Thursday, November 20, 2014 

The speed of stupid.

It's hard to disagree with Chris when he writes of a turn away from politics.  Not in the sense of apathy, but in how so many appear incapable of seeing the wood for the trees.  Never has it been so possible to fully immerse yourself in politics, and yet many of those who chose to do so spend much of it squabbling at the margins.

Take just today's example:  Labour MP Emily Thornberry tweets a picture of a house in Rochester with three England flags adorning the outside.  There's also a white van in the drive.  Image from #Rochester is the message.  Almost instantly she's jumped on for her apparent blatant snobbery, veteran idiot Dan Hodges describes it as "an entire political movement defined by a single tweet", and those whom should know better like Anne Perkins are describing it as Labour's biggest mistake since Ed Miliband stabbed Myleene Klass live on TV (is this right? Ed).

Small things like how Thornberry had already tweeted a photo of a "vote Felix" sign and what ordinary voters had told her under a Tales from #Rochester hashtag obviously don't matter.  Her explanation, that she was surprised by how the flags were blocking a window entirely also makes no odds.  Clearly just a feeble effort from an Islington liberal to deny her own bigotry.  Right on cue, in calls a hopping mad Ed Miliband to reprimand Thornberry for not considering absolutely every possible way her tweet could be interpreted, and the inevitable apology is made.

Which is the key.  Being incredibly loud and not giving in works.  It's why #gamergate is still going on, despite everyone having long since forgotten what it was meant to be about.  It's why Sheffield United have now retracted their training offer to Ched Evans, Julien Blanc was refused a visa, and a real life Nathan Barley received far more attention than his alleged comedy had previously once he became the target for campaigners.  Both left and right can lead a monstering in this brave new world, where tribalism meets narcissism and threats are the most powerful currency.  Forgive me if nihilism seems ever more attractive.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014 

Bringing out the worst.

By-elections in marginal seats always without fail bring out the absolute worst in politicians.  They know full well that in the grand scheme of things i.e., as a guide to what might happen at the general election they're meaningless, and yet still they campaign as though it's the last ballot ever.  Every Conservative MP we're told has been ordered to visit Rochester and Strood 3 times, while cabinet ministers are expected to have made the journey 5 times.  Bizarrely, no one seems to have connected this swamping of the constituency with those lovable rogues from Westminster and the continuing rise in support for UKIP.  Can you imagine just how hellacious it must be to turn one corner and see Michael Gove in all his finery, and then discover Jacob Rees-Mogg further down the road holding forth on the iniquities of EU farming subsidies?  And this has been going on for a month.

24 hours before the vote and the campaign has predictably ended in a battle over whether it's the Tories or UKIP who are going to be nastiest to migrants.  For sure, it's being conducted as though it's truly outrageous Mark Reckless could ever have suggested Poles might be repatriated should the UKIPs' vision of leaving the EU become a reality, while the UKIPs for their part are feigning contempt for Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst's letter-cum-leaflet which nearly suggests people might not feel safe walking the mean streets of Rochester because of uncontrolled immigration, but let's not kid ourselves here.  The fight over who can move closest to shutting our borders completely without being objectively racist or invoking the old policies of the BNP/National Front has been going on for some time now, and just when you think they've gotten near as damn it, they inch ever nearer.  The "go home" vans were just the start.

Because the by-election is obviously all about immigration, see?  It's all the Tories want to discuss, it's all Labour wants to broach, and err, are the Liberal Democrats bothering to stand a candidate?  Oh, they are.  That's £500 wasted then.  It's also the only topic the media wants to cover, as they can't seem to handle the idea a by-election might be about more than just the one issue, especially when they decided beforehand it was the only thing anyone was interested in.  As Frances Coppola writes, and she's unlucky enough to live in the constituency, even the BBC's local political editor says it's the immigration, stupid, and this in a piece headlined issues beyond immigration and in which she concedes the main topic of discussion on the doorsteps is the local NHS hospital.

Other reporters point towards concerns about the Medway as well and, staggeringly, this might just be why Mark Reckless despite being far less popular than UKIP itself seems to be winning.  It's also no doubt helpful the Conservatives haven't learned anything from the Eastleigh by-election, where it was decided their candidate should try and out-UKIP the UKIPs and came third for her trouble.  Tolhurst if elected will apparently "demand something be done" immediately, although seeing as David Cameron is yet to figure out exactly how to temper free movement without angering business and coming off the worst at the European Commission it's not exactly clear what the tactic will achieve.

Then we have the never knowingly unconfused Labour party.  Last week Ed made great play of how Labour wouldn't pander to UKIP, as once you looked "[at their vision] it is not really very attractive".  This week, first up was Yvette Cooper informing the world one more time it's not racist to be concerned about immigration as she announced yet another new border force, this time complete with shiny uniforms, and then yesterday it was Rachel Reeves' turn.  Apart from the heart sinking at the very mention of the name, it's an odd sort of not pandering to all but agree with the greatest myth of them all, that it's the welfare system attracting EU migrants and not the promise of better paid work, or increasingly, a job at all.

In the name of listening to real concerns people have Labour will prevent migrants claiming out of work benefits until they've paid into the system for two years, an arbitrary period of time if there ever was one, and also stop migrants from claiming child tax credits and child benefit for children back in their home countries.  Reeves also intends to look at migrants claiming tax credits in general, as "it is far too easy for employers in Britain to undercut wages and working conditions ... knowing that the benefit system will top up their income".  The inference seems to be it's fine if Brits have their income topped up in such a way as has become the norm, rightly or wrong, while for migrants it's a subsidy too far.

Quite apart from the obvious problem of basic fairness, one the EU isn't likely to peer kindly on, it once again makes you wonder if the logical next step isn't to extend the same restrictions on JSA to everyone. Small things like how claimants are sanctioned for the slightest alleged "infraction" don't matter, nor does the false economy of reducing so many to relying on food banks, a development Labour has never condemned too loudly, presumably as it has no intention of changing the JobCentre regime.

If as expected UKIP win tomorrow it most likely won't result in the reckoning or further defections some predict.  For a start we're getting too close to next May for there to be any point in more by-elections prior to then, especially when UKIP's real aim has always been to keep the Farage bandwagon rolling on.  Second, if more defections are in the offing, delaying them until nearer the election will damage Cameron and the Conservatives that much more.  Third, it'll go some way towards confirming a pattern: as we saw in Clacton, voters who already favoured their MP aren't too bothered if they move slightly more to the right, especially when most Tory voters are sympathetic to UKIP in the first place.  There was some anger locally at Reckless's betrayal, but if anything Tory support will likely hold up thanks to tactical voting.  Lastly, the sensible will point out how by-elections are always fought on local, rather than national politics.  No doubt however the media and parties both come Friday will be crowing on how it proves immigration is set to dominate next May.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014 

Ched Evans is an unashamed rapist. That doesn't mean he shouldn't play football again.

Amid the outrage, the group resignation of patrons from Sheffield United Community Foundation and 160,000+ signatures calling for him not to be re-signed, you'll struggle to find any summary of how and why Chedwyn (you can see why he shortens it to Ched) Evans was convicted of rape, beyond that his victim was drunk and the jury decided that while she had consented to sex with Clayton McDonald, she did not with Evans.

