Thursday, October 31, 2013 

The immigration monster and the "go home" vans.

If anything, it's a bit of a surprise that as many as 11 people decided to "go home" rather than face the rather distant possibility of arrest after learning of the Home Office van campaign. This raises the obvious question of just how desperate a situation they must have been in to want to take their chances back in their home country, but such concerns are clearly irrelevant. These people shouldn't be here and they should go.

Only, as the reporting of Mark Harper's written answer makes clear, it costs more to enforce a deportation (£15,000) than the average illegal immigrant costs the taxpayer a year (just shy of £5,000). The latter figure seems difficult to believe, in any case: most illegal migrants won't/can't access public services, and so will use hardly any resources at all.  The motivation behind the campaign is then somewhat financially sound: paying for a flight for someone is hell of a lot cheaper than doling out money to our friends at G4S or Serco to "Mubenga" someone.

The problem was in the execution, but then that was clearly the point. This was a stunt straight out of the Lynton Crosby playbook. Wait until news was slow, then launch a campaign using a borderline racist slogan designed to attract both condemnation and attention in equal measure. If some people did take up the kind offer, all the better. The Tories could portray themselves as tough as well as practical, and Labour would be caught in the trap of either condemning sending illegal immigrants home, or condoning a 70s style National Front demand.  They didn't however factor in that this being the social networking age, a thousand people would prank the phone and text line, or indeed that even Nigel Farage would denounce the campaign as being too nasty, designed purely to win back some of those who had defected to his party.

Without figures for voluntary deportations for a similar period prior to "Operation Vaken", we clearly can't make a comparison as to how successful the whole charade really was.  It might well be that a similar number to the 125 total claimed to have been motivated by the operation would have submitted themselves anyway without prompting.  This is the thing: there is absolutely nothing wrong with ensuring those here illegally know they can return to their country of origin if they so wish, with the government picking up the tab.  It's how you go about doing so, and telling people to go home or face arrest is manifestly not the right way, not least when it's clearly a political campaign designed to look tough and win votes.  It probably does save money, although the idea the Vaken might have saved the taxpayer £830,000 is ridiculous.

Something that wouldn't just save money but actually benefit both the taxpayer and the economy would be an amnesty, bringing those working cash in hand out of the shadows and onto the path towards citizenship.  That however would go completely against the rhetoric and policies of the past few years, where politicians have followed public opinion rather than attempt to lead it.  Too bad that as Sunny wrote previously, it's now probably too late: the monster is loose.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013 

The snobbery of a day's pay for a day's work returns.

Today's ruling by the supreme court that it was unlawful for those sent on workfare schemes to be sanctioned when the government had failed to set out how the schemes would be regulated in law leaves us almost precisely where we were back in February when the Court of Appeal gave its judgement.  The only thing that's changed since then is the DWP under Iain Duncan Smith immediately set out to retroactively define the schemes in law, so as to stop any possibility of those illegally denied their benefits from claiming compensation.  Despite doing so, the government still sought to have the appeal court's ruling struck down, for reasons known only to itself.

Indeed, the supreme court in its ruling rather acidly passes comment on the DWP's approach.  It is rather unattractive", Lord Neuberger and Lord Toulson write, "for the executive to be taking up court time and public money to establish that a regulation is valid, when it has already taken up Parliamentary time to enact legislation which retrospectively validates the regulation".  Not content with that, they also note the dates when the DWP changed the regulations and then appealed against the ruling, which just so happens to be the same day as the judgement was handed down, which was extremely speedy by DWP standards, and then the same day as the act setting them out in law was passed in parliament.

Unattractive is just about the kindest possible way you can describe how Duncan Smith and friends have handled opposition to their myriad of pet projects.  "Intellectual snobbery" was the colourful formulation decided upon by IDS to condemn the clearly old-fashioned belief that a fair day's work should be rewarded with a fair day's pay.  From the very beginning they set out to impugn Cait Reilly's motives, suggesting that as a graduate she thought it was beneath her to stack shelves and scrub floors in Poundland, something only slightly undermined by how she's currently working for Morrisons.  Even today they've tried their darnedest to spin the ruling as being in their favour, the supreme court deciding it is simply common sense that on jobseeker's allowance can be sent on "work experience", and that it isn't in any shape or form forced labour.  It doesn't matter they lost on the other three counts, so long as they can claim some sort of hollow victory and make that case on TV.

This goes to the heart of how politicians on occasion couldn't give a fig for the rule of law or even basic fairness.  We've seen the consequences over the last couple of days, with Ed Balls' sacking of Sharon Shoesmith coming back to bite all concerned.  Somehow we're meant to be outraged about Shoesmith being "rewarded for failure", when it was Balls reacting to the Sun's hysterical campaign over the death of Peter Connelly that inexorably led to the former head of children's services at Haringey council quite rightly being awarded compensation for unfair dismissal.  In this instance the DWP acted to deny that which was rightfully due to thousands of those deprived of the most basic means to subsist, having not been informed of what their rights actually were.  That the failure to legally outline how the schemes would operate and how those who refused to take part or objected to the terms would be sanctioned may well have been deliberate just underlines how pathetic Labour were to abstain on the retroactive legislation.

Workfare then will continue as it has.  This is despite the fact that at least one scheme has been found to be actively counter-productive, and there is little to no evidence to suggest "work experience" as some reporters and the government still wish to describe the various programmes help those placed on them to find long-lasting work.  They do however help enormously with the unemployment figures, as those on them, despite still claiming JSA, are counted as in work.  Those companies who have resisted the likes of Boycott Workfare also benefit, with a constant stream of workers passing through they don't need to even bother paying the minimum wage.  And this is before the Community Action Programme is massively expanded as announced by George Osborne at the Conservative party conference, due to increase the number of those who, like Jamieson Wilson, will find themselves working for their benefit for six months at a time.  Refuse, and they get nothing.  Such is the morass into which we've descended, with commentators still happy to accuse Reilly rather than engage with the reality of hundreds of thousands being forced to work for far less than the minimum wage.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013 

Only the little people can be spied on.

Last week, the NSA/GCHQ spying on everyone and everything scandal finally achieved critical mass.  Not, you understand, due to the revelations that the NSA had been collating the metadata behind the phone calls and messages of millions of ordinary Europeans, but because they had also been monitoring the calls of Angela Merkel, as well as other major leaders.  Cue the summoning of US ambassadors, demands for such practices to end, and an agreed statement at Friday's EU summit that suggested such abuses damaged intelligence sharing.

As Juan Cole writes, it's only when friends and allies discover they've been subject to such practices that those who've previously defended the spies to the hilt decide their mates have gone too far.  Tapping into fibre optic cables in pursuit of mastering the internet, working behind the scenes with tech companies to monitor social networking sites, and operating a scheme where GCHQ spies on the US and the NSA spies on the UK to avoid breaching laws, that's all to be expected.  Intercepting Frau Merkel's "handy", though, that's beyond the pale.  Obama might have known about Prism and all the rest, but listening in to former president Sarkozy's chats with gorgeous pouting Carla Bruni?  He wasn't aware of anything like that, honest.

