Tuesday, May 03, 2016 

Milton Keynes doesn't just lack a soul. It also has no heart.

(This is a guest post by a life-long Milton Keynes resident who wants to remain anonymous.)

Something strange is going on.  The London media, as everyone knows, is obsessed with London.  To them, London is England, Britain; north of Watford may as well be marked on the map with "here be monsters".  The actual north is another country; Scotland is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.  And to be fair, you can understand their obsession: London is a whole series of cities contained within the M25 car park, a constantly undulating mass you can travel around quickly and easily on some of the best public transport in the world.  Almost everything you could possibly want is within reach and almost anything you could want to buy can be purchased swiftly.  Sure, you now practically have to be a millionaire to own your home, everyone must get tired at some point of living in a concrete jungle, and if you're down on your luck it must be one of the hardest places in the country to eke out an existence, but for the most part the positives outweigh the negatives.

Why then are journalists suddenly paying attention to Milton Keynes?  Recently there was a Newsnight segment dedicated to the "city" (MK is not technically designated a city, and doesn't deserve to be one) being a hidden gem, while in today's Guardian Patrick Barkham eulogises at length on the city's development, the supposed threats to this wonderland of grid roads, open spaces and apparent boundless potential.  Apart from house prices for the time at least remaining well below what they are in London, the answer is even more cynical than that.  For Milton Keynes is London, just with everything good about the capital and therefore viewed as a downside to your average London journo hacked away.

To start with, Patrick Barkham doesn't even tell the story of MK right.  Milton Keynes did not suddenly spring out of nowhere into existence via the development corporation; the "city" itself takes its name from a village that's still there, not that a hack would ever find it as it's a fair distance away from the gleaming centre.  Milton Keynes was in fact built around a number of villages and small towns that were already there, the most notable being Wolverton, Stony Stratford, Bletchley and Newport Pagnell.  As Barkham writes, the development corporation did have some damn good ideas: the grid system does for the most part result in a town that rarely gets snarled up outside of rush hour, travel by car once you're used to the place is quick and simple, and it would be pointless to deny that the town, viewed from the car window, looks clean, pretty and welcoming, such is the way the various housing estates were all kept separate from each other.

Which is also the town's greatest downfall.  No, of course Milton Keynes doesn't have a soul, but a far better way to describe it is as atomised.  The separation of the various housing developments ensures that there is no wider sense of community in the town.  The fact that you don't need to travel through different estates to get to where you want to unless you have to results in a city that is little more than a collection of villages.  People come in, they go to work, go to one of the larger supermarkets disconnected from the estates to shop, perhaps go up to what locals call the "city", meaning Central Milton Keynes on the weekend, and that's it.  Very few of these estates have pubs, although some have restaurants and most takeaways; if you want a drink or to experience what little local colour is on offer, you'll have to go to one of the places mentioned above.

By the same token, these estates vary hugely in terms of socio-economic background.  Barkham mentions Shenley Church End, which is one of the better off areas of the town; Netherfield, also mentioned, is by contrast one of the most deprived.  By virtue of the planning of the town, these areas are effectively closed off to outside eyes, so you'll never see how rundown certain areas have become, nor will you see for instance the gated communities that have also sprung up, like the couple opposite the National Badminton Centre in Loughton.  This is perfect for those who have the attitude of out of sight, out of mind, which has long prevailed in MK.

If you're a walker or a cyclist, then yes, you will be exposed to these places, and as Barkham writes, the grid system was designed with pedestrians and bikes considered, with underpasses and the "redways" easily accessible.  Except hardly anyone uses them, for the reason that MK principally was made for the car.  Even on a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon you can walk along the redways for miles and rarely see another soul.  The lakes that are dotted around, like Willen and Caldecotte are much more popular, it's true, and yet still hardly ever full to bursting except in high summer.  Barkham at least admits that public transport isn't great, which is about right: it's not terrible, but is expensive and irregular away from the main routes served.

This might all be sounding great to your average Londoner so far, as long as they can drive.  Atomised, disparate, soulless, but affordable, right?  Up to a point, yes.  But what about culture?  Milton Keynes is the place culture forgot.  It wasn't until around the turn of the century that we got a theatre.  Fancy Shakespeare, a comedian, the odd serious minded play?  Well, we've got Shrek the Musical for you, or Hairspray.  Arthouse cinema?  Sorry, no.  We might have had the first ten screen multiplex in the country, with the site soon to be demolished, a brand new Odeon and a World of Cine, but anything other than blockbuster fare?  No chance.  How about any sort of nightlife?  Sure, we're now in the era of Tinder and Netflix and chill, where gentrification is closing down more and more London clubs but at least there's still a few.  Here, in a city of over a quarter of a million people?  Again, you'll have to go to the one of the above mentioned towns.  Roughly two pubs in the entire town play host to bands of even the slightest note, but you like Yates's and Wetherspoons' right?  Loads of those up the city at least.  No clubs though, sorry.  We do have the Stables, Cleo Laine's place out at Wavendon, which is great if you like that sort of thing, but that's about all you're getting.  You'll need to go to Northampton to find any sort of bustle.

It does then amaze when people like Linda Inoki (I predictably had never heard of Inoki, Theo Chalmers or their campaign groups until I saw Barkham's piece.  Clearly doing good work) describe Milton Keynes as having "phenomenal character".  MK has no character.  Yes, there's something to be said for the way the city was planned out, for the shopping centre itself, if not for what is actually inside it, but to try and claim that MK has a distinctive character through having none whatsoever is pushing it.

Pete Winkleman, who everyone in MK has heard of and anyone with any sense detests, is the personification of everything wrong with the place.  Uprooting Wimbledon and implanting it in MK was simply the most crass and brazen of the attempts to give the town something to base itself around.  Never previously had there been a main MK football team for the reason, again, that everyone was far more attached to their local estate, town or village side.  They were never going to get anywhere but no one cared.  We were more than happy to support Northampton, or choose a club from elsewhere when it came to the leagues proper.  It would be churlish to deny MK Dons do have a following, as they do, but only from a minority. 

Just as the city itself has a few noisy supporters who are finally get noticed by the London media.  Yes, Milton Keynes is great if you want a quiet family life.  If you're 18 to 40 though, like culture of even the most vaguely alternative variety, don't especially want to drive and aren't comfortably off, it's little short of hell.  Barkham and the other gawpers are more than welcome to swap places with me.  Until then, it would be nice if hacks bothered to scratch even slightly at MK's glossy veneer.  Had Barkham so much as walked slightly further down "CMK’s broad boulevards", he would have discovered that in the underpasses now live a number of homeless men and women.  Not even during the peak of homelessness in the 90s was Milton Keynes unable to put a roof over everyone's head.  It has such a problem now.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016 

Where would we be without Leninspart, eh?

It's not often these days anyone can say they agree with Nick Clegg, as was oh so achingly funny a few years ago, not least as he wisely keeps a low profile.  He couldn't however have been more right, finding himself stuck at the side of Ken Livingstone by grim chance this morning after what even by Ken's standards was a clusterfuck of remarkable proportions. "I never ever thought I would see the day that mainstream, well-known politicians like you would start raking over Hitler’s views in a way that people would simply not understand," Clegg said, in what also has to be one of the more understated reactions to a few hours of pandemonium via interview and Twitter.

I mean, it's not like this is difficult or complicated.  Here's a very simple rule all would do well to follow: unless a debate is about Hitler and the Nazis, don't bring Hitler and the Nazis into it.   It doesn't matter if someone else made reference to Hitler first, don't then follow their lead.  For instance, if someone ill-advisedly made reference to Hitler even if only through an image meme, don't then try and defend them by saying that well actually, Hitler supported this or that, even if your intention is not to make an allusion to the modern day.  Moreover, especially don't suggest that Hitler only "went mad" later.

