Are we pissing on the Commenterati’s chips?
Wednesday July 19th 2006, 4:08 pm
Filed under: Media
To no one’s great surprise, the news that a survey commissioned by Julia Hobsbawn’s fledgling PR meets the professional commentarati project, Editorial Intelligence (oxymoron anyone?), has identified Polly Toynbee as the ‘columnist of choice for opinion leaders‘ (whatever the fuck one of those is when its at home) has foundered straight away on the blogosphere’s usual Scylla of derision and the Charybdis of apathy - check out what bloggers have to say on this, especially after Polly (and/or the Graun) kindly incorporated the following into her most recent missive on Comment Is Free…
Polly Toynbee has been named columnist of choice for opinion leaders in a survey commissioned for Editorial Intelligence
… and you’ll quickly find yourself with two choices of opinion: "what the fuck?" and "who gives a fuck anyway?"
Yes, its back to that hoary old chestnut of the bloggers -vs- the ‘professionals’ that seems to crop up every few weeks, most recently when Nick Robinson got a bit tetchy with Guido and Iain Dale over the Prezza’s third mistress story…
To be fair there is pretty solid difference between these two scenarios.
Despite the odd blogger having a bit of dabble in actually breaking the odd ‘news story’, the relationship between bloggers remains largely a complementary one - they (the journalists) serve up the news and we comment on it and throw in a few opinions and a bit of background research along the way. Particularly when its comes to the BBC and its efforts to remain a more of less neutral source of factual reportage, what bloggers tend to do is editorialise the Beeb’s news output; while with less neutral sources from amongst the dead tree media blogger tend to offer a different slant on stories - many different slants, in fact - in a way that tends to support or mediate against the editorial bias applied by a newspaper to the original source material.
With columnists and op-ed writers, such a La Toynbee, things are a bit different - not least because we’re both pretty much in the same line of business - opinions, the big difference being that most of us bloggers have no real expectation of being paid for out 2c worth…
…which, when you come to think about it, is all rather a problem for anyone who currently trying to make a tidy living out of being an ‘opinion former’.
If you think about it in economic terms (and at the risk of getting skinned by Tim if I get this wrong) your ‘market value’ as a so-called ‘opinion former’ rests pretty much on two things;
First, on having a big enough readership who broadly see the world the way you do, to make you opinions worth something as a reflection of the views of your readership - which, for preference, should coincide tidily with an identifiable market segment that’s of interest to whoever might be thinking of retaining your services - and…
Second, on your ability to demonstrate, or at least convey the appearance, that your opinions matter sufficiently to your readers that you can influence they way they see certain things; the whole ‘well I’d never given it much thought but Polly said ‘blah, blah, blah’ in her column the other day and I pretty much agree with her" kind of thing.
All of which, until fairly recently, should made life as an ‘opinion former’ altogether a pretty cushy number because, for the most part, it was actually pretty difficult to measure something like the ‘influence’ of a particular newspaper columnist in readily quantifiable terms. Okay, so stuff like the market segment a columnist appeals to and, broadly-speaking, their readership could be guessed at in a fairly substantive manner - things like the market profile of the readership of, say, the Guardian and ABC sales figures are pretty much known quantities. However getting usable data on how well a particular columnist goes over with their newspaper’s readership and, more to the point,. whether their have any particular impact on those of their readers is an altogether more difficult thing to assess, at least not without laying out a bit of cash for a reader’s survey.
By and large, any conclusions you might easily arrive at about the ‘value’ of a particular columnist would end up being based on what amounts to second-hand information. You might glean a few tidbits of information from the newspaper’s letter pages a day or two after a column had appears - remembering, of course, that what you see will already have been edited by the newspaper, but otherwise pretty much all you’d have to go on is a limited range of opinions, usually from people in the same industry as the ‘opinion former’ whose value you’re looking to assess…
…which is altogether a fairly cosy little set-up when one factors in what I suppose could be considered ‘professional decorum’ amongst columnists, which, with a few exceptions, tends to dictate an atmosphere in which playing the man and not the ball is very much frowned upon.
And then up pops blogging and, next thing you know teh interweb is fair groaning with opinions, many of about your self-styled opinion-forming newspaper columnists and there’s no one there to apply the blue pencil to those opinions, nor is there a widespread and cosy little sense of professional courtesy to protect them from the harsh reality of what people really think of them and their view of the world.
Suddenly its become much easier to assess the ‘market value’ of ‘opinion formers’ because you can see first-hand just exactly what people really think of them and their opinions - just pop over to somewhere like Technorati, throw a name in to the search and eh voila, there you have it, reams of information and opinion, all generated by real people and a fair bit of it rather less than gentle in its regard for reputation and professional standing.
Little wonder, then, that you get comments popping up from time to time, like this from dear old Polly Pot…
As for those who hate particular writers, why on earth do you bother to read us? Isn’t life too short and blood pressure too high? God knows how many columnists there are out there: stick to the ones you enjoy. I could spend my life sending furious counter-arguments to Melanie Phillips or Richard Littlejohn - but why bother? It’s May, there’s another week to go of the Brighton festival. Get out a bit.
After all, nothing fucks with your reputation as an opinion former so much as the discovery that a shed load of people loathe your opinions - unless you dealing with someone plays it cute and figures out that they can learns as much from the way piss people off as they can from when people agree with you.
Okay, so its by no means a perfect fit scenario just yet, although there are certainly companies beginning to spring up around and about teh interweb who’ve started to figure out that there may be money to be made out of cutting out the middleman and going straight for the blogs to see what people are really saying - there’s at least one bunch of cheeky bastards from the US who tried spidering my old blog at Talk Poltics on a couple of occasions so they could trade my opinions to their clients (but then that’s where IP address blocking comes in handy) - and matching up opinions to market segments and demographics can be a bit of a Herculean task when you come up bloggers who prize their anonymity very highly…
…but you’ still have to wonder, given the general undercurrent of niggling tensions that’s existed between some members of the professional commenterati and bloggers in recent time whether some of the pros are coming to realise that the ready access to real-wolrd opinions that bloggers have to offer is really starting to piss on their opinion-forming chips.
*At this point proceedings, Unity has decided to shut up and not follow this particular of argument any further, having just had an idea that requires a serious amount of thinking about before he says anything else…
Anyway, when it comes to the news that La Toynbee is (allegedly) the daddy amongst UK-based opinion formers, I find myself firmly in the ‘go on - you’re pulling my pud aren’t you" camp, especially when one takes a bit of a look at a sample copy of ‘Insight’, Editorial Intelligence’s house ‘journal (pdf), and find them putting out seriously cringeworthy, grovelling crap like this:
Together, we also commissioned two sets of photographs taken by Paul Hackett of Reuters. The first features political commentators who were asked to nominate a politician they find particularly admirable or challenging (we didn’t ask them to confirm which) (see pages 4-7).
The result is a unique photographic study that reveals a great deal about the complex intimacy between the politicians making the headlines and the journalists analysing their every move. And then a set of lovely portraits of Peers of the Realm who, during their photoshoots, were asked to declare who they find indispensable reading among the Commentariat (see pages 10 and 11).
