Friday, September 29, 2006

Satire Dies Again

Daily Kos flags a report on a Republican view of the Iraq war:
President Bush barely mentioned the war in Iraq when he met with Republican senators behind closed doors in the Capitol Thursday morning and was not asked about the course of the war, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said.

"No, none of that," Lott told reporters after the session when asked if the Iraq war was discussed. "You're the only ones who obsess on that. We don't and the real people out in the real world don't for the most part."
Because it's all the media's fault. In the real world, things are going splendidly.
Lott went on to say he has difficulty understanding the motivations behind the violence in Iraq.

"It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people," he said. "Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli's and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me."
That's Trent "I'm not a racist, honest" Lott's view of the situation.

Who would have thought that an occupation of Iraq led by such knowledgeable, sensitive people would turn out the way it did?

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

No Personal Ambition

John "We hope we will leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot" Reid has made his speech to the Labour Party conference. Strangely enough, he didn't mention Afghanistan once.

He did use the word "leadership" four times though. It looks like all those people who thought he'd ruled himself out of the contest to be the next PM are having a change of heart. Hate to say I told you so but... It now looks increasingly likely that Reid will be the Blairite sponsored "anyone but Brown" candidate. Beau Bo D'Or sums up the situation perfectly.

Here are a couple of lowlights from Reid's speech which I thought were particularly noteworthy.
My guiding purpose is to reduce fear.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...

There are, if you wondered, sixteen uses of the words "terror", "terrorism" and terrorist" in Reid's speech. But the Doctor will protect you.

I don't dispute that terrorism poses risks to British citizens and it clearly must be tackled. To do this successfully, it is crucial to realise that the most dangerous thing terrorism can do to society is force it to abandon its own soul. Reid is utterly incapable of understanding this. I'm only half joking when I suggest that this is probably because he doesn't have one.

Reid also said:
We will go where we please, we will discuss what we like and we will never be brow-beaten by bullies.
This, from a New Labour politician. It beggars belief. How does that principle sit with the fact that we've now have to ask permission to protest outside our own parliament?

Here's an image from last year's Labour Party conference.

We will go where we please, we will discuss what we like and we will never be brow-beaten by bullies.

One more:
I want to see the widest, deepest, national alliance. That's why I am genuinely saddened by the response of the opposition...
He then launches into one of his trademark assaults on Cameron's Conservatives. Now, I hold no torch (or indeed oak tree) for the boy wonder so the attack itself doesn't bother me unduly. But, to call for a national alliance and in the very next breath indulge in a sustained bout of party political name calling takes an unprecedented degree of shamelessness. Even for a politician.

Reid exemplifies everything that is wrong with politics in this country today.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Iraq war has acted as a "recruiting sergeant" for extremists, a Ministry of Defence (MoD) report has said.
The report said: "The war in Iraq...has acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world.

"Iraq has served to radicalise an already disillusioned youth and al-Qaeda has given them the will, intent, purpose and ideology to act."
More on Wednesday's Newsnight apparently.

This report isn't in line with Blair's "very, very strongly held views" though so it can be dismissed as irrelevant...

There is no spoon.

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Bloody Iraq

Blair's comments on Iraq were clapped by the Labour conference. I couldn't help thinking of performing seals - bark, bark, bark, bark. The attendees have essentially been hand picked for exactly that purpose, of course.

He didn't once mention Iraq without also mentioning Afghanistan. These constant attempts to conflate Iraq and Afghansitan are particularly loathsome. Whatever you think of British involvement in Afghanistan, Al Qaida was there. Almost no-one disputes that there was a genuine reason for what has happened there after the September 11th attacks (whether you agree or disagree with what's happened is a seperate point).

But Iraq was a war of choice unrelated to the "war" on terror. It was a war not sanctioned by the international community, one the Secretary General of the UN has described as illegal. Blair and Bush decided to make Iraq part of the "war" on terror. Not bin Laden or Zarqawi or Saddam, Bush and Blair. Any suggestion that British action in Iraq is comparible to that in Afghanistan is deliberately misleading. As such, I've taken out his references to Afghanistan for the purposes of discussing his attitude to Iraq.

So why are British troops in Iraq, Mr Blair?
They are there... at the specific request of the first ever democratically elected Government...
Leaving aside the back to front nature of this nonsense, Juan Cole always does an excellent job of reporting on the reality of Iraqi politics, the reality which Blair seems completely detached from. Yesterday, he translated an Arabic report on reaction to President Talibani's recent suggestion that the US should retain a permanent military presence in Iraq (Talibani is Kurdish). The Iraqi Accord Front (fundamentalist Sunnis), the Sadrists (fundamentalist Shiites) and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue (secular Sunnis) have all spoken out against this possibility. Most notable is the fact that "the al-Malik government [has] promised to study the document signed by 140 MPs asking for a timetable for withdrawal and for no further extension of the American military presence in the country".

Iraq's National Assembly has a total of 275 MPs. Over half of Iraq's democratically elected MPs have explicitly asked for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. Bush and Blair's refusal to even consider such a move tells you all you need to know about their faith in Iraqi democracy. Full sovereignty indeed.

In the meantime, the US military continues to pour money into the building of large bases. And, earlier in the year, when Bush was asked whether there would eventually be a full withdrawal, this is what he said:
Q: Will there come a day -- and I'm not asking you when, not asking for a timetable -- will there come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future governments of Iraq.
So, not only will he not commit to a timetable as is being requested by a majority of Iraqi MPs, he won't even commit to a theoretical full withdrawal at some future point (note that "an objective" is an entirely meaningless phrase). He certainly has no intention of a full withdrawal during his remaining two years in office. Is this in line with the wishes of the Iraqi people as expressed by the MPs they elected? Only in Bush and Blair world.

In Blair's conference speech, he also made a point about what would happen if US and UK forces were "defeated" in Iraq.
If we retreat now, hand Iraq over to Al Qaeda and sectarian death squads... we won't be safer; we will be committing a craven act of surrender that will put our future security in the deepest peril.
In other words, there is a risk that Iraq will actually become what it was spuriously claimed to be before the invasion, a safe haven for terrorists and a threat to national security. This is a risk created by our intervention; it did not exist before.

And, he may be right to an extent. The declassified parts of the NIE, obviously cherry picked by Republican favourite John Negroponte, suggests that "perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere". This isn't unlikely and it is certainly possible that Sunni fundamentalists will continue to control parts of the north west of the country. Again, it must be stressed that his is an opportunity which has been created by the invasion.

The idea that al Qaida jihadists could take over the whole country however, is ridiculous. Most of the south, and Baghdad itself, would certainly continue to be dominated by religious Shiite groups. These groups are friendly with Iran but would certainly not allow Sunni fundamentalists to operate freely. Iran, remember, actually helped remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. After the devastating attacks on the Shia community in Iraq launched by Zarqawi and his associates, the idea that Iraqi Shiites would co-operate with Sunni extremists is more far fetched than ever. They are essentially at war.

