Tuesday, April 30, 2013 

Let's be beastly to crims (and dole bludgers).

It's the week of the local elections, which means it's the absolute opportune time to announce a new round of unpleasantness to those considered to be unpleasant.  Moving away from the usual targets, benefit claimants (on whom more in a moment), Chris Grayling has pounced upon the only people less popular with politicians, those convicted of crime rather than just deemed guilty of a moral one.

Out then go the old soft regimes where it was somewhat left up to prison governors how they operated the privileges system in their respective nicks, and in comes a new tougher scheme which seems focused on making the first two weeks in prison even more uncomfortable and depersonalising than it was already.  No longer will prisoners be allowed to wear their own clothes to begin with, have a TV in their cell (Ben Gunn says those on the basic level don't as it stands now; they also have to pay for them, contrary to popular belief), an increased number of visits or access to private cash; all must instead be earned.  Plenty of people will look at that and think that all sounds perfectly reasonable, and on one level it is.  The problem though is that it's the first few days in prison when those who are new to the experience are at their most vulnerable, both from other prisoners and themselves.  If the purpose of prison is to both punish and rehabilitate, then it helps no one if further avoidable harm is done to the individual at the very outset of their sentence.

As with so much of our policy on prisons, a little honesty and humility would go a long way.  Again, few are going to protest at prisoners being made to work a longer day, but they might if they knew there aren't enough jobs to go round in the first place, or what prisoners get in return for their labour.  There are a few schemes where they can earn in the region of £30 a week, although far more usual is pay of £4 to £10.  This is often work of the most menial kind, as a recent Howard League for Penal Reform report set out, and which hardly gives the kind of experience likely to impress employers on the outside.  For those who can't be found a job, they're likely to spend most of their time banged-up. While it's not explained exactly how prisoners can be stopped from watching TV in the daytime if they're on the higher privilege level and have one, what else are they expected to do? Read, if they haven't already finished those books they've got? Continue with any education programmes they're on, regardless of the lack of access to a tutor? Just kick their heels? Imposing boredom might be considered a punishment, but it brings with it its own set of obvious problems.

Nor do these changes take into consideration those who continue to maintain their innocence.  As admitting guilt is the first thing you have to do in order to take part in the rehabilitation programmes designed to prove your readiness to be released, those who refuse to do so will forever be stuck on the basic level, something that seems bound to lead to a legal challenge.  Then there are just the silly inconsistencies: prisoners won't be allowed 18 rated DVDs (they've long been prohibited items in medium or low security hospital wards), but will presumably be able to watch such films if they're shown on television.

The ultimate test of such changes ought to be whether they improve behaviour while in prison or decrease recidivism upon release.  One expects that studies will be established once the changes start in November to measure if this turns out to be the case.  Otherwise you could be forgiven for thinking the entire episode was designed as a purely populist measure to win a few votes during the traditional period of purdah.

Definitely not designed to win votes is the latest imposition on those without a job, a questionnaire apparently put together by the government's behavioural science unit, which must be completed on pain of the loss of benefits.  Those looking for work are presented with 48 statements, some of which are patently ridiculous ("I have not created anything of beauty in the last year"), and then asked whether they agree or disagree.  Any possibility this might help those lacking self-esteem or self-confidence is only slightly undermined by how the results at the end are largely identical regardless of whether you fill in the boxes or not.  For those worried about the creepiness of a test that bears more than a resemblance to the Oxford Capability Analysis carried out by Scientologists, it doesn't seem as though the results are recorded, which nonetheless isn't much of a reassurance.  Nor is it apparent what the point of it is, although that seems a perfectly adequate summary of the work of the "nudge" unit thus far.

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Monday, April 29, 2013 

The rise of the unpopular populists.

Ah, UKIP.  There are a number of ways you can explain the rise in support for Nigel Farage's unhappy band of monomaniacs, whether it be disaffection from modern society at large, disaffection with Cameron's Conservatives, a protest aimed at the main three parties, for which there are a whole variety of reasons, complete opposition to continued immigration, or, and this is possibly the least significant factor, hatred of the European Union.

To give the typical nerdy fuller answer, the rise is in some way attributable to all these reasons, but also a couple of others.  Unlike much of the rest of Europe, we haven't seen a rise in support for the traditional far-right, somewhat to do with how the BNP have turned into a basket case and the EDL are a bunch of thugs led by a convicted violent criminal with an identity crisis, leaving those who are racist and xenophobic (decreasing numbers, it should be stressed) with having to compromise their feelings somewhat.

Far more important is that the media and indeed most politicians have given Farage almost a completely free ride. Farage has appeared on Question Time more often than any politician other than Vince Cable, regardless of the amount of support his party was up until around this time last year attracting.  When interviewed one to one, which is rare, he's also barely questioned on his party's policies beyond getting out of the European Union, which when even so much as glanced at fall apart.  A 40% increase in the defence budget, doubling the number of prison places, and spending £90bn building new nuclear plants? You can make the case for those policies individually perhaps, but all at the same time? Pull the other one.

Farage and UKIP have been most obviously helped through the completely wretched scaremongering that has surrounded the upcoming lifting of the controls on the number of Bulgarians and Romanians who can come here to work.  This hasn't just been thanks to the usual suspects at the Mail and Express, although they were in the vanguard, but also to politicians who either haven't bothered to challenge such silliness or have in fact connived in it.  One of the most basic lessons of politics is that you don't win by stealing the policies of outlier parties, as the Eastleigh by-election ought to have shown.

By doing so, you either buy completely into their myths, or give them further credence: witness Sajid Javid on QT last week talking almost solely about making Britain "a less attractive place" for Bulgarians and Romanians to come to, when there is no evidence whatsoever that the level of benefits plays a significant role when people make decisions about where to go, or indeed when all the evidence suggests recent immigrants overwhelmingly put more in than they take out.  It's a measure of just how far the debate has been shifted when Farage isn't called out on his linking of Romanians to crime; it may be just about true that 30,000 people giving their nationality as Romanian have been arrested in the past 5 years out of a population in the region of 100,000 (it's not clear whether these arrests were all made in London or not), but this is close to being a worthless statistic when it's convictions that matter, not arrests. We also quite rightly worry when black and Asian men are disproportionately stopped and searched, but not it seems when it's foreigners linked to criminality by politicians.

Another factor is that once a bandwagon's going, plenty of people jump on precisely because it's seen to be the thing to do. Some of those who've voted UKIP in recent by-elections would no doubt be aghast at the views of Godfrey Bloom, and wouldn't dream of supporting a party where he's one of the most senior figures, but as a protest at the way politics has been conducted in recent years it makes sense to climb aboard.

It is therefore just a little rich when UKIP complains that its poorly vetted candidates for the local elections on Thursday are being, err, held up to the same standards as everyone else.  You can of course quite easily portray most people who have a presence online as being unpleasant or worse by cherry-picking questionable tweets or posts and presenting them out of context, yet if UKIP wants to be considered the third or fourth force in politics in this country then it can hardly expect to be given the benefit of the doubt, as it has been up to now.

