Friday, August 30, 2013 

Axis shift.

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What the Syria vote does and doesn't signify.

Amid all the attempts to try and explain exactly what last night's government defeat on Syria means, there are two fairly fundamental reasons for why they lost, neither of which has much to do with Cameron's standing with his party or Miliband's change of tack 48 hours ago.

First, the government completely failed to make the case for intervention.  The evidence was inconclusive, the legal advice an utter joke, and no one advocating joining the US in striking Syria even began to explain how launching hundreds of cruise missiles at "military" targets was meant to either stop chemical weapons being used again, or improve the humanitarian situation in the country.

Second, the rush to make a decision to meet an arbitrary timetable was a huge mistake.  In the course of a week the government tried to bump the country into another military adventure without explaining why immediate action was so important, or couldn't be delayed until after the UN inspectors had delivered their report.  They wouldn't have apportioned blame, but it would have established beyond any doubt that chemical weapons had been used.  If there was any true echo of Iraq, it was in trying to force matters when waiting slightly longer may well have turned up the cliched "smoking gun".  The arguments a decade ago were so rehearsed that it became more and more difficult to say something new that could change minds; in this instance plenty of people had yet to come to a proper reasoned decision, and so erred on the side of caution.

Only then should we come to how party politics had an impact.  Looking down the list of Tory MPs who voted against the prime minister, there are some who are seasoned veterans of trooping through the no lobby, but fewer than you might imagine.  Cameron and the whips ought to have known from the numbers who were opposed to arming the rebels and were demanding a vote then that there was more than the potential for trouble and they seem to have ignored it, imagining that they would back the prime minister when his authority was on the line.  They also seem to have dismissed the level of press opposition, as well as the few opinion polls conducted that suggested little appetite for another conflict.  Whether you put this down to the Tories being on a high after signs of economic recovery and Labour's troubles during the recess or just ignoring what ought to have staring them in the face, for a party meant to be in tune with public opinion via Lynton Crosby, this is a remarkable failure.

Those on the coalition frontbench really ought to be looking at themselves then before lashing out at everyone else for their supposed perfidy.  It comes to something when it's Jack Straw acting as the voice of (almost) reason, pointing out that this wasn't about the country become isolationist, rather it was the abject failure of the case made by the government.  If it hadn't been in such a mad rush, another week might well have sufficed and the result could have been different. Nor did it help when even before the vote had taken place, words being put in people's mouths or not, Philip Hammond was agreeing that Labour's amendment gave succour to Assad, while others were yet again bringing the "national interest" and "national security" into play.  If the no vote really was as significant as some are making out, I and many others would be delighted. Having blindly followed the US into two disastrous wars of choice, as well as persuaded a hesitant Obama into intervening in Libya, making clear that we will no longer act as backup without exhausting all other options first would be a extremely welcome development.

Nor is this quite the triumph for Ed Miliband that some are trying to portray it as.  As others have detected, this wasn't so much educated, strong leadership as it was a whole lot of luck and Cameron/Clegg snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Miliband didn't know what he wanted and his confused speech yesterday said as much; he was playing for time, hoping that doing so would stop a significant number of his own backbenchers from rebelling.  The disaster for Cameron is that if he and his whips had read the situation properly, they could have swallowed their pride and gone with the Labour amendment, which was almost identical to their own motion except it asked for the government to wait until the UN inspectors had given their report.  Cameron and Hague would still have gotten their war.  As it is, Cameron can hardly now go on portraying Miliband as weak when he's suffered such a humiliation himself.

Most important of all though is that last night's vote firmly established that parliament has to be consulted before military action can be taken.  When it came to Libya, MPs voted after the intervention had begun, making it all but unthinkable that they would then ask for the bombers to be brought back.  Barring extreme cases, the royal prerogative has clearly had its day.  Likewise, one of the minor reasons for why last night's vote failed is that with the exception of a few especially egregious Labour MPs, the exact same people who thought Iraq was such a splendid idea were those most vociferous in urging action in SyriaMichael Gove shouldn't be calling others a disgrace, he ought to be reflecting on why it is we are now so resistant to intelligence briefings and the advice of government lawyers.  Not all of the blame can be put on Blair when so many others went along with it; the being misled themselves line simply won't wash.

Finally, the only message this sends to Assad is that Britain won't be joining in an attack.  If the US and France as planned want to make either a pointless gesture to prevent Obama being embarrassed over the breaching of his red line, or alternatively fully intervene on the side of the rebels, then bully for them.  All it signifies is that we won't be rushed into another potentially foolhardy conflict, nothing more.  Those who invoke the image of gassed or burned children as demanding action seem to have no such concerns as to our intervening on the side of rebels who use child soldiers or murder them in cold blood on video, nor are many of them similarly outraged when other states bombard heavily populated areas with no concern for human lifeAs Simon Jenkins writes, not intervening now takes more political courage than doing so, so skewed has the Westminster bubble become.

P.S. It's nice to see that last night has at the very least provided us with a new African euphemism: 

It is understood that Greening and Simmonds were in a room near the Commons chamber, discussing the situation in Rwanda, when the vote was called.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013 

The government's case for war: a collection of words.

Among all the classic bad reviews of books and films, one I've always been especially partial to is Ian Hislop's pithy dismissal of Edwina Currie's first attempt at a bonkbuster, titled A Parliamentary Affair.  His verdict? "It's not a novel, it's a collection of words."  As Kermode and Mayo would (almost) say, put it on the cover.

In the same sense, Dominic Grieve's reasoning on why an attack on Syria would be legal (PDF) is also a collection of words.  It most certainly isn't the kind of case you'd pay thousands of pounds for were you to ask Suue, Grabbit and Runne to do the same, as not even they would be so brazen as to claim such nonsense was the best they could do.  Grieve's argument is effectively that even if the attack on Ghouta hadn't happened, intervention would still be legal as the level of suffering in Syria is so high, something "generally accepted by the international community as a whole".  As Tom Freeman says, this is gibberish.  This isn't a legal document, it's a political one that also tries to make a moral case, and it fails on that score just as badly.

First off, it's abundantly clear that there are alternatives to the use of force if lives are to be saved.  We could push for the revival of the proposed Geneva talks and an immediate ceasefire.  It should be remembered it isn't the Assad government blocking those talks, it's the rebels.  The talks might fail, but it's most certainly an alternative that would save lives in the short term. Second, all Grieve refers to is the work or lack of it done at the UN, without mentioning how we've recognised the rebels as the de facto representatives of the Syrian people and have been training the Free Syrian Army in Jordan.  Lastly, nor it is clear whatsoever that the proposed use of force will "be strictly limited in time and scope".  The proposed UN resolution calls for all necessary measures to protect civilians, the same wording used by NATO to support regime change in Libya, and as a result has almost no chance whatsoever of being passed, Russia and China having made clear they're not going to fall for the same trick twice.

