Friday, July 20, 2007 

Sticking the boot in.

How long then did it take for the recriminations to begin, following the revelation last night and the confirmation today that no one will be charged over the cash for peerages affair? Well, if we're being picky, we could point out Denis MacShane's appearance on Newsnight last night, member of the Henry Jackson Society and a chief apologist for the Iraq war, who quickly established the line of kicking the SNP and letting the media decide what to do to about Yates of the Yard himself. The most egregious piece of buck-passing and complete failure to deal with the evidence that had been collected which suggested peerages had been offered for the secret loans though so far has come from John McTernan, Blair's chief lickspittle (political secretary) from 05-07, over on CiF:

My argument is with the SNP, whose malicious political stunt turned into a slow-burn story which has, I think, damaged public trust in all political parties and in the political process itself. There is a place for political rough and tumble - but that is surely the debating chamber of the House of Commons. To drag decent coppers into what was a clearly political complaint is a step too far. Surely Tony Wright is correct that the genuine policy and political questions raised in this case could - and should - have been dealt with by parliament.

Well, you see Mr McTernan, there was this small matter of there being enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that there had been a breach of the 1925 act on selling honours for the police to launch a full investigation. It's just ever so slightly rich to complain about the person who's grassed you up when your bosses were, by their own admission, using a loophole in the Electoral Commission's rules on donations to keep the loans secret.

McTernan's argument is a misnomer. The spin has already been decided upon: it shows that the public, poor misinformed sheep that they were wrong to lose faith in their glorious, incorruptible representatives, and it's all the SNP/the media/the police/Henry Kissinger's fault. It doesn't matter that all three parties have more than enough reason to be ashamed of their respective funding mechanisms, with both Labour and the Tories relying on the secret loans, with the Lib Dems taking money from a man who turned out to be a fraudster and was subsequently jailed for perjury. After all, their heart was in the right place: how could Tony Blair possibly let the Tories be bankrolled to the gills by their own multi-millionaire supporters, and possibly win the election as a result? He did what he thought was right, and if that meant taking secret loans from a bunch of unsavoury characters and hiding their millions of pounds out of sight from the spending watchdog, then nominating some of them for the House of Lords, something completely unconnected with their generous help, who are we to lose faith in our politicians' ability to conduct themselves in a proper, open manner? Quite frankly, we ought to be glad that we've still got them.

Did anyone though, except for Guido, really expect that anyone other than Levy was likely to be charged? It would have broken the cycle of this Labour government getting away with it time and again. Not a single person has managed to hold a single member of the government to account over Iraq, where the evidence was far more abundant than it was over cash for coronets, documenting Blair, Campbell et al lying and misinforming on an unprecedented scale, and on a matter far, far more serious than the enobbling of a bunch of idiots desperate to join another bunch of strokers in a second chamber about as relevant to modern life as whether Caligula really did make his horse a consul. How could the CPS break Blair's lifelong habit of shaking the blame, especially when the bastard's finally left office?

It's true that the whole thing stinks to high heaven, and that as Paul Linford points out, the public are likely to make up their own minds, just as they did in the aftermath of Hutton's deluge of whitewash. As much as certain sections of the media are now going to get it in the neck when for once they were doing the decent thing of going after a story of genuine public interest, we ought to be at least glad that it almost certainly brought Blair's ignominious reign to an earlier end than he would otherwise have wanted and pushed for. The real worry now will be there's likely to be less impetus than there already was for further Lords reform. Jack Straw announced yesterday that there won't be any movement until after the next election, by which time everyone might well have got cold feet again. The other positive is that Blair's exit has helped to clear the air: Brown's start, while by no means perfect, has still been refreshing compared to the last few years of purgatory.

Most interesting now will be how the other Blairite boot-lickers and sycophants will respond. Back in February, both the Scum and Martin Kettle ran similar articles demanding that Yates either put up or shut up. Now that his investigation has come to naught on the prosecution front, the smear jobs and defense of their saviour is likely to be ferocious. Blair might have gone, but his ghost is likely to haunt us for a while yet.

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Monday, July 09, 2007 

The liar years.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Welcome to the greatest journalistic spectacle of the year! Gasp as the cynical hacks fellate Alastair Campbell's limp cock! Marvel at their technique in licking his shit-speckled asshole! Swoon as they abandon all their critical faculties and instead delight in their collective indiscretion! Vomit as the biggest liar of them all earns wads of cash from his sordid little book!

Yep, the scramble to speed-read Campbell's heavily expurgated diaries is underway. Despite Campbell admitting to being highly censorious when it comes both to Blair's own foul language and to the eternal conflict with Gordon Brown, they're still desperately hoping there's going to be something in there that they'll be able to claim as a sort of exclusive come tomorrow morning. So far, thanks to both Campbell releasing some of the more juicy bits and to skimming through the thousands of self-indulgent words, we've learned that:

Quite why anyone is taking a single word of it seriously is a conundrum in itself. Here we have the most congenital liar that's ever pulled on a pair of trousers describing his wiping of Blair's bottom on a daily basis. As any psychologist will tell you, a pathological liar not only lies to everyone around him, they lie the most to themselves. Like when Michael Howard confronted him recently on Newsnight, he can't just accept that he is single-handedly responsible for the destruction of any remaining faith there was in politicians in this country, he actually still believes, like Blair, that everything he did was not just justified, but the right thing to do.

Hence Campbell somehow thinking that he deserves sympathy for his own depression as a result of Dr David Kelly's suicide, and amazingly, some even fall for it. Both Stuart Prebble, tasked with converting this mass of verbiage into three hour-long television documentaries and Michael White, chief Grauniad Blair sycophant describe him as "vulnerable". It's a shame that someone who did apparently have moments of self-doubt, instead of going along with such thoughts and wondering whether the fact that he was day after day misleading numerous people, and with the dossiers, potentially condemning thousands of civilians to death, kept going and even now thinks that he was right to do so. Indeed, he even still believes it was right to go to war, despite the intelligence he had a part in sexing up being proved so catastrophically inaccurate.

For all his efforts in protecting Blair, shamelessly manipulating the media and reacting to the slightest negative headline, all we're going to remember of Campbell in decades to come are those scenes of him in front of the intelligence and security committee, repeatedly hitting the table with his finger, demanding that the BBC apologise for the allegations made by Andrew Gilligan, all with the air of a man who knew that the end was drawing close but was going to do everything he could to try to stop the inevitable. The extracts from his diary revealed at the Hutton inquiry showed he wanted to "fuck Gilligan", and he succeeded.

With the release of his diaries, we ought to be turning a corner, but Campbell and Blair's shadow is still cast over British politics. We're still trapped in Iraq, the only people ever to resign over the disaster being those with the principles to do so beforehand and those who were forced to do so over a whitewashed report; the public has never been so cynical about politicians; the axis between the Murdoch press and Downing Street remains sacrosanct; and Brown, rather than being able to concentrate on policy, is having to dedicate precious time to proving just how spin is a thing of the past, and how different the relationship with the media is going to be. The bastard ought to be an outcast: instead, as he's always planned, the hundreds of pages are going to ensure he'll have a very pleasant retirement. They say cheats never prosper, but liars it seems will inherit the earth.

Related post:
Chicken Yoghurt - A period of silence would be welcome

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007 

Scum-watch: "Prophets are rarely honoured in their own land".

Gorgeous, pouting Rebekah meets the President. "So when do you get your tits out?," asks the leader of the free world.

