Continuing the tradition of the Queen having two birthdays, the media seems to be trying to stretch the Queen's 80th birthday out for around two weeks. After all, it's easier to dispatch some work experience kid to Windsor than to actually bother reporting on real news, like what's happening in Nepal or on the lies and casual racism of the BNP, reported on by both the Guardian and Independent. Then again, the constant bringing up of "asylum seekers" definitely has some of its roots with the mid-market tabloids and the Sun's obsession with those who are fleeing persecution, only to be persecuted here by the ignorant. Stuff like that costs money and time.
The theme of the day seems to allusions to Diana, who only after her death was referred to as "the people's Princess" by Blair and the "Princess of our hearts" by various other people, including the Glenda Slagg's who only the week before she died had been calling her bulimic and criticising her choice of the playboy Dodi Al-Fayed as a partner. The Times goes with the "people's Queen", although the Queen may well see it the other way round. The Sexpress goes with "thousands sharing her joy", although it seems that most of Britain couldn't have cared less about her 80th birthday, but have had to put with at least two weeks of tedium about what a wonderful person she is. The Queen also seemed rather hurried to get away from the people who follow her around everywhere like flies attracted to a shit wrapped up in a pink dress, avoiding eye contact and not answering questions.
The Daily Mail goes with Prince Charles's loving comments on his darling mother, of course ignoring his rather obvious wish for her to shuffle off this mortal coil so he can get on with the job, something that he's been straining at the leash about for quite a while.
Finally then, the Daily Star leads on the fascinating story that Victoria Beckham has Germanic roots. Could the choice of today to splash on this tale be possibly related to the fact that the Queen herself, has err, German ancestors? Surely shome mishtake? Oh, and the Star of course has to illustrate this point by putting Victoria's head on someone wearing a Nazi uniform, because as a country we don't have problems about letting go of the second world war, not at all.
From one Queen that's reigning to another that some seem to think is reigning. Cherie Blair was yesterday exposed as using the Labour party's money to pay for her hairstylist's £275 a day bill.
There's little doubting that some sections of the media have been out to get Cherie Blair for a long time. While the Daily Mail and Telegraph were still in love with Blair himself up till late last year, especially in the aftermath of the London bombings, there's long been animosity between Cherie and the press. Some of it is down to the fact that she ticks all the boxes for what the likes of the Mail and Sun hate; she's a self-made woman and not only that, but also a human rights lawyer. She juggles children and her work, the kind of thing which the Mail sneers at. But then there's her other side, the side of her which believes in the crap of the likes of Carole Caplin, her supposed rebirthing with Blair in Mexico, her book on the women of Downing Street, the freebies she took her while she was giving speeches in Australia, and of course her involvement with the known fraudster Peter Foster.
It's therefore hard to be sympathetic with the bashing she's getting over the bill she's left the Labour party with. While the press would of course have revelled in pointing out if she'd looked dowdy or otherwise during the campaign, what sort of person needs a personal stylist that charges more for one day's work than some get in benefits in a month, or what some get in wages in a week? One that seems to be increasingly out of touch with those whom that Labour is meant to represent. Hannah Pool over on Comment is Free seems to think that £275 is err, quite cheap to some people, which misses the point by a mile. Oh, and after you've had a £275 haircut, there's no way you can go back to a £50 one darling. That would be just too proletarian, know what I mean?
Why should the Labour party pay for her haircuts or stylist? Doesn't she make enough out of her work as a QC or from the royalties from her book to pay her own way? Or is that asking too much? The official Labour response has been "so what?", which pretty much sums up what the listening Blair promised to do when he was re-elected has amounted to.
For about the last two weeks the BBC, ITV and tabloid media have been leading up to the Queen's 80th birthday, printing 80 facts about her, running various documentaries and printing new portraits. Sometimes it's hard to be an anti-monarchist when the media still seems to be under the grip of the conceit that the Queen is what makes Britain "great". Then again, when you see the complete crap the tabloids printed today, you realise that surely this institution cannot last much longer.
The Scum picks up on the fact that old Brenda said she wanted a sunny day, and decides to twist into it to making it look as if she wanted a copy of their soiled rag. Top class stuff from Rebekah Wade. Let's just hope the Sun doesn't last 80 years.
