Wednesday, October 01, 2014 

The Tory cult of insincerity.

At the very first opportunity, the language of modern warfare descends into euphemism.  It has to, such is the mundane, horrific reality it hides.  Places where fighters might be sheltering become "command and control centres"; "a heavy weapon position", which could mean a tank or more likely, some form of artillery, is "engaged"; reports that civilians may have been caught up in the bombing are always "being looked into", while raids are invariably "intelligence led", as opposed to being carried out on the off chance.  War is a business, and since 9/11 business has been extremely good: how can it not be when a single Brimstone missile, used yesterday by the RAF to destroy an "Isis armed pickup truck" costs over £100,000?

War all the time, all of the time.  Our enemy is always intractable, impossible to negotiate with.  Always we try every possible step first, always we go into combat with a heavy heart.  Always those who rightly become ever more indignant with each new conflict are mocked, shouted down, asked what their solution is, have their arguments misrepresented.  It takes a lot for me to agree with George Galloway these days, but every single thing he said in the Commons on Friday was right.  Islamic State could not have established itself in either Syria or Iraq without the support of some of those it operates alongside; he wasn't claiming for a moment the Yazidis, Christians or Kurds were quiescent in the face of their onslaught.  The Obama strategy, our strategy, offers no solution except a fantasy one where a mythical "moderate" force in Syria overcomes IS while the Kurdish peshmerga and Shia militas that are now the de facto Iraqi "army" make nice over the border.  The one realistic option, a truce between the Syrian rebels and Assad, is off the table, such is the Syrian president's lack of "legitimacy".  As compared to what, exactly?

As for matters closer to home, the threat will once again be used to justify otherwise unthinkable restrictions on free speech and liberty.  Give credit to Theresa May: she coated her speech to the Tory conference yesterday with so many platitudes and doths of the cap to liberalism you could have almost missed she was proposing the equivalent of 19th century controls on activists and political campaigners.  If necessary she would legislate to enforce the limiting of stop and search; she quoted from the Quran in an effort to prove that the Islamic State is not Islamic (which is a completely baffling line of argument: no, IS is not in any way representative of Muslims, but to claim it has no connection whatsoever to Islam is just as ludicrous, and seems as much as anything a way of distracting from how our friends in Saudi Arabia are most responsible for spreading the Wahhabism IS and al-Qaida are indebted to); and even at times seemed to be coming near to criticising her party's own foreign policy.  "We can't just remove dictators and assume liberal democracy will follow," she said, to which you almost felt she was dying to add, like we did in Libya.

Only later did it emerge quite what her "banning orders" and "extremism disruption orders" would amount to in practice.  Banning orders the Tories have banged on about for years, constantly threatening to outlaw the likes of Hizb-ut-Tahrir without ever going through with it.  May's extremism disruption orders by contrast seem to have been designed to deal with the Anjem Choudary "problem": i.e. the gobshites who just about stay on the right side of the law and whom the media love to quote for their own purposes.  The police, suitably empowered, will able to apply for an order against someone judged to be a "threat to the functioning of democracy" or as little as "causing alarm or distress", almost exactly the standard currently in place that has resulted in evangelical Christians being arrested under section 5 of the public order act.  If granted, those sanctioned would then have to submit any online communications to the police in advance, and would also be barred from taking part in protests. 

Ostensibly targeted against the far-right as well as Islamists, so broadly drawn are the plans they're an authoritarian wet dream, capable of being used against protesters of almost every conceivable hue.  Rather than being out of character, the proposals are of a piece with the Lobbying Act's crackdown on charities daring to poke their noses into politics, epitomised by Brooks Newmark's comments on how they should concentrate on their knitting.  Little wonder the Conservatives are set on repealing the Human Rights Act, knowing full well the orders would be judged to breach it.

David Cameron for his part insisted getting rid of the HRA was all about sticking two fingers up at Strasbourg, "the country that wrote Magna Carta" needing no lectures about human rights.  Not that he mentioned leaving the European Convention itself, meaning those not satisfied with the replacement "British" Bill of Rights could presumably still go to the ECHR, just at far greater expense than at present.  Perhaps the family of Trevor Philpott would like to ask if their action against Essex police would still have gone ahead under the replacement act, or indeed which rights it is exactly the HRA provides the replacement won't have, a question left unanswered before.

Considering just how low the bar was set by Ed Miliband, forgetting the deficit aside, it was always likely Cameron's speech would be seen as a success by comparison.  That doesn't however absolve the media from failing to notice Cameron has delivered essentially the same address three years in a row now.  Last year he contrived to answer the sneering of a Russian politician by pointing out how we battled fascism; this year he related his experience in Normandy with a D-Day veteran, "how when people have seen our flag - in some of the most desperate times in history - they have known what it stands for".  Well, quite.  Last year, as he has repeatedly, he built himself up into a fit of faux righteous indignation over some slight from Labour; this year he did it twice, over Labour daring to suggest the NHS isn't safe in his hands and over Labour's plans to deal with the deficit, or lack thereof.

It was nonsense, but it was nonsense decreed acceptable whereas Labour's nonsense is pounced upon.  Cameron's plea for a majority government isn't so much you've had four years of us and hated every minute, it's either me for another 5 or it's Ed Miliband, as it is I'm a bit shit, you're a bit shit, don't put your trust in someone completely shit.  As Larry Elliott points out, Cameron's tax promises today now make them the party without a plan for cutting the deficit: if cuts of £25bn already look next to impossible without certain parts of government shutting down completely, how can a further £7.2bn worth be found to finance cutting taxes for middle earners?  Just as Cameron says he's a relatively simple man, it simply can't be done, unless that is he gives with one hand and takes with the other.  Which is precisely what he's doing by raising the income tax threshold to £12,500 at the same time as freezing tax credits, hoping the lowest paid won't notice his sleight of hand, or how the continuously rising threshold helps middle earners the most.

For all its manifold, myriad faults, Cameron and the Conservatives have a vision.  It's a vision that ignores the inexorable rise of food banks, the penalising of the most vulnerable through a "spare room subsidy", the fact living standards have fallen and show no sign of recovering despite inflation coming in below 2%, and instead emphasises things could be worse.  You can only be sure of continuing mediocrity with the Conservatives, so long as you're upper middle class like they are.  Everyone just needs to work harder, do the right thing, and they'll get the same rewards.  It's the natural order.  Should they win, they'll make life even harder for those whom continue to oppose them. 

Labour, meanwhile, doesn't have anything resembling a vision.  Yet still on choice of party if nothing else it retains the edge.  That's how beatable the Tories are, should be, how people want a vision of something better that isn't cod-Thatcherism from a politician who can only remind you of how much better Tony Blair was at insincerity.  You believed Blair's insincerity.  Cameron can't even pull that off.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 

Shorter Theresa May.

We have to destroy the town in order to save it.

(More tomorrow once the nicer effects of an anaesthetic wear off.  Don't ask.)

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Monday, September 29, 2014 

I chose not to choose Osborne.

If his actions hadn't been so unfathomably stupid, you could almost feel sorry for Brooks Newmark.  Chris Bryant is still constantly reminded of his posing in a pair of y-fronts for his Gaydar profile (and I, err, seem to have also just brought it up again), but at least he kept his pants on.  Newmark, being the archetypal Tory rather than a wannabe vicar turned MP, was just a touch more classy in his exposing.  Not by deciding upon a sepia filter or anything though, which might have been trying just a little too hard.  Instead he flopped the old johnson out of his dark blue and red paisley pyjamas, apparently convinced this would ignite fires of passion in his correspondent on Twitter.  Who just happened to be a freelance hack trying his luck with the old honeypot ploy, rather than Sophie Wittams, blonde Tory PR bombshell.