And then a set of lovely portraits of Peers of Realm… oh, whoopie-fucking-doo, that’s just what I’ve always wanted - although I must say I am quite taken by the photo of Lord Victor Adebowale, who’s apparently a cross-bencher and CEO of the Turning Point charity, but only because I quite like the idea that we now have a natty dread in the House of Lords.
What a grovelling pile of mendicant old toss - not so much "Who’s Who" but "Who’s Sucking Up To Who" - I did think about writing to Editorial Intelligence to pass comment on their sample journal but I’m really not sure whether how Postman Pat is when it comes to getting a bucket of puke through their letterbox…
And if you think that’s good, what until you see what they - via Steve Moore, the founding director of Policy Unplugged - have to say about blogging…
Blogs have taken off just about everywhere except for Britain.
You what? You just haven’t been looking have you, Steve?
Maybe it’s because we have such a big choice of commentary in the media, or because people trust the BBC.
Or maybe you just haven’t been fucking looking hard enough, Steve…
Blogs are massively popular in the US and Iran.
Huh? Any particular reason for choosing Iran as an example, or did you just come across a mention of an Iranian blogger over at Harry’s Place?
Blogs are fascinating because of the interaction between people and the way that ideas connect strangers. It’s a huge unedited conversation and that’s what I find interesting. Commentators in the press are more and more restrained by their paper’s need to be competitive or to keep to a certain stance about something and so the idea of people being able to speak freely becomes more and more appealing. It’s interesting too that some commentators who write for well known newspapers have also set up their own blogs. They say things that they would never be able to say in print.
And in the next issue of ‘Insight’ - and I think EI are being just as ironic with the title of their journal as they are with the name of their business… good old British humour, eh - Steve will be giving us a Janet and John guide to porn to teh interweb which he’ll be describing as ‘a huge unedited masturbation’.
Steve also helpfully provides a list of the ‘top ten’ political blogs which goes this…
…so that’s three think-tanks and two pro journalists in his top ten, plus the Samizdata crowd, who I think most people would consider as being kind of semi-pro… and no mention for Guido, as well… Oh dear, someone’s on Guido’s shitlist if he spots this…
…not that I mind that in the slightest as, for what I can make out from the Policy Unplugged website, Steve’s main claim to fame would appear to be that he holds a tenth Dan black belt in corporate bullshit - just check this out from his company’s website.
Policy Unplugged exists to cultivate new ways of generating social and policy innovations.
We explore topics of contemporary resonance in a unique way; through facilitated conversation.
Facilitated conversation? I think he’s talking about focus groups…
Our events are dynamic, interactive but resolutely conversation. There is no formal agenda or platform speeches (unless participants want them!), instead the content and format is agreed by the participants themselves in the weeks leading up to the meeting.
It is all about the right people having the right conversation at the right time. When this happens, people cooperate, ideas blossom, and innovations emerge.
Yep, that’s focus groups alright and I do like that line about - the content and format is agreed by the participants themselves in the weeks leading up to the meeting - which looks a lot like ‘adn the best bit of this is that we get you do all the work".
Better still there’s their philosophy…
Policy Unplugged emerged in the course of hundreds of conversations that took place in 2004/5.
We felt that there was a compelling need to find fresh ways of discussing and formulating responses to the most important challenges of our times. Ways that were in kilter with the epoch we are living in.
Our starting point is that in facing up to challenges we should reflect on how life organises itself. Life is not driving us towards one solution.
In our view most issues facing contemporary society are so manifestly complex it is just impossible to know what the right thing to do is.
The best strategy, we argue, is to try a range of different approaches and learn from and imitate what works and abandon what doesn’t.
This is what markets do so well.
What the fuck is all this about - The best strategy, we argue, is to try a range of different approaches and learn from and imitate what works and abandon what doesn’t. - Is it just me or does that sentence look suspiciously like it says, ‘we haven’t got a fucking clue what we’re doing here but we hopw we’ll hit on something eventually’ a perception nicely reinforced by this comment on their own blog…
This week I decided that at, least for now, that social conference is the best way to describe what we do. It seems to me to be preferable to the unconference term which is being much discussed on blogs. I feel more confident than ever that a blend of new events formats and web based social tools like the one you are now reading have the potential to reanimate moribund policy making approaches.
Yeah sure, whatever you say, Steve… bit of marketing tip here before I sign off…
…try writing in English sometime, you might find it makes communicating a bit easier…
Avoiding the question…
Tuesday July 18th 2006, 2:13 pm
Filed under: Politics
Bit of a Wat Tyler question for you today…
Q. What costs the taxpayer in excess of £60,000 a year and provides nothing in return?
A. Parliamentary questions to which the only answer given is that the information could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
Seriously, having done a bit more digging in the Hansard archives I’ve now come up with nearly 2,600 questions asked over the last five years, where the cost of providing an answer was deemed too expensive by the goverment - and written questions cost the taxpayer £134 a time.
Okay, so its not all the govenrment’s fault - many questions posed by MPs are badly framed or ask for unrealistic amounts of detailed information, but in doing the research it was interesting to note that from the time that the practice of blocking questions on cost grounds, as permitted under FOIA, was first recorded in 2001 - and not 2004 as I first thought - there have been several occasions on which MPs have complained that information they had been able to obtain by written question before FOIA was introduced, was no no longer available on cost grounds.
Still, having done the scut work, I thought I’d have a little bit of fun with it and pose a bit of competititon - no prize’s sadly, just a bit of kudos for your knowledge of the workings of parliament to whoever comes closest to the right answer.
What I’d like you do is is every simply, from the list of govenrment departments below, choose the ten departments you think have used the phrase ‘could only provided at disproportionate cost’ in response to parliamentary questions on the greatest number of occasions and rank them in order from the most frequent users of that phrase to the least frequent.
So, for example, if you think the Northern Ireland Office are the number one department for blocking questions on cost ground, put them first on your list… and so on down the list until you’ve chosen ten out of the twenty departments on offer.
And your list of departments, in no particular order are…
Department for Constutional Affairs/Lord Chancellor’s Department
Department of Health
Department for Education and Science
Department for Work and Pensions
Department of Culture, Media & Sport
Northern Ireland Office
The Privy Council
Leader of the House of Commons
Department for the Environment and Rural Affiairs
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (includes the old DLTR and the new DCLG)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Ministry of Defence
Department of Transport
Department for International Development
Office of the Prime Minister/Cabinet Office
Department of Trade and Industry.
For a bit of extra kudos - and without looking it up - one MP has spoken the magic words ‘disproportionate cost’ on no less than 234 occasions in the last five years… see if you can name him and the government post he currently holds…
Answers before the weekend…
Stairway to Westminster
Congratulations to Andrew Brown for asking the question of the week, "Why are we [bloggers] all so nasty?" before adding, "People are such arseholes online because they write as they expect journalists to do."
