Thursday, September 04, 2008 

Lance Price and the safety elephant.

Meanwhile, over on CiF we've been treated to the comedy stylings of ex-spin doctor Lance Price, riffing on Charles Clarke:

Gordon Brown and his team have a bigger fight on their hands than they seem to realise. They cannot ignore Charles Clarke. He's a heavyweight if ever there was one.

I would at this point say in more ways than one. However, I'm unsure whether this is Price making that self-same joke and me missing it, or he confusing being morbidly obese with Clarke's complete lack of any support whatsoever.

What we are seeing is the stock response to an ex-minister who steps out of line. Brown's allies are dismissing Charles Clarke as embittered; a failure who offers no alternative solutions and is only damaging the party he claims to want to help.

But, err, he is offering no alternative solutions whatsoever. In both his interviews and in his New Statesman article he doesn't so much as mention one policy which Brown ought to institute or change, at least not directly, if we count his disapproval of Trident renewal. He undoubtedly is embittered, as he was after his defenestration by Blair also; it's just that he hates Brown a lot more than he hates Blair. All he's doing is damaging the party, reopening the wounds of early summer whilst not saying what the government should be doing to correct its course outside of the vague platitudes of stronger leadership etc. That instead has been left to Stephen Byers, who rather more constructively suggested that low-paid workers such as cleaners and catering staff should get above inflation pay increases by cutting the raises for senior executives.

If Clarke and what he represents can't be squashed, can it be squared? It may be too late by now, but Charles Clarke himself was eminently squareable for a very long time. He would have willingly returned to government or to a powerful party position in which his implicit claim to be able to chart a new and successful political direction for Labour could have been put to the test.

Except there are plenty of suggestions that Brown did offer Clarke a job or jobs, all of which he turned down. He's preferred to become the "maverick" outside the tent pissing in rather than the opposite, even when he's been fundamentally contradictory, having told Brown to (rightly) drop 42 day detention without charge for "terrorist suspects" when he himself helmed the battle to get 90 days on the statute book. His apparent feelings then against such illiberality didn't stop him from defending Blair.

Brown has been seriously considering offering a senior job to Alan Milburn, another ex-minister who shares Clarke's analysis. Only the chancellorship would do. If the offer is made and Milburn accepts we will know that the prime minister does intend to square his critics if he possibly can. The prospects are not good, however. The last time the two men tried to work together, in the run up to the 2005 election, it just ended in more acrimony.

Could that possibly be because Milburn's stewardship of the Labour campaign was widely regarded as disastrous, with Brown himself having to come in to save to day from the guy who came up with the brilliant slogan "forward, not back"? A long time ago it was, but most felt that it was through the implicit if not stated sentiment that if you voted Blair you would in fact get Brown, a soundbite which the Tories backed off of because it was actually something most were partial to, that helped towards the 60-plus majority. Milburn and Clarke had nothing to offer then and they have even less to offer now.

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Friday, July 04, 2008 

Big Brother as a microcosm of society.

It's silly enough to attempt to extrapolate from problems in the capital what problems are affecting the country as a whole, so when you start to attempt to extrapolate from the inhabitants of one house, even if it is the Big Brother house, what's wrong with wider society you really ought to just quit while you're ahead.

Kudos have to go then to Alan Finlayson who having viewed the latest series of Big Brother (which up till now I've succeeded in not mentioning) has decided that we are a selfish society. To begin with you don't have to watch one of the most vicious and pernicious of television programmes to recognise that, but to state that the individuals who inhabit the Big Brother house are selfish is akin to describing Hitler as really rather nasty or John Inman as really rather camp. There are three main reasons why someone thinks that going on Big Brother is a good idea: one is to boost their own ego; second is to attempt to become famous; and the last is to try to win the prize money at the end and become loved by the public at large at the same time. All three of these things mean that at some point you're going to have to be extraordinarly selfish or guilty of avarice, otherwise you'll get voted out first, and the few individuals who are nice or normal tend to get booted out early on because they're considered boring. The first series was largely an experiment with mainly normal people, and although it started the phenomenon off, it couldn't just be that continously or people would stop watching. Instead it's turned into a microcosm of the celebrity world as a whole - noisy, unpleasant, garish, hypocritical and utterly vacuous. As a nation we may be selfish, but the vast majority of people, including the young that habitually get it in the neck are still polite, kind, intelligent and a joy to be around. Big Brother levels of alienation, hatred and threat have not become the default mode for society at large -- yet.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008 

Snobbery? On my internets?

Most would agree that the worst threads on Comment is Free occur beneath every posting on Israel and Palestine, as the interest groups on either side flock via Google Alerts or GIYUS to commence battle whilst boring everyone else to tears. There are other posts that attract high amounts of criticism, and excluding ones by radical feminists, which usually deserve it in spades, it almost always seems to be when the person in question writing is below the age of 30. This was true of the Max Gogarty meme, who although a poor writer and son of a hack hardly deserved the scorn which was poured on his head from all across the internet.