This isn't because it suggests Evans is, as he claims, innocent, guilty only of infidelity to his girlfriend, who has supported him throughout.  If anything, it makes him look even worse.  According to the account provided by the Court of Appeal, the facts are these.  The victim  "literally stumbled across McDonald's path" some time after 3am on the morning of the 29/30th of May 2011.  CCTV footage from before then shows her falling over in a kebab shop, and indeed, she was such the worse for wear she left her handbag behind.  The taxi driver who took McDonald and the victim to a nearby Premier Inn said the victim's "upper clothing was somewhat dishevelled".  While in the taxi McDonald texted Evans "telling him that he had 'got a bird' or words to that effect".  The night porter at the Premier Inn described the victim as "extremely drunk".

Some time after the pair were showed to the room, Evans arrived with two other male friends.  Evans persuaded the porter to give him the key card to the room as he had "booked the room for a friend who no longer needed it".  McDonald and the victim stopped having sex when he opened the door.  This is when according to Evans the victim was asked whether he "could join in" and she replied in the affirmative.  The night porter, for whatever reason checking on what was happening, heard what he thought was a couple having sex and thought no more of it.  Evans' friends meanwhile were outside the bedroom window filming the goings on until the curtains were drawn.  It doesn't seem their recording picked up the exchange Evans says there was between him and the victim.

About half an hour later Evans and McDonald left the room.  McDonald spoke to the porter before leaving the hotel, telling him to look out for the girl in room 14 as she was sick, while Evans went through a fire exit.  Both men then went back to Evans' home.  The victim woke up at 11:30am with no memory of what had gone on, and straight away went to the police.

The prosecution's case was the room at the Premier Inn was booked for the "sole purpose of procuring a girl or girls later that night".  The defence stated Evans had in fact booked it for McDonald and a friend to use to stay in.  Despite being in Rhyl all evening, it seems McDonald hadn't succeeded in meeting anyone who wanted to go back to the hotel with him until by chance a young woman he must have realised was extremely drunk approached him and asked what he was doing.  The jury in acquitting McDonald and finding Evans guilty seems likely to have decided, as the Court of Appeal puts it
 

that even if the complainant did not, in fact, consent to sexual intercourse with either of the two men, that in the light of his part in what happened -- the meeting in the street and so on -- McDonald may reasonably have believed that the complainant had consented to sexual activity with him, and at the same time concluded that the applicant [Evans] knew perfectly well that she had not consented to sexual activity with him (the applicant).

They also note the jury might have considered the different ways in which McDonald and Evans left the hotel to have been relevant.

Regardless of what you think of the behaviour of all involved, the case was as the CoA puts it, a "classic case for decision by the jury".  A different jury might well have reached a different verdict on the same evidence.  Nonetheless, all of Evans' appeals to date have failed.  It could be he is the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice.  It could also be, and it has to be said this is my view, that both he and McDonald took despicable advantage of someone they must have known to have been incapable of truly consenting to sex.  When you then consider the further extenuating circumstances, that immediately after Evans' conviction the victim's name was being spread on Twitter and she was being denounced as a liar and worse, not to mention his wholesale lack of remorse, you can more than understand why some don't want to see Evans playing football for Sheffield United again.

Except the campaign against Evans isn't being fought on those grounds, for the good reason a person sent to prison shouldn't be stopped from returning to their job once released unless it was directly relevant to the crime, or if the conviction makes it impossible for them to resume, i.e. if they were in a position of true authority.  All the onus has instead been put on the "role model" argument, the exact same one so often snatched at by tabloids when they've uncovered a footballer having an affair or a celebrity taking drugs, having failed to prove hypocrisy.  This assumes first that anyone who plays football at a professional level can be held up as a role model, that the simple act of pulling on a football shirt elevates them above normal mortals and demands they show extra responsibility, lest anyone is naive enough to think what a player does off the pitch is just as worthy of emulation as what they do on it.  This is quite the burden to put on the shoulders of young players, whom regardless of their new found status are likely to be just as immature as their peers who aren't in the public eye.

Second, the argument seems to suggest some people can be so overawed by the status of someone they admire that any other bearing on their thinking, whether it be friends, parents or siblings can be disregarded.  There is perhaps something to Jean Hatchet stating that for Sheffield United to re-sign Evans would be to send a message that "men who commit such atrocious crimes will suffer only a small penance whilst the women they attack suffer for the rest of their lives", but Evans, whether he plays again for United or not, will forever be remembered as being convicted of rape and having caused this entire furore.  Some Sheffield United fans have responded in a way that gives credence to the claim re-signing Evans trivialises his offence, and the club while condemning the abuse meted out to Jessica Ennis-Hill could have justified its decision to allow Evans to train with the team instead of hiding behind the PFA's request far better, yet fans will nearly always defend their club when they perceive it as under attack, as we saw with Liverpool and Luis Suarez.  Sheffield United players have not worn t-shirts defending Evans for one thing.

It's also come to something when Julie Bindel, of all people, wonders if the campaigns against Dapper Laughs and Julien Deblanc aren't in danger of morphing into a censorship akin to the one her generation detested when it was led by Mary Whitehouse.  Evans is clearly a separate issue, but it does as she writes distract from dealing with the wider issue of misogyny and outdated attitudes in general in the game; when Richard Scudamore can say he wouldn't employ a rapist, but is more than happy to bully smaller clubs and remain friends with people who refer to women as "gash" then it's not as though an example is being set at the very top.  The underlying sentiment may be the right one; whether Evans and Sheffield United are the right target at the right time remains to be seen.

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Monday, November 17, 2014 

Islamic State and the "glamour" of war.

If there's one thing war most certainly isn't, it's glamorous.  Only the truly chuckleheaded try and make it look that way, most of whom are by coincidence looking for fresh recruits.  All too often accounts of soldiers, defenders, even those on the offensive, fall into adulation and hero worship, any qualms about the hideousness of what those being chronicled are doing, for the greater good or not, forgotten amid the need to create a myth.  Those defending Kobani against Islamic State for instance are without a doubt fighting a noble cause, against an enemy whose inhumanity, barbarity and bloodlust is most certainly not mythical.  They are not however uniquely heroic, the best of humanity against the worst or any other hyperbole; they're still a militia, a people's militia or not, and turning your back on any militia isn't advisable.

Islamic State is hardly likely then to document how their fighters around Kobani will be shitting in dug pits, if of course they have enough food to be able to think about shitting, desperate for water or any liquid, constantly watching the skies terrified of a drone or US warplane getting too close for comfort.  No, instead they ramp up how a tiny minority when not on the front line are housed in seized properties where it's not all that different to back home, chilling with their Muslim brothers, truly living rather than merely existing, as they would have been had they stayed in Jeddah, Tunis or err, Portsmouth.

As Shiraz Maher says, the stuff IS does make available to the world is of "exceptional quality", at least in comparison to a decade ago when IS's predecessors were uploading videos depicting much the same thing, only it appeared to have been filmed with a potato.  It's also revealing in how it mixes the utterly banal with the unbelievably narcissistic, the most vapid and disposable of Western culture appropriated to promote a creed and cause antithetical to everything Hollywood holds dear.  Under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's glorious caliphate, the message seems to be, even the executions will be choreographed and directed by someone with much the same talent as Michael Bay or McG.  Not for these poor bastards a bullet in the back of the head; whereas before IS eschewed all out gore, the screen fading to black as a Western hostage's neck began to be slashed, the camera on this occasion delights in the blood spilled onto sand, the vivid red deliberately set against the dull yellow for maximum impact.

