Wednesday, April 30, 2014 

A faint heart never won fair Newark.

Nigel Farage is not frit. Not at all. That the speculation he would stand in the Newark by-election began the second former friend of this blog Patrick Mercer announced his resignation doesn't mean it came from Farage himself. I mean, he obviously thought about it, as the leader of any insurgent party would, but after having consulted with his secretary/wife and his tabloid spin doctor and then sleeping on it, he decided against. It would be opportunistic, and if there's one thing the UKIPs aren't, it's opportunistic.

He also doesn't have any link with the constituency, or rather his party doesn't.  Something few picked up on until late on in the campaign in Eastleigh was the UKIPs had a ground organisation too, not on the scale of the Lib Dems, which was the difference, but it was there. All the same, contrary to the opinion of others, to me it seems like a poor decision on the part of Farage. He is after all in the ascendant, at the moment probably the only politician rivalling the prime minister in terms of coverage. Should the UKIPs triumph in the European elections as new polling suggests, it would surely provide additional momentum ahead of next year's general election. It obviously wouldn't prompt David Cameron's resignation as Farage hubristically claimed, but it would give some credence to his other wishful claim that they can hold the balance of power after the election.

After all, it's one thing to win the European elections or give a major shock to the main three as the BNP did in 2009 and the Greens did in 89, quite another for a minor party to also beat the first past the post system. Newark would surely have given Farage a great opportunity, lack of organisation on the ground or not as unless he really wants to remove the impression of the party being a one man band, the by-election would have been all about him. The only concerns would have been whether he could withstand such day in, day out scrutiny and also if such publicity could have the effect of alienating voters rather than further building a sense of a win being inevitable. Of course, Farage could have lost, suggesting that if he couldn't win in such circumstances there's not much chance of the party's other candidates doing so in 2015. The other line of thought was should he have won he would then need to defend the seat in a year's time; a difficult task with the emphasis on the national picture, and with the other parties better organised and determined to decapitate the great irritant probably a bigger challenge than taking it in the first place.

It does make you wonder whether Farage has fully learned the lessons from his ill-fated stand in Buckingham in 2010 against speaker John Bercow.  With Labour and the Liberal Democrats not fielding candidates as is the general custom, it looked briefly possible there could be an upset.  Buckingham was felt then to be fertile territory, and there was even a possibility of a last minute sympathy vote when the light aircraft carrying Farage over the constituency crashed on the day itself.  In the event, Farage didn't get second, with John Stevens, a former Tory MEP and then Liberal Democrat member receiving 10,300 votes, 2,000 more than Farage.  Presumably the UKIPs are certain of their chances wherever it is Farage decides to stand, yet faced off against all the parties they can't be certain of anything.

Whether Farage comes to rue his caution remains to be seen.  The cult of Farage definitely can't last for long, just as "Cleggmania" was extremely fleeting.  One other thing that hasn't got the attention deserved when it comes to the UKIPs is that for every person enamoured with them, there's another who stand the sight of Nige. When 32% of those polled say the party's racist it clearly has major problems, suggesting that perhaps those of us extremely sniffy about the cross-party campaign might be speaking too soon.  Then again, perhaps this isn't surprising when Patrick O'Flynn appears on Newsnight and justifies the suspicion of "outsiders" coming into a community, an echo of past rhetoric if there ever was one.  If nothing else, at least in these confused times we can depend on one thing: the brow-beaten, impoverished BNP going for outright racism rather than make the merest attempt to disguise it.  How things don't change.

(P.S. This is also the blog's 3,500th post.  Someone kill me.)

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014 

The king of sleaze, abandoned by the sleaze merchants he worked with.

And so the fleas are parting company with the dying rat. If there's one thing to be said for the various celebrities deserting Max Clifford now he's been found guilty of sexually assaulting four young women, one of whom was only 15 at the time, at least they're being open and honest about having paired up with the man now being described as the king of sleaze by the very sleaze merchants he worked hand in glove with.

Clifford's downfall signifies an end of an era for British journalism just as much as the closure of the News of the World did. Along with Murdoch himself and Kelvin MacKenzie, Clifford must rank among the most significant figures of the post-Sun tabloid world, and also as one of those chiefly responsible for the race to the gutter.  Where the sex scandal had once been mainly confined to the Sundays, Murdoch's relaunched Sun served it up on a daily basis. By the time MacKenzie took over as editor in 1981, Clifford was starting to build his empire, the famous headline "FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER" the end result of his handiwork.  As was also typical of many Clifford-brokered stories, it wasn't true. Nor was he anything but brazen when caught out, as Roy Greenslade relates of another story sold to the Sun during the period. Clifford had presented a man who claimed to have slept with a soap actress, only for her lawyers to quickly discover the supposed lover was in fact gay. "Some days he's gay, some days he's straight. This happened on straight day," was Clifford's response.

When it's someone's job to tell lies, to deceive people, whether they be tabloid journalists and in turn the general public, and when they are also so open about doing so, it raises the obvious question of whether you can believe anything they say.  Did he really hold sex parties for the best part of two decades, as he claimed in his autobiography, where household names including Diana Dors were among those attending?  During the trial he quite happily accepted being described as the "ringmaster" at the shindigs, a role he "liked to have" in life in general.  In an interview at the time the book was released he told Carole Cadwalladr to him it was "another sport" and also that he had been "greedy".  Perhaps as he has so often Clifford was simply embellishing a fact to the point where it becomes indistinguishable from fiction: Dors told the News of the World of sex parties hosted by her first husband Dennis Hamilton, parties that would have taken place when Clifford had just entered his teenage years.  Whether later claims in her own autobiography of further such soirees are any more reliable is open to question.

If we do take Clifford's word for it, then around the point he got out of the car keys in the bowl game he reached the peak of his powers.  He represented Mohamed Fayed, sold the story of Antonia De Sancha's affair with David Mellor, and although almost forgotten now in comparison to Mellor shagging in his Chelsea strip (as invented as John Major tucking his shirt into his underpants was), entered into a "partnership" with Mandy Allwood, the woman pregnant with octuplets.  Clifford negotiated a deal with the News of the World where the amount paid for the exclusive rights to the story would increase for each baby born.  The contract was written in spite of advice from doctors to abort some of the foetuses to give the others a better chance of survival.  Allwood went into labour after 19 weeks; three days later all eight babies were dead.  She would later claim Clifford had told the press about the location of the funeral despite her asking for it to be kept private.

With the demise of the Screws and the switch of so much celebrity gossip to the instant world of social media, Clifford's grip on the biggest clients also seemed to have slipped.  He kept Simon Cowell, but most others seem to have went elsewhere.  Not that this affected what Piers Morgan once described as Clifford's "get out of all jail card".  Cadwalladr in her piece wrote of the double life Clifford had been leading at the time, in a relationship with his PA, who was married, just not to him.  The only hint of this in the press came in the Mail, in a diary item.  No journalist or paper wanted to take the risk of offending such a major source by going any bigger on his hypocrisy.  Grace Dent in the Independent suggests "rumours" had circulated about Clifford's "approach" to young women, but if there had been any wider investigation than just that into his past then it most certainly didn't get into print.