Thankfully Andrew goes on to explain what he means:
I think that the real explanation for online manners is even less flattering than the idea that we all have inside us a little Jeremy Clarkson, at least for people in my trade: people online are such arseholes because they write as they expect journalists to do. Almost all the really popular forms of modern journalism consist of licensed scorn, or invective that no one sober would dare to use face to face with its target. This has been true for a long time - in British journalism, Bernard Levin first made his name by insulting people in the Sixties, then there came Bron Waugh and Private Eye, and after them, Julie Burchill and her endless successors. In every case, the secret of success was to push at the boundaries and to be more offensive than anyone would have thought possible in print before they did it.
Christ on a bike, is there anything that bloggers do that journalists won’t try to take the credit for!
Hell no, us ordinary plebs would never have dreamt of insulting public figures and pouring scorn on politicians until Levin and Waugh started up and made us all realise that we didn’t have to be a bunch of servile, forelock-tugging, ever-so-’umble Uriah Heeps to get along in life.
Which came first, the opinion or the newspaper columnist? As chicken and egg questions go its hardly a toughy is it?
Anyway, speaking of opinions, have a look at this and have a guess what my opinion of it might be?
Many blame Tony Blair’s bedazzlement with business, money and the glint of markets. Unfair, I suspect. Put this into the context of the many countries mired by this same conundrum: how do you pay for democracy when voters despise politics and won’t join parties? To equate dubious party fundraising with "corruption" misleads the public into thinking this is about personal gain. But when a pair of undeclared cowboy boots can make the front page as an outrageous bribe, British politics is pretty clean. As for party donations for peerages, there is probably no prime minister or opposition leader who has not done it. That cuts no ice with police enforcing the 1925 Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act - but it hardly makes Blair exceptionally venal.
Yes, as you might guess that’s La Toynbee firmly back in full village idiot mode, typing fingers in fifth gear, brain stuck firmly in reverse as usual. "To equate dubious party fundraising with "corruption" misleads the public into thinking this is about personal gain", says Polly, oblivious to the fact that some of us unwashed, pyjama-clad blogging plebs possess more that a couple of braincells (minimum requirement for a Guardian columnist) to rub to together. No you’re right, Polly, it isn’t necessarily about about personal gain, although I dare say Prescott was chuffed to bits with his Roy Rogers ensemble, but nor is it, as you seem to think, "an accidental by-product of Blair’s great constitutional negligence", either.
No, personal gain, even where it does rear its tawdry little head, is far from being the raison d’etre for political corruption, at least not so far as British politicians go. Thanks to the peculiarities of our unwritten constitution and the very limited sense in which there is separation in powers between the executive and the legislature, its actually pretty difficult for a serving politician to get their nose too deeply in the big-business trough while in office - that usually comes afterwards, when they’ve retired to spend a bit more time with their personal pension fund and the non-executive directorships start flowing.
If not about the money - form the politician’s point of view - then what? The answer is stupidly obvious, which I guess is why Polly misses it completely.
Power and influence. That’s the name of game. Power and influence. Always has been and most probably always will be.
The allegation that Labour traded loans for peerages has, inevitably, spawned comparison with David Lloyd George’s sale of honours in the 1920’s, with Lord Levy cast in the role of (Arthur) Maundy Gregory, Lloyd George’s ‘fixer’, who currently stands as the only man, to date, ever convicted for selling honours under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. What’s all too easily forgotten in this is the reason why Lloyd George took to corruptly selling honours, which was not to line his own pockets but to fund his political office. The schism in the Liberal Party at the end of World War I, which saw Lloyd George enter the election as leader of a ‘National Liberal’ coalition in which the Conservatives held more than two-thirds of its seats, left Lloyd George cut adrift from Asquith’s independent Liberals, who stood against the coalition, and more importantly put him out in the cold as far as access to Liberal Party funds were concerned; these being controlled entirely by Asquith and his allies.
Yes, Lloyd George sold honours, including peerages - hereditary peerages, by the way, as life peerages did not come into existence until the passing of the Life Peerages Act in 1958, and yes he did so for ‘personal gain’ but the gain in this case was not that required to boost his pension fund or buy a nice little retirement villa in the Tuscan hills, but to fund his political ambitions, not that this was to help him in the long run. Having tried to set himself up to go it alone, Lloyd George’s coalition fell apart when, at a meeting on 12 October 1992, Conservative members of the coalition voted to break from the coalition and fight the next general election (due in 1923) on their own - contrary to popular myth, this is apparent not the origin of the Tory 1992 committee. By the time of 1923 election, Lloyd George had brokered a rapprochement with Asquith and rejoined a united Liberal Party, under Asquith’s leadership. This election resulted in a hung parliament and the first ever Labour government under James Ramsay-McDonald, albeit a minority one which lasted only 10 months.
The general election that followed in 1924, which the Tories won with a massive 209 majority, was a disaster for the Liberals, who saw their representation in parliament collapse to a mere 40 MPs. This election was also notable for the alleged influence on its outcome of the Zinoviev Letter, which is widely thought to have scuppered Labour’s electoral chances by identifying an Anglo-Soviet trade agreement, which was being negotiated by the Labour government - and opposed by the Tories - as an opportunity for increase Soviet propaganda activity within the British Labour movement. To come full circle, Lloyd George’s fixer, Maundy Gregory, by then working for the British Secret Intelligence Service (later renamed MI6), was directly involved in ‘leaking’ the Zinoviev letter to the press, resulting in its publication four days before polling day - and, in 1999, an official inquiry concluded that the letter had probably been concocted by the SIS operatives based in Riga to help the Tories win the 1924 election - and we think politics is a dirty game these days.
Lloyd George’s situation may have differed marked from that of Blair/Lord Levy but if it is shown that honours, including peerages, have been offered as an inducement to secure donations to the party’s election fund then it will have been for marked the same reason that Lloyd George sold off honours over 80 years ago.
If the truth be told, any detailed comparison between lists of significant party donors, for any of the three main parties, stretching right back to, at least, the inception of life peerages in 1958, and lists of honours granted by the Prime Minister of the day, will inevitably look more than a bit fishy - one might reasonable say that honours follow donations (or loans) much as night follows day. To think that the possibility that honours may have been ’sold’ or used as an inducement to secure funding for any political party is the sole problem here is to take an extremely naive view of this issue. The real problem here is not that the honours system may have been abused or, indeed, that it may be open to abuse but that the whole system is a feudal relic and part of one of last major bastions of political patronage within the British constitution, the royal prerogative.
Bob Piper recently provided a perfect summary of the real issue that underpins the so-called ‘loans for peerages scandal’:
It is Her Majesty’s Government, the Monarch can declare war, legislation requires the Royal Assent, the Monarch appoints the Peers, the Archbishops and the Bishops, and all the CBE’s MBE’s and OBE’s are doled out by the Queen as if she had sat in her bedroom into the early hours pouring over lists of the worthy to decide who gets what gong.
