Friday, April 28, 2006

That Friday Thang

As I understood it, Charles Clarke's announcement on the status of the foreign ex-cons who should have been considered for deportation was due at 3pm today. As I've been going about my business today and waiting for news on this, I speculated to myself that the later it was, the worse it would be. Friday afternoons, as we know, are the dead spot in the 24 hour news cycle. New Labour under Blair have attempted to use this spot to release bad news any number of times.

Now, finally, at 5.47pm, the BBC has got some news. There's not much to go on yet, most journalists are already in the pub (which is entirely the point), but based on what's there, I think Clarke's finished.
At least five of the foreign prisoners freed without being deported have gone on to commit more serious crimes. Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the five had been convicted since release for offences relating to drugs, violent disorder and inflicting bodily harm.
We're talking about victims having suffered violence and bodily harm because of his and his predecessor's incompetence. I doubt even the Friday afternoon dead spot can save him now.

More information is now available from the BBC page above as well as the full text of Charles Clarke's statement. He said:
The work of putting these decisions into effect and consideration of further cases is proceeding energetically and will continue over the weekend.
Proceeding energetically over the weekend? As opposed to last August when he actually learned of the problem? Glad to hear he's got his priorities in order. Remember, it's only a problem when its in the news. What we don't know, the incompetant git doesn't care about.

On C4 News, Clarke's just said he won't be resigning and that the "honourable thing to do" is to stay to put things right. If he'd tried that last August, perhaps, just perhaps mind, he might have a point. But now? Nine months later and with 288 new cases since he learned of it?

Clarke wouldn't recognise the "honorable thing to do" if his own incompetence allowed it to cause him grievous bodily harm.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Ravenous Bugblatter Blair of Traal

People may shout and boo and heckle you and all the rest of it, but you've got to take the decisions that are right for the country otherwise you really shouldn't be doing the job.
I'm one hundred percent sure I don't need to tell you who said that. It's the sheer unshakable arrogance of it which gives the game away. The idea that people might be shouting and booing and heckling because they desperately want someone to take the decisions that are right for the country just isn't on the agenda. It's not even allowed to exist in the same universe.

Nick Robinson's interview with Blair is worth watching if you like that sort of thing. You might want to check with your doctor beforehand if you've got heart problems or high blood pressure. Respect to Nick for keeping on with it though.

Blair said "you know me well enough to know there's a resilience that will see through the next day's headlines".

Blair, famously, has always been obsessed with controlling the next day's headlines. How many poorly considered initiatives has he announced for exactly that purpose? How many laws exist in Britain today because of Blair's compulsive desire to "manage" the media? How many of his government's publications have been directed specifically at generating a certain kind of headline (45 MINUTES FROM DOOM!!!!!!)?

And now he tells us he doesn't really care what the media says. Amazing. Joking aside, I fear he may be very close to becoming completely detached from the real world.

PS. I've no idea why but Miranda.

PPS. For those who're not Douglas Adams fans:
a) Why Not?
b) The Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal "believes that if you can't see it, it can't see you". The Ravenous Bugblatter Blair of Traal has a similar but slightly different problem.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Something in the Air

So Labour are at a 19-year low in the opinion polls. I do believe I detect the beginings of a long slow decline into long-term opposition unless something dramatic is done like now. In all fairness, this is only partly Blair's fault. The rest of the Labour Party have not been able to grasp that he's become a serious liability so they've got to take some blame too. And the assortment of sychophantic incompetants he's got as ministers, of course.

"A reshuffle is what's needed" say some of the worst cuplrits. No, I don't think that'll do. What's needed is a change of dealer; a fresh, clean hand on the deck. It wouldn't hurt to get rid of a few marked cards while we're at it but that's really a secondary issue when you've lost confidence in person doing the shuffling. Watching that guy shuffle the pack yet again isn't going to help at all. Hardly anyone trusts him anymore.

It's not so much the awful opinion poll results which make me this this is the start of a potentially terminal slump. This poll, by the way, was taken before Clarke revealed himself to be hopelessly out of his depth yet again and before Big John's little indiscretion. I doubt the latter will have much of an effect to be honest but the former? That's going to hurt very badly indeed. But what really swung it for me was this. Patricia Hewitt being heckled. Again. Do yourself a favour and have a listen if you've not heard it. Ahhhhhh... isn't that beautiful?

This not only raised a smile in a miserable cynic like myself but it also gave me hope. Too often in recent years, audiences have silently listened to the excuses and the half-truths and the spin and all the rest of it from Blair and his seemingly endless supply of incompetant sidekicks. Now, collectively, people are starting to show that they've had enough of it.

I started writing this post earlier today but left it half-finished. Since then, there's been this invitation and this question.

Teflon Tony, as we've learned, should never be underestimated but it does look like he might finally be unable to avoid facing the fact he is now Labour's main problem. Or rather, it looks like the Labour Party as a whole might finally be unable to avoid facing it.

Fingers crossed, eh?

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At PMQs today, Blair was asked (by Bob Wareing, Lab) whether he could spare five or ten minutes this afternoon to meet some of the families of those soldiers who've been killed in Iraq. They were to be attending a meeting at one of the committee rooms at Westminster. Blair didn't answer the question so I'm presuming he couldn't spare the necessary five or ten minutes. He's probably got a busy afternoon lined up pursuing his new role as guardian of the accuracy of the media.

Blair said:
I yield to nobody, nobody in my support and my admiration for the work that the soldiers do in Iraq. It is also important, however, that I never have to speak to anyone who might still be upset about the fact that I lied through my teeth to get us into this mess in the first place.
I may have paraphrased him slightly.

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Communication Breakdown

What else is there to say about Charles Clarke? It seems that the problem actually got worse after he found out about it. It seems that he thought it more important to brief the media than to come to parliament to explain himself. It seems that he offered to resign but Blair wasn't having it.

Clarke says the problem was caused by a breakdown in communication between the Immigration and Nationality Directive and the Prison Service. Who, pray tell, is repsonsible for co-ordinating communications between the various departments of the Home Office? Who's the one looking out for the big picture? Who's job is it to consider the Home Office in its entirety? Who makes sure that all aspects of the H.O. are working together to deliver for the people of this country? I'm no expert of the arrangements which govern the workings of the Home Office but at a guess, I'd say it's Fungus himself.

It's hard to think of anyone who's more of a waste of space (Clarke takes up a lot more space than the average person, of course). In the absence of any obvious political philosophy, many people have speculated as to what New Labour stands for. I think it's increasingly obvious. New Labour exists as a vehicle to deliver power to bullying, unprincipled, incompetant and just plain repugnant toadies.

You want to talk about a rise in support for the BNP? I bet there was a hearty celebration at BNP HQ when they heard about this.

You want to talk about civil liberty versus security? Well don't. It's a false dichotomy. But is it really too much to expect that our government should be able to competantly use existing laws (which don't curtail essential liberties) to deliver security as far as is possible? Clearly it is too much to expect from this shower of cronies and goons.

The other day, Blair and Clarke tried to say that there was no alternative but to adpot their authoritarian destruction of core British values if we are to protect the citizens of this country. I read a couple of people (alright, suspected astroturing New Labour lackeys) suggesting that it was all very well to criticise this position but that those who did were not offering an alternative themselves. Well, how about not having a grossly negligent buffoon in charge of the Home Office? There's an alternative worth considering. How about having a prime minister who's more interesting in making sure existing laws are actually working and serving the people of this country than in creating an endless stream of poorly considered, damaging, often dangerous headline grabbing initiatives for the Daily Mail and the Scum?* There's an alternative I'd certainly recommend.

Clarke, it seems, is now determined to stay on and put things right. Only in modern politics (and perhaps in the boardrooms of big business) is this an acceptable defence when your gross negligence has been discovered. Try that in the real world and you'd be laughed out of your disiplinary hearing. And with good reason.