In the grand scheme of things, Ken's remarks this morning to Vanessa Feltz, of all people, were less offensive than Naz Shah's.  He was completely and utterly wrong about Hitler supporting Zionism, obviously, which he didn't even in 1932, but he also didn't say Hitler was a Zionist, as some have wrongly claimed since.  There is a difference, however subtle.  It's true that Nazi policy until later in the 1930s was to in the main force Jews to leave Germany, to begin with encouraging them to do so, before then making it ever more difficult involving payments to the state and confiscation of assets, but there was not a concerted attempt to direct Jews towards what was then Palestine.  A German Foreign Ministry circular from January 1939 makes clear the opposite was the case.

Ken was not setting out to be antisemitic, and probably just about avoided being so.  He did however allow the impression to arise, as Rabbi Danny Rich has said, of equating Zionism and Nazism, as antisemites routinely do.  As Laura Janner-Klausner has also stated, Ken has form in this area, and while not a Nazi apologist, has in the past failed to apologise for being unpleasant rather than outright racist.

His suspension from the party, with the leadership moving slightly more quickly today than previously, is deserved.  Had though Ken not decided to make himself available today for interviews, defending Shah and the party when neither want or need Ken to speak up for them, it's likely the claims of antisemitism in Labour would have began to blow over.  If instead of following up his interview with Vanessa Feltz by appearing on every show going he had read the tweet from Sadiq Khan, the man battling to become the second Labour Mayor of London, calling for his suspension, realised the furore he had already caused and retracted what he said, he wouldn't then have got in a slanging match with fellow professional idiot John Mann.  But then, Ken doesn't apologise.  He doesn't think.  Exactly why it is the leadership has not made this clear to him before that his "help" is more hindrance than it is support I don't know, unless Ken has simply ignored their advice.

We're now in a situation where thanks to Livingstone's stupidity the race to discover more "evidence" of antisemitism is bound to continue.  Ken has without question helped Jeremy Corbyn's enemies in the party, all of whom were exceptionally quick to call for his dismissal, for which they can hardly be blamed, many of whom have no compunction about having their party portrayed as hostile to Jews if it hastens Corbyn's departure.  It makes those who have pointed out and argued that the claims of antisemitism against Labour members so far have been weak to non-existent look foolish, and encouraged groups that have long opposed the party's attempts to be even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians to declare this proves the "evidence is there for all to see".  Most damagingly of all, it will have an effect, no doubt small, but an effect nonetheless on the elections next Thursday.

A great day, all told.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016 

The antisemitic muppetry of Naz Shah and connected silliness.

Naz Shah, it's fair to say, is a bit of a muppet.  After scrabbling around for months for evidence of antisemitism within Labour, turning up little more than allegations against students at Oxford and idiotic tweets by one or two activists on Twitter, some poor sap at Guido Fawkes was apparently tasked with going through years' worth of timeline updates by MPs on Facebook.

With Shah, they finally hit paydirt.  Back in 2014 she shared one of those wonderful image memes that tend to be prevalent there, suggesting a "solution" to the Israel-Palestine conflict was to relocate the country to America.  Transporting the population to the States would also only cost the equivalent of 3 years' worth of US aid to the country, so everyone would be a winner.  Shah was so taken with the idea she suggested she would send it on to both David Cameron and Barack Obama, not apparently in the least bit troubled by the history of the transporting of Jews, to focus on merely one of its objectionable aspects.

It would have been slightly less embarrassing, albeit only slightly, if Shah hadn't also recently denounced a local Tory councillor for his alleged racism, demanding that he be suspended from the party.  That it took Labour the best part of today to do the same with Shah despite knowing about the post yesterday, with Shah resigning as John McDonnell's PPS, also doesn't look great.  Shah has at least made an unequivocal apology, and did so in the House of Commons, saying that her views have changed greatly over the past 2 years.

Whether that turns out to be that, and the claims that Shah has associations with others with exceptionally dodgy views on Israel stay only that, with Shah regaining the whip at some point in the future remains to be seen.  So long as other unacceptable posts are not forthcoming, I'd like to see Shah given the benefit of the doubt and for her to be judged by her deeds rather than past words.

We have though been going through another of those periods where accusations of racism and extremism have been chucked around liberally by all sides, all in the belief that there is some political advantage to be gained.  If it seems a bit rum for a prime minister involved in the smearing of Sadiq Khan as being a pal of Islamists to then comment on Labour's alleged problems with antisemitism, that's because it is.  It also ignores how all of us will have at some point come out with some misjudged, overwrought or plain wrong commentary; social media has only made it easier to discover and make an issue of at a later date.  


Nor is this necessarily of much interest to the wider public, whom if anything would prefer politicians to sound more like they do.  When you have people texting into phone-ins declaring themselves relieved that unaccompanied refugee children in Europe won't be coming to this country, describing them as "vermin" and "leeches", as I heard on the local BBC station earlier in the week, it's worth reflecting for the most part our representatives resist the temptation to use inflammatory language.

The same cannot be said for our allies.  When you consider how former Iranian president Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and remarks on how Israel would "disappear from the page of history" were brought up every time he made the news, it's somewhat odd we don't hear much about the views of Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev.  This is even more surprising when you consider he makes them in English, on Twitter, and to over 200,000 followers.  His most objectionable by a considerable margin was a tweet from a couple of years back when he declared that his country and Turkey were working together to counter the "myth" of the Armenian genocide, but he regularly insults neighbour Armenia, whether or not the on-going Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over the disputed territory is blowing hot or cold.  Such remarks from the head of state didn't stop Tony Blair from "advising" on the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, despite Azerbaijan's turn-around on human rights in general being described as outpacing even Russia's, of which we've heard much more about.  


Far be it from me to suggest we should care far more about genocide denying leaders of men than Labour MPs sharing viral images on Facebook, completely unacceptable as it was, but well, you know.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016 

The bitterest of ironies.

The findings at the Hillsborough inquest are a landmark in many respects.  The 9 members of the jury who attended the hearings for that period of time deserve some kind of special recognition for their service, not least when so many aspects of the events of the 15th of April 1989 in one corner of Sheffield were and remain so harrowing.  That the crush both outside the ground and then in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough were captured by cameras that didn't stop rolling, providing a vital document of the events, helped to ensure that after 27 years, justice is at last in reach for the 96 who died that day.

It still isn't guaranteed, however.  Yes, today's verdict of unlawful killing for every single one of the 96, and the further finding that Liverpool fans' behaviour did not in any way contribute to the disaster is a further vindication of the at times lonely campaign fought by the Hillsborough Family Support Group and others.  It does not automatically follow though that charges will be brought against organisations, or especially individuals, despite the Crown Prosecution Service's statement that prosecutions will be considered once Operation Resolve and the Independent Police Complaints Commission's renewed inquiry are completed.  Even if prosecutions are given the go ahead, it's extraordinarily rare for juries to find against the police in criminal cases, where beyond reasonable doubt is the standard as opposed to on the balance of probabilities.  It's one thing for a jury to state someone was unlawful killed; to find an individual or group responsible for manslaughter is something else entirely.

That it has taken 27 years, multiple inquiries and a second two-year long inquest to reach the point where all blame has finally been lifted from the victims in itself needs to be quantified.  Some will say today should not be the day for recriminations, and instead be purely about justice finally being in sight, but that is to ignore why it has taken this long in the first place.  As stated above, this was a tragedy that was captured from multiple angles, that was broadcast live on TV and radio, that was reviewed that night in depth on Match of the Day.  Photographers expecting to record an FA Cup semi-final instead turned their cameras on the crowd, many of the shots of the death throes and agony of those caught in the crush far too distressing to ever be published.  If there had been behaviour like that subsequently claimed by South Yorkshire police, the local Tory MP and most notably, the Sun, then it would have been captured.  That it wasn't didn't stop the myth of "tanked up mobs" being responsible from becoming accepted.