But in reality, this power lies with the Prime Minister… and it is this power of patronage that needs to be brought to an end if we are to call ourselves a democracy. The monarchical powers are passed down by the monarch, not to the people, through the House of Commons, but to the Prime Minister, who exercises that power with all the grandeur and ruthlessness of a feudal King. The Prime Minister selects the Cabinet, those who would be King, and decides who gets what job. That gives the King the power over his Barons. The Prime Minister selects all of the other underlings of Government, all of the PPS’s the Junior Ministers, the Whips and who sits on which important Select Committees. Added to this power, the Prime Minister can also decide who is next in line, who is waiting at the foot of the greasy pole, if one of the underlings doesn’t behave themselves. In this way the Prime Minister controls the Government, and can therefore usually command the controlling Party… and in this way, controls the House of Commons. The power of patronage over the Lords just seals the whole thing up in one neat package. So the next time you hear Ruth Kelly or David Miliband talking about empowering people you will know they are saying you may be able to have power over the person that decides how often your dustbin is emptied… whilst the country is still run along feudal lines.
That pretty much sums it up in a nutshell - to be elected to the office of Prime Minister is to acquire a power of patronage that remains largely unchanged since medieval times, and in that respect Blair, and his predecessors, are as much feudal princelings as any medieval scion of the royal blood - in fact more so, as the constitutional position of the present Monarch is such that it would be almost unthinkable for the present Queen to exercise her prerogative in a manner which overruled the edicts of her Prime Minister.
It it not just those who use and abuse the honours system that are (allegedly) corrupt, but the very system itself.
As to how corrupt this system is, consider these comments made by Tony Blair to John Sopel on yesterday’s ‘The Politics Show’ on BBC 1:
There is one thing I would say to you however, because it’s important people understand that nobody in the Labour Party to my knowledge, has sold on us or sold peerages. And the fact that it’s sometimes excluded from the public’s mind in relation to this debate, is that there are places in the House of Lords that are reserved for party nominees, for their party supporters. Right. These are not honours, they’re working peerages, reserved for Party supporters, Conservative supporters, Labour supporters, Liberal Democrat supporters. In my view, it is absurd to say, that if someone supports a political party financially - helps it pay its bills, run its election campaign, that they should be debarred from being party supporters for those places reserved specifically for party supporters.
I notice that Iain Dale has responded somewhat querulously to the suggestion that there are ‘reserved’ places in the House of Lords for party nominees:
Perhaps someone could enlighten me as to which part of our constitution reserves places in the House of Lords for Party nominees. He really does make it up as he goes along, doesn’t he?
Well, to answer Iain’s question a little more directly than some of those who’ve commented on this article over at his blog, the answer to his question is that there is, as I understand it, an agreement in place between the three main parties as to the precise number of working peers each may nominate as and when the opportunity presents itself and within Britain’s unwritten constitution such an agreement, which is no more than a convention, becomes part of the constitution itself. In reality, the nomination of individuals to the House
of Lords rests exclusively in the purview of the Prime Minister; Blair is under no constitutional obligation to accept nominations from opposition parties and does so as both a matter of courtesy and, no doubt, also to avoid making it quite obvious as to how corrupt and undemocratic the whole business of elevating people to peerage really is.
One might well ask quite how it is that a constitution ‘rule’ may be constructed in such a flimsy manner but, in reality, such things are by no means unusual - the Salisbury convention, which Blair and others in government took to citing so vociferously over the last year on every occasion that their legislation hit choppy waters in the House of Lords, rest on nothing more substantial than a single statement in Lord Salisbury’s response, as Conservative leader in the House of Lords, to the King’s Speech in 1945…
…it would be constitutionally wrong when the country has expressed its view, for this House to oppose proposals which have been definitely put before the electorate.
That, believe it or not, is the Salisbury convention in its entirety.
As stated, the real game here is one of power and influence - let’s not forget that there’s rather more to a peerage than simply a spiffy feudal title and an expensive set of archaic robes. A peerage currently affords the recipient a seat in the British legislature for life and an entree into the Westminster corridors of power - little wonder then that it’s expected that one of major obstacles to further reform of the House of Lords is likely to come from amongst the 140+ Labour Peers created by Tony Blair since 1997.
*Its worth noting that Blair has created substantially more life peers since 1997 than any previous Prime Minister since the introduction of life peerages in 1958 - over 350, in fact. This is over 100 more in total than the number of life peers created by all previous Labour governments since 1958 and slightly more than were created by the Conservatives from Thatcher becoming Prime Minister in 1979 to the end of the Major years in 1997.
It may well be true that Blair is no more ‘venal’ than some of his predecessors as Prime Minister, but suspicions that both Labour and Conservative Prime Ministers have been doling out gongs to major donors for years offer no excuse at all for the fundamentally undemocratic and feudal nature of the system as a whole.
Moreover, as a Labour Party member I take particular issue with Blair’s comment that:
…it is absurd to say, that if someone supports a political party financially - helps it pay its bills, run its election campaign, that they should be debarred from being party supporters for those places reserved specifically for party supporters.
Well Tony, that all depends on how, exactly, you define a party supporter. Is a party supporter someone who’s been a member of the party for some years, certainly before they started making six figure plus donations in party coffers. Do they attend branch meetings or CLP meetings. Do they campaign actively for the party at election time, join other party members in canvassing on the doorstep or put a bit of time into the constituency office helping out with the literature. Once they’re in the House of Lord can they be relied on to turn up, especially when there are important debates to be held and votes to be won. Can they be relied on, within reason, to vote with the whip (although I’ll happily give a bit of latitude on that on a number of recent pieces of legislation) and remain party supporters in the long-term - after Blair’s departure would do for starters, although I think most party members would be looking for something a little more long term in the way of commitment…
…or are the only in it for the influence that their fiscal generosity has bought them and does their support for the party then expire if and when we no longer hold the reigns of power.
That is, and should be, a pretty major question for party members like myself - just how many of Blair’s recently ennobled millionaires will be sticking around if and when the political fortunes of the party change and we’re no longer the party of government? What guarantees can Blair offer us, as party members, that some of his so-called party supporters won’t be crossing the floor and investing their money, and their votes, in Dave the Chameleon at the first sign that he might end up with the keys to number 10? None at all, I’d suspect.
There is a simple way to put this to a little bit of a test. As people will no doubt recall, the full list of high value ‘lenders’ who helped to fund the last general election campaign was/is:
Rod Aldridge - £1m. Executive chairman of IT support firm Capita.
Richard Caring - £2m. Fashion magnate and owner of the Ivy restaurant, who is said to be worth £300m.
Gordon Crawford - £500,000. Chairman of London Bridge Software.
Professor Sir Christopher Evans - £1m. Founder and chairman of Merlin Biosciences, which invests in companies working in biosciences.
Sir David Garrard - £2.3m. Property developer and co-owner with Andrew Rosenfeld of property group Minerva prior to floatation. He is also a supporter of a city academy.
Nigel Morris - £1m. Co-founded Capital One Financial Services and a governor of the London Business School.
Sir Gulam Noon - £250,000. Curry tycoon who helped make chicken tikka masala the UK’s favourite dish.
Dr Chai Patel - £1.5m. The head of the Priory rehabilitation clinics.
Andrew Rosenfeld - £1m. A co-owner with Sir David Garrard of property group Minerva prior to floatation.
Lord David Sainsbury - £2m. Government science minister and member of the Sainsbury supermarket dynasty.