Thankfully, that's also been picked up by Labour.  Ed Miliband seems to have changed his mind on supporting the coalition mainly due to how he would have inspired a major rebellion in doing so, potentially losing at least one frontbencher, but as Martin Kettle writes, it's that he's done so rather than the reasoning behind it which is important.  When it comes down to it, the real differences between the Labour amendment and the coalition one are relatively slight, and it's more likely than not that Labour will end up supporting a strike.  What the Labour amendment does explicitly state however is that such an intervention must be time-limited, and limited also to responding to the use of chemical weapons, so not precipitating wider action.  If passed, this would hopefully ensure we don't have another Libya-style conflict, although I wouldn't hold my breath, such were the deceptions carried out last time round.

Obviously, if Miliband and Labour had any real backbone, they would oppose intervention outright.  If the party was truly against the arming of the "moderate" rebels, then going beyond that and "sending a message" that the use of chemical weapons is beyond the pale when there is absolutely no indication that doing so would work and could instead spark wider intervention in the future ought to be a no brainer.  When Cameron says this wouldn't be about taking sides, he's talking bilge that should embarrass even him.  We clearly chose our side a long while ago, and it's the side of the Saudis, as it always is.

For as much as the coalition doesn't want to reprise Iraq, the language used by both Clegg and Cameron is almost exactly that of Blair circa 2002-03. If anything, the attack on Miliband for daring to suggest maybe we shouldn't rush to bomb yet another Arab state is fiercer than that made on Jacques Chirac back then.  The lies are also the same, with claims that the whole of Europe supports action when it does not, nor does the Arab League support an attack despite condemning Assad for the Ghouta massacre.

And then we have the joint intelligence committee, once again bending over backwards to help the government on distinctly inconclusive evidence. Their report amounts to err, we've watched the videos on YouTube and Assad must have done it. The Americans by contrast admit that they've lost track of where the chemical weapons are, and so can't be certain that they haven't fallen into rebel hands. It's still almost certain that the attack was the work of the Syrian military, but we don't know who ordered or authorised it, and if we're to believe the JIC, this is the 15th such use. Why then wouldn't the Syrian military just go back to using them in limited quantities again, apparently safe in the knowledge that's permissible? The JIC isn't even certain this is the worst atrocity of the conflict, for pity's sake.

The case presented by the government therefore makes absolutely no sense.  An attack won't target the weapons themselves, not least because we don't know where they are, but because of the potential to kill thousands ourselves through doing so.  It won't be a deterrent, as there's nothing to stop the Syrian military from returning to lower scale use.  The strikes being talked of won't have a major effect on the regime, as it's already survived far worse over the past two and a half years, and so won't improve the humanitarian situation in the country by so much as a fraction.  What it will do is establish once and for all our support for one side in a civil war that is already out of control.  Rather than push for a negotiated settlement, we want to indulge in a worse than pointless gesture, seemingly just to back up a president who made a stupid promise that the use of chemical weapons was a red line.  At least Tony Blair genuinely believed in what he was doing, however horrendously wrong he was; the coalition fits the poodle description far more accurately than he ever did.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013 

What we needs another war!

Of the many great moments in Peter Jackson's splatter satirising opus Braindead, only one has any real significance in connection with the march to war against Syria, but thankfully it's a damn good one.  Oblivious to the fact that Lionel has just about managed to patch up his quickly zombifying mother to welcome the local head of the women's welfare league, the conversation turns to the lethargy and inaction of young people.  "What we needs another war!", declares the husband, banging the table.

Our politicians and most commentators wouldn't for the most part be so unsubtle.  After all, we are still nominally fighting a war as it stands, although Afghanistan is just about as forgotten as it's ever been.  The same line of thinking is most certainly there, though.  While we thankfully aren't as quick to look towards "military solutions" as our cousins across the Atlantic, where certain congressmen have seen fewer foreign nations they wouldn't bomb than those they would, it's about as far from being the last resort as ever.  If we do involve ourselves in action against Syria, it will be the fourth major conflict we've been involved in since 9/11, or alternatively, if you prefer to go back to 97 and the ascent to power of a certain Tony Blair, the sixth (Sierra Leone, Kosovo).  Whichever timescale you chose, the threat to this country from outside powers during and up to now has remained almost exactly the same, namely miniscule.

The allusion almost everyone is making, understandably, is to Iraq.  Iraq it has to be remembered was not disastrous for either the Americans or ourselves in terms of military defeat; our losses were fewer than those we've suffered in Afghanistan, while public opinion in the US turned against the war more because of the lack of progress rather than the numbers killed and injured, which were low compared to those of Vietnam.  The disaster was meant to be that we failed to plan for what happened after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and that the justification for the war, weapons of mass destruction, had in fact long been destroyed.

Except, as was demonstrated in Libya, we have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.  We hadn't forgotten the mistake of trying to occupy Iraq and govern it, even in the short term, so we didn't.  Instead, we let the various rebel factions get on with it themselves, the result being the stand off between militas that's continuing now.  The lesson that seems most obvious from Iraq, that of not hitching ourselves to the military adventurism of the United States when we don't have to, was seemingly turned on its head by Cameron and friends being more belligerent against Gaddafi than Obama was.  With Syria, despite again our representatives having seemed more gung-ho over the past two years than the Obama adminstration, we now once again seem to be determined to act as both lawyer and bombing understudy of Team America (you may add your own fuck yeahs).

Going to the United Nations at this point, despite both the US and ourselves having argued repeatedly over the past few days that we don't need a security council resolution for bombing Syria to be lawful, just reminds fatefully of both Iraq and Libya.  The likes of Jack Straw and Blair himself continue to maintain that any chance of a second resolution explicitly authorising action against Iraq back in 2003 was scuppered by Jacques Chirac saying he would veto one in any circumstances; in fact he said he would veto one at that precise time.  It was enough for Blair to argue that the UN route had run its course.  Now we again have the UN itself asking for more time for inspectors to do their work, while we've taken a resolution to the council this time knowing for a fact that the Russians will veto it.  And also again, we have those claiming that the inevitable stalemate will condemn the UN to the status of its predecessor.

To suggest that this is once more a mess of our making, having so thoroughly abused UNSC 1973, seems to be to make yourself even more unpopular.  That resolution, despite calling for negotiations between the two sides and upholding an arms embargo, authorised all necessary means to protect civilians, just as the proposed resolution today does the same.  Our politicians are asking us to trust them this is going to be just a one-off response to the "moral obscenity" of large scale use of chemical weapons, while at the same time preparing the ground for exactly the same sort of campaign as was waged in Libya.  To call it duplicitous doesn't even begin to do it justice.

Most remarkable of all is that whereas you expect those who were in favour of the Iraq war to support this latest foreign excursion, and to also make the exact same arguments now as they did then, those who ought to know better are joining them.  Alan Johnson writes an especially pompous open letter to Owen Jones in which he concludes that a one-off strike aimed at certain targets would re-establish deterrence and make Assad think before using chemical weapons again.  Well, perhaps it might; alternatively, if we're being honest about it truly being a one-off, then why wouldn't he use them again once the heat is off?  Are we then going to do this all over again?  Are we certain an attack will have a deterrent effect when the sites likely to be hit have been so widely disseminated, and when Russia is more than happy to replace any destroyed weapon systems?  Is it of no consequence that countless wars have metastasised after what were meant to be limited interventions?  And still no one seems to want to explain why this particular crime against humanity is so much worse than all the others that have been committed in Syria by both sides.