And yet still Blair spouts his simplistic nonsense about a unified global ideology. They're not on the same side. They're killing each other in Iraq in ever increasing numbers; could it be any clearer that they don't like each other?

But what are facts when you've got "very strongly held views" to guide your actions?

Having thought about this long and hard, the conclusion that we cannot "win" in Iraq is unavoidable. It may very well be the case that "defeat" would inspire some fighters to continue the struggle but that is the price which will have to be paid for Bush and Blair's decision to import their "war" on terror to Iraq. Most of the violence in Iraq is not conducted by al Qaida jihadis and it is this other violence which makes the situation irretrievable for the "coalition of the willing". It is the violence caused by Saddam's oppression and its subsequent removal, the violence which informed analysists warned would make Iraq such a dangerous place, which has "defeated" the occupation. The underlying differences between the sectarian groups, federalism and the distribution of oil revenues, the status of Kirkut, and the festering hatreds caused by Saddam's rule, made the country fragile in the extreme. Importing the "war" on terror into such a country and thus encouraging Jihadi provocateurs to add to Iraq's troubles, was always going to be a disaster.

Colin Powell's prescient "Pottery Barn Rule" was once ridiculed by those who thought they knew better. It has now become a reason to stay for some; we broke it so we can't leave till we've fixed it. I've been known to lean towards that sort of thing myself; I believe that we should always try to face up to the responsibilities created by our previous actions. Sadly, it has become increasingly clear that we simply do not have the ability to rescue Iraq from the hell we unleashed when we invaded. Our troops could stay but it would be a display of penance, nothing more.

A while back, I said that I expected the Bush administration would start to draw down troops this year before the Congressional elections in November. They show no sign of doing so.

Where I got it wrong was not in underestimating the resolve of the administration to do the right thing. I believe the issue is the payback or rather the lack of payback. The over-optimistic idiots who planned this fiasco expected a major payback from Iraqi oil. Iraq had, and still has, the largest known quantity of unexploited oil reserves of any country in the world. That the US government has attempted to force Iraq to open these reserves up to exploitation by Western oil companies is no secret. The geo-political desire to aquire control over these untapped oil reserves has always been a major factor in the invasion.

That's the payback Bush and his cronies are still determined to cash in on and that's the reason why they are so determined to "stay the course". If you seriously think anyone in the Bush adminstration cares about the lives of ordinary Iraqis, I worry for you. Did you know that the OED forgot to include the word "gullible" in this years dictionary? The anger generated in Iraq by the US government's attempt to exploit Iraqi oil reserves is one of those things which Blair would no doubt describe as part of a "totally false sense of grievance".

(I also didn't fully appreciate the scale of the US media's compliance with the wishes of the Whitehouse at election time. That slighty negates the need for the administration to demonstrate "progress". )

In truth, the continued presence of foreign troops in Iraq serves no useful and certainly no honourable purpose. If there was an honourable purpose and a possibility of success, the increased threat from terrorism we now face as a result of the occupation could, possibly, be justified. But our misadventure in Iraq today lacks either. It is all pain and no gain.

The best possible outcome for Iraq is relative stability in most of the country at some distant future point. If that happens Iraq will emerge as Shiite religious dominated new ally for Iran. That's the best outcome. The worst is that the country rips itself apart.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

There is... ample evidence that the American media, on the eve of the crucial midterm elections, have lost interest in the chaotic saga, with network news coverage in recent weeks plummeting and Page One newspaper dispatches from Iraq growing sparse. The media fade has come at a perfect time for the White House as it attempts to shift voters' attention away from Iraq and move it over to the war on terror.

What's so startling is that we've seen this exact media retreat before -- during the fall of the 2004 campaign. Back then, when sustained, aggressive coverage of the unfolding chaos inside Iraq could have done real damage to the Bush/Cheney ticket, the press shifted its attention away from Baghdad
- Media Matters (via)
That'll be that pesky liberal media bias again then.

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I'm just sitting watching Blair's reception at the Labour Party conference. During the Cold War, the US military spent a ridiculous amont of money researching brainwashing. It was thought that they never managed perfect the technique.

Well, someone has.

To borrow a method from the man himself (think of him saying this), remember:
Secret sleazy loans, the party bankrupt, membership falling, Iraq, increasing polarisation of society (aided by the promotion of faith schools), record low turnout at elections, unprecedented, potentially dangerous cynicism of politicians and the democratic process, personal greed, spin over substance, stifling of honest debate and more.

Conference, we should be proud of the achievements of New Labour.
*Clap, clap, clap, yay!*

Until someone finds a cure, the Labour Party is not fit to govern.


Listening to and reading the reactions to Blair's speech, I was suddenly struck by an extraordinarily controversial idea.

Perhaps the best way to judge whether someone has been (or would be) a good Prime Minister isn't exclusively related to how good they are at acting, orating and conveying faux sincerity. Maybe, and I know this is really "out there" but bear with me here, maybe the best way to judge whether someone has been (or would be) good at running the country would be to consider how well they have been (or would be) at actually running the country. Competence, trustworthiness and conviction in real principles might conceivably be better indicators than an ability to fool a just large enough minority with set piece contrived performances.

Or is that just too outlandish?

(This isn't a plug for Acquiescence Brown, just in case you wondered. He'd be exactly the same if he was any good at it.)

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Implausible Deniability

Almost no-one now disputes that Iraq has acted as major recruiting agent for terrorism. The latest NIE assessment, produced by the United States' various security services, is unequivocal.
Almost no-one.

Blair discussed this in his interview with Andrew Marr the other day. Marr asked him if he agrees with the NIE assessment that "the threat of terrorism has been markedly increased, seriously increased, by what's happened in Iraq".
Blair: I don't think that terrorism has increased as a result of Iraq, no, or Afghanistan...

Marr: But this is the CIA, the FBI, All these guys, these clever guys...

Blair: I don't know whether it's the view of the CIA or the FBI but I can tell you my view very, very strongly indeed is that part of the biggest problem we have is in believing that we started this thing. Look, 9/11... happened before Iraq or Afghanistan.
Blair then launches of into another of his spurious rambles.

First of all, fair play to Marr for even managing to get into the position to be able to ask the question. Not an easy task in itself, I'm sure.

But what of his answer? Blair's willingness to dismiss expert opinion (experish opinion anyway) in favour of his own "very, very strongly held view" is a clear reflection of his messianic belief in the infallibility of his own judgement. It was just that sort of approach which caused the British government to adopt its disastrous Iraq policies in the first place. Lessons learned? He seems incapable of it.