Even in Blair's most hopeful moments and dreams about his eventual departure, he surely couldn't have even come close to expecting the send-off which the Sun's bestowing on him. Sycophancy doesn't even begin to cover it; this is brown-nosing on a level where both Murdoch and Wade have inserted their heads so far up his backside that they'll be able to tell what he had for lunch.

Wade herself plays an even bigger role than usual.
She was lucky enough to conduct the interview with President Bush herself - and she has both a photograph with him and a signed mocked-up Scum for her scrapbook, both reproduced for reasons known only to herself. The interview itself isn't exactly Paxman-esque - it's more of the roll over and play dead, David Frost variety, or in this case, roll over and Dubya will find a bone left over from one of Blair's visits as a reward. We discover that Tony is more articulate than Bush - who would have known? - and that Blair isn't a poodle, he's bigger than that; a border collie, heeding every whistle made by his master, perhaps?

Wade does succeed in getting one quite brilliant quote from Bush however, which really does sum up their "special relationship":

Somehow our relationship has been seen as Bush saying to Blair ‘Jump’ and Blair saying, ‘How high?’ But that’s just not the way it works. It’s a relationship where we say we’re both going to jump together.

Well, exactly. The Iraq war was a suicidal act that only two men completely certain in their own righteousness would still be defending 4 years and so many lives later. It's only a shame that their jumping together was not literally carried out while flying over Iraq, without parachutes.

Oh, but that's just the beginning to the Scum's Blair tribute.
They've devoted a whole special section to him, with dedications from such luminaries as Bob Geldof, Bono and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and from some local people who've benefited from the minimum wage. Considering the Scum's usual stance on potentially inflationary measures, it'd be interesting to note exactly what their position on it originally was. Just to try and keep things balanced, the ex-political editor Trevor Kavanagh sort of sticks the boot in on some of his domestic record, but it's the equivalent of the paper accidentally sticking its toe in Blair's eye while they 69, the gulping and licking carrying on as if it hadn't happened.

It's the leader that's completely and utterly craven:

TONY Blair is one of those rare politicians who make their own weather.

And this remarkable Prime Minister will take away a little sunshine when he drives out of Downing Street for the last time today.

Ah yes, we're going from the sunny warmonger to the dour man who did nothing to stop him. Two cheeks of the same arse.

This country is more tolerant and at ease with itself than at any time in its post-war history.

No thanks to the Scum and its incessant Muslim-bashing, immigrant hatred, gypsy baiting and asylum seeker demonising, not to mention the homophobia which was much more present during the late 90s and has only recently dropped in ferocity.

We’ve enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and social stability.

Well, quite, Blair has done nothing to harm Murdoch and done much to help him further his strangehold over the British media. It's only been in the dying days that his attempt to acquire ITV has ran into something approaching trouble.
Here come the things they've disagreed upon before the lavish praise is turned on once again:

Despite recriminations over Iraq, immigration and rising crime, he can rightly claim that as a remarkable achievement.

Mr Blair himself will admit to disappointments — especially over the billions spent on the unreformed NHS and other public services.

The Sun has been critical over plenty of issues, from welfare reform and MRSA superbugs to pensions and the sell-out on Europe.

All of which ought to point just how far Blair has taken Labour to the right, not the left as his hagiographers like to claim. The Sun has never been Blairite; it's still an unreformed Thatcherite paper, and Blair was never going to be good enough for them on the above, but he's still been performed adequately enough and the Tories badly enough for Murdoch to prefer his Thatcherism-lite over theirs.

But that is only one side of the balance sheet.

Tony Blair has plenty to be proud of in his years at the helm — and not just a record three election victories for Labour.

He has transformed the political landscape and forced the Tories to up their game.

He was right on Northern Ireland. He showed immense courage over Kosovo, over Sierra Leone and over Afghanistan.

He was right to support America to the hilt after 9/11.

And despite all the problems in Iraq he was absolutely right to identify fanatical Islam as this century’s greatest threat to global stability.

He's transformed the political landscape by taking a centre-right position which left the Tories with nowhere to go, and with Cameron now if anything to the left of many Blairite policies. As for fanatical Islam being this century's greatest threat to stability, nothing could be further from the truth. The real threat is from global warning, not a rag tag mob of radical Islamists often more involved in their own internal struggles than in attacking the west.

As our international ambassador, Mr Blair has enhanced Britain’s role as a respected voice on the world stage.

Two words. You know them.

But for Iraq it is entirely possible that Tony Blair could have won a fourth term in power.

But prophets are rarely honoured in their own land.

See, he's no longer just a vicar, he's now a prophet. Perhaps once his conversion to Catholicism is complete he can start on the path to sainthood?

Sometimes it takes a friendly outsider to appreciate the qualities we at home ignore or take for granted.

In an exclusive interview for The Sun, President George Bush explains why Tony Blair is America’s staunchest ally.

In a genuine tribute, he says the PM is the man he’d pick to go into the jungle with.

“History will judge him kindly,” he adds.

This newspaper is happy to agree with the verdict from the White House.

If we consider how Anthony Eden is remembered for Suez and little else, and
that conflict only cost the lives of 56 British servicemen and around 900 overall, then the omens don't look particularly good for Blair, with good reason. 153 dead British soldiers, over 3,500 Americans and somewhere in the region of between 200,000 and up to 1 million Iraqis, the median being 650,000. Blair isn't just covered in blood, he's drowning in it. If history doesn't judge him harshly for his distortions, lies and for what "he believed was right", then history is just as worthless as the Sun.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007 

The great obfuscator.

Can it really be true that some are paying tribute to Blair by calling him "the great communicator"? Is Brian Brivati being deadly serious and not playing CiF for fools by praising him for the "humanitarianism" of his foreign policy? Can Martin Kettle get any more sycophantic without openly weeping about the political death of our lord and saviour, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair?

To call the coverage of Blair's end of the beginning of his exit overblown would be to do a disservice to those who specialise in going over the top: Muse and My Chemical Romance could learn lessons
from the hysterical response of the BBC, who seem to think that the man's died rather than announced that, err, he's still going to be around for the best part of another 2 months.

The thing is, plenty of us have been waiting for this moment for the last two to three years. It was always going to be an anti-climax. However much we dislike it, Blair has more or less been able to chose when he leaves and on what terms. He destroyed any plot there was last year, and has managed to survive for far longer than he should have been allowed to, due both to the weakness of his opponents and the astonishing way that parts of the media fought tooth and claw to make sure that he stayed put. It was this Faustian pact with the Murdoch media that helped him stay in Downing Street while also helping to ensure that he was loathed by vast parts of the party which he has never loved and which will never love him back. If in 1992 it was the Sun wot won it, in 2007 it was the Sun wot kept Blair there.

Handily enough, Blair's "farewell" speech in places sums up all that has always been wrong with the man. His hatred of ideology, the emptiness of the "third way", comes shining through in his analysis of Britain as he was growing up and coming towards his "political maturity":

And all of that was curiously symbolised, you know, in the politics of the time. You had choices. You stood for individual aspiration and getting on in life, or for social compassion and helping others. You were liberal in your values, or conservative. You believed in the power of the state, or the efforts of the individual. Spending more money on the public realm was the answer, or it was the problem. And none of it made sense to me. It was 20th century ideology in a world approaching a new Millennium.

