Monday, June 30, 2014 

White people as far as the eye can see.

"We're Mogwai from Glasgow, Scotland."  You only need hear Stuart Braithwaite say those words in his distinctive lilt, the way he always introduces the band, to know that for however long they play, everything will be all right.  While the BBC were raving away about how heavy metal was taking over the Pyramid stage, agog at just how noisy and uninhibited the tossers who sued Napster were, away at the Park stage a group that know the quiet parts are just as important as the loud ones were in their element.  They might not have played Like Herod, the version they recorded for John Peel putting anything by Metallica to shame in terms of sheer aural punishment, but Mogwai Fear Satan more than made up for it.  Their thank you at the end of the set was both heartfelt and pointed, a barely veiled nod to the comments beforehand about the "shite" they were billed against.

Glastonbury was without a doubt better this year than last, in my obviously irrelevant view formed from sitting in front of a computer at home.  At least it was so long as you ignored the main stage entirely, which is increasingly the best policy.  Arcade Fire undoubtedly tried their best, but they're never festival headliners in a million years, however much I like them.  It also might have meant something if Metallica had been on the Pyramid on Saturday night over 20 years ago; in 2014 it's frankly embarrassing.  As for Kasabian, comparing them to Spinal Tap suggests a sense of humour they conspicuously lack.  I understand Elbow's appeal (I bought the new album despite being deeply underwhelmed by Build a Rocket Boys!), it just increasingly leaves me cold, One Day Like This destined to become a song so overplayed any meaning it may have once had left as sterile as a hospital ward, while Jack White's histrionics were wearying rather than seductive.  If nothing else, Lily Allen's performance conjured up a new vision of my own personal hell: forever condemned to relive a false experience of being trapped in the middle of the crowd for her set, surrounded by hipsters, trustafarians and tens of thousands of white people.

Which is something that has to be discussed: the whole weekend I saw more non-white faces among the security and on stage than I did in the crowd itself.  You can't tell me the range of music on offer doesn't appeal across the demographics, so clearly there's something else at work.  Whether it be the price, the way the tickets are sold or other factors, it ought to be something to worry the organisers and sponsors.  If those on high are going to deliver lectures about culture and values to communities that supposedly want no part of modern Britain, we can't ignore how monopolised the events regarded as the biggest of the year are by the (white) middle classes.

Following on from last year, the live streaming of all the main stages, if not the dance tents as would help complete the picture of what the festival as a whole is like, meant you could dispense with the BBC's main coverage entirely.  Not that this was wholly successful: at least my end the stream couldn't make up its mind the quality my connection could handle, constantly switching and so interrupting playback to the point of distraction (and much swearing).  Thankfully, and as should be the case, the full sets for almost every act are now available to be replayed to your heart's content, at least for a month.

You can then watch the latest great white hype (surely hope?) for British indie, Royal Blood, delight an easily pleased John Peel tent.  They're not bad, it's just I remember them from ten years ago when they were called Death from Above 1979 and they were better.  Coincidentally (or not), the actual DFA 1979 have a new album coming out in September after reforming a couple of years back.  More impressive were Wolf Alice, but you still can't see them making the breakthrough.

A further reminder of how far ahead the Americans have been of us Brits in the indie rock stakes in recent years came from Parquet Courts, whose spiky, idiosyncratic assault on the Park stage must have won them plenty of new admirers.  The Park stage in general was the place to stick around for most of the weekend: apart from Interpol, the Manics and the Horrors, all of whom were reliable on the Other stage, with the latter surprising everyone with a gorgeous rendition of Jamie Principle's Your Love, not much came close to Four Tet's Friday night mix as the sun set.  Kieran Hebden had more people dancing outside of the area dedicated to DJs than the rest of the acts combined.

The real highlight of the weekend though had to be St. Vincent. On before James Blake, who despite starting with CMYK failed to translate his stripped back sound in the same way as the xx did last year, Annie Clark stunned in absolutely every sense. Whatever drugs she was on, and she was so high she could barely stay on the ground, I could really do with some.  As fantastic as Strange Mercy was, to see her perform the same guitar heroics live was to be reminded of how exciting rock can be when sonic experimentation meets great song writing. It ought to be a rebuff to conservatism in music in general at the moment, whether it be from the garage-house revivalists or the Kodalines of this world.  Sadly, what sells matters more than ever.

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Friday, June 27, 2014 

Glastonbury can do one.

Call me a cynic, but I'm pretty doubtful John Peel would have ever played Clean fucking Bandit.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014 

Crucifixion is an easy life.

Knuckle deep within the borderline.  This may hurt a little but it's something you'll get used to.

Just this once, can we hear it for the Jordanian justice system?  Theirs is a country where freedom of speech is heavily restricted and torturers are able to operate with impunity, and yet even with such things in their favour they still couldn't manage to convict Abu Qatada on terrorism charges.

For those who've (sadly) followed the entire sorry process, this doesn't exactly come as a surprise.  With the tainted testimony from those tortured expunged, the evidence for everyone's favourite Uncle Albert lookalike (stretching it a bit here) being involved in the 1998 bombings in the country was wafer thin.  In fact, there was such a lack of almost anything incriminating against Qatada it could be said to mirror the trial of the al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt.  Jihadica (not exactly the most neutral source) reports that few if any of the witnesses called knew Qatada personally, and rarely even touched on the charges he was facing.  Going by this it seems equally unlikely he will be found guilty of involvement in the "Millennium plot", despite there being a smidgen more circumstantial evidence linking him to it, at least according to SIAC.

It bears repeating then that if it hadn't been for the courts, both here and in Strasbourg repeatedly blocking the attempts by successive governments to deport Qatada back to Jordan without receiving adequate assurances he wouldn't face "evidence" acquired as a result of mistreatment, an innocent man would now most likely be enjoying the hospitality provided at the Jordanian king's finest prison establishments.  Qatada is without doubt an utterly repellent individual, a supporter and apologist for terrorist groups, as proved by his defence of the al-Nusra Front in Syria, but just as he never faced any charges in this country, managing to stay on the right side of the law, he is not a terrorist himself.

Our determination to get rid of Qatada also leaves Jordan with the problem of what to do with him if he is indeed also found innocent of the remaining charges.  While here he was relatively limited in his ability to propagandise, with leaked interviews from prison about the only way he had of communicating with supporters.  In Jordan journalists have spoken to him at the end of court sessions, while simply being in the dock has given him the opportunity to speak out.  Not that this bothers our politicians, far more concerned with making clear there is no possibility he could return if found innocent.  Might it have been an idea to try and build a case against him back here, rather than just wash our hands of the man we gave asylum in the first place?

Don't be silly.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014 

The prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.

Killers view themselves like they view the world, they pick at the holes.

Nick Davies, as usual, is right.  When it came down to it, the phone hacking trial wasn't about crime conducted on an industrial scale in the offices of a newspaper; it was about power.  Had Rebekah Brooks also been convicted, it wouldn't have just caused David Cameron further embarrassment over all those cosy country suppers, it would have also implicated his two predecessors, both of whom got close to the tabloid editor.  As for Rupert Murdoch, it would have meant the person he installed at the top of his UK operation and treated like a surrogate daughter had broken the law repeatedly, either with or without his knowledge, bringing a potential corporate charge all the nearer.