Similarly to how the wider media failed to expose Jimmy Savile while he was alive despite it seeming as though almost everyone in Fleet Street and at the BBC had heard the whispers, it was left to the women themselves to find the strength to go to the police and give their accounts of how a man who subsequently wielded such power abused them.  These same papers are the ones demanding to know why the then Liberal party didn't do more to investigate the accusations made against Cyril Smith, despite the fact that at the time they themselves didn't follow up the allegations in the Rochdale Alternative Paper, repeated by Private Eye.  Such cover-ups are only possible when the self-styled defenders of freedom also fail to investigate without favour.  Anyone expecting some humility, even introspection from the papers without whom Clifford couldn't have operated were always likely to be disappointed, but as so often, their silence on the role they played is deafening.

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Monday, April 28, 2014 

The UKIPs: wait it out.

In a world of people who don't care what absolutely anyone talks about on Twitter, I would be fairly hardcore in my not giving a shit.  Compare me though to countless millions up and down the country, and I would actually be fairly soft in my convictions.  When then sections of the media search out anyone with a link, tenuous or otherwise, to the UKIPs, and discover, horror of horrors, that some have rather unpleasant views of the 140 character variety, and yet, and yet, the UKIPs support continues to grow, you would have thought it might have registered by now that your average UKIP supporter/sympathiser doesn't care what someone's said about Islam, or immigration.  If anything, if they've even heard about the controversy, it might make them more determined than ever to vote for the party.

People are not supporting the UKIPs for their specific policies, mainly because apart from getting out of the EU they don't have any, or at least none that would much appeal to those who have flocked to their anti-establishment banner.  Their bedrock of support is built around what you could call the angry, embittered older man vote, if that is you wanted to further disparage a perfectly legitimate view of the world.  I'd wager all of us have one or two acquaintances who fit the bill: generally personable, but never happier than when complaining about something or other, whether it be the miserable attitudes of others (oh irony), the appearance of the youth of the day, or say, immigration.  Most don't use overtly racist language and instead are merely xenophobic.  Regardless, any suggestion that what they're saying is unacceptable is just grist to the mill, and provokes accusations of attempting to impose political correctness or censorship rather than engage in debate, which is precisely why UKIP's support seems to be increasing rather than falling away.

Call it a loathing for the political class, a general malaise about what's happened in recent years at Westminster, or what was merely once angry, embittered apathy, it now appears transformed into something with a massive potential impact. It's built around grievances, some legitimate, others not, and unless you haven't noticed, grievances are pretty much all politics seems to be about of late.

It's also a world view which has been fed drip by drip by the tabloids, even if they for the most part eschew UKIP and Farage themselves.  Sunny in an otherwise well argued post says the media have ferociously attacked the party, which is only true in the sense they've mocked the candidates, went on about Godfrey Bloom and laughed at Nigel Farage's German wife being the very best candidate to work as his secretary.  When it comes to why the UKIPs look set to sweep the board come the 22nd of May, it's because they've done just as much as the party to push their overview.  We had months of scaremongering about millions of Romanians and Bulgarians coming here at 0:01 on New Year's Day (politicians from the main three parties also joined in, it must be said), and despite their failure to materialise, the damage was done.  On the front pages today is the story of a multiple murderer getting just less than £1,000 in compensation for negligible damage to some of his possessions, while inside you can guarantee there'll be at least one outrage owing to perceived political correctness or barmy EUrocrats.  This dislike of modern Britain hasn't just come about organically: much as it is down to a sense of inexorable, unchallenged change for the worse, it's been best articulated not by Farage or Nick Griffin but the Mail, Express and Sun.  It's no coincidence the UKIP's spin doctor is former Express hack Patrick O'Flynn.

As for how you tackle this insurgency, the answer might be to just wait.  At the moment much of the UKIP's momentum is based on the coverage they continue to get, despite not having a single MP.  Caroline Lucas and the Greens would kill for such attention.  Taking them on in argument is unlikely to work even if someone with more of an idea of how to do battle with Farage than Nick Clegg takes up the challenge, such is the level of mistrust, not to mention the strength of conviction many of their supporters have about where the country has gone wrong, things that simply aren't going to be reversed.  Farage's biggest worry should be if, after all the hype and thousands of words predicting a victory in the European elections, his party then fails to win the largest share of the vote.  Such a result would bode extremely ill for the general election, when the most realistic hope is to get Farage into parliament and do damage to both Labour and the Tories.  The UKIP's support is definitely more broad-based than the BNP's was, but that doesn't mitigate against a similar collapse should the expected breakthrough not materialise.  This obviously doesn't deal with the underlying reasons for why UKIP has surged, yet it might require its withering away before the big three can start the proper, vital conversation with the voters they've abandoned. 

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Friday, April 25, 2014 

Mellow magic.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014 

Anne-Marie invites you to a mass slaughter.

Seeing as we so enjoyed our trip yesterday into the mind of Tony Blair, with its vivid reminder that there are plenty of people in the West who seem to thrive on exactly the sort of conflict they accuse others of seeking, it's worth bearing in mind he's something of a dove on Syria.  Here, for instance, is Anne-Marie Slaughter (nominative determinism quite possibly in action) on how Obama should go after Putin through Assad:  

It is time to change Putin’s calculations, and Syria is the place to do it.

It is impossible to strike Syria legally so long as Russia sits on the United Nations Security Council, given its ability to veto any resolution authorizing the use of force. But even Russia agreed in February to Resolution 2139, designed to compel the Syrian government to increase flows of humanitarian aid to starving and wounded civilians. Among other things, Resolution 2139 requires that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs….” 

The US, together with as many countries as will cooperate, could use force to eliminate Syria’s fixed-wing aircraft as a first step toward enforcing Resolution 2139. “Aerial bombardment” would still likely continue via helicopter, but such a strike would announce immediately that the game has changed. After the strike, the US, France, and Britain should ask for the Security Council’s approval of the action taken, as they did after NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999. 


Putin may believe, as Western powers have repeatedly told their own citizens, that NATO forces will never risk the possibility of nuclear war by deploying in Ukraine. Perhaps not. But the Russian forces destabilizing eastern Ukraine wear no insignia. Mystery soldiers can fight on both sides. 

Putting force on the table in resolving the Ukraine crisis, even force used in Syria, is particularly important because economic pressure on Russia, as critical as it is in the Western portfolio of responses, can create a perverse incentive for Putin. As the Russian ruble falls and foreign investment dries up, the Russian population will become restive, giving him even more reason to distract them with patriotic spectacles welcoming still more “Russians” back to the motherland.

It really doesn't get much more lacking in awareness, or rather, such is the way we've seen US officials repeatedly say you can't just walk into foreign countries on a false prospectus or words to the effect, charges of hypocrisy or not learning from the past just don't seem to have any impact.  Slaughter is proposing precisely the kind of abuse of the UN as was first put forward during the run-up to the Iraq war, relying on resolutions either years out of date or never intended to be used to justify force.  It also ignores how much of the Russian opposition to UN resolutions on Syria is linked back to the misuse of Resolution 1973 on Libya, which NATO interpreted as authorising regime change, something neither Russia or China believed it did.