Luckily for our own prime minister, any manoeuvring around say, Andy Coulson or more prosaic discussions with Sam Cam over which box set to chillax with on any particular night won't have been saved for posterity in the NSA archives, as best friends don't listen in on each other's calls.  Or, if they do, they aren't admitting to it.  The so-called "Five Eyes" agreement where the intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, probably means there isn't much that isn't shared in any case, which was why it was always nonsensical for the last government to claim the release of the "seven paragraphs" would mean the turning off of the tap.

This meant dear old Dave could stand up in the Commons yesterday and maintain his previously taken position that everything the security services do is wonderful, completely legal and beyond reproach.  The real danger remains the continuing release of such secrets, rather than damage to long-standing relationships when embarrassing details are inadvertently made public.  Indeed, when we want to know the truth about how the Snowden files have affected the work of MI5 and co, you simply have to turn to the Sun, which has a long track record in holding power to account.  Keeping things subtle as always, the paper illustrated the whisper it received from a "security source" that the "terrorists have gone quiet" since the Guardian started printing its stories alongside a photo of the WTC ablaze.

Hugh Muir suggests this will be the line taken by the heads of 5, 6 and GCHQ when they have their first ever live chat in front of the cameras at the intelligence and security committee.  It can't be proved and it can't be disproved, like so much else when it comes to the spooks, and so is perfect for sages such as Malcolm Rifkind and Hazel Blears to pronounce upon.  One suspects the real reason behind the Sun story is the Graun at the weekend revealed how the spooks have previously kiboshed reforms not to their liking.  Apparently concerned that the introduction of intercept evidence into the courts could reveal their surveillance capabilities were far beyond what was known, irony of ironies, they worked with the Home Office to lobby against the proposals, including by putting forward trusted lieutenants such as Lord Carlile and Lord Stevens to speak to the media.  Lord Carlile it's worth remembering was the "independent" reviewer of terrorism legislation, who just last week said the Graun had committed "criminal acts".  Never has been there been so obvious an example of regulatory capture.

That very illusion of independent oversight is exactly what the government and the spooks are seeking to ensure carries on.  It doesn't matter Rifkind has already said newspapers can't make an informed decision on what will and won't affect national security, and so it follows should never publish anything without their permission, we must still go through the motions. The same was the case with Cameron's veiled threats yesterday: as Roy Greenslade says, he can't make the DA-Notice committee do anything, while any attempt to pursue an injunction would take press freedom back years, as well as possibly breaching the ECHR. Such has been the tenor of the debate though, it's understandable that no chances are being taken. And it's not even close to being over.

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Monday, October 28, 2013 

Thoughts on the end of the liberal conspiracy.

Liberal Conspiracy is gone.  It's something that's clearly been approaching for a while, such has been the dwindling number of posts, but it's still rather sad.  My thanks go out to Sunny for considering my witterings to be worthy of occasionally featuring there, and I wish him luck in his future ventures.  This also seems as good a time as any for a brief interlude of introspection, so here we go.

Sunny pulling the plug on LC is indicative of where blogging has gone over the last couple of years, which is pretty much down the toilet.  Perhaps I just haven't kept up, but away from the group blogs it seems moribund.  A few are still going fairly strong, others aren't updated as regularly as before, while plenty have thrown in the towel.  Clearly, individual blogs can still grow exponentially, for which see Wings Over Scotland, it's just they need a well-defined niche.

I would say this, but for me the real explanation for the decline isn't the mainstream media coming late to the party and overtaking the amateurs, it's that most writers now spend their time on Twitter rather than blogging.  Each to their own and everything, I just don't like the format and way it inevitably leads to circle jerks, as well as the tendency it inspires in trying to one up those you disagree with, which leads absolutely nowhere.  It also seems to lead some to believe that Twitter, or rather their followers and those they follow are the internet, the culmination of which seemed to be the "boycott" of August.  I'd like to think blogging broadens rather than limits horizons, while social networking in general does the opposite.  Might just be me.

It may also be somewhat to do with how ghastly politics is and has been for the last couple of years.  People seem to have tuned out to the point where Russell Brand being his normal, half-berk half-idiot savant self inspires more comment than anything in months.  You can focus when the government of the day is doing one or two things that are spectacularly ill-advised and wrong; when the coalition seems determined to bugger things up on so many different levels, it tends to inspire apathy rather than opposition.  With so many struggling to make ends meet it also leaves you determined to make the most of the leisure time you have, and while I might be the kind of sad bastard who likes smashing out hundreds of words every day, plenty of others who might have started out before think better of it now.

All this said, I for one am still fairly happy to keep going on.  I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought of putting an end to Obsolete/septicisle or whatever stupid name this site has quite a few times down the years, but for one reason or another I've continued.  Why stop now that the "competition" is dwindling?  Let's give it till Christmas, at least.

(Thanks to everyone who does humour me.  And if you're still reading, thank you especially.)

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Friday, October 25, 2013 


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Thursday, October 24, 2013 

Those letters between the press and the Queen in full.

Your Majesty,
                             (Actually, before we get started, do you mind if we call you Liz? Your Majesty is really quite formal, and as modern press representatives we loathe formality, as your friend and ours Paul "double cunting" Dacre attests. OK, Liz it is.)

      As you will no doubt be aware as a regular puruser of our publications, your government is currently try to ram through statutory regulation of the press. We believe this would signal the end of 300 years of press freedom, and as it is being achieved through a royal charter, we also believe it has the potential to sully the good name of the finest monarchy in the world.

We're sure you agree far too much has been made of the fact one or two newspapers were caught breaking the law on an industrial scale just to get the latest exclusive on which celebrity was shagging another, as we know you're as partial to OK! magazine as most other housewives. That we may have also smeared a few people who were arrested for serious crimes and then released without charge, or hacked the mobile phone of a murdered schoolgirl we can't condone, but such things have to be put in the context of our contribution to democracy, as recent articles such as Red Ed: Did his evil Marxist father help with the attempt on the life of Princess Anne? make apparent. Hopefully you'll also overlook this whole thing started with the regrettable hacking of the phones of members of the royal household. You wouldn't hold that against us, would you?

Britain has long stood as a shining beacon of freedom, and the vibrancy of the press has always reflected that. Our notoriety worldwide has been hard won, and not something we will relinquish lightly. The freedom of the press is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, drafted by our very own Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, and the fact that some of us have long campaigned for the abolition of the Human Rights Act and withdrawal from his charter for criminals and terrorists by no means makes us horrendous hypocrites.