But that's not the main problem with his answer. I've discussed the logic defying nature of his attitude to this question before so let's leave that and look at a related matter.

Blair's standard response to this question is that "they" started it. Leave aside all that follows from that if you can and pedal back to the question. Marr asked if Iraq is making the terrorist threat worse; he didn't ask who started it.

Just once, I'd like an interviewer to say that to him. This sort of thing perhaps:
Mr Blair, that's an interesting answer but not to the question I asked. I didn't ask who started killing who, I asked whether what's happened in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism to a level greater than it was before the invasion.

You said before the invasion that it would make Britain and the world safer from terrorism. Now, every intelligence estimate we read says the opposite. Don't you think you owe it to the British people whose lives are now more endangered to honestly address this issue rather than changing the subject in such a misleading fashion? The British public are not idiots and I don't think the Prime Minister should behave as if they are. Please answer the question.
Wouldn't that be great?

Of course, anyone who did say that would quickly find that they'd never be allowed access to another government minister as long as Blair was in power. They certainly would never get another interview with Blair himself. Journalism is a competitive business but there's only one PM. The most sympathetic voices will always to Downing Street's "go to guys". That's the wonder of political journalism.

Personally, I believe we need more people like Michael Crick. I've no idea what his politics are but he appears to have a willingness to ask politicians really difficult or awkward questions even though he knows it means he'll almost never get a set piece interview with anyone of note. Fair play to him for that. If a lot more political journalists adopted that approach, perhaps politicians would find it less easy to practice the evasions which so irritate and alienate the public. Experts in game theory could no doubt explain why this doesn't happen more. In essence, someone will always be willing to soft pedal their way to favoured interviewer status, there's just no personal advantage to individual journalists in maintaining a united front.

There's no particular use blaming Marr for this state of affairs. The truth is, any journalist who demonstrated any sign that they might nail Blair down on this would certainly be denied the opportunity by the control freaks who operate the Downing Street spin machine. That's what having an honest debate with the country is all about in Blair's Britain. That's the way it has to be when a government must defend what is indefensible.

To an extent however, Blair's continual evasions on this do speak for themselves.

One final thought. When Blair wants to frighten us into giving up our liberty, he has no qualms about describing the "unprecedented" threat from terrorism we now face. When he's confronted with the reasons why this is the case, he denies that the threat has increased. Duh? How can any rational human being hold those two obviously contradictory views at the same time?

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Rules of the Game

Yesterday, members of my family flew from Spain to Heathrow and then on to Aberdeen. When you fly into Heathrow and are going on to catch another flight, you have to go through the security screening procedure for transferring passengers. This is what happened.

The man immediately in front of them in the queue was Asian in appearance. He had a small glass bottle of Coke from Japan in his luggage. The security person informed him that he could not take the bottle onto his onward flight. He explained that it was a gift for his son and that it had not been opened; the metal cap was demonstrably still in place. The security person was unimpressed. After a polite discussion, the passenger realised that he was not going to get to take the bottle with him and threw it in the bin provided for this purpose. He wasn't amused and made a comment angrily in his own language. The security person then told him that if he said that again, the police would be "here in seconds".

"So what?" you say. "Those are the rules".

My family members then went through security. They are, unsurprisingly, white. In their luggage was an unopened bottle of gin bought in a Spanish supermarket (not an airport) a few days previously. After a brief discussion in which the security person asked if they had the receipt for the gin, they didn't, they were allowed to proceed with the bottle in their hand luggage. They then flew on to Aberdeen with the bottle.

Those are not the rules.

Next time someone suggests introducing racial profiling at our airports, this story, which I'm one hundred percent certain is correct, is one to consider.

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I have just heard, from what I regard as an unimpeachable source that Gordon Brown has told junior ministers that if they do not vote for him in the forthcoming leadership contest, they’ll be out.
- Michael Meacher (via)
Not sure what Meacher's angle is in this but it certainly wouldn't surprise me if this was accurate.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Have you seen the New Tory Labour flash video yet? (From Tim.) Top notch and also slightly unnerving. Click away.

I thought I'd also take the opportunity to mention the fact that I fully intend to update my woefully neglected blogroll over the next few days. I've also just been looking in my inbox and I've realised I've got quite a few emails to reply to, some have been in the inbox for embarrassingly long time. Going to get onto that too. Apologies. I'm afraid I am hopelessly disorganised and easily distracted. I'm like a flawed genuis minus one essential component.

Anyway, here's a testament to my distractability. As you might be able to tell from the photo I use, I'm a little bit camera shy. It's not that I've got anything to hide; I just don't like having my photo taken.

To compensate or something, I've made a podcast. If you've ever wondered what I sound like, well, that's pretty weird, but here's you're chanve to find out anyway. Three and a half minutes "Live from Aberdeen".

Oh, what fun. Translations into English available on request.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Democracy... government of national unity... UN mandate... historic opportunity...

That's the fantasy anyway.

The reality is a downward spiral of murder, torture and lawlessness. Every morning, you should thank whatever God or fate you believe in that you did not have the misfortune to be born an Iraqi. Living in today's Iraq is really beyond the ability of modern Westerners to imagine. Be grateful for that.

It is clear to everyone who does not feel the need to view Iraq through a filter of self-justification, self-interest and denial that it has already become a failed state. The notion that the Iraqi governmnent has a monopoly on the use of physical force within the country is not in any way credible. The "national unity government" is powerless, trapped in the Green Zone and unable to effectively project power beyond its heavily fortified walls. Most worryingly (although entirely predictably), the situation continues to deteriorate. At best, Iraq will continue to be a failed state for many years to come.

Once upon a time, we were told that the invasion of Iraq would make the world a safer place. Instead, we've helped create a failed state in which Islamic extremism (both Sunni and Shia) is on the rise. The unavoidable truth is that Iraq poses a far greater danger to world security today than it did three and a half years ago.

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Click click.

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Stone Age Diplomacy

What is General Musharraf up to then? He's claimed that the US threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age after the 11th September attacks if they didn't co-operate fully in the "war" on terror.

It is widely accepted that the US government used carrots with the threat of sticks to secure Musharraf's co-operation back in 2001. The exact nature of the threats has always been a matter of speculation.

So is Musharraf telling the truth? Would the US government really threaten Pakistan, a nuclear armed power, so explicitly? In normal circumstances, probably not - you don't need to be a nuclear physicist to spot the dangers inherent in such an action* - but these are not normal circumstances.

We've got a US President with a simplistic, overtly religious and extremely polarised world view trying to deal with the aftermath of the deadliest terrorist attack the world has ever seen, an attack which was deliberately designed to be both immensely provocative and polarising. The idea that Bush would order this threat to be conveyed to Musharraf in late 2001 isn't far fetched. Remember the speeches Bush gave after the attacks?
"Over time it's going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity... You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."
- President Bush, November 2001
What Musharraf is now saying is just a logical extension of that approach. He's probably telling the truth.