Cue many complaints about entrapment and all the rest of it, moans which were few and far between when Mazher Mahmood finally met his match in Tulisa.  Admittedly, they have a point: rather than a targeted operation against someone known to be liberal in their sending of private images, this seems to have been a fishing expedition, with "Wittams" contacting a number of Tory MPs.  All the same, I can't be the only one thinking it wasn't so long back Lord Rennard was being denounced for his (alleged) threatening sexual behaviour and touching of prospective Lib Dem MPs.  Even if this was a consensual exchange of pictures, should an MP be doing such things in any case, or indeed, shouldn't it be seen as indicative of a lack of judgement?

Newmark being ensnared by the Sunday Mirror would have been bad enough for the Tories on the eve of their conference, only for Mark Reckless to join his compadre Douglas Carswell in defecting to UKIP.  Much as we could just defer to nominative determinism on this one, as many others have, it says much about the state the Conservatives find themselves in that Nigel Farage's merry band has proved more attractive to not just one but two Tory MPs with healthy majorities.  Reckless could no longer stand being in a party apparently doomed to defeat at the next election, so he's joined one that's err, even more doomed to defeat at the next election.  Still, at least he can now be happier in his own skin, no longer forced to defend his party to those in Rochester who believe themselves to be "over taxed" and "over regulated", those key complaints on the doors.  As for the cost to the taxpayer of his decision to resign and seek re-election when he could have waited a few months and done exactly the same thing at the time of the general election, more important is the Farage bandwagon.  Quite how this is championing his constituents' interests rather than his new party's isn't clear, but no doubt he can justify it to himself somehow.

Yesterday in Birmingham then felt more like a conference of a far-left sect than it did that of the main governing party, with Reckless being denounced from the platform for his lies and betrayal.  Not that you could ever imagine Grant Shapps, aka Michael Green, aka Sebastian Fox being a leftie agitator, mainly as he comes across as far too dim.  Nothing is too obvious for Shapps, no sentiment too trite, no soundbite too overcooked.  If all else fails he can perhaps look for work at GCHQ, as the Tories now do a sideline in recording phone calls without the other person's knowledge and then playing them to all and sundry.  More the actions of an authoritarian one party state than the Tories of old, but needs apparently must when it comes to exposing the double dealings of those who are Reckless.

It was still preferable to what's become the Monday ritual, the delivering of the George Osborne gospel.  Worth keeping in mind is by some difference Osborne is now the most popular and also the most successful of all the coalition's ministers: that he's been a miserable failure when judged by the goals set by err, George Osborne doesn't matter when the competition is even worse.  By any real measure Michael Gove would rank as most successful such has been his impact on education, only for his charms to be deemed just too offensive to teachers and in turn voters.  Osborne by contrast, who must inspire thoughts of doing a Mantel in many, remains in place and dividing and ruling the same as ever.

Having got off relatively lightly of late, one would hope due to the Tories realising just how unpopular the bedroom tax has become, those on benefits whether in or out of work are due to cop it once again.  Should the Tories get a majority the under 21s will face the equivalent of "community payback" once they've claimed JSA for 6 months, while they also won't be able to get housing benefit.  The benefit cap as a whole will be lowered to £23,000, while only those in the support group of ESA will see their payments rise in line with inflation for a further two years.  Meanwhile, those under 40 who can afford to buy their own home could potentially get a 20% discount whether they need one or not, and another "death tax" will be abolished, with what's left of a pension pot no longer taxed at 55%.  It really couldn't be any more stark: if you're "one of us", aspiring to own your home, wanting to pass on money to your kids, Osborne and pals will be more than glad to help.  If you're struggling to make ends meet, claiming anything from the government whatsoever (with the exception of those able to jump through the hoops of the work capability assessment and everyone lucky enough to be 65+), you're on your own.  We hear that nice Mr Miliband, the same one who couldn't even remember the deficit, instantly disqualifying him from entering the room of the Very Serious People, will be happy to have you.

You could understand Osborne's gambit more if the £3bn estimated to be saved by these changes went a lot of the way to making the savings Osborne claims they will.  The problem is this is just £3bn of the £12bn total from welfare, with another £13bn to come from savings from the non-protected government departments.  Neither figure seems likely to be achieved without extreme pain, nor does it seem realistic taxes won't have to rise in some way, despite all of Osborne's fine words, if that is he means what he says about running a surplus.  It could be just as he's failed miserably to get rid of the deficit in a single term, he could relent once the election has been won.  Equally, he could raise taxes straight away to get it out of the way, even if it was to break his promises.  Or it could be he means what he says, and to hell with the consequences.  Whichever it is, there's no evidence making his stand now will win the support he believes it will from those who favour the Tories on the economy.  Keen as he apparently is on paraphrasing Trainspotting, no doubt to Irvine Welsh's ire, he and the Tories shouldn't be surprised if we decide to choose something else.

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Friday, September 26, 2014 

That justification for a third war in Iraq in full.

We have a slightly different missile in our arsenal to the ones used by the Americans.

Well, I'm convinced.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014 

Perpetually stuck in a sepia film.

Abu Qatada's acquittal on terror charges in Jordan is an all but perfect metaphor for the entire way we've gone about fighting the "war on terror".  For the best part of 10 years an innocent man was detained without charge, either in Belmarsh, Long Lartin or in his own home under onerous bail conditions.  He finally left the UK, not because he was forced to as the government would like us to believe, but as he decided he'd rather take his chances with the Jordanian court system than continue to be locked up.  So desperate were we to be rid of ol' bird-nest face we persuaded the Jordanians to somewhat reform their system, ensuring the torture tainted evidence that convicted him in absentia was made inadmissible, apparently unconcerned he could be found not guilty.  He can't return, so why should it bother us?

Qatada's detention was not just dependent on his awaiting deportation, but as he was judged to pose a threat in general.  He was, according to judges with access to secret intelligence Qatada himself was not able to see, a "truly dangerous individual", while a Spanish judge, since defrocked, described him as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe", something quoted ever after.  And indeed, Qatada is a supporter of al-Qaida.  He is without doubt an Islamist extremist, his writings and sermons read by those whom have gone on to carry out terrorist attacks.  Qatada himself though is not a terrorist, nor is he a takfirist; he made an appeal on behalf on Norman Kember, and most recently has denounced Islamic State's murder of three Westerners.  The other most respected Salafi ideologue, Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, while calling for the release of Alan Henning, has also wrote on his website that Qatada had asked IS directly to release Henning, with the group denying at the time it was behind the kidnapping.

Dispensing with civil liberties at the first opportunity; exaggerating the real level of threat posed by jihadists; dumping our problems on the rest of the world at the same time as maintaining our actions have been in the interest of everyone.  All were characteristic to our approach to Qatada, and while as yet the coalition hasn't signalled it believes in further dilutions of liberty in the name of security, the other two have most definitely been in evidence as parliament gears up to authorise air strikes against IS.  One of the surest indications a policy is a terrible idea is when it has almost universal support, as accepting the Iraqi government's invitation to bomb their country has, with the exception of the usual stick in the muds.  No one seriously believes simply attacking IS from the air will destroy it, nor does the government have any faith either in the Kurdish peshmerga or Baghdad's ability to win back the territory seized by IS.  Nor are we filling a vital gap in the coalition put together by the United States, especially when the Gulf states have this time shown a willingness to actually use their own military capabilities.

No, we're about to go to war again because it would be almost rude not to.  Of little to no apparent concern is how damn familiar this seems.  Western intervention in the Middle East hasn't rid the region of Islamic extremism; rather, at every turn it has encouraged it.  Starting with the funding of the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, almost every single policy decision taken has put fuel on the fire.  13 years of war in Afghanistan hasn't defeated the Taliban, who remain in wait for the long coming withdrawal of Western troops.  We overthrew a secular dictator in Iraq without a plan as to what to put in his place: the result was a sectarian civil war, the creation of IS and the empowerment of Iran.  We overthrew a secular dictator in Libya in the name of the "responsibility to protect": the result is a civil war between Islamist militias.  We've supported the overthrow of a secular dictator in Syria, recognising the opposition as the "legitimate representative" of the Syrian people; that "moderate" opposition has never existed in reality, and we either turned a blind eye or didn't object when our allies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar funded and armed the self-same extremists we are now posed to obliterate from the air.