The relief was palpable also in the quarters of Fleet Street where they've always downplayed just how out of control newspapers for a time were.  Had Brooks been sent down there would have been no denying the moral vacuum that had dominated and still remains in certain newsrooms.  One editor gone bad can be portrayed as a rogue, just as one reporter once was; two would have destroyed any such posturing.  It wouldn't have revived the demands for statute, but it would have shown just how inadequate the reheated PCC in the form of the Independent Press Standards Organisation is.

Instead all got the result they both prayed and paid for.  Brooks' acquittal meant they could focus on her rather than the conviction of the prime minister's chosen one and their former colleague.  To read the leader columns of the Times and Telegraph is to be beamed into a world of make believe, one where the establishment overreacted to a few unfortunate breaches of privacy by a handful of journalists on what was always a downmarket rag.  The orchard was not rotten, says the Torygraph, the trial failed to live up to its billing and there is "some truth" in Charlie Brooks' statement that there was a "witch-hunt" against his wife.  "There has not been a vast criminal conspiracy by the press against the public," it solemnly goes on.

It makes you wonder how the paper's editorial writer would describe the largest player in another major industry found to have broken the law on at least 1,000 separate occasions, with it possible there are up to 5,000 victims of phone hacking in total.  As the BBC summarises, this is far from the end of the saga: 59 people are awaiting trial over corrupt payments, mostly from the Sun, while investigations continue into alleged hacking at the Mirror.  A fact you also won't see bandied about by the apologists is Glenn Mulcaire's files show he was tasked 600 times during Brooks' editorship at the Screws.  Her defence managed to whittle this figure down to just 12 occasions when it was absolutely certain the notes corresponded with a known hack rather just "blagging", and as there was nothing to personally connect any of these hacks with Brooks, the one major question being over the Milly Dowler intercept itself, the jury simply wasn't convinced she had conspired with those she worked alongside.  The idea she didn't have a case to answer however, or that this was a witch-hunt, is absolutely ridiculous.

They can't just focus on Brooks' innocence though, and so the story is already being moved on to the cost.  £100m, as the Telegraph already reported today on its front page, and as the Times does tomorrow.  Some £60m of this is down to the no expense spared approach of News Corp; Brooks' lead QC and his team were pulling in 30k a week, while the lead prosecutor by contrast was on £570 a day.  All that just to convict "one" individual, ignoring those who admitted their guilt at the outset, as though there are some investigations just too costly to bother with, especially when they involve figures at the very heart of the establishment.  Then we have those once again deploying the "no one cares" argument, or this doesn't tell voters anything they didn't already suspect line.  On the latter perhaps not, but voters don't care about the prime minister having to apologise for either being a knave or a tool?  Please.

If there's one specific irony that overwhelms here, it has to be how different sides of the elite while seemingly in conflict are desperately working towards the same goal.  The majority of the press professes to stand up for Mr and Mrs Average in their battle with the out of touch career politicians of Westminster while in actuality caring only for their own interests, namely profit.  Any threat, however small or risible, must be countered with derision, special pleading and hyperbole.  The press statute, regardless of merit, was the biggest threat to freedom of speech since our ancestors first developed language.  Of course they were going to mock and pick as many holes as possible in the "trial of the century", regardless of the outcome.  Those in power meanwhile, still believing they need the fourth estate to get their message across, are anxious to reset everything before the election gets any closer.

Hence all of this was settled by Leveson.  Cameron was cleared.  He was misled, just as Coulson misled everyone.  Do you really want the cretin opposite to be prime minister?  Can't we go back to Murdoch sneaking in the back door of Downing Street now?  There's nothing more to see here folks.

All I preach is extinction.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014 

Emptiness, thy name is Coulson.

When you've been writing about one subject for so long, aren't you meant to feel something when finally, beyond any dispute it's confirmed you were right to do so? Even if it's simply something as petty, as paltry as schadenfreude? I don't know.  I just don't feel anything.

Which is probably the exact same emotion Andy Coulson is currently experiencing.  He must have known this was how it was always likely to end.  You can tell lies for years, you can even tell them on behalf of the government, and if we're to take David Cameron seriously then also to the government, but when you start telling them in the law courts there's always a fair chance they will catch up with you.  Coulson's biggest mistake by far was to imagine he could remain Cameron's chief media adviser once his boss had become PM, believing the phone hacking story had once again gone away.  He then compounded the error by having the hubris to give evidence at Tommy Sheridan's perjury trial, denying under oath he had even so much as heard of Glenn Mulcaire, again without apparently considering for a second how his mendacity could come back to haunt both him and Cameron.

He wasn't to know Nick Davies would discover Mulcaire had been tasked with hacking the phone of Milly Dowler, or that the revelation would shake almost the entire establishment, at least for a short while.  By then Coulson had at last realised the net was closing in; as the Graun is reporting, a week before he resigned he was called by Rebekah Brooks to an urgent breakfast meeting, apparently to be told of incriminating emails about to passed over to the police.  Not that his reason for resigning, coming on the same day as Tony Blair's second appearance before the Chilcot inquiry, offered a hint: he just couldn't give "110%" while "events connected to his old job" continued to receive coverage.  This may well have made him the only person in history to resign twice over something he professed to have never known about.

Coulson did of course know about hacking.  He was up to his neck in it, he authorised it and in the end it consumed the News of the World whole.  While the Crown seems to have characteristically bungled the case against Brooks, failing to convince the jury beyond reasonable doubt that she also conspired to intercept voice messages and pervert the course of justice, the evidence against Coulson was just too overwhelming.  Unlike the other senior figures at the paper who had the sense to plead guilty, realising they couldn't deny the story told by the copious notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, Coulson gambled on the complexity of the case overwhelming the jury.  The moment it became apparent his ploy had failed was when he had to admit in the witness box to listening to the voicemails intercepted from David Blunkett's phone, the same ones Neville Thurlbeck had pleaded guilty over.  All the previous attempts to present himself as an honest, unfairly traduced operator in a world where grey rather than black or white was the dominating colour were ruined in a matter of minutes.

It was always a fantasy, but it was one sections of the press and the Conservative party did their utmost to continue to maintain.  They ignored the employment tribunal ruling in favour of Matt Driscoll, claimed the Guardian was misleading the British public and only when a murdered schoolgirl was found to have been a victim did the tone very temporarily change.  The Augean stables had to be cleaned out.  Once the Dowler moment had passed, the tact altered to crying press freedom risked being permanently curtailed.  It doesn't matter the only newspaper threatened with being closed down recently has been the, err, Guardian, with most of the right-wing press sagely agreeing how irresponsible it had been over the Snowden files, we simply have to believe the likes of David Woodring when they say there's a climate of fear in Fleet Street post-Leveson.

This is why it's so utterly irrelevant to concern ourselves with whether Cameron should have been more careful in choosing his director of communications, demanding to know if Coulson was telling the full truth when he insisted it was all just one rogue reporter.  Had Cameron given even the shortest, most prematurely concluded fuck about phone hacking or indeed ethics at all he would have steered clear not just of Coulson but tabloid journalists in general.  He didn't because the only thing on his mind was following what he and George Osborne saw as the path to power: get in with the Murdochs and their clingers-on, and everything else will be fine.  Build it and they will come.  The allegations against Coulson were a nuisance, but the fear of Murdoch and his papers was such that it kept Labour quiet.  Besides, they were only celebrities.  Who cares about privacy in this day and age anyway?