Worst of all, the charter would almost certainly be used by autocrats and repressive governments worldwide as an excuse for attacks on the press in their respective countries.  This terrifying knock-on effect will be all the more devastating as it will carry with it the respect in which you personally, and the crown institutionally, are held throughout the world.  Of course, that we've never previously shown the slightest interest in freedom of the press worldwide, and have no problem with running supplements paid for by tyrants is something that shouldn't be held against us.  Nor does the fact some of us have suggested the Guardian should be shut down, prosecuted for endangering the security of the nation, and Alan Rusbridger strung up from the nearest lamppost mean that far from believing in the freedom of expression we believe only in the freedom to make money.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

We therefore urge you, Liz, as the final guarantor of freedom of expression across the UK and your Commonwealth, not to sign this charter.  We hope you found this morning's headlines, where we universally described your great grandson as "Georgeous", to your liking, and that you've forgotten all about our publishing of photos of Fergie toe-sucking, Harry buck-ass naked and the hounding of your daughter-in-law to the point where she died trying to escape from our photographers.

Signed by the Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch no surrender committee


Dear representatives of the press,                                           
                                                                     Piss orf.
The Queen (Liz)

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013 

How discrimination still works.

Is there anything the media loves more than a good scare story, particularly when it involves the other?  When it also plays on the desperation of those who have lost a child, the cynicism takes the breath away. The story from Greece of little blonde girl found with a Roma family she has no biological link to doesn't have any significance outside of eastern Europe whatsoever, and yet thanks to global coverage of this truly shocking discovery the authorities and charities have received thousands of inquiries from those who hope the child may be theirs.

Quite apart from how the case seems likely to lead to Fritzl style demands for every Roma child in that benighted country to be investigated, something of great help to the Golden Dawn movement, the last thing it ought to have inspired is raids elsewhere. Just as we had idiots a few years ago who thought every blonde child in a foreign clime with parents of the wrong skin colour could be Madeleine McCann, so it seems the garda acted after a numbskull thought a gypsy couple couldn't possibly have produced a blonde girl. 48 hours later, and after the Mirror had splashed on the "panic", it unsurprisingly turns out the child is theirs.  The parents now seem certain to take legal action.  Rather than offer an apology, the garda has instead restated they "take extremely serious all reports received from members of the public concerning child welfare issues", which seems to suggest anyone acting upon prejudice and age-old racist assumptions still has a friend in the Irish police.

The Roma really are the last racial group it's socially acceptable to discriminate against.  Nor is it just in Europe, as a headline in last weekend's New York Times made clear, asking whether the Roma are primitive or just poor.  The body of the article is in fact, as you would expect from the NYT, a perfectly sensitive account of the attitudes towards the Roma on the continent, but the idea the paper would run a headline asking whether any other racial group is primitive or just poor, or cultured or just rich is laughable.

As Joseph Harker writes, whereas we now have endless discussions about whether or not a celebrity of one kind or another has said something racist, with what seems like an incident every month or so, the latest being the ridiculous mini-furore last week over Roy Hodgson's use of an old joke as an illustration, we don't seem to want to talk about genuine discrimination.  There was almost no wider coverage of BBC London's investigation into letting agents that suggested some were more than prepared to abide by stipulations from landlords that they couldn't let to those of an Afro-Carribbean background.  It's even more surprising when allegations of misogyny are thrown around in regards to the silliness surrounding a fucking baking reality show, and so much was made of the way women who come into the public eye were being treated on Twitter.  Like with so much else, we focus on the ephemera and neglect that which lurks just out of our line of sight.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013 

The legacy of past failures.

Yesterday's announcement that the government has struck a deal with EDF Energy and China General Nuclear to build a new reactor at Hinkley Point was hardly a surprise.  Apart from the bargaining, which had been going on for some time, the last cog in the wheel and tip-off as to what to expect was the Liberal Democrats voting at their conference to turn their previous opposition to nuclear power on its head.  As energy secretary, Ed Davey had the privilege of presenting the pact to parliament (alliteration, eh?), lightly glossing over that as recently as 2006 he had been completely against new nukes, saying "people don't want nuclear".

We shouldn't though be too hard on the Lib Dems.  When the facts change, you should change position, and as much as it's usually a bad sign when all three parties support something, on this occasion investment in nuclear energy, alongside renewables, is almost certainly the right policy.  If we're to keep climate change to below the point at which increases in temperature will cause catastrophic change to the weather and the planet, and keep the lights on, a mix of the two is almost the only way to go.  Greens and some of those on the left have, as Mark Lynas and George Monbiot argued repeatedly, completely overstated the dangers of nuclear power or see the issue through the prism of weapons rather than as a non-carbon source of energy that is always on.  I write this having voted Green at the last general election, as well as at every European parliament vote since I turned 18.  Chernobyl and Fukushima were and are disasters, it's true, but both were the result of either human mistakes or failures in construction and location.  The reactor planned for Hinkley Point C will be of the third generation EPR design, similar to the ones being built in Finland (behind time and over budget) and China, and so won't be an integral fast reactor, which has the potential to deal with the problem of the left over waste which we are also yet to solve.

The problems with the deal aren't with building the new nukes, which will happen, it's with the details.  The agreement with EDF and CGN is essentially yet another private finance initiative, or as the Graun puts it in this case, a foreign finance initiative.  The coalition (and industry) that tells Ed Miliband and Labour they can't freeze energy prices for 20 months can tell foreign investors the base rate they'll be paid for the energy to be generated for 35 years, 10 years longer than Mark Lynas thought would be the basis for the dealAs Damian Carrington also notes, the £92.50 per megawatt hour figure (£89.50 per MWh if EDF also goes ahead with another reactor at Sizewell) is subject to change, and not set in stone.  Despite already being double the current price, it could potentially go far higher, or indeed, although considering the way things have been going for a long time now it's extremely unlikely, lower.  This might be about the same subsidy as wind is currently receiving, but that's expected to decrease as the years pass.  Much as Caroline Lucas might be wrong in opposing nuclear full stop, she's right that the deal should be urgently reviewed by the National Audit Office to see whether or not this is a stitch-up we'll all be contributing to for decades to come.

Second is the irony, or rather humiliation, in presenting this as a triumph for the country when the deal means we'll be paying the French and Chinese governments to do a job we were almost the first to finesse (although the near disaster at Windscale, later renamed Sellafield, is almost always brushed over if mentioned at all).  North Sea gas and oil played a role, but the wholesale privatisation of the Central Electricity Generating Board, rather than keeping a majority stake as the French have with EDF meant that relying on others rather than ourselves was always going to be the case.  The projection is the build at Hinkley Point will create around 25,000 jobs, but as for how many of those will be skilled British jobs, or of the preparing the site variety remains to be seen.  If 57% of the jobs are to be with British contractors as a way of restarting expertise in the industry, then great, it's just to be believed when we see it.

Coming as this does as three of the big six energy companies have announced triple the inflation rate increases in prices, here's another thought to savour.  Those green energy subsidies that make up some of the rise are soon to be added to by the agreed subsidy for the new nukes. As James Meek put it in his London Review of Books piece from last year, this is:

Effectively the French government ... buying the right to tax British electricity customers through their electricity bills; to use British money and British sites to finance a world showcase for unproven French nuclear technology. And because the hidden taxes in electricity bills take no account of people’s ability to pay, the poorer you are, the bigger contribution you make to the programme.

