Monday, 26 October 2009

Helpful advice from the police

I've had a very helpful leaflet from my community police team, letting me know that there is drug dealing taking place in the local park. If I want to buy any drugs, I'll know where to go. Apparently the action the police are taking to combat this is to have officers (and CSOs) conducting high visibility patrols in the area...

A bit extreme

I've always had a problem with the idea of "extremists" and the corresponding, widely-held assumption that it is the job of the state to tackle extremism and to persuade people, notably muslims, away from extremism. The Guardian's story today about police monitoring of "domestic extremism"suggests that the police have completely lost the plot.
Senior officers say domestic extremism, a term coined by police that has no legal basis, can include activists suspected of minor public order offences such as peaceful direct action and civil disobedience.
It's obvious reading the Guardian's story that the police simple don't understand why they shouldn't monitor people who are simply demonstrating against government policy.

Anton Setchell, who is in overall command of Acpo's domestic extremism remit, said people who find themselves on the databases "should not worry at all". But he refused to disclose how many names were on the NPOIU's national database, claiming it was "not easy" to count. He estimated they had files on thousands of people. As well as photographs, he said FIT surveillance officers noted down what he claimed was harmless information about people's attendance at demonstrations and this information was fed into the national database.

He said he could understand that peaceful activists objected to being monitored at open meetings when they had done nothing wrong. "What I would say where the police are doing that there would need to be the proper justifications," he said.

The simple answer is that when the police think that it's their job to undermine demonstrations, as happened at Kingsnorth, we are on the way not just to a police state but one in which the government controls what people are or are not allowed to say.

Another joke

It's quite astonishing that Radovan Karadzic has managed to delay the opening of his trial at the Hague by the simple ploy of not turning up to represent himself. According to the Guardian:
Legal experts predict [that] further delays, perhaps of several months, are inevitable.
The judges have been criticised by lawyers, victims' associations, and human rights activists for allowing the war crimes suspects to set the agenda and manipulate the court.
Here we go again...

Friday, 23 October 2009

Straw blown away

In the Independent, Matthew Norman launches a devastating attack on Jack Straw, his anger sparked by renewed attempts to bring in secret coroner's inquests:
His gift for dodging responsibility verges on genius. Time and time again the hand of censure has brushed his collar, and each time he has slipped it and vanished into the night. Over his complicity as Foreign Secretary in the rendition and subsequent torture of terrorist suspects, he escaped by the skin of his teeth. What deniability he had – and his story changed, in the most legalistic of language, after an initial blanket denial – rested entirely on being given the benefit of a gigantic doubt that he never asked the most obvious questions, or turned his deaf ear to the answers if he did. As Martin Bright wrote in the Independent on Sunday, his self-alleged lack of curiosity about the outsourced torture of British nationals is astonishing.

The man's entire career serves as a gruesome paradigm of the poverty and enfeeblement of Westminster politics. The granddaddy of the professional politician, he blazed the trail so well worn now by gliding seamlessly from leftie student activist to legal qualification to unelected adviser to MP to Cabinet member, quietly jettisoning every belief he once professed along the way to speed the journey.

The one thing we can be sure Mr Straw believes in is Mr Straw. His ambition is unquenchable. When his one serious mistake (deflecting transatlantic glory from Mr Tony Blair by cuddling up to Condi Rice) cost him the Foreign Office, he accepted humiliating demotion just to stay in the game. His transfer of allegiance from Blair to Brown, whose leadership "campaign" he managed (and hats off for winning that one), was comical in its fervency. Even now, be sure that he is scheming to position himself as the Jim Hacker compromise candidate should Labour somehow locate the energy required to ditch the PM.

Tragically, there would be worse electoral choices. As viewers doubtless observed on BBC1 last night, he is adept at promoting an image of calmly authoritative blandness, hence his comparative popularity, and a grandmaster of televisual smoothness. He is as slimy as an oil slick, and always quick to move on once he's coated the vulnerable birdies with filthy tar.

An utter disgrace to every high office he has held, Jack Straw has, typically enough, evaded the widespread loathing attracted by Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell and the rest, despite being one of only three ministers to remain in the Cabinet since 1997. In an all-star team containing Pele, Maradona, Cruyff and Zidane, only the more obsessive fan would notice Patrick Vieira unflamboyantly putting in the hard work in defensive midfield.

But viscerally loathed he should be, for the damage he has done us in the cause of personal ambition, and for the damage he hopes to do yet by bringing this pernicious law back to the Commons. Perhaps in time he will be. A painful inquest into the death of New Labour approaches, and whatever Jack Straw's feelings on the matter this one will be held in public.

I've had a few run-ins with Straw myself. Indeed it was his outrageous evasion and pompous bullying of the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2003 that led me to look into the whole Iraq dossier thing. But this is pretty strong stuff.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Planning a war, badly

The Iraq Inquiry Digest, of which I am editor, has a new post from Iain Paton, an ex-RAF officer who says he saw a war being planned from mid-2002. He also saw the problems caused by the extreme secrecy around the war planning, including subsequent problems with inadequate equipment.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Carter-Ruck, Bell Pottinger

The Guardian reports that Peter Bottomley MP is to report solicitors Carter-Ruck to the Law Society over its attempt to prevent the newspaper reporting the proceedings of Parliament. The paper also has a piece on Carter-Ruck and its developing niche in reputation management, in collaboration in this case with PR firm Bell Pottinger.

What is clear is that if you have done something very bad and want to stop the truth coming out, Carter-Ruck and Bell Pottinger are the people to ensure that justice is done and the truth comes out.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Carter Ruck goes much, much, much too far

The notorious law firm Carter-Ruck specialises in protecting rich clients and big companies from the glare of publicity through libel actions and the threat of them, not to mention all-encompassing super-injunctions.

