Maybe I really shouldn't be this cynical. However, is it just me or is the naming of David Cameron's son just yet another publicity stunt?
No sooner had David and Samantha Cameron announced that their newly-born son will be called Arthur Elwen than the Conservative leader was plunged into unwarranted speculation about what it all means for the party's new brand.
While Arthur is historically associated with a patriotic British legend, Elwen appears to come from the politically sensitive region known to Lord of the Rings fans as Middle Earth, not to be confused with the Middle England beloved of the pollsters.
Though the Cameron set are said to have played political games with JRR Tolkien's characters - with Dave as Frodo Baggins - Tory officials were quick to slap down the connection yesterday when it appeared, post-announcement, on the BBC's website.
Apart from the fact that the Cameron set are all nerds, I wonder if this wasn't all thought through in advance. Cameron is Eton educated, worked for a PR firm and comes from Notting Hill. He doesn't have much in common with the average man sitting on his sofa watching the football. But what can he have in common with the average new modern person now? Yes, you've got it! He can give his child a bloody stupid name! I mean, compared to Chardonnay, Apple and Disney (which I saw in the local paper this week) it's not that daft, but hey, every little helps! David Cameron, a modern man for modern Britain!
A typically hysterical reaction to what was an ethically minded and reasonable decision.
Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has criticised the Church of England's general synod as ill-judged in voting to remove its investment in a US company that makes bulldozers used by the Israelis to demolish Palestinian homes.
In unusually harsh language, Dr Sacks called into question the Jewish community's links with the church. In today's Jewish Chronicle, he says: "The church has chosen to take a stand on the politics of the Middle East over which it has no influence, knowing that it will have the most adverse repercussions on a situation over which it has enormous influence, Jewish-Christian relations in Britain.
The article also accuses the Guardian of increasing the British Jewish community's sense of vulnerability after last week's publication of two lengthy articles by its Jerusalem correspondent Chris McGreal that drew comparisons between Israel's treatment of Palestinians with the apartheid policy in South Africa. A delegation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews met the editor Alan Rusbridger to express concern that the articles would increase anti-semitic attacks.
The general synod's call last week for the church commissioners to remove their £2.5m shareholding in Caterpillar Inc - for which Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, voted in favour - has produced accusations of anti-semitism, not least from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who said it made him ashamed to be a church member.
Dr Williams wrote to the Chief Rabbi to insist that the vote did not represent a boycott or question Israel's right to exist or to self-defence. Earlier this week Dr Sacks replied that the archbishop's clarification would aid mutual understanding.
But his Jewish Chronicle article states: "The vote of the synod ... was ill-judged even on its own terms. The immediate result will be to reduce the church's ability to act as a force for peace between Israel and the Palestinians for as long as the decision remains in force ... The timing could not have been more inappropriate. [Israel] needs support not vilification."
The board of deputies decided earlier this week to carry out an investigation into attitudes within the Church of England. The Federation of Synagogues' president Alan Finlay called on the chief rabbi to withdraw from inter-faith dialogue until there is a public apology.
Responding to the Chief Rabbi, the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, said: "We published two pieces by Chris McGreal, which quoted many Israeli and South African Jews with differing viewpoints about a question which is hardly new. We have also published several commentaries and letters rejecting the comparison. I have not come across anyone who considered this was an illegitimate subject for a newspaper to address."
Caterpillar have been named by numerous human rights groups as being one of the worst corporations now on the face of the planet. The facts are thus: Caterpillar supply the Israelis with huge bulldozers which have been used to demolish the homes of the families of suicide bombers, confiscate land, wreck farmland and even kill those who have got in the way of them, such as Rachel Corrie. Caterpillar responds by saying that they do not personally sell the machines to the Israelis; they sell them to the US military which passes them. In reality Caterpillar knows full well what the US military will do with them. Note that this is not an attack on Israel itself; it's simply a decision by the Church of England to disinvest its shares in a company which is complicit in the misery of an entire people.