* Blair has failed to appease the Scum's incessant demand for their own brand of authoritarian right-wingery. A bold, principled progressive leader would never have attempted it, of course. I'm in full agreement with Tim. On Murdoch, on Wade and on Blair.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Bully Boys

Oh Lordy. Here comes the bully Charles Clarke. Apparently, the policies of the Blair government are not in any way authoritarian or damaging to democracy; this notion is, according to Charles, nothing more than a myth created by the pernicious media. How very neo-conservative.

As usual Tim is on the case with some excellent points of order.

It's worth comparing part of Clarke's speech with a statement made by his boss just a few short days ago.
Charlie boy today: And let me conclude with one of the more ridiculous statements: "The presumption of innocence is no longer a fixed legal principal". This is complete nonsense. In this country that you are innocent of an offence until proven guilty.

His boss last week: I would widen the police powers to seize the cash of suspected drug dealers, the cars they drive round in, and require them to prove they came by them, lawfully. I would impose restrictions on those suspected of being involved in organised crime. In fact, I would generally harry, hassle and hound them until they give up or leave the country. [my emphasis obviously]
These powers already exist to some extent (note Blair's use of the word "widen"). And Blair is on record as saying that he wants to "harry, hassle and hound" people who have not been proven guilty of any offence.

Blair, undeniably from his own words, does not believe that the presumption of innocence is a fixed legal principle. Does this stop Clarke from ridiculing others for having the audacity to accurately report the patently indisputable position of the Prime Minister? Does it f*ck.

How can you argue with people who refuse to abide by the most basic rules of honest debate? Is that not the very essence of the problem? Is that not the very reason why so many people now believe that Blair and his cronies are a danger to British democracy?

The cause of the increasingly strident language used to describe this government is easy to discern. It's certainly not the fault of those in the media who have the courage to stand up to the bullying and the spin and the lies. No, it's the bullying and the spin and the lies themselves which are a large part of the problem. That and the policies they need to bully and spin and lie to try to defend. There's an obvious irony in Clarke doing exactly that here. It's certainly not an amusing irony though.

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For Freedom

"Then there is the repugnant practice of human trafficking whereby organised gangs move people from one region to another with the intention of exploiting them when they arrive.

[I]mplementing the EU action plan [involves] developing proposals to hit the people... traffickers hard, in opening up their bank accounts, harassing their activities, arresting their leading members and bring them to justice"
- Tony Blair, June 2005
Bringing them to justice seems the way to go. (Blair's attitude towards that is somewhat questionable in the real world but let's put that to one side for a moment.)

And now, a quick trip overseas (via).
The top U.S. commander in Iraq has ordered sweeping changes for privatized military support operations after confirming violations of human-trafficking laws and other abuses by contractors involving possibly thousands of foreign workers on American bases, according to records obtained by the Chicago Tribune.

Gen. George Casey ordered that contractors be required by May 1 to return passports that have been illegally confiscated from laborers on U.S. bases after determining that such practices violated U.S. laws against trafficking for forced or coerced labor. Human brokers and subcontractors from South Asia to the Middle East have worked together to import thousands of laborers into Iraq from impoverished countries.

Two memos obtained by the Tribune indicate that Casey's office concluded that the practice of confiscating passports from such workers was both widespread on American bases and in violation of the U.S. trafficking laws.

The memos, including an order dated April 4 and titled "Subject: Prevention of Trafficking in Persons in MNF-I," or Multinational Forces-Iraq, say the military also confirmed a host of other abuses during an inspection of contracting activities supporting the U.S. military in Iraq. They include deceptive hiring practices; excessive fees charged by overseas job brokers who lure workers into Iraq; substandard living conditions once laborers arrive; violations of Iraqi immigration laws; and a lack of mandatory "awareness training" on U.S. bases concerning human trafficking.
Mr Blair, as a committed promoter of the rule of law, democracy, human rights and universalism, will no doubt make a huge noise about this and demand that those guilty of human trafficking crimes and other related abuses are arrested and brought to justice.

Yeah. Right.

For those who say the difference between "us and them" is that we deal with the problem when we find out about it, I suggest reading the article to see how long it has taken before any sort of action has been taken on this. The difference between "us and them" is that we might do something about it if the media (and the State department to give them due credit) kicks up a big enough stink over a prolonged period of time.

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Hurray for Jenni Russell and her response to Blair's defence of his authoritarian foolishness.
Blair's genius, here as so often, is to present ends that we would all find desirable, while implying that his methods are the only means of getting there. Anyone who criticises those methods, whether a judge, journalist or citizen, can thus be presented as an opponent who cannot deliver what he is seeking: a just and free society. His emotional appeal is undeniable. His logic is flawed, indefensible and dangerous.
That's the stuff.

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Strangers to Introspection

Big John is worried that voters in the local elections will vote based on their dissatisfaction with Labour's national leadership. In other words, he concedes that Blair and his cabal are now an electoral liability. This, he reckons, is "unfair" on hard working Labour councillors. He says:
"If [voters] have got differences about national politics it's not fair to put it on local authorities."
Not fair? Aw, diddums.

These words, I need hardly remind you, come from the deputy leader of the party who devoted their first party political broadcast for the LOCAL election campaign to an attack on Dave the Chameleon. Isn't that just the tiniest bit inconsistent?

Fear not though. Mr Prescott has a solid defence for his party's attack on the national leader of the Conservatives during the local election campaign.
[Big John] brushed off criticism of Labour for choosing negative campaigning with its "Dave the Chameleon" advert, describing it as "a bit of fun" which had a serious message about Mr Cameron's inconsistency.
So that's alright then.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

More information on lies and the liars who tell them.
"[The source] told us that there were no active weapons of mass destruction programs," says Drumheller. "The [White House] group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested. And we said 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.' "
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Who will rid us...?

Brace yourselves. Tony has been defending his authoritarian policies in an email exchange with Henry Porter at the Observer. Oh my.

The Observer Blog is after your opinions on the issue and they've been promised a response from the government. You might want to get over there and express your views.

A quick ego-fuelled cut and paste job is all that's needed to reproduce my comment here.
In the email exchange, Tony Blair says "the alternative is that they, who do not play by our rules or any rules, get away with it."

This sentence is emblematic of everything which is wrong with the way Blair attempts to participate in "democratic debate". He constantly argues that there is no alternative to his policies and suggests, often explicitly, that to oppose his madcap schemes is to support and/or enable terrorists, evil Tories, child traffickers, drug dealers, the BNP... the list is endless. This approach is dishonest, illogical and, perhaps most worryingly, blatantly undemocratic. It's an attempt to silence opposition and distort debate which has no place in a truly demoratic society.

I believe it is the constant use of these strawmen, often attached to emotive smears, which causes people to argue, rightly in my opinion, that Blair is the greatest danger to democracy in this country in the early 21st Century. He appears to be intelligent enough to understand what he's doing and this only adds to people's concerns. We wonder if he's being deliberately medacious by behaving in this way.
I was, I have to say, trying to sound as moderate and reasonable as possible.

Readers of the Observer might not exactly be representative of the wider population as a whole but it is good to know that a great many people are highly exercised by Blair's reckless disregard for the pillars of a free society. And there are, it must be said, very few people attempting to defend the Blair on this. A sample:
His reaction to opposition is not to reconsider his position and ask if the other voices could be right. It seems to reinforce the certainty in his own infallability to the point of abnormality.
- gavinbullock

He's a liability to truth, justice, freedom, democracy, peace, fairness and critical thinking.
- Ejectorseat

Blair sounds more and more like a demented Dalek..
Legislate...Legislate...LEGISLATE !
only far more dangerous to us...
- Sparks2006

Jean Charles de Menezes. When Blair says he will '...harry, hassle and hound them (suspected drug dealers) until they give up or leave the country' all I can think of is Jean Charles de Menezes. He was a suspected terrorist who has now left the country with 8 bullet holes in his body. Unfortunately he was a completely innocent suspected terrorist. How many innocent suspected drug dealers would Blair allow to be harried hassled and hounded?
- sixtiesman

I visit my elderly parents who still live on the inner city council estate where I grew up. I witness the effects of crime and the fear of crime and wouldn't dream of discounting them. Nonetheless, I am more afraid of this government's attacks on our democracy and civil liberty than I am of either crime or terrorism. For the record, I am a woman in my fifties who most people would class as "respectable". I am not a member of any political party. It has taken a long time for me to realise how very dangerous this government has become.
- kazbe

If you are a dictator or an absolute monarch to justify controversial actions you need to claim the following:
  • you are the voice of the people.
  • you are fighting a threat.
  • good citizens have nothing to fear.
  • you are the Lord Protector.
These days it seems we can add the likes of Blair and other elected leaders who are stooping to such methods to conquer their critics.
- rebellion

No matter how much out of his depth he is, he is convinced that he is right and will try to force his ideas through by whatever means are available to him. This is a highly dangerous kind of leader, one whose mind set is that of a dictator or idealogue. Its time for him to go.
- Rovert
I could go on but you probably get the picture.