Thanks to the legacy of privatisation, the Tory party that today wants to renegotiate our relationship with Europe has surprisingly few qualms about leaving the responsibility for keeping the lights on to the perfidious, completely signed up to the EU project French state.  The contradictions are all but unending.

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Monday, October 21, 2013 

Coming over here, bombing our mosques...

Back in the febrile environment of the days after the failed 21/7 attacks of 2005, the Daily Express ran a headline which has stayed lodged in my memory.  "BOMBERS ARE ALL SPONGEING (sic) ASYLUM SEEKERS" it screamed, while underneath the legend ran: "Britain gave them refuge and now all they want to do is repay us with death".  Quite apart from how the Express decided to prejudge the trial of the men, it was just about as inflammatory a statement on a 21st century front page as can be imagined.  Not long after, with the rest of the tabloids also in full panic mode, Tony Blair declared that the "rules of the game are changing", and the tone was set for the next five years of foiled plots, parliamentary battles and repeated fearmongering.

Tomorrow, I can't help but suspect the Express won't be splashing on the conviction of Pavlo Lapshyn, who pleaded guilty today to the murder of Mohammed Saleem, as well as conspiracy to cause explosions, having planted bombs outside 3 mosques.  Lapshyn had been here in the UK for just 5 days before he stabbed Saleem to death, out of what he told police was a purely racist motivation.  He was caught only thanks to old fashioned detective work, albeit using modern technology, as officers identified him using CCTV footage, then took his picture round local businesses, until he was finally identified as the work experience student recently arrived from Ukraine, living in a flat at the back of the software firm he had won a placement with.  Inside they found further unfinished devices, making clear that had he not been apprehended, Lapshyn's one man campaign against Muslims would have continued, and possibly resulted in further fatalities.

That no one was injured or killed by his bombs was by luck rather than judgement.  Each device had been more powerful than the one before, and it was only due to prayers starting later at the Tipton mosque during Ramadan that the congregation hadn't been caught in the blast.  Packed with nails and other shrapnel, it made clear the bomber's intentions were deadly serious.  Coming in the aftermath of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the police have found no evidence Lapshyn was acting out of a sense of vengeance, or that he had any interest in far-right politics in this country.  It seems, simply, that his hatred for non-whites had reached such a peak that he wanted, like others before him, to foment racial conflict.  His move to England gave him the opportunity to act on his beliefs.

There was comment at the time, including from the police themselves, about the apparent lack of interest from the wider media in the series of attacks.  West Midlands' deputy chief constable David Thompson pondered whether there would have been more coverage of their appeals for information if it had been another faith being targeted during their main festival season.  One suspects that rather than it being purely down to attitudes towards Muslims, the biggest contributing factor was the attacks had all taken place outside London, such is the bias towards the capital when it comes down to it, both in terms of interest (amongst journalists themselves) and resources.  It should also be noted however that both the Daily Mail and Telegraph felt the need to question the claims of Tell Mama, a charity that measures attacks on Muslims, after it reported a large increase in such incidents after the murder of Lee Rigby, including on mosques.  Lovely as it would be to think that we've reached a point where every potential terrorist incident isn't reacted to by the entirety of the media descending on an area for a week, on this occasion it was more down to a combination of indifference, the scale of what had happened, and where it had took place.

Thankfully, the lack of wide coverage was probably beneficial.  Almost no one knew who Lapshyn was, and the very few who did failed to recognise him due to the poor quality of the initial CCTV footage released.  Had he been aware there was a massive search on for him, he may well have attempted to leave the country; instead, he felt safe enough to carry on as he had done since he arrived.  What we didn't know previously was despite politicians keeping an extremely low profile during the search, the home secretary had been suitably exercised to contact the West Midlands force, while MI5 was also involved.

As much as the case gives pause for thought over the the way all involved approached it, as well as how it has since been reacted to, it also reinforces a few things we already knew.  First, and regardless of where the perpetrator is from, far-right terrorism remains a threat, and it's one which the media has repeatedly ignored or minimised, whereas it has willfully exaggerated that from jihadists, impugning the Muslim community in the process.  Secondly, just as those who become Islamic extremists tend to sup from the same sources, so too do those on the far-right: the Turner Diaries is the far less intellectually stimulating version of a lecture from Anwar al-Awlaki, let alone Sayid Qutb's Milestones.  Lastly, it further suggests that the threat from "self-starters", regardless of their ideology, is increasing, while that from major, large cell, easier to foil plotters continues to decrease.  The security services and police can't stop those who don't share their plans or aren't loose with their tongues.  Tempora and Prism aren't useless, but the privacy trade-offs when they might be fighting yesterday's battles are far too great.  Some recognition that Muslims are just as much targets as everyone else wouldn't go amiss either.

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Friday, October 18, 2013 

Special request.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013 

Where are the Voltaires of yesteryear?

James Bloodworth, via Chris, wonders where today's equivalents to Voltaire are, especially in the social networking age when tabloids and users compete as to who can be the most outraged about what someone else has either said or done.  The obvious answer is they mostly died out not long after Voltaire himself; we might have had Thomas Paine, and more recently produced George Orwell, but believing in the American model of freedom of speech and expression has never been a popular pursuit in this country.  You could blame the press principally for this, and the countless campaigns down the years for the public to be protected from themselves over the latest moral panic, yet it's surely more that we never got round to having a proper written constitution, the closest thing we do have being the European Convention on Human Rights, which naturally is loathed by the tabloids and right-wing politicians for "favouring" criminals and terrorists over the public.

For instance, despite how we pride ourselves on being a tolerant democracy, with our politicians occasionally going into raptures about our parliament being the mother of them all, even if it wasn't until the 19th century that the common man was able to vote (women had to wait another 60 years), there's been relatively little criticism when people have been jailed for making either off colour jokes or wearing t-shirts with offensive slogans.  It was a protest by a tiny band of Luton based Islamists against the homecoming of the Royal Anglian regiment that prompted the forming of the English Defence League, as though the country needed the protection services of a bunch of wannabe football hooligans against such horror.  Most seriously, two young men were sentenced to four years in prison for setting up phony event pages during the riots of August 2011, terms longer than many of those who did take part in the disorder received.  Unlike Paul Chambers, neither Jordan Blackshaw or Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan received the sympathy or financial backing of celebrities in an effort to get their convictions quashed.