It's not meant for me, of course.  This is your fate, it says to those in Syria and Iraq fighting against IS, whether it be government forces, the Kurds, Shia militias or rebel factions they might have once battled alongside.  This is what you could be doing, it says to the disaffected radically inclined Sunni youth of everywhere, whether they be psychopaths, the sexually frustrated or those with notions of doing good, all are invited and welcome.  Sure, our masked friend with the London accent is once again centre stage, promising to bring the slaughter he's about to lead to "our streets", but it's an empty threat.  After cutting the neck of the man who a second ago was kneeling before him, he then pulls his victim's head back, slow motion is deployed, and he fixes the camera with what is meant to be a stare of defiance.  All I see in those eyes is fear.  A supposed terrorist not at his most powerful but his most bestial, with the man he's just mortally wounded helpless, and still he's terrified.  The victims by contrast go to their deaths with a courage the killers are incapable of emulating.

The video also distracted, intentionally or otherwise, from how things suddenly aren't going the way of IS.  Whether al-Baghdadi was injured or not in the missile strike near Mosul, the group still hasn't taken Kobani and doesn't look as though it can.  It's also losing territory in Iraq, mainly thanks to the involvement of the aforementioned Shia militias backed by Iran, and it's not beyond the realms of possibility the Syrian government might soon win back control of Aleppo, with the obvious next target for Assad the IS capital of Raqqa.  A movement that previously looked unstoppable isn't going to attract the same numbers of recruits, especially those who aren't looking for martyrdom and instead have treated their journey to Syria as little more than a gap year.

Enter then David Cameron, who somehow confused parliaments, announcing new anti-terror legislation in Canberra rather than at Westminster.  A compromise has been reached between stripping citizenship altogether from those who go to fight and instead excluding them for two years, unless they accept they could be prosecuted, as well as subject to stringent monitoring.  Except in reality statelessness was never an option as it's illegal, and nor has it been explained whether someone who decides to wait out the two years will then be treated in the same way on return anyway, as you expect they would.  This rather ignores how the main threat comes usually from those who are stopped from travelling in the first place, as both of the recent attacks in Canada were carried out by men whose passports were confiscated, or from those chosen specifically for a plot, as the 7/7 jihadis were.  Most who head for Syria will end up dead extremely quickly, or left embittered and/or damaged by their experience rather than further radicalised.  It might seem blasé or irresponsible to let those set on jihad go to Syria, but it could be the least worst option, so long as combined with a policy of prosecution and heightened surveillance for those who do choose to come back.

Hyperbole is admittedly tempting when it comes to IS.  Their aim is to instil fear and hatred, and when you really could be next the effect is always going to be palpable.  The best way to respond here though is not to ramp up the panic or to scaremonger, it's to fight back against the narrative of their propaganda, to not give them almost pet nicknames but regard them as what they are: the lowest of the low.  They're not revolutionaries or religious fundamentalists (although they are) so much as murderers and rapists of fellow Muslims, and that is what they will remain.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014 

There isn't a whitewash at the Home Office.

Not provenSuch was the verdict given by Theresa May yesterday on the allegation there was a Home Office cover-up after Geoffrey Dickens MP sent his now famed dossier on establishment paedophiles to then Home Secretary Leon Brittan for his perusal.  She couldn't say categorically there hadn't been a conspiracy, as the review she commissioned by NSPCC head Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC also couldn't be certain there wasn't, as all but one of the 114 documents found to be missing, presumed destroyed remain unaccounted for.  They also however found nothing to suggest there had been an concerted effort to remove evidence; the majority were likely shredded in line with the 2 year retention policy the Home Office had at the time.

Had this been a report into nearly any other aspect of policy or alleged wrongdoing by government, the minister would have ignored its inconclusive findings and claimed it proved nothing untoward had gone on.  Nor could you particularly blame them for doing so: for a report that decides to hedge its bets in its conclusions, the evidence fairly speaks for itself.  Wanless and Whittam, despite what critics have suggested since, did not feel constrained by the somewhat restrictive terms of reference they were given (paragraph 12, page 5 of the report), and so went beyond the Home Office to see if they can find anything related, including asking MI5 to delve into their archives.  They failed to discover anything either.

The report makes clear this wasn't a half-arsed quick look behind filing cabinets and inside previously locked cupboards.  777 storage units were checked (para 2, page 13), and nothing that shouldn't have been in them was found, with all the physical holdings of various branches of the Home Office searched.  In addition, the CPS, Department of Health, Department of Education, Department for Communities and Local Government, the Attorney General's office, HMRC and the Cabinet Office were all asked to see if they had anything that could be related to the missing files or of relevance to the inquiry, and none did.  One new discovery was the Ministry of Justice, split off from the Home Office by the last government, found it had destroyed one of the lost files as late as two years ago (para 38, page 24).

One other highly significant document that was found by the Home Office following the publication of the first inquiry poses as many questions as it answers.  Not located initially due to its title failing to suggest it contained anything relating to child sexual exploitation (para 3, page 13), it records details of a meeting between Dickens and Brittan in November 1983, a couple of months after an attack on a child in Brighton made front page news.  Dickens gave Brittan two letters containing allegations, and sent a further letter in January 1984, thanking Brittan for his "splendid support" along with more cases for investigation.  Brittan sent a reply in March the same year outlining the progress made, with the DPP having decided two of the cases should be the subject of further inquiries by the police.  Wanless and Whittam note that contrary to contemporary media coverage of these meetings, there is no mention of "prominent politicians or celebrities" in the cases under discussion (para 9, page 14).

Could it possibly be that Dickens' dossier, which might in fact be nothing more than a slab of letters if it has any relation to the attachments sent to Brittan in January 1984, didn't in fact name the establishment figures it was claimed in the media?  We know Dickens was one of the first MPs to go out of his way in courting the press, and it wouldn't surprise if there was some mutual exaggeration going on for additional effect.  It would explain why Dickens didn't so much as mention or ask whether progress was being made on these high profile individuals, and also why contrary to the media coverage of their meetings no further cases involving VIPs were presented.  That Brittan was also more than cooperative rather casts doubt on the point of hounding two successive heads from the overarching inquiry into child abuse due to their links to him; Brittan may well have been treated unfairly.

Indeed, as Wanless and Whittam note, of the missing files not assumed destroyed at the end of the standard 2 year retention period, most seem to have vanished this century (para 2, page 34), well after the point at which most of those employed at the Home Office will have moved on.  Why someone at this remove would feel the need to "protect" the Home Office isn't clear.  Nor are these 114 files a trove of exposes.  Annex I of the report (PDF) details what is known about them, and 67 are letters from MPs, while the rest are mostly on paedophiles or paedophilia in general.  Some do relate to the Paedophile Information Exchange and discussions on whether it should be outlawed, with the report in its second part considering whether PIE was funded either directly or indirectly by the Home Office.  With no files again being found to support the evidence of Tim Hulbert, who believes £30,000 was paid to PIE via the Voluntary Services Unit, possibly to assist Special Branch with infiltrating or monitoring the group, Wanless and Whittam can only conclude there is nothing else to back the claim up.