The Diana Express decides to take a break from implying that the Queen in some way was involved in the death of her son's ex-wife, and instead wishes the Queen a very happy birthday. How kind. It's worth noting that the Star, Desmond's other rag, doesn't make any mention of the Queen on its front page. Has Desmond finally realised that his and al-Fayed's obsession with royalty doesn't sell papers?
And then we have the Daily Mail, using the same photo as the Sexpress and rather optimistically stating that Britain is saluting her. They seem to have forgotten about those of us who'd certainly not shed any tears if her head ended up seperated from her neck, like one of her predecessors who shares her son's name. Oh yeah, it's much easier to pretend we just don't exist.
It's times like this that you're thankful for the Independent's sometimes odd choices for their front page splash.
Their parallel is with the situation in Nepal where King Gyanendra last year dismissed parliament and seized absolute power in a supposed constitutional monarchy. His orders to the army and police, to shoot peaceful protestors who were on the streets during curfew, has led to the deaths of at least 14 people. Despite today saying that he would return power to the political parties, it seems unlikely at the moment that this will be enough to end the crisis. The people of Nepal may yet go the whole way and do what we in this country should urge when the Queen's reign comes to an end.
Angela Cannings, who has had a compensation claim blocked for the 18 months she spent in prison after being convicted for killing her two children, as she was cleared not due to newly discovered facts, but because the scientific evidence given was discredited. The man who gave that evidence, Sir Roy Meadow, has since been reinstated on the medical register and had the general medical council's ruling that he had been guilty of serious professional misconduct for providing erroneous evidence overturned. The GMC is to appeal.You sometimes have to wonder whether New Labour is actually a lot more organised and coherent in its thinking than it seems to be. Alongside today's rushed announcements regarding violent offenders, following the murder of Mary-Ann Leneghan and John Monckton among others by men who had been released from prison on probation, Charles "No Trousers" Clarke announced that the maximum amount of money available to victims of miscarriages of justice is to be capped, and that the Home Office is considering introducing the "not proven" verdict of the Scottish system into the English legal system. Perhaps realising that with the ever screaming tabloids demanding inexorable crackdowns, with yet more summary justice and ASBOs likely to be introduced also, that capping the amount of money to those who are wrongly jailed is going to make sense. After all, it's much more likely that more innocent people will be found guilty in this climate.
The package of changes to the compensation scheme for victims of miscarriages of justice will save about £5m a year out of a total annual bill of £8m. Some will have immediate effect. The government will no longer pay compensation above what is required by international obligations and so has now closed its discretionary payment scheme.
In one case under the discretionary scheme cited by Mr Clarke, a man convicted of smuggling offences for which he was fined and ordered to pay costs was awarded a seven-figure sum even though he had not even been to prison.
The statutory scheme paying out the minimum required by international obligations will continue and claimants will have the right to sue in the civil courts for compensation. Time limits are to be introduced for all applications.
The average time taken to settle cases has now reached more than three years, with five cases having taken more than 10 years to resolve.
Mr Clarke is to introduce legislation capping the maximum award at £500,000 under the scheme, plus compensation for loss of earnings. Payments have increased sharply in recent years, with the average now more than £250,000 and with more than 10% paid in legal fees. In one unidentified case more than £2.1m was paid out. A limit is also to be placed on the amount of legal aid available in such cases. Earnings compensation will be limited to one and half times gross average industrial earnings.
The government will further limit the compensation payments made by giving an independent assessor the power to make deductions to take account of other convictions and the defendant's behaviour during the trial. In exceptional cases the compensation could be reduced to nil because of criminal convictions or the defendant's failure to be helpful in court.
The whole thing seems to have a scrooge mentality surrounded by it, as pointed out in the Guardian leader. Admittedly, it is difficult to put a price on the ruining of a life, the years spent in prison wrongly and the effects on the convicted's family and friends. Even so, the government's capping of the rate at £500,000 doesn't seem very high when someone has spent 15 years in prison for a crime they didn't commit. As for the deductions part, apparently having a criminal record may now mean that someone wrongly convicted of another crime may well get zilch. The failure to be "helpful" in court also seems plainly to be an attempt to stop those who have always maintained their innocence from receiving compensation. There are now men and women in prison who have served their life sentences, yet cannot be released from prison on parole because they show no remorse for their crimes, because they continue to claim to be innocent and refuse to give in to a system that demands they repent for crimes they didn't commit. This new policy seems to be a furthering of that.