The thing I find really strange about the campaigns against page 3 and lads' mags is they're ran by people who consider themselves liberal who, whether they realise it or not, are echoing the exact same arguments made by the censors of the past.  Just as the likes of the Mail and Mary Whitehouse claimed at the dawn of mass ownership of video recorders that horror films could deprave and corrupt the naive and innocent, so now we hear the likes of Zoo and Nuts objectify women, help to sustain a sexist culture and at their most malignant even have the potential to turn their readers into rapists.  While there's no doubt they're often tasteless, and on occasion have veered off into the truly vile, the idea that simply seeing a cover of one can constitute harassment is ludicrous, and if LTLM's interpretation of the Equality Act is correct, then it quite apparently needs to be redrafted (it's worth noting the entire Caroline Criado-Perez Twitter stupidity began after she invoked the Equality Act as demanding there must be a woman on a bank note). Moreover, the idea that removing lads' mags from the shelves will achieve anything in age where sexting and revenge porn are the new cause for concern seems the equivalent of generals always fighting the last war.

The same could be said for the stalemate over press regulation.  As much as it is specious nonsense to claim the royal charter would be the end of 300 years of press freedom, such have been the attacks of the past week anyone still saying we shouldn't worry about the potential for a change to the regulator via a two-thirds majority in parliament ought to think again.  Self-regulation has manifestly failed and a reconstitution of a slightly beefed up PCC needs to be resisted, yet the alternative now appears worse.  Ofcom can't be trusted as far as they can be thrown, which should rule out their involvement, which leaves us with just about nothing.  Perhaps the answer will be that newspapers in their current form are dying, some faster than others.  With the shift towards online publishing, it could be possible to better hold the press to account such will be the reliance on advertising rather than the shifting of newsprint.

Of courser, it might just be that rather than having Voltaires, we now have contrarians, or those paid to go against the consensus view on every subject.  And let's face it: no one wants to be Brendan O'Neill.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013 

Consistency, thy name is the Conservatives.

One of the complaints about modern life you tend to hear repeatedly is that there just isn't any consistency in the decisions made by those in positions of authority.  Whether it's councils and the existence of postcode lotteries, the funding of said councils by central government, or less seriously, (yes, really) the calls made by football referees, if we see what seems to be a lack of fairness we usually hear voices raised about it.  Of course, this doesn't mean those doing so are necessarily right: there's nothing intrinsically wrong with different areas focusing on different services, and it's expecting the impossible for different referees to always agree on whether a bad tackle deserves either a yellow or red card, just as we ought to be used by now to how what's a foul outside the penalty box can't always be one inside it.  Unless you really want a penalty almost every time there's a corner.

Which brings us, in an extremely roundabout fashion, to the Tory view on what is and isn't an abuse of power.  Both David Cameron and Theresa May have now stated that they support the IPCC's view that the three representatives of the Police Federation who completely misrepresented their meeting with Andrew Mitchell to the TV cameras should face misconduct hearings, as well as apologise.  While governments in the past haven't always been so swift to say they believe the police are in the wrong, we shouldn't hold that against this particular one.

More to the point, it's quite remarkable what exactly the police are defending in this instance: forget this involves a politician, and just think of the deserved uproar there would be if they had lied about a meeting they'd had with a family of a victim, or a celebrity.  You can't describe the PF three's version of the meeting, when they said that Mitchell refused to elaborate on what he had said, with the transcript which makes clear he did, as anything other than an outright lie.  It wasn't an untruth, or a different subjective view of what took place, it was a lie designed to keep the pressure up on a minister fighting for his position.  If one of us proles either lies to the police or refuses to assist with their inquiries, we can be charged with assisting an offender or even, at the extreme end, perverting the course of justice.  If we were to lie to our employers, we'd expect to face a written warning or even more severe consequences.  Is it too much to expect for that to be the case here?

Just as incredible is that the police and crime commissioners for West Mercia, West Midlands and Warwickshire have all stated they support the original decision not to bring proceedings against the officers.  Those of us who imagined the introduction of the PCCs was designed to increase political control over the police, as they surely were, can at least now be safe in the knowledge it hasn't quite worked out as the Tories had hoped on that score.  Less welcome is it hasn't improved police accountability one iota, and on this rare occasion when the IPCC has bared its teeth, the first thing that happens is the likes of Hugh Orde and other chief constables come out and either criticise it or say it should be replaced.  After all, what right has the IPCC to complain when it decided only to supervise the West Mercia investigation rather than carry it out itself?  Expecting the police to recognise when their officers are so obviously in the wrong might be reflective of the IPCC's continued naivety, but do their representatives really think this is a strong argument or one that's likely to resonate with the public?

Compare though the ire of the Tories towards the police for their apparent attempts to get Mitchell and in turn the party as a whole with the continuing position taken by the leadership on the Snowden revelations about the intelligence agencies.  Here we have another arm of the state acting at the very edge of its remit, with GCHQ able to suck up unimaginable amounts of personal data, aimed by its own admission at "mastering the internet", and all authorised by a ministerial signature every six months.  We now know almost everyone was kept in the dark about Tempora, whether it was ministers on the National Security Council, the committee set-up to examine whether the data communications bill was necessary, or the Intelligence and Security Committee, the very body meant to monitor the spooks' work.  Indeed, as has been pointed out, this seems to amount to misleading parliament, let alone breaking if not the letter then most definitely the spirit of the act used to authorise the programme.

Rather than so much as accept the revelations necessitate at the very least a debate over the current oversight of the security services, the response from ministers has been to continually shoot the messenger, and as we saw last week, encourage rival newspapers to accuse the Guardian of outright treachery.  Yesterday Theresa May claimed the public interest had been damaged by the revelations, while at prime minister question's David Cameron took the opportunity presented by Liam Fox, of all people, to call for the Graun to be investigated by a committee.  He also had no qualms about misrepresenting exactly how the government approached the paper, with the cabinet secretary apparently "politely" asking it to destroy its local copies of the Snowden files, and also presented their willingness to do so as accepting that their mere presence in this country was dangerous to national security, rather than as a pointless gesture when they had backups overseas.  Indeed, the continuing imperial arrogance of our politicians and securocrats is such that they attempted to intimidate the New York Times as well, who told them exactly where they could go.

While the government is more than prepared to stand up to those opposed to its reforms and present its own as a victim, it has no compunction in smearing and slandering others who want those with the ultimate power and responsibility to be more accountable.  When journalists are compared to terrorists and their work the equivalent of hacking the phones of murder victims, shouldn't it be clear that if you give it, you should able to take it?  Or is that a consistency too far?

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013 

Well, knock me down with a feather.

The thing that intrigues most about "Plebgate", as we seemingly have to call it, is if we're to believe Andrew Mitchell was "stitched up", just how quickly was this nefarious plot put together and then acted upon?  Was it really just a suggestion by an officer at the time as they went to record what had happened in the log, as the Sunday Times reports, and did it just consist of the addition of the word "pleb"?  Would those officers trusted with guarding Downing Street really be so quick to try and get one over on a cabinet minister, regardless of how he treated them?  And just how big a difference is there between Mitchell's version of events and those of the police?