Blair's comments on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill are also worth a closer look. Fortunately Charlie has already done a very good job of that over at perfect. Was Tony being deliberately misleading or does he genuinely not know what his lackeys are attempting with the LRRB? I think I know where I'd put my money.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

A quick follow up to Cherie's Hair.The Labour Party spent nearly £8,000 on Cherie's hair in the month leading up to the general election last year. Here's a poorly executed pictoral tribute to the Labour spokeswoman's attitude to this news.


Thanks to KeirHardiesCap for the idea in the comments to the previous post.

Here are a couple of reactions to Cherie's hair from the Guardian. Hannah Pool seems to have gone for some sort of satire based Michael Winner's "calm down dear" catchphrase.
"If the press should blame anyone for her grooming bill, it's themselves."
I'm not sure I get the joke in all honesty but she obviously isn't being serious. Please tell me she isn't being serious.

At the other end of the scale, Jonathan Freedland appears to be very serious indeed.
"I'm told that when focus groups... are asked about Mrs Blair, they let rip. They see her as "venal", out for herself and plain greedy. Indeed, her pursuit of money-making activities has become emblematic of the larger New Labour problem with wealth..."

What really sums this up for me though, was a comment by Philski on the Hannal Pool article.
Cheries' hair really is the bloody last straw. When you think that all the donations you've ever made to the Labour movement pay for a few days of Cherie's hair cuts it makes you vomit.
In other news, the Labour Party has in recent years been forced to seek financial donations loans from a secret group of super-wealthy benefactors. This new practice was necessary after the party's traditional supporters began leaving in droves. Yet another smug, faceless, unacountable, sychophantic Blairite drone said "the reasons for this exodus are unclear." "I have no intention of giving a running commentary on this," s/he added.

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Al-Maliki asked to form government

Jawad al-Maliki of the Dawa Party (part of the UIA) has been formally asked to be the new PM of Iraq. He now has 30 days in which to form a government. As mentioned before, the Interior Ministry will be one of the key posts. It isn't clear at this stage whether there has been any agreement reached between the UIA and the Sunni groups over that. I suspect this might be the next sticking point.

The numerical situation is slightly different now though. After the elected President has asked the candidate of the largest party to form a government, which Talabani has done today, the constitution states that:
The assigned prime minister presents the names of the members of his cabinet and its ministerial platform to the Council of Representatives. He is considered to have won confidence when his ministers are approved individually and his ministerial platform is approved by an absolute majority. (Article 74.4)
This means that al-Maliki doesn't need a two-thirds majority to approve his cabinet appointments. All he needs is an absolute majority, 138 votes in the CoR. The UIA has 128 seats and there are 4 others who've signalled that they'll vote with it. If Al-Maliki is smart, and he appears to be from what I've read of him so far, he won't need to offer a great deal to secure the handful of extra votes he requires to form his government. (It's a classic prisoners dilemma type scenario for the various opposition groups. They'll all be worried that al-Maliki can get the required votes from elsewhere if they themselves ask for too much. The chances of the disparate opposition groups being able to maintain a united front, as they did concerning al-Jaafari, is greatly diminished given that it'd now take so few defections to defeat it.)

This does mean that the next stage in forming a government, isn't likely to take as long as the last. It also means that the Sunnis and Kurds have a lot less political leverage today than they did yersterday. If they haven't already secured an acceptable commitment on the key cabinet posts, I doubt they'll get one now. Al-Maliki might still decide to offer them more than he actually needs to if he genuinely feels it'll help the overal situation. He does say that he wants to create a broad coalition. On the other hand, I just can't see that the SCIRI would have agreed to putting al-Maliki forward for PM if he intended to remove them from the Interior Ministry. We'll just have to wait and see on that.

Aljazeera report that he intends to tackle the various militias by merging them into the Iraqi armed forces. That could be seen as a serious attempt to disband the militias and create an exclusively unpartisan reliable security force which answers to the government. Or it could be an attempt to disguise the further infilitration of the security forces by Shiite militias loyal to the Islamists. Time will tell on that too. The militias certainly won't be going anywhere in a hurry.

Whatever his motives, Al-Maliki now faces trying to govern a country on the verge of total breakdown and all out civil war. I genuinely hope he succeeds in hauling Iraq back from the brink. Given the scale of the problems which currently exist in Iraq, the odds remain extremely bleak.

This postscript is really for all those universalists who seem to think in black and white. Here's some background on the Dawa party which you might find interesting.
Ironically, the first major source of the suicide disease was the Iraqi Shiite Dawa Party, which now plays a vital role—terrorists turned freedom fighters—in the U.S.-backed Baghdad government. Dawa leader Ibrahim Jaafari is Iraq’s prime minister. But back in the 1980s, his fellow party members attacked anyone who supported Saddam Hussein, anywhere they could. They saw Saddam’s secular Baath Party as an alien force occupying sacred Shiite land. And on Dec.17, 1981, in the first massive suicide attack since World War II, a Dawa bomber blew up Iraq’s embassy in Beirut, killing 30 people. In 1983, at a time when Washington and Paris and Kuwait were big Saddam supporters, the Dawa blew up the American and French embassies in Kuwait City, killing six people and wounding 80. The Dawa’s close allies in Hizbullah soon started using suicide attacks against the Israelis, Americans and French in Lebanon. In October 1983 Hizbullah blew up the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American servicemen.
Do try not to blow a fuse as you try to accomodate that into your strange worldview. Terrorists? Freedom fighters? Brave supporters of democracy? Opposers of tyranny? Supporters of Hizbullah? Tyrants? Suicidal Islamists? Koranimals? Does not compute! Does not compute! Does not...

This does, of course, mean that the current US government is linked to groups known to have committed terrorist acts against US interests. Will they attack themselves as part of the Global War on Terror new and improved "Long War" though? That's the burning question.

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No Apology For Strawmen

The EM crowd says there should be no apology for tyranny.
We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently "understand", reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy - regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so.
It must be hard to balance a manifesto on something so precarious.

One of the key problems with this new initiative is that an honest attempt to convey the views of many of its authors would make the word "indulgently", and the quotation marks around "understand", superfluous to requirements.

In other words, many of those who're involved decline to try to actually understand reactionary regimes and movements. Not only that but the group appears to be quite committed to a desire to stifle any attempts by anyone to explain or understand the same. Anyone who has the audacity to attempt it, particularly with regard to the significant effects of the policies of the current incumbants of the Whitehouse and Number 10, can expect to be labelled indulgent apologists. It's not hard to understand why these flag wavers feel they must adopt such an approach.

Aside from the fact that this attempt to obfuscate and to smear any critics is a flagrant attempt to subvert democratic debate, it's strategic folly of the highest order. Just to put on the old pragmatic hat for a moment:
War - Rule 1
Know your enemy.
The "coalition of the willing" would have us attempt to combat extremism with one eye shut. Is it really a surprise that they are doing such an extraordinarily bad job of it?

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Friday, April 21, 2006

The New Prime Minister

Not, unfortunately, in this country. Yet.

