Friday, November 30, 2012 

Blue meanie.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012 

Free press with all four volumes.

Despite everything that was said beforehand and will no doubt be bellowed from the editorials of the majority of the press tomorrow, Sir Brian Leveson's report is both cautious and carefully calculated.  When he started chairing the inquiry, he made clear that he had no intention of doing so if his final recommendations were to be ignored as the previous 6 commissions into the press more or less had been.  The almost 2,000 pages he's served up, and in such a relatively short period of time, itself extraordinary considering how long we've waited for other inquiries to report, reflect this precisely.  Politicians and the police are criticised, but for the most part in lawyerly language which declines to condemn them outright.  The tabloid press by contrast is excoriated, and considering that Leveson was limited in what he could write on phone hacking due to the upcoming trials, he couldn't have gone much further.

They can hardly say they weren't warned, and they also can't complain that it wasn't pretty much apparent from early on that statutory underpinning would be one of the key recommendations.  It cannot be stated often enough, and Leveson himself makes this point repeatedly, that the media as a whole have had plenty of opportunities to institute an effective, genuinely independent form of self-regulation.  They flunked the test in 1992, they failed again following the death of Princess Diana, and they refused to even admit there was a problem after both the jailing of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire and the publication of the What Price Privacy? report.  Indeed, the Press Complaints Commission all but guaranteed its own extinction when rather than criticise the News of the World, it chose to attack the Guardian for supposedly exaggerating its reports on the scale of hacking at the now closed paper.

Even after all this, some sections of the press have devoted their time to attacking Leveson personally rather than accepting that for too long there was a complete lack of ethics and morals in old Fleet Street.  Away from the News International stable, which has for the most part kept quiet, recognising if they were to get too involved in the "Free Speech Network" it would be taken even less seriously than it has been, the Daily Mail has upped the ante in their stead.

Long ago alerted to how heavily he would be personally criticised by Leveson, Paul Dacre gave the go-ahead for a fantastically amusing 12-page long hatchet job on adviser to the inquiry Sir David Bell, variously linked by the paper to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Common Purpose, the Media Standards Trust and the Orwell Prize, which dared to give an award to Johann Hari before it was rescinded.  Common Purpose for those not aware is one of the conspiratorial right's favourite organisations, as they deign to see its machinations behind everyone and everything vaguely on the left.  You expect the likes of James Delingpole to fall for such crap, but not Dacre, for the simple reason that he's not an idiot.  When he then splashes with a piece that describes CP as "a giant octopus" and "a quasi-masonic nexus", the only explanation has to be quite how rattled he is at the potential for a change in tabloid culture.

It's on this culture that Leveson is at his strongest.  His identification of the "aggressive defence" often made by the tabloids when they are subjected to even the merest criticism is spot on (pages 481-2 of Volume II), as is his noting of three separate parts to this defence, both the overt types of intimidation, such as the messages sent to Richard Peppiatt and the mother of Hugh Grant's child, the fear of or actual retaliation in the papers themselves, such as when JK Rowling's daughter was pictured in the press after she asked them not to publish her address, and lastly ad hominem criticism on third parties, such as the attacks on Justice Eady after he ruled in favour of Max Mosley.  Paul Dacre notably described Eady as "amoral" in a speech to the Society of Editors, a lecture he concluded with a whine about Nick Davies' Flat Earth News and how criticism of the "popular press" was doing huge, unjust harm to it.  There's been no suggestion Dacre has changed his mind since.

Where Leveson fails to do himself justice is in those half-hearted criticisms of both politicians and police.  David Cameron crowed in the Commons about how his party had been cleared of doing a deal with News International over the takeover of Sky in exchange for support at the election, something the judge was never going to be able to prove when any such deal was hardly going to be written down and all those involved would always strenuously deny any such thing took place.  Such deals are almost always conducted with a nod and a wink, not with a paper trail.

Cameron additionally claimed Jeremy Hunt had been cleared of all wrongdoing, which isn't quite the full truth.  Yes, Leveson does find there wasn't "any credible evidence of actual bias on the part of Mr Hunt", but he is highly critical of the role played by Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith in his dealings with News International's lobbyist Fred Michel, which do give rise to a "perception of bias".  As Labour argued at the time, ministers are responsible for their SpAds, and the idea that Hunt didn't know what Smith was doing is absurd.  If it hadn't been for the Graun's exposure of the Milly Dowler hacking, News International would now almost certainly be in full control of BSkyB, with all that would have entailed for press plurality.  Hunt would have been more than happy had the takeover gone ahead.

Much as Leveson's recommendations were expected, so was David Cameron's refusal to countenance any form of statutory regulation, including that of a simple underpinning.  To be fair to Cameron, he is in an almost impossible position: go along with legislation and he enrages a media which is already none too enthusiastic about him, as well as the Tory right; reject it and he risks being defeated by an unholy alliance of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and rebel Tories, while also going back on a pledge he made to support Leveson's proposals unless they were "bonkers".

The recommendations are not bonkers, but Cameron is right to be extremely wary.  The current form of press self-regulation has never been anything of the kind, and it's also the case that the current proposals for reform from Lords Hunt and Black are nowhere near good enough.  They are the continuation of the failed cartel of the past, as the Independent, Evening Standard, Guardian and Financial Times have also recognised.  Leveson's recommendations on how they can be improved are excellent, and to judge from Trevor Kavanagh's appearance on Newsnight, even the old Fleet Street die-hards seems to realise that nothing less than their implementation will be sufficient.  If an agreement can be reached between media groups, then Leveson's proposed statutory underpinning might not be necessary, as the judge himself makes clear.

If this banging of heads together fails to result in an improvement, however, there seems little option other than to implement the statutory part of Leveson's proposals.  For all the hysterical bawling about Mugabe and Iran, and how even the merest form of legislation could lead to a slippery slope, something that isn't always a fallacious argument, we really should try everything other than statute.  The point surely though is that we've been here before.  To descend into the clichéd analogies of the day, much as we don't want to cross the rubicon, staying in the last chance saloon for one more round isn't going to cut it either.  

Unless a personal intervention from a cross-party delegation can convince the press groupings to put aside their personal differences and hang-ups to organise a truly independent form of self-regulation, then the government is going to have to step in.  This might be horrendously unfair on the former broadsheets, most magazines and the regional press, but it's been the hubris of the populars and their editors that have led inexorably to this point.  Nemesis has duly followed.  The least Dacre, Desmond, Murdoch and Trinity Mirror can do now is ensure that their failures and abuses don't lead to restrictions across the board.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012 

I'd like to give William Hague a few assurances as well.

How times change.  In Tony Blair's dog days, his refusal to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war was in contrast to the stance of David Cameron's newly detoxified Conservative party, with William Hague denouncing the destruction of much of southern Lebanon as "disproportionate".  To begin with, it looked as though the Conservatives allied with the Liberal Democrats would continue with this more critical stance on Israel now they were in power: Cameron, visiting Turkey in the aftermath of the raid on the Gaza flotilla, described the impoverished and cut-off territory as a "prison camp".