I've always felt it was a big leap from the CCTV footage not tallying entirely with the log, and Mitchell telling the whole truth about what happened.  All that proved was the police exaggerated, which isn't the same as concocting the rest of the exchange beyond the agreed upon fact Mitchell said, as he cycled off, that he thought they "were meant to fucking help us", and that they hadn't "heard the last of this".  Where things truly get murky is when the Police Federation got involved, and as yet we still don't know when that was.  Was it as soon as the night the incident took place, or was it later with the leaking of the log to the Sun and Telegraph?

Today's statement from the Independent Police Complaints Commission on the separate meeting between Mitchell and three representatives of the Federation from the West Mercia, West Midlands and Warwickshire forces can't then be called surprising.  The PF, advised by of all people, the firm set-up by Jon Gaunt and his brother, had an agenda from as soon as the story broke.  It played into their hands; government minister insults police just as the cuts in funding were biting, as well as the day after two officers were shot dead in Manchester.

Their idea of the meeting with Mitchell wasn't to clear the air, it was an attempt to pin him down. Reading the transcript of the meeting, which Mitchell had the good sense to record, is painful. Mitchell prostrates before them, apologising again and again, even promising never to lose his temper again. The three aren't interested though, they're far more concerned that as Mitchell refuses to accept to reconcile his account with the log he's all but maintaining the officer is a liar.  It couldn't be that both are wrong, or both were mistaken, it's either black or white.

Having failed to get the response they wanted, they then misrepresented what had gone on to the TV cameras, a performance the West Mercia force decided wasn't a serious enough act of mendacity to warrant misconduct proceedings. The IPCC understandably disagrees, and the government has since voiced its support for their findings.

The problem is all this is a bit of a distraction. As contemptible as the PF's representatives were, and as remarkable as it is they felt they could act in such a way against a minister, it doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know: the police can't be trusted to investigate themselves, and the PF isn't averse to lying and slandering when attempting to get their own way.

As for what really happened that night, we're still in the dark. We continue to wait for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide what action, if any, to take against those who may have fabricated the exchange between the police and Mitchell. If it does turn out to have been the police that invented much of their log, then yes, it's apparent that certain officers do still think they can get away with almost anything, and if it could happen to Mitchell, it could to anyone. Again though, anyone with a healthy suspicion of authority in general, or indeed has followed the news over the last few years ought to be well aware that the police aren't always to be believed or trusted. Without prejudging anything, the evidence heard so far at the Mark Duggan inquest and the discrepancies between the witness and police accounts look to have the potential to be far more of a concern.

Moreover, if charges aren't forthcoming, or aren't against the officers who wrote up the log, where does that leave Mitchell and those who insisted this was a fit-up ever since Channel 4 obtained the Downing Street CCTV images?  Mitchell isn't going to get a ministerial position back, and the government's reforms of the police are going ahead in any case.  Vindication might mean a lot to Mitchell, but it seems unlikely to change anything else.  Why should it when far worse abuses have failed to?

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Monday, October 14, 2013 

How the coalition works.

Last Thursday:  
Theresa May announces the 8th immigration bill in 18 years.  Designed to create a "hostile environment" for illegal migrants, it will impose new checks on anyone applying for a driving licence or bank account, with a view to extending similar restrictions to those looking to rent, if a pilot scheme works.  Rather than move towards an amnesty (as the Lib Dems supported at the election), which would result in those working in the shadow economy being encouraged to become residents or citizens and in turn contribute to the exchequer, the government instead continues to promote the idea that all those here illegally can either be deported or "persuaded" to return home.  The implication seems clear: by making such bureaucracy affect everyone, it will exacerbate resentment while making life ever more miserable for the migrants, but not to the extent where they'll return home, even if they could.  That the evidence contradicts the idea there is mass benefit tourism, or "pull factors" beyond relatives already living here is also ignored.


George Osborne goes to China to lessen visa restrictions.  Not just for business reasons, but as the Guardian explains:

Ministers were understood to be alarmed when one study found that Chinese tourists were buying vastly higher numbers of expensive designer handbags in Paris than in London.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013 

Let the shitstorm commence.

Paul Dacre, then, has broken cover.  It's interesting that like so many tabloid editors before him he won't actually be interviewed and instead leaves that to his underlings, only prepared to engage with critics on his own terms, but such is the way of those who demand accountability from everyone else and accept none themselves.

A few points:

1. Dacre's obsession with the BBC is a wonderful projection of how he seems to imagine the left is obsessed with his paper (although it must be said, some are).  It would be nice to get an audit on just how many hours of programming were devoted to discussing the Mail's attack on Ralph Miliband, but I'm willing to wager right now that it doesn't amount to hundreds.  Dacre and the Mail also wouldn't attract quite as much hostility if they didn't resort to hyperbole at the first opportunity; it was obvious by Thursday that some within Labour were trying to exploit the issue shamelessly, and the use of Alastair Campbell was questionable.  The point remains however that the BBC was entitled to cover the issue when it wasn't just Labour or the "Twitterati" but politicians on all sides who raised concerns.

2. Even now Dacre is repeating his and Geoffrey Levy's lies about Ralph Miliband.  He did not give "unqualified support" to Russian totalitarianism until the mid-50s, and besides there is nothing in Levy's article to back up that claim.  As Chris and a myriad others pointed out, being a Marxist does not make you a Stalinist or a Leninist, which is something that either the pair cannot get their heads round, or as you have to suspect, are being willfully misleading about.  If we want to get into how political beliefs have resulted in "evil", then we have to discuss both right and left, as well as how governments both Labour and Tory have supported authoritarians and dictators when it's suited them.  If hating Britain is not liking its institutions, as Dacre has repeatedly argued, then he clearly loathes modern Britain.  Now that is a paradox.

3. Dacre, again like numerous tabloid editors before him, justifies his paper's viewpoints on the basis that he's reflecting his readers' interests, which just so happen to also be his.  Regardless of the political party in power, in Dacre world Britain is constantly ruled over by the liberal left, and all Daily Mail readers object most strongly to this elite and their contempt for ordinary people.  In Dacre world the politicians don't fight like rats in a sack for the support of the middle classes and the centre ground, they only represent the "metropolitan classes" and sneer at decent working Britons.  Only the Mail stands up and protects these salt of the earth victims from having their interests ignored, and thank goodness it does.

4.  Gosh, Labour really is a ghastly party, isn't it?  No other political party has engaged in "corruption" like that of Damian McBride, except all of them (nor has any journalist ever facilitated the exchange of smears).  The Mail only focused on Ralph Miliband because his son wants to reintroduce price fixing, an unacceptable form of state intervention quite unlike Help to Buy, or the Stalinist seizing of land, quite unlike the compulsory purchase order legislation that has been on the statute book for decades.  They even covered up unnecessary and horrific deaths in NHS hospitals, except the Care Quality Commission disagrees entirely with that interpretation.