It is, as the report concludes, "very difficult to prove anything definitive based on imperfectly operated paper records system at 30 years remove".  This suits those who are convinced something has to be there just fine, as they can point to omissions in the search process and carry on regarding 30-year-old media reports and the works of not taken seriously by almost anyone for good reason MPs as gospel.  It also means those like me who are sceptical at best about the idea of an establishment cover-up when the establishment is terrible at cover-ups can say there's better things those worried could be doing than looking for something that probably isn't there.  Like how the raids on Tor last week targeted not the real source of depravity on the dark net, the paedophile forums, but instead some of the drug markets and Doxbin (which is already back online).  The most sexually exploitative site seized was the Pink Meth, a "revenge porn" onion.  We also have vigilantes targeting those of very little brain, prompting Jim Gamble to suggest we should have police officers sitting in stations entrapping potential abusers on social media, something guaranteed not to result in injustice or abuses of power.

Obvious is that the child abuse inquiry needs a new chairman, and quickly.  When the likes of Simon Danczuk refuse to accept the findings of a report by the head of the NSPCC though, it's difficult to know just who will be acceptable.

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Monday, November 10, 2014 

The worst of it is Dan Hodges could be right.

There are two main factors behind the shadowy manoeuvrings against Ed Miliband.  The first is the party, riven by the competing personalities of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, has never attempted something akin to a proper reconciliation since.  In a sense, what we've seen over the past few days are the attempts made against Brown replayed 5 years on.  Sure, then it was far easier to define just who it was trying to get rid of Gordon, not least as first James Purnell and then Geoff "Buff" Hoon and Patricia Hewitt were all incorrigible Blairites.  They also in fairness to them had the courage to come out and say Gordon was leading the party to certain defeat.  The problem was both they had left it too late to change the leader again, and also there was no one willing to take over anyway, the attempts to get David Miliband to stand against Brown having failed.

When the favoured Miliband then lost the leadership contest to his younger brother, it was no surprise there were ructions from the beginning.  Ed wasn't the continuity Brown candidate, Ed Balls having taken on that role, but he wasn't seen as anti-Brown enough either.  More importantly, he hadn't just thwarted the obviously most electable prospective leader, he'd defeated his own brother.  This of course wasn't taken as evidence of Ed's ruthlessness, rather of his treachery.  Although, having now suffered under 4 years of Ed's leadership, ruthless isn't one of the first adjectives you'd choose to describe it.

Miliband hasn't been a weak leader by the most standard definition, just as David Cameron hasn't been a weak prime minister by the same measure.  Taking on Murdoch, Paul Dacre, speaking against "predator capitalism", calling for an energy price freeze, none are things a cowardly or spineless opposition leader would have done.  If anything, it's his luck that's been out: we are living through a time when the public itself doesn't know what it wants, so confused are the various poll findings, the rise of the UKIPs, the Greens, the SNP.  David Cameron is more popular than his party despite his kowtowing to its worst elements; Ed by contrast is less popular than his party despite embodying Labour's values.  Cameron has the advantage of being prime minister: it's easier to be thought of as being up to the job once you're in it.  That he often comes across as incredibly easy to fluster and wind up, exactly the qualities you don't want from the person set to renegotiate our most important trade relationship doesn't then matter so much.

Ed's biggest mistake has been to not attempt to properly unite the party.  Instead, he did the bare minimum, trying with his speech immediately after winning the leadership to dress old wounds.  He might as well have thrust in a salt coated finger for all the good it did.  The old Blairites hate him for not being David; the right-wing of the party hates him for not hugging closer to the Tories, for not copying their spending plans to the letter; Ed Balls and his supporters (are there any?) hate him for standing in his way; and the left-wing of the party, if there is still such a thing, can't work out why, having done the hard part of standing up to the press, he then hasn't pursued the coalition's beastliness to everyone below the middle.

Atul Hatwal's post over on Labour Uncut is fairly representative of why this is happening and now.  As from the beginning, it's the same complaints: Ed isn't seen as a potential prime minister, and the Tories lead on economic competence because Labour hasn't managed to convince the public they won't revert to tax and spend.   If it was one or the other rather than both, it would be different, but it isn't.  Quite what Labour is supposed to do at this point to try and win back trust on the economy, having apologised plenty of times despite the Tories claiming they haven't, and with Ed Balls promising to match the Tories' spending plans, just with some additional leeway on spending on infrastructure isn't explained, for the reason this isn't really about that.  Dan Hodges admits as much in his Torygraph piece: no one believed in Ed as leader from the outset, for their own specific reasons as summarised above.

The other factor then, 700 words later, is the sheer cowardice of all involved.  And I mean all involved, as neither side wants to do anything other than brief journalists.  None of the 20 shadow ministers desperate to get rid of Ed, if we're to believe the Observer, want to be the first to come out wielding the knife.  Nor do those within the shadow cabinet or even the parliamentary party want to visit TV studios and say I'm backing Ed, except for those forced to do so when confronted at camera point.  Moreover, if the strength of feeling has been running at this level for so long, why postpone it until now, when there simply isn't the time for a replacement leader to bed down, not that one has come forward anyway?  Yvette Cooper is a joke, Andy Burnham would be attacked mercilessly by the Tories over Mid-Staffs, Chuka Umunna isn't ready yet, and Alan Johnson, apart from having been a hopeless minister and shadow chancellor in the past, has enough brains to know a poisoned chalice when it's put in front of him.  That Johnson probably is the best alternative is indicative of the intellectual poverty, not to forget the absolute stupidity of doing this now.  Just as some tried to get John Reid to stand against Gordon Brown, so the moron tendency in Labour thinks all you need to do is stick someone certifiably working class into the leader's chair and everything will be awesome.

All that's changed to trigger this has been Labour's slip in the polls.  Ignore the nonsense about the conference speech as it's just that.  It was bad but ever since it's just been used as the excuse.  The same goes for the Heywood and Middleton by-election, where the Labour share of the vote held up.  Yes, Labour does have its own problems with the UKIPs, just not anywhere near to the same extent as the Tories.  UKIP is clearly not going to end up with the 15+% share of the vote the polls suggest come the election, nor is it likely the SNP will all but wipe out Labour MPs north of the border.  Just as the argument goes Labour can't win the election not trusted on the economy and with a useless leader, neither can the Tories when they need to increase their share of the vote to get a majority.  There is not so much as a smidgen of polling evidence to suggest they can.

2010 was meant to be a good election to lose.  Such has been the success of the coalition that 2015 is now being described in the same way.  Perhaps as Dan Hodges says Miliband needs to lose so Labour can move on.  The problem is whether the voters oblige.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014 

Make it easy for us, Cheltenham.

At this point, it would be a lot easier for all concerned if GCHQ (and MI5 and SIS for that matter) just let everyone know who the very few people they aren't bugging are.  Is it safe to assume the royal family aren't having their phone calls intercepted, for instance, or at least aren't now, considering the still uncertain provenance of the "Squidgy" and Camilla tapes?  How about MPs?  Is the Wilson doctrine still in force, or is that another relic no longer felt necessary in this brave new world that has such people in it?  Considering the doctrine was established in the main to protect communications between MPs and their constituents, conversations that would not, as phone calls between lawyers and their clients are, be felt to be subject to legal professional privilege, is there any reason to believe the successive prime ministers who have insisted the doctrine still has force?