The question of how you respond to UKIP's rise is a far more difficult one.  Difficult as it is to disagree with Ken Clarke when he reprises David Cameron's old line about the party being made up of closet racists and other assorted eccentrics, just dismissing Farage out of hand is a dangerous game.  Lord Ashcroft's polling may well have suggested that a large percentage of UKIP's support comes from those who are irreconcilable, and as likely as it is that come 2015 the vast majority of those currently flirting with the party will return to one of the main three, a UKIP victory in next year's European elections isn't something to savour.

The very first thing to do then has to be stop agreeing with them: we are not going to be flooded by Romanians and Bulgarians come January, nor will those few who do come have any discernible impact on the number of jobs available for our own young people.

Second, challenge them on their policies which have nothing to do with the EU (PDF): what's their stance on the NHS? Why do we need to double the number of prison places when crime is at a historic low? Why do we need to increase the defence budget so massively if we're going to leave peacekeeping and interventions to others, especially when we face no conventional threats whatsoever? How can their proposed flat tax possibly be fair, or affordable? How can they reconcile their opposition to gay marriage or decriminalising drugs with their claim to be a libertarian party? What impact will a halt to immigration have on the economy?

Third, question their every assertion on the EU, whether it be how much it costs through to their claims on red tape and the amount of laws decided in the European parliament. Hit back at their every soundbite or statistic with one that either flat out contradicts it or disputes it.

And fourth, just wait. UKIP and Farage are still at the moment a media novelty, and one that will be quickly tired of. They will only become a true fourth force in politics if they are indulged as such, as their overall appeal to the majority as anything other than a convenient protest is slight. Populists who fail to make a true political breakthrough quickly fade away. Farage isn't close to being a Boris Johnson yet.

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Friday, April 26, 2013 


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On Syria and chemical weapons.

Everything said in this sarcastic piece applies just as much now as it did then.  Even if it was the regime's forces that used sarin, and considering the number of bases the rebels have overrun it's highly possible they could have got their hands on some of Assad's stockpiles, setting up a "red line" on the use of chemical weapons, however slight, is unbelievably arbitrary.  What kind of moral calculus is it that decides a few deaths due to one specific weapon requires intervention, while thousands of deaths as a result of more conventional warfare do not?

Besides, the real issue is not Syria, which it's clear we couldn't give two stuffs about otherwise we would have found a way to get fully involved, but whether or not come the fall of the regime Assad is desperate enough to pass on his stockpile to Hizbullah.  Just as likely now is that the al-Nusra front and its allies gain access to them, who would have no qualms whatsoever about supplying the stock to their friends in the Islamic State of Iraq or other jihadis.  Then again, considering that once the regime does collapse everything we've seen so far might end up looking like a Sunday picnic, they might just want to keep them for themselves.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013 

Osborne as sadist.

It's a sign of just how grim the economic news has been over the past year that the fact we've narrowly missed out on plunging into an unprecedented triple-dip recession is being regarded as something approaching a minor success.  All it confirms in reality is that the economy remains broadly flat: taking into account the 0.3% decline in the last quarter of 2012, which followed on from the 1% rise in the third quarter that can be almost wholly put down to the Olympics, the economy has barely grown since the slight recovery of 2010/11.  The figures could also yet be revised down, as the full data from March and the impact of the snow has yet to come in.

If anything, it's the worst of all possible worlds.  George Osborne has rightly been under severe pressure over the past week, with a further credit rating downgrade from Fitch, the IMF finally getting off the fence, saying the chancellor's austerity programme should be loosened, and the borrowing figures that showed a minute in real terms drop of £300m.  He's used the 0.3% to claim, against all the evidence, that it's "an encouraging sign the economy is healing".  It could well be a sign that this year will see an extremely modest return to growth, but even if it is it's not going to do almost anything to reduce the deficit, nor is it proof it's his policies that are responsible.

Indeed, for all the coalition's talk of rebalancing the economy and Osborne's laughable march of the mallards makers, manufacturing remains in the doldrums (some of which is undoubtedly down to the ongoing woes in the Eurozone), while construction activity continues to plunge. The figures also make it more difficult for the incoming governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney to convince the other members of the monetary policy committee that further intervention beyond quantitative easing is needed to boost growth, which was exactly what Osborne was said to be relying on.

Of course, if Osborne were to suddenly decide that continuing with his plans as they stand is more damaging in both the long and short term than bringing the deficit down at a slower pace with the risks that entails, he would still be able to borrow at close to record lows, in spite of the credit downgrades he once scaremongered about and said his policies would prevent. Despite Plan A not really existing any longer though, such has been the success of austerity so far, we simply have to stick to whatever it is we're doing now. We've gone past the point at which this was a mere fetish to it bordering on full blown S&M, where Osborne's the sadist and we, like it or not, are the masochists. It's hurting but it isn't working doesn't even begin to cover it.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013 

Abu who? Never heard of him.

At times, it's an utter joy (read: torment) to see how politics works. Normally the idea behind briefing the media that you're thinking of doing something popular with your backbenchers and the right-wing press, regardless of how reprehensible it is, is that when you don't you've left it long enough that they're let down gently. When instead you dash their hopes within a matter of hours, it tends to ever so slightly agitate them.

You also might have thought that someone unlucky enough to be bestowed with the name Reckless might be used to unfunny gags being made about it. Not our Mark though, who reacted to Theresa May suggesting that to break the law as he suggested would be, err, reckless, by raising a point of order and then going on TV to continue to complain.

Plenty of politicians you see have a blind spot when it comes to everyone's favourite heavily bearded fanatical cleric, the mysterious Mr Abu Qatada. Not for these heirs of Thatcher such piffling things as the rule of law, which she and her cabinet often invoked when it came to the miners, although they rather overlooked it when the police took to kicking the shit out of them. No, we should put Mr Qatada straight on a plane, or failing that temporarily withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights so we won't face any repercussions should we do so.

There isn't of course even the slightest possibility of the Tories doing so, not least because the Liberal Democrats would never go along with it.  It's also completely and utterly ridiculous: the only way to temporarily withdraw from the ECHR is by arguing that there is a severe and direct threat to the very life of the nation, which is exactly what the law lords decided there wasn't when they ruled that Labour's detention without charge of foreign terror suspects was unlawful. Can you imagine the government seriously arguing before even the lowest court in the land that one man is that dangerous?

Quite why the Tories swung so far from one point to the other in such a short space of time is unclear, unless there were still negotiations going on with Jordan right up until May's statement after PMQ's. It doesn't help that as much as you'd like to welcome the continuing attempts to ensure Qatada doesn't face a trial where the main evidence against him was almost certainly obtained through torture, the new treaty still doesn't look as though it's water tight. As Labour have pointed out, it doesn't seem on the surface as though it requires Jordan to actually change the code of criminal procedure SIAC ruled had to be altered for them to be satisfied torture evidence wouldn't be used. After all, the previous changes to the laws in the kingdom were meant to have solved the problem originally. They didn't.