Slaughter doesn't explain how only Syria's "fixed wing-aircraft" would be eliminated, or how this would be achieved without taking out the country's anti-air defences at the same time, nor what the point of a half-hearted intervention is when so much trouble would have to be gone through in the first place.  Surely Putin, who as Slaughter tells us measures "himself and his fellow leaders in terms of crude machismo", would be far more impressed with the US going the whole way instead of resorting to just more half-measures?  It also fails to take into account how Putin could do the exact opposite to what Slaughter expects when faced with such a direct challenge, annexing vast sections of the east of Ukraine at the precise moment when US military attention is on Syria.  At least when Nixon and Kissinger came up with the bombing of Cambodia they were fairly certain of the results.  Such is the disconnect with military reality on the part of the Kissingers of our day, they can't even be sure of how such a policy would work in Syria itself, let alone on Russia.

P.S. Anne-Marie Slaughter was last month named the 37th most prominent "world thinker" by Prospect magazine.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 

A dangerous Melanie Phillips.

If there's one thing you can rely on when a new pronouncement emerges from the Office of Tony Blair, it's that it will be taken very seriously by both devotees and critics of our dear former prime minister alike. The responses might not be correspondingly dry, but they amount to the same thing. It's therefore not true to say that Blair's sermons don't have influence, especially when there are still those within government who share his increasingly worrying world view.

For Blair has at last dropped any real moderating factors from his black and white vision of the Middle East (and much of Africa for that matter) and what we should be doing to encourage "change". The odd thing is that Blair's idea of reform post-Arab spring seems remarkably close to the world prior to 9/11. Tony has you see clearly been revisiting Iraq and where it all went wrong, probably in anticipation of the Chilcot inquiry passing judgement on him. The problem wasn't the intervention itself or the lies leading up to it, rather the fact that both Sunni and Shia extremists immediately rose up against their supposed liberators.  Where al-Qaida previously had barely existed, within a year the most powerful franchise yet was established and on its way to controlling vast swathes of the north of the country.

Apart from Blair not admitting it was his very intervention that played exactly into al-Qaida's hands and prompted the biggest surge in jihadi recruitment since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as numerous commentators have pointed out, and ignoring all the mistakes made by the occupying forces in the first few years, his analysis is reasonably sound. Where he then gets it spectacularly wrong is in taking this view of Islamist extremism being the main factor holding the region back and applies it across the board. Yes, he is at pains to say there are other forces at work and that Islamism is not Islam, but frankly it's becoming more and more difficult to take his protestations seriously.

Blair's solution is remarkably simple. The threat is so serious and affects both ally and ostensible rival alike that differences should be set aside to challenge it. We should work with both Russia and China as they have their own problems with Islamists. Even more dramatically, such is the danger posed by the extremists in the Syrian opposition that we should aim for a negotiated settlement where Assad stays in power, at least for the time being.  Only if he rejects such a generous offer would we then look to help the same opposition through imposing a no fly zone.  This would obviously mean something approaching war, although we would demand at the same time that the extremist groups get no help from the surrounding states.  You know, just like we have for the last couple of years now, and what an overwhelming success it's been.

This new thesis from the man who previously gave us the Chicago speech is riddled with contradictions, and Blair must realise know it.  To be sure, he had no objection to dealing with authoritarian states when in office so long as they either supported or didn't interfere with the West's wider foreign policy aims, hence why he brought Gaddafi's Libya in from the cold and had no qualms whatsoever about shutting down the Serious Fraud Office investigation into fraud in the al-Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia.  This new emphasis on realpolitik though suggests that despite continuing to support the Iraq war, given the chance to do things differently he most likely would.  Considering the more barmy neo-cons have insisted in the past that the Iraq intervention was one of the catalysts of the Arab spring, this is quite the Damascene conversion.

Then again, Blair clearly has no love for the Arab spring or for the values those who initially rose up had.  He says our ultimate principle should be support for religious freedom and open, rule based economies.  Note that he doesn't mention democracy, a word he only uses three times throughout his entire screed, one of those in reference to Israel.  Like so much of the speech, the reason is simple: democracy, as seen in Egypt and in Palestine, can lead to the people voting for the very Islamists he is so opposed to.  As Blair sets out, whether they be Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, and regardless of whether they eschew violence, "their overall ideology is one which inevitably creates the soil in which such extremism can take root".  He goes on to say Islamism's very implementation is incompatible with the modern world, yet apparently this is its very danger.  One would suspect that if this were the case Iran's theocracy would have long since departed the scene, yet still it remains with us, in spite also of the sanctions bearing down on it.  Perhaps its survival can be put down to its managed democracy, but again, doesn't this rather undermine Blair's case?

Well yes, but it sure doesn't stop him.  Egypt then, rather than Syria, is where the future of the region hangs.  Despite coming to power in what were widely regarded as fair elections, the Brotherhood simply had to be overthrown, as it was "taking over the traditions and institutions of the country".  It wasn't just an ordinary protest that led to the ousting of Morsi, it was "an absolutely necessary rescue of the nation".  Any concerns we have about the over a thousand Morsi supporters who were massacred in the aftermath, or the 500+ protesters sentenced to death we should put aside, as we help the country "cross over to a better future".  Blair in other words supports wholeheartedly the restoration of the Mubarak era, just with a different general in charge.  Nor it seems should we worry that supporting the coup might encourage the very belief change can't be achieved through the ballot box, leading to the exact violence Blair so abhors, or about the journalists imprisoned on false charges, the kind of actions we so condemn of other authoritarian states, or indeed the very people who demanded true democracy and who want neither the army or the Brotherhood; all these are by the by when defeating the true threat posed by the Islamists is vastly more important.

The countries that go unmentioned ought to speak just as loudly as those he goes through in turn.  Strangely absent is Turkey, again perhaps because it would otherwise undermine his case.  On the face of it Erodgan's AKP would fit the bill: a party that bit by bit seems to be undermining democracy, which supports Islamists in Syria and describes children killed by its forces as "terrorists".  It remains however as popular if not more popular than ever, and has also established precisely the open, rule based economy Blair favours, to the point where the Gezi Park protests started because of the proposed development of yet another shopping mall.  For all Blair's radicalism, he also still can't bring himself to criticise Saudi Arabia by name, instead only remarking on the absurdity of spending billions

of $ on security arrangements and on defence to protect ourselves against the consequences of an ideology that is being advocated in the formal and informal school systems and in civic institutions of the very countries with whom we have intimate security and defence relationships.

It's this cowardice, along with his rejection of what he calls the "absolutely rooted desire on the part of Western commentators" to "eliminate the obvious common factor in a way that is almost wilful" that gives the game away.  Just as he spoke after 9/11 of "re-ordering this world around us", his ultimate desire remains the same even if his methods are now different.  Regardless of how just the grievances of those who have turned to violence and/or Islamism are, they have to be defeated whatever the cost.  It doesn't matter if those doing the smiting are as tyrannical as those they are fighting against, like the Russians in Chechnya, or the Chinese against the Uighurs, both of whom Blair wants onside for his battle, such is the danger of the ideology that we must if necessary make uncomfortable bedfellows.  We shall go on pussyfooting around Saudi Arabia's sponsorship of the very people Blair proselytises against, while keeping the pressure up on the potential ally we could have in Iran.  We must hug Israel ever closer, as the real problem is with the divisions among the Palestinians, again caused by Islamism.  