Even if it does still apply, as was outlined by David Davis in parliament, the ban is only on the content of communications, not on the metadata, the time of the call and so on.  Evidently the same must apply to intercepted communications between lawyers and their clients; even if a government lawyer decides a conversation cannot be stored and must be destroyed as keeping it can't be justified under the usual national security, economic well-being or prevention/detection of serious crime exemptions, the metadata will still exist and be kept.

Considering the Snowden revelations, it really shouldn't be surprising the intelligence agencies also view privileged communications as fair game, so long of course as they can point to one of the above reasons for doing so.  It does though, precisely because the legal privilege attached to conversations between lawyers and their clients should be sacrosanct.  If there was any suggestion of collusion, for instance, between a lawyer and a "terrorist suspect", we almost certainly would have known about it down to how the Met leaks anything remotely prejudicial should their charges fail to stick.  No, this seems to have been done not just in case it provided additional information that could be useful to the government against those facing deportation on national security grounds, or to help resist legal claims by those caught up in the rendition scandal, but as with so much else of GCHQ's work, because it could.

We have a good story to tell, GCHQ's new director Robert Hannigan wrote at the beginning of the week.  And so, as seems inevitable, will the next whistleblower.


Update: I somehow managed to confuse provenance with providence.  I am, as ever, an idiot.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014 

Time for a mature debate.

Call me old fashioned, but it doesn't strike as exactly the best strategy to on your first day in a new job call those you're going to be working with facilitators of crime, terrorism and child exploitation.  Robert Hannigan, the new director of GCHQ, could just have easily addressed those charges to his, err, new charges, such after all is the work of an organisation that, even by the standards of the intelligence agencies, set itself no limits in just what it could and couldn't intercept.  Tempora was designed to master the internet, and it came somewhat close to achieving that goal, so far as such an ambition can be achieved.

No, in what has become customary for the heads of the security services, Hannigan has stepped out of the dark momentarily to have a whinge about Snowden, make a barely veiled request for more powers, despite having tapped the cables that make up the backbone of the internet, and to insult those who've responded to these blanket powers of surveillance with a renewed focus on encryption.  Rather than wonder if maybe they went a little too far with experiments such as the interception of Yahoo webcam chats, the blame is put squarely on the companies with a duty to protect their users' data.  Without mentioning any corporate behemoth by name, Hannigan directs his ire at Silicon Valley in general, complaining they have become like it or not the command and control nexus for terrorists.  Moreover, their customers also won't understand if they fail to cooperate, ahead as they are when it comes to taxation and so forth.

Ostensibly Hannigan's attack has been prompted by Apple and Google both strengthening the protection the latest versions of iOS and Android offer, with most concern on how they encrypt data by default.  You have to suspect much of the noise is bluster, especially when exploits are being found all the time and many believe the security services had made use of the Heartbleed bug for some time before it was publicised.  Legislation also exists that makes it an offence not to turn over an encryption key, although when Hannigan's problem seems to be anyone daring to encrypt their data in the first place this is rather by the by.

There is you see no absolute right to privacy.  When someone in a position of power comes out with such a ridiculous statement, as though it had been suggested there was, and then in the next sentence says how GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature debate, the only conclusion to be reached is this is deliberate.  The security services' idea of debate prior to now has been to neither confirm or deny anything, threaten the Guardian with prior restraint, and then whisper about how terrorists had all changed their methods as a result of Snowden's whistleblowing.  Their take on oversight, meanwhile, is being able to see the questions beforehand.  And now they want that mature debate, itself a funny definition of mature when their opening argument is Facebook, Twitter and the rest are terrorist and paedophile enablers unless things go back the way they were, with back doors and nods and winks?  The only pity is Hannigan's invocation of democracy, a concept the securocrats have long had a problem with, won't be seen for the joke it is.

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Monday, November 03, 2014 

Six ways you can help stop climate change.

Yes, it's a daunting challenge, and you might well be inclined to hide behind the sofa after the latest report from the IPCC on how life will shortly be even less worth living than it currently is if we go on with our polluting ways, but there are still things we as individuals can do to help.  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Consider killing yourself.  There are simply too damn many of us.  Were humans to vanish from the Earth tomorrow, the planet would heal itself in a matter of years.  Clearly we're not all going to off ourselves, more's the pity, but any contribution to the cause is welcome.

2.  If you can't face suicide for whatever reason, there's always the next best option.  Why not lop off a limb, pluck out an eye or tear and rend at your flesh?  Cutting carbon begins at home.

3.  Stop eating so much, you grotesquely obese piles of filth.  Less heavily processed food means less carbon used to get it to supermarkets, means less walking meat sacks farting and belching out methane, means less shit to step in when you go for a walk in the countryside.  If you can still walk.

4.  Go outside.  Stop reading all this bilge on the internet, retweeting, favouriting, liking, pretending to want to bring back Nigerian girls or that you're supporting #TeamTulisa or whatever you're distracting yourself with today.  Why not double this with 1 or 2 by reclaiming the street?

5.  You still here?

6.  Seriously, number 1.  It's the only answer.  You really think we're going to stop climate change when most of us can't even turn a fucking running tap off?  Or you could go out and buy some LED lightbulbs, plant a tree, that kind of thing.  If it makes you feel better.  There's always pretending science and technology will solve everything too.  Face it, we're doomed.  We had a good run.  Let's just not take everything else down with us, eh?

In other depressing news:

  • Home secretary desperately sorry for not appointing anti-establishment figure to head abuse inquiry, Russell Brand and Nigel Farage unavailable
  • Desperate blogger writes desperately unfunny, mocking response to well-meaning comment piece, still likely to vote Green in 2015

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Thursday, October 30, 2014 

Prohibition still not working, still set to endure.

There's been much in the way of celebratory noises today following the publication of the Home Office study comparing how other countries fight, or rather don't, the war on drugs.  In one of those wonderful examples of a report just confirming what you already knew, it concludes there is no obvious correlation between a punitive approach and lower overall drug use.  Indeed, while drug use in Portugal has fallen since decriminalisation, it has risen in the Czech Republic, where more draconian legislation was introduced in 2010.  Who would have thought?

Except, oh, everyone.  Let's not mince words here.  Politicians have known for decades that prohibition doesn't work.  While the modern approach in this country can be linked back to the panic over heroin use in the early 1970s, coinciding with the Nixon administration's beginning of the crusade against drugs (more than somewhat based around Nixon's conspiratorial belief left-wingers were trying to destroy the right and society itself through promoting "homosexuality, dope, immorality in general"), let's not forget the lesson of that great American experiment from 1920 to 1933.  Quite apart from the inherent stupidity of making something illegal that you can easily brew yourself with ordinary household items, as prison inmates have been doing with little more than apple cores and orange skin since time immemorial, it resulted in the further rise of organised crime.  Back then it was the likes of Al Capone who benefited; now, if you so wish, you can go and see how the Mexican drug cartels operate.  Just be advised you need a strong stomach.