To be fair to May, and as pointed out umpteen times previously, the real damage was done when ministers under Labour decided that Qatada was better off out of sight and out of mind than prosecuted and imprisoned for his preaching here.  The evidence against him in Jordan, including that apparently obtained through torture, is flimsy at best.  This doesn't however excuse either May or her department for crowing last year that Qatada was as good as gone, especially when even the slightest glance at their claims suggested they were being extremely optimistic if not outright disingenuous.  It seems a pretty safe bet that Qatada will still be here come the next election, and that augurs well for what's likely to become a fight between the parties over whether we should repeal the Human Rights Act, a debate simply guaranteed to be conducted in a fact-based and civil manner.  Can't wait, can you?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013 

Boston: new and old media equally awful.

There are occasions when a distinct minority within society temporarily lose all sense of perspective.  One such moment in this country was the death of Princess Diana, which rather than undermining the royal family when their slow response to the news was criticised seems if anything to have entrenched the institution further into public life.  Another was on the third night of the riots of August 2011, and I have to admit to being at least somewhat drawn in on that occasion, although I was hardly among those calling for the army to be brought in and for the police to start fragging the underclass, as supposedly more rational commentators were.

Thursday and Friday last week were without a doubt another example, even if it was less about ordinary people and instead those in the media and others who spend far too long on social media.  It can't be said that such a outbreak of crass stupidity and silliness hasn't been coming for a while; over here we had the media coverage of the Raoul Moat saga, while in the US, where the media has long had form in covering getaways and the aftermath of incidents of mass violence in the worst way possible, the more recent search for Christopher Dorner flagged up what was likely to happen next.

This said, it's still difficult to wrap your head around just how daft things ended up being. Last week was without a doubt an appalling one for the mainstream media, who on numerous occasions got the facts completely and utterly wrong.  It won't do however to lambast the "old" media while giving the "new" something approaching a pass, as the Graun does in its editorial and others effectively have.  Old and new have become inextricably linked; they feed off each other, which makes those who criticise one and praise the other or write off the old so short-sighted.

The most obvious example of imagining the internet and the supposed wisdom of crowds can solve almost everything was the thread on Reddit (although there were others elsewhere too) dedicated to finding the bombers by going meticulously through all the available pictures and video they could get hold of.  Once details began to emerge of how at least one of the bombers was wearing a hat and carrying a backpack, every person who could be found fitting the description was picked out.  In spite of this, and although they were considered, neither of the Tsarnaev brothers were felt likely to be the perpetrators.  Those that were picked out though were understandably terrified, especially when they were found on social networks, even if this also quickly meant they were disregarded as possibly responsible.  For all the claims that this makes such efforts "self-correcting", the damage either has or quite easily could have already been done.  The relatives of Sunil Tripathi, who in spite or rather because he had been missing for a month was at one point named as a suspect, had to take down the page dedicated to looking for him as it was being bombarded by comments.

This is far from the first time that "internet detectives" have mobilised efforts to find people or name those alleged to be responsible for certain actions, with Anonymous having recently targeted an innocent in the Amanda Todd case, but it is almost certainly the most notable incidence where it seems to have hampered the actual police investigation.  There isn't as yet a full account of why the images of the Tsarnaevs were released when they were and so we should wait before passing full judgement, yet there are plenty of suggestions that they were issued in part because of all the speculation.  This could have quite easily destroyed any chance of the two being taken into custody without the carnage that followed, although again it's just as possible that it did, alerting them to the fact the net was closing in; Dzhokhar was still using Twitter right up until it seems he fled.

Once the pair were being pursued, just how badly things could have gone became clear. We know all too well in this country what can happen when terrorists are deemed to be on the run and the police have been briefed that they could strike imminently; in Boston there was the added impetus that one of their own had been killed. If anything, it's a miracle more weren't injured or killed when so many armed police were marauding the streets with their fingers on the trigger. That it seems Dzhokhar spent most of the time the city was on lock down in the boat he was found in only underlines how differently things could have gone.

The media as a whole for their part didn't have a clue what was going on, although that certainly didn't stop them from suggesting they did. Apart from the odd moment where the BBC were all but making fun of the continuing lockdown and the Graun took to mocking Lindsey Graham, the lack of any insight whatsoever was what we've come to expect from live coverage for the sake of it.

Not that there's been a lot of it since either. In spite of the lengthy profiles on the pair written up on the basis of internet accounts and short interviews with friends and relatives, we don't have the slightest indication as yet why they did what they did. The elder brother clearly had an interest in the more extreme brand of Islam, but that doesn't begin to explain what motivated him to bomb those he previously only hadn't understood. As for Dzhokhar, no one seems to have a bad word to say about him, and rather than being the austere kind or openly religious, he's reported to have been a stoner.

The answer, ultimately, to why it is that America reacts differently to gun massacres than it does to attacks such as the one in Boston is that it's become inured to gun violence. It no longer shocks. It takes something on the level of Newtown when young children were the main victims to really shake people. It also allows everyone to look outside for answers and for something to blame rather than looking closer to home.  The response from old and new media alike since last Monday has done everything to encourage that, nor is it likely to get any better in spite of the merited criticism levelled at both.

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Monday, April 22, 2013 

Film review: Evil Dead.

(Spoilers ahead, although I doubt anyone who hasn't already seen the original Evil Dead is likely to go see this.  Also, those familiar with the original and my ravings about remakes can happily skip to the sixth paragraph for the start of the actual review.)

If, on stepping out of the cinema after seeing Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead back in 2004 you'd been told that what you'd just watched would be pretty much the high point of the Hollywood "updating" of almost the entire catalogue of classic 70 and 80s horror/exploitation films, chances are that you would either snorted with incredulity at the idea or been thoroughly appalled.  Snyder's reworking of the seminal original isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination: sure, it has running zombies, something George Romero himself poked fun at in Diary of the Dead, and there is absolutely no subtext or social comment on how the survivors hole themselves up in a mall, but it has some finely drawn, sympathetic characters (especially Sarah Polley, who is superb as the nurse Ana), doesn't skimp on the gore and even goes beyond the original in the bleakness of its finale.  Seen in its own right, it's a decent late entry in the increasingly overblown and dare I say it, boring and overplayed zombie genre.  Beyond that though, it's fairly unremarkable.

Compared to what's come since, it's close to being a masterpiece.  With the exception of Alexandre Aje's Hills Have Eyes remake, almost all the other attempts to recreate the magic of the originals have been either exceptionally poor or outright failures, with those produced by Michael Bay the utter nadir.  Their production values can't be faulted, yet they are mere facsimiles of what went before.  In almost all cases the amount of gore is increased, regardless of how little or how much was in the original, while the palette is invariably washed out, not to monochrome but to one where greens and browns predominate.  This is especially odd when the originals were often so vibrant regardless of their subject matter; the reds in Dawn of the Dead are vivid and lurid, while the woods in Last House on the Left are naturally green, not this dismal mixture of green, grey and brown that is meant to evoke the darkness occurring.