The Guardian is reporting this afternoon that Carter-Ruck has now dropped an injunction, which it gained last night, which prevented it reporting a parliamentary question revealing that Carter-Ruck had obtained an earlier injunction to cover-up oil trader Trafigura's outrageous behaviour in having toxic waste dumped in the Ivory Coast.

Yes, that's right. A judge actually granted an injunction that prevented a newspaper reporting the proceedings of Parliament. It is not clear which action is the most shameful, Carter-Ruck's attempt to challenge one of the basic freedoms of our democracy or the judge's decision to back them.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Using national security as a cover

Not for the first time, the government has been caught out using national security as a cover for its own embarrassment. This is the worst kind of crying wolf and seriously damages the government's credibility.

According to the Guardian, the report by British Transport Police Chief Contstable Ian Johnston into the arrest of Tory MP Damian Green in connection with leaks from a civil servant "concludes that none of the 31 leaks raised a threat to national security", which is what the Cabinet Office told the police.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Good timing?

Just as Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize, the New Statesman pops through my door with a cover story comparing him to George W Bush. Is that good or bad timing?

According to the BBC:
Mr Obama's spokesman said the president was "humbled" to have won the prize. He said he woke Mr Obama up when he called with the news early on Friday.
I can see why Obama would want to make it clear that he wasn't waiting up to see if he won, but why do people always say "humbled" these days. Why can't they just say "honoured".

Thursday, 8 October 2009

That's alright then

The Times reports that Boris Johnson has been accused of cronyism in trying to appoint Veronica Wadley, formerly editor of the Boris-supporting Evening Standard to an Arts Council post, although she was judged to be "manifestly less qualified than three of her competitors".

At the end of the piece comes a carefully considered piece of defensive spin from Wadley:
A source close to Ms Wadley pointed out that a second civil servant, working alongside Mr Johnson, approved the appointment and Ms Forgan “is a leftie”.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

You can't say you weren't warned

Meanwhile, the Indy's Andrew Grice says that David Cameron is determined to win a mandate for cuts to public spending by talking about the issue so openly now.

It's an interesting idea and an interesting position for the tories to take. I instinctively have more sympathy for political parties who tell voters the uncomfortable "truth", rather than what they want to hear. But as Grice points out:
"Vote for me, I'll freeze your pay" is hardly an election-winning slogan.
The other side of what Grice says is that if the tories come to power and take an axe to the public services, no-one will be able to say they weren't warned.

A good piece is spoilt by the common mistake of asserting what Labour and the tories "think" and "believe", with no objective evidence other than the line Grice was spun:
Labour ministers suspect that people may not necessarily translate their general view into a personal sacrifice.

The Tories ... want to be "honest" about the sort of medicine they know they would have to administer. The £158bn a year public sector pay bill cannot be immune, they judge.

Some senior Tories think they would get the benefit of the doubt for two years. Mr Cameron thinks he must hit the ground running, unlike Tony Blair who, the Tory leader believes, continued to act as an opposition candidate after becoming Prime Minister. The Cameroons think the first six months would be decisive.

The Indy wot dunnit

The Independent is claiming this morning that its story yesterday that Gulf Arab states are secretly planning to stop trading oil in dollars sent global markets into a "frenzy".

It certainly is an interesting development but perhaps they are overstating it.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

David Cameron, the "truth"

Perhaps inverted commas should be used in the Telegraph's piece by self-confessed posh social climber James Delingpole, promising "the truth" (my quote marks) about David Cameron's days at Oxford.

Dave was just an ordinary bloke. If that isn't the ultimate in spin, I don't know what is.

Inverted commas gone mad

The Telegraph also makes interesting use of inverted commas, telling us that, Kevin McGee, the former partner of Matt Lucas, has been 'found hanged'. The link to the article tells us that Lucas and McGee "divorced" (their quote marks) ten months ago, while the article itself calls Lucas a "divorcee" (again, their quote marks).

But then what other expression do you use to describe people who weren't actually married and then stopped not being actually married?

Journalist gone mad

The Times has an interesting take on a piece by one of its own journalists,

Friday, 2 October 2009

More damage to international relations

In a new post on the Iraq Inquiry Digest website, I reveal that the government is again threatening to block the release of documents relating to the September 2002 Iraq weapons of mass destruction dossier, on the grounds of "damage to international relations".

The documents could shed light on some of the most controversial claims in the dossier, including a notorious claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa and a suggestion that its acquisition of aluminium tubes was related to a nuclear weapons programme.

Read more here

Thursday, 1 October 2009

More on Iraq Inquiry Digest

I've done a piece on the new Iraq Inquiry Digest website for Open Democracy/Our Kingdom.

Read it here.

Iraq Inquiry Digest goes live

A new website, of which I am the editor, officially launches today. Iraq Inquiry Digest, is a project to monitor and comment on the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war. It is billed as "everything about the Chilcot Inquiry in one place" and aims both to inform and to provide a dynamic forum for comment and analysis. It seeks to provide a balance of views and opinion, to be constructive and to provide reasoned and well argued comment. We'll see how that goes...

The site has a great deal of information already, including a lot of the existing evidence and a list of the questions the Inquiry will need to address. It's backed by some well-known and well-respected people, many of whom will be contributing to it, adding new information and making new revelations between now and the start of the Inquiry's public hearings.

When will that be? Well, there should be announcement soon. But don't hold your breath.

Note the feed on the right. It's likely to update a lot more often than the Iraq dossier site!