Barry Townsley - £1m. Stockbroker and chairman of financial services company Downay Day Townsley.
Derek Tullett - £400,000. Stockbroker and philanthropist.
Of this list we can, of course, disregard Lord David Sainsbury who not only already has his peerage but has also been Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Trade and Industry since 1998 and must, therefore, be a fully paid-up member of the party one must assume.
As for the rest of the list, which includes the four lenders whose nominations for a peerage were blocked by the Lords appointment commission - Dr Chai Patel, Sir Gulam Noon, Sir David Garrard and Barry Townsley - the question that I think needs to be asked is precisely how many of these lenders are actually party members?
Knowing full well that this post will be seen by other Labour bloggers through Bloggers4Labour, I do wonder if any of our other Labour bloggers might be in a position to help answer this question by using the comments to indicate whether any of the above are members of their local branch or CLP and, better still, whether any of them actually take and active part in any routine party activities, whether that’s by attending meetings, canvassing or anything else that grassroots party members generally get involved with?
As far as I’m concerned, if we are to accept Blair’s assertion that any of these ‘lenders’ are genuine party supporters and not just a bunch of millionaire pigopolists whose support for the party extends only so far as the reach of their cheque book then I think we ought to know just what kind of track record they have to bring to the table.
Of course, ‘loans for peerages’ is not the only game in town and perhaps the major short-term beneficiary of Lord Levy getting his collar felt by Yates of the Yard was John Prescott, was not only safely ensconced far away from all the action, attending the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, but also found both his personal life and his dealings with Phil Anschutz shunted unceremoniously off the front pages as the press scented the opportunity to hunt altogether bigger game.
Prescott’s respite, however, looks to be pretty short-lived - not only did the Mail on Sunday include the touching tale of a burgeoning friendship between one of Prescott’s security officers and a cat called ‘My Boy’ - who, quite by chance, happens to be owned by the same MP named by Guido as Prezza’s long-term extra-marital squeeze - but if Guido’s inside information is to be trusted in such matters, it now appears that a Windsor-based Tory businessman has filed a formal complaint with Yates of the Yard in regards to his recent dalliance with with a Colorado billionaire, citing the Prevention of Corruption Acts of 1889-1916.
Quite how far this complaint might have legs is open to question, not least as s2 of the 1916 act appears to shift the burden of proof onto Prescott is it can be shown that he has received a gift or consideration from someone actively seeking a contract with the government, such that it presumes such a gift to have been received corruptly unless proven otherwise - all of which might run onto the rocks when it butts up against provisions for the presumption of innocence in article 5 of the Human Rights Act….
…although if Prescott is on a hook here and is forced to wriggle off it using the Human Right Acts this could have the rather interesting side effect of driving a legal coach and horses through the provisions on the burden of proof for the defence of consent in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which is constructed on much the same basis, which makes for an altogether more interesting dilemma for the government.
The fact remains, looked at objectively, trading peerages for loans (allegedly) is penny-ante stuff; the kind of money alleged to changing hands on such deals may look impressive to Joe Public but is actually fairly insignificant when compared to the wads of cash riding on decisions such as whether Phil Anschutz and his business partner, Sol Kerzner, get the casino licence they’re after - if statements put out Anschutz’s company, AEG, are to be believed then a minimum of £250m of investment in the Dome site is riding on their getting a casino licence, which makes Sir Gulam Noon’s £250K look a lot like small change.
And therein lies one of the great truisms of political double-deailing - if and a politician gets caught with his (or her) hand in the cookie jar, its invariably an act of petty corruption that catches them out. Rarely, if ever, does a politician get caught out on one of the truly big deals, the kind in which the rewards are measured in much less tangible terms and in which the real currency is not money but power.
Let me ask you this - does anyone seriously believe that the going rate for the one super casino licence currently on offer amounts to nothing more than a day of the ranch, a chat about William Wilberforce and a cowboy outfit? Of course not - if there is anything dodgy in the government’s dealings with Phil Anschutz then whatever it is, it going to be operating at a much bigger scale than a few perks for the Deputy Prime Minister.
Greg Palast’s coverage of what was, at the time, called the ‘Lobbygate’ scandal in his 2003 book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, offers up a number of tantalising clues as to what we should really be looking for for in and around the government’s dealings with Phil Anschutz in order to understand the true nature of the high stakes game that’s being played out right before our eyes.
If you’re entirely unfamiliar with this story - which was very quickly written off by the press as nothing more than a couple of egotistical lobbyists overstating their own importance - then you can get a flavour of what Palast was investigating at the time from this article, which first appeared in the Observer in 1998 - and for those Labour members looking in via B4L, some of you might be very interested to note that a lobbying firm set up by an, of late, rather vociferous apostate Blairite makes a quite interesting appearance in Palast’s article.
In his book, Palast expands considerably on the article which appears on his website, in addition to which the time-span between the article’s publication and that of the book enabled him to carry events forward and consider the denouement of some of the stories first featured in 1998.
For example, in his 1998 article, Palast refers to the government’s energy review, Powergen’s proposed bid for East Midlands Electricity and a statement by the then Trade and Industry Secretary, Margaret Beckett, denying that the close proximity of the two announcements (the energy review and Powergen’s bid) indicated in any way that the two were somehow related.
Picking up the story in his book, Palast goes on to note that Beckett was implacably opposed to relaxing competition regulations imposed by the Tories at the time that they privatised the electricity industry, which served to preclude the three generating companies created by privatisation, Powergen, National Power (NPower) and Nuclear Electric, from buying up regional distribution companies, which was rather a problem as the final decision on whether the takeover could go ahead rested with Beckett as the relevant Minister of State.
What happened next, if Palast is correct, should shatter any illusions one might have about electing UK governments on the premise that they’ll go on to serve the public interest.
With US, and particularly Texas-based, electricity companies queueing up for the chance to carve themselves out a sizable piece of the UK energy market - lurking behind Powergen, at the time they were making their play for East Midlands Electricity, were Houston-based Reliant Energy - Palast alleges that Beckett was effectively taken out of the loop and sidelined on key decisions relating to the sale of UK energy companies.
Beckett, so Palast claims, had rapidly acquired the nickname ‘Minister No’, on taking over at the DTI, in the one circle that really mattered at the time when it cames to the government’s energy review and the future of UK energy policy, the circle of US-based corporate funders surrounding Bill Clinton.
Back in 1997/98 Slick Willy and the Texas Good Ol’ Boys from US Big Energy had a bit of shopping list when it came to the UK energy review, one that included the Chancellor not screwing down on the energy companies with a big windfall tax and the DTI not getting in the way of of several US merger targets and letting a couple of Bill’s special friends, Enron and Entergy, get on with the business of building gas-fired power stations in the UK. Beckett, however, presented them with a problem, as the final decision on several items on Bill’s list, including the Powergen takeover of East Midlands Electricity and Enron gas-fired power stations - not only was she opposed to both these projects (and several others) but, inconveniently, the quasi-judicial powers conferred on her as the Minister of State at the DTI meant that she had the last and final word on these deals.