And so we come to the long awaited by some remake of Evil Dead.  It's easy to forget now, but when Stephen King described Sam Raimi's debut as the "most ferociously original horror film of the year" he wasn't being hyperbolic or forgetting numerous other examples of films where teenagers go off to an isolated place and get picked off one by one, it genuinely was innovative.  Yes, the slasher genre was just about up and running, and the gialli that did so much to inspire the stalking killer trope had been pumped out by the Italians for over a decade, yet prior to Evil Dead there hadn't been something so completely over the top, both funny and unintentionally funny, while also being in places absolutely petrifying.

Also easily forgotten is that Evil Dead was at the very centre of the video nasty panic in this country.  Despite receiving an X certificate for cinema distribution from the BBFC after 49 seconds of cuts, the pre-cut video was among those seized from dealers and members of the public, many of whom pleaded guilty to possessing material deemed illegal under the Obscene Publications Act, rather than challenge in court that the films really were liable to "deprave and corrupt".  It was only after the video's distributors themselves were acquitted that Evil Dead was removed from the DPP's list of banned "nasties", although it still took until 1999 for the film to be released fully uncut.

As in many other cases, Evil Dead is the film it is precisely because those making it did didn't properly know what they were doing.  Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell had raised the funds to get started by going round local businessmen, showing their past short efforts and promising them they'd double their money.  The entire crew were friends of theirs, the blood was karo syrup, in one shot you can clearly see the pipe through which the grue was pumped, the contact lenses were so primitive they could only be worn for a matter of minutes lest they cause permanent damage to the eyes, and the script is barely there, yet everything works because of the charisma of Campbell as Ash, the superb special effects considering the circumstances, and most of all, the virtuosity of Raimi as a director.  Every other shot in the film is one which an older, supposedly wiser director would reject; Raimi poured scorn on such conservatism with takes such as the ones that open and close the film, the camera pitching and yawing and then seemingly zooming through the woods and the cabin, achieved simply by attaching it to a plank of wood and then having two people carrying it while running at breakneck speed.

Almost all of this is gone from Fede Alvarez's remake, despite Raimi being involved.  A truly global picture, directed by a Uruguayan and filmed in New Zealand, it nonetheless fits completely into the same niche as the updates that have gone before it.  In the only real major twist on the original, our intrepid five "heroes" have gone to the cabin in the woods not for time away from college but with the intention of helping the lead, Mia played by Jane Levy, kick her heroin habit.  She intends to do this by going cold turkey, a plan apparently approved by nurse Olivia, played by Jessica Lucas.  

Immediately, the problems are obvious.  Any nurse who recommends the cold turkey "cure" in the first place is either an imbecile or a sadist, let alone when it turns out later that Mia has already tried the approach before and failed.  Even if one did, they certainly wouldn't suggest doing it in the middle of nowhere away from easily reachable hospitals, someone medically trained present or not.  It also almost goes without saying that Mia is a junkie only in the Hollywood sense: she looks perfectly healthy apart from having slight bags under her eyes.

From the very off then you don't believe that these people were ever friends, and the script at least nods at this by how annoyed Olivia's boyfriend Eric is at the late arrival of Mia's long absent brother David.  He brings along his girlfriend Natalie, who unless I missed it is never even properly introduced.  Regardless of the wooden acting that occurs occasionally in the original, you believe that all five characters were and are friends.  This time round it's difficult to make any such allowances.

Which brings us to the other problems evident from the outset.  The palette is that horrible grungy green and brown one discussed above, which never feels right.  It's not as distracting however as just how unbelievably stupid our five friends are.  The cast in the original were daft, as those in horror films often are and need to be, going off into the woods alone or seemingly unable to lift themselves up from under shelves that have collapsed on top of them; here they're positively certifiable.  

Whereas in the original the discovery of the book of the dead happened when the "wind" blew open the hatch leading to the cellar, here they find it after the dog paws at the hatch concealed under the carpet.  In the cellar are over a dozen dead cats hung from the ceiling; rather than immediately leave, not only does Eric take the book and proceed to read from it (the book is incidentally bound with barbed wire and all but says DO NOT READ THIS OUT LOUD), although not to the rest of the group as happens in the original but unfathomably to himself, out loud, David then proceeds to cut the cats down and throw them away.  There's playing with conventions and making the audience feel knowledgeable and superior, and then there's just crass bad writing.

In the biggest single nod to the original, the notorious tree rape scene is reimagined, and just as problematically.  While this time the character isn't drawn into the woods simply by the trees seemingly whispering to her, as Mia instead tries to escape as her withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in, it makes almost no sense whatsoever why the detached branch, meant to represent the spirit that possesses her enters through her vagina.  Mark Kermode quotes Raimi as saying that the original rape scene was conceived "by an immature mind, his" and as something he's not proud of, so why on earth would you repeat it when there is no reason whatsoever why the branch couldn't instead be forced down her throat, even if it was then deemed a cop-out by the more ardent fans?  Is there some greater significance I'm missing, rather than just referring back to the original?  If there is, it certainly isn't hinted at more starkly than very tenuously through the illustrations we see in the book of the dead.

The greatest fault of all though is the tone.  Evil Dead was as said above, both funny and unintentionally funny.  Alvarez's remake is played completely straight, and yet repeatedly I was laughing and sniggering, both at the dreadfulness of some of the acting and also sadly at some points that were clearly meant to be scary.  Jane Levy is mostly very good, both as the demon and herself, and yet when she begins to be possessed she intolerably overacts, her neck muscles tautening to the point at which you feel like copying her.  Throughout the actors strain to imitate the demon from the Exorcist and inevitably, fail miserably.  

Likewise, the occasional flashes of what's about to happen to the other characters also invoke mirth; the image Olivia sees in the mirror of half her jaw hacked away and yellow eyes was meant I presume to be a jump point, whereas I couldn't help but laugh at how silly she looked.  When this taste of what's to come is then played out, Eric backs away from his deformed girlfriend and slips on the piece of skin she's cut away, whacking his head on the toilet bowl.  I howled with laughter, except again it couldn't have been meant to be funny as there isn't a single other moment of humour in the entire film.

The one thing Alvarez doesn't scrimp on is the gore, as evidenced by the number of cuts that had to be made to get the film an R rating in the US.  It's very much an 18 over here, yet there still seems to be something missing.  There are limbs that are loped off, and one scene in particular that is very much of the torture-porn aesthetic, but there isn't anything as outre as in the original.  The famous decapitation scene isn't emulated, nor is the eye-gouging, or the complete dismemberment with the axe that left the parts quivering.  What is there is all pulled off very adequately, the only disappointment perhaps being the completely unreal looking contact lenses/CGI used on the eyes, which are bright yellow rather than the glassy, glazed over look that worked so well in the original.  