If we're concerned the targeting of both the al-Nusra Front and IS in Syria could help to repair the fitna between the groups, it's not apparent.  Nor does it worry us how Western bombing always kills civilians, always unites in anger those otherwise against the extremists.  Yet again we don't have an exit strategy, even an idea what the "degrading" of IS means in practice, nor a guarantee attacks won't be extended to Syria.  Once again it will intensify the otherwise low threat IS currently poses, ironically when that limited threat is being used as a justification for the attacks.  Once again our enemy is evil, uniquely terrible, a "network of death".  Forgive me if I recall just how many deaths the forces of freedom have been responsible for, how insulted I am at being asked to accept the same people who got us in this mess are now going to solve it, and all through once again lobbing high explosives at whichever brick shithouse in this particular area IS has set up shop.  The case for joining the truly unholy coalition stitched together by the US is, remarkably, even weaker than the one made for bombing Assad last year.  It's just it's too much trouble to say no again.  We'd rather history repeat, as it will.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014 

See, you know, here's the thing, we're better together.

Ed Miliband's conference speech was dismal.  Not because he "forgot" to mention how Labour would tackle the deficit, or deal with immigration, as a media no longer bothering to hide its bias has focused on relentlessly for the past 24 hours.  David Cameron and George Osborne went through two conferences where the word "recession" never so much as passed their lips, where everything was Labour's fault, all without the BBC so much as picking them up on their sins of omission.  No, it was awful because it was completely tone deaf, written and delivered not to be a cohesive whole but with the intention of the important bits sounding good when edited down for the news bulletins.  Even they blanched at Miliband repeating together over and over, in a spectacularly ill-judged attempt to throw the abandoned all in it Tory slogan back in their faces.  All activists could talk of was the energy they had encountered in Scotland, whichever side they were on, and here in front of them was one reason why the Yes campaign nearly triumphed.

This isn't to be entirely fair to Miliband, but then whoever was advising on the speech wasn't fair to him either.  If there's one thing Miliband isn't, it's Tony Blair.  The messiah himself barely got away with his "you knows" and desperate attempts to speak like, you know, the common people do, and yet still they decided it was a good idea to pepper the speech with sentences starting with "so", "see" and "here's the thing" among other verbal crimes.  Then we had the what threatened to be endless personal anecdotes, mocked without mercy since.  All of them seem to have been actual occurrences of Ed talking to real people, which is at least something, it just doesn't alter how with the exception of Beatrice Bazell, who remarked to Ed on how her "generation is falling into a black hole" they didn't add anything.  It gave a speech already lacking in content yet long in delivery a too earnest, too needy air, like a clingy boyfriend resorting to the same old self-deprecating tricks in a doomed effort to stop a lover from moving on. 


Miliband's strength, as proved by his three previous conference speeches was in focusing on a central, overriding theme with the odd eye-catching policy announcement tacked on.  We had predator capitalism, one nation Labour and then last year the cost of living/energy price freeze gambit, all of which succeeded in capturing the attention of the media, the latter setting the agenda for the rest of the year.  Rather than follow the same template this time he instead spread the message far too thinly: his ten year plan, a formulation which just invites comparison with Stalinist edicts on tractor production, was a clear attempt to revive the pledges made by Labour prior to the 97 election.  Laudable certainly, but May 2015 is too distant to concentrate minds, not least when the Scottish referendum is still exciting thought.  Nor was the announcement on a £2.5bn "time to care" fund for the NHS anything like a surprise, or close to as radical as the price freeze.


There were nonetheless sections that sparkled, albeit all too briefly.  The "on your own" motif if further developed could have formed a powerful indictment of the coalition's way of governing, with Miliband's attack on the auction that saw a Russian oligarch's wife bid £160,000 to play tennis with the prime minister one of the few cutting attacks on the Tories.  He was so enamoured with this swipe he repeated it moments later, alongside urging the conference to ensure Cameron has more time to surf and play Angry Birds (yes, really) by defeating his party at the election.  The hall, struck by quite how pitiful this call to arms was, barely shifted.


Some of this failure to connect with the audience in Manchester, let alone the rest of us, has to be put down to Miliband's baffling insistence on giving the address without notes.  The wandering around the platform, arm waving, look how in touch with you I am act was a novelty for a couple of years; now it's the political equivalent of riding a bike without holding the handlebars.  Anyone can do it with practice, but you look an even bigger fool than normal if you fall off.  It's not just the whole deficit non-story could have been avoided, it's how it encourages brush strokes rather than painting a full picture.  One of the most fundamental changes in recent years has been the rise of zero hour contracts, enforced self-employment and job insecurity, something not solved by raising the minimum wage.  All earned mentions, without Miliband offering anything resembling a plan for how a Labour government will improve things or tackle the short-term business culture behind the shift.  Apparently the 21st century will be about "co-operation, everybody playing their part, sharing the rewards, the talents of all", but how this will become the norm wasn't explained.


Most commentators have interpreted the speech as Labour resorting to a core vote strategy, and it's difficult to demur from that conclusion.  Those same commentators haven't noted however both the Tories and Lib Dems made clear long ago they were going to do the same thing, if that is the Lib Dems still have a core.  Nor is there much else Labour can do: while retaining their lead in the polls, Miliband's personal ratings are worse than ever, as is public confidence in their economic competence.  The real change since 2010 is while the Tories have shifted noticeably to the right, Labour has despite claims to the contrary stayed dead centre, emphasis on the dead.  Labour clearly believes voters have nowhere else to go; the sad thing is unless you fancy another 5 years of Con-Dem benevolence, they're probably right.  As for inspiration, aspiration, a politics beyond the fear and loathing of austerity, we'll have to wait a while longer.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 

It's that time again.

The interventionists have at last got their war in Syria.  It's not the war they wanted, the feel-good bombing the fuck out of anything that looked vaguely like belonging to the Syrian military in revenge for the gassing of children war, rather a not quite as feel-good but still pleasing bombing the fuck out of anything that looks vaguely like being an Islamic State stronghold war, but a war's a war.  It means the same old white guys in uniform presenting a salivating media with grainy black and white images of death from above, completely different from the pristine high definition snuff propaganda offered up by IS.  It means the ever willing servant of the United States, Her Majesty's Government, rushing to pledge the use of its own US-bought ordnance in the battle against the forces of evil, this completely new and unprecedented threat from the marauding, advancing, terrifying IS.  This is not just a battle for Britain, it is the battle of Britain: forget that mere skirmish with the Hun, when a true coalition of the willing fought in the skies against the Luftwaffe; this is the real deal.

Just to underline how completely insane the indirect intervention in Syria before now has been, also hit at the same time as IS was the al-Nusra Front, only the US has renamed them the Khorosan group for the duration.  According to the US they were in the final stages of preparation for an attack on the West, perhaps with those fabled iPhone bombs we heard about a few months back.  Al-Nusra is of course al-Qaida's affiliate proper in Syria, albeit one almost certainly funded indirectly if not directly by the same Gulf states now allied with the US.  One wonders if a strike on al-Nusra was a Saudi condition of getting their own jets dirty, intended as a message to Qatar, the Saudis having stepped back from supporting jihadists at the start of the year in favour of plain old Islamists, having realised its clients were getting out of control.