5. When everything else has failed, resort to a straw man argument.  Who suggested that the Ralph Miliband article necessitated statutory regulation?  Precisely no one, but that didn't stop Tory politicians from acting as though that's what the criticism implied, nor does it stop Dacre now.  Dacre would have a point in saying politicians can't be trusted with the freedom of the press after this week's assault on the Graun, if err, his paper hadn't led the charge after friendly briefings from those same politicians and indeed MI5 itself.  Amazingly, he attacks the BBC more than he does the Graun for "ignoring" the story, as though leading on it repeatedly over the last couple of days was trying to push it down the news agenda.  Apparently they should have focused more on Jack Straw's criticisms of the paper.  After all, who better than the foreign secretary who called the initial reports on the rendition programme "conspiracy theories" at the same time as he signed off on the rendition of two Libyan men back to Gaddafi's torture chambers to lecture the Guardian on the importance of such things remaining secret?

6. Which says everything about what this has really been about.  After accusing the Graun of treachery, he now of course wants to get the paper on side in rejecting the newly agreed press charter.  While I think the last couple of days has made clear both the press and government charter are untenable, the idea that you suddenly forget both sides have said you're helping terrorists and choose one over the other is hilarious.

7. Dacre says if you dish it out, you take it.  Except as is obvious, he doesn't take it, he throws even more shit back in return.  To quote Glenn, it's time to throw so much shit back at him that he can't pick up shit, he can't throw shit, he can't do shit.  On your marks everyone.

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Friday, October 11, 2013 

Nancy's pantry.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013 

The feral press part 2.

Earlier in the week, Chris made a few good points about how us sad sacks tend to exaggerate the influence of the media in general.  It's an argument I'm more inclined to agree with than I was in the past, but I do think that over the longer-term biases against benefit claimants, asylum seekers and immigrants in general have had an impact that has contributed to the policies we're now seeing.  Of special concern is there's evidence that in some instances, the government and media have openly colluded with each other in such campaigns, as Peter Oborne revealed David Blunkett had with the Sun back in 2003.

It's more than reasonable then in light of the events of the last couple of days to wonder if the coalition has informally done a similar deal with the right-wing press over their sudden rage at the Guardian's revelations about GCHQ.  First we had the speech from Andrew Parker that gave them the laughable line that terrorists were being handed gifts via the Snowden files, accompanied by briefings that went even further.  Yesterday these were backed by the spokesman for the prime minister, who said he agreed entirely with Parker's choice of language, while today both Clegg and Cameron have come out and said the Graun is in effect helping terrorists.  The Mail and others meanwhile have further upped the ante by saying the paper "helps Britain's enemies" or is downright traitorous.

Quite apart from how this makes clear just how little it takes for the Mail to view someone or an institution as either hating Britain or guilty of treachery, it provides a quite wonderful contrast with last week.  Then we had the likes of Michael Gove defending the Daily Mail's right to tell lies about a dead man, which if said of someone alive would almost certainly have brought a libel suit, while other Tory politicians cautioned everyone to be mindful of the freedom of the press, as though criticism of the Mail equated to wanting to restrict its right to embarrass itself.  7 days later and we don't just have politicians attacking a newspaper on the grounds that its actions might have helped someone somewhere who wishes us harm, we have other sections of the press joining in, without so much as a thought to publish and be damned, as they have so often argued for in the past.

Criticising the Guardian on the basis that it hasn't properly thought through what its revelations could lead to is one thing.  To bring treachery, helping terrorists or putting lives at risk into it is quite another.  It's as though we've never been through these kind of controversies before: every single time the security services and government have shrieked about national security and lives being put at risk, and every single time they either fail to produce a single piece of evidence to back up their claims or they quietly drop them.  The prosecution against Chelsea Manning failed to provide one example of someone coming to harm due to the release of the files she leaked, and that was despite Wikileaks putting up the raw files for download, against the wishes of the media organisations they had worked with.  The claim by the prosecution counsel quoted in the Telegraph that agents have had to move due to the Snowden files isn't just ridiculous, it's an insult to our intelligence.

Despite having repeated the Guardian's articles, if we're to believe the Mail, Times and Telegraph, they now don't think the public have the right to know exactly what their intelligence agencies are up to.  They shouldn't have been told they were attempting to "master the internet", tapping into fibre optic cables and sucking up every single piece of data they can, that they're trying to break internet encryption, with all the potential consequences that could have, that they've been working hand in glove with the biggest internet companies behind the scenes, despite the denials of both in the past, and that all of this has been deemed lawful on the basis of a certificate a minister signs every six months, to focus on just the most notable things we've learned.  Indeed, according to the Mail all this has helped our enemies, while others quoted with approval suggest the paper should be prosecuted.

As John Kampfner points out, in the past the Mail has been (rightly) outraged over certain abuses by the security services.  That this time round it's taken the side of the government can't just be explained by anger at the Graun not agreeing with them on press regulation; it's that this is a government of a blue rather than a red hue.  It might not like Cameron much, but last week emphasised how it can expect nothing from a Labour government under Ed Miliband.  That their part in this campaign against the Graun betrays their readers' right to know seemingly doesn't matter, but then again, it never has in the past either.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013 

The feral press, pathetic in the face of real power.

Wouldn't it be lovely to have a free press?  You know, the sort that, rather than concentrating on trivia or revelations along the lines that an X Factor contestant has two cousins who are convicted murderers, actually undertook investigations, exposed wrongdoing, and held governments and the state to account?  If you were to believe the likes of the Mail and the Sun, that's exactly what we have and exactly what we stand to lose should the government's royal charter be used to set-up a new press regulator.  That it seems the same newspapers that plunged the entire British media into a crisis will instead go their own way yet again doesn't enter into it.

Nonetheless, if you ever needed further evidence what we in fact have is an industry that doth protest too much, you only need to see how the Mail, Times and Telegraph all decided today that rather than stand up for press freedom and journalistic integrity, they would instead side with the government and the securocrats against the Guardian.  Not only did they focus in laser like on what was a mere couple of paragraphs in the speech by MI5 director general Andrew Parker, in which he didn't so much as mention either the Graun or Edward Snowden, they were also helpfully briefed by "sources" who told them that "Parker is furious about the Snowden leaks", that the Graun has essentially provided a "handbook" for terrorists in how to avoid detection and that they "find it incomprehensible" there needed to be a public debate about such piffling matters.

When David Miranda was detained at Heathrow under section 7 of the Terrorism Act, plenty of people were quick to point out the number of Sun and former News of the World journalists who have been arrested, many of whom remain on bail, not knowing if they will yet face charges.  It was a fair enough point, and there probably hasn't been enough coverage in the ex-broadsheet press about the impact of the phone hacking investigations on journalism in general.  It's surely equally absurd though to then regard Miranda's detention, and as Alan Rusbridger later revealed, the pyrrhic smashing of a hard drive containing the Snowden files, as anything other than intimidation of the most unsubtle kind.  For the Mail, which unlike the other right-wing tabloids opposed New Labour's worst excesses on civil liberties, to tacitly agree with the government that the real danger is not from surveillance programmes which have grown exponentially without any oversight but the journalism which exposed them is a betrayal of the very values it claims to uphold.