When the Graun nevertheless urges politicians to study the evidence, the leader writer does so knowing full well they have.  It's why politician after politician has come out in favour of liberalisation - after they've left office.  Nor is the refusal to consider decriminalisation all down to fear of what the tabloids will say, as Tony Blair proved when he took the baby steps of ensuring cannabis was downgraded as the Advisory Committee urged and the licensing laws were reformed.  Come the coronation of Gordon Brown, one of his first acts as prime minister was to suck up to Paul Dacre by upgrading cannabis to Class B again.  Blair more often than not led the tabloids, whereas those who've followed have done the opposite.

Is the tide beginning to turn?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, the weight of evidence is becoming too overwhelming to ignore.  Yes, the Sun, apparently sensing a wind of change (to mix metaphors) now joins the Graun in saying the status quo is not an option.  Yes, the legalisation of cannabis in some American states as well as decriminalisation in Uruguay is as the report itself recognises the kind of development that attracts and interests in equal measure.  All this seems encouraging, until that is you remember that we're still in 2014 criminalising the possession of plants which have "mild stimulative effects", as the coalition has done with the ban on khat.  Then you realise that alongside the warm words of Norman Baker on moving towards decriminalisation, the same report advises putting restrictions on head shops and internet sellers of "legal highs" while possession will remain legal.  Baker apparently wants these shops reduced to selling Rizlas; no word on whether bongs would also be allowed.  Where then exactly will people get their still legal for personal possession highs from?  The same person or sites retailing the illegal stuff, perchance?
 

Forgive me then if I don't get too excited by all this.  For the Lib Dems it's obviously been alighted upon as something that might just get a few of their former supporters to return to the fold, and in truth they deserve credit for continuing to push for change.  When though the first response from a prime minister who previously wanted to liberalise drug laws is to resort to the "sending a message" argument, and the Labour frontbench accuses the Lib Dems of wanting to solve "a problem that doesn't exist" it's still going to be years, if not decades, before we have laws based somewhat even slightly related to the evidence of harm.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014 

I didn't know.

Art critics say porno's easily obscene / Late Show retards, Dice Clay's true poetry

At times, as anyone who really knows me is all too well aware, I give in to my worst instincts.  I've never been shall we say convinced by some of the motives behind the Everyday Sexism project, which to me has at times come alarmingly close to suggesting there are no circumstances in which it is ever OK to give someone a compliment, at least without it being misconstrued or taken as evidence of that person's latent misogyny.  Reading Lindy West's column in the Graun last week, in which she related how twice women sitting near to her in a coffee shop were approached by creepy older men trying desperately if obliquely to get into their pants, I felt the bile rising.  I had never experienced anything like she was describing happen.  It's true I've also never patronised a Starbucks in my life, but I would have noticed if it went on in similar places and situations.

So I asked an American guy I've talked to on IRC for over a decade now whether it could be this is more of an American thing.  Yeah, it's a real problem, he said.  His girlfriend worried about going out alone as some men were so creepy, and he linked me to this piece on Jezebel, written by a woman told to her face by the man harassing her it was her fault for being pretty.  Her fault for having the nerve to be attractive in a public place.  A man, who, for whatever reason (perhaps he'd had a terrible day; perhaps he'd tried the same "what are you reading" approach before and it had either worked or rather, had never worked and so released all his pent-up anger and self-pity in this almost empty train against this woman who dared to tell him to leave her alone; or perhaps, and this is the most likely explanation, he was just an entitled prick of the highest order used to getting what he wants), took it upon himself to terrify someone he had just met simply because she wanted to read her book in peace.

Except it obviously isn't just an American problem.  When someone captures over 100 examples of harassment, from sustained, aggressive following and invasion of personal space to less troubling but still unwanted remarks in just 10 hours of filming, as Shoshana B Roberts did just walking around New York, somehow resisting the urge to tell these man children exactly what they could do, it touches a nerve.  It touched mine.  I honestly didn't know.  I really didn't.  No, I don't suppose it's this bad universally; on a couple of occasions I have seen women being harassed in a similar fashion, and once I did check if the victim was OK, telling her how those who'd catcalled and then insulted her were arseholes, as if she didn't know.

It poses a whole number of questions.  Do these men really not know any better? Are some of them, while undoubtedly frightening, otherwise harmless, as the guy asking whether he's "too ugly" might be, apparently oblivious to how it's what he's doing rather than his looks that make him unattractive?  Moreover, is it really so difficult to look, as men (and women) always will, without passing comment or going out of their way to make that person feel uncomfortable?  I don't doubt some long-term relationships have begun due to chance encounters, an especially flattering compliment or just chatting someone they meet on the street up on the off chance; there's a way of going about it though, and let's not pretend the vast majority want any more out of it than the (extremely remote) possibility of a quick fuck.

Just as pertinent is how it puts or should put silliness like this into sharp relief.  We are once again in the season of gesture poppytics, when almost everyone put in front of a TV camera has to be wearing one, regardless of whether they want to or not.  Little things like how this completely dilutes the meaning of remembrance are cast aside, lest the Daily Mail start whining again or what used to be the red ink brigade start complaining about lack of respect.  Perhaps both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband really are feminists, but is David Cameron, despite what he's said in the past?  I'm not a feminist and wouldn't pretend to be, regardless of how my politics overlap with most of those who identify as such, mainly down to how modern identity politics seems more concerned with arguments over privilege and who's the most oppressed than with doing something about it.  This kind of hashtag style activism is at best false and at worst encourages further cynicism about people's motives, and also seems meant to catch those already deemed to be the enemy out, as the Sun has previously with Ed Miliband failing to pose with a Help for Heroes wristband.

As couldn't be made clearer by Hollaback's video, we really do need feminism.  We also need men, and yes women, who know friends who've acted similarly to those in New York to make clear just how upsetting such behaviour can be.  By contrast, what we could really do without are the sweeping generalisations of some of those who really ought to know better.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014 

The pull factor.

A few years back now, an enterprising individual with a paint can took it upon himself to daub "KILL ASYLUM SEEKERS" in 2 foot high letters on a wall close to where I worked.  It took the best part of a month before anyone saw fit to cover it over.  How and why this person chose asylum seekers specifically as the focus of his passive aggressive ire rather than illegal immigrants say, or a defined ethnic minority has always stuck with me.  After all, it's a lot harder to argue against providing someone fleeing persecution with sanctuary than it is to oppose economic migration, legal and illegal.  Hence why the tabloids got into so much bother with the countless pieces on "bogus asylum seekers", their attempt to fight back against a loaded term with one of their own.  The PCC was forced into recognising there could be no such thing as an "illegal" or "bogus" asylum seeker, only those whose applications had been rejected and so were "failed" asylum seekers.

In all likelihood, the person responsible wasn't specifically offended by the idea of states being required by international law to provide sanctuary to someone who asks for it, and whose case is found to be legitimate.  He just hated immigrants, regardless of their merits or demerits.  Our politicians, by contrast, don't hate asylum seekers; they just either don't care, or rather, care only about the resources they use and the responsibility they have to look after them, especially in the face of public outcry.