Such are the rivalries at work in the patched together US coalition.  Kudos must go to the Saudis and Qataris, whom having played a major role in fomenting the sectarian civil war are now bombing those they eulogised as their Sunni, Wahhabi brothers.  Luckily for them such contortions are easier to explain when they also control their media.  Our media by contrast is completely free and unafraid to ask the difficult questions, hence why they didn't inquire about civilian casualties given the opportunity.  Difficult as it is to comprehend, far more lies have been told about Syria than ever were about Iraq.  Back then we didn't have any equivalent to the Graun insisting there had been an unofficial truce between the Assad regime and IS, deals between the two over oil aside.  Whole sections meanwhile fell into believing there really was something equivalent to a Free Syrian Army on the ground, rather than an extremely loosely tied alliance of self-starting battalions, the vast majority Islamist if not jihadist.  There never was and never has been a "moderate" armed opposition, with even those the US is now supposedly training in what it all but admits is little more than a PR exercise fighting alongside the likes of al-Nusra.

Not that you can necessarily blame those on the frontline when reporting on conflict gets ever more dangerous.  It isn't just that the rebels and the Syrian government both care little for the lives of journalists, although they do, it's that media organisations don't want to pay the vast sums that go hand in hand with in-depth foreign reporting, and so the local guides who play such an important role in keeping correspondents safe walk away.  James Foley and Stephen Sotloff paid a price in blood as a result.  Quite what IS hopes to achieve with the videos featuring John Cantlie isn't clear when the message he's being forced to deliver is so one note, but it is undeniable he and the other British and American hostages have been abandoned to their fate.  The refusal to pay ransoms is certainly a morally righteous position, but combined as it is with the media blackout on their captivity it means their only real chance of escaping death is a special forces raid.  You have to hope the news that IS put Alan Henning before a Sharia court which cleared of him being a spy means they could still act with mercy towards someone who only wanted to help the Syrian people, yet when you start throwing cruise missiles around with gay abandon it's hard not to fear the worst.

Striking al-Nusra at the same time as IS also lays bare how the whole non-strategy takes its cue from the Libya campaign.  Once the UN resolution was passed, NATO's interpretation was it allowed them to do whatever the hell took their fancy.  With it as yet uncertain whether the UN will be involved beyond the passing of a resolution skirting the issue, not least as Russia will veto anything that looks remotely like 1973 again, there's not even the figleaf of legality being maintained.  While there's probably more contact between the Assad government and the Americans going on than is being admitted, there's not even the pretence that should IS be "degraded" the focus won't then switch towards finishing the job.  Why else would the "moderate" Gulf states as the BBC hilariously referred to them earlier join in unless they've received assurances that Assad won't in the long run gain from the destruction of IS?

This said, IS won't crumble under the weight of air power alone.  As Juan Cole writes, shock and awe has never worked, and won't this time.  The Islamic State survived in Iraq for years without anything near to the safe havens it's established over the past 12 months, and should it have to abandon Raqqa or anywhere else it will just be a return to what it's known before.  If the intention was to go all out against IS, rather than merely contain them, the kind of truce between Assad and the "moderate" rebels proposed by Patrick Cockburn would be high on the agenda.  It's not as IS is far too useful, as proved by the non-role of Israel.  A jihadist organisation that makes Hamas look like the girl guides rampages across Syria, getting ever nearer to the one true democracy in the region™, and how does it respond?  By, err, shooting down a Syrian jet.

What then is the aim of all this?  Just as we came within spitting distance last year of attacking Syria thanks to Obama's "red lines", so now the main reason why the US has acted is down to domestic pressure to do something, anything.  As soon as the president "misspoke" by saying he didn't have a strategy it doomed him into having to find one.  Thankfully for him, most commentators haven't noticed the new strategy is just the old one with knobs on, easily distracted as they are by explosions and the usual war porn.  Islamic State must return to its old ways of blowing up markets filled with Iraqis rather than cutting off the heads of Westerners is the mission in short.  Chase them back into the desert and away from minorities while still dropping the odd Hellfire missile, and everyone will be happy.  It's "worked" in Yemen.  This doesn't solve anything whatsoever you'll note, and at some point the Saudis and Qataris are going to return to their old ways, especially if this empowers Assad as it undoubtedly will, but we'll worry about that once it happens.

Any British politician with more than a modicum of sense would take one look at this mess and run a mile.  Appearances must though be kept up.  The bloody French have involved themselves for whatever reason, probably down to Hollande trying desperately to distract from the country's economic woes, and Labour, ever the hypocrites, made a lot out of those remarks from Robert Gates about our military capability not keeping up with theirs.  The Atlanticist headbangers on the backbenches love a good turkey shoot, so any worries that getting involved will increase rather than decrease the potential for a terrorist attack must be put to one side.  America expects, you know.  We might hedge our bets, attacking only Iraq rather than Syria lest this trouble Labour unduly, but make no mistake, the war party is going to be in full swing again.  Besides, we can't possibly make things even worse, can we?

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Monday, September 22, 2014 

All transitory.

Despite everything, I still felt a pang of disappointment on waking up on Friday morning.  I'd stayed up for the first results, Clackmannanshire, Shetland, Orkney, the first setting the pattern mostly to be repeated throughout the night: Yes had come close, but still not close enough.  For all my contempt for both campaigns, for the naivety, the scaremongering, the chauvinism, shallow nationalism and baleful bigotry, had I a vote I could only have crossed the yes box.  Given the choice between a state retaining a belief in solidarity, even if not with the neighbours south of the border, something akin to a social democracy, and the atomisation offered by all three Westminster parties? There is no choice.

True, the SNP weren't in reality offering anything like that.  Independence was always just a means to an end, with everything to be determined afterwards.  The idea Alex Salmond isn't an establishment politician is as much of a hoot as Nigel Farage presenting himself as the insurgent; it's how debased and safe our politics has become that both just about get away with it.  When it came down to it, the Yes campaign's failure to answer convincingly the most basic economic questions about an independent Scotland cost it.  The undecideds stripped from the polls simply made it look closer than it was.

We can't of course without further polls know exactly what it was that made the undecideds say no.  Were they always going to, was it last minute doubts, the Daily Record "vow", Gordon Brown's interventions (or the just as electrifying condemnation of the SNP from Vicki Greig for that matter), the warnings from businesses, the horror of making Salmond even more smug and self-assured?  All we do know is the commentariat made its mind up straight away.  Scotland might have said no, but no actually meant yes.  Moreover, despite the rest of us not having a vote, Scotland's no also meant yes to more devolution for rUK.

First though, let's not get too carried away with the 85% turnout.  Present a country with a yes or no choice on whether it remains part of a 300-year old union where every vote counts, and if turnout isn't approaching that level you've got severe problems.  More concerning ought to be how 25% of the electorate of Scotland's biggest city still couldn't be persuaded to make a decision either way.  Alternatively, it could be those 25% are the smartest people around, indifferent to the political weather and perfectly happy with their lot in life.  Perhaps they should be envied, rather than getting us dead inside political junkies why-oh-whying about how they can't be reached.

By the same token, only so much can be made about those who've spent the last year or so hoping against hope Yes would pull it off at the last.  Political movements are prone to collapsing the minute after the moment has passed; remember Occupy, or indeed any real organised opposition to austerity for that matter? Thought not.  When Martin Sorrell remarks on just how quiescent the young are, dulled he no doubt believes by the very promise his advertising offers, we ought to be taking notice.  The radical independence people are most likely to be this decade's Iraq war marchers: there for the extraordinary moment, and left bitter, angry and depressed at the failure to achieve their goal.  Nor is there much comfort to be taken from the level of debate: yes, more people than ever informed themselves via the internet and made their minds up that way; no, it didn't make up for the underlying tenor, the shouting down of the opposition, the all too frequent recourse to the language of betrayal and surrender, the never-ending torrent of shit thrown in all directions by more than just the usual suspects.