Jonathan Sacks is actually a reasonably moderate religious leader. He was condemned before when he dared say that one religion does not necessarily contain the full truth. This makes his intervention on this all the more puzzling. The Church of England has preached peace now for decades, and in Rowan Williams probably has the most forward-looking and progressive leader it has ever had. To attack the organisation as a whole simply because it feels that having shares in a company which contributes to human suffering is unethical is naive to say the least. As Williams says, this is also not an attack on Israel's right to self-defence. The use of bulldozers to violate international law and demolish homes is to inflict collective punishment on the Palestinians for the acts of a few, unlike the checkpoints in the West Bank which while are a burden on Palestinian life also stop suicide bombings.
Sacks also says that Israel needs support not vilification. That's rather rich when you can see the numerous measures which Israel is now taking to try to stop Hamas from taking meaningful power, despite its actions, both direct and indirect which led to Hamas winning the elections. Peace cannot be achieved without a level playing field, and for Sacks to claim that the synod's decision to remove investment in a company which helps to destroy the chances of peace is disingenuous.
Then we come to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation which shrieks anti-semitism while always ignoring some of the outrageous actions by the Israeli government. This is of course the same Board which accused the Palestinian charity organisation Interpal of being a terrorist group, which it was forced to retract. The Board's attempts to smear the Guardian with making Jews more vulnearable are laughable. The Guardian's two articles which compared the situation in Israel with the apartheid South Africa were full of caveats; there was a huge number of responses, which were given both their own article and a large part of the letters page on a following day. Instead of the Board of Deputies actually comprehending why there are increasingly comparisons between the two, at a time when there is a "security wall" seperating the West Bank from Israel, when the prime minister himself has said that there's no way that Israel will give up all its settlements in the West Bank and that it's likely that the boundaries of the wall will be the borders of any Palestinian state, it of course worries that nuanced and well written articles with responses from all sides will lead to Jews in this country being attacked. It would be amusing if they didn't seem to sincerely believe it. Like many Israeli politicians, the Board hides behind the age-old anti-semitism slur, rejecting any criticism of what is happening on the ground in Israel. They would rather have censorship than own up to the continual violations of international law, which occur on both sides. Maybe they should examine what causes the real anger in both the Muslim world and the West, such as a disabled 15-year-old with a broken toy rifle being shot dead by the IDF.
Think we have it bad over here? Think again, although at least the US authorities have admitted to how many are on the list:
Civil liberties organisations expressed outrage yesterday after it was reported that the database of terrorist suspects kept by the US authorities now holds 325,000 names, a fourfold increase in two and a half years.
The list, maintained by the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC), includes different spellings of the same person's names as well as aliases, but the Washington Post quoted NCTC officials as saying that at least 200,000 individuals are on it. They said that "only a very, very small fraction" of that number were US citizens, but that insistence did little to defuse the reaction.
Timothy Sparapani, an expert on privacy rights at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ACLU's response was one of incredulity, and alarm that many people are likely to be on the list by mistake, with serious impact on their lives and few, if any, means of getting themselves off it.
"The numbers continue to grow by leaps and bounds," Mr Sparapani said. He had no idea what methods were being used to add names to the database, but added: "I have to say we're probably adding names faster than we can figure out how to deal with them ... We worry greatly about the potential stain to anyone's life who ends up on this list."
It is unclear how many of the names on the list were collected as a result of a domestic wiretapping programme by the National Security Agency, the existence of which only became known through a leak in December.
Administration officials yesterday refused to confirm or deny the reported size of the NCTC list.
Marc Rotenberg, the head of a watchdog group, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, said: "It's problematic not simply in the big brother way with the loss of privacy, but it's also problematic because it doesn't seem to work."
He said it was virtually impossible for those wrongly listed as terrorist suspects to clear their name. "We passed a very good law in the 1970s ... at least when the US government makes a decision about a US citizen, that process had to be transparent and people had to be able to appeal those decisions, but now those agencies get exemptions to the law."
It looks as if many more Americans with such exotic names as Edward Kennedy are going to be blocked from going on flights thanks to the fact they appear on a list which seems absolutely titanic in scope. Still, at least they know they might well be stopped and under surveillance. Over here we have no such idea, and as a post on Lenin's Tomb makes clear, it's very likely that any "subversive" group probably has a spy or informer within it.