This, remember, is the Quartet's peace envoy.  He is also a man who regardless of the criticism, retains influence.  He ought to be thought of after this as Melanie Phillips with a hotline to the world's leaders.  And if that isn't scary, I'm not sure what is.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014 

Moyes deserved better.

The sacking of David Moyes as Manchester United manager after less than 10 months is pretty much a perfect summation of everything wrong with modern football at the highest level.

First, the sheer sense of entitlement, both of the modern fan and the modern owner/board.  Manchester United won the Premier League last season by 11 points with more or less the same team.  Manchester United have not finished outside the top four in the league in more than 20 years.  Ergo, for Moyes to achieve neither of these things in his first season in charge meant he had to go.  The game has changed since the days when managers of the "top" sides were allowed to bed in, as Alex Ferguson himself was.  Except, as Brendan Rodgers has proved at Liverpool, a year to establish yourself can make all the difference.  Last season a team reliant on Steven Gerrard and Luiz Suarez failed to qualify for the Champions League; this season, a team reliant on Steven Gerrard, Luiz Suarez and Daniel Sturridge looks set to win the title, an outcome absolutely no one predicted.  Believing it is your right to always be challenging for everything when you either refuse to or cannot afford to spend the £100m or more on new players your opponents have is deluded.

Second, the still rising cult of the player.  Moyes should have known his time was bound to be short when Wayne Rooney, of all people, apparently gained the right to be informed of moves to sign players as part of the panicked deal put together to stop him from leaving the club, having pulled exactly the same trick just a couple of years earlier.  Rooney is the embodiment of where football in this country has been headed for some time: an overconfident, over hyped and grossly overrated slab of passive aggressive impotence. Whether for club or country, his performances in the most important games have never been more than perfunctory. If he had been born anywhere other than England he would be regarded as an also-ran, a great player on his day, but little more than that. The irony here is his deal seems to have made him one of the few not to come into conflict with Moyes. Rather than being given the chance to dispose of the ageing, declining squad left him by Ferguson and build a new team, the same players still likely to leave this summer have triumphed, just as the squads at Chelsea and Spurs both did over Andre Villas-Boas.

Third then is the dichotomy between the billionaires owning the top sides for whom money is no object and those, like the Glazers, who prefer to use their purchase more for debt leveraging. Say what you like about Fergie, and I have and will say plenty, he made the best of the hand given him by the Glazers. He also chose the right moment to get out, bequeathing Moyes a team that won the league last season thanks to the failings/rebuilding process of their rivals rather than due to sweeping all in their path aside. Despite knowing they couldn't keep getting away with it, the new chairman Ed Woodward chased impossibilities and cocked up comprehensively on Leighton Baines. January brought only Juan Mata, who it seems Jose Mourinho was right to let leave. The damage done, the blame has been laid on Moyes. If there's any solace he can take, it's that the mega spending City also look set to end the season having won nothing (update: they did of course win the Capital One Cup, but whether that counts as success for Sheikh Mansour is another matter), as will Chelsea, unless the "Special One" inspires his side past Atletico Madrid and then either Real or Bayern Munich.

Fourth is the collusion between the media and the top clubs. Look for a divergent opinion today on Moyes and you'll have trouble: the same journalists and pundits who thought he was the right choice last year all say he had to be sacked today, albeit with caveats.  Unless you provide great copy day in day out, ala Harry Redknapp, or are universally liked as Roberto Martinez seems to be, those hacks assigned to cover a particular area or even just one club are always going to be more inclined to favour building relationships with the club instead of the manager.  After all, they're always going to be there while the manager could be gone tomorrow.  Some managers are able to overcome this either through tyranny, as Fergie so often did, banishing or refusing to speak to hacks for the merest of perceived slights, or developing favourites, but once a club enters "crisis" mode, which can be as a result of as little as a couple of losses, neither often counts for much.

Last is the elevation of certain managers to genius status.  This isn't to deny that some figures have through the strength of their personality, choice of tactics and insight into the game shaped individual players and teams to the point where they have been the crucial factor.  For all Manchester United's riches, it would be perverse to deny Fergie didn't have something special, while you can also point towards Brian Clough, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola as others deserving of similar status.  When though it's reached the point that plenty of pundits picked Chelsea to win the league at the beginning of the season purely on the back of the return of Mourinho, ignoring his team's obvious weaknesses, all it does is encourage precisely the kind of behaviour Maureen has displayed at a couple of points this season.  They begin to believe football can't do without them, when it most certainly can.  It also denigrates those who don't blame referees, or everything other than the deficiencies of their players when they lose.

This isn't to pretend Moyes doesn't have to face some criticism for the way United have played this season.  At times his team set-up was baffling, as were the games when his main instruction seemed to be to urge them to try and break the world record for the number of crosses into the box.  He has though been sorely let down: by players who regardless of advancing years haven't given their all; by injuries, with van Persie crocked for long periods of the season, as have been Ferdinand and Vidic; by the board and vice chairman; and ultimately, Alex Ferguson.  The man who chose his successor has given no indication that he tried to defend Moyes, and neither has he made any comment now he's been dispensed with.  Just as he so often pointed the finger elsewhere when his charges failed, so now he won't take any responsibility.  Moyes, over promoted or not when he hadn't won a trophy, deserved better.

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Friday, April 18, 2014 


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Thursday, April 17, 2014 

Russian imperalism triumphs over US/NATO imperialism.

The "de-escalation" agreement reached at the Geneva meeting between Russia, Ukraine, the EU and the US is, obviously, to be welcomed.  It does however signify just how quickly Ukraine and in turn the West have adjusted, first to the Russian annexation of Crimea and now it seems to the loss of major parts of the country's east, something that less than two weeks ago the Americans and many commentators were denouncing as being an effective Russian forced break-up of a sovereign state.

It must be all the more painful as that remains precisely what the occupation of buildings and declarations of autonomous regions has been.  Regardless of the involvement of some pro-Russians on the ground, we've seen practically a carbon copy of the operation in Crimea.  Armed men without insignia seized government offices and police stations, somewhat supported by civilians, while the Ukrainians simply let them get on with it, apparently powerless to do anything, in spite of the police themselves having weapons.  All this despite there being far less support in the east of the country for alliance with Russia than there was in Crimea.  Whether out of fear or feeling no real allegiance to Ukraine as a state, the numbers of those objecting to the seizures seems relatively slight, not withstanding an apparently well-attended pro-Kiev protest in Donetsk today.

The most obvious illustration of this ambiguous relationship with Ukraine as a sovereign entity was the seizure yesterday of the 6 APCs in KramatorskAs Jamie says, those in charge were from the 25th Airborne Division, meant to be some of the most capable in the Ukrainian army, and yet they surrendered it seems with little more than a shrug, not willing to countenance getting into a situation where they might have to shoot their fellow citizens.  The unit has since been disbanded by the interim president, although whether other divisions will be more willing to put up a fight should it come to it remains in question.  Admirable in one way as it is that they stood down, can you imagine our very own heroes letting protesters, armed or otherwise, take any sort of vehicle off them in a similar situation?