Unfortunately, despite all this spam being thrown at the screen, the film simply isn't frightening.  Indeed, the amount of grue is in part the problem.  Where Raimi was advised to have the blood running down the screen and duly did, he also knew how to build tension between delivering the goods.  Alvarez doesn't, and so you're just waiting for the next attack to take place.  It doesn't help that rather than pencils forced into ankles, or the bottoms of legs scratched to pieces by instantly sharp nails, Alvarez instead opts to have Natalie wield a nail gun, another point when I couldn't help but laugh at the silliness of something intended to be serious.

And yet, and yet.  Despite all of the above and more besides, Evil Dead is still one of the better of the remakes.  Yes, it's utter rubbish and can't even begin to hold a candle to the original, but it's polished and made with the best of intentions, which is more than can be said for a lot of the others.  It's also much better than Cabin in the Woods, purely down to whether intentional or not, it's far more amusing than that cloyingly smarmy and insincere film.  Please though, let's not have a sequel.

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Friday, April 19, 2013 

Spider monkey.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013 

Unacceptable in the 80s.

Seeing as we've spent pretty much the last ten days going over old wounds, it seems a shame to break the pattern now.  Let's strike a slightly different note though: of all the myriad of things that Thatcher and Reagan inflicted on their respective countries, one thing neither did was authorise or condone the use of torture.  While it's certainly true that Reagan for one had no qualms about participating in the most dirty, even treasonous (as would be alleged by the opposite side if it was the other way round; they almost got Clinton impeached for having his dick sucked, for comparison's sake) underhand dealings, as evidenced by his administration's funding of the Contras by the secret selling of arms to Iran, 25 years ago today the US signed the UN Convention Against Torture.  On sending it to the Senate a month later, Reagan commented that the treaty "clearly express[es] United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today".

Quarter of a century on, the record of Thatcher and Reagan's heirs is starting to be laid bare.  We already knew much about the extraordinary rendition programme and how "enhanced interrogation techniques" were authorised in the aftermath of 9/11, but the Task Force on Detainee Treatment report, commissioned by the Constitution Project, is the best effort yet to draw together how the policy progressed and was instituted, starting with the opening of Guantanamo and following on to its practice in Iraq.  Their key finding is that "it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture".  No fudging, no moving of the goal posts; torture, whether directly authorised or not, was used.  Nor do they shy away from the argument of some that such harsh techniques had results.  They conclude that there is "substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable".  Views are mixed as to whether the film Zero Dark Thirty actively suggests that the testimony given by one tortured detainee helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden (the report says that it does; I haven't seen it so can't judge), but it most certainly is not the "first draft of history" as claimed by Kathryn Bigelow.

The Constitution Project set up its own panel to investigate the treatment of detainees after the Obama administration decided not to take any further action or open any investigation into what went on during the first phase of the "war on terror".  Back here in Blighty, where there is nothing to suggest that torture was ever sanctioned by a minister but plenty of evidence that collusion with the US in the rendition programme most certainly was authorised, the Gibson inquiry was meant to provide answers.  Instead it was unceremoniously abandoned, ostensibly on the grounds that the police needed to investigate the involvement of the security services and ministers in the rendition to Libya of two former members of the LIFG, which had links to al-Qaida, although one suspects the boycott by human rights groups at the limited scope of the inquiry also had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, Gibson and his team wrote up a report on the evidence they had sifted through and handed it over to the government.  That was nine months ago, and there is as yet no indication as to when it might be published.  Seen alongside the fight over the closed material procedures section of the justice and security act, designed to stop the courts from ever releasing material such as that which confirmed the security services knew about the torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed and did nothing to stop it, it more than implies that the coalition, having been lobbied extensively by both MI5 and SIS, has now decided upon a similar course to that of the US.

We could undoubtedly give too much credit to both Reagan and Thatcher over their stance, although Simon Jenkins was right yesterday to highlight how the latter's response to nearly being killed by the IRA was to carry on almost as if nothing had happened.  Both cuddled up to regimes that most certainly did and continue to torture their own citizens, while at the funeral yesterday were such noted humanitarians as Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney (arch defender of waterboarding) and Benjamin Netanyahu. There can be little doubt however as to which administrations will be judged most harshly on their foreign policies by history.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013 

We are all bourgeois now.

As unhappy coincidences go, today's announced rise in unemployment seems as fitting a tribute to Maggie as anything else.  We all Thatcherites now, says David Cameron, and while you can't level the accusation against him that he believes unemployment an acceptable price to pay for his overall reforms, especially considering no government since has believed in full employment, his government is going way beyond Thatcher's obstinacy on economics.  She after all did relent to an extent when monetarism sent the economy into free fall; Cameron and Osborne seem likely to ignore the advice of the highest priests of neoliberalism, the IMF, to scale back on austerity, such is the way they've made it impossible to do so without humiliating themselves.

Just as I didn't watch the royal wedding (and why on earth would anyone, for that matter?), I somehow managed to avoid the funeral.  Quite why so many find something to admire in our ability to put on pageantry when required equally escapes me; authoritarian nations also tend to be pretty good at putting on a show, and yet with the exception of the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, we usually make fun of them precisely on that basis.  Just as the only reasonable reaction to goose-stepping soldiers is to laugh at them, so the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the monarchy and also now the chosen few regarded as being the equivalent of royalty ought to be mocked.  It is utterly ridiculous, almost everyone except for the dewy-eyed few know it to be ridiculous, and so undoubtedly this ridiculous tradition will continue to be rolled out for every major state event, such are our ways.

If nothing else, today has at least been revealing of how politicians regard each other in private.  Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were first elected to parliament in 1983 on "the longest suicide note in history" manifesto, but neither it seems had any objection to Thatcher being given a quasi-state funeral.  Indeed, it seems the only major thing the Tories added to the plans drawn up under the last government was the military aspect.  They might not have known that the right would take the opportunity of her death to attempt to portray her as second only to Churchill in the great national figure stakes, yet if they've had any such concerns since they certainly weren't on display today.  Nor has the week of hype and eulogising left the Mail drained; if anything, it's reached such a peak that you doubt they'll be able to top it when Liz pops her clogs.  "A journey's end", the front page read, while below they claim up to 250,000 were lining the route of the procession (since changed to a more realistic 50,000).  Just as you have to multiple the figures given by the police for any demonstration other than one by the Countryside Alliance by the power of 4, so it now seems you have to divide the numbers given by the Mail by the same amount.

Nor was the ceremony itself beyond critique.  Today wasn't the time and place to discuss her politics, said the Bishop of London, Richard Chatres, who then decided at the end that it actually was as he defended her over the infamous "no such thing as society" comments.  She did believe in society, and the interdependence of people, he said, which is almost certainly true; what went unsaid was that however you read her remarks, she clearly said people shouldn't even expect to be housed by the state. I don't think anyone disputes that first and foremost our responsibility is to look after ourselves; it's that a majority of us still believe that the state should provide an adequate safety net, whether that be in housing or benefits. Society is not the state, as the Tories said at the last election, but Thatcher's government did more to fray the threads that tie communities together and make up society than any since the war.