It couldn't last.  After Hague decided that Hamas had "principal responsibility" for the week long slaughter fest in Gaza, ignoring entirely the timeline of events leading up to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabar, and how this was by no means the first time Israel has launched an attack on the Palestinians with an election fact approaching, we now have the truly pitiful decision to abstain on the application for non-member observer status at the UN.  In the first place, to demand assurances from the Palestinian Authority in itself shows the disparity between what we ask of Israel, whom we merely chastise when they steal the identities of British citizens to kill a minor Hamas figure, and the recognised representatives of a people we helped put in this mess.

It's also that at least the first of the "assurances" demanded is so outrageous.  Just what exactly is the point of requiring the PA to return to peace talks without conditions when it's so abundantly clear that Israel is not prepared to make even the slightest of concessions, even as a gesture of goodwill?  If there is ever going to be a negotiated peace and a two-state solution, then the building of settlements in the occupied West Bank has to end.  It really is that simple.  Requesting that the PA set aside this most basic of requirements, one which it has to be remembered the Obama administration also demanded from the Israelis and was ignored over is ridiculous.

Indeed, this refusal by the Israelis to put even a temporary halt to settlement building is exactly what led to the process at the UN from the PA in the first place: they recognised, sadly, that the talks were going nowhere due to consistent Israeli intransigence, often backed by the US.  The Palestine papers revealed that Condoleezza Rice told them they would never have a state if they didn't accept that the settlements of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim would remain Israeli territory, regardless of the illegality of both under international law.  The PA by contrast offered what even Tzipi Livni recognised was the "biggest Jerusalem in history", and yet was still rebuffed.

Easier to understand is Hague's second required "assurance", that should the PA gain non-member observer status they won't attempt to pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court.  Just as we were embarrassed by the attempt to have Livni arrested when she visited the UK, so we would be forever in the US's bad books should their true foremost ally find itself in trouble at the ICC.  The US of course refused to join lest its own overseas adventures come under scrutiny, leading Israel to make the same decision despite initially signing the Rome statute, most "moral military" on the planet or otherwise.

Hague's claim then that the PA's attempt to gain recognition could set back the peace process is a nonsense.  There is no peace process to be set back, for the reason that the situation on the ground has changed, both in Israel and Palestine.  Never has it been so clear that Israel's aim is to make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible, such is the continued colonisation of the West Bank and the near to completion construction of the wall separating the occupied territory from Israel.  Anything less than something approaching the 1967 borders will be unacceptable to the Palestinian people, and Israel has no intention of repeating the evacuation of Gaza, even if it were to lead to peace.  At the same time, the PA has become almost an irrelevance, weakened both by Israel's emasculation of the West Bank and the rise of Hamas.  Rightly or not, the Palestinian and the Arab street see the resistance of Hamas as achieving results, while the PA's recognition of Israel has led to 20 years of unrelenting occupation.

If anything, the reluctance of some western states to support the Palestinian bid is likely to further weaken the PA and so the merest chance of a return to negotiations than it being the other way around.  They have after all tried renouncing violence, recognising Israel, face-to-face talks under successive American administrations, and applying for full recognition from the UN Security Council, all so far for nowt.  Non-member observer status would provide a moment of respite.  By not supporting even this slight move towards statehood for Palestine, it just further highlights the utter hypocrisy of our support for some liberation movements while stymieing the baby steps of others.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012 

The coalition isn't working.

The news that the government's much vaunted work programme isn't working is about as much of a surprise as the equally exciting discovery that some people when living abroad adopt the mannerisms and even accent of their hosts, including, horror of horrors, footballers and football managers.

Much as the coalition is deserving of a kicking for setting up a programme it knew was untested, similarities to the Flexible New Deal aside, it should instead be receiving a veritable truckload of opprobrium for one of its very first acts of vandalism, one that we've discussed before.  The abolition of Labour's Future Jobs Fund, where the young unemployed were found subsidised work with local charities and paid at least the minimum wage, was one of the most vindictive and counter-productive decisions made by the new government.  A study commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (PDF) and peer-reviewed by The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has found that those who had took part in the scheme were 11% more likely to be in unsubsidised employment than those who hadn't, while they were also 7% less likely to be in receipt of benefits.

Contrast this to the data released today on the work programme.  The government set the 18 various contractors (mostly private firms) the target of getting 5.5% of those referred to them into a job for six months.  Not a single one has managed to achieve this: most successful was Maximus, which missed the target by 0.4%, while the worst performer was JHP, which found sustainable jobs for just 220 of the 11,820 people referred to them, or a pitiful 2.2%.  Even if we accept the argument from both the government and the contractors that these are initial figures which will improve, and the average achievement rate doubles to 7% as problems are ironed out, then the scheme with still have failed to be anywhere near as effective as the FJF was.

It's true that this is hardly the first government to ignore evidence which isn't helpful to its wider political aims.  Gordon Brown ignored the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and reclassified cannabis as Class B, while Lord Goldsmith famously changed his tune on the legality of the Iraq war for reasons we can only speculate on (as a side note, it's worth remembering that the Chilcot inquiry is still to report while Leveson is due to on Thursday, despite both hearing a similar amount of evidence).  A reasonable government would though have waited for the evidence on the FJF to come in before taking any action on it either way.  Likewise, when confronted with the study on the mandatory work activity programme, which showed that its effect was so severe on some referred onto it that they were soon claiming employment and support allowance, a responsible government would have either modified it drastically or abandoned it.  Instead, then minister Chris Grayling provided funding for another 9,000 places.

While the refusal to change MWA looked as though it was influenced by the determination of this government to be seen as punishing "scroungers", something it has most certainly achieved, the fixation on the work programme doesn't seem to be helping anyone.  It certainly isn't helping the vast majority of the long-term unemployed; it's making the firms running the scheme look fairly useless; it isn't saving any money as more than ever is being spent on jobseeker's allowance; and as  the politicians themselves are privately admitting, to Nick Robinson at least, the scheme is a "failure", so it's hardly doing much for them.

This doesn't mean the FJF should be reintroduced as it was: as the man who ran the scheme argues, it should have been improved and better run, as almost any government programme could.  It more than suggests however that in this instance at least the state needs to have a role, even if it's only to subsidise those who need not just opportunity but also a decent wage in order to then move on.  As this goes against everything the modern Conservative party believes, the likelihood of ministers changing their minds is even lower than the percentage of sustainable jobs provided by JHP.

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Monday, November 26, 2012 

Sensitivity, anti-Semitism and Steve Bell.

Back in 2002, the New Statesman was quite rightly criticised after it ran the above front cover.  Picturing a Star of David pinning down the very centre of the union flag, while asking whether there was a "kosher conspiracy" involving lobbying from advocates of Israel, it invoked the most classic of anti-Semitic tropes whether that was the intention or not.  Editor at the time Peter Wilby apologised, and ran an editorial admitting that he personally had gotten it badly wrong.