It looks like there's been some movement in the negotiations over the nomination for Iraqi Prime Minister. Yesterday Al-Jaafari (of the Dawa Party) decided to step aside in the face of intense opposition from the Sunni and Kurdish blocs. The UIA have now decided to put forward Jawad al-Maliki for the role. It appears that Sunni and Kurdish politicians are prepared to accept al-Maliki as Prime Minister.
"If anyone is nominated except al-Jaafari, we won't put any obstacles in his way. He will receive our support," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the main Sunni Arab coalition in the Iraqi parliament.

Mahmoud Othman, a leading Kurdish politician, said his bloc would not oppose Maliki.
Auntie reports that "he has also not been opposed by any of the outside powers who are influential here".* It looks like he's going to be the man. There's a bit more information about him here.

The strange thing is that al-Maliki is also a member of the Dawa Party. He and al-Jaafari appear to be close allies. It's hard too see quite why al-Maliki is considered acceptable by the very same people who were so vehemently opposed to al-Jaafari .

Al-Dulaimi (of the (Sunni) Iraqi Accord Front) is apparently prepared to support anyone but al-Jaafari. This, to the extent that his alliance appears to be ready to accept a candidate who'll have pretty much exactly the same policies. I suspect this is partly down to the animosity which some Iraqi politicians feel towards al-Jaafari personally. The strength of the opposition to al-Jaafari may also have been motivated by a desire by those outwith the UIA to show that they could have an influence on preceedings (even if it actually gains them nothing of any substance in practical terms).

Anyway, it looks like al-Maliki will be sworn in shortly. Then he'll appoint the cabinet. The key one will be the Interior Ministry. Will he leave it under the control of the SCIRI? It's hard to say what truth there is behind the allegations made against the Interior Ministry under Bayan Jabr but it is clear that he has lost the confidence of almost all Iraqi Sunnis. If Iraq is to have even a tiny chance of averting an all out civil war, there needs to be a new Interior Minister who can inspire confidence from all sides.

In other news, kidnapping goes on apace as does internal displacement fuelled by sectarian violence. Those bad news loving, Bush hating, cheese eating, defeatist, liberal media fools are unimpressed though. It's all a bit old news.

One other thing. Al-Jaafari claimed his legitimacy off the back of him being the UIA candidate for Prime Minister. The UIA got a majority 41% share of a 79% turnout at the 2005 election. Jack Straw made it abundantly clear that the UK government did not consider this mandate enough to guarantee al-Jaafari's position.

Tony Blair claimed his legitimacy off the back of him being the Labour candidate for Prime Minister. The Labour Party got a majority 35% share of a 61% turnout at the 2005 election. The UK government makes it abundantly clear that it considers this mandate enough to guarantee Blair's position no matter how outrageously or incompetantly he and his cronies behave.

Of course, this war in Iraq is all about the promotion of universal values.

A couple of weeks ago, in the aftermath of the US controlled attack on the Shiite Mustafa mosque in Baghdad, al-Maliki made a statement on behalf of the UIA.
"The Alliance calls for a rapid restoration of (control of) security matters to the Iraqi government," Jawad al-Maliki, a senior spokesman of the Shi'ite Islamist Alliance and ally of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, told a news conference.
This again highlights the absurdities of the current situation. If al-Maliki is able to form a new government to replace the temporary one he was speaking for last month, how will the coalition react to this demand? Will they agree to place US and UK troops, and the Iraqi forces currently under their control, under the strategic command of the new Iraqi government? Realistically, there's no chance of that happening.

That refusal can only be another reminder that the new government of Iraq will be a very long way from being able to exercise the rights of a fully sovereign democratic government. And yet the people who'll be opposed to giving them these rights will be the very same one's who'll be boldly proclaiming that they already do.

* "The outside powers who are influential here," you say? That's a classic bit of BBC neutral phrasing if ever I saw one. I think they mean the outside influence of the US and UK governments'. The problem for Auntie is that this outside influence has no democratic mandate and is in fact a perversion of the very thing we're now told we're there to support. That's undoubtedly true but in the polluted debate which has been created by the architects and proponents of the war, in an attempt to hide their failures and lies, it's also become a political statement. And the BBC are contractually obliged to be neutral when it comes to political statements. When the facts stubbornly refuse to be obligingly neutral, you can see how this puts them in a bit of a bind.

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Cherie's Hair

State funding for this?
The Labour Party has defended reports Cherie Blair left it with a £7,700 bill for a personal hair stylist at the last general election.
No. I don't think so.

This is what they were so desperate to borrow money for? It's all gone a bit Imelda Marcos, quite frankly. A bit more Imelda Marcos anyway. The reason why the Labour Party had to pay for this?
The money was paid for Mrs Blair's personal hairdresser to keep her immaculately groomed during her husband's election campaign in 2005.
Someone at the Beeb is having a laugh there. Immaculately groomed? I'm surprised they didn't use that photo. You know the one. Cherie probably used that photo as part of her argument to justify her shameless freeloading of course. Because she couldn't possibly do her own hair. Don't you know who she is?

For those who think this isn't a political story, Peter Kilfolye would beg to differ.
This is a real problem. We are almost accepting by stealth a First Lady. We don’t have a First Lady in our constitution, whether the Labour Party constitution or the unwritten British constitution; £7,000 could have been spent on political campaigning. We spent about £3,500 on our election [in Liverpool Walton]. It would be a very healthy contribution in many seats.
He's got a point.

That aside, I've got a nagging feeling that spending nearly £8,000 in one month on a personal hairdresser is just not right somehow, no matter who pays for it. Perhaps it's a sign of my inability to accept the celebration of vacuous consumerism and obsession with image which defines the modern world.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dave the Chameleon (for Dummies). Yes, you do want to watch this.

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Interwebs and Bullies

The way that Juan Cole is treated by some people is indicative of something very worrying about the way foreign policy debate (particularly with regard to the Middle East) is now pursued by those in power and their supporters. For some people, the mere mention of his name is enough; if Cole said it, it's obviously wrong and can be ridiculed as the worst kind of moonbattery. I've seen these disparaging put-downs on comment threads any number of times when someone has been foolish enough to quote the Professor.

Professor Cole, you see, has had the temerity to question the wisdom of the ruling cabal and, what's worse, he has done so while claiming to actually know what he's talking about. Worse still, people are paying attention. In the world of "no alternatives but us" this has meant that Professor Cole has been subjected to a cynical smear campaign by some of those who's policies he dares question.* It is not, in this brave new democratic world, acceptable to question the policies of our ruling masters. Those who do can expect only retribution, mockery and isolation.

It says a great deal about the strength of an argument when it's followers feel they can an only defend it by resorting to such measures. It's certainly a long way from the democratic ideals on which our societies are said to be based. It is interesting that these people who try so hard to marginalise and ridicule Cole for having the audacity to exercise his essential democratic right to free speech are the very same people who profess to be driven by a burning desire to protect and promote that same right. It's another of the classic ironies of the early 21st Century.

In this interconnected world, however, there is a great deal of hope that these sleazy tactics will ultimately fail. For one thing, you can Juan Cole's blog for yourself every day. In times past, it was relatively easy to keep "unpopular" or "undesirable" opinions out of the public eye. Patronage affects the media just as it does other walks of life and the government could exert considerable influence over the relatively small number of mainstream media outlets which might be tempted to stray too far from the party line. Blogging, and other forms of internet communication, have made it much easier for people to get their opinions "out there".

These new forms of communication do not, of course, have the influence of a national TV news programme or a national daily newspaper. There is some evidence to suggest that blogs do, however, exert some influence on that wider media and on society as a whole. This would seem most likely to apply to high profile blogs such as Professor Cole's (rather than to random obscure bloggers like myself). This, it seems to me, is a splendidly democratic way to distribute ideas. Free marketeer should, and indeed I think do, love it too. Low barriers to entry into a competitive meritocratic market. Outstanding.