And yet Blair was elected on the back of
"the longest suicide note in history". If none of Labour's 1983 manifesto made any sense to him, why on earth was he even a member of the party, let alone standing to represent both it and the people? Did he believe in it then, before this Damascene conversion to seeing the light and that the path to the light was paved with the bricks stamped with New Labour? Was he seeking power for power's sake, or was he back then fighting for social compassion and helping others? As has been pointed out, Blair's analysis is deeply flawed in any case: this isn't a reflection of Britain in the 1980s, the miner's strike, Greenham Common and the poll tax riots, when greed was officially good and when social unrest and misery reached their highest level until err, now, this is a vision of 1980s America, and the ideological battles there, not the ones that scarred and continue to scar Europe.

Most of what follows is the long listing of Labour's great achievements, how schools no longer have outside privies, how the NHS has successfully defeated cholera and how there's now a shiny 42" plasma screen in every home, but he does finally get to what is and always has been his biggest personal failing:

And in time you realise that putting the country first doesn't mean doing the right thing according to conventional wisdom, or the prevailing consensus or the latest snapshot of opinion. It means doing what you genuinely believe to be right. That your duty as prime minister is to act according to your conviction.

Except we know full well that the other members of his government have had to push through policies which they themselves regard as beneath contempt. That this is the government which can't do anything without first getting in a focus group, and that when it does do something of its own initative it does it so cack-handedly that you wish they had got in one of this soul-destroying groups of aspirational, middle England voters to give the thumbs up or down in the first place. It's only when he's been so utterly certain of himself, believing in his own powers of persuasion and conviction that he's rammed through policies with no thought for their consequences, his party or anyone at all. This happened over Iraq, it happened over trust schools, foundation hospitals, tutition fees and 90 days detention without charge. In his next paragraph he attempts to ridicule the accusation often made that he on these occasions he's acted like someone with messianic zeal, yet the evidence is there for all to see in this very statement. When he was defeated over 90 days, it wasn't a disaster because he knew he was right. History will judge him well, because he knows he was right, even it means he has to delude himself for the rest of his days.

And then came the utterly unanticipated and dramatic - September 11 2001, and the death of 3,000 or more on the streets of New York. And I decided we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally. And I did so out of belief. And so Afghanistan, and then Iraq, the latter bitterly controversial. And removing Saddam and his sons from power, as with removing the Taliban, was done with relative ease - but the blowback since, in global terrorism and those elements that support it, has been fierce and unrelenting and costly. And for many, it simply isn't and can't be worth it.

For me, I think we must see it through. The terrorists who threaten us around the world will never give up if we give up. It is a test of will and belief, and we can't fail it.

See, the disaster in Iraq isn't our fault for invading it on a tissue of lies and distortions, it's all down to the evil terrorists and those that support them. It isn't down to our complete lack of ability to influence both US policy, which did more than anything to create the necessary environment for the insurgency, it's their fault for daring to attack a liberating force that is bringing democracy down the barrel of a gun. Blair did it, and he looked upon it, and he saw it was good. His belief is that it was right is all that matters. Nevermind that beliefs can be wrong; he had the best intentions at heart, and who can possibly condemn him for that?

We may as well then have a quick look at his assumed legacy. Relative peace in Northern Ireland, started by John Major, but Blair does deserve credit for carrying it through to the end, even though he ignored the role of Mo Mowlam, but then she's dead, so who cares? The introduction of the minimum wage,
which as Paul Linford points out, Blair hated, but did anyway. It still remains below a living wage. The introduction of the Human Rights Act, which we know full well the Blairites wish they'd never done, and the Freedom of Information Act, which they're trying to neuter. Despite all the veiled attempts at redistribution, through tax credits, which are a failure and hugely wasteful, however Polly Toynbee tries to spin them, or the tax system itself, inequality is actually worse now than it was at times under Thatcher. The prison system is hopelessly overcrowded, filled with the mentally ill, the drug addicted, vulnerable women and others who would be better doing community sentences than being locked up, as a result of Labour being tough on crime and forgetting entirely about the causes in order to appease the ever reactionary tabloids, even though crime is now at a historic low.

Then there's the emergence of a surveillance state,
John Reid choosing today of all days to write on CiF about ID cards are going to enrich and protect our lives, even though they're going to cost at least another £400m. The most CCTV cameras in the world, the removal of the right to protest within a mile of parliament, the police more powerful and influential than ever before, despite all the moaning that they can't do anything without filling in a form. In the name of the war on terror, we've been complicit in the transporting of suspects to places where they can be tortured, we're prepared to deport people back to their country of origin on the basis of a piece of paper which says they won't be mistreated, honest, and for a while we even suspended habeas corpus. Blair has led us into four separate wars, only one of which can be called truly successful. His government lied and broke international law by taking part in a illegal war which has killed at the very least 100,000 Iraqis, and out of a desire to prove that they hadn't done what he now know full they did do, hounded a man to his death.

Out of all of this, apart from Iraq, I think Blair will eventually be remembered for two things, both connected. The mendacity of his government has made the public so cynical that politics may well have to be completely rebuilt, from the bottom up. This will be an uphill struggle because in destroying trust in government, he's at the same time helped convince vast parts of the media, if not the public, that ideology is dead, that long-held principled beliefs, whether they be on the right or the left of the political spectrum, are something to be suspicious of and that indulging in them will only alienate the modern, aspirational voter who just wants good public services and there not to be any pesky teenagers, old people or beggars on the street when they walk down it. The inevitable result of this enduring vacuity at the heart of modern politics? Hazel Blears.

For all his great assumed powers of communication, for his ability to persuade, convince and speak for the people, if we're to believe a breathless Nick Robinson, Blair is actually the great obfuscater. He wants to have his cake and eat it. He doesn't enlighten, he aims to confuse. He isn't responsible, yet he's right. He's right because he believes he was right. And if you don't like it, well, you're entitled to your opinion. But you're wrong.

Related posts:
Blairwatch - Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
Mr Eugenides - The party's over
Blood & Treasure - first rough draft


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Thursday, February 01, 2007 

Clinging on for no greater purpose.

It's completely impossible to work out just what it is that somehow makes Tony Blair think that he should still be prime minister. He's not just a dead man walking, he's almost in the same position as Saddam Hussein found himself in in his final moments. Not only has his power evaporated, with it about to be wrenched away to the man he's spent most of the last few years fighting with it, he's getting mocked even in his final moments of what seems like clarity. Blair still believes that he can achieve something, and this week he actually almost did. Northern Ireland is back on the road to devolution, with Sinn Fein making their historic pledge to support the police, yet all of it was overshadowed by the re-arrest of Lord Levy and now the revelation that he was again questioned by police over the loans for peerages affair last Friday.

Blair, if he's honest with himself, and let's hope that his delusion hasn't reached that stage yet, must realise that his continued stay in 10 Downing Street and as the Labour party leader is only hurting both the country and the prospects of his party being re-elected. The question that he should be asking himself is how much longer it should be before he puts both himself and us out of this misery. While an immediate resignation would be incredibly welcome, if we put ourselves in Blair's shoes for a moment, would we want to give the opposition the pleasure of seeing a police investigation result in the first ever prime ministerial scalp? They would never stop crowing, and certainly not on election day.

Hanging on though, as he is, just inflicts even more damage. The smell of corruption isn't just over the loans - it grows ever stronger over the decision to drop the Serious Fraud Office investigation into an alleged slush fund for the Saudis provided by BAE. The Guardian today reports that Blair personally forced Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, to tell the SFO to drop the investigation, despite Goldsmith previously deciding that there was sufficient evidence to at least charge Sir Dick Evans, former head of BAE. Goldsmith found himself incredibly flustered and looking less than honest in a brilliant interview conducted by the FT. The Liberal Democrats have also rightly turned on Goldsmith, and his strangely quickly changing opinions.