10 years on, the readers' editor at the Graun has been moved to comment on the above Steve Bell cartoon, ran the day after the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari.  Mainly responding to a couple of letters to the paper from Mark Gardner of the Community Support Trust as well as online criticism, Chris Elliot concludes his piece by saying that in his view, journalists should "not use the language – including the visual language – of antisemitic stereotypes".  It is undoubtedly the case that Jews have in the past been caricatured as powerful puppet masters, although more usually as pulling strings rather than wielding politicians as glove puppets.

If the cartoon does then echo an anti-Semitic stereotype, however unconsciously, does that by definition make it anti-Semitic?  In this instance I would suggest it does not.  Bell states, and Elliot recognises that he has often depicted politicians as either puppets or subservient to others (Tony Blair was at times a poodle to George Bush's chimp), and Bell argues that on this occasion his intention was no different.  Bell says the whole point of the cartoon is Benjamin Netanyahu's cynicism and his manipulation of the situation leading up to the launching of Operation Pillar of Defence, with Blair and William Hague unwilling to criticise his actions despite this being a repeat of the tactics of past Israeli leaders as elections approach.

It's an argument I myself have made, and while I can see why the depiction of Blair and Hague as glove puppets will be seen by some as either lazy or offensive, taken as a whole the cartoon is clearly not anti-Semitic.  As Bell says, the entire cartoon is a take on a photograph of Netanyahu giving a statement to the media, where the backdrop was Israeli flags and there was a menorah on the lectern.  As often as there is a fine line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and it's one where the left at times accepts prejudice it would never tolerate elsewhere, the cartoon isn't even the former; it's an attack on a politician and how he presents himself, not a country or a racial group.  It does not, even obliquely, imply that Jews as a whole are "omnipotent conspirators" as the Jewish Chronicle quoted Jeremy Brier as saying, even if it can be argued it does fall into the stereotype of depicting a Jew as a puppeteer.

The irony will not be lost on some that the Graun is the paper most associated, rightly or wrongly, with political correctness, and has on occasion ran some utterly loopy pieces on perceived bigotry.  In this case it seems to have to a certain degree reaped what it has sown, while also falling victim to those groups that do treat any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.  While there is nothing wrong with going to great lengths in a bid to be sensitive, what should not be silenced is legitimate criticism of politicians of any race, colour or creed for fear that a stereotype might be touched upon, regardless of the medium through which it is made.

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Saturday, November 24, 2012 

Belfry tower.

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Friday, November 23, 2012 

Apparent inadvertent double entendre in satire of the week.

As a hardworking constituency MP, unlike some others I could mention from Planet Westminster, I can't wait to get back to my lovely people right away and share some of the amazing things I've learned on their behalf. Next time someone starts complaining to me about "food poverty", I will lead them to the nearest camel toe!

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Thursday, November 22, 2012 

David Cameron is duly invited to the vomitorium.

All things considered, there are relatively few things I find so anathema that they make me feel physically ill.  Coming from someone who was so often throwing up at one point that I was ironically nicknamed "sick", factor in I barely feel comfortable in my own skin at most times, and this is quite the statement.  Compare me to David Cameron for instance, who finds the mere prospect of prisoners gaining the right to vote so terrible that he gets the urge to purge, and it's apparent my constitution is positively cast iron.

Cameron is by no means the only politician moved to blow chunks at having to give the franchise to those currently detained at her majesty's pleasure.  Truth be told, I'd wager the vast majority couldn't care less or quite probably even privately support giving some behind bars the opportunity if they so wish to vote.  It's that this is something being forced on them by the European Court of Human Rights.  If there's one thing politicians can't stand it's being told that they have to do something, unless of course it's the Daily Mail or the Sun doing the ordering, in which case they immediately hop to it.  Combine this with how it's the European court saying we have to change the law, even if the ECHR doesn't have anything to do with the European Union, as well as how this is about the supposed human rights of those who some on the right feel should count themselves lucky they aren't given just bread and water and left with only a bucket to piss and shit in, and it's a no brainer.  If they can't pontificate about this at pompous length, just what can they hiss and moan about?

Sadly, like it or not, the government has to look as though it's at least starting the process of changing the law or the Council of Europe might start imposing a few tiny fines over our intransigence.  In reality it's not so much the Council the government's worried about as it is prisoners starting legal action demanding compensation for being denied their rights, something that will almost certainly cost far more than any fines from Europe.

In line with the deadline set by the ECHR expiring tomorrow, the coalition has then duly set out the earliest possible draft of its prospective legislation (PDF).  In clear defiance of the court is that one of the options available to MPs will be to vote against any prisoners gaining the franchise, with the other choices to extend it to those serving sentences of less than 6 months and 4 years respectively.  Since the last skirmish over these proposals, the legal situation has changed slightly, as the draft bill sets out.  The grand chamber of the ECHR found in the case of Scoppola v. Italy (No.3) that it wasn't necessary for the judge at the time of sentencing to specifically remove the right to vote from the guilty party.  It did however reaffirm the principle that a blanket ban was discriminatory, so the inclusion of the do nothing option in the draft bill is the equivalent of sticking two fingers up to the court.

As Joshua Rozenberg (always worth remembering Rozenberg is married to Melanie Phillips, so he must have had a really enjoyable past week) sets out though, the government does still have significant leeway.  The ECHR doesn't demand that the law be changed immediately; merely that they set in motion the process of altering it.  This it has duly done, albeit at the last possible moment.  Whether the eventual published bill will make its way to the statute book before the next election is therefore highly doubtful.

Nonetheless, by including the status quo option at all the government seems to be setting itself up for a fall.  If it had really wanted to make things difficult for the ECHR while still complying with successive rulings, it could have gone for an even shorter limit than 6 months; why not 3 months, or 4 weeks?  It may well be that the joint committee will subsequently reject the option of offering no change in the bill, but that seems unlikely considering the strength of feeling among MPs.  The thinking appears to be that as long as the issue is defined in law, regardless of how, the court will have to bow to the will of parliament.

Not only is this foolish considering the legal advice, it's at odds with the coalition's somewhat enlightened views on attempting to reduce the level of reoffending.  Only this week Chris Grayling announced that all those sentenced to a year or less would be given a mentor on release who would try to guide them away from a return to crime, a sound idea, albeit one that needs resources and ingenuity the government and its favoured private sector contractors tend not to have.  Recognising that cutting those serving short sentences off from society until the day they're dumped back on the street is damaging rather than beneficial ought to be the first step towards designing a rehabilitation programme that truly works.  By allowing those serving under a year to vote if they so wish would be a further sign that regardless of what they've done, they will shortly be a member of their local community again, with all the rights and responsibilities (ugh) that entails.  Plus, if it means David Cameron and Tory backbenchers heaving as they go through the division lobbies, that's an incalculable bonus.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012 

Already looking forward to the next.

