Friday, August 28, 2015 

Helelyos.

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House of Lords number crunching.

8 - Number of Lib Dems voters saw fit to return to parliament after five years of coalition with the Conservatives

11 - Number of Lib Dems nominated to the House of Lords for services to the Conservative party

2 - Number of former Lib Dem MPs knighted for their help in getting the Conservatives their first majority in 23 years

4 - Number of honours handed out to various people for services to Nick Clegg

3 - Number of Downing Street staff given the resurrected British Empire Medal, a bauble recognising something that no longer exists, to honour years of service to politicians regardless of stripe

1 - Person bewildered by politicians' continuing insistence on making the public despise them, i.e. me

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Thursday, August 27, 2015 

The worst is yet to come.

When it comes to covering breaking news, broadcasters and live bloggers are always going to be damned if they do and damned if they don't.  Yesterday's murders in Virginia, notable internationally only because it involved two journalists being shot at live on air (however harsh that sounds) were always going to involve an element of voyeurism precisely for that reason.  When they had already shown video of Adam Ward's camera hitting the floor and played the audio of the gunshots and Alison Parker's screams, as without it this was just another shooting in a country that sees dozens every day, it was hardly a leap to then linking to or hosting the videos the murderer himself shot.  If one outlet decided not to, others would have done, while at the same time the videos were being shared on Twitter and Facebook regardless.

Getting too sanctimonious about the initial coverage is pointless.  Decisions on featuring content that previously would have been debated intensely now have to be made in a matter of seconds, like it or not.  The 24-hour news monster may have been created by the media themselves, but it has long since been overtaken by the demands of consumers.  The BBC was criticised earlier in the month for taking slightly longer than its competitors to report on the death of Cilla Black, as it apparently awaited confirmation from a family member, for instance.

As I've argued in the past, looking for the transgressive, the extreme, the forbidden is just as normal as not looking for it.  Judging people that choose to seek out the worst the internet has to offer, so long as that worst does not break the law, is not going to change minds, whether it's the hacked personal photographs of celebrities or Islamic State propaganda (and that so much as watching videos by Islamic extremists is enough in some cases to get you arrested is a disgrace in itself).  At worst it is the height of hypocrisy: I've seen this material, I'm pretty much telling you where to find it if you so wish, but you're a terrible human being if you do.

This said, it should always be the active choice of the person to watch such material.  Click and be damned.  Search and be damned.  When newspapers, forced or rather unable to compete with such rivals then make the decision to put on their front pages images shot by the killer pointing his gun at Parker, with the Sun going so far as to screencap the exact frame when he fired the first shot, grabbing the flash of the muzzle, the question of complicity comes very much into play, without any of the grounding that say films that have asked their audience why they're still watching have done.  If anything, printing mere shots from the video is far worse than watching the whole thing.  The grabs show the murderer as he imagined himself, in a position of power, stalking his victim, waiting for the moment he decides is best for taking the life of another person, for maximum impact.  The full video shows Parker's absolute panic and terror, inviting sympathy and empathy for her and Ward.  It also reminds of just how common gun violence is in the United States, an epidemic that could be curtailed if only there was the political will to do so.

It has also left almost anyone who has gone into a supermarket, off licence or onto a garage forecourt without the ability to make the active choice as to whether or not to see someone in the process of taking a life.  Again, that this happened in the US has without doubt played a role in the editorial decisions: had it been in this country, it seems unlikely the papers that chose to use those grabs would have come to the same decision, precisely because the backlash would have been all the fiercer.  The Sun for one made clear last year it would not print any of the images from the IS video that showed the murder of Alan Henning, as they would not give his "absurd murderers the publicity they crave".  The killer of Parker and Ward may not have filmed his attack partially for the purpose of spreading fear, but he clearly did so knowing full well that he was about to have the publicity he had long craved and believed he had been wrongly denied.  His task done, he further denied the families of the two people he killed proper justice by taking his own life.