The one key difference this time is that unlike in the cases of both Iraq and Libya, neither the public nor the press are fully on side.  Ed Miliband is currently tying himself up in knots over whether to support the government, apparently determined to live up to the accusation of being weak rather than just oppose the whole wretched process, but seems likely to end up urging his party to vote in favour of tomorrow's motion.  Marx's now cliched aphorism was that history repeats, first as tragedy, then as farce.  In his day, governments didn't have to listen to their people.  In the modern age, it seems to be the people who learn while politicians and their cliques refuse to take lessons from anyone or anything.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013 

Achieving nothing but doing something.

History tells us that dictators do stupid things.  Hitler, ignoring what happened to Napoleon's army, started his campaign against the Soviet Union too late in the year to possibly complete the capture of Moscow, let alone territory beyond the capital.  Stalin, meanwhile, refused to accept the innumerable warnings from his spies within Germany that an invasion was coming, or indeed the evidence of the massing of forces, such was his lack of preparedness for an early breaking of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.  More recently, Saddam Hussein imagined that the support from the US for his regime during the war against Iran would continue even if he annexed Kuwait, a view it has to be said was encouraged by the US ambassador at the time.  It was nonetheless a huge miscalculation, although Hussein couldn't possibly have imagined he would become the bogeyman of the next decade as a result.

The key question today is, was Bashar al-Assad really so idiotic as to launch a poison gas attack on a suburb of Damascus just as UN chemical weapons inspectors had arrived in the capital?  It certainly seems so, but something just feels wrong.  No one has yet adequately explained why Syrian forces only seem to target civilians with chemical weapons, rather than the actual rebels they're fighting against.  Juan Cole's reasoning behind the attack seems the most realistic: that the army thought it was a risk worth taking and which could then be blamed on the rebels themselves afterwards.  

One thing that doesn't seem to be up for discussion is whether the very top of the Syrian government authorised the attack, or whether the army within Damascus is relatively autonomous.  If this wasn't an Assad endorsed decision, and despite everything I still think that's the second likeliest explanation behind the army acting of its own accord, then the other possibility worth considering is whether the army has been infiltrated by rebels looking to frame the regime.  Outlandish yes, but it seems more plausible than rebels having captured some chemical munitions then attempting to do the same.  The rebels have about the same amount of respect for human life as the government does, after all: remember the attacks on government buildings then blamed by the rebels on the regime attacking itself, until it turned out it was them after all, or indeed the disastrous siege of Aleppo, still continuing.

Unless either the US or ourselves have bona fide evidence from on the ground, it still can't definitively be said that this was the work of government forces.  The evidence undoubtedly points that way, but we can't be certain.  Nonetheless, if this was the work of the rebels aimed at crossing Obama's fabled "red line" and triggering full scale intervention, they seem at the moment likely to be let down again.  

As from the beginning of the conflict, we want to be seen to be doing something, but that something seems designed not to change anything.  First we said we wanted negotiations between the two sides at the same time as we acquiesced in the arming of Islamists by Qatar and Saudi Arabia; then we said we wanted negotiations but only after we'd armed the "moderates" to the point at which Assad was forced to the table.  As for now, we still supposedly want talks at Geneva to take place, but we can't allow the use of chemical weapons without responding militarily.  Except, rather than attempt to destroy the stockpiles of chemical weapons, it seems it will just be purely conventional military targets struck by cruise missiles if we do indeed take action.  Naturally, this will be perfectly legal under international law, despite not having UN backing.

What then will such strikes achieve?  There isn't a suggestion they will substantially change the situation on the ground, seeing as two years of brutal civil war have resulted only in stalemate.  If it's meant as a warning to the regime not to use such weapons again, do we truly believe only a limited intervention will do so?  If it doesn't, will our response ratchet up further?  Do we have any intelligence on how Iran and Hezbollah will respond?  Both they and the Syrians themselves have allowed Israeli incursions to go unanswered, but will they maintain the same posture this time?  Are we certain of the targets, and the debilitating affect attacking them will have on the regime?  Are we sure this won't further affect civilians, stuck between three belligerent sides that apparently care little for them?

Moreover, what does it say about our wider interests and policy in the region?  Why is it a "moral obscenity" and a "crime against humanity" when hundreds or thousands are killed using one specific weapon, but only a cause for concern when hundreds or thousands are killed using more conventional ones?  What is so uniquely terrible about the use of chemical weapons in this instance, and not been uniquely terrible when they have been used both by the US and our other allies in the past?  Have we forgotten that we were supporting Saddam when he gassed the Kurds?  Why do the deaths of these civilians rank more highly than those of the tens of thousands who have died in the civil war in Syria so far?  Do we really believe that striking back in this instance will discourage other governments in the future from using such weapons?  Or is this really all about the fact that Obama put himself in a hole last year when he declared that their use would result in intervention?

That really does seem to be the overriding reason, and the whole face-off is reminiscent of the farce in December 1998 when Iraq was bombed for supposedly not co-operating with the UN weapon inspectors.  The other echo is of 2003, when we demanded that the inspectors be allowed in only to then shift the goalposts once the request was allowed, something that happened again this weekend.

What's angered me most from the beginning over our stance on Syria and continues to do so now is the fundamental lack of honesty.  We pretend to care about the country's civilians, but clearly we don't.  If we did, we wouldn't be contemplating air strikes or giving even more weapons to the rebels, we'd be demanding that both sides attend peace talks, as there simply isn't a military solution, or rather there is, but not one that doesn't involve the almost total destruction of the country's infrastructure and thousands more deaths.  The war became a sectarian conflict precisely because of the intervention of the Saudis and Qataris funnelling money to the jihadists who fomented one in Iraq, autocracies we remain on such good terms with.  Rather than try and stop this from continuing, our response was to train and fund "moderates", not just to fight Assad but to also potentially fight the jihadis once Assad fell.  Instead, they're fighting now.  We're now dressing the apparent coming military action up not as any sort of intervention, however limited, but as a response to the use of chemical weapons.  It won't achieve anything, but we can't admit we don't want to take the risk of another full scale war in the Middle East, plus it'll make us look like big, strong men of action, and we'll get to use some of our shiny weapons, justifying their cost.  We must do something, but it can't be too little or too much.  Not doing anything simply isn't an option.

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Friday, August 23, 2013 


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Thursday, August 22, 2013 

Syria: a hell we can't solve.

It's a measure of just how difficult it's become to trust anything coming out of Syria that yesterday's horrific images, apparently showing the mass poisoning of civilians, have been treated with a relative amount of scepticism by the media.  Unlike previous videos meant to depict the aftermath of chemical weapon attacks that some suspect may have been faked, there really isn't any doubt about this latest atrocity: regardless of exactly which chemical was used, with some experts dubious as to whether it was sarin, the symptoms shown this time would be all but impossible to fake on such a scale, at least without a major budget and practice.