This is why it seems so apparent that Blair's vanity is the thing that is actually keeping him at Number 10. He's made clear that he won't be forced out until after the May elections, showing complete disregard for the Labour party's chances in those very elections, which are bound to be greatly increased were he to go quietly now, giving a chance for the leadership election to take place before campaigning gets underway in earnest. He's still looking desperately trying to find something that will mean he can leave office on a high - even though his options, the longer he puts it off, continue to dwindle. There's no sign of any good news from Iraq, Israel/Palestine continue to be deadlocked, with the boycott of Hamas continuing and Mahmoud Abbas left powerless. The chatter about an attack on Iran grows louder, the sign of another politician facing his demise drastically raising the stakes for little reason other than his legacy. The Home Office may be about to be split, but it won't be sorted out until Blair is long gone.

While some claim that there may be a silver lining to the loans for peerages cloud, with reform of the funding system and the House of Lords as a result, if the investigation leads to charges, he'll never be remembered for inadvertently kick starting those changes. Even the apparent plans for doing both are half-measures, the Lords, crying out to be fully elected, is instead going to be a hybrid of both, if parliament gives the green light, which is far from certain.

One legacy which Blair will have that few will thank him for is the values that he has stood for continue to infect those that amazingly continue to look to him for their inspiration. John Denham on Tuesday chided the ultra-Blairites for their lack of ambition in targeting only the super-marginals. Some MPs can still see what Blairism has led to: the embrace of the consumer, of choice, has become so ingrained that they only seem to care what a tiny sub-section of the country cares about, rather than see the bigger picture. The capitulation to the Mail/Sun agenda, which inevitably results in the removal of families such as the Bokharis, described movingly by Austin Mitchell MP, has turned off traditional Labour supporters across the country, yet even now when Labour faces its biggest challenge to remain in power they can't see what their agenda has done.

If renewal is to come, unlikely as it seems, then it has to begin now. This simply isn't going to happen, unless the Yates' inquiry drops a further bombshell. While it was Blair's lies that led to the catastrophe of Iraq, it's his vanity that may well result in the defeat of his government.

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Friday, January 19, 2007 

They just don't get it.

As Blair enters the last lap of his premiership, a loss of authority was always to be expected. After ruling his party with as close to an iron fist as possible since the 1997 election, crushing dissent, fighting their natural instincts and promoting himself as the only one who could both reform the country and the party, the beginning to the year has seen his power finally begin to evaporate. While he was off-holidaying at the home of a Bee Gee, both John Prescott and Gordon Brown described the execution of Saddam Hussein, or at least the manner in which it was carried out, as "deplorable", necessitating Blair to say something similar once he eventually got round to it. Meanwhile, the army have been disgusted by his speech at HMS Albion, and now with the deputy leadership race more or less under way, other ministers and potential contenders have been opening their mouths in ways which would have earlier resulted in Alastair Campbell kicking their teeth in.

Normally, such apparent honesty would be welcome, as would the discussion which comes from the open talk of mistakes which have been made. The way some ministers have spoken out though only shows just how both opportune they are, how they don't know what they're talking about, and how they just simply don't get it. For instance, hark at James Purnell, who voted very strongly for the Iraq war:

"There are many, many lessons we need to learn about Iraq and it is very important for us politically to recognise that. In terms of international politics, we need to learn the lessons of the mistakes that clearly have been made.

"I think the biggest mistake is that you always need to learn the importance of moral legitimacy and international support. Going back and looking at what happened, if we and the Americans had realised that the Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction as an imminent threat, we would have had more time to get a second UN resolution we were trying to get. If we had gone into Iraq with international support, the situation would have been much much easier.

No James, you berk, if the weapons inspectors had been allowed to finish their job properly, with "us and the Americans" realising that Iraq didn't have WMD as a result, there wouldn't have been a second resolution anyway because Iraq wasn't a threat to anyone, let alone us. Iraq was not, and would not have been in breach of UN resolutions; as Hans Blix pointed out in one of his final reports to the security council when Al-Samoud 2 missiles which slightly overshot their allowed distance were being dismantled:

We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed.

This is the real, overriding, dominant lesson that should be learned from the Iraq disaster. The war was simply not justified. We instead rushed to send in the troops, riding the coattails of an American administration which had almost universally destroyed opposition, both in Congress and in the wider country, enjoying the comfort of being propelled by a belligerent patriotism which had taken root since the attacks of the 11th of September. Despite throwing every single possible reason for going to war at the general public, it was only ever in the beginning phases that a majority supported the conflict in this country. Blair's dossiers, pleas about the humanitarian situation, accusations of links with al-Qaida which were given a cursory nod and a wink if not fully supported, all were linked in with the spin and lies which will now be remembered for years to come. After all this, rather than reflecting the entire conflict has been a mistake, that trying to convince the public with so much bullshit has now made the electorate even more cynical and disdainful towards politicians in general as a result, we're still being told by ministers that all would have been OK if only there had been international support. This isn't just hookum, it's flagrantly dishonest.

From the same article, Hilary Benn talks a decent amount of sense in contrast to Purnell, but still doesn't seem to acknowledge what now needs to be done:

"The current situation in Iraq is absolutely grim, so let us be clear about that truth. Look, the intelligence was wrong, the de-Ba'athification went too far, the disbanding of the army was wrong and, of course, we should have the humility to acknowledge those things, and to learn. I am not insensitive to the huge well of bitterness and anger from lots of people in the party."

Excellent. Someone from Labour who happens to be a minister who understands the reality of how things are. How though did Mr Benn vote on the recent Commons vote for setting up an inquiry? Uh, he rejected the need for one.

This is exactly what the problem is. It's all well and good to accept that things have gone wrong, that much is obvious. The difficulty Labour now has over Iraq is that it's stuck, forced to recognise that mistakes have been made, but still not yet willing to either apologise or order an inquiry along similar lines to the Franks inquiry, hopefully without the whitewash, or for instance, the Scott inquiry into arms to Iraq. Instead, highly influenced by Blair's repudiation that he was anything but completely honest in his case for war, Labour continues to defend the indefensible, and until he's gone, will probably continue to do so.

Not that this has stopped Peter Hain from opening his own campaign for the deputy leadership by launching a salvo against the Bush administration. In an interview with the New Statesman he said:

"The neo-con mission has failed ... It's not only failed to provide a coherent international policy, it's failed wherever it's been tried, and it's failed with the American electorate, who kicked it into touch last November. The problem for us as a government ... was actually to maintain a working relationship with what was the most rightwing American administration, if not ever, then in living memory."

Almost entirely right of course, although whether entirely kicking a working relationship with the Americans into touch or not is a good idea remains to be seen. Hain's problem is that he was in the cabinet in the run-up to the Iraq war, he's voted for the war, he's defended the war, and you've guessed it, voted against the inquiry into the war. Hain might have more credibility if he'd actually at least voiced concern about the Iraq war and Blair's foreign policy in cabinet, but there's no evidence that he has. Robin Cook's diaries of the time only seem to suggest that he and Clare Short even bothered to question the prime minister's line, with David Blunkett of all people being vexed to begin with as well. If, shock horror, you were cynical, you might think that Hain is only saying this now in an attempt to split the left-Labour vote between him and Jon Cruddas.