Listening to Cameron tell us all how desperately sorry he is that he believed Coulson's lies reminds of Father Jack's apology from a certain priest sitcom.  To give Cameron and the Tories credit, they've always presented his mistake in the best possible light.  After all, who doesn't deserve a second chance?  Coulson had never done anything wrong in the first place mind, but still.  Cameron might have been warned multiple times taking Coulson with him into Downing Street was asking for it; he still did it.  How could he not?  He'd made all these rash promises about abolishing Ofcom, keeping the BBC in check and the rest of it.  Should these things not be as easy as thought thanks to the coalition he needed Andy n' Becks close by lest Keith and James get the wrong idea.  And he might have gotten away with it had it not been for the pesky Graun.  We could quite easily be sitting here now with Sky fully under the yoke of News Corporation, Brooks in charge of a triumphalist News International, the Sun even more scathing about Red Ed and his failings to eat bacon sandwiches while looking vaguely human.

The worst could also be yet to come.  Coulson still faces the perjury charge for his evidence at the Sheridan trial, an appearance it seems Cameron must have been intensely relaxed about.  It's one thing to be such a pleb you take the word of a tabloid editor at face value; it's quite another for them to be in your employ when they tell those fibs to the beak.  Should Coulson be found guilty a second time, can he really just deploy the "I was lied to as well" defence again?

Probably.  Looking at tomorrow morning's front pages, it's difficult to see exactly what's changed since July 2011.  Only the Mail goes for objectivity, while the Times' splash could have been set by Murdoch himself.  In fact it probably was.  For all that's altered, there's much that's still the same.  Almost exactly the same system of regulation.  The same biases.  The same changing of the story.  The same emptiness.  Oh, that last one's just me.

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Monday, June 23, 2014 

Why would anyone want to play for England?

20ft. high on Blackpool promenade.  Fake royalty second hand sequin facade.

Everyone loves Harry Redknapp, right?  Our 'Arry.  Always tells it like it is.  Never knowingly undersold.  Took QPR down and didn't receive a lick of criticism because he's 'Arry, ain't he?  Didn't get the England job despite the press dearly wanting him to as he's hand in glove with them.  Can always rely on 'Arry for a quote.  Brought QPR back up this season because he's 'Arry, ain't he?  Got off the tax evasion charges by making out he was an idiot in all things apart from football.  In his autobiography he insists he was the "people's choice, the only choice", unlike the man Liverpool sacked for being useless.

There's only the one problem with having a big mouth.  Well, probably more but stick with me here.  Eventually it will get you into trouble, even with your pals in the media.  NAME AND SHAME screams the Sun.  Redknapp told to name and shame, says the Graun.  You see, apparently while 'Arry was ensconced back at White Hart Lane, "two or three players" used to ask him to try and get them out of England games.  His wider point, supposedly, was the modern English player sees the national side, the baggage that goes with it, and decides they're more than content with just earning hundreds of thousands, millions of spondulicks, playing in the Champions League against the greatest teams in the world.  Who needs the hassle of representing your country?

Cue the attempts to work out who the traitors in our midst could possibly have been.  Not Jermaine Defoe, according to Roy Hodgson, who reacted with anger to Redknapp once again making an obviously calculated intervention in the whole why are England so completely and utterly crap debate.  Probably not Peter Crouch either.  Ledley King maybe, who was forced to retire with a chronic knee injury and so could have had a justifiable excuse?

Who knows, and who cares.  It's completely irrelevant to what befell England this time round, which was the bad luck to be drawn in a really tough group.  This might look like being wise after the event, but I didn't think they would make it out of it, and it was probably better to crash and burn after two games than do so after three with hopes having risen.  You could say Hodgson should have tried to persuade John Terry to come out of retirement, or brought Ashley Cole, and plenty have.  It might have tightened up the defence had they heeded the call.  Would it have made us Netherlands beaters, though?  And pigs might.

It could be I haven't properly been paying attention, having ahem, had other things on my mind, yet it does seem as though this time round with hopes not as high as in previous years there hasn't been quite such a colossal backlash.  We certainly haven't had the Sun telling the players they'd let the country down, although there have been calls for apologies, as Barney Ronay relates.  He also points out that, away from home, England's best achievement in 64 years has been the semi-final.  For all our grandeur, our sense of entitlement, our pride in the Premier League (yeah, right), our supposed self-deprecation, we don't take well to losing, at least at football, when we should be all too used to it.  Personally I've started finding it all colossally amusing, hearing the same moans time after time, the Chris "pelanty" Waddle's ranting away about how we never ever learn, and how, despite everything, we keep getting worse, going out earlier and earlier.  It's almost as though it was karma.

Those possibly mythical players going to 'Arry (considering he claimed in court to not know how to send a text, and both his own book and those by other managers detail he most certainly does) do after all have a point.  Why would anyone want to play for England?  You find yourself putting on a show in front of some of the most boorish prats on the planet, who find it great sport to boo the opposing side's national anthem and dress up as crusaders, offer the kind of tactical encouragement that would shame a under-7s league, and then have the temerity to complain if you don't manage to find the same form you do in the league despite the two situations being all but incomparable.  The media, bless them, build you up and then at the first sign of trouble tear you limb from limb.  They can see you hurting and still they demand more contrition.  What do they want, blood?  The FA are about as useful as having teeth in your arsehole, their big idea the introduction of "B" teams into the lower leagues, while the amount of money flowing to the top sides never trickles down to where it's needed, in coaching and development.  It might just be the problem isn't with those who don't want to play for England, it's with everything else.

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Friday, June 20, 2014 


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Thursday, June 19, 2014 

It's a condition all right.

One thing always guaranteed to brighten the day is politicians repeating the most lazy, clichéd myths as though they were unquestionable laws of nature. Earlier in the week the British Social Attitudes survey found views on migrants hardening, with a quarter believing they principally came here to claim benefits.  Their take is of course nothing to do with the coalition repeatedly tightening the rules on when EU migrants are entitled to access the welfare system, despite having failed to present the slightest evidence of benefit tourism, and when studies have repeatedly showed migrants overwhelmingly paying more in than they take out.

Thank goodness we have Ed Miliband to make the case for social security then, eh? He wouldn't do something like claim we encourage 18-year-olds who don't go to university to pile straight onto benefits rather than carry on in training or learning, would he? Oh. Still, he wouldn't then try and get back into a triangulation battle with the Tories by restricting a benefit to the young, as the wicked Conservatives want to with housing benefit, right? Ah.

This isn't entirely fair, as Declan Gaffney valiantly while still expressing major reservations best sets out.  Those training for more than 16 hours a week can't currently claim Jobseeker's Allowance, so for them the change will obviously make a major difference.  Away from that, the problems quickly mount.  More than anything, Miliband seems to be suggesting training to A-level standard is a means to an end at a time when countless graduates are stuck in low-skilled work.  Sure, it undoubtedly will help some, but as Chris argues this is pure manageralism.  In part it's blaming young people for not being able to find work when the fundamental difficulty outside of the usual areas is there aren't enough jobs, regardless of the skills those unemployed have.  Once you've added on the extremely dubious further means test, meaning those with parents earning over £42,000 will be entitled to precisely zip, as clearly they should be reliant on them rather than the state, it gets worse.