There are problems of course. In free market terms, there is essentially an oversupply which makes anything resembling perfect information an impossibility. In other words, there are so many blogs out there that it is impossible to actually judge whether you're "buying" the best that's on offer. And barriers to entry are actually higher than they might first appear in that the sheer number of blogs makes it difficult to attract "customers" to a new start. Word of mouth can help here.

And that's where we go back to Professor Cole. The new world of interweb communication is also available to the bullies of the ruling cabal. What's more, they will often be able to fund and market their interweb missives more generously than would an average blogger. The danger is that these officially unofficial communications will become disproportionately influencial and this'll negate some of the democratic benefits which internet communication can provide.

In the case of Professor Cole, the bullying tactics are undoubtedly intended to have two related effects. The first goal is that they might discourage him from expressing unwelcome opinions. In this, they're having no luck at all. The second is an attempt to discourage some of the word of mouth traffic which the Professor might otherwise get.

That's why, today, I'm linking to Juan Cole and advising you to read his stuff if you don't already.** I can't say I agree with every single word the Professor writes but I can say that he knows a great deal more about a great many things than I do and that his opinions are worthwhile and valuable. And I can also say that I don't like bullies but I do very much admire people who refuse to be bullied.

* Just to be clear, I'm not saying that every criticism of the Professor comes directly from the powers that be. There's not someone at Republian Party HQ who's job it is to leave disparaging comments using various aliases. They just produce and release a meme which then establishes a life of its own. It seems to me that we really need a meme in the other direction to counteract it properly.

**Not that I'm under an illusion that this'll deluge Informed Comment with new readers mind. There's a principle at stake here too.

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Great mysteries of our time

An excellent post over at Backing Blair today. Click click.

One of the things I find so worrying about Blair is that his policies and actions are likely to fuel all sorts of extremism. In my most cynical moments, I wonder whether this is actually an intended outcome. Realistically, I have to say that I think it's very unlikely (I can't say I can say the same about some of his neo-con buddies though). In Blair's case, he seems to suffer some sort of blind spot which makes him unable to grasp basic lessons from history. Perhaps it's to do with the insidious effects of power. Perhaps he just doesn't care. Or perhaps he really is intellectually challenged in some way. It might be a combination of all three. It's hard to say.

Whatever the reason, he has presided over a pronounced and prolonged decline in confidence in mainstream politics and there can be no doubt that his policies and actions have been a primary cause. The irony is, of course, that some of his staunchest supporters can be heard loudly proclaiming that Blair is a great defender of democracy. How they are able to maintain this belief, apparently in all sincerity, is a deeper mystery still.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A United Front

Jack Straw says the world is not split over what to do about Iran.

A mere three hours later Jack's boss was asked at PMQs whether he agreed with Jack's unequivocal assertion that military action against Iran is "inconceivable". Tony didn't answer this very straightforward question. Which really only leaves one reasonable conclusion as to what Blair actually thinks about Jack's assurances.


Blair did stress that the focus was on a dimplomatic solution.
"Nobody is talking about a military invasion against Iran or military action against Iran. We are taking diplomatic action through the UN security council."
Anyone who closely watches what Blair says will be well aware of the essentially meaningless nature of these words. "Nobody is talking about..."? Given Blair's form, this probably means that he's in written communication with Bush about the start date for the bombing campaign. If, after the event, one of those written communications happened to leak out, Blair'd just say "but I said nobody is talking about military action. I wasn't talking, I was writing it down. How dare you suggest that I lied. You just didn't listen to what I actually said..."

OK, I may be exaggerating the cynicism a bit there. But only a bit.

One other thing. Blair said:
"We are taking diplomatic action through the UN security council. But let's be clear what is happening – [Iran] is in breach of its international obligations."
I'm not saying I'm sure he's wrong but it's far from clear to me that they are. In what way? The stuff with the IAEA relates to Iran's decision to withdraw from a voluntary, that's voluntary agreement they made a few years ago which allowed IAEA inspectors greater access to nuclear facilities than the Iranians are required to provide under the NNPT. The Iranian government always maintained that this would be a temporary measure so the fact that they've withdrawn from it is hardly a surprise. Or a breach of their obligations. Perhaps I'm missing something (genuinely, not sarcastically). Any thoughts?

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Big Tone led from the front again today at PMQs. (I've transcribed this off the Daily Politics video doodah.)
Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru): Would the prime minister offer a credible response to the following question? Why was it when his fundraiser-in-chief and tennis partner was offered £1.5m donation to the Labour Party he refused that in favour of a £1.5m loan?

Tony Blair: It is not my intention to give a running commentary on this issue but I can say that I'm delighted that so many successful people support the Labour Party and quite right too.
Talk about making the argument.

Since Blair refuses to answer, it seems only fair to conclude that he's trying to hide something. Like the fact that his policy was to deliberately and intentionally solicit money in such a way that it could be kept secret from the public and from the lords appointment commission. Hurray for open government.

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A little bit of politics

Been a bit busy today so here's some stuff.

I got a mention in the Guardian's "Today on the web" today (well yesterday, Tuesday) for the post on the BNP. Hurray! Fame at last. Ect Ect. It did in fact please me greatly. Like most bloggers, I'm a sucker for seeing something I wrote in print. And the more people who read it the better. Nice one.

On a related note, it was an unfortunate coincidence that I happened to choose today to call one of the Guardian's columnists a "fully signed up Blairite propagandist". It really was a coincidence. I'd already published the post before I found out that I'd been mentioned. Can't say it'd have changed what I wrote if I had except that I wouldn't have wanted it to look like a deliberate thing. It wasn't. It was a coincidence.

Still think the previous post was essentially correct though.

Anyway, moving on from my ego, what else has been happening today (well, yesterday, Tuesday)?

Tony wasn't looking too cool at his NHS speech/launch/initiative/campaign/crisis management thing. His speech suggests that he doesn't think it's all over. His body language however... Cheap shots away! He's probably got the flu or something and here's me telling you that excessive sweating is a sure sign of a guilty conscience. I mean, that's not even true but I've subliminally planted the idea in your head now. How cheap is that? At this rate, I'll soon be down to the level of the Labour Party spin machine. Oh, I just can't help it. He really didn't look well though. Perhaps he ought to think about stepping down for the good of his (that's enough. Ed.)

Cameron's come up with a new slogan. Vote blue, go green. It's funny in all sorts of ways. It really is appallingly New Labour (apart from the "blue" bit obviously). Welcome to the brave new world of politics by monosyllabic slogans. It's all our tiny brains are able to process you see. Me good, him bad. Vote me, vote me, vote me.

Cameron also said "we have to think global, act local" and "we've got to have green growth". He appears to be some sort of slogan dispensing android from the future. Remarkably lifelike but I doubt he's pass the Turing test.

Since there's an election campaign on, how about some news from the Lib Dems too. Sir Menzies has sold his beloved Jaguar. If Cameron or Blair had chosen to announce this during an election campaign, I'd have called it a cynical electioneering ploy. It's a cynical electioneering ploy. Sorry Sir Menzies but it's hardly subtle. People who are genuinely concerned about the environment are just left wondering why you had a Jag in the first place. They just don't make them with small engines you know.

And lot's of other stuff also happened today too (well yesterday, Tuesday). More will again be happening tomorrow (well today, Wednesday).

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Self-Preservation Society?

A wee while back, Will Hutton had me shaking my head in disbelief (so much so that I had a pop at him for something he wasn't actually to blame for). What got me going that day was his opinion on the secret loans scandal.
Blair cocked up; he should never have allowed fund raising to get so close to the office of Prime Minister. There should have been more transparency. However, as the week wore on, I found myself grudgingly admiring him. He took the criticism on the chin, made the argument, and fought back. Amid a Cabinet of rabbits and a party collectively blame-shifting, here at least was somebody prepared to lead from the front.
Er? Even for a fully signed up Blairite propagandist, that's a breathtaking statement. Blair made the argument? When?

Has Blair explained why his chief fundraiser, who reported directly to the PM, was explicitly asking for loans rather than donations? Has he explained why the Lords appointment commission was not informed that four of his nominees had lent substantial amounts of money to the Labour Party? Has he explained why he thought it was acceptable to exploit loopholes in regulations he himself introduced in order to "clean up politics"? Because if he did, I didn't hear his answers.