For why you have to look at how football was regarded and fans treated in the late 80s.  Hooliganism might have already been in decline, but that didn't prevent the Thatcher government from wanting to introduce an ID card scheme for supporters, such was the contempt they were subject to.  It's not an exaggeration to say fans were seen as another part of the "enemy within", and SYP had shown how they were to be dealt with at Orgreave.  The ban from Europe that followed the Heysel disaster was a national embarrassment, the blame for which could only be laid on Liverpool.  That it was the same club involved again couldn't possibly be a coincidence.

When SYP then set out to lay the blame squarely on the fans and on Liverpool, a process that began within minutes of the unfolding disaster with chief superintendent David Duckenfield telling FA chief executive Graham Kelly that fans had forced the gate he had ordered be opened, they knew what they were doing.  The media (and the public, too) tend to believe the word of the police over other eyewitnesses at the best of times; combined with all these other factors, it was hardly surprising the tabloids reprinted the most reprehensible, despicable of lies as supplied to them by the Whites agency, sourced from Conservative MP Irvine Patnick, who was in the police Niagara club the night of the disaster, and heard "the truth" from senior officers including Inspector Gordon Sykes.

Not surprising, but still a fundamental betrayal of their duty as journalists.  The same editors who reprinted the claims of fans urinating on and beating police officers trying to save lives, as well as robbing the dead were the ones who reviewed the thousands of photographs sent in of the disaster.  They would have watched the reports of the disaster, perhaps seen that night's Match of the Day, which showed extended footage of events as they played out, where Des Lynam, who had at Hillsborough that afternoon repeatedly said there had been no violence involved, where Jimmy Hill said there was no hooliganism involved whatsoever.  They would have carried the reports of the fans on what happened, none of whom made such claims, who in the main were already blaming the gate being opened and everyone rushing in as a result, although at that point it was unclear if all who had done so had tickets.  The other papers that published the claims quickly retracted them, not least because of the anger and incomprehension in Liverpool at what was being said.

The Sun was the exception.  It doubled down.  Editor Kelvin MacKenzie never apologised unless forced to by the courts or Murdoch.  The day after it splashed with "THE TRUTH", it led with "THE TRUTH HURTS", a front page editorial defending its report, not backing down for a second.  For all these years later for not just MacKenzie, but Trevor Kavanagh to still not be taking any responsibility, putting all the blame on what they were told, rather than doing the absolute minimum expected of journalists which is to be sceptical, to check sources again and again, speaks of how they still don't accept they did anything wrong.  The media as a whole helped spread the lies, helped the SYP to carry on blaming the fans, laid the ground that allowed the first coroner Dr Stefan Popper to turn the first inquests into a charade where the SYP disputed the interim findings of Lord Justice Taylor's report, which had exonerated Liverpool.

It comes back fundamentally, as Flying Rodent writes, to where football and its supporters still were in 1989.  In the eyes of many, both inside and outside of the game, they were fit only to be caged.  Not only did the players have to be protected from them, but so did the general public also.  Not all big grounds had such fences penning in supporters preventing them from easily escaping if such a crush developed, but the one chosen for a showcase event, an FA Cup semi-final, did.  Had those fences not been there, had there been more gates which could have been opened, if the cages had been easier to break down, then fewer if any of the 96 would have died as a result of the other catastrophic mistakes made by the SYP.

It comes back to contempt.  Contempt from the government, contempt from the media, contempt from a public that puts its trust in authority when asked to chose between those depicted as among the lowest in society.  It was only coincidence that it was Liverpool, which made it even easier, when it could have been any club in that semi-final.  It could have been Nottingham Forest's fans in the Leppings Lane end had the decision over which side of the ground to allocate to whom gone differently.

There is of course a coda to all this, and not just that finally, a form justice looks like it will be done.  We all know what happened partially as a result of Hillsborough, partially as a result of England's performance the following summer in Italy, partially to where the game was already beginning to head.  The Premier League.  Sky.  Enormous amounts of money, massive amounts of hype, ambition never really properly fulfilled.  The obscene irony that it was football that saved Rupert Murdoch after he had pumped so much of his money into satellite, when it had been his flagship paper that had so cruelly and unforgivably slandered a club and its mourning, traumatised fans, by extension a whole city, by extension an entire game.  That it took that paper until 2004 to make a proper apology, that today it refuses to comment, that it has never and will never make amends for its reporting on a disaster and yet still prospers, as its owner prospers, is the bitterest of ironies.

A disaster on the scale of Hillsborough might never happen again, but is the contempt still there, is the potential for blaming the victims still there, is the ability of those in power to try their hardest to prevent justice being done still there?  It's never gone away.

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Monday, April 25, 2016 

Always bet on Boris going mad.

Peter Mandelson might not get much right, but when he does, he tends to hit it right on the head.  Speaking to the Graun last week ahead of President Obama's visit, he said: "With luck Boris Johnson will go mad again and say it is all part of a CIA conspiracy."

Which he didn't.  At least not quite.  No, Boris just chose to bring up Obama's being "part-Kenyan" as a possible explanation for why he hates us so and yet still deigns to tell us what to do.  He did this in the pages of the Sun, the newspaper owned by an Australian turned American who sees no problem in telling us Britishers how to vote not just in referendums, but in elections proper.

It was an odd weekend, all told.  Normal roles were reversed.  Usually it's the left that complains about America regarding Britain as the 51st state, or at least that was the case until Obama came along and rewired US foreign policy to a certain extent.  Generally it's the right that is pro-Atlanticist, for the very reason they dream of Britain detaching entirely from Europe, floating across the ocean and everyone through osmosis developing a disdain for our remaining social democrat foibles.  Instead the hissing from the right against Obama making a pretty vanilla case for staying in the EU was all but deafening, while the adulation from the left for a US president telling us what to do was embarrassing.

To suggest this was all a bit over the top when there's little evidence that Obama's intervention will have anything like the impact either side seem to imagine it will would have been to spoil the fun, it seems.  We do after all pretty much know what the two major motivating factors will be when it comes to voters making up their minds: the economy and immigration.  This is why the remain campaign has been banging on incessantly about how leaving the EU will lead us inexorably back to the days before we discovered fire, while leave focuses on little other than how remaining in the EU will inevitably result in every single Turk, Serb and Albanian coming to this country when they join (eventually, if they ever do) and then gain free movement (years after they join), laying waste to the NHS, schools, et al.  Michael Gove, who only last week was attempting to be slightly smarter than this, apparently felt the need to go back to basics after Bozza tossed his dead cat onto the table.

Boris's resort to the argument made most noisily by US right-winger Dinesh D'Souza, that Obama's heritage and especially his father are key to understanding why he "doesn't believe in American exceptionalism" obscured the fact that he made some very decent points about err, America's exceptionalism.  Like the refusal to sign up to the International Criminal Court, or the failure to ratify the UN Rights of the Child Convention, which the US had a major role in drawing up.  Of course, signing up to these institutions or conventions can be all but meaningless when some of the worst human rights offenders in the world are signed up and carry on executing children regardless, yet it's the message such aloofness sends.  Who is any US president to lecture us on our membership of the EU when America is one of the most insular, solipsistic nations on earth by choice, not by design?  It might not be Obama's choice, sure, but it is of much of the rest of the political establishment.  Obama's message was effectively one of telling us to accept our decline; that might be the most realistic option, and yet who would ever embrace such an option willingly?  It's self-evident nonsense that Obama has presided over an American decline, as well as an obvious dog-whistle, yet it's hardly coincidence the candidate promising to "Make America Great Again" still looks set to be the Republican going up against Hillary Clinton come November.

Indeed, there's a major refraction of America's role in setting up organisations and conventions only to reject them later in Theresa May's declaration today that we should leave the European Convention on Human Rights, rather than the EU.  You have to wonder if this is the first attempt at reaching out to the Leavers by Number 10, with the plausible May delivering the message, or if it's instead May still holding out hopes of becoming leader.  When you bear in mind that repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights was in the Tory manifesto, something that makes no sense whatsoever unless you also withdraw from the ECHR, it's almost the next logical step.  Logical in as far as the HRA is going to be repealed; it isn't, as every time it comes up for discussion the can gets kicked further along the road.

