After a pretty miserable week in politics, the demonstrations which have greeted the visit of Condoleezza Rice to the north of England have been greatly mood-enhancing. Faced with significant protests, the attiude of our very own Jack Straw has been condescension.
Mr Straw described crowds of supporters outside as "remarkable" and dismissed the number of demonstrators as "not large".
"They (protesters) said they were going to get bus loads and bus loads in. Well they didn't do very well," said Mr Straw.
"If they had asked me I could have done better for them."
The BBC says they were around 200 protestors, while Sky claims 500, which is surprising seeing as one is owned by Mr Murdoch, and one err, isn't. Maybe the reason why Straw dismissed such a number is because, after all, about that number of civilians dies every week in Iraq, and he's long since pushed any such worries out of his mind. Yesterday saw a much bigger protest, with BlairWatch reporting between 1,000 and 3,000 turned up in Liverpool while Rice was visiting the Philharmonic.
The whole visit has gone tits up, quite frankly. The visit to the mosque, withdrawn at the last minute, was not due to "militants" planning to stage a sit-in, but rather because it was made by a few people without consultation. Condi was forced to enter the Pleckgate school by a side door, while the police had a intimidating presence on the band of protestors who had gathered. The children inside the school were cherry-picked prefects, lest any of them say anything somewhat radical or controversial. She was supposed to have watched the football at Blackburn, not just give a speech and receive a shirt, but Sky moved the match to Monday instead for television purposes. A couple of performers at the Philharmonic pulled out, and the noise from the crowd outside could easily be heard inside, while one of the singers segued into Give Peace a Chance after Imagine.
Perhaps the last word should be left to Condi on the first of April.
"It was not a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It was not a mistake to unleash the forces of democracy in the Middle East."
The same forces of democracy which have killed over 2,000 US servicemen, no doubt.
Update: Corrected the error which said one of the school children sang "Give Peace a Chance" rather than one of the Philharmonic performers. Apologies for the misunderstanding.
Charles Clarke has come up with a wicked wheeze for revenge over the Lords battering that his beloved ID scheme took - which reached royal assent yesterday after the compromise which meant that those who renew their passport can opt out of actually having a card until 2010 - those who do opt out will still have to pay the currently projected £93 cost for both passport and card, in effect, an ID card tax.
People who opt out of having an identity card when they renew their passport will still have to pay the full £93 combined cost of both cards, the Home Office disclosed yesterday. Ah yes, a public appetite for the cards. Could this be because the Sun newspaper supports them? The Sun also supported the loathed 90 days detention for terrorist suspects, which the government also claimed had huge public support. As for it being a blow to the anti-ID card movement, over 12,000 have already pledged to refuse to register for such a scheme, also pledging to donate £20 to a public defense fund for anyone who is prosecuted for not doing so. Today NO2ID has gone further, more or less declaring war on all those who support ID cards at the upcoming local elections:
The decision is a setback to anti-ID card campaigners hoping to develop a boycott on the back of the last minute opt-out compromise which defused parliamentary opposition.
Those who renew their passport until 2010 will be given the choice of not being issued with an identity card, although their details will still be registered on the database.
But Mr Clarke's insistence that they would not get a discount on the £30 ID cost of the combined ID card/passport is likely to prove a powerful disincentive. Ministers are hoping that only a small minority will refuse to have the card while it is voluntary.
Mr Clarke said he believed there was a public appetite for ID cards and that the opt-out was only agreed to allay fears expressed by the Lords that the cards were being foisted on people.
In May, there are local elections. This government, despite all its arrogance, can only stand so much adverse publicity. This scheme can still be stopped, or at the least cut down to size, but not if we have already signalled defeat. The real battle is only just beginning.
We ask that, before the elections, every NO2ID supporter and ID opponent in the country asks every single one of their potential representatives their position on ID cards, and makes it clear to them (especially those who defend the ID scheme) that they will NEVER vote for a supporter of compulsory registration or ID cards. This is not (yet) a 'decapitation' strategy, nor are we proposing tactical voting in May - but if enough people do this, the aspiring political class will begin to sit up and take notice.
