between the parties, but for potato's sake they should just get on with it already. Which brings us to the second guilty party: the dinosaurs on both benches. Angela Eagle claimed it was a victory for parliament, when it was in fact a triumph for conservatism. I don't have any quarrel with wanting to defeat the government come what may, but if you're going to do it then do so on the fact this was a flawed reform, not on the poxy timetable.

Next in line to shoulder the blame then is Labour as a whole. Being in opposition is all about opportunism, but blocking reform in this way makes absolutely no sense. If they were saying that they'd be prepared to work with the Lib Dems if the reform was changed for better, by making the Lords replacement 100% elected, and changing the ludicrous 15-year single terms to something more sensible such as 2 5-year stretches, then refusing to support them now would be fine. By instead insisting there should be a referendum when while in power they repeatedly tried to get it through without a plebiscite makes even more of a mockery of their time in office.

Finally then, we have the Tory leadership. Cameron famously described Lords reform as a "third-term issue", and he's proved it in the way that he's carried on appointing new peers like the place isn't going out of business (see what I did there?). If they had truly wanted to help their coalition partners out, then they could have done hell of a lot more to try and "persuade" the refuseniks on their own benches. Instead they've barely lifted a finger.

Rather than blaming Labour, this ought to finally make it clear to the Lib Dems that their being in the coalition has achieved nothing other than their current 8% rating in the polls. Their two major policies that have been put in place, the supposed pupil premium and the raising of the tax threshold to £10,000 are both self-defeating, in that the pupil premium is not new money and that the threshold gives more to the middle than it does to the bottom. They should forget about withdrawing support for the boundary review, and go nuclear: let the Tories govern as a minority. They can't currently go to the country as the polls are against them, so until that changes they wouldn't have any other option. Doing so might just save the Lib Dems from oblivion. Has Clegg got the guts to finally file for divorce from the Conservatives?

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Monday, July 09, 2012 

Surface to where?

With the possible exception of how you have to walk through the brand new Westfield shopping centre in order to reach the Olympic stadium, the best example of the innate madness of those involved in organising the games is the deployment of surface to air missiles at six separate locations across London. According to the Ministry of Defence, this is both "legitimate and proportionate". Understandably, the residents of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone beg to differ. While presumably meant to act as deterrent, as though terrorists on a "martyrdom operation" are going to be deterred by something which aims to stop them carrying out their mission "successfully", there's no point in putting them up unless you're also prepared to potentially use them.

Presuming then that the debris of a shot down passenger plane doesn't hit the Olympic Stadium itself, is it any more acceptable that the damage is spread over a wider area rather than one specific place? People on the ground will die, and buildings will be destroyed. If it is a passenger airliner that's hijacked, then the bodies of those on board will be spread over a large area, requiring first a massive investigation and then clear-up effort, making it highly unlikely that the games could continue until the work was completed. This of course is if the missiles are any use at all, and successfully intercept a hijacked aircraft. When deployed in the Falklands, the Rapier missiles scored only one confirmed "kill", while the Starstreak HVM's due to be sighted in Leytonstone have never been used in battle.

The reality is that since 9/11 al-Qaida has shown very little to no interest whatsoever in reprising that attack, reasoning that it takes a significant amount of time to train those involved in the plot to fly, with no guarantee that their mission will be successful due to increased security. Hence why there have been multiple attempts instead to bring down aircraft, either with bombs concealed in shoes, underpants, liquids or printer cartridges, all of which have nonetheless also failed or been disrupted. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that al-Qaida or any other group has done a volte face and decided hijacking is the way to go again, nor is there any intelligence to suggest that they're thinking on a smaller scale, either hijacking a helicopter or small plane and filling that with explosives, or using some sort of airborne transport to launch a Mumbai-style attack.