To be fair to Hain, he has been one of the more out-spoken members of the cabinet, but he has also often been seen as a sop to the soft-left of the party by Blair in an attempt to keep them in order. More encouragingly than his comments about foreign policy are his points about reengaging the unions, made in an article in the GMB union's journal.

Even this apparent dalliance with a return to more traditional Labour policies has already brought a riposte from Blair and his ultras. Their arguments, as ever, are completely self-defeating:

"You don't win elections from your comfort zone. You win them by showing courage and optimism."

Except that this "comfort zone" isn't a return to what the Blairite ultras are calling the 1980s, it's realising that New Labour policies have failed. Blair, in his bizarre, deluded way, seems to feel that every single policy he's ever put forward has been "progressive", that New Labour is "progressive". It isn't. Introducing top-up fees is not progressive, wasting billions of pounds in PFI schemes is not progressive, attaching ourselves without receiving anything discernible in return to the most right-wing American administration has not been progressive, and innumerable policies dictated from Downing Street in response to tabloid headlines have not been progressive. Being "New Labour" rather than considering principles, what actually works and being against everything that the party has held dear for decades has not been progressive, it's helped destroy the party and led to an increasingly cynical electorate. Even now, Blair is determined that this continues:

"It's not about merely accepting the aspirant class, tolerating the element that might vote conservative but we want to vote progressive; it's not about being gracious enough to allow their concerns on tax or immigration or responsive public services to intrude on our core cause.

"It's about a wholehearted embrace of them. It's not enough to be 'not against them'. We need to be for them, welcoming them, letting them shape and influence our policy. It means never relapsing into appealing to our heart detached from our head."

In other words, this is a retread of Liam Byrne and Bill Rammell's analysis that the next election will be based purely on appealing to the swing voters in a tiny number of constituencies. This is depressing beyond belief: it's the equivalent of the way the Tories "dog-whistle" nonsense of two years ago. It's giving over everything "we" believe in to the whims of those who will never be happy with their lot whoever's in government. Are their aspirations our aspirations? Are we meant to adjust to theirs rather than attempt to show why ours might be better for society as a whole rather than just them? This is Blair's influence on politics writ large: constantly trying to instantly respond to whichever the current crisis is, rather than seeing the bigger picture.

"The reason we have to be the ones taking on the challenge of terrorism, security, and the linked concerns over crime and immigration is because the people see the challenge clearly and want us to respond. If we fail to, if it's all too difficult, don't be surprised if they turn instead to the right."

Blair's boneheadedness really knows no bounds. Somehow he cannot see how his policies on security, terrorism and crime have been incredibly right-wing, or rather he does and doesn't want to own up to it. Labour's attempts to outflank the Tories on the right on crime have been successful in political terms, but have failed to solve the problems facing us or placate the tabloids. Crime has fallen but the prisons are full, and the only policy is to keep on building and keep on locking them away.

The Blairites then, continue not to get it. Even as the ship begins to sink, the rats, already up to their neck in it, continue to squeak that they can't swim away. No, that would be "comfortable".

Related posts:
BlairWatch: FAO Peter Hain | Rats Spotted Leaving Sinking Ship
Paul Linford - Hain rediscovers his balls
Ministry of Truth - The Human Touch

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007 

The army doesn't much like Blair.

As might have been expected following Blair's ignorant, insulting and patronising speech given at HMS Albion, the men and women who are dying for Blair's warmongering weren't much impressed (via BlairWatch):

"On the part of the military, they need to accept that in a volunteer armed force, conflict and casualty may be part of what they are called upon to face."

Blair - I've no doubt you've been on this website and I hope you're reading this.

I sit here typing this in tears of anger, frustration and despair.

Having never served, HOW FCUKING DARE YOU make a comment like that. The finest, brightest, strongest, bravest young men and women in this country signed on the dotted line in selfless service of their country and you BETRAYED them by sending them into unsound conflict without adequate support.

YOU have made the decision to send young soldiers into a HELL from which some have never returned.


And if you think I'm being unreasonble, consider for a second my friends and comrades who will never again see the light of day. Consider the parents who leave their brave young son's bedroom just as he left it in the false hope that he might one day come home to them. Consider the children who, whilst you were no doubt enjoying a family christmas, wept and sobbed because daddy wasn't there to open his presents - Because you murdered him in your political pandering.

May your dreams be haunted for the rest of your days by the youth and laughter which you've so smugly poured away.

Blair. You fcuking cnut.

After which there are 13 pages of agreement and further comment.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007 

The continuing last gasps of our very own messiah.

I was going to fisk Blair's utterly abysmal speech yesterday, but Tom on BlairWatch has already done the job and done it well, so here's a more slimmed down version.

Billed by the BBC as being the first in a series of "valedictory" speeches, it wasn't so much a farewell as yet another example of his inexorable retreat from reality. While on Question Time this week members of the audience, prompted by fucking Kelvin MacKenzie of all people, demanded that Lord Falconer tell his friend to apologise for the Iraq war, what's more apparent than ever is that Blair isn't just not sorry for what's happened, he still believes in his own righteousness. He then has the audacity to apparently demand the army and families accept that death and injury are consequences of armed conflict, as if they didn't both know that, but also accept it:

On the part of the military, they need to accept that in a volunteer armed force, conflict and therefore casualty may be part of what they are called upon to face.
This is where Blair just can't see the wood for the trees. He can't accept that the army, which wasn't keen on the war in the first place, is now concerned that they're fighting a losing battle in Iraq, while complaining about the inadequacies of both their equipment once at war and the facilities provided for them back home. Blair's hubris is that despite all his claims that he accepts his views on foreign policy are "controversial", both this speech and the way in which it was delivered shows that he considers his views as both the only sane policy, and as the only policy. The army's apparent dissent in recent months, fed up with a situation on the ground in Iraq which they can do little to solve except get shot at in the process, is in Blair's eyes almost mutiny. How dare they think that his war is a disaster and that they should get out very soon? That this war was justified on a tissue of lies doesn't matter to Blair; he still expects families and the army to fight and not bleat when their sons and comrades die for what is called by the moderate oppositionists "a flawed prospectus".

Then there's this:

"September 11 wasn’t the incredible action of an isolated group, a one-off strike masterminded by Osama Bin Laden. It was the product rather of a world-wide movement, with an ideology based on a misreading of Islam, whose roots were deep, which had been growing for years and with the ability to mount a radically different type of warfare requiring a radically different type of response. What we face is not a criminal conspiracy or even a fanatical but fringe terrorist organisation. We face something more akin to revolutionary Communism in its early and most militant phase. It is global. It has a narrative about the world and Islam’s place within it that has a reach into most Muslim societies and countries. "
On the contrary, September the 11th was indeed the incredible action of an isolated group, but it was masterminded by its own participants rather than OBL. Nothing in the past six years has come close to replicating it. To compare the threat faced by militant Islam, which has been vastly exaggerated, as Blair is doing in this very speech, to revolutionary Communism, which took control of numerous countries during the last century is pure nonsense. The Taliban have no chance of returning to Afghanistan, and even they had only a casual relationship with the Salafist jihadism of bin Laden. The only place where such a militant Islam could take hold is ironically in Iraq, thanks to our misjudged invasion, and even then it would only be in the Anbar region, where the temporary alliance between ex-Baathists and jihadists is already being questioned by both sides. That we have in fact only exacerbated the problems in the Middle East through the Iraq war, giving far more succour to the extremists both at home and abroad than any regime currently can or does is something that Blair is not willing to recognise: to do so would be the equivalent of saying the emperor has no clothes.