May's decision to call directly to leave the ECHR does though make you pause.  Would the Tories be cynical enough to sacrifice the ECHR to attempt to heal the wounds left by the referendum?  It doesn't matter that the ECHR is a nuisance rather than a real blocking measure; the old perennials May mentioned of Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada and votes for prisoners are notable precisely because Hamza was sent to the US, Qatada was deported to Jordan (although more because Qatada himself became fed up with constantly being detained rather than May being victorious) and the government is intent on dragging its feet indefinitely on votes for prisoners.  May seemed to infer we could all but enshrine the same rights as in the ECHR/HRA and add to them, such as guaranteeing right to trial by jury, which the ECHR doesn't; in which case, why don't we just rename the HRA to the British Bill of Rights the Tories are so very keen on?  Presumably for the reason that our own courts would still stop the home secretary from doing whatever he or she feels like, which is the real reason governments of both left and right have come to loathe the ECHR/HRA.  It's not because of what it says, it's because judges dare to disagree with them on the basis of their interpretation of the law.

If nothing else it would set up a new battle between the EU over whether or not you do have to be signed up to the ECHR to be a member once you're already in.  And as Robert Harris pointed out, the major point of the referendum has been to give the Leave crowd something to bitch and moan about, despite having been those most vociferous in demanding it in the first place.  It's enough to almost make you want Obama here telling us what to do all the time.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016 

90 glorious years.

From world war to World War Z, reluctant heir to hair apparent, Lilibet to I'm now so old that my pussy is haunted, Septicisle reflects on nine decades that have shaped a royal dynasty.

1926-1936: The nappy years
When the home secretary, Sir Tolbert Jingobird-Pustule is torn away from the pressing matter of giving his manservant a damn good thrashing to witness the birth of Princess Elizabeth, no one imagines that the ugly little bag of flesh and bones, remarked upon by the Queen Mother to more resemble the royal wastepaper bin after one of her gin parties than a child, will be Queen.  Elizabeth, soon known to everyone as Lilibet after the amount of drink she is slipped most nights by her parents to shut her up, was third in line to the throne.  Growing up in a life of the utmost privilege, Lilibet spends most of her days chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool, shooting peasants outside of nothing I put here is going to scan, is it?

1936-1946: That American woman, and mass death
Entering her teenage years Lilibet dreams of nothing more than being a country fishwife, settling down and spending her days nagging away at a husband, who as a matter of course cheats on her on a regular basis.  This is all shattered when her uncle Teddy insists on marrying some American brass everyone regards as a bit common and is duly forced to abdicate.   Now second in line after her father, who apart from his Kingly duties stars in a film about declaring war on Germany but not being able to get the right words out, a happenstance that ends with life imitating art, Elizabeth hides her parents' contraceptives in an attempt to escape her fate.

Happily, she shortly afterwards meets "Blockhead" Phil of Greece at Royal Navy College Croydon, where the straight-talking seagull puncher is the only student in the entire school not to be a raving homosexual.  Noted royal commentator Vincent Bandersnatch described it as destiny.  It was in an attempt to meet Phil that Elizabeth and Margaret famously sneaked out from Buckingham Palace into the crowds on VE Day, only for the pair to become caught up in the moment and get drunk on half a pint of Watneys Red Barrel.

1946-56: Apple pie and dressing up
In a still garlanded radio broadcast, Liz pledges to "devote" herself to "your service".  This is an offer quickly taken up by the rest of the royal household, the future Queen banished to the backstairs for months on end as punishment for showing them up.  She and Phil marry in November 1947, despite it being well known to all, including Liz, that Phil spent the night before the event in the bed of prominent society hostess Kitty Malone.  Malone dies in mysterious circumstances within a week.  Most of the royal families of Europe are invited to the wedding, except Phil's sisters who married Germans, naturally, and Ted and his tart, whom spent the war years trying their best to convince the rest of the royals that Hitler wasn't a bad sort really, just misunderstood.  It is on a trip to what Phil calls "Bongo Bongo Land" that George IV dies from complications arising from his haemorrhoids, and Lilibet the Unlikely duly becomes Queen.

1956-66: Tramp stamps and Johnny Foreigner
With the country at war with Egypt, Phil puts the royal household on a similar footing.  Servants are shot at dawn for the most minor of alleged misdemeanours, while savage beatings are administered by the precocious Charles as punishment for not wiping his backside properly. The young prince is soon known to everyone alternately as both Ronnie and Reggie.  Exposed in the News of the World, the prime minister Rab C Nesbitt orders that Charles be sent to borstal; instead Nesbitt is found hanged the next day.  After a drunken frisson with a Hackney sex worker in December of 1963, Phil is arrested.  The entire matter is quickly hushed up, but not before the press gets wind of a VIP with a tattoo of a crown on his lower back having been accused of cottaging.

(Continues interminably for thousands of pages, broadcast hours, Commons debates, etc)

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016 

Cummings, Streetings and well poisonings.

Just in case you haven't noticed, politics is currently going through an even sillier than is normally the case phase.  We of course have the EU referendum, which is prompting those either usually ignored or kept away from the cameras for obvious reasons to suddenly find they have the floor; and we have local/devolved assembly elections only two weeks away.  The latter results in a fearful combination of leaving MPs with little to do except campaign, and doing little other than campaign.  Campaigning is exceptionally bad for the soul of your average MP, as it often leads them to flights of fancy that otherwise would be swiftly shot down.  That it also brings out the absolute best (read: worst) in already partisan individuals is expected, but still manages to delight such are the lengths to which the desperate deign to go.

First though the EU referendum lot, and the spectacle of Dominic Cummings, once Michael Gove's right hand man at the Department of Education, now general hatchet man for hire.  Thought to have been behind the highly abusive ToryEducation Twitter account that routinely slagged off hacks and generally acted the twat, Cummings has discovered a new niche for his talents with the Leave campaign.  Such is his general charm and pleasant demeanour it's widely held he was the reason the various Leave organisations never managed to amalgamate, and he displayed his general loveliness before the Treasury committee today.

Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the committee, is one of the few Tories who manages to mix general loyalty to Number 10 with the ability to disagree with and hold Cameron and Osborne to account when necessary.  He also doesn't suffer fools gladly.  Watching him trying to explain to Cummings how the £6bn rebate from the EU isn't taken only to be paid back, clearly dying a little inside as Cummings insists this can't possibly be as that's not how debits from bank accounts work, is to see how the country at large has reacted to the debate as a whole so far.

Why Cummings didn't do a bunk like the other Leave figures who failed to appear wasn't clear, unless their making excuses was directly connected.  Cummings' performance certainly alluded to the possibility.  Instead of diluting the usual Leave message of how everyone in favour of staying in is either scaremongering or lying, he decided to double down.  Not only was the Bank of England in league with In, the Cabinet Office going around threatening to leave horses' heads in beds if anyone so much as squeaked their support for Out and the CBI a bunch of deceitful muppets, but the Foreign Office had been wrong about everything ever and couldn't negotiate its way out of a paper bag anyway.  All fine and dandy to claim to the media, but generally select committees expect a bit of evidence to back such accusations up.  None was forthcoming, and the session concluded with Tyrie all but declaring Cummings to be detached from reality.

Speaking of which, one of those interrogating Cummings was Labour's Wes Streeting, who has spent the last few days fighting for the honour and dignity of McDonald's within the party.  One might have thought it fairly uncontroversial to turn down the company's generous offer to host a stand at this year's Labour conference, what with Maccie D's being opposed to unions, until yesterday refusing to budge on zero hours contracts and purveying junk food.  Indeed, said unions and campaigners wrote to the Graun to say as much.  But no, as Streeting and others have detected snobbery and sniffy attitudes from Islington's notorious falafel muncher, who can attend the Kebab Awards but not nosh on a veggie burger with Ronald.  Isn't £30,000 of their money as good as anyone's?  That if the leadership had said yes they would of got it in the neck for exactly the above reasons rather proves Corbyn can't possibly win.