A state doesn't fall apart as quickly as Ukraine has without grievances and discontent being allowed to fester for a long time.  The much exaggerated involvement of Svoboda and others on the far-right first in the Maidan protests and now the interim government has just been an handy excuse for those who have long wanted increased autonomy, with the Russians taking full advantage.  The aim it seems is not full annexation as in Crimea, instead something more akin to that in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where the country pulls the strings with figureheads in nominal power.  The Geneva agreement therefore suits Putin down to the ground: if those who have seized government buildings do pull back, it removes the threat of increased sanctions, while the promise of a new constitutional process will be open to all kinds of manipulation once attention has switched elsewhere.

As much as this is a triumph for Russian imperialism, and it really can't be described as anything else, it's also a tale of imperial overreach, mainly of the US and NATO, but also the EU.  Just as secretary of state Victoria Nuland seemed to believe the Maidan protests were there to be manipulated to the advantage of the US, deciding for Ukrainians whom their new political leaders should be, so have the Russians, just far more effectively and aggressively.  For all the posturing of NATO, including yesterday with the announcement of further deployments meant to "reassure" member states, it has been powerless to do anything to prevent Putin and friends from doing anything they feel like.  As for the EU, it can't even agree on the most basic of sanctions, such are the barriers when Russian business interests are so intertwined with those of our own top companies.

When it came down to it, we just didn't care enough about Ukraine.  Others looking to the West for hope will have to remember this hypocrisy.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 

The conspiracy theories return.

Only on Monday were we mentioning in passing Sir Peter Gibson's truncated inquiry into alleged complicity in extraordinary rendition by our glorious security services and government. His final report sat waiting to be published for almost 18 months as arguments over which secret documents could and couldn't be included in full raged, regardless of how meek and mild Gibson's actual conclusions were. One of the key claims from all involved was this time the security services had cooperated fully, making the "vast majority" of requested documents available, except for those that couldn't be released without US permission.

Strange then that as Craig Murray posted on Monday, a source in the Foreign Office had told him our own government was lobbying the Americans over the similarly delayed Senate Intelligence Committee report into the rendition and wider torture programme operated by the CIA. Their worry was, even redacted, the release of the report's executive summary could damage the case currently being put before the courts blocking the attempt by Abdul Hakim Belhaj to seek compensation over his rendition. Despite the judge accepting the evidence for Belhaj's rendition via Hong Kong was all but established, to go any further would risk damage to the "national interest", i.e., the UK's relationship with the US.

Now via al-Jazeera America (and Yorkshire Ranter) comes another reason why both this government and the one previous would like the report's summary to remain sitting on President Obama's desk for a while yet. According to two US officials who have had access to parts of the 6,000 page report, it confirms for the first time that despite repeated denials from ministers back then and the Gibson inquiry not receiving any documents (PDF) that said otherwise, Diego Garcia was indeed used not only as a stopover point for rendition flights as was admitted in 2008, but also as a "black site".  This was with the full permission of the government, despite the likes of Jack Straw and David Miliband time after time telling parliament the exact opposite was the case.

If confirmed, it not only means ministers lied to both houses of parliament to protect the United States and its torture programme, it's also the first time the mistreatment of detainees has been found to have occurred on UK territory.  As all the reports up till now have also cleared the government of complicity in actual extraordinary rendition, having not considered the cases of Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi while downgrading the transfers of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna to Guantanamo as "renditions to detention", it would also for the first time leave the government with no wiggle room on that charge, potentially opening the way for more compensation claims, or even prosecution for those who gave the Americans permission to use their base on Diego Garcia as they saw fit.

Once again then we can be glad the eventual follow-up to the Gibson inquiry has been handed to the fearlessly independent Intelligence and Security Committee, the same one which let the intelligence chiefs know the questions they were going to be asked beforehand (although, it must be noted, they probably would have known anyway such are GCHQ's abilities).  It must also be a relief to Baroness Amos and David Miliband that they have since moved on from the Lords and the Commons respectively, as both insisted the government knew nothing about the use of Diego Garcia to host detainees, although there's a certain irony in how both are now involved in humanitarian work, Amoss at the UN and Miliband at International Rescue.  As for Jack Straw, he's set to leave parliament at the next election, probably before any subsequent inquiry reaches its conclusion.  While the chances of Inspector Knacker coming to call are unlikely, to judge by their past involvement in similar cases, it hopefully won't come too late to further tarnish what deserves to be regarded as one of the most ignominious political careers of recent times.  It might not be the equivalent of having your penis slashed with a scalpel, being deprived of sleep for over 11 days, forced into a pet carrier for two weeks or shackled to the ceiling of a cell by your wrists, but it's something.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014 

Anonymity in the criminal justice system must not be undermined.

Regardless of the natural empathy you must have for Nigel Evans, it's difficult not to feel a little discomfort at how his acquittal was responded to by some of his fellow MPs. Evans had it seemed been hung out to dry, no one seemingly willing to speak up for him prior to the trial, not even the usual "friends of" who so often brief the papers and are correspondingly often the person themselves. Come last Thursday and suddenly it was as though none of his contemporaries had doubted his innocence for a second. Much as one suspects the reaction is somewhat to do with general dislike for John Bercow and the role he played in the arrest of his deputy, as well as continuing disgruntlement over Plebgate, you can't help but detect something else just below the surface.

Why else would there continue to be calls for those accused of sexual assault and rape to have the same right to anonymity as those making the allegations when no one believes the same protection should be given to those charged with murder or manslaughter? The character of the accused is often traduced in the same way, and the stigma that follows can if anything be worse regardless of acquittal: Colin Stagg is just one such example. While there is no anonymity for murder victims for obvious reasons so there isn't a direct parallel, anonymity doesn't make giving evidence any easier for those often then aggressively interrogated by the defence: the suicide of Frances Andrade makes that clear.  In the past I've been suspicious of calls to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of the victim, and I don't think Keir Starmer's suggestion to consider a move away from the adversarial system is workable, but his helming of a review for Labour is certainly a step beyond Blair era tabloid pleasing efforts.

It certainly doesn't help the message to listen to those who come forward saying they were abused when MPs make it clear to one of their own that she should be examining her conscience.  Sarah Wollaston did absolutely nothing wrong in first making an appointment for two of the men accusing Evans to see John Bercow, and if anyone doubts that despite the failings of the wider prosecution case there were questions for Evans to answer, they should see the interview Newsnight conducted with one of them.

None of this is to deny that the CPS and the police do have questions to answer over its handling of the wider evidence.  Most of the men approached believed their brushes with Evans had not been abusive, and maintained that from the outset.  In this instance the attempt to create a picture of a wider pattern of abuse than just one or two alleged incidents completely undermined rather than strengthened the case.  Much the same has been apparent in the other recent trials of high profile figures, where defences have picked apart faded memories and juries have taken the word of the celebrity rather than their sometimes confused and uncertain accusers.  As Wollaston argues in her piece for the Telegraph though, there is a danger both in politicians criticising the CPS and in the wider emphasis on the questions surrounding anonymity.  In the case of Stuart Hall it was other victims coming forward after he was first arrested that almost certainly led to him pleading guilty.  As I also noted on Thursday, while Evans was understandably exciting much opinion at Westminster, the even more farcical evidence presented by the prosecution in the Nicky Jacobs trial went almost entirely ignored.