In an extraordinary piece of doublespeak, Clarke said this of the proposed reforms:
"The changes I have announced today will create a fairer, simpler and speedier system for compensating miscarriages of justice."
Fairer in that any award will capped at a certain amount, simpler in that the system will be able to turn down compensation awards for more reasons, and speedier in doing just that. Yes, Charles's logic is coming on leaps and bounds.
Then there's the proposals to tackle the failings of the probation service in a tiny few but high profile cases.
The orders could ban high-risk offenders from certain locations and impose a range of other conditions, although these do not include curfews. Breaking the orders could lead to up to five years in jail, Mr Clarke told MPs.
A lot of probation orders already do ban high-risk offenders from certain locations. In the case of Damien Hanson, who murdered John Monckton, he was banned from the area from which he was meant to report. This was not to do with inadequacy of the probation system, but the individual failings of some of the officers themselves. Erwin James writes today that two men he knows are also under orders which they have to break to follow. It seems that these orders are written by different people who then don't bother to check if their plans for the offender overlap. Clarke himself admits that the real problem is:
"no risk can ever be eliminated".
And that is the problem. We can't lock violent offenders right up until their sentence is over and then dump them back out on the street. That's even more dangerous than the current scheme which is in place, yet that is of course the solution which the tabloids and Victor Bates, husband of a woman shot dead by a man out on probation propose. As the head of the probation service points out, 95% of those released on parole do not reoffend. Of those that do reoffend, the offence is much more likely to be something such as drug possession or shoplifting than another violent offence.
Clarke's plans then seems obvious: be tough on crime, tough on those who are being released, and tough on those who were innocent in the first place. Whatever happened to being tough on the causes of crime? Oh, that was Gordon Brown's slogan. That explains it.
Hold the front page! Political party in nasty, personal campaign shock! The attiude of the Daily Telegraph in particular seems rather odd, considering the way down the years that they've led and supported nasty campaigns by the Tories, to now be accusing Blair of resorting to "cartoon jibes". It's even stranger when you consider Cameron's spectacular "Punch and Judy" style attack on Brown in his budget reply, which showed just what a hypocrite he is.
All the fuss is about Labour's local election broadcast which was shown on TV last night and which can be seen here. Featuring a cute computer generated chameleon called Dave, who wears a boater hat to signify his years at Eton and Oxford, then pictured sipping champagne and chatting on a phone while in a stretch limo to signify his years in PR, it's certainly amusing. What's more, the main point, which is that David Cameron changes his message to whoever he's speaking to, and backed up with a document which shows Dave's supposed "flip-flops", is actually factual for a change. The Conservatives at the moment don't really have any fleshed-out policies, although "Dave" is still settling down to be fair.
But what's the real point of the whole thing, other than as something which is only going to appeal to those already fully-signed up Labour supporters? There's not a single policy mention in it; it doesn't even bother to set out why Labour would be better than Dave the Chameleon. All it shows is that Labour are clutching at straws, finding it preferable to show how clever their marketing people are and how they can point out what is obvious to most people, rather than actually saying how they're going to improve the councils which their candidates are fighting to get on or stay on. Which is perhaps just as well, because the only thing they ever seem able to come up with is "err, we're not the BNP!"
Perhaps the best riposte is over on Beau Bo D'Or:
Not that the Conservatives themselves have any better ideas of how to run a campaign. Their meaningless slogan of the week is "vote blue, go green", which is remarkably similar in its vacuousness to "forward, not back!" and if you "value it, vote for it!" although it doesn't approach the head-smackingly bad "are you thinking what we're thinking?". Answer: if I was, I'd seriously consider putting a bullet through my brain.
Oh, and Sir Menzies Campbell has sold his Jaguar. Perhaps I need that bullet after all.
And anyway, unless Blair goes, don't vote Labour.