But not to worry too much, because Bill had a friend called Tony who could make everything right and solve his little problem.
And so it was, so Palast claims, that with the US energy vultures circling over the UK market, the UK goverment rolled over, waved its legs in air and waited for the energy speculators, including the now infamous Enron, to come a tickling and all, pretty much, as a favour to Tony’s new best friend, Bill; and less than 15 months after taking up office at the DTI (27 July 1998, to be precise), Margaret Beckett got a change of scenary - all the way to the parliamentary backwater of Leader of the House - so that a new minister could be put in place, one who genuine understood the importance of keeping on Bill’s good side…
*Powergen got approval for its takeover of East Midlands Electricity on 22 September 1998 and shortly afterwards handed Enron a waiver allowing them to get to work on building gas-fired power stations before ditch the moratorium on development, that had held up Enron’s plans, altogether shortly afterwards.
Can this really be true?
Could it really have been the case that mere months after taking office and promising to be ‘whiter than white’ and ‘purer that pure’, US corporate interest in the wholesale takeover of Britain’s electricity industry plus the hard word from Slick Willie effectively determined not only UK energy policy but the outcome of a cabinet reshuffle?
All one can really say is that, with hindsight, Palast’s story looks less and less implausible the more that information emerges about the nature of the government’s dealings with big business over the last nine years - nor, indeed, would it be the only time in which a Minister of State for Trade and Industry found themselves sacrificed to appease the interests of big business as much the same fate befell Tony Benn in 1975, when he was demoted from Trade and Industry to Energy after having campaigned against membership of the EEC in that year’s referendum, for which he attracted the ire of the then largely pro-EU business community.
The Powergen and other energy deals are by no means the only allegation arising out of Palast’s ‘Lobbygate’ investigations.
Of more direct relevance to the matter of Prescott and the Dome, Palast claims that at around the same time that Enron and friends were sniffing around the UK emergy market, Prescott’s department, which was then called the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, was giving serious consideration to a new tax on supermarket car parks that, had it been taken forward, would have cost Tesco around £20million - not a huge amount compared to the kind of profits that Tesco rakes in these days but, according Palast, enough to motivate them to go looking for a better deal.
And that, Palast alleges is exactly what they got - no new tax on car parks in return for a one-off £11 million sponsorship deal with… guess what..?
Yes, you guessed it, the Millennium Dome. And to make things a little more interesting, Palast even claims that the wording in a government white paper which effectively spiked any prospect of a tax on supermarket car parks was almost identical to wording put forward by lobbyists working for Tesco and that, by extension, Tesco were actually writing government policy on this issue.
One other interesting point emerges out this particular story, as Palast also conveys the impression that Prescott wasn’t exactly operating as his own man in this particular alleged deal and that if a deal really was struck between Tesco and the government then the deal-maker lay elsewhere with instructions being passed on to Prescott by special policy advisers attached to number 10.
And then there’s the big one… Murdoch.
Over the last ten years, the New Labour project has enjoyed a measure of open support and largess from the Murdoch media empire that would have been frankly unthinkable at any time in the previous 20 years. The Sun, for example, began life in 1964 as a replacement for the Labour-supporting Daily Herald, and started out as mid-market left-of-centre daily which never really took off, before being sold to Rupert Murdoch by IPC/Mirror Group in 1969 - Murdoch then relaunched the paper as a tabloid, which remained nominally supportive of Labour, although generally agnostic during the two election campaigns of 1974, before switching over to the Tories on Thatcher’s ascendancy to the leadership of the party in 1975.
For a little over 20 years, from 1975 until it declared for Blair in 1996, The Sun was solidly Tory, building up its reputation as the paper that could swing a general election on the back of calling, correctly, the outcome of the 1992 general election, which Labour had been expected to win by a fairly narrow margin right up to polling day - although whether this is more a matter of correlation implies causation than any real influence on the outcome of the election is rather more open to question when one considers that one the only other occasions that is reported on elections that were markedly too close to call - both in 1974 - it kept a deliberately low profile and avoiding nailing its political colours to the mast. However one views this, the Sun had no problem in trading on its perceived influence over the outcome of the 1992 election, declaring openly that ‘IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT’, nor did Murdoch have any difficulty, according to Palast, in turning this reputation into leverage when it came to dealing with Blair and the New Labour project.
So what was the deal? What did Murdoch get in return for ditching Major’s lame duck premiership back in 1996 and taking up with Blair, Labour young pretender?
Well, again according to Palast, concessions in two key piece of legislation, both of which could have had a significant impact on Murdoch’s business interests in the UK.
The first of these to hit the statute books was the Competition Act 1998. Back in 1997, Murdoch could easily have found himself in a bit of bind as the competition regulators of the day begain to take more and more interest in Murdoch’s alleged predatory pricing practices. However, according the Palast, the word was passed down to Rupert, via a firm of lobbyists with close connections to the freshly-minted New Labour regime, that any such problems could easily be made to go away by means of a bit of legislative legerdemain inth eupcoming Competition Bill - provide, of course, that Murdoch’s various UK media interest made sure to make the just the right kind of supportive noise about the Blair government by way of return. And since then who ca say that Murdoch hasn’t led a bit of a charmed life when it comes to avoiding the attention of the UK competition regulators. Consider the extent to which Murdoch’s Sky ‘empire’ has been constructed on the back of its acquiring exclusive and near-exclusive rights to key live sporting events, from Premiership football to England Test Matches, the latter being, at one time, on the DCMS’s list of protected events that had to be available to terrestrial networks… and now consider that it took intervention from the EU competition regulators, not those int he UK. to begin to break up Sky’s monopoly over live Premiership football.
Coincidence? You decide…
*Oh, and I should mention. for my Labour readership, that the firm of lobbyists which Palast claim acted as the go-between between the government and Murdoch was one LLM - Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn to give it its full name. I doubt very much that I need to giving anyone a compass to help the work out who the ‘Lawson’ is in this case…
The second Act on which Palast alleges that Blair traded legislative content for guaranteed support from Murdoch is one that is likely to be far more controversial for Labour supporters - the Employment Act 1999, and specifically the sections dealing with Trade Union recognition, which Palast alleges were toned down to suit Murdoch’s interests, not least that of keeping the unions out of his controversial Wapping plant.
To be fair, Palast’s account of these alleged deals does, at least, portray them as ones in which Labour drove a bargain with Murdoch not just by offering concessions but on the back of threats that they could make life rather more difficult for dear old Rupert with both the competition and union recognition legislation if he didn’t play ball and wound up backing the losing side - but then that’s not really the point, is it. Not when Palast is claiming that important pieces of legislation, including one that goes right to the heart of the Labour movement and its relationship with the Trade Unions, were written specifically to suit, or at least not interfere with, the interests of a media tycoon who was in a position to - maybe, possibily - influence the outcome of future general elections and the party’s prospects of hanging on to power.