There is some suggestion that the General is pitching this at domestic opinion in Pakistan but I can't see how that holds together. Musharraf's rule in Pakistan is shaky and he does have problems with Islamists but how would this statement help him? I don't know a great deal about Pakistani domestic political situation but I'm fairly sure that this won't. He's effectively saying "yes, I agreed to help the US government but only because they threatened to bomb us". Do you think your average Pakistani Islamist is going to be impressed or assuaged by the fact that their President succumbed to bullying from the US government? It's hardly likely. This admission will surely weaken his position at home if anything, not strengthen it.

That still leaves the question as to why he actually made this claim at this time. It is possible that he simply wants the American people to know how their government has behaved. If so, I'm not sure it'll have the effect he intends.

Here are a couple of comments on Musharraf's claim from the sort of people who elected George W. Bush (both taken from Jihad Watch).
This needs to be a public statement to all muslim dominated countries by our President.


It is time to stand up and protect America.

Prepare, Be Armed, Be Ready.
- Texican

Let's crank up the heat then and start talking about nuking Mecca. Tancredo was right to bring it up. It should be an option.

I'm fed up with pussyfooting around these animals. Let's give them something to really howl about.
- atheling


Not Saussure on the madman theory. Interesting possibility.

* Just in case anyone gets the wrong idea (I'd hate to have a "Cyprus in 45 minutes" moment), Pakistan doesn't have missiles with the range to target the US. All the same, starting a bombing campaign against a nuclear armed power is probably best avoided in most circumstances.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Here's the reason why I disagree with Jack Straw's belief that US military action against Iran is "inconceivable".

That does indeed say it all.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Here's a link to make you proud to be British. It's a FIA release by the Cabinet Office of documents relating to Humphrey the cat (pdf). It really is.

Here's one nugget from a veritable treasure trove of brilliance. Why did Humphrey decline to be interviewed by a journalist for an article on "London's Top Cats"?
Unfortunately as Humphrey is a civil servant he is bound by civil service rules and cannot talk to the press about his position.
Barking British eccentricity at its very best.

(Via The Friday Thing.)

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The Enforcer

Yesterday, there was a brief moment of elation in the hamster household when I saw this link on BBC News Online:
Reid: I've no ambition to be PM
The thing is, John Reid really does scare me silly. No joke. Some of the things he's done, particularly during his time as Defence Secretary and now as Home Secretary, curdle the blood. His ability to "think the unthinkable" (that's "defend the indefensible" to you and me) coupled with his steely determination make him the most dangerous politician the UK has seen in a very long time. He's certainly the only current MP who manages to outBlair Blair, a Herculean effort if ever there was one. He would be a bad Prime Minister.

Obviously I was delighted to read that he'd ruled himself out. But then I read what he'd actually said. He was asked if his next job would be in Number 10 Downing Street:
I've been very privileged in the number of posts I've had, and I have no personal ambition, seriously, no personal ambition to attain any other high office.
Oh balls! You don't need to know that Reid is an ex-communist to spot that he hasn't actually ruled himself out at all. "No personal ambition"?

So the Reid announcement will be something like this:
As you know, I had not intended to run for this position. In discussions with my party colleagues however, many have expressed their view that my leadership would be of great benefit to the party and the country. And as Gordon Brown would be an ahem dreadful Prime Minister, I see no alternative but to put my name forward.
That'd do it.

To be clear, I'm not saying that he'll definitely run; I am saying that he hasn't ruled himself out. He could just as easily have said "I absolutely will not run for that position". But he didn't. The elation was brief, as I said.

Earlier this year, Reid infamously said "We hope we will leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot". More than 400,000 bullets have been fired since he made that statement and the troops have had to issue desperate pleas for reinforcements. The traditional New Labour "hindsight defence" is as vacuous as ever; they were warned in advance just as they were in Iraq. To commemorate this gross negligence, I'll be using the good Doctor's full name whenever I mention him from today until the moment he leaves politics in disgrace. That's John "We hope we will leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot" Reid.

Now, John "We hope we will leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot" Reid has decided it's time to do some good old New Labour blaming of others. Obsolete and Bloggerheads have the lowdown.

"We hope we will leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot" Reid seems particularly determined to transfer all blame for the recent rise in islamic extremism away from the government he belongs to. And if the suggestion that Muslims are not doing enough to combat extremism stokes the fires of Islamophobia, well that'll just make it easier to sell the "war" on terror to the 22% "majority" which keeps his party in power. It's a win-win situation.

John "We hope we will leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot" Reid must never be Prime Minister.

As an aside, who thinks Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, "alternative" interrogation procedures, the farcical Forest Gate raid, or the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes are things which encourage concerned parents or others in the Muslim communities to report possibly suspicious activities to the authorities? Anyone? Anyone at all?

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Apologies for the outbreak of blog ennui over the last few days. Sometimes it's hard to avoid the "same shit, different day" syndrome.

That syndrome is, of course, what the government relies on to keep on getting away with all their shit. I remain determined not to the the bastards grind me down so I'll be clearing out the tumbleweed and getting back to normal shortly.

In the meantime, here's a classic ss,dd moment from Des "no mark" Browne:
"The Taleban's tenacity in the face of massive losses has been a surprise, absorbing more of our effort than we predicted it would and consequently slowing progress on reconstruction."
Yes, the government has been surprised by the "tenacity" of extremist religious fanatics. Extraordinary.

Compare and constrast that with this from Blair in May:
"It's easy to go back over mistakes that we may have made. But the biggest reason why Iraq has been difficult is the determination by our opponents to defeat us. And I don't think we should be surprised by that."
No, they bloody well shouldn't have been surprised. Which begs the obvious question. Twice. In two different countries.

To make such a monumentally lethal misjudgement once is unforgivable. (Hindsight lovers should remember that there were plenty of knowledgable people warning about what'd happen after the invasion of Iraq before it had even started.)

To make that same mistake twice is gross negligence of the highest order. It surely confirms beyond all doubt that this government is not fit to command our Armed Forces or set British foreign policy.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Spurious Guff (part 94)

The IAEA has complained to the House of Representatives' Select Committee on Intelligence for issuing a report containing erroneous and misleading information concerning Iran's nuclear programme.

Do you remember the theme tune to "The Twilight Zone"?

The IAEA are particularly unhappy about the claim that "Iran is currently enriching Uranium to weapons grade using a 164-machine centrifuge cascade". They are mostly unhappy about this claim because it isn't actually true. The IAEA say Iran has managed to enrich Uranium up to 3.6% and that "weapons grade" is "commonly used to refer to uranium enriched to the order of 90% or more". I don't think you need to be a nuclear physisist to spot the problem there.