The news coming through this evening that a ceasefire has been agreed between Israel and Hamas is undoubtedly welcome.  Any halt to the violence, however short-lived, is to be applauded.  In practice however, the agreement brokered by Egypt has done little more than return us to the situation prior to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari last Wednesday.  While in theory the deal calls for the opening of the crossings into Gaza, the implementation of the lifting of the economic blockade of the strip is only to be discussed after 24 hours of "de-escalation", more than suggesting that as has happened before, further progress is highly unlikely.  Dubious as it always was that Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak would have countenanced any loosening of the blockade when the whole point of "Operation Pillar of Defense" was to show themselves as strong, decisive military leaders before a waiting electorate, the deal seems to have merely set up the next assault on a terrorised territory and its imprisoned people.

The deal seems to have achieved little for Hamas either.  Once again, their infrastructure in Gaza has been either destroyed or substantially damaged, and the people that both support and oppose them have suffered terribly in the process.  They may have shown they've acquired longer range missiles, yet the ability to fire rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem serves little purpose when they either fail to hit their targets (if there is one in the first place) or are intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.  The initial sounding of raid alarms in those cities might have a psychological effect in the short term and lead a few Israelis to wonder whether they really are being wisely led by their politicians, especially seeing as it was only after the assault on Gaza began that the Fajr-5s were fired, but it's liable to be fleeting in the extreme.

Also overstated has been the impact of the Arab spring.  Apart from visits to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister, the Turkish foreign minister and a slight increase in the number of (newly elected) politicians denouncing Israel in no uncertain terms, hardly anything has really changed.  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have picked up where Mubarak left off, acting as intermediaries for ceasefire deals while refusing to open the crossing into Gaza that would have let some of the population escape the bombing.  When the far-right Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman praises Mohamed Morsi for his role, then it's clear that while the faces have changed the same old alliances remain.

Nor have our leaders altered their tune one iota.  Who knows whether behind the scenes pressure was put on Netanyahu not to launch a ground offensive as his predecessors did; what we do know is that there's been barely a word of public criticism for how the offensive was conducted.  Israel has once again got away with targeting ambulances, journalists, and targets that simply can't be in any way construed as connected with Hamas, while the deaths of innocents alongside alleged militants are no longer even "collateral damage", rather "operational failures".  

Look at the difference when it comes to an attack within Israel: the explosion on the bus in Tel Aviv happened directly outside the building where the IDF has been conducting its media operations from.  For all we know, the person who apparently threw the bomb onto the bus may well have been specifically targeting someone who works there and had just left the building.  Instantly however, both the wider media and politicians referred to it as a terrorist attack.  If that's a terrorist attack, and it's a description I wouldn't demur from, then what was the extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari, a man who Israel had long worked with to contain the situation in Gaza, an attack that also killed innocent bystanders?

As so often in the past, this difference in approach is then reinforced by reporting that at worst actively dehumanises the Palestinians.  Jodi Rudoren's report for the New York Times of the Dalu family's funerals seemed determined to emphasise these apparent differences: they don't so much mourn as accept their fate, such is the "culture of martyrdom that pervades this place", nor are they "overcome with emotion nor fed up, perhaps because the current casualty count pales in comparison to the 1,400 lost four years ago".  Rudoren's inference seems clear: only when so many are killed does their numbness and anger get overwhelmed by sadness.  In posts on her Facebook page, Rudoren went further, saying the reaction from some of those who had lost relatives was "ho-hum".  Even the usually excellent Jeremy Bowen made similar references on his 10 O'Clock News broadcast last night.

It's true that some of the most hardline figures in Gaza do put martyrdom and resistance above everything else, and this is always going to be most evident when the international media are around.  That this is anything approaching universal however is utter nonsense, as countless photographs from Gaza show.  Whether it's the death of family members or the loss of their home, Palestinians, amazingly, do have emotions.  Cut them and they bleed.  

Remarkably, it's also the case as was shown during Operation Cast Lead that a minority of Israelis positively delight in the bombing of Gaza, when hundreds travelled to a hill overlooking the territory to get a better view of the assault.  We don't though tend to hear about how Israel has a militaristic culture, and that Arabs are too often treated as second-class citizens, as the former would be a generalisation much too far which would only ever feature, if at all, in a comment piece.  Rudoren it should be noted later clarified her comments after she was criticised by the Mondoweiss blog, but her piece in the Times has not been altered to reflect that.  Where she was right is this is a conflict that no one in the world actually wants to seem to solve, and today's events have not taken us closer to any sort of resolution.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012 

Neither one thing nor the other.

I realise it's a motif I've been over-dependent on recently, but such has been the scale of bullshit of late that it's been difficult not to feel like we've been mysteriously plunged into a parallel universe.  A couple of months back David Cameron appeared before the UN general assembly, and reaching for the most emotive imagery he could muster, he said the UN had been stained by the blood of children killed in Syria.  Not, you'll note, that China and Russia had the deaths of protesters on their consciences through their blocking of security council resolutions, but that the UN itself was in some way responsible for the impasse.  As for our own role, we naturally couldn't be blamed for having abused the doctrine of the responsibility to protect in Libya, overthrowing Gaddafi when the UN resolution which authorised the no-fly zone called for a ceasefire between the two sides, and so setting Russia and China dead against any repeat.

The use of language similar to Cameron's could of course never be countenanced in relation to Israel.  It doesn't matter how many minors are accidentally killed, or even deliberately targeted, of which there have been 1,338 since September 2000 in both the West Bank and Gaza, their blood simply isn't worth as much.  The closest our politicians have ever come to denouncing Israeli tactics is debating whether or not reducing much of Lebanon and Gaza to rubble is "disproportionate".  Those with exceptional memories might recall that during the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war William Hague went so far as to use the D word, much to the outrage of Stephen Pollard.  Once in power, the Tories have returned to type, with Hague declaring Hamas "bears principal responsibility" for the latest murderous assault on an tiny, impoverished, cut-off territory.

Imagine my lack of surprise then when Hague stood up in the Commons today and announced that we would recognise the newly formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  This is a group formed out of the ashes of the Syrian National Council, the previous attempt by exiles to rally support for the Syrian opposition, and one which had next to no support from within Syria itself, reminiscent of the exile groups which had a major hand in pushing for the invasion of Iraq.  Despite claims that this new formation is more representative and appealing to those actually fighting Assad's forces, rebels in Aleppo have already rejected its imposition on them.

Our vote of confidence in the national coalition is also in spite of how its leader, described almost universally as a moderate in our press, has some views that would doubtless sit comfortably with the more fundamentalist fighters.  Angry Arab notes that Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, in a series of posts on his blog, variously describes one of Saddam Hussein's positives as he "terrified the Jews" (amongst other anti-Semitic remarks), Shiites as "rejectionists" and Facebook as a possible US-Israeli intelligence ploy.  He also believes masturbation causes TB, and praises Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric the Tories took such a disliking to when Ken Livingstone brought him to London.