Still he goes on:

That, in turn, impacts on the feelings of our Armed Forces. They want public opinion not just behind them but behind their mission. They want the "people back home" to understand their value not just their courage.
Public opinion is very firmly behind them, and has been since the beginning of the war. The problem is that the army themselves believe that rather than fighting for the country, they are fighting for Blair, his failed foreign policy, and for American neo-con chicken hawks who avoided going to Vietnam. Not only this, but Blair would rather that the armed forces didn't think for themselves; they see that staying in Iraq is just making things worse, as does the majority of the public. How can the public support their mission when it has so obviously and horribly failed?

Blair though is more interested in blaming everyone other than himself. He attacks other European countries who rightly wanted no part in the Iraq war for only wanting to peace keep; he echoes John Reid when he suggests that the media is too sympathetic to the "propaganda of the enemy"; he demands the army put up with the resources it has; and most of all, he seems to still believe that somehow Britain will remain this "great" power, that continuing with the same arrogant policies that have been put down since the dissolution of empire will somehow maintain the very last vestiges of our fast evaporating global influence. It won't. Blair's belief that our unending alliance with America will eventually foster goodwill towards us is a pipe dream. As he faces his last days as prime minister, rather than evaluating his time in office, laying low and preparing the way for the next leader, he's still driven only by his desire to show that he has been right about everything. He still believes in his powers of persuasion, but he's the only one who does.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006 

Tried and failed.

Love him or loathe him, Roy Hattersley can still write a stinging comment piece. The march of time, it must be said, has been kind to Roy. He served the majority of his years in opposition, implacably opposed to the Militant Tendency which did so much to damage Labour during the 80s, whether self-inflicted pain or otherwise. Forever associated with being on the right of the old Labour party, he now attacks New Labour from the left. He hasn't moved, but Blair has moved the party, if not its supporters. Examining the layers of bullshit that cocoon the oxymoron that is our "independent nuclear deterrent", Hattersley contrasts his support for having nuclear weapons during the cold war with the justification for now keeping them. While his positioning then can be questioned and argued against, his stand now is exactly the right one.

It's clear that while there is a convincing argument for keeping Trident for now and waiting, say, at the least, 5 years, as Michael Meacher proposes, to see if any clear "threat" emerges from out of the middle of nowhere, there is no current justification whatsoever for the spending of at least £20bn and at the most £75bn on a weapons system that is currently "deterring" no one and which, unless we suddenly lose our minds in the aftermath of a terrorist atrocity to make September 11th look like a picnic, will never be used.

The arguments used by Tony Blair and set out in the white paper are wafer thin. He suggests that it would be "unwise and dangerous" to unilaterally give up our nuclear weapons system. Unwise, possibly. Dangerous, no. For the whole justification for keeping Trident now to look even half-way compelling, we have to forget both about the so-called "special relationship" with the United States and, also, about Nato. Are we meant to believe that our alliance with the United States would ever become so weak or fractured that if we were threatened by either a nuclear armed state, or nuclear armed terrorists (let's not even get into the debate about how unlikely that is), that they would not come to our aid, or threaten to strike back equally or more powerfully? Even if we decided to go our own ways on foreign policy, it seems highly unlikely that America would let Britain be menaced in such a way. Blair's argument also seems to be the final nail in the coffin of Nato; no longer does it seem that an attack on one is an attack on all, which was even hinted at in the aftermath of 9/11 by the head. It's preposterous that neither nuclear armed France or nuclear armed America wouldn't come to our aid.

Equally illogical are the two examples of North Korea and Iran which are liberally being banded about. North Korea claims to have up to six nuclear bombs, but judging by their pathetic test, their technology is about as far from perfect as it can get. We don't know whether they can attach their nuclear devices to any of the current missile systems; even if they can, as a recent test demonstrated, their missiles are similarly unreliable. They might, with the best luck in the world, be able to fire a missile with a warhead that could reach either Hawaii or Alaska. North Korea is therefore, and seems unlikely to be in any way a threat to us in the near future. She is China's, Korea's, Russia's, Japan's and the United States's problem.

Iran is even less advanced than North Korea. Current estimates still suggest that if Iran even is actively developing nuclear weapons, and that is still a big if, as it is only currently enriching uranium, that it would be at least 5 years away from a viable system. Even then, Iran's current longest range missile, the Shahab-3, has a maximum range of 2100km, which would be able to reach Israel. The nearest major British interest is the military bases in Cyprus, which were notoriously used and abused in the propaganda in the lead-up to the Iraq war, as screaming headlines then warned that "BRITS ARE 45 MINUTES FROM DOOM".

This is all assuming that nothing happens in the on-off diplomatic maneuvering surrounding Iran's nuclear ambitions, and that the country is left alone to get on with it, without there being either a bloodless solution, or at worst, an unilateral military strike by either Israel or the US on nuclear research plants. Iran is more of a threat to British interests through potentially sponsoring terrorism and extremists throughout the Middle East than through its weapons systems.

Which brings us neatly onto the threat posed by terrorists themselves. The closest a terrorist attack has come to using weapons of mass destruction was the Sarin gas atrocity on the Tokyo tube; horrifying, but far far less deadly than September the 11th was. The whole phony argument surrounding the chance of terrorists finding themselves somehow with a nuclear weapon falls apart when you consider how they're a: going to transport it, as they're obviously not going to be able to fire it normally; b: how they're going to transport it to where it's going to be exploded without them being detected and c: how they're going to explode it once they've achieved both of those things. In short, it's a non-starter. Far more horror and terror will always be achieved by suicide bombings from otherwise "normal" citizens than through the fiction which is getting hold of a nuclear weapon. Even if they managed to get a hold of a serious amount of a nuclear substance for a "dirty bomb", investigations and studies so far have suggested that the reality would be far less devastating than our leaders would like us to believe.

All of which ignores whether our nuclear weapons would actually deter any of the above from either attempting to acquire, or even using them once they have been comprehensively acquired. It seems highly unlikely that they would. Despite what everyone believes, MAD still does apply. If North Korea or Iran were to fire a nuclear missile, we all know full well that the United States and/or Israel would retaliate with full force. The mullahs are not mad enough to want Armageddon. Neither is Kim Jong-Il. As the white paper makes clear, the system is hilariously "not designed for military use during conflict," meaning that it is completely and utterly useless.

It is not impossible to imagine that some threat that may justify the retention of nuclear weapons may emerge in due course. While it is unlikely to do so in 5 years, that space of time would suggest whether such a threat is more or less likely. If a week is a long time in politics, then 5 years is an eternity. Instead, with the decision that the Prime Minister is now urging to be taken now, the real reasons why a new submarine fleet is being put forward are that BAE Systems, terrified that it may lose the Al-Yamamah deal over the Serious Farce Office's investigation into the Guardian-revealed slush funds, wants a multi-billion pound contract just in case. The other reason is that Blair, searching so desperately as he is for a legacy, wants another small line to be included in the history books after the pages and pages about Iraq.

Once again, this is ignoring the other counter-arguments, such as that replacing Trident would breach or make a laughing stock of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, as covered brilliantly and in-depth here by Curious Hamster, that the "independent nuclear deterrent" is nothing of the sort, or where the money spent on Trident could be better used. All we are left with is a promise of "a full debate", with our parliamentarians being offered a vote which has already been won thanks to David Cameron's brilliant efforts as opposition leader, further proving how he is the true successor to Blair in stifling any view other than the prevailing one. Taking everything in to account, we will never have a better time to either mothball or dismantle a weapons system we should not have acquired in the first place.