There's a fascinating article over on the BBC News website, which claims that the widely reported and since alluded to attack on a paediatrician in the aftermath of the News of the World naming and publishing of photos of known paedophiles was in fact just a random act of vandalism and did not involve violence.
According to the BBC, the word "paedo" was spray painted on the front door of a paediatrician, Yvette Cloete, in Newport, Gwent. The article finishes with a flourish, saying that there is scaremongering on both sides of the debate. This may be true, but it doesn't mention the reality of what happened last year to one man who was wrongly labelled a paedophile, with the tragic story being covered on the front page of the Independent. Despite no evidence, a man was beaten to death, and when asked by the Independent's reporter about the death, no one had any sympathy for him and many said that he had been a paedophile, even though he had never been convicted of any crime.
Still, there's a moral for all of us here. We shouldn't always believe the very worst of people, especially when it's often shown that tabloid readers are a lot more intelligent and free-thinking than they're given credit for.
That makes 3 bad laws in 3 days. I suppose the depression will properly kick in shortly.
MPs today voted to create a new offence of "glorifying" terrorism, overturning opposition from both the House of Lords, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
It will come as a welcome relief for both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who had both publicly backed the new offence this week.
Despite predictions of a Labour rebellion MPs voted 315 to 277, a government majority of 38, to resinstate the offence, which peers removed from the terror bill last year.
Following the victory for the government, Mr Blair's told TV reporters it was a "very clear signal of strength", and his official spokesman said the PM expected the Lords to now back down in the battle over the clause.
He said the new law sent the message that "we have free speech in this country, but don't abuse it".
In a last-minute plea to MPs in the lunchtime PMQs, Mr Blair said failing to create the "glorification offence" would have sent out a "massive counter-productive signal" in the wake of the London bombings and last week's demonstrations by some Muslims.
A total of 17 Labour MPs - not enough to overturn the government's 64 strong majority - voted with the Conservatives and Lib Dems against the measure, fearing that the law was drafted too broadly and could catch supporters of so-called freedom fighters or the commemoration of historical rebellions and revolutions.
A very clear signal of strength? About what? That this government is committed to bit by bit eroding freedom of speech? We have free speech, but we'd better not abuse it. For instance, complaining about this law within a mile of parliament without permission will most likely see you arrested. Feel like celebrating the Easter Rising? How about saying Mugabe should be overthrown by force, or that North Korean dissidents should resort to violence against the state? Well, thank the government because you may well now be breaking the law. What really has motivated this law has been tabloid pressure to take action against these imams and clerics which they are so obsessed with - despite Abu Hamza being convicted just last week under existing laws. The other justification is the demonstration by about 100 extremists who carried placards (all likely written by the same person) which incited murder. What are the chances that once this bill has been given royal assent that some of those protestors will be arrested under this new law - despite there being perfectly good ones which can be used against them. We should really save our condemnation for Charles Clarke though - who seems to like all home secretaries have finally lost the plot.
But Mr Clarke urged MPs to back the government, accusing Conservative and Lib Dem peers of "gratuitously" trying to weaken the weapons available to the authorities in the fight against terror.
"The government is not seeking to pitch any battle whatsoever," he told Today. "The Lords quite gratuitously decided to weaken the proposals that came out of the Commons."
The wording produced by the Lords would grant "impunity" to protesters who brandished placards in London calling for the beheading of those responsible for cartoons of Muhammad, he claimed.
He added: "There are a number of individuals and organisations who seek to glorify terrorism, to promote terrorism, to create an atmosphere in which young men such as those involved in the July 7 bombings decide to become terrorists themselves.
"They do it by preaching, by glorifying, by claiming that terrorism is a noble and holy activity. It seems to the government that we should try to inhibit their intent to do that.
"We need to find the strongest form of legislation to be able to do it."
Mr Clarke said his critics in the human rights community were "lawyers with a vested interest in a particular area".