Gaffney is nonetheless far too kind to Miliband, as it's transparent why this policy was picked out from the 28 recommendations made by the IPPR report.  Labour couldn't possibly announce they were intending to increase JSA payments to those who've been in work for 5 years, regardless of the welcome reintroduction of the contributory principle, without at the same time taking away from somewhere else.  Hence the young predictably get it straight in the neck, for the exact reasons we've gone over countless times beforeThe spin to the Graun and the rest of the press gave the game away, making a policy which isn't quite as draconian as it seems once you look into it out to be Labour getting tough on the supposed "something for nothing" culture.

Such is the way the debate on welfare must now be conducted.  It doesn't matter how many contradictions there are when it comes to the public's view on welfare, with so many ignorant of the actual rates and amount of fraud, making it wholly unsurprisingly 72% take the view it doesn't reward those who've paid in adequately (which JSA doesn't, it must be said), or how those on one particular benefit are often convinced those on a separate scheme are playing the system, it seems the only way to propose a positive change is to at the same time make a negative one.

We shouldn't forget either this comes at a time when the welfare system is in utter chaos, with Labour doing next to nothing to pin Iain Duncan Smith down for his spectacular failings.  As the memo leaked to the BBC makes clear, the JSA system of sanctioning and various workfare schemes has reached such proportions many are being driven onto Employment and Support Allowance as a result.  ESA correspondingly is costing more than expected, and the backlog of cases keeps on growing, with the same problems affecting the new personal independence payment scheme.  Universal credit is a complete joke, having been "reset" and "recast" as an entirely new project, while the work programme remains one which simply doesn't.

The shame here is most of the other recommendations from the IPPR's Condition of Britain report are worthy (PDF), if we gloss over the national citizen service target and yet further attempts to get back to work schemes on track.  Especially important would be devolving powers over housing benefit to councils, and while "neighbourhood justice panels" sound ominous, promoting restorative justice locally could help bring back some faith in the system.  Miliband for his part again spoke of the reality of low skilled work not giving a sense of fulfilment, let alone managing to pay the bills, exactly the sort of message which could, should resonate.  Still though we then get other shadow ministers, like Chuka Umunna on Newsnight, saying this was really about "plugging people in to the global economy", which sounds like something a more deranged George Osborne would like to do to disobliging paups.  When they can't seem to decide what the narrative (ugh) is, and when they're so convinced they have to follow the Tory lead, why should anyone so much as slightly sympathetic to Labour take their apparently good motives at face value?

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Friday, June 13, 2014 

A taste of Brazil.*

*In the same sense as KFC are currently offering "a taste of Brazil".

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Thursday, June 12, 2014 

Departing from the core of the rule of law? The ends always justify the means.

One and a half cheers for Lord Justice Gross, Mr Justice Simon and Mr Justice Burnett (PDF), who today partially ruled against the government's attempts to hold the entirety of a terrorism trial behind closed doors, aka "in camera".  Their decision makes plain the unease they feel at the application by the Crown Prosecution Service, and the initial ruling by Mr Justice Nicol, who had accepted it in full.  Indeed, they express their "grave concern" at the effect of holding such a trial in camera and keeping the defendants' identities secret, finding it difficult to "conceive of a situation where both departures from open justice will be justified".  Accordingly, the men formerly known only as AB and CD have both been named.

You can understand the judges' concerns when a quick Google turns up nothing of any substance on either Erol Incedal, formerly AB, or Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, CD.  The latter seems to have a LinkedIn profile, while Incedal doesn't have so much as that.  As well as revealing their identities, the judges also ordered that most of the opening of the trial be held in public, including a portion of the judge's introductory remarks and a portion of the prosecution's opening statement.  Additionally, a number of "accredited journalists" will be allowed to sit in on the majority of the closed proceedings, although they will only be allowed to report something of what they witness once the trial has concluded and a further review has taken place.

If all this is meant to seem as though an attempt at compromise has been made, that's precisely what the government hopes it will be seen as.  Mr Justice Nicol rejected the idea of "accredited journalists" initially on the grounds of practicality, as the idea was proposed in the certificates signed by the secretaries of state.  It seems to be the only part of the ruling he got right: as the Graun puts it, this is an absurdity, a "kind of time-lapse justice without guarantees".  It in effect makes the (un)lucky chosen hacks complicit in the secrecy, unable to know if their account of the trial will appear or not.

We must of course recognise that four judges have now seen the evidence from the CPS and concluded that on balance it is better for justice to be attempted, even in secret, than see the prosecution not proceeded with.  The latest three say the case is "exceptional".  Perhaps it is.  There are circumstances when such secrecy certainly could be justified; the problem is we cannot make a judgement on whether in this instance it is justified when we will still know so little of the case against the men.  The only recent precedent was the case of Wang Yam, whose defence to the charge of murder was held in camera after he claimed to have some connection with the security services.  Clearly, he did have some link with them, but it didn't prevent his conviction, nor can we know what his defence was.  Yam is currently appealing to the ECHR on those very grounds.

If this departure from open justice, the "core of the rule of law" as Lord Bingham had it, seems odd in the same week as David Cameron was defining it as a fundamental British value, then it shouldn't.  The government and the security services have always made things up as they go along, will always make things up as they go along.  We can't know why they are so insistent this case has to remain secret, although we can certainly guess that it has to be either supremely embarrassing or has only reached court due to profound security service involvement.  The problem is once ministers and the agencies get into the habit of favouring secrecy over openness the ever more likely they are to resort to it again.  Justice must be seen to be done, but it must also be seen to be fair.  In this instance the case for secrecy has simply not been made, and once again the state seems to be demanding of others what it won't accept of itself.

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A (slightly) shorter John McTernan.

Aren't the Kurds fantastic?  Shame about the Sunni and Shiites, eh?

You see, the real reason why Iraq is currently descending into the abyss is because we left too early.  We were selfish.  We should have stayed for as long as was needed, as long as it took Saddam to destroy the place.  He did it all, you see.

We have a responsibility to go back there right now and start killing more Iraqis.  Let's face it, if there's one thing we've been world class at over the past decade, it's killing Iraqis.  To be fair, we can't take all the credit.  Most of the actual smiting has been by the Iraqis themselves, we just lit the torch paper by having not a solitary fucking clue of what to do after we completely and utterly destroyed the Ba'athist state for the sheer sake of it.

As for all you cynics and stoppers, muttering under your breath about how al-Qaida didn't exist in Iraq prior to our kicking the door in, you're bloodless, amoral cowards.  You might as well say "Saddam may have been a fascist who inflicted genocide on the Kurds at the same time as we supported his war against Iran and sold him weapons", oh, sorry, got a bit confused there.  Wasn't the war about WMD? I've forgotten.

The truth is if we don't act now, we will have to act later.  We have to go back to Iraq to rescue a democracy that isn't working because the politicians won't share power.  Isn't that right, Tony?

P.S. As a very special treat, here's a shorter Owen Jones:

I have encountered no sense of vindication, no "I told you so", among veterans of the anti-war protest of 15 February 2003 in response to the events in Iraq.  That's why I'm writing this.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014 

The taking of Mosul isn't our fault. Well, OK, partly it is.