Ah, how nice of the Daily Express to tell us what is and isn't a waste of "our" cash. I wonder how much money has been plowed into the pointless inquiry into Diana's death, which for once the Express doesn't splash on today. Said inquiry, led by former Knacker of the Yard Stevens when he isn't writing his obnoxious rants for the News of the Screws, already seems to have come to the conclusion that Henri Paul was drunk, on medication and crashed because of those things, and that Diana would have survived if she'd been wearing a seatbelt. Exactly what we already knew.
How nice of them also to provide such an obvious juxtaposition on the front page - "Why Queen must reign over us all her life" which seems to suggest that she owns us in some way. How much does the worthless, useless, obsolete, anachronistic royal family cost us every year? A lot more than a sex change operation costs, that's how much.
A high profile Scotland Yard officer who has repeatedly clashed with his bosses over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes faces being ousted from his job, the Guardian has learned.
Brian Paddick gave evidence to the official inquiry into the shooting of the Brazilian at Stockwell tube station last July, that challenged claims by his boss, the Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Ian Blair, and is also facing an allegation that he leaked information about the killing to a BBC journalist.
Mr Paddick told the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into the commissioner's conduct, that officials within Sir Ian's own office feared the wrong man had been killed just hours after the shooting. Sir Ian has repeatedly said that he and his aides had no inkling until the morning of the next day that the man shot eight times by officers hunting suicide bombers was in fact innocent.
The trickle of information surrounding the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes continues. The IPCC has not yet finished its second inquiry, the first already done and dusted, and the CPS is apparently still considering whether charges are to be brought. The second inquiry, surrounding "Sir" Ian Blair's conduct on the day and in the immediate aftermath, is currently impossible to read. What seems to be gradually coming to the fore though is that Blair himself may well have been telling the truth all along.
The Met, and Blair are still adamant that they did not know until the following Saturday morning that an innocent man had been shot dead by CO19, the Met's elite firearms squad. Brian Paddick, along with others, have been challenging that explanation which was given to the IPCC. Paddick claims that senior officials within Blair's own office knew within hours that an innocent man had been shot dead. Blair's own explanation, that he gave to the News of the World, was that he came in on Saturday morning only to be told the equivalent of Nasa scientists by astronauts in space: "Houston, we have a problem."
Paddick's claims deserve further looking into. One person at the Met has already claimed that the operation on July the 22nd was a "complete and utter fuck-up", from beginning to end. Mistakes were made from the beginning, when the officer monitoring the flats where de Menezes lived failed to properly identify him, as he was "relieving" himself at the time. De Menezes was followed, yet he was allowed to get off and then back on the bus on finding that the tube station he normally embarked at was shut, for what was a very short space of time. On arriving at Stockwell, de Menezes was allowed to enter the tube station, the CO19 officers who were following him, apparently uncertain of what to do, or panicking at not being given permission immediately by Cressida Dick to shoot the man that they were under the impression was one of the previous days attempted suicide bombers, preceded to run after him once he had already had the chance to pick up a copy of the Metro newspaper and enter the barriers using his Oyster card. That when de Menezes entered the carriage he was immediately apprehended by yet another police officer, who got him on the floor and put his hands behind his back, while the CO19 officers entered the carriage and proceeded to put 7 bullets in his head and another 3 in his shoulder, shows that he could have been contained without being shot in the first place. A special branch officer later in the day altered the official log, which had originally said "and it was Osman" in relation to a positive identification of who they thought de Menezes was to "and it was not Osman".
A quick examination of de Menezes body, which must have taken place shortly after his death would have confirmed that he had not been carrying any explosives or wearing a suicide belt. So why was this information not given quickly to the Met, who would have been able to discount the account of at least one witness, who claimed he saw an explosives belt? Paddick's claims that the officers knew within hours that the wrong man had been shot dead would tally with this. What seems to have happened is that "Sir" Ian Blair was kept out of the loop on all of this. Quick pathology tests would have established if de Menezes head was all but destroyed, as seems likely seeing as the police used "dum dum" bullets, that he was not their suspect. Again, this seems not to have been passed on to Blair until the following day.