How many letters, e-mails or meetings will this take? We cannot say. But if you get no response, send another letter - always keep copies - and start writing to your local paper, too: "This candidate refuses to engage with the genuine concerns of a potential constituent, how fit for office can (s)he be?". Turn up at hustings and wave copies of your unanswered letters. At some point you'll get a response - and the longer it takes, the worse the candidate looks. If you do get an interesting response, e.g. vehement opposition to the scheme by a Labour candidate, do let us know [send an e-mail to email@example.com].
None of this is hard to do. It just requires that enough of us get organised and DO it.
Please start this weekend - find out who your candidates will be. Get their addresses. Write the first letter, construct a questionnaire, see if any of them will respond to e-mail (but don't rely exclusively on it). And follow through.
In the next five weeks you could sow the seeds of defeat for the ID scheme in your area, but you'll never know unless you try.
No Trousers Charles Clarke, fresh from lying yet again about his encounter with Rachel North's father, has said today that ID cards will be made compulsory if they win the next election.
Let's pray that the election ends in a hung parliament, with Labour forced to go into coalition with the Lib Dems. They should then use their influence to demand an end to scheme. Yes, even the most cynical can dream.
George Galloway has come good. After stroking his ego by appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, he's managed not only to avoid being entrapped by the News of the World's infamous "investigative" reporter, the fake sheikh Mazher Mahmood, but he's now exposed the NotW for exactly what it is: the very worst of "journalism".
George was invited to meet Sam Fernando and Pervaiz Khan at the Dorchester Hotel in London. He was apparently suspicious of their motives from the beginning, but nonetheless following cajoling from some of his associates eventually met them last Saturday night. During a meal, the two asked whether they could sponsor members of parliament, on which Galloway quickly corrected them and rejected any such suggestions that they would do so. They then went on to make a number of anti-semitic remarks, clearly trying to get Galloway to either agree with them or somehow incriminate himself. They questioned how many Jews died in the Holocaust, and when Galloway mentioned that the Daily Express was the most anti-muslim and pro-war paper in the land, one apparently asked, "because it's owned by a Jew?" Galloway said, "no, it's because it's owned by a pro-war pornographer." The clincher though seems to have been the appearance of a man with a mouthful of gold teeth, who asked to have his picture taken with Galloway. This man with gold teeth has appeared in other tales about Mazher Mahmood, and is apparently his bodyguard. Both Andrew Marr and Carole Caplin have seen him while they were with Mahmood. Roy Greenslade, in his article on the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was (see below), identifies him as Mahmood Qureshi, a second cousin of the fake sheikh.
Galloway also reports that Mahmood tried the same trick with Jeremy Corbyn. What links Galloway and Corbyn? They are both the leading MP members of the Stop the War coalition. It's worth remembering that not a single one of the newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch opposed the war in Iraq. Every one of them, including those in China, supported Bush and Blair's adventure. Murdoch had his own idea about what would be the best thing to come out of the Iraq war. It wasn't freedom for the Iraqi people, oh no.
"The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in any country."
Murdoch and his minions are out to smear all opponents of the war as corrupt, or as having ulterior motives. Instead of investigating the corruption at the heart of the Labour and Tory party loans, they are more interested in attacking politicians who actually have some principles.
The News of the Screws is predictably licking its wounds, but says that it was investigating the campaign funding loans-for-peerages scandal. How Galloway and Corbyn relate to the scandal which not even Jack Dromey or Gordon Brown knew about is unclear. The News of the Screws entrapment attempt on Galloway is remarkably similar to its story a couple of years ago about a plan to kidnap Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, and demand a ransom from her husband, the footballer David. The men in that case were entrapped by Florim Gashi, who was the one who kept bringing up Victoria. The trial of the men collapsed once it became clear the Gashi was a convicted criminal, who had been paid £10,000 by the News of the Screws. Whether the plot was Gashi's idea, or indeed the fake sheikh's, is unknown. Roy Greenslade called then for an investigation in the "investigator". That now seems even more urgent.
The compromise reached between the House of Lords and the government today over the ID cards bill has its heart in the right place, but it misses the point of why so many are actually opposed to the scheme in its entirety.
Under the new plans, accepted by Home Office minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal, anyone applying for a passport before January 2010 can opt out of having an ID card.
The move follows months of wrangling between the Lords and Commons on this issue with peers rejecting "compulsion by stealth" five times.
