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Thursday, January 02, 2014 

Judging a year by its start.

One of the best pieces of obvious advice you can ever give or be given is not to judge a book by its cover.  Unless of course that book is a magazine called Readers' Wives, in which case you can be fairly certain it will contain photographs of amateur women in various states of undress.  Or a novel/biography by Katie Price.  Or Alex Ferguson's understated autobiography, I Was Always Right And Youse Should All Be Doing Obeisance Before Me.

You can however make a fairly informed judgement on the way a year is likely to pan out based on the themes of its opening days and the few that came before.  Last year was dominated by continuous attacks on those who dare to continue to subsist on benefits, and then attention turned to those other sponging bastards, the immigrants who come here purely to leech off the taxpayer.

January the 1st has duly come and gone, and despite the alarmist even by their standards shrieks from the outer reaches of the right-wing press, those dastardly Romanians and Bulgarians have yet to flood into the country, instead making the journey in their tens, if that. There probably will be thousands overall who decide to come here over the year as a whole, so it's more than slightly premature to start the crowing and mockery now, but if it turns out to be the tens of thousands predicted by the more egregious scaremongers I'll be surprised as anyone.

Immigration will then remain a theme, as ever, regardless of the reality, just hopefully with less hysteria than of late. The bullshit quotient will though be amply filled by the Tories telling us the plan is working, as evidenced by David Cameron's ever informative new year message. It doesn't matter that the plan was for the deficit to have been eliminated by the end of this year in time for some election giveaways, with the Tories now promising to achieve a surplus by 2018/19, a mere 5 years later, and that there's evidence to suggest it was the very forced loosening of the plan that prompted the recovery we're now experiencing, just know you'll be told repeatedly that it's working. For the umpteenth year in a row Cameron has said the economy is the be all and end all, so who are we to disagree?

We will though also be treated to excerpts from what is being called the Tories' "pre-election manifesto" or to call it by its proper name, the Lynton Crosby whistle and see who answers strategy. As a preview of what seems certain to be the most right-wing party manifesto since Thatcher's heyday, the Tories look set to either espouse full withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights or at the least attempt some sort of fudge giving the supreme court rather than the ECHR final say. How this will work without leaving the convention isn't clear, and even if legal it will almost certainly be challenged, so the chances of it happening are fairly remote.

What they most certainly can do, or at least threaten to is interpret the ECHR's rulings in the most asinine way possible.  Whereas it's taken two governments 8 years now to not implement the ECHR's verdict that some prisoners must have the right to vote, the ruling of last year that those given whole life terms must have access to a review system at some point has become rather more urgent as some judges, in line with the ruling, have declined to impose whole life tariffs, although it hasn't stopped others.  Most notable is that Mr Justice Sweeney delayed sentencing the two men found guilty of the murder of Lee Rigby until after an appeal court ruling this month on the issue, one the government clearly expects to lose.  Hence one of the options we're told is being considered is American-style tariffs of hundreds of years imprisonment, which could then be reviewed and shortened to something more sensible like say, three score years and ten.

Despite the court being at pains in its ruling to make clear it was not saying no one could be given a whole life term, merely that in line with other European countries it believed those given such a sentence must be able to have it reviewed after say, 25 years, the Tories unsurprisingly have presented it as yet another outrageous imposition from those loco unelected idiots in Strasbourg.  It doesn't matter that it's only very recently that such a system has been introduced, and then only in England and Wales as both Scotland and Northern Ireland have different systems, Scotland not having full life terms at all, life David Cameron declared must mean life.  Except it doesn't for the vast majority of those given a life term, rather only to the now 50 or so considered the worst of the worst.  The slightest change to the current system would suffice, say giving a prisoner the opportunity to apply for their sentence to be reconsidered after 30 or 40 years by either a judge or the parole board, but apparently this would be too obvious and too soft.  Better to go overblown and make a mockery of the ruling, especially when there's an election in the not too distant future and making clear how determined Cameron is to reform everything European ahead of the promised referendum is hardly going to be a voter loser.

Here's then to another year of posturing, blaming the victims and the most reprehensible cynicism.  And there might be some of that at Westminster and in the media as well.

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