You could if you so wished put the shooting and its aftermath down as just the latest extreme example of the latent narcissism that drives a minority into believing they are entitled to something they're convinced they've been wrongfully denied.  It also though reflects on the media that so often encourages such beliefs, that thinks so little about the impact it has, and which it would be foolish to dismiss outright as having very little overall impact.  It also, sadly, marks the beginning of what thanks to advances in technology and the internet of things is bound to be just the first in a series of acts committed with the intention of garnering the maximum possible publicity.  It can only be so long before a spree killer streams live his trail of murder and horror, before someone who believes he has nothing to lose tortures a kidnap victim while taunting journalists, the police and the social networks over their failure to find where his feed is coming from.  If yesterday was a challenge to the media's sense of ethics, morals and news values, the future promises far worse.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015 

Another post in the making myself even less popular series.

Earlier in the month you might just recall we had days of coverage on the varying allegations made against Ted Heath.  Every police force in the country seemed to be launching investigations into claims made against the deceased former prime minister, to the point where it was decided Wiltshire police, the force whose superintendent had decided to make an appeal to other potential victims to come forward from outside what was Heath's home, would supervise the other inquiries.

It does strike as just slightly odd then that mere weeks later a genuinely extraordinary press conference by Harvey Proctor, during which he outlined in full the allegations of both child sexual abuse and murder, made not just against him but other senior members of the establishment, has slipped down the news agenda quite so quickly.  Only the Mail and Independent lead with it on their front pages, and beyond the interviews Proctor gave, little in the way of further analysis of the claims being made about a Westminster/establishment paedophile ring has been forthcoming.  One has to wonder if whether this might either be as a result of a request from the Metropolitan police, who yesterday were declining to comment on Proctor's media blitz, or if others have taken the same tact as the Guardian, declining to name the other figures identified out of a misplaced sense of not further spreading unproven allegations.

Some of it can undoubtedly be put down to the extravagant, hyperbolic way in which Proctor put his message across.  Either he should be arrested, charged and prosecuted immediately, or his accuser, known only as "Nick", should be charged with wasting police time, while the officer in charge of Operation Midland, Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, should either resign, be sacked or demoted to traffic duties.  Oh, and both should be medically examined to ensure they are of sound mind.

Proctor has done himself no favours with such personal attacks.  He does though have absolutely every right to be as angry and bewildered as he is.  When someone makes allegations as lurid and as serious as the ones that Nick has, not just against Harvey Proctor but, to reel off the list Proctor was provided with, Ted Heath, Leon Brittan, Lord Janner, Lord Bramall, the heads at the time of both MI5 and MI6, General Sir Hugh Beach, a man called Ray Beech, as well as to be asked as to whether he knew or had any association with Jimmy Savile, Leslie Goddard or Peter Hayman, the expectation has to be that they will be investigated thoroughly, properly, and without favour or prejudice.  Instead, one of McDonald's first actions following the interviews with Nick was to hold a press conference at which he said that he believed the allegations made to be not just credible, but "true".  Nick has since appeared on television a number of times to relate his story, albeit with any details beyond that he was abused by establishment figures and also witnessed the murder of three other boys almost entirely shorn from the interviews.

Now that we know precisely whom Nick is accusing, it does, as Proctor said, seem "so farfetched as to be unbelievable".  As Evan Davis nearly summarised on Newsnight last night, either the very worst fears of an establishment abuse ring and cover-up are true, or this is the biggest witch-hunt since the Satanic abuse panic of the late 80s/early 90s, with some of the same individuals involved.  The police strategy appears on the surface at least to have been to give publicity to Nick's allegations in the hope that other witnesses will come forward to corroborate them.  If anyone has, it would seem their accounts haven't matched, leaving the Met with little evidence other than Nick's statements.  This would explain why despite searching Proctor's home and twice interviewing him under caution, he has not been arrested.