Scanning though the original report (pdf), it reads like more like a propaganda pamphlet than anything else. Here's one nugget which particularly stood out (from page 11). Under the title "Dubious Claims and Explanations for Iran's Nuclear Activities", it says:
Aside from Iran’s lack of uranium deposits, Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is for electricity production appears doubtful in light of its large oil and natural gas reserves. Iran’s natural gas reserves are the second largest in the world and the energy industry estimates that Iran flares enough natural gas annually to generate electricity equivalent to the output of four Bushehr reactors.
Again, you have to ask, do these people have no shame?

In 1976, one year after the Shah abolished the Iranian multi-party system and replaced it with one-party rule, the Ford administration issued a directive on the sale of nuclear technologies to Iran. In summary, it said "yes, let's". Both Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld served in that administration and were heavily involved in the promotion of the Iranian nuclear programme.

The Washington Post did a good job of pointing all of this out over a year ago. It quoted from a strategy paper from the Ford administration which explained the rationale behind US co-operation in the Iranian nuclear programme:
"[The] introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals."
Those are, undeniably, exactly the same arguments as are now used by the Iranian government.

A lot has changed over the last 30 years. But oil and gas are both still finite resources and demand for energy continues to increase at an extraordinary rate.

Flip flop.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It's been a while since we've had such a blatant boob editorial. Dear oh dear.

Murdoch is clearly determined to keep Brown in his place from the very start. Remind me, who was it who elected the Australian/American, authoritarian right, UK tax avoiding media baron?

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A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

Here's the picture.

From Mehr (via).

That's Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki shaking hands with Iran's President Ahmadinejad yesterday. If you genuinely believe the self-serving, spurious rhetoric spouted by Bush and Blair in relation to their "war" on terror, it's a photo of our strong new ally in that "war" shaking hands with the new Hitler.

How anyone manages to square that circle is truly mystifying. Without an enormous effort in self-deception, it just doesn't appear to be possible.

Anyway, although the neo-cons and their outriders will almost certainly be trying to play it down, Mr Maliki is currently on an official visit to Iran. Maliki and Ahmadinejad have reportedly reached an agreement on political, security and economic co-operation between their countries. Maliki will be meeting Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, today.

This isn't surprising of course. The Islamic Dawa party, which Maliki belongs to, has strong links to Iran. The party was established to combat secularism (among other things), supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran, conducted suicide bombings, including against the American Embassy in Kuwait in 1983, and has links to Hezbollah.

Funnily enough, Bush and Blair never seem to mention any of that when they talk about the new government of Iraq.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A War on the "War"

It was widely expected that President Bush would not use the anniversary of September 11th to make a controversial or politically motivated partisan statement but last night that is exactly what he did (full speech here (pdf)). The willingness of the Bush administration to manipulate the deaths of 3,000 people for their own purposes apparently knows no bounds. It really is a sickening spectacle.

President Bush took the opportunity to urge the American people to back his "war" on terror but the "war" on terror isn't actually a war in any meaningful sense. The phrase was created for US domestic political purposes and continues to be used today primarily for the same. This article explains (and that, if you didn't know, is the reason why I write "war" on terror).

As part of an effort to put a stop to terrorist extremism, even the phrase "war on terror" is counter-productive. It elevates the murderous criminals who perpetrate terrorism against innocent civilians to a level they do not deserve. They are not an army against which it is possible to fight a war; they are thugs and criminals. For many years the British government resisted the demand that they give IRA terrorists POW status and for good reason. Bush's "war" on terror, on the other hand, gives extremists the status they crave.

Furthermore, by allowing these extremists to become the dominant issue in the most powerful country in the world, the “war” on terror actually validates their activities and encourages them to believe that their tactics are powerful and effective and that they are succeeding in spreading terror. This again, is exactly the opposite of what is required. The extremists should be marginalised as dangerous but ultimately unimportant. At the same time, quietly, intelligence and police sources should be used to track them down and bring them to justice.

It has been well documented that terrorism thrives on the symbiotic relationship between terrorist actions and media coverage of the same. If you're not convinced, consider the way the media have relentlessly bombarded us with stories and coverage related to the September 11th attacks over the last few days. Does that make you feel safer or less safe?

The media do not do this to intentionally frighten us and, therefore, further the goals of the terrorists but this is the result all the same. They have become unwitting amplifiers for the terrorists and the acts they commit. It is a process which is caused by the media's inability to exercise self-restraint when it comes to reporting sensational stories. Terrorists know this and quite deliberately exploit it.

And that same process is at work in President Bush's "war" on terror. It might be too much to expect the media in a democratic country to be able to exercise the sort of self-restraint which would break the symbiotic relationship which exists there but it should not be too much to expect our political leaders to understand this relationship and make sure that our government's do not fall into the same trap. Instead, the Bush administration has sought to exploit the threat for its own ends and, perhaps unintentionally, created another symbiotic relationship, one which acts as a further amplifier for terrorism and makes further attacks even more likely. Blair has done exactly the same.

On the radio today, there was a discussion about the fact that classical musicians can no longer take their musical instruments into the cabin when flying from the UK. When travelling abroad for performances, these musicians, who, for obvious reasons, are unwilling to entrust their irreplaceable instrument to the dark world behind the plastic sheeting at airports, have been forced to take the Eurostar to Paris and then fly on from there. This is, apparently, a serious problem and is threatening the livelihood of British classical musicians.

The reaction of most listeners was predictable; public safety must come before economic or other considerations so the musicians will just have to learn to live with these new rules.

And yet:
  • 3,180 people were killed in the 12 months to March this year,
  • 268,900 people were either injured or killed in the 12 months to this March.
In road traffic accidents.

More people die on our roads every year than died in the attacks of September 11th 2001. Over the last five years, three hundred times as many people died in the UK in road traffic accidents as in terrorist attacks.

When people talk to me about the importance of doing absolutely everything to fight terrorism, I tell them these statistics. Most people respond by looking slightly confused. When I go on to ask if they support a "war" on motorists, they start to look worried, like they might have accidentally become embroiled in a conversation with someone who's not quite right in the head. When I say that a mandatory national 10mph speed limit would save thousands of lives, they appear to become genuinely frightened.

Try it at home if you fancy it; it can be quite interesting to see people reacting.

Of course, I'm not actually arguing that we should have a mandatory 10mph speed limit but instead highlighting something about the society we live in, about our attitude to risk and about the importance of maintaining a sense of perspective.