Isn't this almost irrelevant when the most important thing is to get rid of Assad?  Well yes, but clearly we have different standards when it comes to the Palestinians.  By any measure Hamas has far more popular support than this latest Syrian concoction, and yet we refuse to recognise it and its right to defend the people of Gaza against Israeli aggression.  Leaving aside Hamas, William Hague also made clear today that the government is yet to make its mind up as to whether support the move by the Palestinian Authority to apply for recognition at the UN general assembly.  If we won't even support the move by the Fatah leadership when we supposedly still want two states, why pursue such similarly futile gestures when it comes to Syria?

It's fairly apparent that despite the whisperings in the ear of Nick Robinson we have little to no intention of arming the Syrian opposition, let alone going further and actively intervening.  The most we seem willing to provide is communications equipment, and frankly, that's one thing the Syrian fighters on the ground seem to have plenty of.  I'm incidentally all for the arming of the Syrian opposition if the anti-aircraft missiles the rebels are desperate for head straight afterwards to Gaza to be used in self-defence against fighter jets, but not if they're soon being used to target passenger planes, something al-Qaida has previous in.

Our position is ultimately neither one thing nor the other.  We support the Saudis in wanting to maintain the Sunni domination of the Middle East while weakening Iran, not so much as mentioning the unpleasantness in Qatif, Bahrain or indeed in Jordan, and yet we leave the actual arming of those pursuing what has turned into a sectarian war in Syria to other people.  This peeves the Saudis and Qataris, and also peeves those like me who see the hypocrisy in our position of wanting a free Middle East except in those places where we always have and always will support despots.  Meanwhile, we ignore those who've yearned for their own state for over 60 years, while recognising a group which was created last Tuesday and has no real support whatsoever as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  Once upon a time, we were colonalists.  Now we simply act as though we still are.

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Monday, November 19, 2012 

The cynicism of a terrorist state, exacerbated by the uselessness of the media.

There seems to be only one constant when it comes to Israel and Palestine: media coverage becomes more and more unbalanced.  Every separate assault by the Israelis on Gaza is treated as though it occurs in a vacuum, and is only launched with great reluctance in response to rocket fire from the territory Israel so bravely disengaged from.  At the end of last week the BBC news website made it look as though it was Hamas attacking Israel, and not the other way round.  There is very little, if any examination of the difference between the missiles launched from Gaza by resistance groups, often home-made, antiquated and weak, and the finest weaponry money can buy as used by the Israelis, and yet these attacks are reported as though they are all but identical.

Away from the accounts provided by sites such as Electronic Intifada, which notes this latest outbreak of violence effectively began when a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by the IDF while he was playing football, sparking a wave of retaliatory rocket attacks, the most honest piece to feature in a British newspaper was in the Graun, written by the deputy head of Hamas's political bureau.  This is how skewed reporting on Gaza has become: while the IDF tweets incessantly and Israeli politicians and spokesmen use almost the exact same formulations as they did four years previous, all of which is lapped up by the mainstream media and barely questioned, those associated with Hamas, a supposed terrorist organisation dedicated to the destruction of Israel, are the ones telling the closest to the truth.

We shouldn't be in the slightest bit surprised then at the specific targeting of buildings used by Hamas's TV station (as well as foreign journalists) to try and get their side of the story across.  One such strike today killed three members of Islamic Jihad, with the IDF tweeting soon after that the men were hiding there and "not to be interviewed".  How they knew all of this is anyone's guess; what's clear is that their intelligence isn't always so good, as shown by yesterday's strike on the home of the Dalou family.  Believing that a Hamas target was inside the house, the IDF apparently wasn't aware or more likely didn't care that a strike on him would also kill innocents.  As it was, 10 members of the Dalou family were massacred, including 4 children.  The target wasn't among them.

Then again, in the eyes of Israeli politicians, the IDF and indeed much of the media, there is no such thing as an innocent Gazan citizen.  Anyone and anything can be targeted as long as they can be linked with Hamas, however tenuously.  Buildings struck are Hamas buildings; schools are Hamas-run, as are hospitals.  During Operation Cast Lead, the wholesale murder of police officers was justified on the basis they were Hamas police officers, and the argument has since been taken to its logical conclusion.  Israel is of course perfectly prepared to make long-standing agreements with Hamas, whereby Hamas pledges to do the best it can to keep rocket fire from other militant groups to a minimum in return for a cessation of air strikes, but when it's election time and there are votes to be won from an ever more hardline public, Hamas once again becomes the implacable genocidal foe that must be put out of commission once and for all.

It's this murderous cynicism that sickens more than anything.  It's not just Palestinians whose lives are put in the balance by this most vile form of electioneering, although they are overwhelming those most at risk; it's the Israelis in the path of the rockets who face uncertainty too.  As pathetic as the rockets fired from Gaza mostly are, 3 Israelis were killed directly as a consequence of the policies pursued by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, believing that they can succeed where Kadima failed before.  They are backed to the hilt by our own leaders, who while condemning the bloodshed in Syria and say something must be done about Assad wring their hands over the carnage in Gaza, putting the blame almost wholly on Hamas.  In the US, one of the senators urging the arming of the Syrian rebels threatened Egypt with the cutting off of aid if they "kept inciting violence between the Israelis and Palestinians".   This same man would like the Islamists in Syria to get their hands on modern anti-air missiles, weapons which would almost inevitably find their way straight afterwards to Gaza.

As little as possible then is explained, lest it alter the narrative that Israel is the victim rather than the aggressor.  Electoral cynicism is skirted over, as is the blockade of Gaza that prevents civilians from escaping from what is effectively a free fire zone.  At least in Syria those in the firing line between rebels and the regime can for the most part escape should they choose; those in Gaza have no such option, unless they have a medical complaint so urgent that even the Israelis can't refuse them access to hospitals outside of the Strip.  The history of the occupation, the Oslo accords, the setting up of the Palestinian authority and the lack of progress ever since, overwhelmingly the result of Israeli intransigence, goes by unmentioned.  That the settlements in the West Bank continue to be expanded, with ever more Palestinian land seized and cut off isn't relevant.  Palestinian resistance is condemned, whether it's through rockets or stone throwing, while the attempt to gain statehood through the UN is blocked.  Despite all this injustice, the Palestinian cause only grows stronger, and the strength and belief of the people remains undimmed.  They will one day have a state, and one day Israel's crimes will be brought to account.  That day cannot come soon enough.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012 

Maintain through madness.

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Friday, November 16, 2012 

Given the respect they deserved.

It was apparent from the moment Louise Mensch stepped down from her Corby seat that Labour would take the constituency back, such is the nature of the vast majority of by-elections held mid-term in key marginals.  The only question was how big the swing would be, and 12.7% with a majority of 7,791 is a thumping great win.  Grant Shapps (or is it Michael Green?), the Tory chairman, has naturally compared it with their win in Crewe and Nantwich in 2008, which saw a bigger swing of 16.9%, but it's hardly a comfort: the polls currently suggest a nationwide swing of 8.5% to Labour, more than enough for them to win outright if an election was to be held tomorrow.  Anything approaching 12.7% would be a landslide.  The turnout was 44%, more than respectable for a by-election held in November, so no excuses there either.