Why then is the government so determined to put anti-air batteries up when their only use would be to divert the death and destruction from one area to another? One suspects it's the same reasoning that lies behind there being more military personnel around Stratford than there are in Afghanistan: firstly that there's not much point paying soldiers to sit around doing nothing, or buying weapons only to leave them unwrapped at bases, and secondly that they genuinely seem to believe that people are "reassured" by their presence. While some might be content with squaddies conducting pat-downs, the idea that putting surface to air missiles on various tower blocks does anything other than scare people in general and particularly worry those living in the surrounding area is laughable. It's the action of a security state that believes more in the illusion of safety than in say, protecting or warning about the more viable threat of a small group of men armed with automatic rifles. Or indeed, with trying to ensure that there isn't another bout of rioting, which is about a million times more likely than any terrorist attack. That though would require a complete change in government policy, rather than just a scaling down in the level of security lunacy.

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Friday, July 06, 2012 

Crystal meth.

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Thursday, July 05, 2012 

The fix is in.

Well, we certainly learned a lot from today's parliamentary debate. Ed Balls, for one, has mad staring eyes when riled, whereas George Osborne has an upper lip that curls when he knows he's been caught out in a lie. Quite why Osborne thought that he could accuse Balls of being involved in trying to get the Libor rate lower when as it now seems he had no evidence whatsoever and get away with it is unclear, unless the omnishambles has unfathomably failed to put a dent in his hubris. It wasn't a case of the Labour party never being so rattled, as Osborne claimed, as it was Balls and others being outraged by false accusations, and as so often in politics, it's not the real examples of suffering that MPs could do something about that really motivate them, but rather personal so-called smears, even those that never happened.

The other fix then is in. Partially down to how Cameron had his fingers burned when he was bounced by Ed Miliband into setting up the Leveson inquiry, and partially down to his adherence to George's wheeze to blame everything on Labour, we have a parliamentary rather than an independent inquiry. Sure, they'll apparently take evidence under oath and will be "briefed" by QCs, but anyone who claims this isn't a poor substitute for a judge-led inquiry is lying to themselves. As Labour managed to dredge up, back when the boot was on the other foot the Tories were of course calling for an independent inquiry into banking as a whole, one they didn't get at the time. Now with the opportunity to launch one, they've ducked it.

All the stranger is that while Cameron was always likely to regret Leveson, having continued to employ Andy Coulson for reasons known only to himself, they are on the whole pretty clean on banking. Yes, they've been funded by the City, but then they always have been, and yes, they warned about excessive regulation when Ed Balls was in charge of making sure it was "light touch", but they can hardly be linked to the Libor fixing or the disasters that led to the bail outs. At worst they can share some of the blame for delaying the full nationalisation of Northern Rock, having disingenuously claimed it would take us back to the 70s, something that rattled Brown and Darling to the point of doing everything other than obvious, but that's a fairly minor point in the debacle. If Cameron and Osborne really believe that Shriti Vadera or whoever else was involved in telling the banks to set Libor lower so that they looked more secure than they were, then who's more likely to get to the truth, a judge and a QC or a cross-party group of MPs and Lords?

Osborne's gamble was that by linking Libor to Balls and friends it would therefore damage Labour's standing in the polls for economic credibility. If anything, it seems likely to have the opposite effect. All today's clusterfuck will have done is convince people that politicians, as ever, will fight amongst themselves and duck the big decisions when it has the potential to damage them personally. They'll have noticed this is just another exercise in blaming the last government for the mess everything's in, something they'll only put up with for so long, and about two years into a parliament as we now are is the limit. We already knew that Osborne is a tool whose powers of political strategy, if they were ever as impressive as claimed, have currently deserted him. More surprising is that Cameron was just as daft in going along with it.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012 

"Explosive revelations." Yeah, right.

It's not always a giggle, sitting down and reading the front page of the Graun on the evening after it went to bed. It most certainly won't be for Jill Treanor, Patrick Wintour and Heather Stewart, all of whom contributed to the report headlined "Diamond cuts up rough", presumably having been informed of the evidence Bob Diamond was going to give to the Treasury committee today:

The high-profile and outspoken banker is expected to unleash a wave of explosive revelations about the role of City watchdogs and senior Whitehall figures in the manipulation of crucial interest rates that landed the bank with a record £290m fine last week.