Equally, you can appreciate the irony of the London media, so often to be found either bemoaning Scotland or England both suddenly desperate for these septic isles to remain united, seemingly for subconscious atavistic reasons rather than out of any real affection, but it doesn't last long.  Not least when nationalism of one variety leads all but inevitably to the rise of its equivalents, understandable grievance followed by pitiful whinging.  Of all political bores, and let's face it, we're never the most engaging of folk, the most crushingly dull are the constitutionally fixated ones. England needs its own parliament like it needs two John Redwoods, West Lothian question aside.  The word devolution means whatever those clamouring for it say it does, and it's more power for them rather than true localism.  Time and again the public has made clear it has no interest in yet more politicians, whether it be through often rejecting mayors, the north-west assembly or most recently in the derisory turnouts for the police and crime commissioner elections, a creation no one asked for and no one wanted, and yet still a section of the media and the Westminster bubble thinks otherwise.

The dream might live on.  It's just the dream, as always, is transitory.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014 

The new strategy is there is no strategy.

One thing is abundantly clear after President Obama set out his new strategy on "degrading and destroying" Islamic State: our politicians have been getting themselves in a tizzy for nothing.  Just as policy on Syria has long been to contain, if not actively prolong the civil war in the country, with the result being the rise not of moderates but the likes of the al-Nusra Front and IS, so now this will be extended into Iraq despite the containment strategy having singularly failed.  Got that?

There certainly isn't any other conclusion you can possibly reach after Obama's televised address.  The strategy he sets out is the same one his administration has long favoured, using drones and special forces while trying to empower the jihadists' foes on the ground.  This has "worked" in Somalia and Yemen, in the sense neither al-Shabaab or al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have launched attacks on the west, despite the latter having made a number of attempts.  As for whether our allies in either country have been empowered, it's very much a secondary concern.  So long as the high-ups in the groups are thinned out every so often, as has just happened with al-Shabaab, it goes down as a success.

Why then all the rhetoric about destroying IS, it being a cancer needing to be cut out etc, when it's obviously a long-term aim?  Well, it's what he needed to do after he said previously there was no strategy, when he meant there was no new strategy.  There still isn't, it's just you can make it look as though he's proposing something different by ratcheting up the language, sending John Kerry round all the "friendly" American-allied despots and getting them to say they're going to do something when there's little evidence they will based on how some of them are just as much responsible for the rise of IS as the Ba'ath in Syria and the Americans themselves have been.

If this was the intention all along, it's not clear if the message got through to dear old Dave.  There he was declaring IS poses the greatest threat to the country since William the Bastard, with JTAC declaring it to once again be severe, and now it's not even apparent if the US wants us to help out by firing the odd Hellfire missile at a rag-tag bunch of wannabe headloppers.  Despite the media leaping at Obama saying he "will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria", that doesn't mean he's going to be authorising air strikes there any time soon.  Apart from the Russians making clear their displeasure, any sustained campaign against IS will only benefit Assad in the short-term.  If there really are "moderate" Syrian rebels currently being trained by the US, with Patrick Cockburn suggesting they amount to the last remnants of what was the Free Syrian Army, which was never an army in the first place, only now fully under the auspices of the CIA, the idea they can fight both IS and Assad at the same time is as ridiculous as it is amusing.  The US can't possibly imagine they'll make the difference either; the hope presumably is the Saudis, Qataris, Kuwatis etc will come round to the US approach and start funding their controlled rebels instead of the likes of the Islamic Front or IS itself.  This in turn will risk the non-IS jihadists going over to IS, but that apparently doesn't worry anyone.

The Syrian rebels are themselves still fixated on overthrowing Assad, not surprisingly considering that's err, why they rose up in the first place.  Sadly for them the mission's changed: once it was about getting rid of the Ba'ath, only the west soon realised the rebels weren't going to be any better than Assad, in fact probably worse.  Rather than admit we got all our predictions about the Syrian regime being doomed wrong, Assad "re-elected" and going nowhere, we settled on support for the rebels knowing full well neither they nor the government could strike a killer blow.  Only we didn't count on the apparently defeated and broken Islamic State of Iraq morphing into not just IS but also al-Nusra, or the Sunni Arab states using them in their proxy battle against Iran.  Or at least on IS becoming so powerful so quickly.

As for Iraq, the US is perfectly happy to send a few more units to the country, for allies to arm the Kurds and Iraqi government, and for neither to move all that quickly against the towns and cities IS controls.  Unlike the panic-mongers over here, Obama spelled out how IS currently doesn't have the intention of attacking the west, being far too busy in both countries.  No reason then to risk further unbalancing the fragility in Iraq; with the Yazidis mostly safe and other minorities having fled, the US is counting on IS once again outstaying its welcome amongst the Sunni tribes, just as it did back in 2007.

Moreover, Obama's reheated strategy is almost certainly the right one, despite its failure in Syria.  If the intention was to really deal with IS and right now it would mean temporarily allying with Assad, something we simply aren't prepared to do, both out of the sheer embarrassment it would involve and of course down to how he's a chemical weapon using tyrant.  Having morals is nice, but not losing face is far more important.

It would be great though if for once, just once, our leaders could admit how badly they've got things wrong.  We hold our hands up: we're just as responsible for the rise of IS as either Assad or the sectarian Iraqi government.  Now it's turned out this way, we're going to make it right by not making the same mistakes as we did before.  The Americans, against the odds and to their credit, have reacted in a far calmer manner than our politicians have, regardless of Cameron's rhetoric not matching the legislation proposed so far.  With the parties currently far more exercised by the little matter of Scotland potentially leaving the union, by the time parliament returns (assuming there is a no vote) the initial something-must-be-done stage might have passed.  Just don't count on it.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014 

Cometh the hour, cometh Brownman.

Every so often a political crisis comes along that just can't be solved by the usual, ordinary methods.  In such times, there is but one man you can turn to.  He can't be reached by phone, his real identity is known only to a select few, and there's no guarantee then he will help out, liable as he is to years of sulking and plotting.  Your best bet of attracting his attention is to ask Commissioner Gordon Hogan-Howe to illuminate the brown signal.  For he is, and will always be, The Brownman.

Yes, now recuperated from the exertion of saving the world from financial meltdown in 2008, Brownman is back to smash the Salmon(d)'s nefarious plot to break Scotland away from the United Kingdom!  Could Brownman this time have left it too late however?  Should he rather than the Boy Darling have led the battle against the Salmon(d)?  And what of the swirling rumours Brownman is only intervening due to the machinations of Two-Face Cameron and Poison Crosby?

Describing the actions of Better Together over the past couple of days as panic doesn't just do a disservice to those who suffer from anxiety attacks, oh no.  We're talking full on, head-just-been-cut-off, running around the farmyard with blood spraying everywhere type attacks of fear-induced mania.  It speaks volumes of the confidence of the no campaign that a single, solitary, within the margin of error, with don't knows stripped out poll giving Yes its first ever lead causes a quite staggering outbreak of oh my god what are we going to do we must do something anything and right now-itis.  These, remember, are politicians meant to be calm, collected and resolute in the face of any threat.  Menaced by the divisions of YouGov they've turned tail and ran straight for the high road.

Leaving it till now, both to use a figure who might make a better emotional case than Alistair Darling and to set out exactly what a no will mean in the form of further devolved powers is baffling, except when you know what a basket case the no campaign has long been.  They believed they could just go on saying no to everything Yes said they could do, and that would be enough.  No currency union, no EU membership, no deals, no friendship, no help, no chance of Scotland becoming Norway.  In fairness, the polls suggested this approach worked, except until the vote got so close you could start to feel it, more people began paying attention and Salmond played the if-you-hate-the-Tories-even-if-you-don't-know-why-vote-Yes card (PDF).