Except in London, where it has been apparent for months that Sadiq Khan is going to walk it in the mayoral contest.  Having not seemed bothered that Zac Goldsmith was heading for a thumping, not least as Goldsmith himself was the personification of apathy, the Tories have belatedly decided that if they can't win they'll do their best to poison the well instead.  This is all the stranger for how they couldn't have picked a less likely politician to claim is a secret extremist than Khan, who despite his on-off attempts to appeal to the left is dead in the centre of the party.  Every past interaction Khan has had with other Muslims or potentially dodgy individuals has been mined, regardless of how unbelievably stupid (also, dangerous) it is to claim that a solicitor shares the views of his clients, for instance.  Khan was at one time the chair of Liberty, set-up a human rights orientated law firm and also knew Babar Ahmed from childhood, so there's plenty there just to begin with.

Not that Goldsmith is saying Khan is an extremist himself, oh no.  He's merely shared platforms over and over and over again with extremists, a line taken up by David Cameron at PMQs today.  Those paying attention might note this is exactly the same line taken against Corbyn over alleged anti-Semitism; no, Jeremy himself isn't a racist, he just hangs around with and has in the past attended the meetings of anti-Semites.  Indeed, the similarity between the attacks on Khan for being an extremist, and the on-going criticisms of Corbyn for not cracking down hard enough on anti-Semitism, being BFFs with Hamas et al is pretty striking.  The difference is that the attacks on Corbyn come from within Labour as much as they did from outside; who could have possibly predicted that the Tories would then use such criticisms as a template to attack Labour as a whole?

It doesn't really matter that making Suliman Gani out to be second only to Anjem Choudary in the "most repellent figures in the country" stakes has somewhat backfired since Gani has made clear he campaigned for err, Khan's Tory opponent in Tooting last year, as the overall aim is to damage Khan more than it is to win the election for Goldsmith.  Throw enough shit and some will end up sticking.  Claiming Khan is against the police, sympathetic to terrorists and can't be trusted, all while nodding and winking about his also being a Muslim is meant to make his job as difficult as possible from the very beginning.  Create the impression your opponent is an extremist, and even if it doesn't work this time, it will have shaped perceptions that will be all the more difficult to shift.  This might be especially disreputable considering the heightened fears of a terrorist attack in the capital following Paris and Brussels, but why would you expect any different from a party that has characterised the opposition as a whole as a threat to national security?  And where could they have possibly got the idea to do that from?

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016 

The calculus of political graffiti.

Is the in, out, please don't shake it all about Boris debate finally beginning to capture the public imagination?  I ask, not on the basis of yesterday's hilarious calculations from the Treasury that by the year 2095 we'll all be a gajillion pounds worse off if we vote leave, nor today's speech from Michael Gove on how if the British public votes leave we will be saving the good people of Europe from themselves.

No, I posit the question purely on how on Sunday I spied the first bit of referendum graffiti, something of a surprise as I can't recall seeing any about last May.  There had been a poet in residence down by the river, who at least until his work was recently painted over advised all passers-by to "boycott corporate muthafuckas", "burn a banker" and "save a tree".  Sadly the work I saw at the weekend was less lyrical than his, but still set the mind working.  "VOTE OUT", this successor to Gilbert and George had spray-painted on the pavement leading off an overpass near to the main shopping district.  Not "VOTE LEAVE", or any of the slogans bandied about by the leave side, but simply "VOTE OUT".

It doesn't exactly strike as the kind of issue likely to inspire someone to put in the kind of effort and risk the potential of being arrested for vandalism, after all.  Indeed, up until Jeremy Corbyn felt the need to get involved last Thursday, the entire campaign thus far seems to have been designed to turn off anyone not already a terminal political dullard.  I am a terminal political dullard, and even I've been bored to tears by Project Fears 2.0 and 2.0.1 being ran by the Remain and Leave sides respectively.

This of course shows no signs of abating, however many insults are flung from both sides about both practising it.  Today the pro-Leave press homed in how the Treasury calculations included an estimate that a further 3 million migrants would arrive by 2030 if we stayed in, as though this was some kind of horror beyond words.  That this was based on a net migration figure of 180,000 a year, well below the current peak we're experiencing seemed to suggest a missing of a trick, while also naturally ignoring how you'd have to be a cretin to believe whatever deal we manage to negotiate with the EU post a leave vote would somehow not include free movement.

Michael Gove is that cretin.  The leave side has refused to answer which kind of "model" they would like to see pursued should leave triumph, mainly because they can't agree themselves.  The Treasury's comedy figures were based on the so-called Canada model some within Leave seemed to be favouring a time back.  Gove today instead raised the possibility of Britain remaining in the European Free Trade Zone while not rejoining the single market, previously about the only part of the EU the Tories have had anything good to say about.  This apparently would be reciprocated by the rest of Europe not imposing tariffs or insisting on free movement rules applying, despite how Norway and Switzerland, both with deals on trade with the EU while remaining outside are subject to the Schengen agreement.

To add to the jollity, Gove also pronounced on how we'd go about leaving in the first place.  In Gove world, the idea the government would immediately activate article 50 of the Lisbon treaty once a vote to leave had been confirmed is absurd, not something a "responsible" government would do.  Considering that the vast majority of the Leave side have been agitating their entire political lives to get us out of the EU, should Cameron (or more likely, whoever takes over in the interim as Cameron would have to resign) seem to be stalling or, worse yet, rowing back on the idea of the vote being final, it would surely prompt an outbreak of keening so loud and overwhelming the whole country would develop tinnitus as a result.

Gove it's fair to say is Leave's most plausible advocate, and yet he remains about as appealing as a Newsnight special on the referendum.  For all his talk of "a galvanising, liberating, empowering moment of patriotic renewal", evidence for the public feeling the same way about the choice they're about to make is extremely thin on the ground.  And yet I have seen one literal piece of such evidence.  Which brings us back to where we started, and one further question: what kind of atavistic passions have been awoken by the debate that by comparison make me seem less weird?

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Monday, April 18, 2016 

Contrary McContraryface.

God, it must be tiring being a professional contrarian.  The world is in such flux it's hard enough remaining consistent as it is, let alone when your entire raison d'etre is to be against whatever the current trend or movement is.  Should you be cheering on Donald Trump because he's upsetting so many people, or now that it seems he's finally hit the buffers should you be abandoning him also?  Equally, judging by how it's been standard right-wing practice for the last 40 years to be against whatever students are currently up to, shouldn't you in fact be on the side of those few demanding safe spaces, insisting on trigger warnings and counting all the micro-aggressions they suffer on a daily basis?  Or would that in fact be too contrary by half, and lose you vital cred with your other contrarians, huffing and blowing about young people being young and stupid?

Brendan O'Neill's Spectator piece on how terrible the whole Boaty McBoatface thing is an absolute classic of the contrarian genre.  The best contrarians you might have noticed always contradict themselves, and never for a moment recognise they are guilty of the same crimes they are ascribing to others.  In one single paragraph O'Neill manages to be a magnificent hypocrite three times over, and still ploughs on regardless.

The problem with over 100,000 people voting to name a boat Boaty McBoatface then, rather than something more serious like Condoleeza Rice or Thrusting Organ or Sir Ron Micklethwaite or John Whittingdale or Brendan O'Neill isn't public opinion, but a "shallow, sneery culture taking hold in certain sections of the internet".  Heaven forfend that many of those people will have voted to name it that not because they were led by the hand by some minor Twitter celeb, but because they thought it funny.  Brendan, all but needless to say, doesn't find it funny, although his piece is so suffused with irony while not being ironic that it's difficult to be certain whether or not he does find it at least somewhat amusing or like those people he says deserved to be bullied for being able to recite whole episodes of Filthy, Rich and Catflap.  Irony alert!  He doesn't really mean anyone deserves to be bullied!  Or does he?  Who knows?