Just as it was expected (including by yours truly) that Rupert Murdoch would follow up his son's sensational dropping in it of Jeremy Hunt at the Leveson inquiry with more of the same only for him to do nothing of the sort, so we too waited in vain for Diamond to start dishing the dirt. The supposed "smoking gun" this time, the memo released by Barclays yesterday, which apparently showed that both the Bank of England and "Whitehall officials" had implied that Barclays was setting its own Libor rate too high, was almost dismissed by Diamond. It was important enough for him to make a note of the phone call he had with Paul Tucker, the deputy governor of the BoE, and then email it to the then chief executive and Jerry del Messier, who subsequently did interpret it as permission to fix the Libor rate lower, but Diamond instead took it as a warning that "Whitehall officials" were interpreting the high rate as meaning Barclays was in need of a bailout regardless of what the bank was saying. Tucker for his part has requested to appear before the committee next week and give his side of the story, which you have to suspect is now likely to back up Diamond's account.

Much of the rest of the session also resembled Murdoch senior's appearance before Leveson. Just as Keith couldn't be expected to take responsibility for the tens of thousands of workers under him, Diamond felt it was incredibly unfair that Barclays as a whole was being damaged due to the actions of just 14 traders. The concerns about the fixing of the rate had gone up to the "desk supervisor" levels, but no further. It didn't matter that Libor requests were often shouted across the trading floor, which normally would be a bit of a give away, as management figures were apparently in need of having their ears syringed. Diamond knew or had at least heard that all the other banks were attempting to fix their rates, and yet he didn't know of anything similar at the bank he loved until a month ago when he saw the Financial Services Authority's report. As for his potential severance package, which could be worth up to £22m, that was a matter for the board and the board only. There's as much chance as Diamond donating it to Shelter as John Mann suggested as there is Prince Charles reimbursing the taxpayer for the ridiculous 20 grand he spent chartering a jet from Aberdeen to London.

Quite why it is that the government is still insisting any inquiry into the Libor rate fixing has to be parliamentary and not independent is unclear. If they really want to nail Ed Balls to the wall, as George Osborne so clearly does, then why run the risk of Labour refusing to back an inquiry at all when an judge-led one would presumably reach the same result? There are plenty of good reasons for not holding an independent inquiry: few of them are ever worthy of the name (Leveson being a notable exception), they cost a bomb, and generally, they take longer to report than was first anticipated. Mostly they fail though because their focus is purely on employees or servants of the state, and the state has never been much cop at holding itself to account. Any wider inquiry into the banks would be the opposite of this. Moreover, today's evidence from the select committee showcased the flaws of parliamentary inquiries: every MP involved wants to ask at least one question, and not all are as forensic, composed or pointed in their phrasing and flow as a well prepared barrister can be, nor is Andrew Tyrie the equal of an authoritative, slightly world weary judge.

While it's impossible to dismiss the notion that Labour favours an independent inquiry as it will kick the whole subject slightly further down the road, not wanting to revisit their failure to regulate the banks properly, it's equally clear that both Cameron and Osborne seem determined to keep it in House for pure party political advantage. Osborne, the supposed great strategist and political brain who nonetheless delivered the omnishambolic budget, seems desperate to get the spotlight away from him and onto his opposite number. It doesn't matter that getting to the bottom of what really went wrong at the banks is ever so slightly more important than making Balls a temporary fall guy, this it seems is what the Conservatives are currently reduced to.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012 

Because they're worth it.

Here's a teaser: when does a journey of 542 miles cost £19,583? Stumped? Staggered that even the most exclusive charter company would ever dream of demanding nearly 20 grand to take a couple from Aberdeen to London? You shouldn't be. For this couple were, of course, members of the royal family. In the aftermath of last year's riots, it was decided that Charles and Camilla were needed to travel to the capital to show some sympathy for those who had lost everything. Rather than thinking it would make better sense to go first class by train and perhaps delay the feel your pain tour for a day, with the money saved going to a fund for the victims, they of course jumped straight on a plane. Today the Graun reports that thousands of claims for compensation following the riots have been rejected, while one couple whose flat was destroyed by fire received less than £2,000 in damages.