The real irony of today is that for all their tributes to her, not to forget George Osborne's solitary tear, Cameron spent his first years as Conservative leader trying to repair the damage her overthrow did to the party. Arguable as his overall success has been, the last week has been a reminder to everyone that her legacy is still inescapable.  To suggest this is unlikely to go down well in those places that the Tories need to win to get a majority next time out is to put it too lightly.  The overwhelming mood might be apathy rather than anger, such as that in Leeds and Edinburgh rather than Goldthorpe, yet you shouldn't bet against Labour using a few of the images of the past week come in 2015, hypocritical in the extreme or not.

This said, Cameron was right in saying we are all Thatcherites now.  At least he was if he was meant the political class, as they clearly are all Thatcherite in one sense or another.  A significant number of the population by contrast remain in favour of an alternative, it's just they aren't so much as offered one. Nor are they likely to be. And eventually, something is going to break.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013 

Thoughts on Boston.

When it comes to terrorism, it's often difficult to get attacks such as yesterday's horrific events at the Boston marathon into perspective.  Indiscriminate attacks designed to cause fear, panic and even some to lash out at others, all in furtherance of a political aim, are always going to dominate media attention, especially when in narrow terms yesterday's bombing was the first such successful terror attack in the US since 9/11.  You have to say narrow terms as, by any measure, the numerous mass shootings that have occurred since that terrible day, while not necessarily in pursuit of a political aim (although the Fort Hood shootings and the massacre at a Sikh temple have both had such motives ascribed to them) are just as much attacks on whole communities as the Boston attack was.  They have the same end results: bereaved families, the struggle to recover from serious injuries, the mental health problems that follow for some of those caught up who were otherwise not physically harmed and ultimately the battle to both understand why and whether there is any wider meaning to be drawn from something that can initially seem meaningless.

With some exceptions, and perhaps because the number of deaths so far is 3, which is still 3 too many but seems close to miraculous given the number of people in the area and the way the bombs were constructed, the response so far has been measured.  The decision not to describe the attack as terrorism immediately was undoubtedly the right one, and the reluctance to do so even today also feels right.  Fundamentally, regardless of who or whom planted the bombs, the act remains a criminal rather than a political one.  As for who could have carried it out, it realistically could have been anyone: while it doesn't seem to fit the usual jihadi modus operandi of suicide or car bombings, the Madrid attacks were carried out using planted bombs, and it should be remembered that the recent push from ideologues has been for individuals to launch attacks on their own.  Relatively unsophisticated devices such as those used yesterday could well have been constructed by someone with no formal training relying on information gathered from the internet.

Similarly, the perpetrators could just as easily be far-right extremists, the attack coming on both Patriots' Day and Tax Day, close to the anniversaries of both the end of the Waco siege and the Oklahoma City bombing.  Indeed, Timothy McVeigh carried out his attack on the old date of Patriots' Day.  It could also be the work of someone with a similar ideology to Eric Rudolph, most infamous for the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  Other suspects, although less likely, could be a far left/anarchist groupscule, or a lone agitator, the most notorious American example being the Unabomber.  Wild claims on Twitter that it could be connected to the on-going tension with North Korea seem extraordinarily wide of the mark, not least when the North has never carried out any attacks against a country other than the South.

Understandable as it for there to be concern about the London marathon due to the proximity of the events, there isn't the slightest evidence that yesterday's bombing was anything other than an isolated incident.  Not only have there never previously been terrorist attacks carried out by the same perpetrators in different Western countries separated by such distance within such a short space of time, security is always going to be inevitably ratcheted up, thereby discouraging any group when the chances of being discovered are increased. Whoever planned the attack, despite having so far failed to claim responsibility, knew full well that cameras would be focused on the finish line, guaranteeing that the explosion and the moments after the blast would be recorded for maximum effect.  If they intend to repeat their success, then it's unlikely that anywhere less well covered will be chosen, thereby increasing the chances they will quickly be discovered.  Indeed, it would perhaps be more surprising if the person who planted the bombs hasn't been captured on film at some point, especially as the area had previously been swept for devices twice in the past 24 hours, necessitating the devices being left within hours of the race beginning.

This all said, the best way to respond such attacks has always been with empathy, sympathy and stoicism.  Life goes on, and always will do, which makes such references to "9/11 spirit" so thoroughly lacking in rigour, as were the ones after 7/7 which remarked on how Londoners carried on using the Tube as though nothing had happened.  Surprisingly, people have to carry on making a living, which is all the more reason to help those who have been directly affected rather than comment on how everyone manages to keep on going as though it were something remarkable.  It also ought to bring into focus how some live with the real threat of such violence on a daily basis, as others have said.  That we are either indirectly or even directly funding some of those carrying out acts we would describe as terrorism were they to hit our own cities might shock those who have been so outraged by a terrible but also inevitable (such is the history of terrorism) event.

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Monday, April 15, 2013 

A small, ridiculous gesture for a massive, undignifed death jamboree.

One of the problems that comes from Labour deciding to just let the Tories have their week of mourning/deification with the very minimum of criticism is that you let the likes of George Galloway represent what a significant amount of people are thinking.  It was an utterly absurd, cowardly move for the BBC to not play Ding Dong in full, instead opting for the typical compromise that pleased neither side.  I really thought we'd moved past the point at which things that were in poor taste were banned/censored due to outside pressure, not least when it comes to music.  There's plenty of music in the top 40 that's offensive in terms of how objectively awful it is, but if people buy it, it gets played.  It's how the system works.  Start altering that and it renders the entire exercise even more completely and utterly pointless than it already is.  Also, regardless of what Guido or the Mail think, for 52,000 people to buy a song in one week purely as a protest only underlines how the attempts to claim Thatcher as our greatest peacetime prime minister are a step too far.

And so now Big Ben is to be silenced for the duration of Saint Margaret's funeral.  It's a small, ridiculous gesture for what is turning into a massive, undignified summation of how for all Thatcher's rolling back of the state, the parts that were in most need of trimming are still fully functioning.  Turning your back on the entire charade really does seem to be the best possible way to register discontent with what has been a fully fledged political campaign from the moment the news of her death came through.

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Friday, April 12, 2013 

No cure.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 

A political Queen.

Writing about Thatcher (and politicians in general), it's easy to forget that behind the often harsh, apparently uncaring exterior, there was a real, feeling woman who clearly was capable of great kindness as well as denouncing her opponents in the strongest of terms.  One of the more myth-squashing anecdotes from yesterday's Commons and Lords sessions was Lord Butler's retelling of how a student challenged her on referring to children as "illegitimate", despite their parentage not being something they had any control over.  Thatcher responded that it was better than calling them the alternative (bastard), yet later she reflected to Butler that having thought about it, the student had been right.  Looking at the photograph taken of her in Battersea Park only last month, I was reminded of my grandmother's passing last year, who also spent her final years battling with dementia.  Regardless of what we do with our lives, at the end every single one of us dies the same way, alone.