It takes a certain kind of person to ignore the unanswered questions hanging over the prime minister while simultaneously chastising others for "blame-shifting". Try as I might, I can't understand the motivations behind it. It is, I suppose, something to do with loyalty.

Loyalty, for most people, is a two way street. If someone takes advantage of or exploits your loyalty, you're likely to be cautious about continuing to offer it to them. For Blair's supporters however, it seems that they're quite happy to allow him to use and abuse them in any way which takes his fancy without ever asking themselves whether their man actually deserves their loyalty. It is a strange state of affairs.

The question is, are they now going to loyally go down with Blair's sinking ship? I'm of the opinion that the country needs a strong Labour Party. I genuinely don't want Blair take it down with him. Cut. Him. Loose. It might not be too late to save yourselves.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

A Curious Manifesto

Lot's of interesting stuff to be found over at Pickled Politics today. There seems to be lots of discussion going on about this Euston Manifesto thing and the schism which the Iraq war caused among "the left".

I agree with Sunni's conclusion.
My suggestion: let’s not assume all the pro-war types want to drag us into the neo-con agenda, while also agreeing not all of those on the other side of the fence have en-masse befriended Hizb ut-Tahrir types.
I try to avoid the first. Not sure how well I do at it but I do try. (Jarndyce is who you want for a considered "pro-war" view.)

Reading the Manifesto, as well as any number of blog posts and other "decent left" opinions, it seems to me that there is a general attempt to promote the idea of the second. As Mike Marqusee put it:
In the first place, there's the dishonesty of treating the Socialist Workers' party and Respect as the totality of the left or the anti-war movement. One of the problems with the "line" they wish to draw is that it obliterates the existence of much of the actual left: which is diverse and predominantly anti-authoritarian.
It's easy, by definition, easy to attack a straw man and this is the big one of the "pro-war left". From where I sit, as one of those people who has been obliterated out of existence, this is indeed dishonest. It seems to me that David Aaranovitch, Nick Cohen, Harry Hatchet and company must be aware that the views they so lovingly mock are minority opinions and are not broadly representative of "anti-war" sentiments in this country. For me, it's hard to avoid the impression that they are only too aware that their arguments are weak and that they deliberately put them up against the weakest minority opinions they can find in order to give their own position a tiny hint of respectability. Perhaps I'm wrong but that's the impression I get. It irks me slightly if truth be told.

Marqusee raises another point which has been seized on with some glee by pro-war commenters.
Huge numbers of people found no difficulty in opposing the war and the regime of Saddam Hussein...
This is true. Count me in.

In one comment to the post, a Mr/Mrs Sledge replies:
Objectively speaking, by opposing regime-change, the Left was an enabler and abbettor of Saddam and his crimes.
This is a somewhat extreme version of a popular view. It the whole comfort of inaction thing. A more mainstream version would be something like "it's all very well to say you opposed military action but you must accept that Saddam would still be in power without it." This is also true. But if you substitute other oppressive regimes, it all goes a bit silly as an argument in support of a particular plan of military action.
It's all very well to say you oppose military action against North Korea but you must accept that Kim Jong-il would still be in power without it.
So, anyone who opposes a poorly thought out military attack on North Korea is a de facto supporter of the eccentric maniac? I think not. Or what about:
It's all very well to say you oppose military action against Uzbekistan but you must accept that Karimov would still be in power without it.
In Uzbekistan, of course, the situation is muddied by the fact that the US and UK government actually were, until very recently, enablers and abbettors of the crimes of a brutal torturing tyrant. That aside, there seems to be very little in the way of calls to arms coming from the "decent left" when it comes to Karimov's regime.

The point is that you can support regime change, as I'm sure many people do in relation to North Korea, without supporting an extremely dangerous, badly planned and badly executed military adventure. This position has been summarized as the "not this war now" position. My feeling is that this is the majority opinion of those who opposed the war.

I'd certainly have supported a considered and competant international plan to free the Iraqi people from Saddam. But I did not support a devisive, poorly conceived rush to war when there was quite clearly no plan for peace. I did not support the bullying, bribing and threatening of other members of the international community in an attempt to build a "coalition of the willing". I did not support an aggressive unilateral action which severely damaged relationships within the international community and which set a dangerous precedent for future unilateral actions which we might not be at all keen on. And I did not support the idea that the military action was motivated primarily by considerations of what was best for the Iraqi people.

Sunny, in a comment to the PP post, hits the nail on the head.
Three years on from the war I’m even more convinced that those who wanted it most cared for the Iraqis least.
I fully agree. Some people might genuinely believe that Rumsfeld, to take a prime example, has finally discovered his conscience. For most people though, I'll wager that the very idea is laughable. I'm not denying that some people supported the war because they thought (indeed still think) it would inprove the lives of Iraqis. I am denying that is was a major factor in the minds of the decision makers who ordered the attack. This fact, sadly, always meant that the Iraqi people were nothing less than a pawn in a much larger geo-political game. Pawns sometimes do become queens. More often, however, they are sacrificed for the "greater good".

Blair, to give him his due, may have been more concerned about the welfare of Iraqis than many in the US administration. He, in his January 2003 conversation with Bush, discussed post-Saddam Iraq.
"As for the future government of Iraq, people would find it very odd if we handed it over to another dictator," the prime minister is quoted as saying. "Bush agreed," Mr. Manning wrote.
Is it possible that this was the first conversation the two men had had about what shape a new Iraqi government might take? The tone of the memo would suggest that it was. Was the whole democratisation thing nothing more than an afterthought? Almost certainly for the Bush administration. but perhaps less so for Blair.

The memo goes on to reveal more about the fateful conversation.
The two men briefly discussed plans for a post-Hussein Iraqi government. "The prime minister asked about aftermath planning," the memo says. "Condi Rice said that a great deal of work was now in hand.

Referring to the Defense Department, it said: "A planning cell in D.O.D. was looking at all aspects and would deploy to Iraq to direct operations as soon as the military action was over. Bush said that a great deal of detailed planning had been done on supplying the Iraqi people with food and medicine."

The leaders then looked beyond the war, imagining the transition from Mr. Hussein's rule to a new government. Immediately after the war, a military occupation would be put in place for an unknown period of time, the president was described as saying. He spoke of the "dilemma of managing the transition to the civil administration," the memo says.
Blair, we know, had been advised that the same US administration was woefully misinformed about what would happen after the fall of Saddam. How sad then that he still gave the President an open-ended commitment which effectively gave away any chance he might have had to have a positive influence of the situation on the ground. From a purely pragmatic point of view, this might have been the biggest mistake Blair made in this whole sorry tale. He could, possibly, have used British involvement as the bait with which to lure Bush into a more sensible policy. We'll never know about that now though.

But to hear Blair, now, talk as if this whole adventure was motivated exclusively by what was best for Iraqis just makes me want to puke. You cannot disassociate yourself from the actions of your allies (warning: graphic images) if you've given them a free hand to operate as they please.

For me, the arguments about British involvement in the Iraq war are not about intervention versus inaction. The argument is about incompetance versus competance. It is about holding to account a leader who did not take the time to fully understand the likely consequences of an action before agreeing to take part in it. And it is about the futility of attempting to build a moral action on a foundation of lies. Until those who have displayed such unforgivable incompetance and dishonesty have been brought to account, there can be no moving on in British politics.

Perhaps "the left" does have to have a debate about the nature of humanitarian intervention and the promotion of human rights in the 21st Century. In fact, I'm fairly sure it does. Let's not pretend that the Iraq war was motivated by those concerns though. You might have supported it for that reason but that was never what it was about.

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No Alternative

A while back, I tried to put aside my knee jerk opposition to nuclear power and consider the matter afresh. My starting point was the idea that Britian needs new nuclear power stations as part of the "energy mix" in order to meet our future needs while keeping down carbon emissions. That seems to be the position favoured by Blair and it's widely reported that he has already decided to promote new nuclear power builds.