Yes, we should do everything we can to stop terrorist attacks within the laws of our society. But we should not allow the terrorists to force us to change those laws or to abandon our freedoms. And we should not allow our politicians, whether through ignorance or mendacity, to become unwitting tools for terrorist extremists.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Some sort of head cold type thing has made my brain feel like it belongs to someone else. George W. Bush possibly.

Not going to be on the interwebs till it clears up and I'm able to construct rational thoughts again (well, semi-rational anyway).


Saturday, September 09, 2006


On February 6th 2003, as part of the rationale for the invasion of Iraq, President Bush said:
Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.
The Senate's Intelligence Committee report (PDF) tells a different story. (Beeb summary here.)

Bush's unequivocal assertion that Iraq had provided al Qaida with chemical and biological weapons training is what I'd like to focus on here. Where did it come from? Well, the report actually gives quite a lot of detail on the origins of that statement.

The relevant section starts on page 75 but I'll start quoting from page 78 (lot's of quoting here but please do stick with it):
A November 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), published in January 2003, Nontraditional Threats to the U.S. Homeland through 2007... said "we have credible reporting that al-Qa'ida sought help from Baghdad in acquiring WMD capabilities and that Iraq provided training in bomb-making and, according to one detainee, in the area of chemical and biological agents.
This is one of several references from various intelligence agencies to this same "intelligence". You'll note that the information on the CBW training came from "one detaineee". That detainee's name is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. He is certainly a genuine member of al-Qa'ida and had been involved in running training camps in Afghanistan before being captured in late 2001 or very early 2002.

As you may already know, in early 2004 al-Libi recanted his original claim that Iraq had supplied CBW training to al Qa'ida. The report says:
In January 2004, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the source of reports on al Qa'ida's efforts to obtain WMD training in Iraq, recanted the information he provided. Al-Libi said he had a "strong desire to tell his entire story and identify why and how he facricated information since his capture". Al-Libi claimed he had fabricated "all information regarding al Qa'ida's sending representatives to Iraq to try to obtain WMD assistance". Al-Libi claimed that to the best of his knowledge al-Qa'ida never sent any individuals into Iraq for any kind of support in chemical or biological weapons as he had previously claimed.
This, as I said, we already knew. So why did he fabricate this information? The report provides some clues:
Al-Libi told CIA debriefers in January 2004 that when he was detained by the United States in 2002 one of his American debriefers told him that he had to tell "where bin Laden was and about future operations or the U.S. would give al-Libi to [another foreign service] [original text redacted]"... Later, according to al-Libi, debriefers repeated the threat to send al-Libi to a foreign country [text redacted].

... [H]e claimed he "decided he would fabricate any information the interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government] [original text redacted].
So he was threatened with being transfered to another country for further interrogation. Now why would that be a threat?

Al-Libi's treatment improved for a short time after he started telling his American interrogators what they wanted to hear. But they were obviously not satisfied with these fabrications because the report then goes on:
After his transfer to a foreign government [text redacted], al-Libi claimed that during his initial debriefing "he lied to the [foreign government service] [original text redacted] about future operations to avoid torture.
I believe this is the first official confirmation that al-Libi was rendered to another country by the US authorities (probably Egypt but each mention has been redacted in the report so it's difficult to be sure).

The report goes on, drawing from CIA operational cables from February 2004:
Al-Libi told the CIA that the foreign government service [text redacted] explained to him that a" long list of methods could be used against him which were extreme" and that "he would confess because three thousand individuals had been in the chair before him and each had confessed".

According to al-Libi the foreign government service [text redacted] "stated that the next topic was al-Qa'ida's connections with Iraq, ... This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story". Al-Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his response and then "placed him in a small box approximately 50cm x 50cm". He claimed he was held in the box for around 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, al-Libi claims he was given a last opportunity to "tell the truth". When al-Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al-Libi claimed that "he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back". Al-Libi told CIA debriefers that he then "was punched for 15 minutes".

Al-Libi told debreifers that "after the beating" he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al Qa'ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons. Al-Libi said that he used the names of real individuals associated with al-Qa'ida so that he could remember the details of his fabricated story and make it more believable to the foreign intelligence service. Al-Libi noted that "this pleased his [foreign] interrogators, who directed that al-Libi be taken back to a big room, vice [sic?] the 50 square centimeter box and given food.

According to al-Libi, several days after the Iraq nuclear discussion, the foreign service intelligence debriefers [text redacted] brought up the topic of anthrax and biological weapons. Al-Libi stated that he "knew nothing about a biological program and did not even understand the term biological". Al-Libi stated that "he could not come up with a story and was then beaten in a way that left no marks". According to al-Libi, "he continued to be unable to come up with a lie about biological weapons" because he did not understand the term biological weapons.
From this questioning , it appears that the "intelligence" concerning CBW training was concocted. I guess he must just have nodded his head at a suitably convenient moment.

The report concludes the section on the Iraq's non-existent CBW training of al-Qa'ida operatives with this:
In February 2004, the CIA reissued the intelligence reporting from al-Libi to reflect the recantations.

The other reports of possible al-Qa'ida CBW training from Iraq were never considered credible by the intelligence community. No other information has been uncovered in Iraq or from other detainees that confirms this reporting.
Bush then, based his claim on the statement of one man who'd been transfered to the custody of a "foreign intelligence service" and was pressured to the point where he simply tried to tell his interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear.

It is important to note that much of the above information is couched in terms of what al-Libi claims happened after he was captured. It is equally important to note that the report contains no denials of these claims from any US government official. The nearest thing to a denial is this (page 108):
The foreign government service denies using any pressure during al-Libi's Interrogation... A CIA officer explained that while CIA believes al-Libi fabricated information, the CIA canot determine whether, or what proportion of, the original statements or later recants are true or false.
This is further conformation that al-Libi was indeed rendered a foreign government.

That section concludes:
The Intelligence Community has found no postwar information to indicate that Iraq provided CBW training to al-Qa'ida.
And that, as they say, is a slam dunk.

Of course, Al-Libi didn't retract his claims until long after the war had started. Perhaps the US administration and intelligence agencies were simply taken in by his claims.

Well, no. If we flip back to page 77 of the report, it quotes a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment from February 2002 in relation to al-Libi's fabrications (this information has already been released into the public domain but is worth repeating). The DIA report stated that:
This is the first report from Ibn al-Shaykh [al-Libi] in which he claims Iraq assisted al-Qaida's CBRN efforts. However, he lacks specific details on the Iraqi's involvement, the CBRN materials associated with the assistance, and the location where training occurred. It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.

Saddam's regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.
Just to repeat, that's from February 2002.

And, a week later, the DIA said:
Iraq has been repeatedly accused of aiding al-Qa'ida's chemical and biological acquisition efforts. Despite recent information from a senior al-Qa'ida trainer currently in custody, all-source intelligence has not confirmed Iraq's involvement. Iraq is unlikely to have provided bin Laden any useful CB knowledge or assistance.
Again, that's from February 2002.