Earlier today MPs had overturned the latest Lords amendment but the home secretary, Charles Clarke, indicated he was prepared to accept a "workable compromise".
The compromise was backed by 287 to 60, a majority of 227, with only the Liberal Democrats still opposing it.
Home Office minister Andy Burnham said in a statement: "I am delighted that we have been able to give our backing to an amendment tabled by the cross-bencher Lord Armstrong.
"The amendment preserves the integrity of the national identity register by ensuring that everyone who applies for or renews a passport or other designated document has their biometric information and other identity details placed on the register.
"However, it also goes towards meeting the concerns of those who have argued that the card itself should not be compulsory at this stage by allowing those who apply for or renew their passport before 1 January 2010 to opt-out of being issued the ID card itself, even though their identity details will be entered onto the register."
First of all, the Lords who stood up to the government over this should be thanked for their dedication in holding it to account. 5 rounds of "parliamentary ping-pong" is no mean feat. Without them we wouldn't have even got this slight compromise.
Nevertheless, the argument has never simply been opposition to a piece of plastic which we carry around. The argument has been about the database behind it, how much of our information is held on it, the costs of the scheme and whether it will actually work. It has also been about whether it will become mandatory to carry it as well as whether it can be demanded to prove who you are, but those have always been lesser concerns. If you now renew your passport, your "biometric information" will be taken, which means both your fingerprints and photographs of your irises will be required. In addition, you will have to give numerous pieces of personal information (the bill sets out 50 categories of registerable facts), all of which will now be entered on a national database which numerous layers of government will have access to. This compromise does to a certain extent meet the Labour manifesto pledge that they would introduce a "voluntary" scheme, but there is nothing voluntary about giving personal information about yourself to the government which they will keep for their own use, when its only use should be on a passport that intends to prove who you are so you can travel.
The typical refrain is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Every single person has something that they are not proud of, that they are embarrassed about. If they didn't, they wouldn't be human. It's a false argument that believes the government's intentions are entirely pure; that if you are unwilling to give them your personal details that you must be guilty of something.
What the government scheme is going towards is permanent surveillance of the person, with a database behind it, constantly updated, most likely eventually with someone's whereabouts from day to day, thanks to the largest amount of CCTV cameras in a single nation on the face of the planet. That this database will get things wrong and that as a result people may be falsely accused is incredibly likely. After all the IT fiascoes of this government, you would have thought they would have learned that databases are a disaster waiting to happen. They haven't, and the dedication this government has shown to pushing through this bill, which would have made the scheme compulsory in violation of the manifesto after last year (they're breaking their promises earlier and earlier now, it took a few years to break the one not to bring in top-up fees) shows just how intent they are on keeping tabs on everyone. This is without even getting into the cost, which is likely to hugely spiral, and will then be offset by raising the amount you'll have to pay for the card. (£93 is the estimate at the moment for a passport and card.) Then you have the difficulties surrounding biometrics, which for some people simply refuse to work, as their irises currently aren't able to be recognised. The control freakery which began with the media is becoming deeply personal.
The government has instead spent its time saying how much they will solve identity fraud, without explaining how or countering the fact that almost as soon as they come out they will most likely be forged, that benefit fraud and otherwise will magically disappear overnight thanks to the scheme, and that terrorism will be made less likely, even though it didn't stop the Madrid bombers and it wouldn't have stopped the 7/7 bombers. The scheme should be seen as the worst of this government's illiberal excesses, even more onerous and oppressive than attempting to lock up terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge, or locking up non-British citizens suspected of terrorism indefinitely. At the same time Labour demands that the public learn to "respect" each other, while it denies it to its own critical supporters. Blair carries on, apparently intent on staying on to "fix" the NHS before he'll consider stepping down. Even the Guardian has finally got it, after years of mild criticism: He must go, and now.
Related post: Hot Water at Bloggerheads.
The remarkable Express group obsession with the dead princess shows no signs of abating. Private Eye today reports that Richard "Dirty" Desmond, pornographer and owner of Northern and Shell, has told the Daily Star editor Dawn Neesom to follow Peter "Mentally" Hill's lead and splash Diana on the front page as often as possible. With impeccable timing, today's Daily Star does just that:I don't have any idea who the lover is, and I also don't care. That other Daily Star obsession, namely printing a photo of a young woman in her underwear on the front page is taken up today by the Sun, which prints one of their own page 3 "idol" Keeley, along with a story about Whitney Houston, which alleges that she is addicted to crack cocaine. How people lived before the tabloids followed the rich and famous everywhere I just don't know.