Coming after the Maria Miller storm, the last thing MPs ought to be seen as doing is special pleading.  Some never seem to get truly exercised about anything until it hits them personally, such as during the Damian Green case, or Plebgate, only then it occurring that if it can happen to them it can happen to anyone.  The fact is Evans' case is not unique, and the real irony is it's a change to legal aid by his government that looks set to mean the CPS won't be paying his costs.  Much as you don't want it to be the case, at times politicians give the impression some victims are more deserving than others.

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Monday, April 14, 2014 

How long before we need an inquiry into the inquiry?

Governments change, ministers come and go, but if there's something that doesn't alter in our modern political culture, it's there's always one inquiry or another stuck in the mire.  For a long time it was the Bloody Sunday inquiry, which took 12 years to report on the events of a single, if extraordinary, confused and controversial day.  More recently we had Sir Peter Gibson's cancelled inquiry into extraordinary rendition and the British state's alleged complicity in it.  Gibson's short report sat waiting to be published for 18 months, as arguments raged about whether a single, if crucial strand of correspondence within MI6 concerning the mistreatment at Bagraim air base could be declassified.  Not fully, it was decided, Gibson giving in.  Another inquiry now waits in the wings, due to conducted by those thoroughly decent chaps at the Intelligence and Security Committee.

We are though forgetting the Chilcot inquiry, aka the umpteenth attempt to have a definitive inquiry into how we went to war with Iraq, which started hearing public evidence in November of 2009.  Almost five years on, and three years since it finished its public hearings, we're still waiting for the report to published.  First the suggestion was the "Maxwellisation" process of writing to those criticised was likely to begin by the middle of last year; then came the news there were disagreements between Chilcot and the Cabinet Office over the publication of documents and memorandums between Tony Blair and George Bush.  It wasn't clear and still isn't clear now whether this the result of complaints by Blair or the state refusing to declassify this higher level material, or whether the US may also have objected.  The Graun reported at the end of last year that a compromise had been reached and the inquiry was likely to reach a conclusion by mid-year; now the Independent says those stories were "mere optimism" and the negotiations are still deadlocked.  With the "Maxwellisation" process still to start, and indeed with the very conclusions apparently yet to be written, even if there's a deal during the summer recess it seems unlikely the report will be published until this time next year.

Complaining that this is ridiculous seems to miss the point.  Every inquiry dealing with "sensitive material" is always caught up in seemingly endless discussion about what can and can't be safely made public lest national security be affected.  After all, when the MoD decides to block publication of a book it first commissioned, it doesn't seem quite as ludicrous more care is taken over personal communications between world leaders.  It does however suggest delay is built into these inquiries, governments always believing the more time passes between a controversy and its final resolution the less chance that something beyond criticism of those responsible is taken. 

This remains the case regardless of changes in government, as exemplified by the cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood.  Without letting Blair or Gordon Brown for that matter off the hook, the delay seems to rest with the refusal of the Cabinet Office to countenance releasing anything in the wider public interest that is also secret.  Hence Heywood's visit to the Guardian to demand the return of the Snowden files, where he made clear the government will decide when debates on such subjects begin and end.  This would also tally with the news from Craig Murray that the government has lobbied the Americans on the release of the Senate Intelligence Report on rendition, lest it undermine their efforts to block legal action by Abdul Hakim Belhaj over his rendition to Libya.  It was after all the release by an American court of far more damning evidence of the torture of Binyam Mohamed that led the High Court here to release the "seven paragraphs".

The very least we deserve is to know precisely why publication continues to be delayed and by whom.  It's all very well for Nick Clegg to say the report should be published now, without giving any suggestion as to whether he has done anything practical to smooth or speed the process, but we need more.  With Blair continuing to defend the war, it's difficult to see how he could be trying to delay the inevitable: he is more than ready to brazen out whatever Chilcot chooses to throw at him.  Instead it once again seems to be the secret state acting as a block, always wanting to be in control, while refusing to take responsibility.  Once Clegg and his party would have promised to try and do something about that.

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Friday, April 11, 2014 

Baby face.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 

PC Keith Blakelock: a question of conscience.

As they are wont to do when it comes to their own, various MPs have questioned the decision to prosecute former deputy speaker Nigel Evans following his acquittal today on charges of sexual abuse.  As the latest in a series of high profile figures to be found not guilty, it certainly does merit asking whether a jury is ever likely to favour the word of a member of the public over that of a celebrity when the alleged offence happened years previous, there were no other witnesses and also no forensic evidence.

Apart from local Tottenham MP David Lammy though, it seems no other politician commented on the acquittal yesterday of Nicky Jacobs on the charge of murdering PC Keith Blakelock during the riots on Broadwater Farm in 1985.  This was despite the case against Jacobs being even more farcical and ridiculous than any so far brought against a figure in the public eye.

The evidence against Jacobs, if it can even be described as such, amounted to accounts by witnesses known to have lied in the past, and two pieces of circumstantial.  Dealing with the latter first, it was found Jacobs had written a poem/rap which celebrated Blakelock's murder at the time he was serving a prison sentence for affray.  While providing an insight into the fact Jacobs was not the most pleasant of men at the time, there is nothing in it to suggest he had any insider knowledge of the killing; indeed, it refers to "chop[ping] him on the leg" and "chopping him all over".  While Blakelock's injuries were extensive and the result of a frenzied, brutal attack by multiple individuals, he was not stabbed all over his body, as his uniform with applied tape showing the puncture wounds proves.  Similarly desperate was the evidence given by a police officer who told the court Jacobs had said on being arrested in 2000, "fuck off, I was one of them who killed PC Blakelock".  The officer did not at the time report this to any superior, only coming forward in 2012.

Absurd as the above is, it somehow gets even more so.  The irony in the case was that two of the witnesses, given the false names John Brown and Rhodes Levin, have both admitted they took part in the attack on Blakelock.  The Met however made the decision to only go after the "stabbers" rather than the "kickers", enlisting the latter and ensuring they had immunity from prosecution.  As understandable as this is, it brings into sharp relief the continued use of joint enterprise to prosecute those who were present at the time of a murder but otherwise had no involvement.  Their accounts were further undermined by how they were paid lump sums of £5,000 and £2,500 back in the 90s despite their evidence not being tested at the time.  As Stafford Scott also points out, in July of last year Levin was found to have 63 bags of cocaine and heroin in his possession.  Rather than a custodial sentence, he received 12 months community service.  Brown also did himself no favours when he said to police in 93 that he couldn't tell the difference between black men, a view he told the court he "more or less" still held.

Remarkably, it got still worse for the prosecution.  Brown's cousin, a man known only as Q, also gave evidence that Jacobs was one of those who stabbed Blakelock.  While none of the three could agree on the weapon used, the others at least gave a plausible version of events.  Q by comparison claimed that earlier on the day of Blakelock's murder there had been two Rolls-Royces on the estate, from which black men had passed what looked sawn-off shotguns, and also got the location of the murder wrong.  The jury were so flummoxed they asked the judge if Q could have Korsakoff's syndrome, a condition brought on by chronic alcohol abuse where sufferers invent false memories to fill the gaps.  A long term heroin addict as well as an alcoholic, it didn't seem any less plausible than Q's own evidence.