Instead, the police have allowed the drip, drip of the claims against various figures, not just Proctor and Heath, to continue for the best part of the 9 months.  In the vanguard has been Exaro News, the online agency that has come to specialise in investigating cases of historic child abuse, with a journalist from Exaro apparently sitting in on the interviews between the police and Nick.  Exaro also had the scoop on just when Proctor was to be raided and interviewed, whether as a result of the police telling Nick and Nick informing Exaro, or being told directly.

Nick's testimony, regardless of the figures he says were involved in his abuse, is clearly compelling.  Without other witnesses however, or when most of those named are either dead or advanced in age, it's left the police with almost nowhere to go.  When you've already declared the account given by the witness to be true, a word that Exaro notably have been leaving out of their defences of Nick, saying only that he is regarded as credible, to then not act against Proctor other than to leave him to be judged in the court of public opinion is deeply troubling.  Proctor's claims of a homosexual witch-hunt may be over done, at least when it comes to the police, but that these allegations have been made repeatedly and principally against gay men does raise concern.

As does so much about the way these cases have been reported and consumed.  I don't know whether Nick's account is true, nor do I know if as Proctor protests, he is innocent.  You might well have thought that Proctor's downfall in 1987 over rent boys, albeit ones that would now be above the age of consent, would have led to these even more sensational claims coming to the fore sooner, for instance.  


Nonetheless, the more serious and the higher allegations of wrongdoing go, the rule normally is the more evidence is needed in order to convince.  Neither the police or media have come close to providing anything other than innuendo or a single, necessarily anonymous source to back up the claims being made.  The so close to almost be inseparable involvement of a media organisation with both the witness and the investigating state body also raises alarm bells.  For the same media organisations that have had no problem with repeatedly publicising allegations against senior figures without naming them or detailing exactly what they have been accused of to suddenly blanch when the principal accused sets out in unflinching detail the rapes, the stabbings, the running over of a 12-year-old, a list of exactly who is being accused, it smacks of them thinking that their readers will conclude they've been strung along for months once they're given the whole picture, rather than as Exaro laughably claims, about "avoiding contaminating the evidence pool".

This still doesn't explain why so many have been convinced from the moment Nick's allegations were first made public that they were true.  Exaro yesterday retweeted someone who asked them to send their regards as Nick was a source of "hope".  If that's out of the sense that survivors of abuse will be believed, fine.  If however it's because many want Nick's account to be true because it will prove accurate the worst fears or rather prejudices many have long had for politicians, especially Conservative ones, as it's difficult not to detect, that's something quite different.  Barth's Notes puts it down to a form of anti-establishment millennialism, but to me it reminds of Nick Davies' mea culpa over the murder of Hilda Murrell, an anti-nuclear campaigner whose death became a cause celebre in the 80s.  


Then it was the shadow of the secret state combined with the viciousness of the Thatcher era.  Now it's the spectre of the failure to expose Jimmy Savile while he was alive, combined with the general contempt for politicians and the belief that exposing the figures of the past will do for their successors today.  Others call for the abused to always be listened to regardless of how outlandish their claims may seem, ignoring how if it turns out that Nick's story is false or doesn't lead to prosecutions the damage likely to be done to public faith in similar exposes will be considerable.  Like what Proctor did or not, his actions are a more than understandable response to the mistakes and questionable decisions of both Exaro and the Metropolitan police. 

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 

Being right about the Iraq war has made Sarah Ditum insufferable.

I, like Sarah Ditum, was against the Iraq war.  I, like Ditum, focused on the potential for war to the detriment of everything else, with the exception of one thing.  I was a few years younger than Ditum, but otherwise the picture she paints is highly recognisable.  Perhaps I wouldn't go as far to say that it gave me an overwhelming sense of moral superiority, as it didn't, mainly because I'm rarely 100% certain about anything.  I definitely hoped that other people I admired would be anti-war too though.