All the more reason why we shouldn't let Thatcher be remade into what is effectively political royalty.  The way Tory MPs tried to shout down both David Winnick and Glenda Jackson yesterday may well be typical Commons behaviour which all sides are often guilty of, yet it was surely inappropriate when so many of their colleagues made tributes that went far beyond the sycophantic and instead into the most slavering hero worship.  The idea she had any role in the fall of the Soviet Union beyond her early picking out of Gorbachev is absurd, as is her much overstated love of freedom.  She believed in it for those under Communism, not so much those under authoritarian regimes that were British allies.

Fair enough, David Cameron clearly admires her deeply, and so his rhetorical flourishes can be forgiven.  Ed Miliband also acquitted himself well, making a well-judged speech that covered both the good and the bad without riling either side. It's also unclear just how much of the planning for the funeral was done by which government: we now know Operation True Blue dates back to around 2006, indicating that some sort of public remembrance was going to take place regardless of who was in power. Which would have been fine. A ceremonial funeral goes well beyond that, giving her the same status as a royal, ignoring how one of the reasons we continue to grudgingly put up with Brenda is that she has stayed resolutely above politics.

The comparison is apt, because much as any criticism of Liz is treated as being akin to a modern form of blasphemy, so it seems the likes of the Mail now want Maggie to get the same treatment. As predictable as the outrage was from the usual suspects at those not treating their heroine's death with the due amount of respect, the Mail's pursuit of those behind one such death party is incredibly petty. Splashing two days in a row on the opponents rather than celebrating Thatcher's life and legacy seems a really odd way to go about things.

Then again, perhaps the Mail thinks focusing on the beastliness of some is the only way to win over those it would normally consider its natural allies.  To judge by the ratings the tribute programmes hastily screen on Monday picked up (3 million) and the number of views news stories on the major websites have received since, Thatcher's demise and the circus that has followed since might be fascinating the politics nerds (guilty), but it doesn't seem to be transfixing many others.

And why should it?  Those born on the day she left office are now 22, while the passing of time for those older appears to have dulled both the interests and opinions of the majority.  Moreover, we can either bemoan or celebrate her legacy, but none of the mainstream political parties want to truly break with it.  The battles she fought appear to be all but over, while her main disciple is urging Ed Miliband to not so much as inch leftwards.  Looks as though, yet again, it's up to the next generation to break the spell Thatcher cast over British politics.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013 

Anthems for a 17-year-old girl.

One thing almost completely buried (ho ho) by the passing of Margaret Hilda Thatcher (and credit where credit's due to both David Winnick and Glenda Jackson for refusing to go along with the consensus in today's tribute debate) has been the remarkable treatment meted out to Paris Brown, the unfortunately named 17-year-old appointed to be yoof crime tsar by Kent's police and crime commissioner.  Try to put aside the fact that Brown's mission was supposedly meant to be to bring the police and young people closer together, as "they used to be", or that almost no one wanted the PCCs in the first place, and instead marvel at the sheer laziness, cynicism and callousness involved in the Mail on Sunday's attack on someone still not old enough to cast a ballot herself.

You might recall that back in 2009 the Scottish Sunday Express ran what was quite possibly the most ill-judged and despicable newspaper piece in many years.  Written by Paula Murray, the article "exposed" what it described as the "shame" of the survivors of the Dunblane massacre, who now having reached 18 were daring to live their lives the way almost every other 18-year-old would. Murray had scoured their social networking profiles for the slightest evidence of "bad" behaviour, whether it be drinking, swearing, sex, getting tattoos or even into the odd fight, and instead of being told by her colleagues or indeed even her editor that this was just about the most appalling breach of privacy imaginable, Derek Lambie went ahead and splashed it on the front page.  Deserved opprobrium duly landed on the heads of all involved.

Four years later, and we have the first major evidence that the politicians and public figures of the future are likely to be damned for what they put on their Twitter or Facebook pages potentially decades previous.  The hatchet job performed on Brown is still astonishing though, both for the vehemence of the attack and the sheer breadth of what the MoS decided to focus on.  Understandably, most attention was focused on Brown's comments on "pikeys" and her description of everyone on Made in Chelsea as "fucking fags", but the paper also saw fit to draw attention to the fact that Brown talked of how the "worst thing about being single" was "coming home ... horny and having to sleep alone".  A young woman daring to express sexual desire in a public forum? How dare she!

Regardless of when she made some of the tweets, and as Brown swiftly deleted the account we can't check whether she did make some when she was 14 or 15 and not recently, there really isn't much here to get even slightly outraged about.  No, it isn't clever to say you're glad your little brother hit someone who gave his friend a black eye, nor should it be acceptable to call people fags or faggots regardless of the changing meaning of the word, although it should be remembered programmes like Made in Chelsea are produced with the intention of winding people up.  As for her attack on "pikeys", it's fairly apparent she was using the word not as an attack on gypsies directly, but in the sense it's came to be used in as shorthand for thieves in general.  Still not anywhere approaching OK, but are there many who can say that at Brown's age they didn't also make such sweeping condemnations of people, or even use racist language?  I know I can't.

Quite apart from the hysterical hypocrisy of the Mail stable of newspapers condemning someone's non-PC comments on race relations and gay rights, what really rankles is that they chose to draw attention to some of her more introspective, vulnerable tweets, including one where she's obviously criticising herself for how she has sometimes behaved when drunk.  17-year-old has on occasion had a drink! Hold the front page!

It was hardly surprising then when, presumably pressurised into doing so, Brown sat across from the PCC Anne Barnes apologising for the messages while crying her eyes out, all in front of the TV cameras.  I don't think I've seen a more pitiful sight in quite some time; a young person thought she was doing something to help those her own age, and was duly rewarded for it with the kind of attack usually reserved for those who have in some way or another attracted the Mail's ire.

Brown shouldn't have had to resign, but almost certainly had no option. Joe Jones says she have been fully vetted, with her social networking profiles looked at, yet is this really the kind of territory we're now getting into?  When teenagers can't even be allowed to make mistakes or say stupid things for fear they might later have them picked up on, we're in clear danger of creating a generation of politicians who are so desperately dull and have such indistinct opinions that the public becomes even less enthused with the system than they currently are.  Whatever you thought about Thatcher, she believed in what she was doing.  Plenty of those now growing up have the potential to be outstanding future leaders with similar qualities, and are presumably exactly the sort the Mail on Sunday would approve of.  If we're going to attempt to kill them off before they even get started because of daft things they've done on the internet, our democracy is going to be a very dry place indeed.

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013 

Thatcher's victories.

The only appropriate response yesterday seemed to be to mock.  Thatcher had become and will remain a myth, for both right and left.  For her most devoted followers on the right, and for an example of the loopiness she has on even those usually most staid of academics, historians, one only need read the Graun's interviews with Michael Burleigh and Andrew Roberts, she was a giant who will never be equalled.  It doesn't matter to them how many communities her policies ripped the heart out of, how many lost their jobs as an effect of her repudiation of the attempts to maintain full employment of the post-war years and were thereafter bought off with incapacity benefit, or how the ultimate effect of the castration of the unions was the soaring inequality we have today (or if it does, they rationalise it as unavoidable collateral damage).  They really, genuinely, believe that she saved the country as David Cameron said yesterday.