The panic (by politicians and the media, not by the people of Mosul themselves, who know all too well what ISIS is capable of) at the seizing of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or al-Sham, or the Levant, or whatever you want to call them) is a little curious. After all, for a good couple of years between around 06 and 08 the then mere Islamic State of Iraq had the run of if not control of the so-called Sunni Triangle, with Mosul for a long time forming one of their strongholds.  Then though it was the Americans they were principally fighting and winning against. It was only once the Americans joined forces with the Awakening groups, formed after local tribal leaders grew tired of the brutality and fanaticism of ISI that the group was beaten back, and while never defeated, certainly brought to the brink.

Whether or not those who've taken Mosul and also now Tikrit are ISIS fighters in the true sense or a conglomeration of former jihadis including ISIS as some are suggesting, it does nonetheless signal the group's arguable usurping of al-Qaida as the world's pre-eminent jihadist organisation. This is all the more remarkable considering how earlier in the year Ayman al-Zawihiri removed ISIS's  affiliate/franchise status, following its refusal to patch up its differences with the al-Nusra front in Syria, itself originally an offshoot of... ISI.  Its success in Iraq and Syria also comes in spite of criticism from some of the most influential and respected jihadi thinkers, including Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, both of whom urged support for al-Nusra.

How far this is a victory for ISIS as opposed to a humiliation for Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is as yet too early to tell.  ISIS without doubt has some battle-hardened, well-trained and deadly fighters, as is proved by their tightly edited and designed to terrify propaganda videos.  As for how many of their fighters in total have that level of experience and skill is anyone's guess, although it certainly doesn't come close to the 5,000 or so they are estimated to have in Iraq.  Something they do have both in Iraq and Syria is a constant stream of volunteers willing to become suicide bombers, regardless it seems also of whether the target, as in Syria, is their fellow jihadis.  The Iraqi forces, part out of fear, part out of lack of training and part out of lack of loyalty to a Shia-dominated government that has never tried to properly reconcile with the Sunni north since the civil war seem to have mostly melted away, leaving only a police force that soon also abandoned its posts.  Paul Mutter suggests the majority of the functioning Iraqi army is currently trying and failing to dislodge ISIS and other Sunni militias from around Fallujah, making it even less likely Mosul will be able to be retaken soon.

Indeed, as Maliki is apparently encouraging the arming of people's militias, he also seems to doubt whether it can be achieved.  The real key will be ISIS's strategy from here on out.  Where once the group was set on fomenting civil war, relying on holding just a few safe zones and then often under the hospitality of tribal groups rather than through strength, it now de facto controls swathes of both Iraq and Syria, with an even wider operational presence.  In the short-term the aim may well be to recapture some of the territory lost in Syria, with the materiel captured from the Iraqi security forces put into use against the rival rebel groupings there.  Also a major factor will be how the group intends to govern those who haven't fled their advance: promises given that they will not be looking to impose the kind of justice seen in Raqqa are wholly unlikely to convince given the group's propensity for killing first and asking questions later.

Where this leaves foreign policy in the region, or at least should is equally uncertain.  As Juan Cole writes, ISIS could not have survived without the wealthy benefactors in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf who have no qualms about the funding of murderous fanatics if it means the weakening of Iran's allies.  Correspondingly, both the United States and our good selves are now in the position of propping up and supplying a Shia-dominated government in Iraq in its fight against ISIS, while at the same time supplying "moderate" Sunni rebels in their fight against both Assad and ISIS.  We welcome the farcical election of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Egypt (in the words of Patrick Cockburn, he couldn't even rig the vote properly), while denouncing the farcical re-election of Assad in Syria.  We try not to mention Libya at all, while politicians who have spent the past decade telling us we've been fighting in Afghanistan to prevent terrorism here can be safe in the knowledge a group too extreme for al-Qaida now controls much of northern Iraq and a good chunk of Syria, both of which are hell of a lot closer to Europe than Afghanistan is.  And of course, we can also be happy about how ISIS didn't exist prior to the Iraq war. 

Other than that, things seem to be going pretty well.  Sleep tight.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014 

Our true shared values.

Perhaps it was just me, but as a kid I always got an illicit thrill out of seeing a swear word written down or spoken by an adult you wouldn't normally expect to use an expletive.  You could hear the same word used multiple times a day, and yet still get a tingle of the forbidden from finding it in a book.  At some point we made a visit to a city (I can no longer recall which city or when this was) and went past a theatre where Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking was being performed. I didn't have the slightest clue what the play was about, just there was something outré, thrilling about seeing it starkly advertised, uncensored and completely unvarnished.

If you're wondering what kind of tenuous connection I'm going to make between this astoundingly banal anecdote and something in the news, then here it is. Amid all the joking and mockery of defining what "British values" are, and the deadly serious politicians who always end up sounding wretchedly po-faced and about as current as Geoff Capes when they attempt to do so, the only true values we honestly share as humans are that we eat, and we fuck.  Sure, we do a lot else as well, and as my dear old nan had it, if you don't eat, you don't shit and if you don't shit, you die, but the two things that drive us as animals are eating in order to stay alive, and procreation in order to pass on our genes.  Some of us do a lot more of one than the other, call it the Russell/Jo Brand dichotomy if you like, but the equilibrium has just about remained in balance.

Yes, it sounds flippant, reductionist, facetious.  Is it any sillier though than trying to instil a set of rigid values on a people for whom abstract concepts such as the rule of law and belief in personal and social responsibility are going to mean different things?  This isn't to get into a redundant debate about relativism, it's more the absurdity of regarding the prime minister's list of values as being intrinsically British, let alone unique to this country.  If anything there is something particularly unBritish about teaching respect for the very institutions we spend so much time either making fun of or complaining about, a view a certain Michael Gove also once shared, at least when it was Gordon Brown commissioning reports "designed to enhance the bonds of citizenship".  We should note that schools will only be meant to "promote" rather than teach British values, but what the difference will be when it comes down to it remains to be seen.

Besides, beyond freedom and tolerance, just what kind of person would ever says Britishness is about responsibility?  Bizarre as it is to discover, it was John Major who almost certainly came closest to the nub of Britain as it sees itself and the world sees it when he described it in 93 as "the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and as George Orwell said “old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist”".  He was definitely nearer than either William Hague or Shirley "no revolutions" Williams came in similar remarks.  Strip away the stereotypes, the clichés and the self-hatred/self-love, however difficult that last one is and I'd hazard we're now a nation of cynical, atomised, oblivious, ill at ease, generous when we feel like it, generally tolerant and funny people.  We believe in applehood, mother pie, there being no such thing as privacy, in freedom of speech for ourselves and chain stores of every variety on our doorstep.

The only reason David Cameron can be so assured the policy will have "overwhelming support" is there's not much people like to imagine more than the idea they have some kind of influence over what the next generation will be brought up to think, and as "British values" are such an open book it can mean every thing to every man.  As any parent will soon tell you, it doesn't work out like that.  The same will be the case in this instance: by the time any secondary school gets round to promoting the Govian view on Britishness, most teenagers will already know what they think about our glorious institutions, the quaintness of the traditional sense of fair play and the tolerant way young people are regarded and reported on by the world's finest media.  Gove and pals of course know this, but every education secretary ends up reduced to imagining they will leave some legacy, or indeed scar on those currently growing up.  The difference is Gove came to the job certain in what he wanted, and to hell with the consequences.  It's enough to make you wish for a politician who would break it down to we eat, we fuck, we die.  Or maybe that's just the sadness in me.