This Senate report does not concern itself with the reasons why the US administration continued to present al-Libi's claims as fact more than twelve months after the DIA had concluded that they were unreliable. It does not address the reasons why the DIA assessment was subsequently ignored.

I guess we'll just have to draw our own conclusions.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Well there's a shock. Who would have though it?

And on a Friday afternoon too. In truth, I've no idea how the timetable for releasing a report like that is decided. It could just be a coincidence.

There's some interesting stuff in the full report (pdf) which'll hopefully make it into a post shortly.

Unfortunately, it appears that each page of the PDF is an individual image rather than text so I can't get the Select Tool to copy the sections I want. Bah. Unless anyone can offer a workaround for that, it looks like there's going to be a fair old bit of "click, read, click back, type, click, read, click back, type..." going on. I'm cynical enough to wonder whether these reports are posted that way intentionally. Bah. This may take some time.

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Another Song For Gordon

Please excuse my blatantly ripping off Blairwatch. Brown's article in the Sun doesn't exactly bode well for the future. And so, this.

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If you've not already started here this morning, start there. And then, if you didn't already click through from there, you'll probably want to go here. The first of the video clips is the one which really shows what the Blair government is all about.

Bacause, you see, in Blair's Britian, it's all about Education, Education, Education. And the first lesson is always that resistance is futile. What better way could there be to create a new generation of unquestioning, unthinking, hive mind drones?

Anyway, the ceasefire hasn't lasted very long. Perhaps Safety fancies himself for the top job. Yikes.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Legacy of Sophistry

OK, here's a serious point concerning Blair's statement. I noticed this earlier but thought it was just me being overly cynical. Having thought about it, and having read Guido express similar thoughts, I'm now not so sure.

The money quote from the statement:
"The next party conference in a couple of weeks will be my last party conference as party leader."
Party leader. Not Prime Minister.

I'm sure I don't need to give examples to show how carefully Blair chooses his words but here's one anyway. Bush has finally admitted that the CIA are indeed operating secret detention facilities in which an "alternative set of procedures" have been used to interrogate suspects.

Here's what Blair said when questioned about those facilities back in December 2005:
I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that anything illegal has been happening here at all, and I am not going to start ordering inquiries into this, that and the next thing, when I have got no evidence to show whether this is right or not. And I honestly, it is like all this stuff about camps in Europe or something, I don't know, I have never heard of such a thing, I can't tell you whether such a thing exists.
At the time, much of the media effectively presented this as a denial of the existence of these facilities. Blair actually said no such thing.

Today, much of the media is saying that Blair has agreed to step down as Prime Minister within the next twelve months. He actually said no such thing.

Perhaps this is nothing but this is Blair we're talking about. One thing we should all have learned by now is that it's extremely foolhardy to extrapolate Blair's statements beyond the confines of the precise meaning of his exact words.

If I was one of those in the Labour Party who've been demanding he clarifies the date he intends to vacate Number 10, I don't think I'd be feeling too happy tonight.

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So Tony Blair has finally announced that he's going to scrap the annual Labour Party conference. They've been essentially irrelevant since he became leader anyway so the party probably won't miss them all that much...

Do you know, after all that Blair's said, I'm not even entirely sure I'm being facetious. He'd probably do it if he could get away with it. And half the Labour Party would probably let him too.

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Support Me Our Troops

"I think most of us would say we probably underestimated the basic security threat that we faced. And we're trying to tackle that now."
- Tony Blair
Today, Nato's top commander, General James Jones, has asked for reinforcements to be sent to Afghanistan. He said:
"We should recognise we are a little bit surprised at the level of intensity, and that the opposition in some areas are not relying on traditional hit-and-run tactics.
That "little bit of surprise" has cost the lives of a growing number of British soldiers. Three more British soldiers died yesterday.

With that in mind, John Reid's hope that British troops would "leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot" can only be seen as one of two things; it was either a deliberate attempt to mislead or a grossly incompetent judgement of the situation the troops would face on the ground. Likewise, the surprise of General Jones, of the US military, is itself surprising.

And that leads me back to the quotation a the top of this post. Blair wasn't, as you may already know, talking about Afghanistan. He actually said that in April 2004 in relation to the situation in Iraq.

To endanger the lives of British troops once due to an incompetent underestimation of the violence you're sending them into is bad enough. To repeat that mistake in another country at a time when the British military is still mired in the bloody consequences of the first is something else entirely.

And yet, Mr Blair is the one who asks us to support our troops. It is highly doubtful that there is anyone in the UK less qualified to make such a request,

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Going, going, going???

Been away from the interwebs (away from the news actually) for most of the day. Quite surprised this evening to discover that it had all kicked off. I picked a bad week to be out of sync with the rest of blogland but real life does occassionally intrude unfortunately.

So, you'll probably be reading this tomorrow (Thursday) when I'll also be mostly away from the webs. Almost anything could have happened by then.

At the moment, it looks like Blair is planning to make his intentions clear(ish) by saying that this'll be his last party conference as leader. It also looks like that isn't going to be enough for a sizable section of the party.

As well as the planned declaration of a timetable, the current strategy from Downing Street also appears to include an assault on Gordon Brown; Blair's current difficulties are all Brown's fault it seems. (Remember, nothing is ever Blair's fault. That's official.) Martin Kettle, who takes turns with "Sir" Michael to be Blair's megaphone in the Guardian, lays this out in all its brutal glory. It's really an article written almost exclusively for Brown and the rest of the Labour Party but it's interesting to the layperson all the same. This is the key section:
Let's assume that Gordon Brown's coup works and that he now drives Tony Blair from office much earlier than even the reduced timetable to which Blair is now reconciled - in other words that he forces Blair to quit any time between now and early 2007.

The legacy of that will be threefold. First, it will leave a certain amount of individual bitterness at the top, which will mean that some Blairites - perhaps even Blair himself - will finally feel emboldened to tell the world (even if the world isn't interested) what they think about Brown and the way he has operated over the past 12 years.
I'd call that a thinly veiled threat. Minus the veil.

That sort of thing from one of Number 10's favourite tame journalists tells you everything you need to know about the state of the relationship between Blair and Brown.

But it's actually formerly loyal Blairites who're really rocking the boat this time as I and a large number of others have pointed over at Kettle's post. The fact that Blair thinks this can be sorted out by sending out his goons to castigate Brown is just another sign of his increasingly delusional worldview.

Fortunately, there are growing signs that the Labour Party has had enough. And about bloody time. Now get on with it and finish him off. No-one wants eight more months of this.