If Palast is on the money, then within this government’s first two years in office it rewrote the UK’s energy policy and altered the post-privatisation competition regulations on the energy sector introduced by the Tories, largely at the behest of a US President with a clear and present interest in keeping some of past campaign funders sweet, did a u-turn on a proposed new tax in return for a big name sponsor for the Dome and traded concessions on two flagship pieces of legislation, one of which goes right to the heart of the Labour movement and its relationship with the trade unions in return for the guaranteed largesse of the biggest media tycoon in the UK market.
Now wind forward three or four years and we have a new Mr President, Bush the 41st’s favoured son, and a whole new set of US corporate interests - and major campaign funders - eyeing up the UK as the Europe’s soft moral underbelly on gambling - and when Big Casino calls, the Bush family is always happy to lend a helping hand. In 1998, Mirage Casino Corporation were having a few difficulties in getting a licence to operate in Argentina, until Poppy Bush made a few calls to his old buddy, Argentine President, Carlos Menem.
And so it can to pass that Mirage got its licence, and Bush 41 claimed - truthfully - that he had no direct interest in this deal.. and a short while later a nice fat cheque for over $400,000 dollars dropped accidently into Republican party coffers…
Remember God helps those who help themselves - and the Bush family help itself to an estimated $450 million in order to fund the favoured son’s run for the Presidency - and that’s a hell of a lost of quid pro quo to cover in a mere eight years.
Yes, the government’s dealing with Phil Anschutz and beyond, with the other big US and Australian casino interests sniffing around after a slice of the UK market, has many of the elements that Palast identified during his ‘Lobbygate’ investigations - major corporate interests who also happen to have been major donors to the current US president’s political campaign funds and, in Anschutz’s case, to a series of other right-wing ultra-conservative causes dear to Bush 43’s heart; the Millennium Dome and even a Murdoch connection - Anschutz hired Murdoch’s son-in-law, Matthew Freud, to take care of his PR needs while making his run to take over the Dome and, latterly, to shoehorn a resort casino into the whole project.
After what you’ve just read in regards to Palast’s Lobbygate investigations as ask yourself this - if Palast is anywhere close to the truth, is it such a reach to think that the UK government may have got to by the US gambling lobby in much the same way?
However, one needn’t think that such weighty issues have caused the government to forget some of its other interests closer to home.
Take a look at the shortlist for the one big resort casino licence; the Dome, Wembley Stadium, Glasgow, Manchester, Blackpool, Sheffield, Cardiff and Newcastle… but for odd electoral aberration - mainly Sarah Teather - each and every one of the players who’re still in the game for the big one looks very much as if it would generally regarded as natural Labour territory. Remember, one of the requirement for bidders for the super casino licence was that they demostrate how their bid ties in to a wider regeneration project - not so much ’show me the money’ as ’show me how a big a pork barrel you have to put on the table’…
Those of you who may be more than a little concerned at the possible social cost of these new casinos might also like to note that amongst the various applications forwarded to the Casino Advisory Panel one finds comments such as this one (from the Newcastle bid):
there appears to be evidence for a relatively high propensity to gamble in Newcastle and the North East, and growth in participation in casino gaming. The local catchment shows around 50 per cent higher overall gambling propensity compared to the UK as a whole. Market penetration in the North East/ Yorkshire region was 4 per cent compared with a 5 per cent estimate for the UK;
data from the UK Gambling Commission supports the view that the North region has a growing market. Regional “drop” per year is higher than any other provincial region, and while average spend per customer is lower than the UK average, growth over the past three years has been high; and
deregulation is expected to result in a broadening of the appeal of casinos, driving further growth in attendance levels and market penetration rates. Lessons from other deregulated markets support the argument that higher penetration of the market can be achieved, with around 25% in the USA, 20% in South Africa and 10% in Australia.
Whoo-hoo - there’s gold in them thar Geordies… I do like that phrase - there appears to be evidence for a relatively high propensity to gamble in Newcastle and the North East - yeah, there’s a sucker born every minute and we look like we’ve got more of a share of them than most.
Although of perhaps greater interest are the persistant complaints by anti-gambling campaigners that the government’s Casino Advisory Panel are refusing to consider what it refers to as ‘generic’ evidence about the social costs of gambling - which is, in the main, evidence of the impact of large resprt casinos on addiction rates, debt and other social problems from the US, South Africa and Australia - even though they appear to have no problem considering ‘generic’ evidence about market penetration rates from those same countries.
Let’s put this back into cash terms to make it a a touch easier to understand the sacle of what we’re dealing with here - in 2005, Britain’s 138 heavily regulated casino’s to a ‘drop’ (i.e stakes) of £4.1 billion and a ‘house win’ (gaming profit) of £715 million on an estimated 5% market penetation - and that’s without any revenues from what will be the big moneyspinner for Britain’s first resort casino, the banks of fixed odds gambling terminals and unlimited cash prize slot machines - just imagine what the take will be if, in future, these new casinos take us anywhere close to the 15-25% market penetration found overseas.
And then consider just what kind of revenues the government can expect from claiming VAT on the take from gamin machines and up to 40% of gaming revenue from other casino activities - not to the mention the 15% kickback that English Partnerships will get if ‘Honest Phil’ gets his casino at the dome.
Rather put the whole business of loans for peerages and casinos for cowboy outfits into a very different light, don’t you think.
Back to La Toynbee for a final comment, and the one of the question she asks in her article…
…how do you pay for democracy when voters despise politics and won’t join parties?
Well who says parties are the only way to have democracy - other than the parties themselves - and why should the taxpayer be required to pay for a system that many believe to be fundamentally corrupt and rotten to the core…
…with good reason, if Greg Palast’s work is anything to go by…
Freedom of Information?
Got a major post in the pipeline on loans for peerages, casinos for cowboy outfits and a few odds and ends of alleged governmental dodgy dealing, which I’ll probably be able to post later tonight but in the mean time, how about one of those ‘did you know’ questions…
Did you know that a search on They Work For You for the phrase ‘could be provided only at disproportionate cost’ as in:
The information is not held in the format requested and could be provided only at disproportionate cost
This information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
This information is not readily available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
Or just generally, as in
Piss off, we’re not answering your question, you nosey little scrote…
…appears in Hansard in answers to written questions to ministers (in both Houses) on no less than 1,055 occasions between 7 December 2004 and today, but not once before that first date.
If I can work up the energy at some point I may just try to generate a break down by department to see preciely which ones come up at the top of the pile when it comes to avoiding the question…
There you go, that’s FOIA at work…
Life, the BNP and everything - well a few things anyway
Within the Labour movement, I think we can take it as read that we all understand the importance of tackling racist political partieshead on - you know exactly who I mean; that’s something we can all agree on, I should think, even if we sometimes differ in our preferred approach.
For example, there are many who still try and hold to the idea of ‘No Platform’, a tactic that I long ago concluded was ultimately counterproductive as efforts to ’silence’ the National Front, BNP and others and prevent then getting their message out only serve to contribute to the false mystique they try to create around their appaling ideas and values in order to convey the impression that they are somehow dealing in ‘forbidden knowledge’ rather than errant, pig-ignorant, bullshit.