See, O'Neill and the whole Spiked lot are very keen on democracy and public opinion so long as it reflects their own views on how stupid everyone who isn't in their little clique is.  When then so many people do something so daft, the blame has to be assigned not to them but to those who drove them to it.  Hence this sneery culture gets in the neck, as directed by a media that loves nothing more than "than writing news stories based on some spat Stephen Fry had or a YouTube video".  No doubt it's all part of the onion-like layers of irony contained in O'Neill's piece that Spiked currently really does have a piece on why Stephen Fry was right to call out self-pity.

It's at this point that an editor ought to come in and say to O'Neill that "hey, dingleberry, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU'RE DOING, AND YOU'RE SNEERING AT THEM TO BOOT."  Only there aren't editors any more, just freelancers sending in their work to the content aggregators that O'Neill is complaining about and contributing to AT THE SAME GODDAMN TIME.  Still, there is one serious argument left, or at least seems to be: is it not true that the Boaty McBoatfacers are of "a new po-mo generation that has absolutely no sense of history or depth or meaning?"

Well, no.  O'Neill's band of anti-po-moers have been going on about how terrible post-modernism is since the early 90s, forever slapping each other on the back, whether it be for tearing apart Jean Baudillard for his the Gulf War Did Not Take Place essays or over the Sokal affair.  If this is a whole new po-mo generation, then his group and all the other anti-po-moers have rather failed, haven't they?

It's a good thing then there isn't a new po-mo generation with no sense of history or depth or meaning, as this is the same generation that is in fact acutely aware of history etc.  We know this because this is the same generation O'Neill etc so detest precisely because of all their trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and so forth, who at the same time are apparently incapable of taking anything seriously, except for racism, transphobia, etc, and who love the "flippant, camp purveyors of 140-character gags and 90-second videos of some comedian ‘ABSOLUTELY DEMOLISHING DONALD TRUMP' served up by Buzzfeed et al.

Yep, O'Neill is right, taking things seriously is a real downer these days.  Or at least it is if you take O'Neill and his pals seriously.  Which I seem to have done.  Oops.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016 

Still got the Whittingdale blues.

Just in case the whole Whittingdale thing wasn't silly enough, here comes Nichi Hodgson in the Graun denouncing the culture secretary for in her view throwing Olivia King to the wolves:
But being scared for your own reputation shouldn’t be reason enough for you to sully somebody else’s. By stating over and over again that he had not known his former lover was a sex worker, and that he had ended the relationship immediately upon finding out, Whittingdale has thrown her to the red-top wolves, making sure to thoroughly shame her in the process. Unfortunately, Whittingdale seems blind to the fact that it’s not only his former partner he’s distanced himself from, it’s his own spine as well.
 Except Whittingdale hasn't stated anything over and over again. The only comment he has made was the statement released on Tuesday night.  When doorstepped yesterday morning he referred the reporters to the statement and said he wouldn't be saying anything further.  Hodgson does at least accept that if Whittingdale, as he says, was unaware of his partner's work then he
might have felt a justifiable sense of betrayal. But the fact that Whittingdale was so quick to drop her when the tabloid press revealed her identity to him, and is now so keen to stress that immediacy in his defence, doesn’t come across as the reaction of a hurt yet honourable man.
I'm probably one of the least qualified people to pass judgement on relationships, but keeping something like the fact you're a sex worker from a prospective long-term partner (if again that's what Whittingdale was looking for; we're all making huge assumptions here) must surely be considered a deal breaker, especially if active deceit was involved.  We can all comment on prudishness, shaming and hypocrisy, only to come to very different conclusions when it involves us personally.  It's similar to pornography; we might have no problem with consuming it, regard it as the canary in the free speech mine, but plenty would at the same time not want friends or relatives to be playing a starring role in it.  Such are our hang-ups.

In any case, the genuinely guilty of prudery here are barely so much as mentioned by Hodgson.  Yes, Whittingdale could well of said yes, I dated a sex worker, who wants to fucking touch me, only he's no doubt embarrassed by the whole affair also.  No one has disputed his statement as yet, more than suggesting that he was in the dark and ended the relationship because he felt he had been lied to.

Should we be making judgements on this as a whole in any case?  Just as with the other privacy story of the week, it's disingenuous to claim it isn't about that but in fact this for the reason there would be no story whatsoever had the tabloids not decided politician dates dominatrix was worth investigating, even if they didn't end up publishing it.  The irony here is the people who have truly shamed King are those who otherwise claim to be against press intrusion, or normally critical when sex scandals are played out by those whose natural habitat is the gutter.  There is a case for asking why it wasn't published, but it's been hijacked by those whose cause as Ian Dunt has said has degenerated far from where it started off.

All in all, a thoroughly depressing week.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016 

The Whittingdale blues.

Absolutely nothing about the John Whittingdale/dominatrix story seems to make sense.

Let's then take it one step at a time.  If we're to believe Whittingdale's statement from last night, he had no idea that Olivia King was an escort, let alone the proud keeper of a dungeon.  When he did become aware of that fact, he ended the relationship.  No one seems to be as yet disputing it or claiming Whittingdale to be telling lies, so presumably the culture secretary's claim that he met his girlfriend of a few months on Match.com is accurate.

Now, unless I was reading something into the original Byline piece that simply wasn't there, as my take from it was that Whittingdale knew she was an escort and presumably was paying for her to accompany him to events, this is even less of a story than it first appeared.  Even if Nick Mutch is not explicit in saying that was the case, he definitely does claim that "Whittingdale's relationships with prostitutes are said to be well known in the London underworld".  He also quotes an unnamed senior Labour MP as having seen Whittingdale in the Houses of Parliament with a prostitute, although he wasn't sure if she was King or not.

Next, we have the James Cusick piece from Sunday.  This has since been described by another writer on openDemocracy, where the piece has also been hosted, as offering "little to substantiate" a cover-up, while David Elstein points out a number of flaws in Cusick's reasoning.  All of the investigations Cusick details apart from the Independent's took place while the relationship was on-going, before Whittingdale became culture secretary, although he was chair of the influential media committee.  Cusick claims that the Mirror may have dropped its investigation because Whittingdale could have launched a new inquiry into phone-hacking at the newspaper group, although does so in a half-hearted manner.  Similarly, without detailing how, Cusick implies that a similar investigation at the Mail on Sunday was dropped because Whittingdale was "viewed as an asset" by the Mail group.  Finally, Cusick details how things went with the Independent's own belated investigation, attempting to widen out the justification for a rather basic salacious story to claims about expenses not being paid, then to possible hypocrisy charges over Whittingdale's membership of the Cornerstone group.  Again, it ended with the editor shutting it down without apparent explanation.

To some, that four separate newspaper groups all failed to bring the story to print is indicative of a cover-up.  It's also certainly true that equally lacking stories about the private lives of politicians have been printed of late, including Brooks Newmark flopping the old johnson out of his pyjamas for an undercover hack, and the unforgettable Lord Sewel, in red bra, snorting cocaine off the breast of the sex worker who stitched him up.  A far more prosaic explanation is that even by the standards of those two stories, Whittingdale's adventures in online dating were much less exciting.  He's divorced, he didn't know King was a dominatrix in her spare time, and the only evidence they had were some very unrevealing photographs.  Why would the papers other than Independent drop the story on the basis Whittingdale could be useful to them in the future when they couldn't be certain of his career trajectory?  The Mirror phone hacking explanation also doesn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny.

This isn't to take the claims of former and current hacks at first sightAs Francis Wheen quoted by Anorak has it, both the bizarre arguments being put forward by Hacked Off representatives that this was someone whose privacy should have been invaded, and the claims from the Thurlbecks and Wallises of this world are unbelievable.  Clearly the story was of interest to the tabloids, and the Independent; they just in the end decided it couldn't stand up.  I don't think Leveson is of any relevance here at all; the decision was simply made that MP unwittingly dates sex worker is a bit sad rather than scandalous.  You can see this in the way the Indie flailed around desperately for any justification long after the fact, as I described is always the way yesterday.  First you get the story, then you make something up to claim it's in the public interest.  Like Flying Rodent, I think this story would have been more in the public interest than the case the tabloids are up in arms about, but that's barely.  The reason why there's such a disparity is obvious, also: pop star up to shameless sexual antics sells papers; MP gets todger out on Twitter wins awards, if that.