£19,583 is, it must be said, relatively cheap when set against the £67,215 expense of chartering a jet to fly Big Ears to Saudi Arabia to commiserate with the lovely ruling clique there on a death in the family. The Duke of Gloucester meanwhile went on a similar jaunt to Tonga, costing an incredible £91,381, while Edward and Sophie went to the human rights paradise Bahrain, a snip at a mere £18,068. Overall, £6.1m went on ferrying the royals about the place in the style to which they've become accustomed.

We have to keep in mind, you see, that as individuals we only pay 52p each a year for the entire shower, a sum which will now barely get you a Mars bar from the local corner shop. Frankly I'd rather have the chocolate but we have to accept that for some strange reason that the first people to be famous simply because they're famous are incredibly popular. Who cares if all they do is wander around, shake hands with the occasional unpleasant person and then go back to being waited on for the rest of the day? £19,583 is clearly a small price to pay for the effect that Chaz 'n' Cams must have had on those they visited, even if Haringey isn't exactly what you'd call a hotbed of royalism.

Why then should be we worry about little things like how that £19,583 could have paid for a whole year's worth of Jobseeker's Allowance for 5 people unable to find work? Quite clearly we shouldn't because, to judge by the number of sanction referrals coming from those companies contracted to provide the Work programme, most of those on the benefit are workshy ingrates who need some very tough love to get them back into the jobs market. Collectively, they asked the Jobcentre to sanction claimants on 111,000 occasions, with the advisers agreeing with their decisions less than a third of the time. Sanctions vary from benefit being cut to being stopped all together, for periods ranging from a week up to six months. As Richard Whittell from Corporate Watch put it, at the current rate more will have lost their benefit through the Work programme than been employed through it.

This it seems is the new reality of the welfare state under the coalition. Where Labour brought in the Work Capability Assessment, administered by Atos, currently inflicting misery on thousands of the disabled and sick who are being told they are in fact fit for work, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have turned their attention to punishing the unemployed despite there not being enough jobs to go round, or the economic growth needed for the Work programme to operate with even the slightest chance of success. It doesn't matter that this is self-defeating, as shown by how a small percentage of those placed on Mandatory Work Activity ended up on Employment and Support Allowance as an apparent result of being forced to work for their meagre £71.00 a week, it goes down well with the hard pressed that do have jobs. An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph found that an overwhelming 56% thought the benefit system was too generous as it stands, with only 12% saying it should be more generous, and 24% thinking it was about right. 48% said that JSA should be time-limited, with 36% disagreeing. There were more even splits on some of the other specific policies David Cameron set out in his speech last Monday, but nothing that will make the Tories think again about trying to ram through such changes.

For as John Harris sets out, to be on benefits at the moment is an incredibly lonely place. About the only support you're likely to receive is from the unions, as politicians of all hues are terrified of being seen as soft on scroungers. The Labour party, rather than directly opposing the abolition of housing benefit for the under 25s, instead concentrates on criticising the administration, rather than the changes in criteria, seeing this as a "safe" area where it won't face the opprobrium of the Daily Mail. Those on the Labour benches who have previously spoken out, such as Emily Thornberry, brought up on a council estate by a single mother reliant on benefits, have gone silent. Individual MPs, whose constituency caseloads must be overflowing with the fallout from those told they no longer qualify for ESA, are also being slow to admit how many people the system is currently failing.

As the largesse thrown towards not just the royals but also the Olympics shows, the idea that there's no money left or that we can no longer afford an "unreformed" welfare state is a nonsense. It comes down to a choice of how we want our society to look like, as David Cameron acknowledged last week. When we can subsidise the chartering of jets by our social betters to foreign climes simply because another royal in a far away land has died, or pay the likes of A4E the equivalent of £11,000 for every person they manage to get in work, then we must be able to provide people with living standards that ensure they don't have to rely on food banks. My fear is the same as John Harris's and that of the police: that rather than improving, things have only got worse since last year's riots. The exclusion some are going to feel when Olympics fever is shoved down their throats is hardly going to help, and with the police liable to being even more trigger happy than usual while the greatest show on earth is on, it's hard not to see the potential for a situation similar to the one in the aftermath of the shooting of Mark Duggan arising again. And if it does happen, they can't say this time that they haven't been warned.

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