You of course extrapolate one result to a nationwide picture at your peril, yet the results in the other two by-elections, admittedly both safe Labour seats, were dismal for both coalition parties.  The Tories lost their deposit in Manchester Central, which had a pitiful turnout of 18% (although admittedly only down 26% from the general election itself), while the Lib Dems lost theirs in Corby, coming fourth behind UKIP, in spite of holding up the announcement of the results by about an hour through arguing the toss over it.  While the Lib Dem share of the vote will certainly recover come the election, it's clear that the polls aren't that far out in suggesting UKIP are almost neck and neck with them.  The European elections in 2014 are going to be very interesting indeed.

As for the PCC elections, all the predictions of a dreadful turnout have been proven right.  There were some wards where literally no one voted, which tells you all you need to know about how disgracefully the entire process has been instituted.  The highest turnout from the areas declared so far is 17.75% in Bedfordshire, where the candidacy of the EDL's Kevin Carroll (who came fourth) no doubt boosted it slightly (update: this has since been beaten by 19.15% in Humberside, where John Prescott was pushed into second place.  Don't think it was a good idea to get Tony Blair to canvass for you, John.).  Lowest is Staffordshire, which had the wonderful choice of either a Labour or Tory commissioner, motivating just 11.63% to voteLike Hopi Sen, I don't particularly want to believe that the whole point of holding the vote in November and with next to no information available other than on the internet was a specific ploy to depress the vote, and yet beyond the cock-up explanation, which isn't really convincing when all the warning signs were there, there doesn't seem to be any other reason for having done it this way.

The two bright spots are that despite the obstacles set in their way, independents have so far won in 12 authorities (although how independent they will be when some are former police officers is dubious), and that the number of spoilt ballots seems to have been high.  While some will have been down to confusion over the use of the supplementary vote, in Dwfed-Powys where there were only two candidates 4.3% spoiled their papers.  In my authority, where the Tory won after second preferences were counted, 6,413 ballots were spoilt, or roughly 2.8%, not all that far behind the independent who lagged in last with 6.79% of the vote.

Most important is that these were elections the Conservatives felt were theirs to lose.  Instead in the popular vote they're lagging behind Labour, and have lost in areas which are effectively Tory rotten boroughs at general elections: in Kent they were pulverised by a local magistrate and chair of the police authority, while in Gloucestershire a former police officer in favour of restorative justice and against the cuts won after the second round.  Sad as it is that so many party hacks have won, overall the elections and the parties have been treated with the amount of respect they deserved: very little.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012 

Meanwhile, in bizarro world...

The UK is considering whether to officially recognise the Palestinian opposition, sources say.

Foreign Secretary William Hague is to meet leaders of Hamas and Fatah in London on Friday to discuss the "grave and worsening" situation in Gaza.

Although high profile US figures such as John McCain have long been calling for the arming of the Palestinians, up until now Britain has only offered "non-military" aid to the opposition.  According to BBC political editor Nick Robinson, David Cameron believes the bloody conflict in Gaza is reaching what one of his advisers calls "the something must be done stage" - the moment when the public will demand action to save the lives of ordinary Gazans unable to escape from the blockaded strip.

This new tone was reflected in a statement from William Hague:

"Israel bears principal responsibility for the current crisis.  It is crystal clear this is merely the latest shamefully cynical move by politicians desperate to show themselves as the toughest on the Palestinians ahead of an election, just as Operation Cast Lead was four years ago.  The extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari shows the depths to which Israel is prepared to sink - killing a man who had long worked with them towards keeping the peace, and then posting a video of the attack on the internet.

"As has happened before, Israel broke a truce it signed up to, only to then claim to the world at large that rocket fire from Gaza had forced their hand.  Whilst we condemn the launching of missiles from Gaza that are impossible to aim accurately, we recognise that the bombing of the territory makes an already difficult life there intolerable.  Palestinians have the right to live without fear of attack from Israel.  The deaths of innocent children are especially difficult to take - as the father of 11-month old Omar al-Masharawi asked, what had his son possibly done to deserve his fate?

"We have long supported a two-state solution, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Israel is not prepared to be a partner for peace.  Ignoring international law, it continues to build settlements in the West Bank, and has made life ever more difficult for ordinary Palestinians.  Much as we support an urgent resumption of negotiations, we have little faith they would be successful.  As such, we are considering whether the time has come to arm the Palestinian opposition so they can adequately defend themselves."

Asked for a response, the Israeli government gave the exact same statement as it has after past attacks on Gaza:

"Terrorists human shields Hamas terrorists rocket fire terrorists deliberately target terrorists other side will have to pay intolerable nothing to do with election terrorists Hamas human shields escalation that will exact a price terrorists."

Bashar al-Assad is understandably delighted at all this.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012 

Spoil early, spoil often.

Tomorrow, as you simply must have heard, sees the election of the first police and crime commissioners. Even if you've been living under a rock for the past year, you must have seen that wonderful video of the little girl crying over the constant coverage given to the issue, or found at least one piece of literature relating to the vote, such has been the abundance of leaflets shoved through letterboxes across England and Wales.  Who doesn't now know the names of the candidates standing in their police authority, or realise the utmost importance of putting some sort of political figure in charge, where previously chief constables dithered and blithered and told lies to everyone?  Everyone I know has been crying out for this sort of reform for years, and now finally we have the opportunity to put in place a washed-up party political figure to perform exactly the same task as was done in-house previously, only with the commissioner receiving an additional salary on top of that of the chief constable.

To call tomorrow's vote a completely pointless exercise is in some places hardly an exaggeration.  Such has been the enthusiasm that in three police authorities voters will have a choice between a Conservative and a Labour candidate, taking us back to the era when the two main parties won over 90% of the vote.  

The field is broader elsewhere, such as in my authority where all three main parties are standing alongside UKIP and two independents, but even then the candidates are deeply uninspiring.  The Labour candidate only defected from the Lib Dems after the setting up of the coalition, the UKIP candidate boasts, hilariously, that his party "does not have an overbearing central body of ideology built up over decades", and the pledges from the Tory candidate seem to have been copy/pasted from central office's guide on how to run your campaign.  The independents both say they're opposed to the politicisation of the police, but such have been the obstacles placed in the way of non-party candidates, with the deposit absurdly raised to £5,000 when it's only £500 at general elections, no free mail shots and the slightest of offences disqualifying candidates, the chances of anyone unable to gain major funding getting themselves elected seem minute.

Apart from the polling cards, I haven't received a single leaflet or any other indication through the mail that there's an election tomorrow.  If the Electoral Commission has been sending out booklets to every address in the country where there's a vote as they claim, then mine seems to have got lost somewhere.  Apparently there's been adverts running during the X Factor and Downton Abbey, yet anyone resistant to the charms of a programme dedicated to increasing Simon Cowell's bank balance while hastening the musical apocalypse and a drama based around the worship of early 20th century social deference will be none the wiser.  As for those without a free local paper or access to the internet, the only place to get information is a dedicated phone line, which naturally has been a fiasco.  This it seems will be the model for future elections, and interaction with the state in general: if you're not online, and clearly there's no excuse when it's the future daddio, then you might as well do yourself in now.