I've tried not to pay too much attention to the Scottish independence campaign for the reason that both sides equally depress, or rather infuriate me.  Generally in politics and as I've often tried to argue here, all involved are ghastly but there's usually one slightly better than the rest, even if the differences between them are almost imperceptible.  Yes peddles a fantasy vision of a Scotland freed from the perfidious English establishment, a country where the sun will always shine, the oil will perpetually flow and the welfare system will forever be more generous and fairer than its south-of-Berwick equivalent.  Sure, every so often either Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon will say they're not claiming independence will be a panacea or transform the nation overnight, but it usually comes after a very particular flight of fancy.  No by contrast paints a picture of a nation too wee, too poor, too stupid to go it alone, one where London knows best and to prove exactly that point will block any proposal, however modest, to give the Scottish people more say.  This is without getting into the petty grievances of both sides, the dead horses beaten daily, the phony differences played up by those who really, really ought to know better, the we're more Scottish than you attitudes on display by all concerned.

Just as sad is how otherwise intelligent people have been sucked in by this cavalcade of bullshit.  Some of those on the left backing independence really seem to believe this is the first step on the road to socialism in one country.  Never mind that the SNP is about as radical as those people wooing and cheering as Apple launches yet another slightly better iPhone than the last one, a party that as Shuggy says has not during its 7 years in power instituted a single redistributive policy, that Salmond is more than happy to pal up with those pinkos Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch, as once the independence deal is done and dusted they can elect someone better.  Like whom?  The Greens?  A reinvigorated Scottish Labour party, suddenly receptive and open to policies they weren't when tied to the English party?  Or do they seriously think the tax cutting yet still somehow able to spend more SNP will turn from yellow to red?  The notion Scotland is more left-wing than the rest of the country doesn't stand up to any kind of real scrutiny; hating Thatcher and not voting for the Tories in the same proportion as us southerners have certainly doesn't equal the same thing.

Yet it's also impossible not to see the attraction.  Forget the chest-beating nationalisms for a second, and why wouldn't you want to take a chance on independence when the alternative is more years of austerity, whether delivered either by a Tory-led or a Labour-led coalition?  No one seems to have connected the spectre of another war on the horizon with the leap in support for Yes, despite independence suggesting a break from the overseas adventurism of the recent past.  Listening to David Cameron speaking last weekend from the NATO conference was to hear a man suffering from the most extreme delusions of grandeur, imagining the nation he leads is still a world power, able to project itself around the world as it builds a second aircraft carrier and ensures defence spending remains at high percentage of GDP.  Who wouldn't want the insufferable, jumped-up arse to be forced to go to the Queen and tell her in the space of four years he's managed to oversee the dismantling of the union?  The idea he could stay as prime minister in such circumstances is laughable, as is the one the general election would go ahead next year as planned.  Besides, do you really want to align yourself with the gimps in power at Westminster, complacent with the apathy they usually encounter, until at last they realise the situation is far more serious than first thought?

The problem with this is both that it's a strange independence movement that wants to break up the United Kingdom yet keep the pound, if necessary without a currency union, all while staying in the European Union, and that even if we accept at face value most of the claims about the true potential of the Scottish economy, it still leaves the country facing an incredibly tough initial decade, such are the levels of debt the newly independent state would take on.  This is if everything goes smoothly in the negotiations between Scotland and rUK, of which there is absolutely no guarantee, with Mark Carney explicit today about the incompatibility of sovereignty and a currency union the SNP insists will happen.  It could just be my natural pessimism talking, but I'd like to think it's in fact realism.

All three main party leaders are then off north tomorrow in their bid to lovebomb Scotland into submission.  It's a pretty pass we've come to when unleashing Brownman is the more rational, more likely to have an impact stunt of the week.

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Thursday, September 04, 2014 

Desperate business.

It's a strange old world.  You might have thought for instance that regardless of how the SITE Intelligence Group, formerly the SITE Institute, is a self-started organisation that presents itself as an adjunct of the security services but in fact operates as the middle man between jihadis and the media and therefore needs to get more exposure, it wouldn't have plastered its logo all over the Islamic State's "Second Message to America" video.  It might not, as was the case in the previous video, actually show the beheading of Stephen Sotloff, but it most certainly does have the terrified, close to tears Sotloff reading out the statement demanded of him, before then cutting to an image of Sotloff's prostrate body, his severed, bloodied head placed on his back.  On the opposite side of the image to SITE's logo is the Islamic State's billowing black flag.  Still, it's good for business, right?

Equally odd is the idea a media blackout helps when it comes to those abducted in Syria or elsewhere.  Until Tuesday night when our new friend Jihadi John, as we apparently have to refer to him, was seen holding the scruff of David Haines's neck, we didn't have any idea there were Brits held by IS or any of the other groups.  The government and media did; they just felt it was better for all concerned if we were left in the dark.  Even yesterday, despite the rest of the world's media being understandably exercised by another westerner threatened with an especially grisly, brutal end, our own finest were pussyfooting around naming him.

As unlike our European counterparts we refuse to pay ransoms, failing a successful rescue operation David Haines faces the same fate as both James Foley and Sotloff.  It's true this might not have been the case until recently, as we don't know whether Foley, Sotloff or Haines were abducted by groups or rebel battalions other than IS and then sold onto them, and there might have been negotiations going on with them about possible deals not involving money, but if not IS has likely held these men with the intention of using them as pawns in a potential battle of wills with the west.  Media publicity before now might have made some sort of a difference, as it clearly did when Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza, for instance.  It's certainly difficult to think of further harm it could have caused, unless the coalition is haunted by the memory of Ken Bigley and the pressure put on Tony Blair at the time over it.

Ah.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014 

A greater and deeper threat. Just not to us.

In a world so overflowing with bullshit, one where it's difficult to keep your head above the surface in the septic tank of life, it takes a statement the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of cow dung to give anyone the strength to make the effort to say simply, and boldly, you're talking crap.  According to our prime minister last Friday, the threat from the Islamic State, or ISIL, as he insisted on referring to the group for some bizarre reason, despite how we haven't described the greater area of Syria as "the Levant" for a very long time (those in the region refer to IS as Daash, the acronym for Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham, i.e. ISIS) is "greater and deeper than ... we have known before."

It's never been clear when politicians talk about threats and security just how far is it we're meant to go back in looking for a comparable situation to the one we're facing now.  Are we talking black death style threat, Spanish Armada type threat, the civil war, Waterloo, Crimea, the Boers, the Kaiser, the Nazis, the Soviet Union, the IRA, Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida?  Obviously enough, the new threat is always greater and deeper than we've known before, and we're all meant to have absolutely no knowledge of history at all, or indeed a memory span beyond that of last month.  Tony Blair claimed on a number of occasions the threat from al-Qaida was beyond comparison, just as every dictator we've faced off against since Hitler is, err, worse than Hitler.  Mao might carry the distinction of (arguably) killing more of his own people than any other 20th century leader, but it's always to good ol' Adolf the glib and shameless turn.

David Cameron's press conference came after JTAC concluded the overall threat is now once again severe, despite the lack of any specific information suggesting an attack is being planned or is any more likely than it was the previous day.  This is especially curious as only a few months back new checks were put in place at airports after specific intelligence suggested bombs could be concealed in iPhones or Samsung Galaxy devices.  That didn't necessitate any wider action, and yet here we are with a hypothetical threat from Islamic State requiring a "rules of the game are changing" style intervention, urgent legislation and the general public told to be more vigilant, reporting any concerns they have to the local cop shop.