Enter Majid Ahmed, a state school student from Bradford who achieved 4 A grades at A-level, but who unfortunately was convicted of burglary when he was 15, on the basis of which he had his offer of acceptance to study medicine from Imperial College London rescinded. Having admitted his mistake, in which he was a bystander rather than someone who participated in any actual robbery, most would accept that shouldn't bar him from a place on a college course. The crowd on CiF of course has other ideas:

But would I want to come to you with my health problems? Probably not.

Majid - you sound self-pitying.

OMG what a story of woe. How can anyone keep banging on, with a straight face, about how they have overcome such hardships only to be stopped by some terrible snobbery.

This may surprise you matey but lots of people grow up facing hardship and gain good results and have to struggle to make good. However what they don't do is burgle a house and then bitch about how their conviction is proving a barrier.

Often people living in tough conditions have those conditions made much worse by their bad neighbours who break into their houses and make tough conditions tougher.

To be honest I don't want to visit a doctor who has served time in jail for crimes they have committed.

I find it crazy that you feel like a victim, rather than hold up your hands and admit that your poor choices have led to this situation. The real victims are the people who have been subjected to your dishonesty. Get over it and stop bitching.

You ask whether the outcome would be different had you hired professionals to draft your appeal - but you can write an article for the Guardian - are you being funny?

You claim you were goaded into breaking the law by friends, then you claim you were innocent but pleaded guilty. How you dealt with the police and the criminal justice system showed no sense of personal integrity. You chose immorally in breaking the law and then chose immorally again in pleading guilty while still considering yourself innocent.

There is no word of any sense of personal shame or of reform, only whinging in this article.

One of the lovely things I have found in working with many young Asian men and women in deprived backgrounds in their profound understanding of right and wrong, which is picked up in the family. This seems to have passed this candidate by.

The place will go to someone who was too busy studying to get a criminal conviction.

I spend a lot of time in hospital with a chronic and serious illness. While I am there I often see and talk to medical students on the wards as well as junior doctors. I don't want to consider the possibility that any of the people that the hospital lets loose on the wards have criminal convictions. Patients are often in a very vulnerable situation and the hospital staff as well as student doctors, nurses and physios etc must be beyond reproach.

You made a bad decision at 15 and now have to live with the consequences. You say that you didn't know you had no right of access to the dwelling but that you did know that they were a bad crowd - this should have been a major clue about their "new chill out pad" and as a dwelling is another term for someone's home I think it is clear that you knew it was not the home of one of your friends.

You seem very adept at working the cultural minority angle. Saying you didn't want the shame of your mother accompanying you through the courts so you had to plead guilty. Nonsense! If you were innocent of the charge then going to court to prove these would have been far less humiliating for your family than having a son who is a convicted burglar.

Get over your false sense of injustice. Medicine is a hugely competitive course and many students with four or five grade A 'A' levels and without criminal records get rejected for the course. Further, many people grow up in impoverished circumstances and successfully pursue their dreams without either burglarising someone's home or blaming everyone but themselves for their own stupidity. And, as for nothing in your life having been easy? Well, you seem to manage self pity with great ease.

Thank you Imperial; you make the right decision.

Snooty individuals on CiF not acting like vindictive cretins, perhaps?

There are of course a few lone voices like this ahem, rather sensible chap:

Majid, ignore all the sour and bitter people on here that seem to think that committing a criminal offence when you're young and stupid ought to preclude you from having something resembling a life for the rest of your days; most of them probably did things mightily similar to you at the same age but didn't get caught. Re-applying to another college is a good idea however, as Imperial clearly aren't interested in your potential and only see you as a potential liability.

And we of course wonder why the youth of today are how they are.

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Monday, April 14, 2008 

This is how an MP's mind fails to work.

You really would have thought that an MP would understand something as basic as the separation of powers, but it seems that Denis MacShane seems to have skipped that constitutional lesson. In fact, let's be fair here for just a moment: MacShane knows quite well the difference between the judiciary and parliament and why they're independent from one another, it's just that a little thing like that would get in the way of his argument. After all, just what sort of person who believes in democracy and not the obvious usurpation of power by unelected judges indulging in activism could fail to be angered by the three decisions of last week where the government's decision to stop the SFO inquiry into corruption in the Saudi-BAE al-Yamamah deal was torn to shreds, with the added embarrassments of not being able to deport Abu Qatada and soldiers being protected by the HRA adding to the beetroot-like pall of ministers' faces?

Let's for half a second then indulge MacShane's argument, or as it could be more accurately painted, obscurantism. His flourishing finish is thus:

I am no defender of ministers or of any untrammelled right to government to interpret the law in a way which may be illegal. But am I alone in wanting parliament to decide our law, elected politicians not unelected judges to execute them, and when judges are called upon to interpret the law an obligation that they listen to the will of parliament, not the passions and prejudices which they like all of us are not immune to?