Which is where we must separate.  I long ago reached the point of being bored senseless by Iraq; there are only so many times the same arguments can be regurgitated, the same realities ignored, the same mistakes repeated before you lose the will to carry on.  I might not feel morally superior for it, but I'm more convinced than ever that Iraq will come to be seen as the defining disaster of early 21st century foreign policy.  It's just that there seems little to no point whatsoever in acting high and mighty about it, or reminding everyone just how right you were, precisely because most other people who were also energised and enraged by the build up to the war are now also in a similar position.  Shutting the fuck up about Iraq is something I would have advised everyone to do, or at least would have done prior to the rise of Islamic State.

For the reason that you can't talk about Islamic State without recognising where the group came from.  Islamic State owes its existence to the Iraq war, even if its existence can hardly be wholly blamed on the West as some would like to.  Al-Qaida probably had at best a handful of members in Iraq prior to the invasion.  Afterwards, thanks to the Americans and our good selves deciding it would be a spiffing idea to carry on with an occupation that was doomed from the start, foreign Sunni extremists, domestic Islamists and nationalists/Ba'athists opposed to the foreign presence swiftly made common cause and so began the insurgency.  The forerunners to Islamic State changed name repeatedly, seemed on a couple of occasions on the brink of defeat, but thanks to mistakes by the Western-backed Iraqi government, were never degraded completely.  It's a very long way from the bombing of the UN building in August 2003 to the destruction of the Baal temple in Palmyra in Syria in August 2015, but the two outrages are connected.

No, what Ditum seems to be describing is, once again, and as Flying Rodent has also pointed out, her own private Idaho.  The left she's talking about and identifies is the same one trapped in the social media echo chamber, the one where as fellow New Statesman columnist Helen Lewis has recently identified, appearing right on is more important than actually being so when it matters.  I mean really, Media Lens?  I too quite liked them back between around 2003-2006, then lost interest once it became apparent they believed their real enemies to be the few mainstream outlets in this country that are even vaguely left-wing.  It's very easy to be snotty about Twitter, especially when you're someone who has always refused to have anything to do with it, but it undoubtedly can and has made some even more parochial in their interests and selective in precisely what information they rely on.

Ditum's real point, more really than Iraq, is about how this relatively small cross-section of people are among the most vocal in supporting Jeremy Corbyn.  They no doubt are, and considering that the SNP have long been some of the most noisy in making known their opposition to the war, despite having done very little at the time about it, it's not surprising that some of these same people were not like us marching around our miserable little town centres knowing full well it was pointless.  Mainly because plenty of them were, like Mhairi Black, not even into double figures age wise at the time.  That's how long ago it was, even if it doesn't feel like it.

Iraq does and at the same time doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter because the vast majority have long since grown bored of it, or if they aren't exasperated by its mere mention they don't base their decisions when it comes to voting on something that happened 13 years ago.  And yet, it does matter, not because there is this noisy minority that overwhelmingly supports Corbyn, some of whom regarded Iraq as the ultimate betrayal and have been holding out for a hero ever since, but because it's Corbyn's largely irrelevant attitudes towards foreign policy, at least from a Labour leadership standpoint, that have been where most of the mud thrown at him has been found.

The reason this especially seems to enrage his online opponents is that unlike them, he's been able to make common course with groups or individuals that are rightly controversial, in this instance ones that have either made anti-Semitic comments or are definitively anti-Semitic, and yet it hasn't damaged him.  It doesn't seem to occur this is because Corbyn himself is not racist in the slightest, and that the best explanation for his continuing to attend Deir Yassin Remembered meetings or speak at a conference organised by a front organisation for the LaRouche group is down to not checking out their credentials properly or naivety, alongside his general friendliness towards any organisation that seems on the surface at least to share his views.  Also, unlike them, his willingness to not instantly condemn any group in the search for peace, his experience with the IRA having informed this approach, rankles more than anything.  Ideological purity is always important regardless of whether it's the far left or the Labour right involved in the whatabouttery.