Except Cameron's rhetoric hasn't matched the measures announced.  With the removing of citizenship from those born here not possible without breaching international treaties, the government instead proposed temporarily excluding those who've gone to fight in Syria or Iraq from the UK, without explaining where they would be expected to stay or just how long such an order would remain in place.  The police might be given the power to confiscate passports from those looking to travel, while TPIMs, the coalition's replacement for control orders, could be tightened by reintroducing the relocation element.  No one relocated under a control order absconded, so correlation must equal causation, right?  Even during the debate Cameron was emphasising how it "sticks in the craw that someone can go from this country to Syria, declare jihad ... and then contemplate returning to Britain having declared their allegiance to another state".  Apart from buying into Islamic State's own sense of self-importance, he knows full well those who do return can be prosecuted under the alarmingly widely drawn powers in the Terrorism Act, as Mashudur Choudary was, despite not having fought in Syria at all.  It raises the question of why if around half of the 500 estimated to have travelled to Syria to fight have come back more haven't been prosecuted, unless that is the threat posed by these Brit mujahideen has been over-egged.

Why then such a disjunct between the message and the action?  It's not down to the concerns of the Liberal Democrats, as Labour have made it perfectly clear they're prepared to bring control orders back, and so are hardly likely to defeat the coalition, at least on this issue, for the sake of it.  Nor does breaking international treaties bother a party set to propose leaving the European Convention on Human Rights in its election manifesto.  Instead the reasoning behind it seems a strange mix of playing up the threat for all it's worth, just in case the Americans decide they would like our help in Iraq and/or taking the fight against IS into Syria, preventing a repeat of last year's fiasco, while at the same time knowing full well that for the moment at least the threat posed by IS to the country directly is fairly negligible.  Getting further involved would make the threat worse, just as our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq did, but that irony seems lost on most involved.

With IS having followed through on its threat to kill Steven Sotolof, with the promise a hostage described as British, David Cawthorne Haines, will be murdered next, there's little reason to imagine the thinking behind all this to fail in its aim.  Despite there being no indication either ourselves or the Americans have the first idea of what to do about IS in Syria, as any suggestion of temporarily allying with Assad has been rejected, with the idea of training and arming "moderate" rebels to go after IS still being mooted, it looks as though we're heading towards another intervention without having either a plan or an idea of what the end game will be.  Destroying IS in principle is a laudatory aim; when however they have already turned to ethnic cleansing, what's the most likely outcome should they find themselves having to flee their current safe havens?  There is a great, deep threat to those trapped between IS, Assad and the other Islamist rebel forces, and we might just be about to make it even worse.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014 

It's about Farage, not Carswell.

Quirky is one way of describing Douglas Carswell.  Giving a bad name to all the perfectly respectable swivel-eyed loons out there is another, rather more accurate one.  He was certainly far closer to Dan Hannan than Boris Johnson on the libertarian scale of just how out there you can be and still stay in the Tories, and duly, despite a "few sleepless nights", he's off to join the good ship UKIP.

The first obvious criticism to make when that rare thing, an MP resigning only to stand again in the subsequent by-election on a different platform or principle happens, is self-indulgence.  This was thrown at David Davis when he stood down over 42 days detention, and clearly annoyed the Tory leadership despite Cameron just about managing to swallow his pride and campaign for the man he challenged for the leadership.  To give Carswell some credit, he has long campaigned for political reform and the public recall of MPs, a perfectly reasonable measure but one I've always felt could be triggered too easily by single issue campaigners under the system proposed by those pushing for it.

All the same, to stand down and trigger a by-election now, when we are only about 8 months away from the general election doesn't exactly speak of concern for the public purse.  Had he wanted to, Carswell could still have defected and hung on in his seat until the general election, then stand for UKIP.  Indeed, it would probably give him the best possible chance of remaining the MP, seeing as he will now face two votes within the space of 8 months.  He could easily win the by-election, only to lose his Clacton seat next year once the Tories have had time to build their candidate up in the constituency.

This isn't about Carswell though, it's about UKIP, Farage and keeping the party in the headlines right up until the election.  Give the party's adviser Patrick O'Flynn his due, the former Express hack knows both how to time their announcements and how to keep the illusion of pressure up on the Tories.  If making it the same day as the latest immigration figures were published wasn't coincidence, the rise of net migration to 243,000, just the 143,000 above the Tories' target, it couldn't have put their raison d'etre back on the agenda better.  With the media still more than happy to fluff Farage, despite his anointment as candidate for South Thanet guaranteed weeks ago, you can't help but wonder whether the Liberal Democrats are going to be left struggling with the Greens for attention, at least until everyone remembers at best UKIP might, emphasis on the might, pick up 1 or 2 seats next May.

Nor should Carswell get re-elected will he be the first UKIP MP, considering Bob Spink's defection to the party in 2008.  More important is proving Farage right in his prediction the party will pick up seats, or can win at least once, not having managed to do so in all the previous by-elections.  The party must be fairly confident he can take his support with him, as losing would be a humiliation; recoverable from certainly, but the kind of setback Farage has previously said could "puncture their bubble".

The other motive presumably is to put the same idea in the heads of other Eurosceptic Tory MPs, suggesting they too could defect and still keep their seats, being as right-wing as in their dreams, supporting their former party on a case-by-case basis.  It's why the Tories will throw as much at the campaign as they can, hoping they can make the best of a bad situation.  As for Labour, it's a dream: the Tories tearing themselves apart over an issue the public are only exercised about by proxy.  It will also split the vote in Clacton: unlikely as it is they could pick the seat up as a result, it will put under scrutiny the claim from both academics and UKIP alike that they pose as much of a threat to Labour.  Interesting times, at least for us politics nerds, are ahead.

(P.S. There's a simple reason I'm not on Twitter, or Facebook for that matter.  They're not for me.  I really appreciate the kind words about yesterday's post nonetheless.)

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014 

Victims today, undesirables tomorrow.

For the past few weeks I've been working my way steadily through a box set of The Wire, it having sat on my floor for at least four years, ever since I bought it shortly after the BBC had shown all 5 series back to back (I expect to get round to seeing what all the fuss is about Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones some time around 2018).  I'm up to the final season, where McNulty, back on the booze and women and pissed off at the decision to shut down the operation against Marlo, "creates" a serial killer with the intention of getting the money taps turned back on by City Hall.  Only until advised by Lester he can't even do that right, with neither the chiefs nor the media interested in his fictional slayer of homeless men.

Something highly similar went on with the reporting of the Asian sex gangs prosecuted over the last few years.  Let's cut all the nonsense now and say the real reason why it was so many young, not even always teenage girls, predominately in care or vulnerable, were able to be exploited and abused for so long with so little done about it.  It happened because almost no one, with the exception of a few of those in the system and the abusers themselves gave a damn about them.  Whether they really were regarded as "white trash" by those abusers, when the closest the independent report by Alexis Jay (PDF) comes to describing any such direct insult from the men is one calling a 13-year-old a "white bitch" (pg. 140), is irrelevant when regardless of skin colour, these girls were treated as trash by everyone.  They weren't important, and only are now as a grindstone for whichever political axe it is you want to sharpen.

Andrew Norfolk only got his story onto the front page of the Times in the first place by playing up (or rather,  by his editors focussing on) the whole "political correctness" angle.  Asian girls, black girls, white girls being abused by white men, black men, Asian men, who cares unless there's a celebrity or political figure among the latter or a good middle class kid gone off the rails among the former.  Start saying nothing is being done though because everyone's too scared to admit it's predominantly Asian men abusing white girls, a problem within the Asian, if you want to be even more discriminatory the Muslim, community, and you've suddenly got a story the right-wing press is going to love.