To no one's surprise, the jury took just four hours to find Jacobs not guilty.  He wasn't released yesterday however, as almost all those acquitted of the most serious offences are on the same day; the officers needed to fill out the paperwork had already gone home.  Cock-up or conspiracy, it just underlines how it seems different standards were in operation for this case.  The Crown Prosecution Service has given the OK to flimsy trials in the past, but this must rank as one of the weakest in recent times, such was the obvious unreliability of the witnesses and the clutching at straws of the rap/poem.  Often it can be said in the CPS's defence that there was just enough evidence for the case to be put before a jury and to let them decide, as there was for instance in the case of Ian Tomlinson, despite the CPS at first deciding not to prosecute PC Simon Harwood. In this instance it seems more likely that the pressure from the police to find someone, anyone guilty of a murder that has cast such a long shadow over both the Met and Tottenham was too great for them to refuse and say there just wasn't a reasonable chance of a jury convicting.

Failing new witnesses coming forward who aren't tainted by having lied in the past, it seems increasingly unlikely that Blakelock's murderers will now be brought to justice.  As relations between the Met and the community in Tottenham never fully recovered and have since been further damaged by the shooting of Mark Duggan, any chance of such a development must also be extremely low.  Quite apart from giving Keith Blakelock's family justice, the obvious reason as to why it would benefit all sides if new witnesses were found is it would help to put a traumatic event firmly in the past.  Blakelock's murder still hangs over Broadwater Farm, tainting the estate and the men who were caught up in the police investigation.  The only way to lift that stigma is for the real killer(s) to be found.  The Met won't manage it, so it's up to those with a conscience to do the right thing.  The sooner, the better. 

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014 

Miller in the Floss.

Off then goes Maria Miller, to spend more time with her converted barn in the paradise that is Basingstoke.  Often when politicians are forced to resign it can be written that events conspired against them; not in Miller's case it can't.  Miller clearly could have survived had she made a more fulsome apology than the now infamous non-sorry which only just managed to escape her lips, the kind of basic mistake a more adroit individual would have avoided.  If there's one thing you can't do enough of in modern politics, it's apologising, regardless of whether you mean it or not.  Do it, get it out of the way, reach for an onion if necessary, just don't give the impression you don't care about any mistakes in your expenses whatsoever.

We can't though divorce Miller's forced resignation from the coverage she's received since last week.  This might be one of the first examples of newspapers not claiming to have been responsible for getting a minister sacked, such is the level of embarrassment at knowing full well much of this has been about Leveson and to a lesser extent gay marriage, a whole swathe of hacks pretending their work has been motivated by the levels of public outrage still with us since the expenses scandal was first uncovered.  Have voters really been jamming the phone lines on call-ins as they were back then, all but demanding heads on pikes and the immediate destruction of all duck houses?  If they have, I must have missed it.  True, it doesn't usually take a personal animus for newspapers to splash day after day on a certain minister's problems in an attempt to claim a scalp, as it's something that comes naturally; this though has been something else.  Why after all would Tory papers otherwise fairly happy with their party of late be the ones leading the way, instead of making excuses or saying nothing to see here as they so often have in the past?

Not that it was anything approaching a good idea for Miller's loyal to the end parliamentary private secretary to send a text to presumably sympathetic backbenchers making just this point.  If there was a defend Miller campaign being ran by Number 10, it must rank as one of the understated and incompetent of recent times.  No one seemed to be willing to stand up for her in public other than spokesmen and Boris Johnson, and that was in his usual not entirely serious manner.  Indeed, Esther McVey said she wouldn't have gone about it the way Miller had.  Again though, was no one from Downing Street advising Miller on how to deal with the standards commissioner?  Wasn't it obvious from when the Telegraph suddenly discovered in December of 2012 that there were questions marks over her expenses this was going to be a campaign?  Why then wasn't she told to be completely open, instead of threatening the commissioner and all but telling the Torygraph to leave it?  It suggests a lack of attention to detail, David Cameron not willing to let his sort-of supporters in Fleet Street determine his cabinet, while apparently not caring enough to tell his loyalists to get out there and make clear Miller wasn't going anywhere.

Much as it's been pointed out how ruthless Cameron was to those within his own party over their expenses when he wasn't prime minister, Miller could have been saved, as Hopi Sen argues.  They managed it with Jeremy Hunt, when Number 10 just rode it out and claimed it was all the fault of his PPS Adam Smith that News Corporation was getting information on the Ofcom bid in advance.  It raises the question of why once it was obvious Miller's non-apology hadn't been anything close to adequate she wasn't sent out to try again in front of the cameras, told to accept she had got it badly wrong and apologise for having done so. A clue is perhaps in Cameron's reply to Miller's resignation letter, where he all but agrees with her pleas of innocence, prompting Ed Miliband at PMQ's to ask why she then had to go.

It certainly isn't any clearer tonight. Most likely is a combination of the factors, knowing the press wasn't going to give up, the lack of support from her colleagues and the feared impact on an already tough European campaign. In a way, it's also a case of the Tories reaping what they have sown. This week was meant to be about yet more welfare crackdowns, requiring the unemployed to have a CV and be signed up on the Jobmatch website before they can claim JSA, as well as further restrictions on what EU migrants can claim and when. Instead it's been nothing but Miller and her own outrageous entitlements. Why shouldn't people be angry about MP's expenses when those claiming anything other than middle class benefits are attacked as scroungers, day in, day out?

Cameron as a result has finished up looking weak and indecisive. The only positives to be taken are it will be a passing frenzy, soon forgotten, and that anger over expenses affects politics as a whole rather than any particular party, hence why Ed Miliband prior to today hadn't called for Miller to go. If there is any further embarrassment, it's in how Miller's replacement as minister for women, Nicky Morgan, couldn't also taken on the equalities brief as she voted against gay marriage. It just underlines how few ministers, let alone backbenchers share Cameron's view of both society and the economy. Miller for all her faults did, and he can ill afford to lose many more such supporters.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014 

Scottish independence and "the forces of darkness".

The Better Together campaign against Scottish independence hasn't had a great time of it recently. Ever since the Graun quoted an unnamed minister apparently due to be involved in the negotiations should there be a yes vote as saying a currency union would be possible in exchange for Scotland continuing to host nuclear weapons at Faslane it's seemed more on the backfoot than usual. They must know "Project Fear" isn't working, but as yet they still haven't come up with an alternative. Last week instead saw a step-up in the complaints about online nationalists supposedly abusing their opponents, the internet equivalent of taking your ball and going home.