Except, of course, it's not Corbyn's anti-war position on Iraq that has led him to associate with most of these accused individuals and groups, but his stance on Palestine, as Ditum must know.  Iraq has very little to nothing to do with his rise in the contest; as Andy Burnham has recognised, the real reason for Corbyn's surge was the welfare vote.  As I related yesterday, only 2 people at the Burnham question and answer session mentioned Iraq, one of them a Tory, the other asking not about Iraq specifically but mentioning it in regard to conviction.  If anything, Corbyn telling the Graun he would issue a general apology for the Iraq war was a response to the Labour figures that have made so much of his views on foreign policy, pointing out the ridiculousness of such people lecturing others over what is and isn't acceptable.

Ditum is right that being right about Iraq is not a good enough foundation for political life, but Corbyn isn't relying on it as his foundation in any case.  The question ought to be what is preferable, knowing what we do now: is remaining an interventionist by instinct going to count in your favour when we have not just Iraq, but also Libya to judge by?  Is bombing in Syria as well as Iraq, as it is after all worth remembering that technically we are currently involved in the third Iraq war, really going to alter anything, especially when we seem to have just abandoned the Kurds in favour of the Turks?  Has in fact our belief that we have the "responsibility to protect" undermined both national and international security, making our protests against Russia's annexation of the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine even easier for Putin and other imperialists to ignore?  And isn't much of the insufferable banging on about Iraq in any case not about what went wrong at all levels of government, what mistakes everyone involved made, but in fact about one man, who has become just as much the scapegoat for the failings of all concerned, driving force as he was?  Indeed, shouldn't we truly learn the lessons of Iraq, as we clearly still haven't, before condemning a small group of annoyingly self-righteous people whose politics have been defined by it?

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Monday, August 24, 2015 

The interminable adventures of a Labour supporter, pt. 1.

There are many ways to spend a weekend.  I doubt most people's idea of a good time would be going to see the former frontrunner in the Labour leadership election try his best to persuade other legendarily boring gits to vote for him, but this apparently is my life now as an official Labour supporterâ„¢.  Or at least it will be until some bright spark connects my real name to this blog, where I have previously said to vote for parties other than Labour, something considered enough to bar you from being a member or supporter, even if you campaigned for the party or said to vote for them this year.  With new friends, eh?

Anyway, just a few points:

1. I estimate between 150 to 200 turned up to see Andy Burnham speak and then take questions, certainly more than I expected.  Jeremy Corbyn has been filling far bigger places than where we were, getting numbers in the region of 800-1200, but Burnham himself seem pleased with the turnout.  Considering where I live is at the best of times devoid of anything approaching culture (the coming attraction at the local theatre is Shrek The Musical) and completely apolitical, I don't think it was bad going.  I've been to stand-up gigs where the numbers could be counted on a single pair of hands, if that's a comparable metric.  (Yes, yes it is).

2. The only person to mention Jeremy Corbyn was... Andy Burnham.  To the point where it almost seemed as though he was the man who couldn't be named.

3. The most intriguing thing Burnham said by far was that if he'd resigned from the shadow cabinet over the welfare bill, he expects he'd probably still be the frontrunner.  And indeed, he's almost certainly right to think so.  He didn't however because he's never broken the Labour whip, loyalty to the party being far more important than taking personal advantage.  Unity is strength, he repeated, a number of times.  Apart from being just a word away from one of the key slogans of Ingsoc from 1984, it seemed on a number of levels to be a truly odd line to take and regard as a plus point.  There's nothing wrong with resigning over a point of principle, especially when the politics behind the line being pushed are so utterly wrongheaded.  Moreover, if Burnham had resigned and gained accolades for doing so, much of the ridiculously damaging in-fighting that has since been conducted over the rise of Corbyn would have been avoided.  It seemed like a false line, precisely what the rival campaigns of Cooper and Kendall have accused him repeatedly of adopting.