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Friday, December 01, 2006 

My legacy, my legacy, my legacy!

If there's one thing you can't accuse Tony Blair of, it's giving up. His last few months as Prime Minister are destined to be full of activity. On Monday, he's apparently to announce that we're going to waste billions of pounds on a new nuclear deterrent, for little other reason than to give BAe something to do, and because we couldn't let France be the only EU country with nukes. That would just be too horrible to imagine.

Yesterday however was a return to Blair's stated alleged first, second and third priorities on entering office, other than bombing, banning and bribing. Yes, it was time to go and wind up the teachers with his latest plans for reorganising the school system. As Blair prepares to leave office, the first and foremost thing on his mind, apart from when Inspector Knacker is going to come calling, is his legacy. We know it, he knows it, his advisers know, the media knows it. Every little detail is going to be scrutinised for how it might effect how history judges the 21st century's first prime minister, even though we all know the only thing that he's going to be remembered for is Iraq, unless Knacker steps in and arrests him. In short, unless the situation in Iraq improbably and unprecedentedly turns around, after a few hundred thousand more deaths or so, and Blair's reputation makes the biggest comeback since Lazarus as a result, he's royally screwed.

Making his speech at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust conference, this was Tony in full Pollyanna mode. Parents are just dying to get in the new academies, according to him, which instantly means that they're a huge success. This ignores how nearly all the new academies either have new buildings or have been extensively refurbished, not to mention how the first load have mainly replaced formerly failing comprehensives, which is going to magnetise parents towards them in the first place. As with the schools being sponsored, the buildings themselves are typically, if not always built under the private finance initiative, meaning that the money for the contractors is off Gordon Brown's books, but leaves the next generation of kids paying for the current generation's brand spanking new halls and computers.

The actual evidence on whether the new academies have improved standards or not is decidedly mixed. A study by Terry Wrigley, a senior academic at Edinburgh university suggested that the number of pupils gaining 5 A-C grades at GCSE compared with the schools the academies replaced had gone up by a whopping 0.2%, equivalent to three pupils per school, which seems like an outstandingly good result from the amount of money put in. By contrast, one academy in Brent in London was given a glowing review by Ofsted. All is also not well with the money given to the academies by the sponsors in exchange for having a major part in setting the curriculum and school ethos. A Guardian investigation showed that of those up and running, only four academies have actually received the full £2 million meant to be handed over. One suspects that business and other benefactors may also be put off by the loans for peerages scandal - any sort of donation which appears to help Labour and leads to an honour of some kind is now likely to be heavily scrutinised.

Then there's the fact that these academies are predictably attracting the attention of religious crazies laying down their own values and rules as part of their control over the school. The Trinity academy at Thorne near Doncaster, part of car dealer, friend of Blair and evangelical Christian Sir Peter Vardy's empire, suspended 148 students within its first six months - leaving parents suspecting that covert selection was taking place with free-thinking being cracked down upon. While Blair in his speech lauded the idea of giving pupils choice, that doesn't seem to extend to pupils challenging authority or deciding whether or not they should be taught creationism alongside evolution.

It's little surprise that Blair sees academies as reflecting his own image. They're new, shiny and pleasing to look at, but underneath they're still suffering with the same problems as before, except with new groups of governors running the show. Despite Blair's claims that 200 will be up and running by 2010, it's a promise that like the existence of God, should be believed when it's seen. Just to make it even more unreachable, at some point in the future Blair wants there to be 400. Where all the sponsors are going to come from isn't explained.

After rejecting Mike Tomlinson's call for GCSEs and A-Levels to be replaced with a diploma, Blair's new wheeze is to expand the International Baccalaureate from being available at a few elite schools to err, being available at a few more elite schools. While some have suggested that academies and trust schools will lead to a two-tier school system, the availability of IB could do something very similar. With universities increasingly having to select from students with a whole ream of A grades in the required A-level subjects, the elite are bound to be more than receptive to those who get the opportunity to take the IB instead. Those privately educated and who are either lucky enough to be near a high performing school, or whom have moved in order to be so, will undoubtedly once again be crowding out the riff raff from the bog-standard comprehensives.

Concerns over A-levels though is perhaps missing the big picture. The proportion of students getting 5 A-C grades at GCSE is stubbornly remaining below 60%, meaning that 40% are still effectively failing. The sad fact of the matter is that by 14 it may already be too late; faced with carrying on in academic lessons that they wish they weren't in, that 40% may well have been better served by Tomlinson's diploma, which would have also have taken voluntary qualifications into considerations. Instead, Blair's new idea is to have an entirely separate diploma at 14, tied in with apprenticeships. It may turn out to be a good start, but it's probably too little. There's also increasing evidence that those at 14 who aren't performing "adequately" in academic subjects are being forced into GNVQs instead of GCSEs, which despite the government's claims aren't anywhere close to being as challenging, purely to help the school's place in the government league tables. The option of being either all academic or all vocational is far too stifling.

Still, what does it matter to Blair? He's tried, he's most likely failed, but at least he'll be remembered for starting off academies and the Tory-loved trust schools which they're itching to get their hands on. Won't he?

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Saturday, November 25, 2006 

Blair's "socialist" contracts.

One of Blair's other current feats of logic.

After 9 years of Labour, you would have thought that they'd got the crackpot headline grabbing schemes out of their system. In the past we've suffered from the possibility of the police marching "yobs" to ATMs in order to pay on the spot fines; it never materialised. Neither, thankfully, has "Sarah's law", as demanded by the News of the Screws, which was almost certain to lead to suspected paedophiles being strung up by their testicles from the nearest lamp-post.

Well, if you did believe that, then here's Mr Blair's so-called policy review to prove you wrong. Apparently convinced the public is lapping up their continued devotion to the idea behind "rights 'n' responsibilities", Labour's great new big idea appears to be the "social contract". The notion behind it, as explained by the Grauniad article is thus:

Examples include an expectation that a local health authority will only offer a hip replacement if the patient undertakes to keep their weight down. Parents might also be asked to sign individually tailored contracts with a school setting out what the parents must do at home to advance their child's publicly-funded education.

The review is likely to examine fundamentally the future relationship between citizen and state. The public service commission has been asked to consider "whether it is possible to move from an implicit one-way contract based on outputs, to one based on explicit mutually agreed outcomes". It asks "should we be aiming for a more explicit statement of the contract that covers both the service offered by the public sector (what is in and what is not) and what is expected from citizens (beyond paying taxes and obeying the law)". It also asks "whether these explicit and binding contracts could work not just for individuals and communities".

Filter out all the jargon, and what this essentially comes down to is that the government doesn't trust you to keep your end of the bargain. Apparently, instead of simply being expected not to break the law and pay your taxes, we have to do more. The state is doing all these wonderful things for us, and are we grateful? No, we're still as petulant and incalcitrant as ever. As we've already discovered this week, Labour especially doesn't like the way those either critical or indifferent towards it are going.

It seems to be the sure sign that Labour has completely run out of ideas. Thrashing about, trying desperately to come up with something both noteworthy and radical, it's instead a bizarre hybrid, something almost entirely meaningless but which also has sinister overtones. What could be more vacuous than a useless piece of paper agreement that you'll do something to make yourself a better citizen? At the same time, it signals a change in the relationship between the individual and the state. No longer does it seem can you just aimlessly but merrily work your way through life, going to school, getting a job, paying taxes, starting a family, etc, oh no. Now you have to sign on the dotted line and say that you solemnly promise that you won't let your children grow up to hang around on street corners, frightening the old folk. Want to use the maternity ward at the hospital? Fine, but first you have to say you won't smoke or get pissed while little Johnny is growing inside you. Want to protest outside parliament? Sure, but before you do, you have to ask that nice Commissioner Blair for his permission.