Quite gratuitously? The Lords amendment still covered oral incitement, it just removed both written and visual statements. Was the in-depth and lengthy debate in the Lords gratuitous? The Lords seems to be the only hope left to some of us that this government is not piece by piece removing safeguards we have enjoyed for decades. That it is unelected but still does this is even more commendable. The amendment would not have given impunity to those protestors at all - they can still definitely be arrested for breach of the peace, incitement to murder and other offences. That we needed this new act to arrest them is pure fiction. Clarke only wishes to highlight the most extreme aspects of what this legislation will cover, namely those old evil imams that incite hatred against their own country of residence. This is of course the same government that refuses to make phone-tap evidence admissible in courts, because it might expose the shady ways of our intelligence services. Would that not send a strong signal?
Then there's the biggest slur on "human rights" lawyers. Does the fact they have a "vested interest" matter? May this law not actually give them more work? In that case, why would they oppose it, as so many are? Clarke knows he can get away with such overt attacks on those who would rather protect freedom of speech as they are often the main target for the ever outraged tabloids and commentators. Cherie Blair is the most high profile example.
I might be entirely wrong on this. It may turn out that no one who supports reasonable causes, such as those mentioned above will be caught under this legislation. What doesn't inspire me with confidence though is the way that the police abuse nearly every new power they are given, as they have Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act. Still, 3 days and 3 illiberal measures have all been introduced by a so-called left of centre party, with the centrist and centre-right parties opposing them on 2 of those acts. The sad thing for Labour is that I very much doubt that this is going to save them from suffering an annihilation on local elections day, and if those elections were being decided by the events this week, they will thoroughly deserve it.
I seem to be having something of a crap theme so far this week, but the tabloids have a crap theme every day.
So let's start then with the Diana Express, that warns that a huge storm is on its way to Britain tonight. A quick check of the BBC Weather site reveals the following:
A band of cloud and rain, accompanied by strong winds will sweep across the country. Clearer conditions with showers, will follow across many places, away from the far south and southeast by the end of the night.
Any rain in far south and southeast moving away. Then all parts seeing a mixture of sunny spells and showers. Showers heaviest in west, and wintry over northern hills. Windy, with temperatures above normal.
So uh, this huge storm seems to be just some not very strong winds. Good job the Express cleared the front page for it though, because you never know when a Michael Fish moment is going to happen again. Or maybe it's just another example of a tabloid panicking and trying to get its readers into a constant state of angst.
Speaking of angst, the Daily Star still can't get over the fact that two very boring ordinary people are now outside a house were they were just ever so marginally more interesting. To illustrate this we have a picture of gorgeous, pouting Chantelle, half naked of course, and a great pun. Hans off! Geddit?!?!? Hans, because he's German?! Yes, I laughed too. Thank the Lord for the Daily Star.
Compared to the front page of the Mirror, the Star looks like the International Herald Tribune. Not one, not two, but three "celebrity" stories! The Mirror breaks the incredible story that Ron Atkinson, occasional football manager and commentator, at least until he called one of the players a "fucking lazy nigger" when he thought he was off air, nearly lost his leg from a bug bite. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't know about this horrific incident.
Finally then to the Daily Wail, which is severely agitated over the introduction of "chip and pin", even though it's been operating in most shops for months, and that signs have been up in those same shops telling everyone about the change from tomorrow for at least three weeks. Not being able to take advice well, the Mail also takes umbrage at being advised by banks to take cards and cash just in case. An obvious suggestion you might think, but not to the brains which design the biggest selling mid-market tabloid. I'd say that it might be more down to the Mail's resistance to almost any change to anything at all, but that would just be sour grapes.
The only tabloid that even mentioned the vote on ID cards on its front page was amazingly enough, the Sun. That's why it's not featured here today. Um, keep it up, Rebekah?
Nothing in the report is a surprise, as all of it has already been reported. What's so laughable is the way that the US government tells bare-faced lies about what is going on in that camp.
A White House spokesman said it was an al-Qaida tactic to complain of abuse, while the Pentagon does not comment on UN matters. But a Pentagon official yesterday insisted there had been no attempts to break a hunger strike with punitive measures. "All detainees at Guantánamo are being treated humanely and are being provided with excellent medical care," he said.