For those who like me have always voted, whether it be general, local, European or referendum, despite the chances of it changing anything being close to nil, the entire debacle raises a quandary.  The idea that these new commissioners will be a breath of fresh air and able to hold the police to account is laughable when the vast majority of the candidates are either local party apparatchiks or former MPs, many of whom will have dealt with the police previously on very favourable terms.  While some probably will try and put their own mark on local policing, demanding extra patrols in certain areas or zero tolerance on offensive beards, the chances are very little will change.  There may well be clashes of personality, and the odd sacking of a chief constable should they be deemed not draconian enough for a certain commissioner's liking, but it's not going to happen across the board.  Certainly, the public will barely even notice the difference.

Why then bother? Notes from a Broken Society argues that not voting or spoiling your ballot will be taken as a vote for the status quo, for the step-by-step privatisation of the police, and that wanting to keep politics out of policing is a misnomer in itself.  It's an argument I have some sympathy with: clearly, a low turnout isn't going to worry the Tories when the entire process seems to have been designed specifically to depress the vote.  Policing most definitely is political, it's true; what we don't need is the party politicisation of the police, especially at the local level.  We already have it nationally, and at best it's a distraction and at worst a licence for the persecution of minorities.  The requirement for the elected commissioners to swear an oath of impartiality is a cop-out, if you'll excuse the pun; why vote for a party candidate unless you agree somewhat with their national policy on law and order?  Also, while back office privatisation is taking place at a local level, it's going to be policy nationally that decides just how far it spreads, and regardless of Labour's opposition at the moment, you wouldn't bet against them changing their tune should they win the next election.

The best approach does then rather depend on your local circumstances (duh).  I'm most likely going to spoil my ballot, as neither independent seems to have a realistic chance of winning, and I can't see any significant difference among the party candidates.  As for the message to send, Janice Gwilliam has a template that's worth emulating, although I'm sure ACAB will also be a favourite.  Where there's an independent with a chance, there's never been a better opportunity to put the point across that parties should stay out of policing.  And as the elections are being held under the supplementary vote, you can always plump for a party candidate as your second choice if there's someone especially unpleasant (like John Prescott or the British Freedom Party's Kevin Carroll in Bedfordshire) on the ballot who could sneak in.

Oh, and as always, vote (or spoil) early and often.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012 

Yet another post on Abu Qatada.

Well, who could have predicted thatAbu Qatada winning his latest appeal against deportation to Jordan?  This has never happened before!  Oh, except it hasTwice, in fact.  And when even a keyboard monkey like me with no real legal knowledge whatsoever could pick holes in Theresa May's trumping of how this time Qatada really was as good as on a plane, it suggests both she and her predecessors have been receiving incredibly bad advice for quite some time.

The judgment by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (PDF) is essentially a rehash of the ECHR's decision earlier in the year, that Qatada doesn't personally face the prospect of mistreatment or torture, but he does face the prospect of a trial where the main evidence against him is confessions from men who almost certainly were tortured.  Regardless of the change to the Jordanian constitution to explicitly prohibit the use of evidence obtained via torture, Mr Justice Mitting and his team reached the conclusion that, based on expert evidence from Jordanians who gave written and in person testimony, the statements that incriminate Qatada may well be used against him, and that the burden of proof is likely to fall on the witnesses to prove they were tortured, rather than for the prosecution to prove that they weren't.  As the torture happened over a decade ago and the Jordanian courts previously rejected the notion that torture took place, the likelihood of them being able to do so, even in front of three civilian court judges, is dubious in the extreme.  Barring a further change to the Jordanian code of criminal procedure or a definitive ruling from one of two courts on the ambiguities in the code, Qatada is staying here.

Unless that is May manages to convince the Court of Appeal that SIAC is being unreasonable in its demands of the Jordanians, something that seems highly unlikely considering SIAC has come to effectively the same conclusion as the ECHR did.  In the meantime, ol' bird nest face is free for 8 hours a day, if your definition of free is being tagged, followed by security officers the moment you step out of your front door and being denied access to pretty much everything that makes life pleasurable.

If all this seems a bit much for someone whose motivations have often seemed opaque, then SIAC also obtained new information on the nature of the evidence against Qatada.  To say some of it is thin is an understatement: all that links Qatada to the "Reform and Challenge" case is that one of the defendants says he suggested the targets and then congratulated him afterwards; in addition, three of the defendants had copies of a book by Qatada.

The evidence against him for the Millennium plot isn't much thicker: Qatada gave one of the defendants money, although not ostensibly towards the plot, gifting him 800 Jordanian dinars with which he bought a computer, while the defendant admitted discussing the "issue of jihad" with Qatada, although not specifically about any plot.  Another defendant claimed Qatada had given a further $5,000 to the same man, while the money he had been promised to marry the first defendant's sister never arrived.  Otherwise, the evidence again amounts to possession of books by Qatada, and the discovery of messages between the two men.  SIAC additionally comments on this that "[T]he record of the evidence produced at the trial does not clearly support the prosecutor’s case", although it's presumed that in the case file there will be statements from investigators that will.

All is likely to depend on whether the Jordanians are prepared to move further, or whether a case comes before either court that irons out the disagreement between the experts consulted by the commission.  SIAC accepted that the Jordanians had moved significantly from their initial position, and also noted their awareness of how this was a potential opportunity for them to show they were capable of trying a man notorious internationally with scrupulous fairness.  If SIAC was making its decision on that basis alone, as indeed had the ECHR, Qatada would be long gone.

In a different world, this entire case might be seen as showing the best of the British state.  Despite the contempt often shown towards the Human Rights Act and the ECHR by politicians from both main parties, successive governments have abided by the decisions made in line with it, refusing to countenance ignoring the rule of law in this specific case, and have gone so far as to push Jordan towards making genuine judicial reforms.  Pushing any authoritarian state in the direction of respecting basic human rights is something to be proud of, regardless of the circumstances.

Unfortunately, we're stuck with this world, and it's one where judges are traduced by tabloid newspapers for doing their job.  By all means criticise the judiciary if they get basic decisions wrong, or apply the wrong tests when they sentence someone, but not when they've delivered a judgment as in-depth and cogently argued as Mitting has.  

The real responsibility for this 7-year-long slog lies with the last government.  The decision to simply get rid of Qatada rather than attempt to prosecute him has never been explained adequately: we don't know whether there simply isn't enough evidence against him, whether the evidence is mainly phone intercepts, whether his involvement with MI5 goes too deep, whether it was made impossible by the rendering of Bisher al-Rawi who reported on Qatada to MI5, or whether deportation was felt to be the easiest option.  Where this government has failed has been to fall into the same trap as the previous one, of boasting to the media that the deportation is all but done and dusted, only to find it still hasn't got its legal arguments in order.