The question does remain though as to what was used, and who deployed it.  It could be sarin that has degraded, or some other form of organophosphate that has been weaponised.  The other quandary is how it was deployed: Brown Moses has videos showing what seem to be Syrian-manufactured munitions, the same as those found in proximity to previous alleged chemical weapon attack sites.  This in itself doesn't really help us as to who fired them: while the rebels have relied on jerry-rigged and amateur weapons systems, we don't know whether the regime had systems capable of delivering chemical weapons at the outset of the rebellion, and so they may well have had to improvise themselves.

Most perplexing is why the government would have chosen to carry out the heaviest attack of the war just as the UN weapons inspectors have been allowed in, and indeed, are apparently only 6 miles away from ground zero.  It could be that this is Assad emphasising his position of strength, convinced that he now has the upper hand in the conflict and so prepared to show the complete impotence of the international community.  Conversely, it could be the rogue commander issue again, or that in this instance the chemical hadn't degraded as much was expected, or that more was used than was authorised.  If, on the other hand, this was an attempt by the rebels to frame the regime, did they make the same mistakes as the Syrian military may have done, not expecting there would be so many apparent casualties?

On the balance of probabilities you'd have to say that the simplest explanation, that this was a chemical attack by the government, authorised at the highest levels or not, is also the best one.  If this truly wasn't the actions of the regime, then there shouldn't be a problem with allowing the UN inspectors to visit the site, especially as they would quickly be able to conclude whether this was a sarin attack or the use of some other sort of chemical.

Sadly, such has been the bloodshed in Syria that even though this marks an escalation in the type of weapons deployed, it doesn't really change anything on the ground.  This is still a proxy war that we have refused to stay out of, lecturing and continuously turning up the rhetoric while not being prepared to push without conditions for a peace settlement.  Instead, we've backed rebels that have committed atrocities of their own, unconcerned at the possibility the weapons we supply to the "moderates" will almost certainly end up in the hands of those who execute children and priests in cold blood (extremely graphic).  The language used by politicians against Assad over the past day has also been in stark contrast to that deployed against the military in Egypt, where similar numbers have been slaughtered the past month.  We've gone past the point at which we could have done something, had we wanted to; now all we can do is mouth platitudes and empty threats as two depraved, desperate sides battle against each other, with the innocent trapped in the middle.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013 

Bradley Manning and the new normal.

Even by the standards we've become used to since 9/11, the 35-year prison sentence for Bradley Manning marks a new low.  Regardless of what you think about the wider fallout from the leaks of the diplomatic cables, anyone who suggests that the release of the "collateral murder" video was not in the public interest simply doesn't deserve to be humoured.  In the the bitterest of ironies, the soldiers who laughed as they cut down innocents that day were never so much as reprimanded for their actions.  Still, at least Manning can be grateful that in a magnanimous gesture he's been credited with 112 days served for the time he spent in what the UN described as conditions amounting to torture.  Speaking of which, those officials that ordered and justified the torture of alleged terrorists during the Bush years had their immunity from prosecution upheld by Obama in one of his first acts as president.  Nor does it seem likely that those who authorised the inhuman treatment of Manning will be receiving disciplinary action any time soon, the commander who ordered it simply being moved to a different job.

In the best possible scenario, failing a successful appeal or a presidential pardon, Manning will be eligible for parole once he's served a third of the sentence, meaning he faces a minimum of at least another 10 years in detention.  Edward Snowden said when he revealed himself as the source of the leaks on the scale of surveillance undertaken by the National Security Agency that he had no illusions about how he would be pursued for doing so, but now he knows just how severe his treatment is likely to be should somehow end up back in America.

One thing the United States hasn't done is accuse either Manning or Snowden of being terrorists outright.  In their continuing attempts to defend the detention of David Miranda on Sunday, both ministers and the supposedly independent of government have come perilously close to suggesting that either the Guardian or the journalists working on the articles on the NSA and GCHQ are in league with those who wish us harm or are far too irresponsible to be trusted with such sensitive material.  That at least is the clear implication from the comments not just from Theresa May, but now Nick Clegg over the visits by the cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood to the Guardian to demand that the files leaked to the paper by Snowden be given back or destroyed "as a precautionary measure to protect lives and security".  If this really has been the concern of the government from the beginning, and not anger at how the Graun has exposed GCHQ's strides forward in "mastering the internet" without the slightest amount of scrutiny or oversight, then perhaps they would like to start being explicit about just who or what is that was causing them such worry?  Surely the paper should know, if it doesn't already, about the threats from within?  Or is it really the case that conversations could be monitored by laser, as a "intelligence agency expert" told the paper?

We do at least know exactly what the security services themselves now think about the leaks, as the man supposedly meant to monitor them made abundantly clear on the Today programme this morning.  According to Malcolm Rifkind, chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the only people who can make a judgement on what will or won't aid terrorists is, err, the intelligence agencies themselves.  Journalists simply can't make the call, so it seems that regardless of what they've uncovered about the actions of the secret state, it shouldn't be published unless those same agencies say it won't harm national security.  Not that this seems to matter at times, at least to the US intelligence agencies, who only a couple of weeks ago made clear that the alert throughout Africa and the Middle East at a potential terrorist attack came as a result of intercepted conversations between the head of al-Qaida and its affiliate in Yemen.  If they didn't know that was where the intelligence had came from, they certainly did after.

Nor was the apparent concern at what the Graun had published up to the point at which Heywood made his intervention.  One suggestion made on Newsnight from a former MI6 officer was that the real worry was the intelligence agencies themselves couldn't get access to the documents at Graun Towers, while they could those elsewhere, hence why they wanted them back or destroyed.  It's certainly more convincing than the "national security" argument, but it's undermined by the officer's other observation that there was no need whatsoever to hold Miranda for the full 9 hours.  If all they had really wanted was the files he had on his person, they could have confiscated those and let him go far sooner.  Which brings us back to the most obvious explanation, that yes, this has all been about intimidating and attempting to pressure the paper into ending its reporting in the most heavy-handed manner available without resorting to the courts.

This is the point ignored by those like Brendan O'Neill who draw comparisons between this case and those of the tabloid journalists currently awaiting trial for conspiracy to misconduct in public office after allegedly paying civil servants for information, much as I have a certain amount of sympathy for his argument.  The cases that have come up so far involved the sale of information about celebrities, relatives of celebrities, or high profile prisoners.  Where the public interest lies is always going to be defined differently, but it's worth remembering that the other high profile recent instance of "stolen" documents being sold to a newspaper was the expenses files, and no one has suggested that wasn't in the public interest, despite laws clearly having been broken in the process.  Snowden it shouldn't really need to be added hasn't just foregone payment for the documents he "stole", he's been willing to sacrifice almost everything to get out information he believed the world needed to know.