Ah yes, every single person at Guantanamo is a member of al-Qaida. This is the new excuse for when any prisoners, either in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo or one of the CIA's secret prisons allege that they've been tortured or abused. It's a great conceit in that it will wash with a lot of people, and that most of all, it's probably true that recruits to the organisations linked in some way to al-Qaida are told to say that they've been abused if they are captured. By tarring all the prisoners with the same brush the US administration manages to make it look like the morally superior one; us abuse prisoners? It's these guys that want to kill all of us! The Pentagon spokesman on the other hand is half using the art of sophistry. They most likely are getting excellent medical care - medical care in which feeding tubes are shoved down their nose in order to keep their prize specimens alive when they'd rather die than live with the conditions they face in their cells. In Northern Ireland we let the hunger strikers die and make their point. In Cuba, the US just wants to further these bad peoples' (George Bush's words) misery and trap them forever.
There's something incredibly sadistic about Guantanamo, and it's not going to be broken by the UN, especially in its currently moribund unreformed state.
What a depressing week in politics this is going to be.
Before it even got started, we've had the pleasure of witnessing "our boys" beating the hell out of some Iraqi teenagers, as well as taking their anger out on a corpse. Cue the cliched responses: "bad apples" "small minority" "should in no way represent the whole army". Well, you don't say. But what is to be expected of an army that is now nearing its 3rd year of deployment in a country where they are becoming increasingly less welcome? Attacked by those who they have meant to have liberated, with shortages of kit and with many of their number, including the most high-up wholly unconvinced of the case for war, is it any surprise that some have lashed out? This isn't to excuse their behaviour. The real blame, however, should be placed at the feet of the politicians who still refuse to apologise or own up to so many of their mistakes. They made the decision to go war, the army has simply followed their orders. Instead the politicians promise that those responsible will be severely punished, while Blair still sits in 10 Downing Street, still trying to figure out his legacy.
Which brings us to the next depressing development. Not satisfied with the terrorism bill which is still going through parliament, good old Gordie Brown is here to frighten us yet again. This government isn't satisfied with the 28 days detention for terrorist suspects, oh no. Ignoring the will of parliament and the stuffing which 90 days got, Brown wants to more or less reintroduce the legislation again. Of course, this will please the likes of the Sun and some of the other tabloids greatly. Rebekah Wade will love the chance to accuse elected members of parliament of being traitors again, as that fills up a couple of pages with outraged rhetoric. He then goes on to talk about glorification and the ID card scheme, each with points that have been countered time and time again, but as this government knows, if you say something enough then the public will probably believe it:
"We need look no further than the incidents in London, with posters glorifying terrorism - which shocked the country - to see that the authorities might benefit from a clearer framework to intervene quickly when boundaries are crossed," he said.
Mr Brown said no one should be allowed to celebrate the London terror attacks "and walk away from the consequences".
"If we withdraw glorification from the definition of indirect incitement or from the grounds for proscribing organisations, this would send a signal that we could not reach a consensus on how serious this issue is," he said.
Except that the government has already said that the protestors would be caught under current laws. Except that Abu Hamza, the other reason for supporting the bill, was convicted under current laws. There is no justification whatsoever for the possibility of making certain comments or speeches illegal, as has been pointed out, that calling for the overthrow of such a government as Robert Mugabe's would be. You'd better forget about even thinking of supporting an armed insurgency, even if every single other method of toppling a tyrannical regime has failed. This is why the Lords threw out this far too widely drafted piece of legislation. It's why the Commons should do the same.
Onto ID Cards then:
In supporting ID cards Mr Brown said terror suspects frequently used multiple identities - such as one September 11 hijacker who used 30 false identities.
"Would most people not agree that if there are acceptable safeguards to protect civil liberties, there are advantages in a national identity scheme that could not just help us disrupt terrorists and criminals travelling on forged or stolen identities - but more fundamentally, protect each citizen's identity and prevent it being forged or stolen?" he asked.