Surely if MacShane had put slightly more thought into this he would have realised the very first sticky problem with his plea. The SFO inquiry into the BAE slush fund was not stopped by an elected politician; it was halted after the head of the SFO gave into the demands of Lord Goldsmith, the very much unelected attorney general, who himself was heavily lent on by the prime minister, who most certainly has no right whatsoever to decide which investigations should be continued and which should not, regardless of his being elected. Perhaps further evidence of MacShane's disconnection with reality is provided in this previous statement:

Thus when a British prime minister says he believes that national security may be threatened if a political-judicial process continues why must he be disbelieved?

It's difficult to know which metaphor to adopt in response to how easily it would be to mock this. Taking candy from a baby? Shooting fish in a barrel? Putting six past Derby County? It would of course be wonderful to be able to believe that a prime minister would be honest with us over such a matter, but when such a prime minister has such a dismal record of just that, and when the government as a whole has a reputation for using the security argument to justify almost anything, it makes it all the more difficult. It would have been easier to believe also if the person who delivered the threat wasn't the self-same man alleged to have been the one to have received £1bn in payments from the company being investigated. Then again, perhaps we're all just being shockingly cynical.

This is the closest MacShane presents to the will of parliament being involved in the SFO decision:

Parliament has endlessly discussed and debated the Saudi deal since it was first negotiated on the basis of mammoth commissions paid to Saudi princes back in the 1980s. Sir Ming Campbell has brought up the issue regularly in the Commons. The Commons has listened to him with respect as a QC who defends the primacy of lawyers and judges but have not agreed that an elected government does not have the right to decide that a prosecution should not proceed.

The government or indeed parliament though would never dare to interfere with criminal investigations and the decision to proceed in those cases if it involved a member of parliament, regardless of the severity of the crime. This is half the reason why the concessions over 42 days are so feeble - parliament has no business to be deciding whether someone should continue to be held beyond 28 days when they're still in custody. Parliament makes the law - it does not then decide whether or not that law should be applied. When faced with such an obvious conflict of interest with the Saudis and BAE both demanding that the investigation be called off, the government ought to have told both to get their tanks off their law and said that they simply couldn't interfere with the course of justice, as the judges' themselves said in their ruling. Instead they gave in to open blackmail, setting a terrible precedent.

MacShane's argument is equally threadbare on the other two cases. As he admits, the HRA is to be openly interpreted by judges as they see fit. Indeed, they're the best possibly placed to make such a decision, having heard all the relevant evidence and weighed up the opposing arguments, as well as the precedents set by other rulings. You can't have it both ways: you can't set the law and then demand it solely be interpreted in the way you demand, or in your best interests at the relevant point of time; some complain that the HRA and the ECHR are ambiguous, but almost all such documents are. Even the fabled American constitution, the one which set the standard for all that have followed, is being debated and argued about right down to now over exactly what the Second Amendment means and provides for.

Besides, even if all of the above were put to a vote, if MacShane would presumably prefer, how is he so sure that the position he sides with and advocates would be the winning one? The SFO inquiry would probably be stopped if put before the houses, or at least the Commons, as the Conservatives would support the government. On the other two though it's most uncertain: both David Davis and Chris Huhne called for Qatada to be tried in this country rather than deported, and both Lib Dems and Conservatives supported the decision over the soldiers' equipment. With backbench Labour support hardly to be solid on either, the government might well face defeat. It might be easier to take MacShane's point if Labour had been elected by something approaching a majority of the electorate, but it wasn't: only 22% voted for the current government, something that it ought to remember in everything that it does. Instead it continues to hardly govern by MacShane's own high-minded principles, forcing through such unpopular measures as 42 days while continuing to big up the terror threat.

The well-used, moth-eared, almost cliched quote by Orwell is that in times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. Would it be too much to request that this government, its ministers and clingers-on actually propose doing the "decent" thing rather than blaming the judiciary and moaning about how parliament is being ignored and emasculated? How about putting Qatada on trial, equipping soldiers properly when you send them out on such unpopular missions, and not giving in to blackmail from those who have grown rich and fat on the money provided by the taxpayer and British companies involved in corrupt practices? Would that really be so difficult? For MacShane and much of New Labour, it seems easier to just blame everyone other than themselves.

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Friday, April 11, 2008 

Does my bum look big in this?

Yup, this really is one of the images of Fowler on her website.

Doctors hailed a medical breakthrough today after the first successful connection of the rectum to the throat and the throat to the rectum. The unusual surgery was helmed by Professor Scheissmund and performed on 29-year-old Ruth Fowler, a former stripper, globe-trotter and soon to be published author.

While Fowler herself is still recovering from the operation, Prof. Scheissmund gave the background on why Miss Fowler had wanted the surgery. "She felt that in line with her recent writing, castigating holier-than-thou bourgeois liberals while enjoying all the comforts of a bourgeois liberal and then fat people for being fat, the next logical step was to be able to perform in real life what she can so successfully achieve in prose. While it was not an everyday cosmetic request, we felt that we could pull it off and Ruth herself has already congratulated us on our work by thanking us out of her colon and then vomiting effluent into a bucket."

Fowler already has her next Comment is Free piece lined up, entitled "Talking out of your arse is more difficult than it looks."

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