What ought to be apparent by now is that national security is the first recourse of scoundrels.  Not everything is useful to terrorists, but almost anything can be.  Only we can decide what is useful to them, so we can use terrorist legislation even if it's against the partners of journalists just passing through the country.  We're doing so to protect the public from terrorists.  If you disagree, then you should think about what exactly it is you're defending.  You don't have any right to know how exactly we're protecting you, but rest assured the security services operate within the law, which is extremely forgiving when we want it to be, and anyway, if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear. We'll decide when a debate is over, and when you've had your fun. Go against us, and we'll treat you as a traitor, or as a terrorist enabler. What's more, we've plenty of people who'll defend the indefensible for us. Haven't you going used to the new normal yet?

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013 

The revealing of the secret state.

It seems best to start with an apology.  Yesterday, I said the most likely explanation for the detention of David Miranda at Heathrow was that it had been requested by one agency or another in the United States.  As has since become clear, it appears that while authorities in the US were "tipped off" that Miranda was to be detained and much of his property stolen, they in fact didn't ask for it to happen.  Instead, it seems most people, myself included, seem to have completely underestimated just how disingenuous and above the law our very own security services continue to regard themselves.  Moreover, the US authorities didn't have a problem with answering questions about Miranda's detention, unlike our own, who instead seem to positively revel in their abuse of terrorism legislation.  For portraying the US as the bad guy in this instance, I'm sorry.

Not that we're any closer to knowing whose idea it was in the first place for Miranda to be detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.  Opinion differs as to whether or not detaining Miranda under this provision was expressly unlawful or not, such is the breadth of the discretion given when someone is sort of in this country while also sort of not - David Allan Green thinks it was, while others disagree.  In any case, this is not even what the government itself is now arguing.  Rather, the defence from both the Home Office and Theresa May is not that Miranda could potentially have been a terrorist, but rather that he may have been in possession of "stolen information that could help terrorists".  Section 40 of the Terrorism Act defines a terrorist as someone "who…is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".  Clearly, as even the home secretary herself is arguing, Miranda didn't fall under this category.

Let's take a step back for a second and just get our heads around this.  Effectively, our own government is making the exact same argument as the US tried to pin on Bradley Manning; that whether he intended it or not, his actions through leaking hundreds of thousands of documents aided the enemy.  The court martial decided that Manning was not guilty of that charge.  In this case, no one who isn't either completely in thrall to the arguments of the securocrats, or is Louise Mensch, believes that the whistleblowing of Edward Snowden has aided terrorists.  There is the possibility that in the raw the files Snowden had and has could be of use to those who wish to target agents in the field, but Snowden, unlike Manning, has only provided them to media organisations that are reputable and have in many circumstances self-censored, beyond the point at which many would think they should have done.  We can't know what's going on in Russia, or whether there's a quid pro quo between Snowden and the government there, but that doesn't affect the documents provided to Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald which both are continuing to work on.

Unless the Home Office is seriously suggesting then that those who have so far been completely scrupulous in their work, even if the US and UK governments hardly like it, were suddenly going to either provide material to al-Qaida directly, or the Guardian was going to do so through its website or paper, then this has all been about intimidation, as Greenwald himself said at the outset.  As Alan Rusbridger sets out in his extraordinary piece on what the paper has been up against since it started publishing the documents obtained by Snowden, they've quickly realised that the only way to properly ensure that they can continue to carry out such journalism is by shifting it, ironically enough, to the US, where it's protected (somewhat) under the constitution, and doing the old fashioned thing of exchanging data on drives in person.  This is what it seems Miranda was doing, travelling between Brazil and Germany, acting more as a courier than a journalist.  Whether the police had any knowledge whatsoever of what was on the equipment he was carrying is unclear, and the Graun/Poitras/Greenwald certainly aren't letting on.  That he was possibly carrying stolen information is nonetheless irrelevant, as he wasn't detained on suspicion of any such thing.  Even if the letter of the law has not been broken in this case, the spirit most certainly has.

As Rusbridger makes clear, having failed in this instance to get the whistleblower himself, the security state is now after the journalists instead.  So far, as is described, the method is intimidation.  Demanding that the Guardian hand back the Snowden documents, destroy them, or be taken to court was utterly pointless on every measure other than as an example of what could happen when the government knew full well that the paper had other copies in countries outside the reach of the UK.  Equally, fighting the demand wasn't worth the time or money when the paper could just carry on as it has done.  Likewise, detaining Miranda wasn't about protecting the public; it was about showing that they could do it.  Whatever it was Miranda exchanged between Poitras and Greenwald, both will have backup copies.  And as an aside, those commenting that they hope the Graun and the journalists have sufficient security to ward off hackers ought to remember that in the cases of both Manning and Snowden, neither were senior figures but relative juniors, both of whom were nonetheless trusted with access to a plethora of sensitive information.  These were accidents waiting to happen.

What this entire incident ought to lead to is scales falling from eyes at just how our secret state operates.  Snowden, Greenwald and the Guardian revealed, despite what the likes of Tim Stanley have written, that GCHQ in alliance with the National Security Agency have all but "mastered the internet".  They tap the fibre cables coming into and going out this country, and store not just the metadata but the actual content of messages sent online for three days.  In spite of this, they wanted and continue to want the power to merely keep the metadata from internet activity, albeit with most government agencies being able to access it should they so choose.  Without the above, we wouldn't have had the slightest knowledge that our intelligence agencies had access to such a vast amount of personal information without even the slightest of controls; what we also know is that this huge operation is legal thanks to an act of parliament that was written over 13 years ago and was never intended for such use.

These reports were quite clearly in the wider public interest, as was the revelation that the NSA pays GCHQ up to £100m a year for its services.  The response from the government has been to say that if you've got nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, and to put pressure on other newspapers and broadcasters not to repeat or follow up the Graun's reports, with the D-Notice committee also spurred into action.  Most were happy to oblige, it should be noted, including those who denounced the royal charter setting up a press regulator as being the end of the free press as we knew it.  Unable to shut the paper up, it's now turned to invoking terrorism and acting as authoritarian states do, detaining people and confiscating their possessions.  These aren't the actions of a state that does everything to protect its own citizens, they're the actions of a state that does everything to protect itself from proper scrutiny, one that claims that the police are "operationally independent", at the same time as the lackeys of politicians threaten journalists for doing their job.  It's a state that decides when a "public debate" is deemed to be over (whenever it says it is) and that hides behind the possibility of Russia or China gaining access to such information, as though it wouldn't be easier for either to just plant another Manning or a Snowden themselves, considering how lax their own security has been exposed as, or as though either Russia or China don't already know plenty about what GCHQ and the NSA have been up to.  They lie, they cheat, they steal, and then they point the finger elsewhere when the blame lies squarely in their court.

A frequently cited argument is that while the current government might be relatively benign, it doesn't bear thinking about what might happen if an extreme one came to power and made use of the same tools available for fighting terrorism and crime.  Frankly, we've reached the point at which we ought to be deeply concerned at how this "relatively benign" government decides that the ends justify the means.

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Monday, August 19, 2013 

The police state was here again...