One approach by which they try and evade responsibility is that old favourite, blaming everyone other than themselves.  Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, might as well have been quoting from a years-old think piece in the Express in her evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on why it is so many migrants continue to try to get to Britain rather than seek asylum in France or work there.  Bouchart claimed those camped out in Calais aren't asylum seekers, and yet when challenged by Ian Austin on why they couldn't then be deported as illegal immigrants, said she was in dispute with the French government over the matter.  All the talk of the "pull factor", of migrants being attracted by the benefit system, of the UK being a "soft touch", all was to distract from how the French have never cared about asylum seekers, genuine or otherwise, trying to get to Britain through French ports but obviously can't admit as much, and second, how France is so poorly regarded that many of those fleeing persecution want to stay anywhere but there.

There are many reasons other than ones to do with our famously generous welfare state for why those wanting sanctuary aim for Britain rather than elsewhere in Europe, and they're pretty much the same as why others choose to head for Sweden or Germany rather than ask for asylum in the first European country they enter.  Real pull factors are relatives, or friends who've previously made the journey, as little as stories of friends of friends of friends.  Long established communities of ex-pats are known about and play a similar role.  Then there's language, culture, the way countries have an image whether accurate or not, and knowledge of economic success.  There's a reason why Australia continues to attract migrants and asylum seekers despite its hardline approach to both, whereas a country like Japan which on the surface ought to be similarly regarded doesn't.

The fact is facts don't matter.  Politicians don't really believe funding search and rescue operations encourages other desperate people to pay traffickers to get them into Europe, as they aren't that stupid.  The idea someone weighing up whether to flee Syria, Iraq, Libya or Eritrea is going to be put off by the Italian navy not being there to save them should their boat sink is patently, insultingly absurd.  Nor is it about money.  Both ourselves and the French for instance had no problem in finding the cash to bomb Islamic State in Iraq, just the latest self-defeating measure in a whole line of policies connected with Syria and Iraq.  Rather than try to bring an end to the civil war in the former, we lined up behind rebels it quickly transpired could not overthrow Bashar al-Assad.  Despite our role in fomenting the conflict, with millions of Syrians displaced, the only European nations to go beyond platitudes have been, again, Germany and Sweden.

It isn't that politicians are heartless, inhumane or morally bankrupt either.  Rather, the sad thing is they're just going by what they hear.  People don't care that hundreds, almost certainly thousands of migrants are drowning every year while trying to reach Europe's shores, or if they do, it's because they're angered more isn't being done to keep them out, to remove those "pull" factors.  The only surprising thing is we've reached a point where another excuse wasn't found as to why EU-wide funding isn't going to be made available, and this was presumably only down to how the Home Office thought they had cover due to it being agreed by a group of foreign ministers.  The contrast between the current attitude and that of Sir Nicholas Winton, celebrated today for making the arrangements that allowed 669 mostly Jewish children to escape from occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, could not be more stark.  Then too sanctuary to those escaping conflict was opposed and demonstrated against.  That we haven't truly moved on from those times ought to challenge more consciences than it apparently does.

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Monday, October 27, 2014 

Enoch: "I misspoke".

Despite being dead for 16 years, Enoch Powell has surprised politics by admitting that he was "careless" in his notorious "rivers of blood" speech.

"I used words I wouldn't have normally," said the reanimated former Ulster Unionist MP.  "To be frank, I misspoke."

"Looking back now, there are many obvious problems with my oration.  For instance, I quoted an unnamed man, who said "in this country in 15 or 20 years' the black man will have the whip hand over the white man" .  Quite apparently, those were my views, and I shouldn't have tried to hide behind someone else in such an intellectually dishonest manner.

"Also, in quoting Virgil from the Aenied, who wrote of the "river Tiber foaming with much blood", I wore my past, that of a professor of the classics, rather heavily.  I was posing as the prophet, expecting riots, perhaps almost hoping there would be.

"You'll have noted that despite these qualifications, I haven't actually stepped back from anything I said at the time.  As I don't regret it for a second.  The lesson is clear: you can say the most outrageous things so long as you use language carefully.  Michael Fallon's real mistake was in mixing his metaphors: how on earth can a place be swamped as well as under siege?  As for his past reference to Bryony Gordon as a "slut", he ought to have referred to her as "not being known to express prejudice".  Unlike myself.  Ha ha."

In other news:

Faceless McNomark, the TV executive behind this year's smash hit fly-on-the-wall documentary Just Take a Gander at These Feckless Cunts, has defended the show amid continuing protests at the filming of two follow-up series.

"They assume we have malign intent, when we don't," the indignant McNomark told me.  "There isn't an agenda.  Just because we suggested the documentary was going to be called "Community Spirit" doesn't mean they have a right to complain.  Indeed, what they're calling for is nothing less than censorship.  I will never relinquish our right to take advantage of and completely fictionalise the stories of some of the most distressed parts of our society."

Due for broadcast in January and March, Why Aren't You Stringing These Scrounging Bastards Up Right Now? and Filthy Fucking Pikeys: Over Here, Taking Your Jobs promise a new paradigm in current affairs programming.

In short:

PM in security scare: proves the prime minister needs more security, say security experts
Media obsessed with Russell Brand, complains everyone over the age of 10
Media not obsessed enough with Russell Brand, complains Russell Brand
War in Afghanistan draws to a close - sequel expected in 2017

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Thursday, October 23, 2014 

Extremely loud and incredibly close.

John Harris is without a doubt one of the best political commentators we have.  Unlike many of the others with a column and their name in a large font, he bothers to respond to the keyboard hammerers below the line, and he really does go beyond, indeed anywhere but Westminster.  Just though as not getting out enough leads to losing touch, so too can travelling to wherever the next by-election is being held make you think the hot topic of the moment is the most important issue in politics outright.  Add in a straw man, and you pretty much have his piece for the Graun today.

To say I'm bored out of my mind by the immigration debate in general doesn't really cover it.  It's taken the place of the Iraq war in being constantly talked about without anyone ever making an original point or changing their position.  These are the facts: despite claims to the contrary, we've been having a debate about immigration for over half a century now.  Yes, there have always been some people who've shouted racist whenever the topic is broached, mainly for the good reason that up till relatively recently the majority of complaints about immigration, rather than being couched in economic or social terms, were based around skin colour or culture.  This is to simplify massively, but Steve Bell captured how far we've come in his cartoon from last week: we've moved on from the days of "if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour" to "if you want a fruit picker from Romania for a neighbour, vote Labour".

Next, Labour did not try and transform the country into a truly multicultural society through immigration, as those who can remember back to the times when it was asylum seekers rather than eastern European migrants who were regarded as the biggest problem facing the country will know.  The mistake in 2004 was not realising the effect opening the borders to A8 states would have, especially when only Sweden and Ireland similarly didn't impose further restrictions.  Even fewer Poles speak Swedish than English, hence why so many journeyed here instead of to Stockholm.  Lastly, as it bears repeating, it's now almost been a decade since the Conservatives under Michael Howard used "it's not racist to impose limits on immigration" as a slogan.  Ever tighter limits have since been imposed, except of course when it comes to the EU.

Harris's piece could have almost been in response to my post on Tuesday.  He was though most likely thinking of the works of either Polly Toynbee or Richard Seymour, aka Lenin from the Tomb.  Without referring directly to Harris, Seymour has since tweeted this poll finding, which does rather underline his point.  No, people's worries and fears about migration writ large aren't racist, bigoted or down to prejudice; are however some of those fears at their most base down to as, Seymour puts it, entitlement and chauvinism?  Well, yes.