The questions that remain over rendition are slowly but surely dwindling. There now seems little doubt that the security services are not entirely complicit in the rendition process which has seen terrorist suspects taken to states which practice torture for softening up. It seems difficult to believe that they did not know that UK airspace has been used by CIA and charter jets that have been involved in rendition. Indeed, it seems increasingly likely that they may well have been involved with some of the cases.
MI5 knew that two British residents who were seized and secretly flown to Guantánamo Bay were carrying harmless items when it tipped off the CIA that they were in possession of bomb parts. The full report from Cagedprisoners is available here.
The disclosure is contained in high court documents released last night revealing the full extent of the government's role in the US practice of "extraordinary rendition" - in this case, of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, in 2002.
The two men were seized in Gambia after a tip-off from MI5. British security officials had earlier detained the men at Gatwick airport before releasing them.
Court documents show that their detailed travel arrangements were then given to a "foreign intelligence agency". The government does not deny this is a reference to the CIA.
In a telegram sent, apparently to the CIA, on November 1 2002, an MI5 officer said an "electronic device" which could be part of an improvised explosive device had been found on the men. But in a note to the Foreign Office 10 days later MI5 stated that the men had been released at Gatwick "after it was assessed that this item was a commercially available battery charger that had been modified by Bisher al-Rawi in order to make it more powerful".
There is no evidence that the assessment that the item was innocent was passed on to the CIA. One MI5 officer, known only as A in his witness statement, questioned the accuracy of a description of the battery charger as "harmless".
The disclosures come as a report today from the group Caged Prisoners claims evidence shows that Tony Blair, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and the leader of the house, Geoff Hoon, "misled" the Commons "over their knowledge and complicity in illegal acts of rendition".
It also accuses Britain's secret services of involvement in "interrogations of detainees where abuse and torture" were used in countries ranging from Morocco and Pakistan to Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay.
* BINYAM MOHAMMED AL-HABASHI Government ministers have known about the behaviour of the security services in the cases of the men above. Some of the above may well be guilty of terrorist offences, but if so, why have we abdicated any responsibility we had towards them? Why have we not attempted to repatriate UK residents when the other British citizens were brought back from Guantanamo? It makes repeated denials from the likes of Jack Straw and Tony Blair that the UK has not in any way been involved in rendition flights which used UK airspace and airbases more and more difficult to believe. If MI5 has known about the flights, which seems increasingly likely, have they informed ministers that they had been landing here, just to refuel or not? If not, why not, and if they have, why has the government repeatedly attempted to move the argument on, as the leaked memo to the New Statesman suggested? What is so difficult about being honest about what has been going on, if the flights that have landed here have not been carrying kidnapped detainees? All the government silence does is increase speculation and make us believe the worst.
Visited by MI6 agents while in prison in Karachi who told him he would be moved to Morocco. Upon arrival, MI5 agents supplied interrogators with information to ease the extraction of confessions. He remains in Guantanamo Bay.
* JAMAL AL-HARITH
Fell into the hands of US forces while imprisoned by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite promises to help establish his innocence, the British Embassy in Kabul permitted his rendition to Guantanamo Bay.
* JAMIL EL BANNA,
Picked up by authorities in the Gambia on the advice of the British and subsequently rendered to Guantanamo. Still imprisoned.
* MOAZZAM BEGG
Regularly questioned by British authorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who allowed rendition.
* MARTIN MUBANGA
British intelligence supplied evidence leading to his arrest in Lusaka. Questioned regularly by British agents. MI5 still allowed US forces to render him to Guantanamo.
* OMAR DEGHAYES
Interrogated by a British officer by the name of "Andrew" in Pakistan, who promised to return him home if he co-operated. Despite complying, he was sent to Guantanamo, where he remains.
* RICHARD BELMAR
Held in Pakistan where requests from the British Consulate to visit him fell on deaf ears. By the time access was granted, Belmar was on his way to Guantanamo. M15 had been permitted full access from day one.
* THE TIPTON THREE: SHAFIQ RASUL, RHUHEL AHMED, ASIF IQBAL
Held by US forces in Afghanistan, where they were questioned by British officials before being rendered.