Something that never ceases to amaze is how it's only ever brought home to most people just how much power the state has when it personally affects them or those they associate with.  Call it the Damian Green factor if you like; just as it never occurred to politicians that they could possibly be arrested as part of police investigations into leaks from government departments, and so they acted outraged when it did despite how they had written the damn laws that allowed it in the first place, so today we have an outcry, not just from the Graun but also the Spectator over the detention of David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, by the Met during his stopover at Heathrow.  Cue the talk we've heard before in similar circumstances of dictatorships, unaccountability, malevolence, stupidity, abuse of process and so on and so forth.  This will of course then all be forgotten, so long as such powers are used against those the commentariat and journalists (and witness for example the Daily Mail, supposed voice of the rural middle classes, on the side of Caudrilla against the anti-fracking activists) don't much care for, until it happens again.

This isn't to give even the slightest impression that the detention for the whole 9 hours allowed of David Miranda isn't as extraordinary and as stupid as those same commentators have indicated.  Clearly, it is.  For the partner of a journalist to be held in such a manner by a police force in a supposedly democratic country demands explanation.  Who alerted the police to the fact Miranda would be travelling through Heathrow on the way home to Brazil, and did they also request that he be detained?  Did the notice come from the United States, and if so, from what government agency?  Who within the Met examined the request and then authorised the detention?  Why were so many items belonging to Miranda confiscated from him?  Why was he held for the full 9 hours allowed when such a lengthy period of detention without charge is extremely rare?  If, as is claimed, all Miranda was asked about was the work his partner Green Greenwald has carried out for the Graun through the whistleblower Edward Snowden, how can that possibly be justified under legislation that is meant to deal with terrorism?

Unlike in the case of Damian Green however, it seems unlikely we're going to receive any answers to the above questions.  The Home Office is refusing to comment, while the Met is merely stating that a man was detained and then released.  The government that said if you've got nothing to hide you've nothing to fear is staying resolutely shtum.  It could well be that the arrest was an attempt at intimidation requested from the States, or it might be that our own truly independent and accountable security services decided that they wanted to see if the partner of a journalist who's a thorn in their side had any further "secrets" to write about.  Whichever it was, did they really imagine that misusing terrorism legislation in such a way was going to take place without causing a storm of protest, even if only from those who'll quickly forget about the whole thing?

Or perhaps that was all part of the calculated risk.  After all, as the coverage (or lack of it, in some cases) of GCHQ and its work with the NSA has made clear, little things like not having anything approaching proper legal oversight of Tempora haven't stopped the spooks from trying their darnedest to "master the internet".  They also know that they have almost full political support for doing so, and a paper tiger of a regulator on overwatch in the Intelligence and Security Committee.  It's hardly surprising that Ming Campbell "isn't in a position to know" whether Miranda's detention was acceptable, as he's on the damn committee.  Not having an opinion or being indulgent of those who have always worked in the country's best interests is a requirement to getting a place.  The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, is at least continuing to prove he's a step-up from the wholly state owned Lord Carlile, but there's only so much he can do when you consider what he's up against.

Assuming this was something requested by the US, and that seems by far the most likely explanation, it also makes clear just how in hock we are to our friends across the Atlantic.  Miranda wasn't even so much as visiting this country, just changing flights at our largest airport as millions do every year, and yet that was enough for the mere partner of a journalist to be picked up and interrogated as though he was a "terrorist suspect".  Much as there has been deserved criticism of Snowden for his decision to accept asylum in Russia, a human rights abusing "managed democracy", this cases underlines what those merely reporting on the documents supplied by whistleblowers seem likely to face in the years to come: either intimidation, or as now can't be ruled out, prosecution.  What a truly sad state for the mother of all parliamentary democracies to have acquiesced into.

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Friday, August 16, 2013 

Kool FM.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013 

The wrong kind of protesters continued.

The official death toll from the crushing of the sit-ins in Cairo is now higher than the "official" toll of those killed at the similar smashing of the Tiananmen Square protests.  Estimates vary as to the number killed on June the 4th 1989, but most place it in the hundreds, approaching a thousand, although it could be considerably more.  Likewise, it seems certain that the current figure of 525 dead from yesterday's assaults will increase.  Doubtless then, we can expect the same sanctions and arms embargoes imposed on China then to be imposed on the Egyptian military now.  Right?

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013 

The wrong kind of protesters.

Cast your mind back a couple of months, and you might recall that there was much excited and deserved reporting on the occupation of Istanbul's Gezi Park. Initially in protest at plans to build yet another shopping mall, only this time in one of the last remaining green areas in Turkey's capital, it swiftly became a general stand against an authoritarian Islamist government. Described as looters and bums by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in reality they were mostly liberals with a few Kurds and Kemalist hangers-on joining in.  Running battles were fought with the police, who responded brutally.  The park was however eventually cleared without major loss of life, with protesters turning to civil disobedience instead.

Compare this to what's happened in Egypt since the coup in June which saw the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president.  There were and are many valid criticisms of Morsi and his movement, including the possibility that they might have attempted to alter the constitution to remain in power indefinitely.  We have since learned though that the army and other state institutions in the weeks prior to the coup appear to have stopped working with the Morsi government in an effort to further boost the Tamarod movement, something that more than succeeded.  Accompanying the coup was the shutting down of newspapers and TV stations sympathetic to the Brotherhood, as well as the arrest of leading figures within it.  Despite this, the Brotherhood's supporters have continued to protest peacefully, resulting first in the massacre outside the Republican Guards' club in Cairo, then another at the sit-in near to the Rabaa Adawiya mosque.  Finally, today, in the bloodiest episode so far, it looks as though hundreds of unarmed protesters have been killed after the clearing of two protest camps in Cairo, with violence reported elsewhere in the country.

As for the coverage of these crimes, up till now it's been muted, with those commentators who had previously written ecstatic accounts of the initial revolution remaining silent.  Take Ahdaf Soueif, who wrote that the beating of the woman in the blue jeans and bra had "ruined the military's reputation".  A little over a year later, she entrusted that same military with continuing the revolution, supporting the overthrow of Morsi, and even now she puts the blame on the Brotherhood for err, the military killing its supporters.  Not that it's only Egyptian liberals that have decided to remain quiet or swallowed the state line as their fellow citizens, Muslim Brotherhood supporters or not, are shot down in the streets.  The Graun's Martin Chulov wrote an adoring piece on General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and his likeness to Nasser, without so much as mentioning the military's attempts to silence journalists refusing to follow the line, or indeed how the state media has joined in, let alone just how sinister the attempt to create such a cult of personality is by itself.

One thing that never ceases to be remarkable is how the politics of the day always shine through in the reporting of foreign news.  We focus on Zimbabwe due to colonial hang-ups despite there being far worse heads of state in Africa than Mugabe, while our acquiescence to the Egyptian coup meant the plight of the country's Coptic Christians, while deeply concerning, ranked higher last night than the imminent bloodbath.  Just imagine if there had been a similar massacre of protesters today in Iran, or an equally well documented assault on unarmed civilians in Syria; the condemnation from ourselves and the Americans would have been unequivocal.  What we've had instead has been criticism and calls for restraint, but nothing that the junta in Egypt might take seriously.