That topsy-turvy poll finding by ComRes does in its own way sum up the immigration, even the Europe debate in microcosm.  Do we still want the undoubted benefits of being in the EU, that past waves of immigration have brought here?  Certainly.  Are we as keen on the impact on public services, on how towns like Wisbech, Peterborough and Boston have been altered, and just how swift the pace of change has been?  Not so much.  At the same time, the poll makes clear those most concerned about immigration are extremely noisy, as a solid 36% still accept freedom of movement within the EU.  As Flying Rodent has argued, concern about immigration is one of the relatively few areas of public opinion which is pandered to.

And it hasn't worked, for the reason it hasn't addressed the fundamental right of freedom of movement, as politicians haven't had the guts to make the argument for why it's one of the few areas of EU policy they ought to be able to agree has been a success.  Chris answers Harris's question of whether free movement has been of most benefit to capital or labour, but that obviously isn't going to convince the people he's been listening to.  What might, and is something Westminster politicians have shied away from as it would reduce their control is, as we now know to a fair extent where the most pressures have been put on public services and housing, the targeting of extra funding to those areas.  This, finally, does seem to be where Labour is moving towards, with Ed Miliband today setting out 5 points around which an immigration bill from his government would be based.  We can quibble about the rights and wrongs of preventing migrants from sending child benefit and child tax credits back to their home nation when Brits working abroad can do the same, but if it helps to staunch public concern then so be it.

If some of the left has been blasé about migration, as Harris puts it, the reason is precisely because of the way we've arrived at this point.  Yes, public concern about immigration has been high in the past, and is high now.  Where though did the current mood have its roots, and is it all about migration or rather migration becoming the rallying point for a whole other myriad of concerns?  Easily forgotten is the way panic was whipped up last year over the looming ending of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians coming here, with the media all but joining UKIP in predicting a movement similar to that of post-2005.  It didn't happen.  What did happen is the economy continuing to recovery, albeit without a similar recovery in living standards, the former leading to workers in western rather than eastern Europe looking for jobs further afield.  The fault is not with the migrants, but with the joint failings of late capitalism and politicians both here and in Europe.

For all the insults and asking of what the "modern left" would do, Harris himself doesn't offer a solution other than restricting free movement, despite how this both isn't going to and shouldn't happen.  We could start with being straight with the public rather than continuing to lie to them.  Who knows, it might just begin to have an effect.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 

Farage's face, staring out - forever.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell through O'Brien offered as a picture of the future a boot stamping on a human face - forever.  It's a visceral, shocking image you want to turn away from, yet it's not as horrifying as the current vision of the future we are presented with.  It still involves a human face, only rather than it being stamped on, there's a rictus grin across its mug, the eyes bright, teeth being flashed for all their worth.  The face, all but needless to add, belongs to Nigel.

Future historians looking back on the coalition government will have plenty to examine and debate over.  They will wonder how a government which insisted it was dealing with a national emergency, the size of the budget deficit, could first choke off the recovery left by the previous government by cutting back capital spending and then conjure to provide a recovery of their own in which the deficit fails to fall.  They will try to reach conclusions over whether it was the emphasis on cuts to the welfare budget by this government that led inexorably to the dismantling of the system of social security as the country had known it post-Beveridge.  Most significantly, they will be forced to consider how despite presenting himself as a strong leader, David Cameron was in fact the embodiment of a weak prime minister, at every step giving in to the worst instincts of his party rather than pursuing what was right for the country.

The evidence for just such a finding is there in abundance.  Most fundamental will be the colossal error Cameron made in January 2013, announcing in a speech that if returned to power in 2015, his government would hold an in/out referendum on remaining in the European Union by 2017, after a successful "renegotiation" with the other member states.  Designed to win over backbenchers complaining about his leadership and the party's standing in the polls, it does for a matter of days.  Having succeeded in pressurising a leader they have never taken to and never will into making one promise, they quickly demanded he move sooner.  They make clear their displeasure at legislation not being present in the Queen's speech preparing for the referendum, and again, Downing Street soon gives in.

Not that it was only backbenchers taking the credit for Cameron's shift.  In another example of Cameron's reckless promises coming back to bite him, prior to the 2010 election he set out how a Conservative government would bring immigration down from the hundreds of thousands to the "tens of thousands".  At first it looked as though he might achieve his aim, only for the continuing economic woes in the Eurozone to result in a surge of migrants from the western European states most affected by austerity coming to the country.  Immigration duly becomes second only to fears over the NHS in people's concerns, not because of it having a personal impact on most, but as a catch-all complaint over the sense of drift, the general feeling of powerlessness most are experiencing as real wages fall and politicians refuse to offer anything resembling a vision of where the country is heading.

So desperate are the public they look anywhere for an alternative.  In any other circumstances Nigel Farage would be an incongruous figure, a deeply boring, petty man who covers up for his party's lack of policies and rigour with an overarching narrative: things ain't what they used to be, and it's all the fault of the European Union.  Nigel smokes tabs, drinks beer, and so delights a media starved by the blandness and sterility of the focus grouped out of existence political elite.  They can't get enough of him, and the publicity combined with the mood of hopelessness leads to his UK Independence Party winning hundreds of council seats, before it comes out on top in 2014's European parliament elections.  Rather than bother to submit Farage himself to anything resembling proper scrutiny, with a very few select exceptions, the media instead focus on those lower down the party structure.  All the while the personality cult of Farage continues to build, to the point where a former DJ imagines the UKIP leader at Number 10 in a calypso inspired song.  It seems and is completely absurd, and yet the main topic of debate is whether Mike Read's appropriation is racist.

Absurd is the word.  Cameron's weakness knows no apparent bounds.  Only a few weeks ago he offered to his party and by proxy the country the promise he would put freedom of movement at the heart of his renegotiation strategy.  He said he wouldn't take no for an answer.  The outgoing president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso, points out the answer could only be no when the rest of the EU, imposing its own restrictions on benefits or not, has not the slightest intention of curtailing one of the EEC's founding principles and biggest successes.  Panicked further by the prospect of losing the Rochester by-election, and apparently fearing a leadership challenge in the aftermath, we now learn Cameron is set to announce some form of unilateral restriction on low-skilled eastern European migrants, most likely by refusing to issue them with national insurance numbers.  How this will affect the economy he cares not; nor does he worry over the legal implications.

Cameron's gambit has failed on all fronts.  His backbenchers, meant to be sated by his giving them what they want, now realise they have pushed to the point at which they are closer than ever to reaching their goal of getting Britain out of Europe.  Why on earth would they stop now?  UKIP, meanwhile, has had its every argument validated, continues to gain support and still can point out that the only way to truly control the borders is to leave.  All this, and the Conservatives remain behind Labour in the polls.  The only reason Cameron hasn't been called on this disaster is due to the majority of the press sharing the backbenchers' opinion on the EU, and how they can't imagine anything as terrible as Red Ed in Number 10.  I can.  It's another 5 years of Farage's fizzog staring out from every screen, every alternate sheet of newsprint, every billboard, the same silent laugh emanating from his gob.  You're the one he's laughing at, Dave.

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