4.  Regardless, Burnham was more impressive than I expected him to be.  Yes, he's obviously had a lot of practice in delivering his short speech and in answering questions put to him, but he did so with admirable fluency, taking three questions at a time and answering them in turn, without resorting to cliches, platitudes or padding out his responses.  His only real annoying tick was in referring to Cameron and pals more than once as "the Bullingdon boys", which apart from being increasingly old and a bit rich from a Cambridge graduate, hasn't really posed said "Bullingdon boys" much trouble with the voters, has it?  Should he come through on second preferences, I'm less concerned than before that he will just be Ed Miliband Mk2.

5.  I wasn't though in the slightest bit convinced.  On the surface, there's much to like about Burnham: his manifesto is the most detailed apart from Corbyn's, has a good line in creating a National Health and Care Service, funded through a care levy, and behind Kendall would be the candidate the Tories most fear.  He seems to be a Thoroughly Good Bloke, certainly less weird or geeky than that loser MIliband, something we're informed voters respect greatly, despite also much liking politicians who are complete dicks. 

What he lacks is that ruthlessness Ed did occasionally show; the point I felt like making, but didn't, both because it was more of a statement than a question and although this blog hides it, I'm far more shy and retiring than you might imagine, was that if he had resigned over the welfare vote and hadn't joined in with the others in the aftermath of the election in the accepting everything the Tories, Blairites and right-wing press said about why Labour lost, he might already have it in the bag.  He answered a question about conviction from someone who was clearly leaning towards Corbyn by saying that we should look at his role in the Hillsborough inquiry as to how he will challenge vested interests and the right people.  This would mean more if it hadn't taken the 20th anniversary memorial at Anfield to spark his determination; the passing of time meant there was little real opposition to taking another look, the Sun having repeatedly tried by that point to apologise, if the police and state were yet to.

Labour needs, deserves better than someone who only acts once the time is right, who only moves once others have done so.  Burnham seems the compromise, and despite the party needing to come to a compromise once the leader is elected, doing so over the leader isn't the answer.  That said, I would now like to see Liz Kendall speak and answer questions in person, although she seems to have abandoned the pretence of doing much other than TV and radio appearances and calling individual members, for obvious reasons.

6.  The only entryist in evidence was a Tory councillor who for reasons known only to himself decided to gatecrash the event and prove he had an even more pathetic existence than the rest of us.  His question, when he could have easily made everyone uncomfortable by asking about the deficit or Corbyn, was to ask Burnham why Tony Blair lied over Iraq.  Yes, really.

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Friday, August 21, 2015 

Crickets.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015 

New victim of Labour purge identified.

There was consternation today after it emerged Ed Miliband's incipient beard has been denied a vote in the Labour leadership election.  The new facial appendage was informed via email, in what has been dubbed the "great Labour purge", that it does not support the "aims and values" of the party.

"It's an outrageous decision," said Keith Flett, chief executive of the Beard Liberation Front.  "The idea that beards are anything but rooted in Labour values is absurd.  From Marx and Engels to Keir Hardie, from Ramsay MacDonald to that apology for a moustache that once took up space below Ken Livingstone's nose, from Peter Mandelson to Robin Cook, facial hair and the Labour party have always gone together.  To deny this is to deny history.  The Milibeard must have its vote restored forthwith."

A spokesman for the Labour party, who refused to comment on whether he too had decided to forgo using a razor for a couple of weeks, denied that the decision had been made in error.  "We have reason to believe that the Milibeard is an unconscious attempt on the part of Ed to indicate support for Jeremy Corbyn.  As all former leaders are required to either keep shtum or endorse Yvette Cooper, we had no option but to remove his vote."

It as yet unclear whether Ed plans to add to his new hipster image by getting a sleeve tattoo and opening a breakfast cereal pop-up eatery in Shoreditch.

In other news:

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