Rather, as has now become the norm in the Middle East, we dance instead to the tune of the Saudis.  While we ummed and ahhed about the coup, the Saudis and the Emirate nations swiftly let go of the purse strings that had been tightly held while Morsi was in power.  The American decision to stay relatively above the fray, not properly denouncing or supporting either side has been rendered all but irrelevant by the Saudi endorsement of Sisi.  The same has been the case in Syria, where we find ourselves involved in a proxy war between the Saudis and Iran, training and funding "moderates" in the same style as we did the "Awakening" groups in Iraq, while Saudi money and weaponry flows to the Salafis.  The irony is that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood are probably among the "moderates" we favour arming, while we consider their brethren in Egypt not worthy of the same support.  Just as we long since stopped caring about the Syrian civilians caught up in their own personal hell, so too we wring our hands as the wrong kind of protesters are slaughtered, prepared to stomach bloodshed so long as the regional balance of power remains the same.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013 

Waiting for kingship.

Here's a question that doesn't seem to have an answer: just how long does it take someone to prepare to become king?  Depending on whether you measure it from when Mumsie became Queenie, or from when little Prince Charlie was born, the one and only Duchy Original has either been waiting in vain for 61 or 64 years.  Despite being the longest serving heir apparent in British history though (® Wikipedia), it seems he still isn't quite ready to take on the reins, at least if we're to believe successive governments.  Both the coalition and the last Labour government vetoed the release of 27 letters written by Charles to ministers over a seven-month period, although it was left to Dominic Grieve to explain this was necessary as to prevent anyone falling under the misapprehension that Chaz wasn't politically neutral when expressing his "most deeply held personal views and beliefs", when all he was merely doing was "preparing for kingship".

This latest defence of our glorious Prince of Wales comes after the Mail discovered that since 2010, Charles has had just the 36 meetings with ministers (or 53, if you count the ones with juniors as well).  That this is almost certainly more than some of those ministers have had with the prime minister is clearly nothing to be concerned about; no, according to Tim Loughton, one of those lucky enough to have dunked biscuits with his royal highness, it's a "grotesque caricature" to portray these meetings as lobbying sessions.  Rather, ol' big ears is a concerned citizen who just so happens to have the influence to get personal sessions with senior politicians, and he's "well briefed and knowledgeable", the engagements even "hugely beneficial".  Again, these meetings also help him to prepare for his "future role as king".

Indeed, Clarence House presents these cosy arrangements as being the "Prince's right", even his "duty", to bring his "unique perspective" and "reflect the many issues people raise with him personally".  If we were being cynical, which we're obviously not, then we might suggest at this point that discussions that consist precisely of Charles regaling ministers with all the jobs people he's met do might be a bit dull.  Clearly though, Charles is nothing if not a sponge, soaking up the concerns of ordinary people only to then drench the minister unlucky enough to have picked the short straw this month.

The first question then leads to a second.  If Chaz's preparing for kingship only ends once he's crowned, then just how did Brenda herself get ready to become queen?  Did she start preparing to become queen only once she was heir presumptive, was it from birth, or was it from when she took on public duties during WWII?  Did this involve bringing her "unique perspective" on how the war could be brought to an end sooner, or did she perhaps confine her views to the nationalisations of the Labour government after 1945?  Was there a meeting between Ernest Bevin and Liz on what should be done about India, maybe, or have a chat with Nye Bevan about the establishment of the NHS and the possible inclusion of homoeopathy?

Whichever it was, Lilibet prepared for her queenship for only a fraction of the time Charles has been doing so, and most tend to agree that on the whole, she's been fairly good at it.  Isn't it then perhaps time that the heir stopped preparing and maybe started, err, acting like an actual monarch?  Or is that too terrible a prospect for all concerned to consider?

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Monday, August 12, 2013 

August is hell.

Simon Jenkins is right: August politics is hell.  Anyone with even the slightest amount of sense (or a life) is paying even less attention than normal, which gives free rein to the worriers and the bitter to whine about how their party is doomed to defeat.  Earlier in the year it was the Tories that were staring into the abyss, riven by Europe, embattled by UKIP, staring a triple dip recession in the face.  Little more than 3 months later, and things are looking brighter for the party, although nowhere near as good as their chances of winning the next election are being portrayed in certain areas of the Tory press.

Naturally then, it's now Labour and their hangers-on that are having an attack of the jitters.  Quite why is difficult to ascertain: it's not as though things have changed dramatically.  The party still has a lead in the opinion polls, even if it has been somewhat reduced; the economic recovery, such as it is, is hardly secured, and for now is likely a mirage outside of the south east; and despite the best efforts of the Tories, no one out in the real world gave a toss about the supposed selection scandal involving Unite up in Falkirk.  The problem more than anything is that Labour has been relying on both the economy remaining stagnant, despite Ed Balls having accepted there would be growth by the time of the next election, and the Tories remaining about as popular as they are, difference being they're the ones in government.

True, there's more than something in the criticisms from the few backbenchers who say the party doesn't seem to know what it's for, isn't offering an alternative, or managing to make the agenda.  Nor though for the most part is the government doing the latter; when it does, such as with the "go home" campaign, it's also far from clear as to whether or not the effect has been positive.  Policy is stuck in a groove: the Tories characterise it as Labour opposing every cut, while in actuality it tends to be "we wouldn't be doing this if we were in government now but most likely won't alter it if we win the next election".  It's opposition in spirit only, while still taking a hit.

The odd thing is that on the whole, Ed Miliband has set out the general themes that the party needs to be focusing on.  The squeezed middle might be the least well defined social grouping in history, but living standards will undoubtedly dominate come 2015.  He set out a critique of predator capitalism, for which he was widely mocked by the media at the time, and yet tax avoidance by multinational corporations has become an issue as never before, while the spread of zero-hour contracts has exposed what a nonsense it is that employment law is in some way holding business back.  One Nation Labour has not been explained quite as well, but the potential is still there, especially as the Tories look set to go for a doctrinaire right-wing manifesto come 2015.  Should Scotland vote no next year, it certainly won't be due to gratitude for the coalition government.

Labour's problem isn't then just due to indecision within the party itself, it also reflects the sad state of politics more widely in the country.  We're told endlessly that politicians are all the same, yet present the electorate with an alternative and they don't want that either.  Up until very recently they thought cuts were unfair and harming the economy, but they didn't want to take the risk of loosening up, reflected through the lack of anything approaching street opposition as austerity as has been seen elsewhere in Europe.  The closest they've come to approving of an outsider is Nigel Farage for goodness sake, about as alternative as John Bishop is to Michael McIntyre.  This is where some of the criticism of Labour's current position gets silly: John Harris bemoans how Labour has missed the digital revolution, as though "a viral video" or a few more tweets from Balls and Miliband could make the difference.  You might have thought it would have been cleaved into a few skulls by now that only politics nerds and journalists are interested in passing Twitter frenzies, let alone such pointless campaigns as trying to ban page 3, but apparently not.