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Monday, June 09, 2014 

Michael Gove proves his worth yet again.

The idea that Ofsted inspectors can get a true, rounded image of how a school is performing over just two days is a fiction.  In most cases, not even the teachers themselves really know what's going on; the more perceptive kids certainly will, but it's rare they're regarded as being truly reliable or for that matter questioned at length by inspectors.  My old failing comprehensive shouldn't be taken as representative, not least as it's now over a decade since I thankfully left it behind, yet I can't help recalling the story told by one of our teachers about the head asking who she was.  "I'm so and so.  You're the one who conducted my final interview."

This is exactly why we should treat the reports finally released today into the 21 schools in Birmingham at the heart of the "Trojan Horse" allegations with a healthy dose of scepticism.  Considering these reports have been about the worst kept secret since Ryan Giggs' love life, with practically all the findings on the five being placed in special measures leaked in advance, the findings don't come across as the biggest shock.  They additionally don't because, with a few notable exceptions, Ofsted hasn't found prima facie evidence of extremism.  Attempts by governors in some instances to instil a more hardline Islamic ethos on some of the schools yes, success in doing so was mostly more difficult to come across.

Sir Michael Wilshaw was then left with the task of explaining why schools ranked as outstanding two years ago are inadequate now.  The obvious thing was to say all this had happened since the last inspections, despite the fact we know these were not new concerns, and to make the evidence sound a lot more firm and grounded than it actually is, and what do you know, that's exactly what Wilshaw's done.  Compare the reports into Park View and Golden Hillock for instance with that of the inspection of Oldknow Academy, and you soon discover which Wilshaw draws the most from for his letter to Michael Gove.

Oldknow is certainly the school where the evidence of an attempt by governors to exert control is most apparent.  The principal is currently on sick leave, having handed in her resignation in January, with the additional report by the Education Funding Agency (PDF) redacting some of the further information.  Staff said the school had becoming increasingly Islamic over the past year, that the celebration of other religious festivals had been cancelled despite Eid celebrations going ahead, with the most serious allegations involving the Arabic and maths teacher.  He refused to shake the hand of the EFA's female education adviser, while his was the only class they observed where every girl was wearing a headscarf and they were all sat at the back of the room.

At Park View, which has had most of the focus on it, the evidence isn't quite as stark.  Ofsted states externals speakers have not been vetted properly, a reference to how Sheikh Shady Al-Suleiman was invited in as an external speaker.  He isn't named in the Ofsted report but rather in the additional EFA one.  The Graun reported last week this detail may have been dropped after the school complained he had spoken at other universities and schools, wasn't considered an extremist by the Prevent programme, and his talk had been on "time management".  The EFA also notes many classrooms had posters advocating prayer, while some in a maths classroom encouraged pupils to begin and end the lesson with a prayer.  Religious education after Year 9 was also exclusively Islamic, with those children who wanted to study for the Christian GCSE having to "teach themselves".  There was also some evidence of gender segregation, although the EFA again makes more of this than Ofsted.

Mark Easton makes the important point that much as we might recoil from this, and as Ofsted, the EFA and indeed (indeed) Michael Gove apparently do, view such an atmosphere as not being conducive to community cohesion, failing to prepare those attending for life in multicultural Britain, where do you draw the line in a system seemingly devised to be in a constant state of controlled chaos?  If Park View and the rest were designated faith schools rather than "normal" academies in an area where the majority are Muslims, would there be the same problem?  The main finding against Park View and Golden Hillock is that at both too little is being done to raise students' awareness of the threat from extremism, which in practice effectively means teachers and governors haven't received training from the Prevent programme.  Exactly how many other schools could be accused of this failing, one wonders?  In the Park View report, Ofsted state "[S]tudents’ understanding of the arts, different cultures and other beliefs are limited."  You suspect the same could be said of almost every school that isn't ranked outstanding regardless of the area it serves.

Just how far this obsession with extremism is being taken is set out in the Ofsted inspection of Graceland Nursery School.  As a matter of urgency, according to Ofsted, the school should "ensure that key policies such as the child protection policy, anti-bullying and behaviour policies include reference to identifying and minimising extremist behaviour."  The children the school caters for are 3 to 5 years old, for crying out loud.  If this is Michael Gove's idea of "draining the swamp", we can only thank our lucky stars he's not environment minister.

Apart from the Park View schools being taken over, about Gove's only other substantive suggestions are snap, no notice Ofsted inspections and schools being required to promote "British values".  As to what British values are, your guess is frankly as good as mine.  If as suggested it's teaching respect for the rule of law and how the police and army can be held accountable to the people, then it might be a start if the government had the same respect for the former and we made it so that the latter is a reality rather than a lie.  Much as John Harris is right to argue that the overriding issue here is the disarray schools are currently in thanks to Michael Gove's determination for every single one to be an academy, with it being obvious from the outset those with an ideology to push would be first to take advantage, we can't ignore the role of religion in general.  If parents want their children to have a religious education, they're perfectly entitled to provide them with one; the state however shouldn't be in the business of doing so.  It also wouldn't go amiss if the education secretary wasn't someone apparently convinced that behind every decent, honourable Muslim there's another waiting to go off.

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Friday, June 06, 2014 

Is there a spirit that spits upon the exit of signs?

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Thursday, June 05, 2014 

The biggest scam of the modern era.

Anti-terrorism is the biggest scam of the modern era.  Never previously has such a relatively insignificant threat necessitated the spending of mountains of cash, the dilution of liberties and the casting of suspicion on an entire community.  Just as Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, we now have a security-industrial complex, and unlike the military, it doesn't need an opposing state actor to justify its continual expansion, not to mention the siphoning of cash into its orifices.  Once the danger was from al-Qaida central, based in Pakistan, even as ministers maintained we were preventing terrorism on the streets of Britain by fighting it in Afghanistan; now we're told to beware of terrorists returning from Syria, who are just dying to try out what they learned battling Assad (and each other) back here.

People like Mashudur Choudhury, the desperately unlucky and desperately pathetic wannabe jihadist from Portsmouth.  He went out to Syria, quickly realised he couldn't hack it in an actual war and returned home.  Nonetheless, according to the authorities his mere travelling to Syria meant he was intervening in another country's affairs for an ideological cause, and so the jury had little option but to convict him.  Leave aside how we know for a fact that British and American special forces have been training "moderate" rebels, i.e., those who only want an Islamic state in Syria rather than want it to be the first country in a region wide caliphate, and who nonetheless often fight alongside each other, or indeed how the most extreme group, ISIS, didn't exist prior to our intervention in Iraq, and just be glad that such a dangerous individual is going to prison for a long time.

It bears repeating time and again there has not been a major, realistic jihadist plot broken up in this country this decade.  Where once al-Qaida wannabes thought big, if there's any consensus it's now on doing something, anythingThe murder of Lee Rigby was just that, a murder.  Yet we are repeatedly told the threat is as severe as ever, with it being only the Snowden revelations stopping the intelligence agencies and government from bringing forward a communications bill designed to put in statute the access to information they have already through programmes such as Tempora.

All the attempts to put the security services under some sort of real, independent supervision have been repeatedly rejected.  Indeed, when asked to rule on the lawfulness of the spurious detention of David Miranda, the public's last line of defence against the over mighty state sided entirely with the government, the judiciary agreeing journalists can never know what will or will not damage national security.