Equally, for some on the left, Thatcher became the ultimate depiction of the nasty, heartless, even evil Tory.  There is no such thing as society, she said, and that quote came to symbolise how they felt she cared nothing for the working man who wanted little more than a secure job and a roof over his head.  If he wanted to buy that house, then that was different, he became "one of us".  All the rest could be disregarded, or if they were actively hostile, they could be characterised as the "enemy within".  The previous solidarity of local communities and workplaces was broken down through such rhetoric, while the police were used, whether against the miners or the strikers at Wapping as her effective line of enforcement.

As you might expect, my own view on Thatcher is closer to that of the latter rather than the former.  It's difficult to draw such a broad conclusion though when she resigned as prime minister 5 days shy of my 6th birthday.  Indeed, one of the many absurdities of yesterday was that so many of my generation and younger were either celebrating or certainly not feeling the slightest bit sad about the death of someone they could either barely remember as being in power or had resigned years before they were even born.  I don't have very solid memories of much before I was about 7, although I can extremely vaguely recall the news of the poll tax riots.  As for her political passing, there's just a blank.  I might be a child of Thatcher, but actually remember her time? I certainly don't.

Britain in 2013 is nonetheless still her country.  It's undoubtedly a more socially liberal and multiracial place than it was in the dying days of 1990, but economically it resembles it more closely than it has in years previous.  Enterprise zones, straight out of the Thatcherite handbook are back, as is the language of there being no alternative. George Osborne even lifted directly from her for his budget slogan, that it was one for those who want to "work hard and get on", as tactless a message as we've come to expect from the sledgehammer chancellor.

It's here where a certain section of the left's demonisation of Thatcher begins to fall apart.  To understand what she achieved, you don't just have to be aware that not a single one of her privatisations, financial reforms or trade union laws was unpicked by Labour between 97 and 2010, but also that support for her was so total from the vast majority of the media that it forced everyone that has come since into trying to ride the press tiger.  All have tried, and all have failed, although John Major refused to play the game to anywhere near the extent that Blair, Brown and Cameron did.  It's been said repeatedly that New Labour was Thatcher's greatest achievement (including by herself), and it's one of those rare cases when such a widely shared view is probably right.  In fact, New Labour didn't just keep to her settlement, it expanded on it: one of Gordon Brown's very first acts as chancellor was to give away the only remaining power that the Treasury had kept, that of raising and lowering interest rates.  The free market was triumphant.  That Labour would have almost certainly won in 97 regardless of Tony Blair's transformation of the party is now just another of those what if scenarios.

Although I disagree with plenty of the Heresiarch's analysis, he's right to note that the most fundamental difference between the New Labour machine and that of Thatcher was language.  New Labour (initially at least) spoke compassionately and continued to denounce the evils of Conservatism while going far further than she had dared in many areas.  Whereas she may not have cared two hoots for the NHS, she didn't introduce privatisation, as New Labour did; nor were the unemployed or others on benefits denounced in anywhere near the terms that became familiar in the final years under Labour (Tebbit's "on yer bike" anecdote about his father aside, although the denunciation of single mothers wasn't many moons away).  The use of the private finance initiative boomed, while the City was allowed to do whatever it liked, and duly did.  Thatcher undoubtedly wanted as many as possible to get rich, but she never said anything amounting to the immortal line uttered by Peter Mandelson.  She also might have loathed anything that wasn't bourgeois while having no interest in wider culture whatsoever, but she didn't expand the prison estate in the way her successor and then Labour did, or impose the restrictions on civil liberties Labour did in the aftermath of 9/11, despite almost being murdered by the IRA.

While then it was at least nice to hear one alternative voice yesterday, and it's difficult to disagree with Ken Livingstone that Thatcher's reforms set the political failures on housing and the City we're living with today into motion, his opponents were also right when they stated back that his party did nothing to change them and in some cases have ended up exacerbating the problems.  Just then as Thatcher lay the foundations for New Labour, so too did New Labour set the foundations for David Cameron's Tories and the coalition.  David Cameron's attempt to rebrand the Tories has undoubtedly been more spin and less substance than the remaking of Labour was, yet it just about worked.  That in power almost all of the fluffiness has fallen away and been replaced by some incredibly harsh rhetoric isn't just a mirror on the 80s, it's also how Blair and Brown operated when they thought they had to.

You can't imagine though that when either Blair or Brown go there will be impromptu street parties to mark the occasion.  Thatcher wasn't just divisive, as has been admitted even by Cameron, she polarised the country.  Apparently capable of great charm and kindness in private as well as rudeness, her public demeanour inspired hatred.  You were either with her or against her, a position only Tony Blair has since invoked.  For all the claims of how she was an inspiration for people in the Soviet bloc and had a passion for freedom, this only went so far.  If you were unlucky enough to be under the yoke of a dictatorship of a British ally, whether in Chile, Indonesia or Saudi Arabia to name but three, then hard luck.  The same went for the ANC in South Africa; she may well have opposed apartheid, but she continued to refer to Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and refused to impose sanctions on the regime.

All the more reason why yesterday we should have heard more widely from those who opposed her at the time.  The closest the mainstream came to acknowledging the depth of feeling of some, not to mention what was happening online were the one or two interviews with miners, with Red Ken and Shirley Williams turning up on Newsnight, alongside the odd reference to George Galloway's tweeting.  The 80s were hardly a sanitised era, and Thatcher herself was ruthless in her attacks on the media when they refused to follow the Conservative line, particularly the BBC, although perhaps most notoriously when Thames broadcast Death on the Rock.  Nor was there much, if any comment on the continuing censorship during her decade in power: the video nasty panic and the influence of Mary Whitehouse on Thatcher went unremarked upon.

Nor should it have been decided so swiftly that she would receive a ceremonial, if not state funeral, although the difference is frankly semantic.  Regardless of what you think of Churchill as a politician both before and after the war, his leadership during the conflict demanded that he receive full state honours when he died.  He worked to unite the nation and give it the belief to fight on.  Thatcher did the opposite of the former, while indirectly promoting a class conflict that continues to this day.  If the family wanted a public event, then by all means they could have either paid for it themselves (as they are doing in part) or had it privately funded.  Those pushing for a full state funeral should note that if Thatcher deserves one, then when Blair goes he will also surely merit such recognition.  It will also inevitably attract much protest, which raises the question of how it's going to be policed.

The ultimate conclusion to draw is that as always, it's the victors that end up writing the history.  Where the left has arguably succeeded socially (although there is much still to do) the right has most definitely triumphed economically.  What Thatcher and Reagan instituted in the 80s ought to have been exposed by the crash of 07/08 and the depression that has followed.  Instead, after a initial bout of Keynesianism, neoliberalism has re-emerged if anything stronger than ever.  There is, we are told, no alternative.  They're right, as the left has completely failed to set out that alternative.  Thatcher won then, and her successors are doing so now.

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