In effect, the main reason behind the whinges is that Labour isn't doing quite as well as it was.  It's not anything more deep seated than that.  How could it be?  Despite the despair of the likes of Dan Hodges or the equivalent from the opposite side by Owen Jones, the party remains where it is because it doesn't think the general public wants it any further left or right than where it currently is.  What's more, the opinion polls back them up.  Hardly any MPs voice outrage at what the coalition is doing to the welfare state, how Serco and G4S are not that far off from running the country or how the Tories seemed to have settled on creating growth through encouraging another housing bubble, for the precise reason that it's exactly what they would do if they were suddenly foisted into power.  Sure, they might do things ever so slightly differently, but not massively.  The most anger we've heard from a Labour MP recently has been Stella Creasy, and that was about fucking Twitter again.

More pertinently, why make the effort when the next election will be decided in such a small number of seats again?  For the Tories to win a majority they have to increase their share of the vote, something a party in government hasn't managed in a very long time.  They seem to think they can achieve this feat through repeating the same Lynton Crosby-honed themes over and over for the next two years: Labour is weak; Labour got us in this mess; Labour are the welfare party. Given a shorter timescale it might work, but keep it up for too long and it'll just become tiresome, even for those who don't pay attention.  The result we might have to face is another hung parliament, another five years of conglomeration and drift.  And the sad thing is, no one seems particularly upset by the prospect so long as they've got some hold on power.

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Friday, August 09, 2013 

Broken dreams.

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Thursday, August 08, 2013 

Save us from the trolls Dave!

There is growing pressure on social networking sites to do something about something tonight, as politicians and newspapers alike blame them for every single problem in the world today.

The prime minister David Cameron led the way, urging everyone to boycott until it stopped working as any sort of service.  Speaking to Sky News, Cameron said: "These people have got to step up to the chicken basket and show some responsibility.  Simply allowing users of the site to block anonymous messages isn't good enough.  If someone makes nuisance phone calls, we obviously don't hold the caller responsible; we blame BT for allowing the call through in the first place, even if they have so-called call blocking available.  The same goes for the postal service.  If a mail bomb slips through the net and it kills someone, then obviously the postman who delivered it should be held accountable.  It's just common sense."

Expanding on his theme, Cameron continued: "Now while it's true that I hadn't heard of this website until yesterday, that shouldn't stop me from talking about something I know absolutely nothing about.  I really do encourage a boycott, as I've also been told that the one organised by the delightful Caitlin Moran on Twitter was such a huge success last Sunday, at least until the new Doctor Who was announced.  If we stop using these sites, there's absolutely no chance whatsoever that people will simply move elsewhere, or that bullies will strike offline rather than online.  We must drain this eco-system of hate."

The tabloids meanwhile have called for more meaningful action.  Both the Sun and Daily Mail have demanded that be banned, once again demonstrating their profound understanding of how the internet works.  Neither paper has any truck with bullies, as the comments section on the Mail website regularly demonstrates, regarded universally as a haven of informed, reasonable debate.  Likewise, columnists Richard Littlejohn and Jan Moir would never dream of writing about minorities in a prejudiced or inflammatory style.  As for the Sun, only those with extremely long memories can recall that during its campaign for Baby Peter the social workers involved with his case were urged to kill themselves by those commenting online, something that might cause a few regrets considering that two of the paper's journalists charged in connection with Operation Elveden have since had their own mental health problems.

We asked a random nerd slamming away at a keyboard for his take on these events.  "It's all a bit knee jerk, isn't it?  For a start, we don't know exactly why these four young people took their own lives.  Were they just being bullied on, or were they being bullied offline as well?  Did they have other relationship problems, or had any relatives or friends recently been ill or died?  I've had depression myself, and I find it difficult to believe that it was just bullying online that led them to take such a drastic step.  It could have been the trigger, or the last straw certainly, but we can't just blame a website without knowing the full facts, and you would have thought anti-bullying and children's campaigners would know that."

"Besides, why is it that parental responsibility seems such a foreign concept when it comes to the internet?  Yes, it's difficult if you don't understand the technology and the slang, and when you can't have complete control due to almost every device now having net access, but clearly you have to talk with your kids about the sites they use and let them know they can always come to you if they don't feel safe.  It's no use blaming a service if you don't use the privacy settings it has available.  Those truly responsible here are the pathetic little shits who think it's hilarious to tell 14-year-old girls they're fat and ugly and should die. How about we go after the messengers rather than the message provider?"

"As for the tabloids, could you possibly tell it's the silly season? Any passing frenzy will do, even if it's likely that the internet as a whole helps those who feel excluded in real life far more than it harms those already vulnerable (just look at the It Gets Better campaign). They're also looking for anything to distract from their own far from honourable record when it comes to treating those who come to their attention with respect, especially as argument continues over the royal charter to establish the new press regulator."

A reward (a wine gum and a can of cream soda) is being offered for any information that leads to the tracking down of a Labour shadow minister.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013 

Don't you just love nostalgia for the 80s?

The Department for International Development today insisted that it was allocating aid according to need following allegations from a UKIP MEP that taxpayer's money was being sent to fictional countries.

Speaking at the Embassy comedy club, George Stereotype was recorded as saying: "An if it weren't bad enough that they're still all coming over ere, did you know that we're sending £1 billion a month to Bongo Bongo Land? The place doesn't even exist, and yet they're all swanning around in their Ray-Ban sunglasses, with their F18 fighter jets and nuclear powered toasters!  What about our people, having to live in cardboard boxes and get by on 15p a week and a kick up the arse if they're lucky?  It's treason, I tell ya, treason.  If you ask me, I'd string 'em all up.  An I mean all of 'em.  It's the only language they understand.  I'd do it myself an all, only I've got a bad back at the moment.  An I'm married to a Pole, so don't start with none of that racist bollocks.  An I pay two Kashmiris to be my friends.  I'm speaking for the common man, not these politically correct namby pamby shandy drinking southern softies down in that there London.  I met that Rod Liddle once.  Very clever man."

A spokesman for DfID, after a prolonged conversation with a man with an Australian accent, gave the following statement: "We would like to thank George Stereotype for bringing this issue to our attention.  As far we can ascertain, Bongo Bongo Land has not received any government aid since our records began in 1841.  We do however understand people's concerns about taxpayer's money being misspent, and so in future we will not be allocating any spending to countries where it is known that tribal drums are used.  We hope this reassures the general public.  I've also been asked to say that if you see anyone carrying around a set of bongos, don't be afraid to inform the Home Office so that their immigration status can be checked."

Having originally refused to apologise for publishing the original article, the Guardian has since shifted its position.  "We sincerely regret any genuine offence that was caused by presenting George Stereotype as a comedian.  He is clearly a highly accomplished politician, likely to be welcomed with open arms by the Conservative party in time for the next election.  All he needs to do is moderate his language slightly, and his fantastical tale of aid being spent on Ferraris and solid gold AK47s will be accepted by all right-thinking people as a perfectly accurate picture of our development programme."

The Labour leader Ed Miliband is still missing.

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