In such a climate it should come as no surprise whatsoever that the state is taking one of the most drastic steps since TWAT began.  The Crown Prosecution Service wants the entire trial of two men known only as AB and CD to be held in secret.  Why?  We don't know, and can't know.  All we're allowed to know so far is both are charged with terrorism offences and they were arrested in a high profile operation last year.  Nor would we know even this had various media groups not challenged the initial ruling of Mr Justice Nicol that the trial could go ahead behind closed doors.  About the only other piece of information we've been given is the CPS believes the case may have to be dropped if it cannot be heard in secret.

Which part of the case against the two men could possibly be so sensitive it could damage national security as a whole?  One has to suspect the reason the case must be held in secret is, as it usually is, because of the embarrassment it would otherwise cause the security services or the government, suggesting the men either had some sort of involvement with the former or they have an association with a foreign ally.  As intercept evidence is still not able to be used in court that doesn't come into consideration, and it's also dubious whether the entire case would have to be heard in secret if just one or two witnesses will only give evidence if the press are excluded and reporting restricted.

Already we've seen trials heard only by a judge and not a jury.  Last year's Justice and Security Bill established "closed material procedures" after MI5 was exposed as complicit in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, in a move designed to prevent similar revelations coming to light.  The government wants the power to strip naturalised Britons of their citizenship should they dare go and fight abroad as Choudhury wanted to.  Now, having apparently learned nothing from the Diplock system in Northern Ireland, the state wants a whole trial to take place in secret.  Chris Grayling says we should trust the judiciary.  The judiciary is as fallible and open to pressure as the rest of us, has made mistakes in the past and will do so again.

In case it needs reminding, one of the government's own definitions of extremism is "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including ... the rule of law."  As the barrister for the media Anthony Hudson argued, "the orders made involve such a significant departure from the principle of open justice that they are inconsistent with the rule of law and democratic accountability."  In order to fight the extremists we must it seems act against our own fundamental values.  Such is the triumph of the securocrats and the anti-terrorists.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014 

It's not a peak, it's a plateau.

Well, here we are once again.  Another state opening of parliamentAnother Queen's speechAnother brick in the wall.  Somehow, quite possibly as a result of a voodoo curse, the coalition has stuck together four whole years.  If any Lib Dem MPs would like there to be a conscious uncoupling, ala Gywnnie n' Chris, then clearly Clegg and Danny Alexander aren't listening.  They must know the longer they remain bound together the less chance there is of their old supporters returning, and yet they seem determined to see it out to the bitter end.

Speaking of which, we can't have a Queen's speech post without remarking on the lunacy of the ceremony itself.  You can't help but wonder how much longer poor old Brenda is going to put up with having to don full regalia for the benefit of a bunch of sycophants and royalist nutbars, not least when she has to read out such a wretched shopping list of bills and platitudes.  She's now 88, is she really going to be expected to keep doing this into her 90s? If we can't just dispense with the entire parade of stupidity, is there any real reason as opposed to a nonsensical traditional one why Charles can't take over? And what happened to the idea of the Lord Chancellor performing the head of state's role?

As for the speech itself, when one of the pages collapses out of stultifying boredom, you know it's pretty bad. At best there are three notable, important pieces of legislation: the pension reforms we've known about since the budget, the tax relief on childcare, and the fracking act. The rest are typical of legislation left over at the end of a parliament, only the coalition has been running on empty for the best part of two years. Liz was duly left with even more flannel to spout than is usual, informing the world of how her government intends to prevent further violence in Syria, not something immediately compatible with supporting the people attacking polling stations, and will also continue "its programme of political reform".  Sorry, which one is that again?

The day after somewhat defending politicians, it can only be described as immensely depressing to realise today effectively marks the beginning of the general election campaign.  Not one, not two but three Tory MPs stood up to demand to know whether Labour intends to put a penny on national insurance to fund the NHS, further dispiriting evidence of where the Lynton Crosby-helmed Conservative campaign is going to focus its attacks.  Had he wanted to be truly honest, Ed Miliband could have responded by pointing out whoever wins the next election is almost certain to raise taxes, such remains the size of the deficit thanks to three years of the economy flatlining, with it being almost impossible to keep the roughly 80/20% ratio of cuts to tax rises.  The correlation between the pensions reform, all but encouraging early cashing out, as it provides the Treasury with a healthy percentage at the same time and the continuing state of the public finances is obvious and direct.  In the long run it might turn into a loss for the exchequer, but by then Osborne and friends hope to be long gone.

Much of the rest was similarly short-term.  The infrastructure bill looks set to reform the trespass laws to make it impossible for landowners to object to drilling under their property, something that strikes as just a little ironic considering the coalition's insistence on toughening the law against squatting only a couple of years ago.  An issue no one saw as being a major problem had to be tackled in order to defend property rights, while here we are now doing precisely the opposite to start the dash for gas.  There's also yet another crime bill, as no parliamentary session is complete without one, despite last year's currently being stalled in part down to the row over sentences for those caught with a knife for the second time.

If we had a media that was more interested in the substance as opposed to the procedure and knockabout, they might have dedicated slightly more time to Miliband's response.  In a similar style to how Cameron took on Gordon Brown at the height of the expenses scandal, he set out how many believe "this House cannot achieve anything at all", condemning the paucity of help on offer to those for whom work doesn't pay, and how following the Mark Carney's declaration that inequality was one of the biggest challenges facing the country, politicians should be judged on how they respond.  It was a strong performance, one Miliband desperately needs to put in more often, and suggests behind the scenes the party has finally realised how to develop the cost of living from being merely a slogan into a defining argument against the lethargy of the coalition. 

The election obviously isn't going to be fought over the final year's tepid legislation, but Labour must hold it against the coalition.  Wasted years, a masochistic fetish for austerity then swapped with a lust for reflating old bubbles in the search for growth of any kind, and a determination to play one part of society off against another.  We can and have to do better than this.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014 

For real?

If, like me, you've found yourself wondering at some point if everyone else has suddenly gone completely and utterly batshit crazy, only to discover that in fact you're the one foaming at the mouth while singing Reach for the Stars by S Club 7 to yourself in the style of Marlene Dietrich, it ought to be reassuring to know politics is currently going through one of those moments.

You see, they've reached that sad, lonely place where they realise it's not them, it's us. Thank heavens for progress. Only they haven't figured out why it is they can't quite capture that UKIP/Farage sparkle, and the advice they're getting isn't up to much either. Is it policies? Is it general anger at the political class? Is it a protest? Is it because we ain't like the common people? Is it some of us are a bit weird? Is it we can't eat bacon sandwiches without being photographed getting in a mess? Is it lack of authenticity, whatever that is? Is it some of us are just a bit, well crap?

The answers to which are, yes, yes, yes, no, no, no, no and yes.  Without wanting to pick on John Harris again, as he is one of the few commentators who does go out into the real world, this sudden focus on why it is UKIP are seemingly being listened to while all the rest are derided and insulted is to miss the point by about the same distance England will miss winning the World Cup.  No one seriously looks at Nige and says, "Blimey guv, I'd really like it if that Nick Farage was prime minister, he'd sort this country out and no mistake," not least because no one talks like that outside of Private Eye parodies, but also down to how it's the message not the person that's key.  Farage says the only way to control immigration is to get out of the EU; the rest of the parties umm and arr and sort of defend and sort of don't or worst of all, set down ridiculous, completely unrealistic targets they knew could never be kept and then act surprised when voters show their displeasure at the ballot box.