Likewise, the cries from Labour that Whittingdale should stand aside from his role in directing legislation concerning regulation of the press due to his conflict of interest don't now really apply when, err, any conflict is out in the open.  The sword of damocles Chris Bryant lyrically brought up, even if we accept it was a thing despite there being no evidence, is now gone thanks to the exposing of the story.  As Roy Greenslade and others have argued, there does seem to be a lot of overstating of Whittingdale's role.  Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act shouldn't be imposed for the reason that it is grossly unfair, nor has there ever been a realistic suggestion it was going to be brought in; similarly, there is no appetite whatsoever among the Tories as a whole for staging the second part of the Leveson inquiry.  It's hardly just Whittingdale.  The same goes for bias against the BBC: the Tories don't like Auntie, simple as.  Whoever ends up being culture secretary you can guarantee will be just as critical as Whittingdale has been.

I can then understand why people think something stinks, agree this will certainly be something to bring up the next time a politician is caught with their pants down by a newspaper justifying their expose as in the public interest, and still think that on this occasion at least some are looking just that little bit too hard.  Which includes the BBC, Private Eye, et al, who now the story is out there are justified to ask the questions they have.  I also agree with Anna Raccoon when she writes on how Olivia King has every right to be thoroughly cheesed off with the press a whole.

Is that OK with everyone?

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016 

Orwell, as ever, had it right.

We all know the famous Orwell line, don't we?  "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people who is banging whom".  Good ol' Eric Blair was thinking of the scandal involving the 3rd Duke of Massingberd, who was discovered in flagrante with a scullery maid called Bill, a dog called God and the young MP for Buckingham, Doris Bonkers.  Massingberd had succeeded in cowing most of the press through a combination of legal threats and blackmail, involving a recruited squad of bootblacks offering complimentary happy endings, only for an irrepressible young upstart from Australia called Wurzel to expose all concerned in his short-lived penny sheet the Fucks of the World.  Wurzel was sent to the Scrubs for 2 years for breaching the Obscene Publications Act, but Fleet Street was never the same again.

It's the humbuggery of it all that gets you more than anything.  The case of PJS and YMA has allowed the press to reprise their previous howls of rage from a few years ago over the brief super-injunction craze, despite the vast majority of such orders not being super injunctions as super injunctions prevented even the fact the order was in place from being reported.  It is after all remarkably easy to pose as a free speech martyr when your version of freedom of expression extends only as far as shag 'n tell and every so often running a borderline racist comment piece.  Say what you like about Charlie Hebdo, but no one is ever going to shoot up the offices of the Sun.

At least the Sun is entitled to feel pissed off its exclusive has been given out free to everyone.  What really grinds the gears is the "oh, we couldn't care less about all the sordid details, who did what to whom, but this is far more important than that" crowd.  No it isn't.   If you really couldn't care less about the sex lives of consenting adults, regardless of status, then you wouldn't be touching this "story" whatsoever.  No one involved prior to AB and CD going to the Sun was unhappy with what went on; they suddenly decided for whatever reason to get some cash out of it.  Only then are the angles on hypocrisy looked for, justifications however lacking or laughable clutched at.

At very best, there is the possibility the argument that persuaded the appeal court judges to grant the injunction, that the effect the revelation would have on the young children of PJS and YMA would be unfair on them, could be used by far greater scoundrels in the future to prevent disclosure of their wrongdoing.  That's all it is though, a possibility.  All the previous caterwauling over injunctions a few years back due to the danger to free speech failed to materialise.  Judges stopped granting them; celebrities stopped seeking them.  Why would anyone seek a gagging order that had the opposite effect?

So it is now with PJS and YMA, fairly or not.  They had an open relationship while supposedly giving the impression of being a committed, monogamous couple.  That turns out to have been enough for their slightly unorthodox sex life to be exposed, as it has been, if not by the English and Welsh press.  To regard this as some great crime against the right of the tabloids to make money you have to either be unbearably pompous, or part of an industry that defines the public's right to know on exactly such a pecuniary basis.

It would be easier to take also if say the rest of the media had rallied round when the Guardian was being threatened by the government with prior restraint over the Snowden leaks.  Instead the likes of the Mail took the side of the government and the securocrats.  GCHQ coming round and smashing the hard drive with the documents on is obviously one thing, while the danger posed by "unelected" judges deciding what YOU can and can't know about the disgusting proclivities of those who can afford to project an image is quite another.

Which leaves pretty much only the "absurdity" that it's just newspapers and England and Wales based media that can't name those involved.  Not that this stops them from running otherwise non-stories about them, say, or dropping the broadest of hints, or telling everyone precisely which sites are naming them.  When tabloids start playing the victim, the game ought to be up.  Rather sad when it's left to err, Holly Willoughby, to cut through the bullshit.

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Monday, April 11, 2016 

There's a word for what our democracy has become: oligarchy.

It's not often I disagree with Chris over at Stumbling and Mumbling.  You can chortle all you like at Charles Moore declaring David Cameron to have been caught in the wealth trap, but it's a useful phrase, he writes.  And of course to a degree he's right, you can be trapped by any number of circumstances of your birth, although it's a hell of a lot easier to dispose of the wealth you inherit than it is to escape being born into poverty.

While Moore may be pleading for understanding of Cameron's position, his not as bright colleagues elsewhere in the media and within the Tories are instead asking for sympathy.  Both the Mail and the Telegraph today ran leaders denouncing the iniquities of inheritance tax, the tax which as Moore himself points out was paid by only 17,917 people who died in 2012-13, out of the 500,000+ whom passed on.  Their real beef was that Cameron had received further criticism for having been given a £200,000 gift from his mother, another of those perfectly legal tax planning moves, described as an "equalisation" by Downing Street.  Joylon Maugham might have declared this to be tax avoidance, but practically no one else in the industry dedicated to just such planning does.  Funny that.

Here, finally, is what a week of coverage of the Panana Papers has been leading up to.  Most of the Tory press was happy to see Dave taking a beating at first as they believe it will damage him vis-a-vis the EU referendum campaign, where Dave effectively is the remain campaign.  Once it gets into the realm of all politicians having to publish their tax returns, which in turn leads to demands that those sneering from the sidelines also get their self assessments out for the lads, it's clear this cannot be allowed to continue.  When the questions move on to lump sums gifted in the expectation of income tax not needing to be paid, then the squealing really starts to begin.  Then we hear the cries about the politics of envy, about the enemies of wealth creation, that this is really about how "they hate anyone who has got a hint of wealth in them", and that if we're not careful, we'll have a parliament full of "low achievers".

Poor little rich people.  All they want is to look after their families.  What could be more natural than that?  Why should both they and their children be punished when bequeathing vast sums, property and all the rest when they go to meet their maker?  Isn't this income being taxed twice over?  Isn't opposing this in fact opposing aspiration?  Don't we all want to make good by our kids?  Why in short, does the left and Labour hate our freedoms?

Once the right was just as indignant about unearned wealth as the left.  Alan Clark might have judged another Tory sneering at Michael Heseltine as the type who had to buy his own furniture as cutting but snobby, yet there was also concern about what the passing on of vast sums and houses encouraged.  Not more hard work, but indolence, idleness.  Now David Cameron declares that there is nothing more natural than wanting to pass on your home to your children.  This only applies obviously to those who own their home, while everyone renting or even more shockingly, in what remains of social housing, should expect at any minute to be turfed out.  Earning more than you once did?  You're going to have to pay to stay.  Have a spare bedroom?  We'll deduct that from your benefits if you don't downsize, even if there isn't anywhere to downsize to.  Want to live near to where your family and friends are?  Tough luck if that'll breach the benefits cap; you'll have to move somewhere cheaper.  Unable to so much as put down a deposit thanks to the paradox of astronomical rents?  I feel your pain, says the prime minister renting out the Kensington home bought with the help of dad and a previous inheritance from an aunt for over 90 grand a year.