There are obviously other factors at work here other than just anger at the Graun for not going along with the press barons on the new regulator.  The paper was the Mail's harshest critic last week during the Ralph Miliband row (with the possible exception of the Mirror)  and it was the Graun's own Jonathan Freedland who started the ball rolling with his column in the Jewish Chronicle on whether there was a whiff of anti-Semitism about the original article and then editorial (I didn't think there was, but can see why some felt that way).  This doesn't however explain why the Telegraph has took the government/securocrat line, especially when it was one of the few to follow up the Guardian's initial revelations.  The idea that either the Times or Torygraph would have refused to publish the Snowden files had he gone to either rather than Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald is laughable in itself.

The simplest explanation is that the majority of the press, and indeed MPs, are in thrall to the security state.  Parker's speech yesterday was in fact for the most part a sober, dry, and rather dull update on where MI5 stands at this moment.  Contrary to some reports, he did not say that the threat from terrorism was increasing, rather than it was diversifying, as anyone who's watched the news over the past year can tell.  Unlike previous holders of the job he didn't engage in scaremongering, and even suggested that some had done so in the past.  Whether it's true that as he said, the number of those who wish to do us harm remains about the same as it has for the past few years we simply can't tell, but it wasn't by any means an attempt to alarm.  Where he did venture into politics, apart from the nonsense about "gifts" and "handing the advantage to the terrorists" was in his claims that the intelligence agencies are well regulated and monitored, as well as all but asking for the powers that GCHQ already has to be given a proper legal basis.

All of which are the sentiments you would expect from a MI5 director general.  It's when the government agrees with those sentiments, and essentially accuses a newspaper of helping terrorists that we get into territory that ought to receive a response from all those who claim to believe in freedom of expression and the press.  The idea that terrorists or anyone else aren't already highly paranoid about how they communicate is laughable, unless they're the kind we've mostly dealt with of late, the incompetents.  The revelations about Prism and Tempora merely made clear what we and they already suspected.  Indeed, the New York Times reports that the US letting slip it was listening in to communications between al-Qaida leaders has had a far more chilling effect than anything that's emerged about the NSA and GCHQ.

The securocrat attitude is that nothing they don't reveal themselves should enter the public domain. And who can blame them? The last few years have seen their methods during the first stage of the war on terror when they were complicit in the rendering and torture of British residents brought into harsh light. They then lied through their teeth to the Intelligence and Security Committee about what they knew, even claiming they couldn't understand how the Americans were getting those they had captured to talk. They feel so secure in their position that they can make outrageous claims along the line that the Snowden files have dealt them their biggest blow in their history, as though the Cambridge Five never existed.  That these ridiculous sentiments are then repeated in a supposed feral press without criticism only underlines how supine they are in the face of real power.

When the media won't do the very basics, how can we expect those with even less inclination to do so? Just remember, if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear. William Hague said as much.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013 

Meet the new boss.

Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of Tommy Robinson, or Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or whatever the now former leader of the English Defence League's real name is.  From once being a small time member of the BNP, he succeeded in creating an organisation which became the most powerful far-right street movement since the National Front.  You can't properly enjoy such a position of influence though when you're constantly assailed by your opponents as being a racist dedicated to undermining community cohesion, to the point where your friends are (allegedly) refused service just for being with you, or indeed when you apparently get ejected from a Milton Keynes casino on the grounds that you're a thug and therefore not welcome at the roulette wheel.  Why anyone would want to be in a Milton Keynes casino in the first place is a good question, but let's leave that to one side.

When the Quilliam Foundation then offers to reinvent you as an completely legitimate political commentator, why on earth wouldn't you take them up on it?  After all, you already made an abortive attempt to get involved in a political party, so why not square the circle and form a new campaigning organisation almost exactly the same as the EDL, merely without the embarrassing street protests that made you so notorious and loathed?  What's more, Quilliam for their part will ignore all the evidence that makes clear you're still a thug who's read a few far-right blogs and books and so knows that Islam simply must have a reformation, and instead present you as someone who merely needs "encouraging" in your "critique of Islamism".  Who wouldn't sign up when a (formerly, see update below) government-funded think-tank simply decides to forget that you deliberately conflated Islamic extremism and Islam in general on innumerable occasions?

Where Hope Not Hate offers cautious optimism, I give you absolute cynicism.  Because that's exactly what this hilarious move by both Robinson and Quilliam is, the height of cynicism.  If Robinson had truly long been worried about the extremism lower down the ranks in the EDL, he wouldn't have joined the balaclava wearing idiots who thought it a good idea to confront the police on the night of the murder of Lee Rigby, nor would he less than a week ago have humiliated himself by attempting to intimidate one of the authors of EDL News, instead going to the abode of a completely different Gary Moon.

The reality is that the EDL had reached a dead end, as was evident with the failure of the Tower Hamlets march.  Just a matter of months after Lee Rigby's murder, a crime they had long predicted and which they tried their darnedest to exploit, they couldn't even manage to equal the numbers that had marched through the borough a couple of years ago. This was despite attempting to portray the area as being under sharia law, and challenging the ban on marching through Whitechapel itself.

On a personal level, as alluded to above, Robinson had become too notorious to lead a normal life when he wasn't with his beer-swilling mates encouraging and fomenting hate. After all, what is this country coming to when the leader of a far-right organisation whose members have been convicted of countless offences can't pick his children up without getting nervous glances? Abandoning a moribund movement with the help of a counter-extremism think-tank while not renouncing a single thing you've previously said makes absolutely perfect sense.

As for that other moribund organisation, Quilliam, it makes sense for them too. Having started out promisingly, it quickly showed itself to be intolerant of criticism and more than happy to denounce Muslim organisations it decided were Islamist in nature, regardless of what others saw as a positive contribution to their local communities. Being a counter-radicalisation think-tank is also rather difficult when your raison d'etre has plunged down the political agenda; Quilliam has been pretty much reduced to commenting on Islamist movements abroad, which while a public good considering the lack of specialist knowledge elsewhere, doesn't realise justify continued public funding, if indeed they are still receiving it.

"Persuading" Robinson and Kevin Carroll to abandon their movement suits both sides. It means Robinson can join up with his even more extreme pals in America, as now seems likely, his baggage with the neo-Nazis among the EDL a thing of the past, while Maajid Nawaz can claim he's pulled off something that will benefit the country as a whole. In fact, he's handed legitimacy to a convicted criminal still facing further charges, and who hasn't altered his virulent views as much as looked to rebrand them. The problem they now face is that this discredits them equally, and Quilliam has a lot further to fall than Robinson does.

Slight update: Maajid Nawaz says that Quilliam hasn't received public funding since 2010, as Spinwatch suggested above.  We don't know who does fund Nawaz and friends however, as despite the promises made on their website, you won't be able to find any annual reports there.

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