Who should be the new leader? At the moment, the stifling influence of the Blair makes judging the potential candidates impossible (although I am absolutely sure it shouldn't be Reid. Look at his eyes; he's proper scary.) When Blair goes, a proper contest is what's needed.

It should be a bit like the Tory one... no, scrap that. Rather than a beauty contest, how about the candidates actually discuss like policies and stuff. Call me hideously old fashioned but I've always thought that policies are what politics is supposed to be about.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

That Non-Existent Timetable In Full

The Scum is reporting that Blair will announce his retirement on the 31st of May next year and will officially step down on 26th July (no link yet, it was on Newsnight and News 24).

For anyone who needs reminding, the Scum accurately "predicted" the date of the last two general elections called by Blair. They called the 2005 election date in November of 2004. It's not called the Downing Street Echo for nothing.

With this news just breaking, Hilary Benn appeared on Newsnight to defend Blair in what can only be described as a breathtaking performance. He suggested that Blair had been "absolutely straight with people" and went on to say that Blair had "the interests of the party at heart" before recommending that "people should trust him".

He then had to desperately backpedal when Kirsty Wark pointed out that the Prime Minister is actually employed to have the interests of the country at heart rather than those of the Labour Party but I struggled to hear him over the sound of my own hollow laughter. The idea that Blair has the interests of anyone but himself at heart is just too ridiculous. And the suggestion that people should trust him? Well, I struggled to tell whether the tears running down my cheeks were from laughing or crying.

The finale of the interview then topped everything that had come before. Wark asked him about the Scum report and he replied:
"I have no idea where the Sun got that story from and it's not for me to comment on it. I don't know. I think we should trust the Prime Minister..."
These people really do think we're all intellectually challenged. If I want to be insulted, I'll book an appointment to visit Room 12 (not Room 12A of course, that's for arguments (although the guy who works there might deny that)). I don't expect to be insulted by public servants.

In truth, Hilary Benn is a bare faced liar; he knows exactly where the Scum got that story from. It takes a certain kind of person to man the barricades in defence of Blair these days and Benn junior has all the right attributes. I wonder if his father is still proud of him?

So then, despite Benn's pitiful denials, we now know that Downing Street has leaked the date when Blair intends to announce his retirement. May 31st 2007. It's nine months away.

It looks as if that'll be too long for some in the party and that he could be forced out before then. I'm firmly of the view that he needs to be forced out for all sorts of reasons (and I'm slightly more optimistic about the possibility than I was even earlier today). The clock is ticking.

On a related note, I'm struggling to know what to think about those previously loyal MPs who've finally decided to push for Blair's departure. In the previous post, I characterised these people as being motivated by self-interest and there's no doubt that this is an important factor. It is also true, however, that there are other factors at work. Blair's stance on Lebanon, for example, genuinely seems to have had an affect on many in the party. There is still a conscience in there somewhere.

But we're talking about people whose silence has enabled Blair to stay in power long past the time when it became clear that he was not fit for the task. For me, the year 2004, when it became absolutely clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, was a turning point. Anyone who, even by their silence, continued to support Blair after that was knowingly defending the indefensible.

So, if these previously loyal MPs are at last going to force Blair out, I welcome that. But it may take some time for me to offer my thanks to those who, more than two years late, have finally decided to speak up. And if they're going to do it while saying "Tony has been a great PM..." then I doubt I'll ever thank them.

This country will feel the negative consequences of his disasterous foreign policies for years, no, decades to come. That might have been a price worth paying if these policies had delivered something positive and worthwhile in return. But they haven't; it's all pain and no gain. If that's the work of a great PM, I'd hate to see a crap one.

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Ugly Rumours

"He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore. In moving towards the end he must focus on the future."
- Leaked Memo on Blair's departure strategy
If you're able to put aside the fact that we've got an unhinged egomaniac running the country, this memo is actually quite amusing. As has been well documented, Blair is a fame obsessed failed wannabe pop star; that influence has clearly permeated his clique most thoroughly.

But given the fact that having an unhinged egomaniac running the country is really rather serious, it's probably best not to put the fact aside. How the Labour Party have managed to do so for so long is one of the enduring mysteries of our time.

Perhaps now, at last, they've finally realised that enough is enough. With the opinion polls becominging increasingly grim, it looks like self-interest might be motivating Labour MPs to act; self-interest is, of course, a far more effective motivator than matters of conscience when it comes to Labour MPs.

Still, better that than continuing to allow the deluded one to wreck the Labour Party and, far more importantly, the country for another year.

Or perhaps they'll bottle it yet again. The thing is, they must be aware that it's going to take a long time for the Labour Party to rid itself of the virulent influence of Blair's "legacy". The fact that the spineless wonders will almost certainly try to allow Blair to leave with his dignity intact isn't going to help. They need to act now. But will they?

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Justice Must Be Seen To Be Done

You might remember the case of Ernesto Leal from a while back. Mr Leal, originally from Chile, has been a resident in the UK for the last 29 years. In 2003 he was convicted of GBH after being involved in a fight. He served his time and was then released

In May, 15 months after his release, he was caught up in the government's knee-jerk response to the furore surrounding their failure to adequately assess foreign nationals for possible deportation. He was re-arrested, spent a month in custody, and was then given bail while he fought against the government's attempt to deport him to a country he hadn't lived in since he was a boy. (Initially, the government said it intended to deport him to Jamaica but this was apparently an administrative error.)

The good news is Mr Leal has won his appeal against deportation. The judge ruled that he did not pose a threat and should be allowed to remain in the UK.

It seems clear that the Home Office could have established this easily before he was released the first time round. But they didn't. And then, purely because of the bad press generated in May by the revelations concerning the woefully inadequate Home Office, the government felt it had to act tough, re-arrest Mr Leal, and attempt to deport him.

This unfortunate episode is surely a perfect encapsulation of Blair's government. It's all there; the obsession with media headlines, the shallowness, the lack of compassion and the gross incompetence.

In this case, justice was actually done in the end. No thanks to our government though.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Game of Two Halves

For those in the south still feeling the disappointment of England's performance at the World Cup, spare a thought for us Jocks. Scotland's European Championship qualifying campaign starts today. Our first game is at home to the Faroe Islands and, fingers crossed, we might just win it.

But it is only the top two teams in each group who'll qualify for Euro 2008. In our group (B), we've got World Cup quarter finalists Ukraine. And we've got World Cup runners up France. And we've got World Cup winners Italy.

Obviously, we'll give it 110%. But we've got a mountain to climb. At the end of the day.

Don't think I'll be booking my tickets for Austria/Switzerland just yet.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Thursday's mass lone protests seem to have been a lot of fun. And they were on the telly.

Rachel, Tim, Justin, and Davide are just some of the participants to have blogged about it. There're photos too. Excellent stuff.

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