And boy, do they.  It doesn't matter either the report is for the most part just restating what we already knew.  Both the Sun and the Mail scream this morning of the betrayals by the PC cowards/brigade.  All but needless to say, the report itself doesn't so much as mention political correctness.  What Alexis Jay does conclude comes in the six-page "Issues of Ethnicity" section of the report (pg. 91).  She finds, predictably, that actual decision making was not affected by any fears of racism, with the "inquiry team confident ethnic issues did not influence professional decision-making in individual cases".  There were however concerns expressed by some frontline staff as to whether their work could be interpreted as racist, and also awareness of, or a feeling of pressure from on high to play down the fact it was predominantly Asian men abusing white girls.

As Anna Raccoon writes, Rotherham isn't worse than any other instance of organised child sexual exploitation because the colour of the penises in this instance were brown rather than white.  Jay goes on to comment on the research done by the UK Muslim Women's Network, which examined 35 cases and details almost exactly the same pattern of grooming and abuse as carried out in Rotherham, only in all these instances the victims were also Asian.  The Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence suggesting Asian victims were even less likely to come forward as they risked being ostracised by their own families and the whole community.  As well as going against cultural norms, those in the community also feared the same retribution as visited or threatened against the victims if they went public with their concerns.  With hindsight, Jay concludes, "it is clear that women and girls in the Pakistani community in Rotherham should have been encouraged and empowered by the authorities to speak out about perpetrators and their own experiences as victims of sexual exploitation, so often hidden from sight."  Child abusers don't tend to select on the basis of skin colour; they do on the basis of how likely it is they are to get caught.

The problem wasn't with the council and culture at the most senior level being politically correct, rather that it was "bullying and macho" (pg. 101).  As far back as 1998 the chief executive of the council said women officers weren't "readily accepted" by officers or members.  One former senior officer described it as a "very grubby environment in which to work", while another said she was asked if she "wore a mask while having sex" (pg. 114).  As late as October 2009 a senior officer not working in safeguarding is quoted as saying the town had "too many looked after children" and this accounted for a "significant part of the overspend".  When the issue was raised by councillors, it was through mosques, while one senior office suggested some influential Pakistanti-heritage councillors had acted "as barriers" (pg. 93).  "Traditional" channels of communication were used, and some councillors even demanded that social workers reveal where Pakistani-heritage women fleeing domestic violence were staying.  The police meanwhile, whom the report describes as now having a "clear focus on prevention, protection, investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators" are described as in the early 2000s regarding the victims rather than the abusers as "undesirables" (pg. 69).

If there is a section of the report on shakier foundations, it's in the estimate of a potential 1,400 victims, the figure staring out from today's front pages.  This isn't an estimate, rather an outright guess.  Figures on caseloads were not collected, so the inquiry instead looked at case files, and lists of those known to children's social care (pg. 29).  The inquiry read only 66 case files in total; it's unclear why it didn't read all those available to it, instead going for a random sample and drawing conclusions from that.  As the section on victims also makes clear, not all of these are necessarily victims of grooming gangs; at least three of the cases are suggestive of abuse by individuals or within the family rather than groups of men working in concert (pgs. 41 and 42).

Undesirables.  There in a single word is the case summed up and why for all the talk of "never again" it will happen again, as no doubt it's happening tonight.  Demanding the sacking of the now police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire isn't going to achieve anything, except leaving the taxpayer with the bill for a by-election where only around 10% will turn out.  The right will play the political correctness angle for all it's worth, point fingers at Labour and its rotten boroughs in the north, make subtler noises about the failings of multiculturalism, while the left and those like me will say it's about social breakdown and an underclass ignored by everyone until something terrible on a grand scale happens or there's another outbreak of rioting.  They're fit only for gawping at on Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street, for being a reason to pare back the welfare state, and the occasional short-lived passing frenzy.  Social workers will go on struggling with a risk assessment culture that can't be applied to such hard cases, underfunded and overworked.  Undesirables will become victims, then undesirables once more.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014 

A damp rag.

There are some days when you look down the headlines, by-lines and photographs on any news site and you can't help thinking, I detest every single one of these fucking people and their fucking miserable, petty, ridiculous and contemptible obsessions and actions.  Well, OK, you probably don't.  I'm just projecting myself into you.  Which is pretty much as far as my anything goes into anyone.  Today there isn't even a comment piece by either Holly Baxter or Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.  Clearly nothing on their vagenda.

We do however have Jessica Valenti.  Every day, a new horror, or alternatively, a new breakthrough.  Although I don't mean to pick on Valenti, more writers whom are hired or worse, expound constantly for nothing on a single, deadening topic.  Last week women were no longer expected to be virginal, which is a wonderful triumph, something I imagined was fairly self-evident considering it's long been far more shameful to be a virgin rather than not, and the culture of the moment seems to dictate the more bare flesh you display the more successful you are, but there you go.  The next day, "sexual assault [is] infecting our every institution and town", which is a scourge.  I also don't mean to pick on feminism, more those where the record is always the same, the topic never changed, a problem never solved or even close to getting somewhere positive, but always requiring more action.  I don't doubt Valenti has a lovely, well-rounded personality; surely though this monetary monomania requires that you can't switch off, or at least not fully or for more than a few hours.

Yes, I realise I bang on about much the same topics here, and have been for way too long.  You could say they're all interconnected and interdependent, so they're pretty much the same one too.  You might even have a point.  I've never claimed to be anything other than a colossal hypocrite.  You can't have clean hands when you're all in the same plague pit, whether you try to be holier than thou and claim to be above all the other keyboard batterers out there or not.  My point, if I still have one, is that as much as you might think about something, and I think about everything and certain things in particular way too much, to actually write it all down is something different.  Some people it might help, I don't know.

As well as being a direct reference to a Chuck Palahniuk short story, I originally named this blog Obsolete both in reference to how my politics seemed to be and still are, but also down to how I've felt like my whole approach to life and who I am is redundant in this age.  I despise the falsity of everything, something epitomised by the apparent harmlessness of the ice bucket challenge.  It's not just that once you've seen one person drench themselves in cold water you've seen them all, requiring even less creativity than the fucking Harlem Shake craze did, it's that charity can no longer be a quiet thing you do for all the right reasons, rather one that requires the attention of the entire world and has to be passed on.  If it was more unpleasant than just cooled liquid it would help too, but celebrities only ever eat rats' cocks if they're the ones being paid or they really will do anything for the attention.  It's also just self-promotion in disguise, being a good sport, rather than a damp rag.  I've always rather liked damp rags.

I don't then give a shit about social media in any shape or form, just as Twitter doesn't about you, or your asymmetrical haircut. I don't care about Lena Dunham or any of these other anointed chroniclers of now, a now I don't recognise, a now which of course puts poor little rich people centre stage.  I can only laugh when the police urge the public to call them if they're worried about an "aspiring" terrorist, both words utterly perverted and corrupted by politics, conjuring up an image of jihadis who want more from life, like buying their own home to cook hydrogen peroxide up in.  I just sigh as we hear the same tunes from all concerned on this "new" threat, a media which has to reduce everything to a cartoon, moving on from the "white widow" to "jihadi John", alongside the demands for the entire justice system to be inverted.  I wonder about the point of it all when Israel and the Palestinians reach much the same agreement as they did three years previous, nothing changed except for the extinguishing of thousands of lives.  Anyone would think both sides need each other more than they do their supporters.  I'd like to snicker at Hopi Sen reaching for the "Stop the World coalition" moniker in his latest hand-wringing demand for bombing somewhere, setting out oh so rationally why doing nothing isn't the answer, even when doing nothing is the opposite of what we've done, but this particular joke isn't funny any more, especially when John Gray is also resorting to it.

There are a mess of contradictions at work here.  I prize anonymity while pining for the same attention I denounce others for wanting.  This very piece couldn't exist if it wasn't for all the above.  I need it as much as I loathe it, guilty of the same thing I criticise Jessica Valenti and the single issue campaigners for.  The other day I was attacking Russell Brand and others for writing about themselves by proxy.  Something I would never do.  Obviously.

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