It is important to recognise is that this would not be a market solution. Nuclear power plants need government intervention. If they didn't, the nuclear industry could build away. There are no laws to stop them putting forward plans. The market, on the other hand, does not currently incentivise new builds because there's no money to be made. So it's important to acknowledge that government intervention, and by that we really mean subsidies and other financial incentives (as well as long term fixed contracts to guarantee demand for nuclear energy - something the industry calls Security of Supply Obligation), is necessary whether we go nuclear or down some other route.

The essential question, given the well known negative aspects of nulear power, is whether there are alternatives. The government position is increasingly clear; they argue that there isn't. Nuclear, they maintain, is a necessary component in our efforts to fill the "energy gap". Without it, they say, Britian will not be able to meet future energy demand while tackling emissions.

The thing is, and this probably won't surprise you, they don't seem to have any evidence to support that claim. It might as well have been plucked out of the air as far as I can tell. Actually, I'm fairly sure I know exactly where it was plucked from. It's a line which has been heavily promoted by the Nuclear Industry Association (you get one view of this article before you've got to register, beware the Back button). Would you Adam and Eve it?

Blair seems to be somehow in thrall to big business. (Note to self - it might be interesting to see if anyone involved in the pro-nuclear lobby made any donations or loans to the Labour Party in the last couple of years.) As far as I can tell, the government is now exactly echoing the NIA's new marketing campaign. This despite the fact that more than one committee, after studying the evidence, has concluded that nuclear power is not necessary to fill the "energy gap".

What I've read on the subject leads me to believe that carbon capture technologies and renewables, along with energy efficiency measures, could plug the energy gap without any need for nuclear power. This would undoubtedly need government intervention (with more investment in renewables being a priority).

For those with an objection to govenment intervention, we've covered that already. Intervention is necessary; all we're discussing is the type of intervention. It seems unlikely, again judging by what I've read, that it'd cost any more than the nuclear option. It'd also be more flexible (no need for long term government guaranteed supply contracts for nuclear power stations) so it'd allow us far more room to take advantage of any new technologies which might be discovered over the next few decades. It'd be pretty irritating if a significantly cheaper and cleaner method of energy generation couldn't be developed in this country because we were tied in to decades long contracts with nuclear power generators.

In short then, don't believe the hype. There are alternatives. Those who tell you otherwise have fallen under the spell of a well funded, well organised, propaganda campaign carried out by a group representing vested business interests. As to why Big Tone seems to love to accept these big business campaigns at face value, I'm genuinely not sure*. Is he really so easily swayed by big business? Can he really not recognise an argument motivated squarely by self-interest even as it hits him repeatedly in the face? Apparently not. He seems to absorb and embrace these pitches like a particularly naive toddler. These are not qualities I'd choose in a prime minister, I have to say.

* The ID card scheme is another. I'm fairly certain the whole thing came from a sales pitch by some clever IT marketing goons.
"Look prime minister, we have the technology. We can do this, it'll be great."
"Brilliant! If we can, we should."


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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Dear Margaret,

Democracy is supposed to be about offering something positive to the electorate. Scaring people into believing there is no acceptable alternative isn't really very inspiring. Or honest. In fact, as a campaigning tactic, it's hard to think of anything more cheap, disingenuous or downright morally bankrupt. Perhaps that's the reason why people aren't queuing up to vote for Mr Blair's Labour Party. Just a thought.

Yours democratically,


Ps, Tim's already said this. More than once. Asking people to vote Labour because otherwise the terrorists Tories BNP will kill you in your sleep is not acceptable. We want positive, inspiring politics, not the politics of the least worst alternative.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Huzzah! (possibly)

What's this? Possible movement on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill? Has Jim Murphy finally seen sense?

Or will it be a compromise along the lines of the oh so very generous bone they threw us over ID cards? I'm sure we're all grateful for that huge concession which means that you won't actually have to have the piece of plastic when you renew your passport. You'll just be forced to pay for one. And to submit your private personal details to be recorded on their monstrous database. Thanks a bunch.

Until details are available, you'd be silly not to join Justin and myself in the sceptics' corner.

I also noticed something interesing in the Guardian article. Opening line:
The government is to write new safeguards into a controversial bill giving ministers sweeping powers to change the law after Labour's chief whip in the Lords warned it would otherwise face defeat.
I think you'll find that should be "The government say they are going to write new safeguards into a controversial bill..."

Next line:
Critics claimed the legislative and regulatory reform bill would allow the government to change almost any law it wished - even introducing new criminal offences or altering the constitution - without scrutiny.
I think you'll find that should be "The legislative and regulatory reform bill would allow the government to change almost any law..."

Even Murphy doesn't contest the powers which this bill would convey to ministers. He traditionally just responds with the feeble "but we won't do anything controversial, honestly we won't" when someone challenges him on the need for proper safeguards.

There's quite a bit more like that in the article if you look. No mention of the inherent weakness of Murphy's proposed "safeguard" of giving a right of veto to select committees, for example.

Naughty naughty, Guardina types. A cynic would be forgiven for wondering whether there might be some kind of underlying motive to this curiously written report. Far be it from me to speculate on that though.

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Tackling Organised crime

As someone who's been flirting with the law today, perhaps I ought to be cautious in this post. Or perhaps not.

First of all, as a starter if you will, some credit where it's due. It's possible that people like myself don't say this often enough but I'm firmly of the belief that the vast majority of police officers in this country are honest and principled, and are motivated by the best of intentions. The same goes for the prosecuting authorities and the judiciary. One of things I like about Life on Mars is that it brings home the progress that has been made over the last two or three decades in the way we go about applying justice in this country. It's not perfect but we've come a long way.*

In fact, the current police service is probably negating the extent of the government's authoritarian instincts to some extent. I'd imagine that a fair few Seventies coppers would have had a field day with some of the laws New Labour has passed in recent years. When police officers use their powers in an unjustified way these days, you suspect it's got more to do with top down political pressure than with muscle-flexing abuses of power.** So, a big thank you to all the hard working coppers out there trying to make this country safer, less corrupt, and generally an all round better place to live. It is greatly appreciated.

Just a little bit more credit still to dish out before the ever so scrummy main course. I'm not sure how many people south of the border are aware of this but the Scottish National Party refuses to send anyone to the House of Lords (correct me if I'm wrong bit I think the Welsh nationalists do the same). The SNP have long argued that the system itself is undemocratic and essentially corrupt. That's why they've been in a position to make a lot of noise about the prime minister's "loans for peerages" policy without any fear of charges of hypocrisy. Not all the others parties can say the same. Can't say I agree with all of the SNP's policies but fair play too them for that.

And now, on to that most delicious main course. You know how sometimes the police will arrest a small cog first when they're investigating organised crime? They'll pick up a little guy and then squeeze him for incriminating information on their main target, the Mr Big. If TV dramas are anything to go by, they usually do the good cop/bad cop routine. "You're going down for a long stretch, sunshine. Do you like villians? Because I'm sure they'll love a pretty looking thing like you..." "What my colleague is trying to say is, we want to help you but you've got to help us first. If you tell us who you're working for, things could go a lot better for you..." I'm sure you know how it goes.

A headteacher who helped find sponsors for the government's flagship city academies programme has been arrested as part of a cash for honours probe.

Des Smith sparked a row earlier this year when he suggested donors would be given honours in exchange for funding.
Spill the beans Mr Smith. It's the only way. He told a Sunday Times undercover reporter that "the prime minister’s office would recommend someone like (the donor) for an OBE, a CBE or a knighthood" if they donated enough money to the city academy programme. (Here's the original Sunday Times article if you're interested.)

Mr Smith now says that he was "naive". Good. Listen to what the nice policeman is telling you, Mr Smith. Tell him how you got the idea that the prime minister's office would behave in this frankly illegal way. Who told you? Who are you working for? You don't own any loyalty to the Capo Bastone or the Capo di Tutti i Capi. They've set you up to take the fall. Do you think they care about you? They won't lose any sleep just because you're being kept awake at night by the over-affectionate attentions of your tatooed cellmate. Their extravagant jetset lifestyles won't be affected one bit. Tell the nice policeman what you know.