Talking straight isn't a new thing, believe it or not.  It's also something impossible for a politician to always do for a whole myriad of reasons, not least because there are some things voters just don't want to hear and can only come to accept over time.  That's a normal human trait, for all you subscribers to the authenticity trope.  Farage and UKIP knew they couldn't manage it if they strayed beyond immigration and Europe in general, which is precisely why they talked of absolutely nothing else for the past couple of months.  What's more, the media let them get away with it, enjoying the novelty of this otherwise pompous man, pint invariably in hand, getting more support than the rest of the dessicated suit wearing piles of flesh.  Sure, they went after the bedroom ragers, and a fat lot of good that did.

Outside of this comfort zone Farage's "emotional, instinctive politics" quickly becomes exceedingly boring, as those who forever bang on about the same subject in exactly the same style invariably do (thanks to you know who you are, to whom this will no doubt sound familiar).  Yet for some bizarre reason, and on this John Harris is dead right, the supposedly smart people who often act as if they are unbelievably thick think the way to get some of the UKIP fairy dust is to suddenly hitch up in a pub and pull a few pints for the cameras.  It's David Cameron, jacket off in a room of factory workers, asked the same planted questions over and over again.  It's Ed Miliband, pilloried for not remembering the name of the local Labour leader in Swindon by the same media which has tried its darnedest to paint him as a geek.

If anything, rather than it being snobbery there's more than a smidge of the inverse variety in some of the criticism.  We can all rally against the inanity and stark emptiness of slogans like "hard-working Britain better off" or the Tories' egregiously similar "for people who want to work hard and get on", but this suggestion people are turned off because politicians don't talk in the exact way they do is ridiculous.  Of far more concern is that they're still not being listened to, despite everything. In his Buzzfeed (proof if any more was needed the internet does make you stupid) interview Ed Miliband relates an anecdote about a man who was so desperate at not being able to make ends meet he had thought about killing himself; as Hopi says, without it necessarily reflecting badly on either Miliband or the interviewer, that's all we're told.  We don't know what happened to the man, whether he managed to increase his hours, whether Miliband told him to seek help, or how Ed responded at all.  Telling someone you've thought of ending it all takes courage, and yet it's treated almost as a throwaway line rather than a real human interest story.

This more than anything gets to the heart of why Miliband has failed to connect, and also why politicians at times seem alien.  Without doubt Miliband responded with the utmost compassion to the man's plight, and yet we didn't learn anything more about it.  We hear diatribes against scroungers regularly, the attempt to draw dividing lines between "workers and the shirkers", while we hear next to nothing about those who have suffered and those who still are.  When the only cases made for immigration are cold, economic ones, or based around those who came here in the decades past, we ignore those settling here now who are fleeing oppression and are unbelievably thankful we remain an open, welcoming society.  It's not therefore surprising when someone who says what he believes and tackles apparently "unsayable" subjects gets support, as so few others are prepared to set out in personal terms why government policy or the current economic situation is intolerable.  No one wants politicians to be exactly like them, all they want is for them to do more than go through the motions.  Even if that's unfair, and it probably is, that's the perception.  The good thing is this means the problem is far easier to fix than is being suggested by those panicking.  Considering the crap we have to work with though, it's anyone's guess whether it happens.

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Monday, June 02, 2014 

You can't shame the shameless.

To be exceptionally vulgar for just a second (and with apologies also to the AVGN), learning that there might, just might have been some underhand shenanigans involved in Qatar's winning bid to host the World Cup is a bit like your father telling you he had sex with your mother.  It doesn't exactly come as a shocking revelation; you mean, the richest per capita country on the planet, trying and succeeding in establishing itself as a rival to all those other Arab kleptocracies, may just have slipped some money in the general direction of a select few FIFA delegates?  There I was thinking they had simply been bowled over by the sheer generosity of the Qatari bid, with the offer to dismantle all the stadia built with migrant labour and and reconstruct them in developing nations, and so in the circumstances were prepared to overlook the fact playing football in 40 to 50 degree heat is about as good an idea as plunging your arm into your local chip shop's deep fat fryer.

The problem with FIFA isn't that it's corrupt, as football at the highest level has become so stupidly money obsessed the whole structure will inevitably come toppling down under its own contradictions, it's that it's become glaringly corrupt.  Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan get away with being rotten to the core on the basis they either bribe everyone and/or if you get uppity about it you're likely to be thrown in jail or worse; FIFA by comparison just ignores everything or sets up delaying inquiries like the one being helmed by Michael Garcia, who isn't going to have access to the files leaked to the Sunday Times.

Giving the World Cup to Qatar seemed like a good idea at the time, as these things usually do.  Football comes to the Middle East!  They gave the Olympics to China, how could anyone possibly complain about holding the greatest show on Earth in a country smaller than the Falkland Islands and only slightly less barren?  Its citizens don't pay any taxes and part of the criminal law is based on Sharia, exactly the sort of values FIFA looks for, as it means it doesn't have to impose its own statute temporarily as it did in South Africa.  Only later did it occur to them kicking a bag of wind around at the height of summer in a country where the average high in June is 41 degrees might not make for the best spectacle, or indeed might kill off a few of those spectating.

Still, this is FIFA we're talking about.  We'll just move it to the winter.  This doesn't go down well with the national associations, as it will play merry hell with all manner of club competitions and, far more importantly, aggravate the TV companies paying billions for the right to show the games needing to be rescheduled.  Just as they should be gearing up for their Christmas extravaganzas, those bastards on free to air will be showing the World Cup final!

Only then the media starts noticing Qatar's kafala system of migrant worker sponsorship is leaving many trapped in the country, unable to return home.  And there are also hundreds dying, not just in accidents but of "sudden cardiac death", their hearts failing under the strain of the heat and work.  Qatar's own figures suggest just under 1,000 have died over the course of two years, with the real figure likely to be higher.  Does this worry FIFA? Are we being silly again?

Believing the whispers going round that the latest allegations will force Blatter and chums to reconsider is like expecting a dog not to return to its vomit.  Far too much money has already been spent for the bidding to reopen now.  Just as FIFA swallowed any qualms it may have had in the first place, so too will the sponsors, the same people who brought us carrying the Olympic torch and gave us the closing ceremony.  They just can't be embarrassed, as the entire Richard Scudamore episode amply demonstrated.  Regardless of whether or not you thought his private emails were beyond what was acceptable, and as almost always I find myself agreeing with Marina Hyde on the substance, the clubs he negotiated the best ever TV deal for weren't going to let him be brought down over something so slight.  He might be a spiteful, petulant gimp who expresses sexist bromides to his questionable friends, but he's our spiteful, petulant gimp.

By the same measure, expecting fairness or shock, morality to have any role in what amounts to a bidding war between the vainglorious and the entitled is just asking for it.  David Cameron, bless him, is still put out by how all those countries lied to him when they said they were voting for England.  It just goes to show: if you can fool a former PR man by laying on bullshit an inch thick, you can brazen just about anything out.  This too shall pass.

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