Except that the US hijackers were all foreigners. Those who attacked Madrid and London were either homegrown or used their own identities, unlike the September 11th hijackers. Those in Spain still carried out the attack despite having identity cards. Even Charles Clarke has mentioned that ID cards would not have stopped the 7th of July attacks. Nevermind that most think ID cards would make it even more likely that identities could be stolen, let's trump the cards possible positives all the way up before we've even introduced the scheme. Just for good measure, let's throw in the views of Brian Gladman:
Brian Gladman, from Worcester, now a security consultant to US government agencies, said Mr Blair and the home secretary had got it wrong when they accused critics of producing "a technically incompetent report" on ID cards. They had accused the report's main author, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, Simon Davies, of bias because he is also a director of Privacy International, a human rights group that opposes ID cards.
Now Dr Gladman, who led research into protecting foreign spies from compromising the country's most secure communciations system, has written to Mr Blair saying he was the author of the sections of the report dealing with safety and security. He pointed out that the "technically incompetent" data was subject to review by the LSE before publication by two "independent information security experts, both of whom are internationally recognised for their expertise".
He warns the new database will "create safety and security risks for all those whose details are entered on the system".
In a damning blow to ministers' claims of bias, he tells Mr Blair "in case you think that I am an opponent of ID cards, I should point out that I support an irrevocably voluntary, self-funded ID card scheme".
He reveals he would rather pay fines than join a compulsory scheme, saying "it is shameful that those who are less well-off will be forced to put themselves at serious risk for a system that serves no purpose that cannot be achieved in other, more effective and less costly ways".
According to Blair though, the argument's already been won, so we might as well just give up now.
Then there's Brown's fantastic wheeze about veterans and getting cadets involved in schools:
In the wake of his speech in January calling for a "British Day", Mr Brown today demanded that a "National Veteran's Day" be designated where ex-soldiers in every constituency are honoured at local ceremonies.
Every ex-serviceman before 1960, including those who did national service, would now be entitled to a veteran's badge, he announced.
He also revealed he would be looking for private financing to back an extension of pilot schemes for cadet schemes, "especially in state schools."
Of course, this is by no means a lack of joined up thinking on the day on which the military is in the can because a few kicked the living shit out of some Iraqis. No, the military will shape our feckless feral youths up into a fine body of men, instead of hanging around on street corners and spitting at old people, they'll be helping them across the street and collecting for remembrance sunday. Notice that none of this money will come out of the treasury's funds, it'll probably come from our mercenary friends, or from the security organisations which supply all those bouncers at the weekend. As for a veteran's day, haven't we left this rather late? Isn't it time that we started to move on from the 2 world wars? By all means respect them and be glad of their sacrifice, as we are every November, but isn't what were up against now more pressing? No, of course not. The only battle now is that of which oil company can make the most profits, who can get rich quickest and how fast can ex-ministers jump into the nearest directorship. Capitalism has not only won, it's doing the equivalent of beating the corpse.
And if that's not enough to make you want to weep, you can also look forward to the vote on the possible smoking in public buildings ban tomorrow. Another attack on the rights of the individual to damage their own body, but this time it's wrapped in the health concern of others. Bar staff don't have a choice, they say. They do: don't work in a bar. I'm not even a smoker, yet this to me seems just like another attack on a persecuted enough already minority. If we're going to impose this, at the same time we should increase funding into programs to get people off the damn cancer sticks. It's good, but it could be better.
Which brings me to my final point. This country is not going to the dogs. Things aren't entirely rosy, but they aren't that bad. So why is it that politicians seem to be constantly only focusing on terrorism legislation, which now never seems to go away? Why are there threats around every corner, why are the youths so out of control that they need the military to make them good citizens? I would blame the tabloids, but I think it's more than that. This government, and politicians in general seem to be increasingly out of touch with what is actually going on. The focus groups don't tell the whole story. And if the Dunfermline by-election is anything to go by, the public are getting mighty sick of hearing about how everything needs constant reform and new legislation. The most depressing thing of all is that Gordon Brown, whom so many put their hopes on, is just as bad as Blair.