Oh, I do hope he comes up with the goods. I suspect he really is naive and probably didn't fully appreciate the nature of the criminal acts his masters had sent him on. He does appear to have broken the law allegedly, but it's not really him we should be chasing. We want Mr Big.

In fact, that would surely be a simply superb dessert.

* I do worry that the de Menezes enquiry could be a whitewash. Time will tell on that; it's currently in the hands of the CPS who will decide whether any charges will be brought.

** Not that I'm saying all Seventies coppers were bent though. I'm sure many were honest and principled back then too. There was a different culture though and I think it's widely recognised that things have changed for the better.

Edit (6.30 pm) - added the word "allegedly". As in "he does appear to have broken the law allegedly..." Listening to Today reminded me that even an obscure blogger really ought to be careful when commenting on ongoing cases. It's up to a jury to decide whether he actually did break the law.

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Stupid is as stupid does

Today, it officially became illegal to glorify terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2006 (pdf).
Encouragement of terrorism
(1) This section applies to a statement that is likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom it is published as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to them to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences.

(2) A person commits an offence if—
(a) he publishes a statement to which this section applies or causes another to publish such a statement; and
(b) at the time he publishes it or causes it to be published, he—
(i) intends members of the public to be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate acts of terrorism or Convention offences; or
(ii) is reckless as to whether members of the public will be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate such acts or offences.

(3) For the purposes of this section, the statements that are likely to be understood by members of the public as indirectly encouraging the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences include every statement which—
(a) glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts or offences; and
(b) is a statement from which those members of the public could reasonably be expected to infer that what is being glorified is being glorified as conduct that should be emulated by them in existing circumstances.
This guy had the right idea. Sometimes it is necessary to take decisive action against an objectionable government. If he'd been successful, it would have been one of the truly glorious moments in world history. Even though it failed, it was certainly the right thing to do. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, I salute you. It was a glorious effort.

*waits for police*

PS. I have checked. This action would certainly qualify as terrorism under UK law (as laid out in the Terrorism Act 2000). In fact, the whole Second World War would also fit the bill. No more V.E. day celebrations for us.

More fun with glorification from Jago.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Life on Mars

No, not the BBC drama although I'm starting to think that's rather good. Somewhat bizarre but entertaining. John Simm is a fine actor, I'd say.

But not that. This. A smiley face on Mars. Well I never.

Is there, perhaps, a thriving underground acid house scene going on up there?* Kudos to the first scientist to detect a sweaty, gurning Martian clubber. Perhaps we could lure them into the open by dropping a consignment of whistles and glowsticks on the surface?

Actually, this might explain the preponderance of apparently quite alien people who seemed to be going around the scene when it was on Earth. It's all starting to become clear now...

On a marginally related but slightly more serious note, Seti@home is worth a look if you're interested in that whole space thing. Who's got the answer to the Fermi paradox? I suspect it might be related to something Douglas Adams wrote.
Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space.
On another related note, I've not read any Ken McLeod. Looks like I've been missing out. To the Library.

* Puts on sensible hat. Drugs can be fun but they can also be dangerous. I wouldn't take it upon myself to tell anyone else what they want to do with their own body. I would advise you to take care and be sensible though. M'kay?

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Bah. I was going to write a post about Iran and then reply to some comments. Got stuck with the Iran thing. It could be the most time I've ever spent on one post. And it's not even particularly good. Or long. Several rewrites later it is on its way. It'll appear below this one because I started it literally quite a long time ago. In the meantime, apologies for the delay in replying to comments. To late to do it tonight now. Bah.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006


The man from Iran, he say screw you buddy.

Calm down dears, he's deliberately trying to wind you up. This is low grade uranium. It might be slightly alarming but it takes an awful lot more than that to build a bomb.

On the other hand, it's best not to forget that the president of Iran is actually not someone you'd want round for dinner. We shouldn't pretend that Ahmadinejad isn't being intentionally provocative. Bush is not the only one playing a dangerous game here.

We know that Iran has a right to this technology for peaceful purposes and that there is no solid evidence to show that they're developing nuclear weapons. We also know that the IAEA board of governors (pdf):
Expresses serious concern that the Agency is not yet in a position to clarify some important issues relating to Iran's nuclear programme, including the fact that Iran has in its possession a document on the production of uranium metal hemispheres, since... this process is related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components; and, noting that the decision to put this document under Agency seal is a positive step, requests Iran to maintain this document under Agency seal and to provide a full copy to the Agency.
I don't know about anyone else but I find that a bit of a worry in the longer term. It's only a document but why do they have it? I'm fairly sure that uranium metal hemispheres are not "dual use" items. Agreed (at least agreed by some) that it's hypocritical for the western nuclear powers to tell Iran that they can't develop them too. That still doesn't mean a nuclear capable Iran is a great idea though.

And let's not pretend that ElBaradei, the IAEA Director General, is a US patsy*. That would be doing the man an injustice.

Anyway, I've been having a look at some "American right" opinions on the way to deal with this issue this evening. Here's a sample from Mark Steyn (actually a Canadian but very much of the American right).
Once again, we face a choice between bad and worse options. There can be no “surgical” strike in any meaningful sense: Iran’s clients on the ground will retaliate in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Europe. Nor should we put much stock in the country’s allegedly “pro-American” youth. This shouldn’t be a touchy-feely nation-building exercise: rehabilitation may be a bonus, but the primary objective should be punishment—and incarceration. It’s up to the Iranian people how nutty a government they want to live with, but extraterritorial nuttiness has to be shown not to pay. That means swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime—but no occupation.
That's a pretty long article and I've just quoted part of the conclusion. You could have endless hours of fun challenging his notion that Iran is well placed to "unite the Muslim world under one inspiring, courageous leadership". Or the fact that he's overlooked the Saudi role in propogating Wahabi Sunni extremism. Or the fact that he's created a mythical world in which the Iranian regime ship a nuke off to Argentina in order to make a "significant chunk of downtown Buenos Aires... uninhabitable". Top class speculative/ridiculous scaremongering there, I'm sure you'll agree. (The "this story was cited in" links make for interesting reading too if you're a glutton for punishment.)

But back to his conclusion. When Steyn calls for "swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime," it presumably doesn't occur to him that this is likely to be rather unpleasant for the average Iranian who actually lives in the place. Of course, Steyn isn't advocating the deliberate killing of civilians. Massive, devastating force to decapitate the regime would inevitably cause that but only collaterally. I'm sure it's a great comfort to know that the bomb which is about to blow you to bits wasn't actually aimed at you.

"Sure, they knew I was here and that I'd be killed but they were not aiming for me. Can't say fairer than... ouch, that stings a bit. Anyone seen my other leg? Oh, I didn't know there was so much blood inside me. No, hang on, that's not what I mean. I mean I didn't know there used to be so much bloo..."

You know, I suspect some of them wont be able to see that it's for their own good. Bloody arabs eh?** What are they like? As to Steyn's contention that "extraterritorial nuttiness has to be shown not to pay", well what can you say? One word. Starts with an I.

I'd like to offer some more useful suggestions for ways to deal with the Iranian issue (here are some I made earlier). But, as someone once said, "I wouldn't start from here".

* This is the guy, remember, who, before the invasion of Iraq and under intense pressure to provide smoking guns, said " The IAEA has made progress in its investigation into reports that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger in recent years. The investigation was centred on documents provided by a number of States that pointed to an agreement between Niger and Iraq for the sale of uranium between 1999 and 2001... Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents - which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger - are in fact not authentic. We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded."

** Iranians are not actually arabs of course. Not everyone seems to be aware of this though. I recently read a A US conservative blogger confidently declare that the only way to deal with Iran was through force because "all arabs are liars and crooks". Nice.

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