So why was Blair kept of the loop? Without access to the full IPCC reports, it's impossible to know for sure. It could be that as the police quickly realised that an innocent man had been executed that they could use the death to get rid of their "politically correct" head. The mistakes of not correcting the wrong witness reports, the claims that de Menezes had not stopped when ordered, despite never being ordered to, and had not been positively identified completely, did not emerge until later, yet they seem to have been confused as the events didn't become clear until later. It may similarly be that he was kept out of the loop because it was feared that Blair would break the news too quickly, and perhaps frighten the public even more, in that the police seemed to be randomly shooting any person who looked slightly like their suspects. The other option is that Blair is not properly in control of those just below himself in the police hierarchy. The leaking and briefing which has gone on against Blair in the last few months may be testament to this. While there may not have been an active conspiracy among them to get rid of him, they may also work autonomously of someone who they do not respect.
None of this shows the Met in a good light. Brian Paddick, a man already hated amongst those on the right for introducing the softly-softly approach on cannabis in Brixton which was later adopted by the Home Secretary when the drug was downgraded to Class C, probably didn't need to do much to get himself removed out of the limelight by those opposed to Blair's reforms of the Met. The possibility that de Menezes was shot simply because he could be, in order to show the screaming tabloids that something was being done about the security situation, and the government, which was cowering in the face of those screams, has not yet been fully discounted. Ian Blair has not yet been cleared. The Met and all those involved in the shooting of Jean Charles will continue to be under a shadow until the IPCC reports are released in full. While those reports should not be rushed, and the CPS should be careful in deciding what to do following the first report, the sooner that we get the reports the better. Only then can the police know what has to be to done to stop this terrible tragedy happening again, and only then will the public be reassured that such a frightening mistake will also not happen again.
Previous postings on Jean Charles de Menezes can be found here.
It seems that the Labour apparatchiks have already giving up on countering the claim that the loans-for-peerages affair is anything other than a brazen attempt to ennoble a bunch of rich businessmen who loaned Labour money. After all, why not just be up front and admit it? Don't the public respect honesty?
Downing Street changed tack in the "cash for honours" controversy yesterday by openly asserting it had always wanted business sponsors of city academy schools to join the House of Lords, arguing that their personal knowledge of the government's education programme would add to the debate in the upper house.
There had been no automatic link between funding academies and an honour, the No 10 source insisted, but nor was there an attempt to disguise the government's desire to have business educationalists in the Lords. The Downing Street source said two businessmen had been put forward for political peerages due to their knowledge of the government's academy programme, and not in return for giving sponsorship to the academies. "We are being upfront abut this. If they were willing to give the time, effort and money to support the academies programme, we wanted to put them in the Lords." All such nominations were scrutinised by the independent Appointments Commission, with some rejected and some accepted.
Eight sponsors of the 27 academies have received some form of honour.
Ah yes, due to their knowledge of the government's academy programme. See, the House of the Lords has been rebelling against Labour more and more, not because they just feel like it, but because this government has been one of the worse for coming up with legislation on the back of a fag packet as the result of a tabloid front-page, even worse with actually drafting the legislation, and then there's the actuality of the policy they're putting into law in the first place. So, why not fill the whole place with people who are loaning you money and who have set up academies so they can mould teenagers in their image, destined to never question anything, respect business and think that a life of shelf stacking with the dangled carrot of a management position is all that's worth aspiring to? They're much more likely to be loyal to your position than that the rabble who are nominally Labour peers.
What more evidence do you need, when Lord Charlie Falconer, the Dear Leader's ex-flat mate; Lord Adonis, the real education secretary who has never faced the electorate; Lord Drayson, aka Lord Smallpox ex-head of Powderject, who sold the government the vaccine in the panic following 9/11 and the anthrax scare; and who could forget Lord Sainsbury, who has bank-rolled the party for years, are all ministers? Let's hear no more about Labour sleaze, because their heart is in the right place, and just look at the top class public servants those who have been ennobled so far are!
In Steve Bell's If... Harold Hardnose is a tabloid editor. He decides against splashing a "face of evil" two days running, fearing that it's likely to be taking the punters for granted. It seems that he could learn some lessons from Peter Hill and Dirty Desmond. Today's Express runs on the front page with:
which bears a startling resemblance to:
which was the front page of the Diana Express just 11 days ago.
Either they think that the majority of Express readers can't remember that far back, or they really are taking their punters, of which there is a fast decreasing number, for granted.