One suspects that Qatada will eventually get sent to Jordan, if only down to how successive governments have backed themselves into a corner.  Should further changes to the Jordanian law not be forthcoming, then Qatada's bail restrictions will have to be either loosened or dropped entirely.  The only other option is to impose a TPIM, and they can only last for two years.  Even at this late stage there's still time for a potential prosecution to be looked at, however embarrassing that might be either for the previous government or the security services.  It can't be any worse than the prospect of someone built up to be Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe mooching free around London.

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Monday, November 12, 2012 

Through the media looking glass.

Where to even begin? It's as though over the weekend we fell through the looking glass, into an eerily familiar yet entirely different world. It's one where the Sun, yes, the Sun, can accuse both the BBC and the Guardian of "paedophile hysteria". It's one where spectres of the past can re-emerge and be regarded as wise sages, where newspaper editors that ignored or played down their own failings can cheer the bloodshed at a rival and demand more, and one where there's always something or someone else that can be blamed.

We must though start with Newsnight. We could, as the report by Ken Macquarrie has done, put the majority of the blame on the fact that the programme was in disarray following the "stepping aside" of numerous editors and managers while the various inquiries into the failings over Savile are taking place. It certainly explains somewhat how the report on the abuse at Bryn Estyn came to be broadcast within a week of the investigation being authorised. It doesn't however even begin to make clear how the journalists responsible for the piece justified it to themselves: this was a story that would have disgraced most blogs. Believing that by not naming the senior former Tory politician they were accusing they had protected themselves, they didn't so much as show Steve Messham a photograph of Lord McAlpine, nor did they contact McAlpine for comment. Rather than trace the other source who backed Messham's account, they simply ran with it. The first rule of investigative journalism is that you check the facts repeatedly, and then you check once again for good measure.

As has since become clear, Messham has spent the last twenty years wrongly believing that Lord McAlpine was one of his abusers. It seems to be an honest mistake based on more than understandable confusion, but it was one that would have fallen apart had this been a proper investigation.  Most importantly, as the Graun's piece on Friday reported, the Waterhouse inquiry discounted the possibility McAlpine was involved in the abuse as Messham's evidence was inconclusive.  Also key was that Messham believed his abuser was dead at the time of the inquiry, while McAlpine is still very much alive now.  Moreover, this isn't the first time Messham has taken his allegations to the media: there was as the Heresiarch notes a BBC documentary on Bryn Estyn in 1999; Private Eye according to reports discounted the possibility of McAlpine's involvement; and, fatefully, the long defunct Scallywag magazine ran the claims back in the early 90s.

Those reports from Scallywag, reprinted by the truly credible son of God David Icke, have been doing the rounds on the internet for years.  Often featured alongside the thoroughly debunked claims of a establishment paedophile ring in Scotland and Tony Blair's slapping of a D-Notice on Peter Mandelson's involvement in child abuse (reports which ignore entirely how the D-Notice committee works), they've become a conspiracy staple.  That the BBC, of all organisations, either didn't know of how long-standing these allegations were and how dubious those pushing them are, or simply wasn't aware is inexcusable.  As much as you can understand Newsnight's apparent determination to get back on the front foot as soon as it could, alarm bells should have rang from the outset.  Is it possible the journalists responsible, including those from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, felt this was a way to get back at all those, the Conservative party among them, who had criticised the BBC by pointing the finger straight back at them?

Whether it was or not, George Entwistle was right to resign.  Scapegoat or otherwise, his not being aware of the Graun's report on the accuracy of Newsnight's story as he was preparing to give a speech spoke of someone out of the loop, unable or unwilling to get a grip.  The decision by the acting director-general Tim Davie to set out exactly who is in a position of responsibility is a good start, but it must be a very temporary situation: if possible, the Pollard review should be accelerated so that those who've "stepped aside" can either return to their jobs or replacements can be made forthwith.  Equally clear is that the BBC's management structure needs an urgent overhaul; the BBC Trust, acting as both regulator and defender cannot continue to exist in its current state.  An wholly independent trust is now needed.  Likewise, the director-general simply cannot remain as editor-in-chief of news, expected to be aware of every investigative report, while also running an organisation as large as the BBC has become (and it should be stressed, should more or less remain).

Some perspective is nonetheless sorely needed.  Ever since the Exposure programme on Savile, what's happened is a classic instance of a moral panic.  To say this helps absolutely no one is an understatement: we've gone from one extreme, that of silence, to one where allegations about almost anyone famous during the 70s so much as hugging someone young a little too tightly have been sprayed about like deodorant by a malodorous hormonal teenager.  With the collapse of Newsnight's credibility, there's the potential that we'll go back to the original position.  If that happens, the BBC is hardly the only organisation to blame.  The Sun last week ran a series of utterly ludicrous articles linking Savile to the Yorkshire Ripper, based on little more than how the body of one of Peter Sutcliffe's victims was found near to Savile's flat in Leeds.  Considering how quickly Savile has gone from charity fundraiser to "one of those most prolific child sex offenders" the country has seen, as well as potential necrophile, murderer was bound to come up sooner or later.  The Daily Star meanwhile has ran a Savile story on its front page every day for the past two weeks.

Even those who should know better, such as George Monbiot, have found themselves caught up in this storm of paedophile finding.  When a mood like this takes over, it's often the case that those who previously were rightly ignored and ridiculed find their imaginings are seen in a different light.  All it takes is a tweet from someone with a decent number of followers, and the damage can be done.  When we then get Philip Schofield presenting the prime minister with a whole series of names his researchers have dug up via a Google search, asking that he speak with them, it's the equivalent of taking seriously the proclamations of street preachers.

It's also a wonderful opportunity for the settling of scores.  The press as a whole is terrified that Leveson's shortly to be revealed recommendations for reform of regulation will involve some variety of statutory underpinning, and it sees this as a great chance to prove that everyone is equally guilty.  The Sun's attack today on Chris Patten is remarkable for its brutality, and it is of course in no way influenced by the way Patten showed how Murdoch caved into the Chinese authorities by refusing to publish his book on his time as last governor of Hong Kong.  Its linking of the Guardian to the BBC is also utterly transparent, on Saturday picking on Monbiot without mentioning it was the Graun that debunked the Newsnight report, while today it describes the BBC "[A]s the broadcasting arm of the muck-raking Guardian newspaper".  Would that be the same muck-raking Guardian newspaper that exposed the phone hacking scandal by any chance, and the same scandal that the Sun's former editor is awaiting criminal trial over?  The Mail meanwhile could hardly be banging the drum harder against more rigorous regulation, with Paul Dacre in apparent terror of Leveson's personal judgement on him, at least according to Private Eye.

None of this is to understate the BBC's failings.  The resignations forced by Lord Hutton's report into the sexed up Iraq dossier were one thing; this has been a disaster entirely of the BBC's own making.  What needs to happen now is a further opening up of the corporation, with cutbacks made not to programmes or journalists as has been the pattern of the last few years but to the layers of management that so singularly failed to prevent this travesty.  Only then can a fightback begin, both to regain lost trust and beat back those who wish for an end to the licence fee altogether.

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