We had to sign something very similar to this at school. We had to promise that we wouldn't be late, that we'd wear the correct uniform, that we wouldn't swear at the teachers and that we'd do all our homework like good little girls and boys. Everyone signed it. Did anyone stick to it? Did they hell. It was a pointless exercise because there was no comeback on it. Even if there hadn't been the contract you still would have been punished for doing all the things you promised you wouldn't.

That right there is Blair's plan. It looks earnest and polite, yet like everything about New Labour, underneath the surface it stinks of old-fashioned authoritarianism. What do they honestly think such contracts will achieve? Will anybody take any notice of them? Of course not. If there was anything behind it, it would need to be backed up by real consequences, but if such consequences were there, it would mean the government removing services from perfectly law-abiding hard-working citizens. I may be taking this too seriously, but it almost seems to be designed to nip in the bud the difference between people, to root out individuality. It's society OK, but with Blairism stamped all over it. What a great potential legacy for the Dear Leader.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006 

Blair's miserable, fearful legacy.

The annual spectacle of the Queen's Speech, coupled with the state opening of parliament, is pretty much a summation of every single thing that is wrong with 21st century British politics. All pomp, all circumstance, all bloat, all inane, all backward rather than forward looking, all style, no substance. Led by a woman born into her role, surrounded by men appointed to theirs, some no doubt in exchange for a large donation, it's a handy way to judge just how little Blair has managed to achieve in comparison to his huge majorities. The Lords remains unreformed, with even (half) the hereditary peers and bishops still sitting; the ridiculous pageantry, kept for sentimental reasons rather than for any major historical purposes, continues to appeal only to the brainlessness of American tourists; the speech itself continues to be inscribed onto goatskin, even though Liz doesn't actually read from that version; and finally, it appears poor old Brenda gets more bored and annoyed by the event as each year goes by. Who could blame her? She must be getting deja-vu. As Nick Clegg on CiF comments, the speech today puts forward this government's sixth immigration bill, an eighth terrorism bill, and a 23rd(!) justice bill. Were it to be put to her that the ludicrous ceremony be abandoned, it's hard to imagine that she would disagree.

Rather than what the speech promises, it's more notable for what's not in it or what it introduces yet again. Foreign policy only gets a cursory mention towards the end, with what could be generously described as a continuation of the status quo. The supposed dedication to finding a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is rather undermined by the last years' actions, in which the government involved itself in the boycott of the democratically elected Hamas government, as well as ignoring and defying calls for it to support an immediate ceasefire during the Israeli war with Lebanon. Energy, despite the white paper on it, is lumped in with the climate change bill. For a government that supposedly feels that nuclear power is the answer and urgently required, there's a surprising lack of movement there. As for the replacement of Trident, expected to either be announced or debated this coming year, there's nothing at all.

To be defeated yet again are the plans for judge-only trials in serious fraud cases, dispensing with juries that the patronising ministers think can't understand what's going on. The evidence from America, especially from the Enron trials, suggests that the onus should be on the prosecution to make a compelling, short and coherent case, rather than one which gets bogged down in the minutiae of business and legal jargon, which has led to cases in the past failing. Judges can also be the problem rather than the solution, not stopping the prosecution and defence from wasting time or drawing out the process. An amendment from the abandoned Mental Health Act is also set to be debated again, with the prospect of those diagnosed with psychopathic disorders being locked up even if they have never shown any sign of actually being dangerous. The law was created partially in response to the Michael Stone case, the man convicted of murdering Lyn and Megan Russell. That he continues to protest his innocence, in addition to the evidence given by a witnesses being discredited as he has been exposed as committing perjury, coupled with the lack of forensic evidence, doesn't seem to matter.

Apart from the climate change and pensions bill, which are tepid and unambitious and long expected and relatively uncontroversial respectively, the main focus is, as expected, on law 'n' order and terrorism. The Scum website's front page image (above) says it all: TOUGH ON CRIME: SEVEN crime fighting bills. That these are likely to be a hodge-podge of amendments to previous justice bills, in some cases which have only recently came into law, says it all about this government. It fails to think through thoroughly what it's setting out, rushing legislation only to make a political point, either against the opposition or to appease the petulant squeals of the tabloids. Apart from that, the government is setting out its plans to "rebalance" the criminal justice system in favour of the victim. Their answer appears to be not actually involve the system at all; instead giving police the power to abuse their position in as many ways as they see fit, such as being able to not just close "crack dens" but also houses where noisy parties are taking place, to ban individuals from city centres without having to go to court and fine the parents of children who break their "acceptable behaviour" contracts. It's a recipe for disaster. Every single extra power the police are given they abuse, and there appears to be little recourse available to those who these new powers are used against. Reid's talk of "swift, effective" justice is designed purely to annoy the legal establishment and appeal to those who loathe the idea of having to be as responsible for their actions as much as those suspected of breaking the law are.

On terrorism, there are no actual proposals put forward, only that the government will "address the threat" and that it will attempt to build "strong, secure and stable communities." The suspicion has to be that they'll attempt to bring in 90 days without the build up of last year that led to its downfall. Whether it will decide to be so deeply illiberal as to take Ian Blair's advice and ban the burning of flags and the wearing of masks at demonstrations is another matter. There also might be a renewed effort to ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir after last night's Newsnight investigation into radicalisation.

There was no mention of the banning of "violent" pornography, which is to be welcomed if isn't still to be introduced. Less celebratory is the welfare reform bill, which will bring forward the abolition of incapacity benefit to be replaced with the Employment and Support Allowance, bound to result in those who can't work being forced into further misery and deprivation. The government's plans seem to involve a lot more sticks than carrots, rather than taking the Pathways to Work scheme nationwide, which has helped, according to Polly Toynbee's notoriously unreliable statistics, 210,000 claimants back into work.

This then is Blair's legacy. At war abroad, helplessly adrift in Iraq, relying completely on the United States for what to do next there, which appears to be to do nothing and hope everything gets better on its own. Unilateral withdrawal, or God forbid, even setting a timetable for leaving are too much to even expect. At war at home, more concerned with keeping in with Murdoch, Wade and Dacre, as well as attacking the Tories for their alleged "softness" regardless of how his own supporters and party feels about it. Removing civil liberties without a second thought, as demonstration without permission becomes a thing of the past around Westminster, setting up hugely wasteful schemes on ID Cards, the NHS database and the DNA databank where everyone's a suspect. His hypocrisy continues unabated, as he has apparently sent lawyers to head off any potential prosecution over cash for honours, as the running commentary in the press has made it "impossible" for there to be a fair trial, forgetting about the conveniently leaked information which smeared Dr David Kelly and Jean Charles de Menezes. Hopelessly ineffective at constitutional reform, and at governing in general, Blair's legacy won't be his crime legislation. It'll be how a man in which there was once such hope has instead brought only rivers of blood and the politics of fear.

P.S. You can sign the petition on the 10 Downing Street website for Blair to resign immediately. 53 already have. Do it before it mysteriously vanishes.

Correction: The ban on "violent" pornography was mentioned, as part of the criminal justice bill. It seems highly likely to pass, which could potentially be a disaster for some with "deviant" sexual interests.

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