Over £90,000 a year just in rent.  Alan Duncan ought to be careful about who he describes as "low achievers", as Dave by many yardsticks would fall into the category.  About only one proper job, and that as PR for Carlton.  Remember that by the standards of Dave's set, he and Osborne are relative paups, George made to describe himself as a "despicable cunt" for having gone to St Paul's rather than Eton.  To most people this a world beyond imagination, where some will be lucky to earn in a decade what Dave pulled in from rent in a year.  This is the world that the Mail, Torygraph and Dave want to defend at all costs, where "aspiration", something the middle classes do, is pulled out to defend the ultra rich forever living in the style to which they have become accustomed.  The inheritance tax threshold might be rising to a million, to the point where practically no one will pay it, yet still at the smallest hint that gifts might come under suspicion the cry goes up.

Without using the word, what Adyita Chakraborty so accurately described in his Graun piece this morning is oligarchy.  Sure, we hear fine words every so often about social mobility, and of course a few of the best and brightest rise to the top while some squander their inheritance, falling down the pecking order, but otherwise when it comes to wealth the Tory party could not be more dedicated to conservatism in its truest sense.  Almost every move on the tax and welfare fronts since the Tories came to power in 2010 has been to screw the poorest, throw the odd bone or two to the middle to give the impression they're on their side, and ensure the top stay at the top.  


In this if nothing else the right-wing media is completely on side.  They too claim to be standing up for the middle while working, literally, for the top.  It was instructive whom the prime minister chose to mention in his statement today in a dig at the media.  It wasn't the weirdo Barclay twins hidden away at their flat pack castle on Brecqhou he dropped, or Jonathan Harmsworth, aka Viscount Rothermere, the non-dom head honco at the Mail.  No, it was the BBC, the Graun and Islington council who were brought up for investing in offshore funds.

The impression this is meant to send is clear.  Everyone's at it.  Nothing to see here.  Except we're not all at it.  Most of us do though dream of having enough spare cash lying around to be able to squirrel it away hidden from HMRC, so for plenty that will be enough.  The belief is those still not sated can be dismissed as simply jealous, envious, as so twisted in their politics that they would rather do right by the state than by their family.  Perhaps it will hold for a while.
 

Yet a crunch is coming.  A point is going to be reached when it becomes clear just how loaded the system currently is.  It might take another crash, but it's going to come, such are the frustrations that are without question building and every so often find expression in outbreaks of anger like the one seen over the past week.  And when it does, no amount of pleading, appeals to authority or media attempts to push back against it are going to quell the demands for fundamental economic recalibration.  A smarter political class would see what's on the horizon, and act now.  This for the most part is not a smart political class.

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Thursday, April 07, 2016 

Scream and scream and scream. (With added Dodgy Dave bonus!)

A long time ago before Channel 4 turned into the same wasteland as all the other main terrestrial channels it made an effort to put on some slightly alternative programming late at nightOne such show was Pets, a forerunner of BBC3's Mongrels, meant to be a sort of parody of Friends only not really at all.  I bring this up only because the entire Brexit campaign seems based around the line spoken by Hamish, after he, Trevor and the parrot are turned into living mummies by a curse.  "I think we have two options.  Option one: we continue to stay calm and think logically until we work out how to free ourselves.  Or we scream and scream and scream like girls until someone rescues us".

And by god, can the Leavers scream.  And whine.  And moan.  And complain.  Everything is a betrayal.  Every argument that points out there will be huge uncertainty and years of negotiations if the referendum results in a victory for the leave side, which is not a subjective conclusion but an objective reality is dismissed as scaremongering, Project Fear 2.0.  However dodgy some of the statistics and claims presented by the remain side are, it is absurd that more than a few on the leave side continue to pretend as the Yes campaign did in the Scottish referendum that everything will be swiftly sorted out amicably and business-like once a leave vote happens.

The latest outrage is, of course, the government's decision to send out leaflets to every household on why it believes we should stay in.  This will cost £9m in total, much to the faux disgust of Michael Gove, who exclaims on how at a "time of austerity" spending such a sum on "pro-EU propaganda" cannot be justified.  Others predictably are complaining about how the government seemingly promised not to put out such a document, although those promises covered only the main period of campaigning once the period of purdah has begun.  More whinging still focuses on how the money spent on this one mailshot is more in total than the official campaigns will be allowed to spend during the main campaign, and how this obviously gives the remainers an unfair advantage.

Then there's the outright paranoid tendency, that somehow the publishing of the leaflet has been timed to distract from David Cameron's Blairmore Holdings travails.  While it's certainly not beyond imagination that Lynton Crosby could have come up with a dead cat to help Dave, dead cat this is not.  The whole idea of the dead cat is to change the subject, not to add to the problems the prime minister faces, which this most certainly has.  This was planned well in advance to come not too early to be completely forgotten about, while not near enough to the date itself to outright break the aforementioned pledge.  (Indeed, if anything it can now be argued Cameron has produced his own dead cat to knock the controversy over this down the agenda, for which see below.)

Humbuggery doesn't begin to cover it.  Apart from Vote Leave sending out leaflets without branding claiming to separate fact from fiction, we've had the lovely spectacle of Nigel Farage cutting up rough over the prospect of Barack Obama making an intervention on his upcoming visit.  This naturally didn't stop him from sticking his oar into the Netherlands referendum on the EU deal with Ukraine, nor has it prevented the wider leave campaign from inviting those behind the referendum to the UK.

The irony of the leave side and newspapers alike complaining about the government attempting to redress the balance doesn't seem to occur, or rather does, they just cast it to the back of their minds.  That 80% of the press has not just spent the past few months but the last couple of decades spreading myths about the EU, with the result that the public, who aren't interested at the best of times haven't got an idea who is and isn't telling the truth is of no importance.  How can a government possibly justify such propaganda (not that it is propaganda as it seems for the most part to be somewhat objective), never mind the unfairness?

Not to say that there aren't unintentional hilarities over the mail out: the same government that has long disdained councils producing their own propaganda sheets suddenly feels very differently.  That hardly anyone reads such leaflets, and few will likely read this one, let alone make their decision to vote on the basis of it also doesn't matter.  It's the principle of the thing.  The principles of always having an excuse ready, accepting the will of the people except not, and forever holding out the prospect that a vote tomorrow under "fairer "circumstances will bring a different result.  The leave side have stolen all their lines from the SNP.  They'll probably lose the vote, but are without doubt hoping to win the argument in the same way.

---

4 days on, and after first describing it all as a private matter, Dave finally comes clean and admits he made £31,500 out of Blairmore after selling his "units" in 2010.  The whole interview was set-up and designed to make it look as if this was perfectly reasonable: Robert Peston all but made a defence of the PM in a Facebook post this morning, setting out how those who invested in Blairmore did have to pay tax when they sold their shares, while ignoring the obvious point that Blairmore itself was based in Panama so it didn't have to pay tax in the UK.  Peston then just so happens to be the chosen hack Dave decides to talk to about it.

To describe the entire thing as being very Shifty McGifty doesn't really do it justice.  Why if this was all above board, as it seems to be at least from Cameron's end, did it have to be dragged out of him?  Each successive answer has just raised more and more questions.  Has he really only ever profited by £31,500?  If so, did any of the £300,000 his father left him come from Blairmore?  Does his mother still have an interest in Blairmore, as the Graun asks?  If he thought it best to be "transparent" in 2010 by selling his units in Blairmore, shouldn't the same apply to the donors to the party he leads?  And hasn't this sorry spectacle demonstrated that while those lucky enough to get the start in life that Dave had shouldn't have it held against them, it has made very clear just how stacked the odds have been and remain in their favour?

If Cameron means what he says, he has the power and influence to level that playing field.  He won't obviously.  But the thought's there.

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