Lord Robertson wasn't speaking on behalf of Better Together at his Brookings Institution speech, although that won't stop everyone, myself included, from linking his ridiculous scaremongering to the No campaign's overall message.  As a paragon of the substrata of the political and military establishment seemingly unable to address any matter without seeing it through a prism of what's good for NATO is good for the world, he naturally thinks the United Kingdom breaking up would be the second great victory for dictators and annexers of the year. What's more, it will encourage all the other separatists in Europe, could undermine peace in Northern Ireland and also prepare the ground for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. To call it unhinged doesn't quite do it justice; the idea Scottish independence "could ... impact on the stability of the world" is only slightly less absurd than suggesting Colonel Gaddafi could rise from his grave and come back to power in Libya.

It doesn't even begin to make the slightest sense.  You could understand it more if Scotland were, as some would like, not intending to rejoin NATO or the European Union immediately, except that's precisely what the SNP is proposing.  Despite some on the no side comparing the SNP to the UKIPs, the differences couldn't be more stark: the SNP if anything wants to play more of a role in the EU than the UK currently does, and also favours immigration.  They might be similar in the way both insist that any problems with becoming independent/leaving the EU will be overcome as soon as the decision has been made, and in the personality cult surrounding their respective leaders, but that's about as far as it goes.

Robertson's argument is all the more mystifying for coming at the precise moment when such pleading to think about the consequences for everyone else appears to have lost the impact it once had.  Nigel Farage's man love for Putin is revealing for a supposed libertarian, and his claim that the EU has blood on its hands over Ukraine the most specious nonsense, yet one of his most telling blows against Clegg in the second debate was his attack on the deputy prime minister for being "hell-bent" on bombing Syria.  As exemplified by the coalition not crowing about what should be one of its crowning achievements, having now reached the point where 0.7% of gross national income is spent on international aid, going out of our way to "help" other nations is not currently in fashion.  While there's a world of difference between going beyond the bare minimum in helping developing countries and bombing those said countries, or at least there should be, the fact is the political class is no longer trusted when it comes to either.

This poses a problem when so much of the establishment still earnestly believes in interventionism.  We've just had the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, from which the notion of the responsibility to protect emerged, despite how peacekeepers were on the ground both there and in Serbia at the time of Srebrencia.  The same human rights organisations opposed to the Iraq war were practically cheerleading for an attack on Syria last year, with those of my generation who were in favour of removing Saddam Hussein now ensconced in positions of power in both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.  Despite the failures of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, there isn't the slightest indication that any lessons have been learned from the mistakes, hardly surprising when the Western media en masse celebrated Afghans "defying" the Taliban to vote last weekend, as though that was their main reason for casting their ballots, nor have any reflected on whether those interventions might just have influenced Russia's annexing of Crimea.  Instead we have Tony Blair (who we shouldn't be calling a war criminal apparently) once again given the time and space to say we will regret not acting on Syria, as though that isn't precisely what we've been covertly doing now for over 2 years.

Much as I loathe the moaning about the metropolitan elite, much of which ironically comes from those who are, err, a part of the metropolitan elite, they've started to have a point when it comes to foreign policy.  If we're to believe Seymour Hersh's latest report for the London Review of Books, the real reason Obama pulled back at the last minute from attacking Syria is it was discovered the sarin supposedly used by Assad's forces in Ghouta didn't match with the batches in Syrian government possession, and was instead part of a false flag attempt to force just such an attack by the Turkish government.  As incredible as that seems, there is evidence of other Turkish skulduggery in Syria, notably the conversation posted on YouTube, prompting the site's shortlived ban in the country, and which seemed to be between government figures discussing staging an attack the Turks could then use to justify intervening more widely themselves.  If the international community can come so close to being so spectacularly fooled, not to mention shown up over Crimea,  it takes a hell of a lot of chutzpah to then lecture ordinary Scots on what they should consider before they cast their vote come the referendum.

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Monday, April 07, 2014 

Miller time.

Ah, Maria Miller.  Every so often a politician does something that just sums up the way an increasing number of people think their elected representatives operate.  Before doubt was thrown on almost the entire altercation, we had Plebgate, which seemed to show the contempt and arrogance of the political class to everyone they saw as below them.  Now we have Maria Miller, with her 34 second non-apology.  You have to presume that Miller simply didn't think the media would pay attention, normally a reasonable assumption considering the current lack of "action" in parliament, and how only the broadsheets bother to so much as have a daily politics blog dealing with Westminster, if that.

Except, err, Miller is the goddamn culture secretary, in charge of the hated royal charter on the regulation of the press.  It doesn't matter that the majority of the old media has completely ignored the charter and instead got on with setting up yet another "independent" regulator, did she really not think the Telegraph at least would take an interest?  As it turns out, her "statement" wasn't so much the equivalent of a red rag to a bull as Miller covering herself from head to toe in crimson body paint, whispering in the animal's ear that its mother was of easy virtue and then for good measure grabbing hold of its ball sack and yanking, hard.

After all, in the I don't give two figs for your rules stakes, no one can quite match Nadine Dorries, who managed to "apologise" to the Commons in even less time than it took Miller after her decision to go and eat dingo anus to increase her bank balance.  It's just no one took any notice, and well, Dorries is Dorries.  Miller is a mere amateur compared, but then no one would trust Dorries with an office of state, unless the office in question was the one for Narnia.

Some of the coverage has then been over-the-top and in contradiction of the findings by the parliamentary standards commissioner, precisely you suspect because of the Leveson/press charter situation.  The reason the amount Miller was ordered to pay back was wrote down from £45,000 to £5,300 is she produced documentation proving she hadn't overclaimed by the amount first estimated by the commissioner.  Indeed, it seems she probably overclaimed by less than the amount she's paid back, and the commissioner herself is happy with the £5,300 arrived at.  Also nonsense is the Telegraph claiming Miller's adviser Jo Hindley threatened the paper with Leveson if they kept up their investigation. As the Telegraph's own transcript of the conversation shows, and hamfisted as it was, Hindley was complaining more about the Torygraph intruding on Miller's father when he had just had an operation than really laying out something serious, and the journalist takes it that way rather than as something more menacing.

This isn't to let Miller off the hook by any means.  When compared though say to David Laws, who did claim over £40,000 he wasn't entitled to and was welcomed back into the cabinet with open arms, while other MPs went to prison for less egregious breaches of the rules, it's almost small time.  It's more that Miller has almost no discernible talents whatsoever, beyond being loyal to Dave and helping him combat the allegation he has a problem with those of the non-male gender.  The Tory backbenches have moved so far to the right it's getting increasingly difficult to find anyone who's ready for elevation to something approaching a position of influence who won't then embarrass the leadership or speak out of turn.  Miller knows absolutely nothing about the arts except she knows what she likes, as demonstrated by her speech urging the chattering classes to sell Britain to the world, which is precisely what Cameron wants in a culture secretary.  Replacing her would be a pain, and besides, sacking her when he didn't sack Jeremy Hunt for trying his darnedest to get the News Corp takeover of Sky past Ofcom would look really bad.

One suspects then Miller will survive, if only because as bad as it is, it could still be worse.  Treating people like idiots, threatening an independent investigator for daring to do their job and wrongly claiming an amount that would get those on benefits into very serious trouble with the law isn't good for the public perception of politics and politicians, it's true, but giving another scalp to the Cameron disliking if still Tory press just can't be countenanced, especially over expenses which have now been thoroughly reformed.  Us proles can but dream of such leniency.

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