* SHAKER AAMER
Interrogated by MI5 and MI6 in Kandahar. On hunger strike in Guantanamo.
* TAREK DERGOUL
Questioned in Afghanistan by British forces. Believing they intended to help, he complied. He was rendered to Guantanamo.
On a day when Jack Straw tells us that international terrorism is the biggest threat we face, why can the government not realise that the silence that surrounds their own actions does nothing to help the situation? Tell us the truth and be damned, or kept silent and be damned anyway.
Despite all Labour's wrong-doing and its selling of peerages for loans, you have to sympathise with their anger about the silence over the Tories loans and funding. Dear old Dave Cameron is still refusing to publish the details of those who lent them money before 2004, despite Labour doing so, as according to them seeing as all existing declarations have complied with existing rules there is no need to. That didn't wash with Labour's original refusals to do so, and it won't with them either.
Some revelations have come out over the weekend, including that at least two of the loans were from foreign businessmen, who are banned from donating to political parties under current rules.
Two foreign businessmen who lent the Conservatives a total of £3.5m before the last general election were revealed yesterday amid continuing pressure on the party by the Electoral Commission to disclose the full list of secret lenders.
Michael Hintze, a naturalised Australian businessman, outed himself on a Tory activist website run by Iain Dale, the defeated Tory parliamentary candidate for Norfolk North, revealing he had made a £2.5m loan to the party.
The second foreign lender was named by the Observer as Johan Eliasch, a Swedish sports equipment tycoon, who made a £1m loan. He was one of the principal backers of Michael Howard, supporting his bid to replace Iain Duncan Smith as leader. The loan is on commercial terms in the form of a mortgage on the party's old headquarters in Smith Square, Westminster. It has enabled the Tories to buy back the freehold of the building, which they had sold off to cut their debts, giving them an opportunity to develop the listed property to raise cash.
Mr Hintze, who is a generous donor to the arts, notably the Victoria and Albert museum, used his offshore Channel Islands company Morain Investments to provide the loan.
Ah yes, Labour might have David Mills and his offshore tax havens for his clients, but you can count on the Tories and their supporters to be even more devoted to keeping more of their money away from the nasty revenue. It gets better:
Two minor donors were also revealed at the weekend. The party confirmed its next declaration to the Electoral Commission would reveal that Rosemary Said, the wife of foreign arms dealer Wafic Said, a Syrian-born Saudi, bid £100,000 at David Cameron's first fundraising ball, for an eight-person dinner to be provided by celebrity chef Albert Roux. Nicholas Soames, former shadow defence minister, and Boris Johnson, former editor of the Spectator and the Tories' higher education spokesman, will be wine waiters. Mr Said was the middleman in Britain's biggest arms deal, the Al Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia signed by Margaret Thatcher and renewed by Tony Blair.
Poju Zabludowicz, a Finnish property billionaire, gave the party £15,000 through a UK property firm.
It's reminiscent of some businesses which have "slave" auctions for charity. You can imagine Boris and Fatty Soames waddling along with a gun held against the small of their back, just for emphasis. New Tories, funded by the same old indirect murderers and businessmen. Business as usual for the "party of business".
Yep, the police are again targetting peaceful protestors in Westminster. Why they can't treat the despicable law passed by parliament banning protests within a certain area of the House of Commons without prior permission as a joke and an outrage like everyone other than Blair and his cronies is beyond me:
Anti-war protester Brian Haw, who won a court battle to maintain his Parliament Square vigil which began in 2001, has been arrested.
The 56-year old father-of-seven, from Redditch, Worcestershire, was with a fellow campaigner when the arrest occurred, supporters said.
Mr Haw was arrested on suspicion of obstructing police.
Both Mr Haw and the other campaigner, Barbara Tucker, were taken into custody but were later released.
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "A man and a woman were arrested at 2pm in Parliament Square."
The woman was arrested on suspicion of unlawfully demonstrating in Parliament Square, and she allegedly refused to give her details to police when requested.
Scotland Yard said the pair had been released pending a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service.
What purpose did this arrest serve? What was achieved by arresting either of them? On the weekend when dozens of opposition protestors were arrested in Belarus, it makes us and our supposed superior democracy look stupid.