‘No platform’ also leaves us wide open to the charge that we are censorious and acting as the enemy of free speech, sometimes with some considerable justification, and all too easily leads us into hypocrisy. During last year’s general election campaign, Unite Against Fascism tried to organise an e-mail/letter writing campaign against the BBC over a party electionbroadcast by the BNP, before it had been shown, ignoring the fact that as long as the BNP stuck to the rules governing such broadcasts, the BBC had no right to refuse to show it because the BNP were entitled to it under laws governing the conduct of General Elections.
As I recall, between that and my distaste for the party’s actions in Blaenau Gwent, I got into a minor spat with another Labour blogger, Jo Salmon, becaused I’d referred to a couple fo her posts to illustrate the points that I was trying make - giving her the impression that somehow I didn’t like her on a personal level when it was simply the case that I didn’t agree with her views on those specific matters. I must admit that I don’t think I even got around to apologising to her for the misunderstanding, so if she does spot this then, sorry, there really was nothing personal about my comments.
There are two mains reasons why I disagreed with attempts to complain about the BNP election broadcast before the fact.
First, its far to easy to hypocritical in adopting tactics of that kind - how can we credibily deride a drooling idiot like Stephen Green, of Christian Voice, for his artificially engineered and spurious, sight-unseen, protests over the BBC’s broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera only then to do the very same thing at the first sign of a BNP election broadcast. You can’t have it both ways, I’m afraid, either you accept that the right of free expression dictates that’s the BBC may sometimes broadcast material that you dislike, even to the point at which you consider that material to be entirely reprehensible, or you accept that even the most half-baked special interest group has a right to to try to dictate what we see and hear simply by throwing a public hissy-fit, without their deserving to be criticised for their tactics.
You simply cannot, in my view, have one rule for us and a different one for other groups or political parties without looking like a bunch of hypocrites.
Second, it has always struck me that complaining about something you haven’t seen is just not an intelligent way of going about things - if you are going to criticise and complain, then you should at least know what it is you’re actually complaining about.
As it stood, and having seen the BNP’s efforts, there was nothing really to complained about, unless you wanted to tell the Beeb that it was load of rubbish.
It wasn’t offensive at all, it was just a crap piece of television, so bad, in fact, that it well deserves to be included in one of those ‘Most Embarassing TV moments’ list shows that Channel 4 and Five put out when they’ve nothing better to show and should comfotably occupy a place near the top of the list alongside Richard Madeley’s Ali G impression* and John Redwood’s stirring rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, it really was that cringeworthy. It’s central premise, a sad, faux, tale of a homeless ex-serviceman let down by the system - to the accompanyment of a fifth-rate bit of Ralph McTell-ery written by Nick Griffin, also turned out to be hopelessly out of date - we’d already made changes to housing regulations two years earlier to provide additional support to ex-servicemen to address the very issue that the BNP were trying to hang this part of their election campaing on.
*Madeley, it seems, cannot help but make an arse of himself, as evidenced by his bringing his Ali G accent out of retirement in a recent interview with a Geordie women who unecpectedly developed a Jamaican accent after having a stroke… subtle as ever, eh…
My view, whether you agree with it or not, is that the very idea of ‘no platform’ has run its course and has no real value other than to bolster feelings of moral superiority amongst some of its supporters, and although I’m certainly not suggesting we should ever go out of our way to hand the BNP a platform for their views, what I am suggesting is that its time we looked closely at our own tactics and realised that simply trying to silence the far-right and prevent them putting their message out not only isn’t going to work but too often ends up working against us.
Where we nned to go from here is not ‘no platform’ but ‘no platform should go unchallenged’ - let them say what they want to say, just don’t let their views go unchallenged and take every opportunity possible to expose them for who and what they are. It’s time for us to stop pretending that we can simply moralise the BNP out of existance, get right up in their faces and take them on.
Here, I agree entirely with Jo’s remarks in the comments to this recent post of hers:
…If we are to defeat the BNP and other groups like them, then we need to counter their lies all day, every day - and we also need to counter their racism.
No more “are you thinking what we’re thinking” campaigns, no more pandering to the right on immigration instead of standing up for people’s rights.
We need to be positive about immigration, positive about multiculturalism and positive about asylum. We should be proud of the fact that so many people want to come here to work and live, and proud of the fact that the UK is viewed as somewhere safe, a great place to start again.
In short, we need positive messages to counter the fear and resentment and consequent xenophobia that is at the heart of any campaign run by BNP.
To which I should also add two other things we should be doing.
First, we need to start treating their councillors very much as we would any other political opponent from any other party and pay close and detailed attention to their record in office. It’s already a matter of record that a fair number of BNP councillors just aren’t up to the job - at least one has stood down and admitted that simply didn’t understand what to do as a councillor - and we certainly do need to make the most of that and expose their incompetance at every turn.
If they don’t turn up for meetings, can’t understand voting and other procedures, the terms and conditions under which they’re handed a publicly-funded website or their legal duties as a councillor or if they simply contribute nothing to work of the council, then we should ensure that their constituents are made aware of their failings at every opportunity. Don’t get complacent and think we can just save all this up for an election leaflet, keep the flow of information going throughout the year - drip, drip, drip - all the time getting over the message that a vote for the BNP is a wasted vote, because when they’re given the chance of public office, they cannot deliver.
The second thing we should be doing is looking beyond their racist views at some of the other ideas and values that many of them hold. It’s easy to focus too much on the racist side of the BNP as its such an easy and tempting target, and forget that their views of other groups are equally prurient and reprehensible. While researching the activities of Sandwell BNP councillor, Simon Smith, in his guise as Stormfront poster, Steve Freedom, what stood out most wasn’t the obvious racism/anti-Semitism of his views - that I fully expected - but the all to obvious misogyny of some his comments, for all that he harbours much the same ‘Brunhilde/Boadicea’ fantasies as some of the other posters.
Many of those who voted BNP not for ideological/political reasons but because they were ’seduced’ either by their attacks on immigration or out of dissatisfaction with our perceived failure to address the needs of the working class, will have been women, and I wonder how many would appreciate views like this…
There are two types of men. Those who will fight and those who won’t. Our cause depends on men primarily but not exclusively, in these "early" days, where the virtue of courage is necessary.
With regard to women. There are three types:
1) Those who won’t "fight"/support under any circumstances
2) Those who will give genuine feminine and natural support to their Nationalist husband.
3) Boadicea types who, with very few exceptions are better than many of the best men. These are women for whom the entire race is their child.
IMHO WN men make the mistake of looking for a Boadicea type, woman (3) when they should be looking for woman (2). Women generally have to be lead by a strong man (to be happy).
Some may hold strong religious beliefs or, particular amongst older people, retain vivid memories of their family’s involvement in fighting Naziism during the Second World War, in which case what do you think they might make of something like this?
Away from the seemingly (?) need to disassociate oneself from Christ or Hitler depending on whether one wishes not to regarded as a “”Jesus freak” or a “Nazi”, both men have been great influential world leaders. I grew up with the Christian faith and whilst rejecting the established church ,( not describing myself as a “Christian” other than in the general sense of performing a “Christian action" etc), the sayings of Jesus Christ are as quotable as Shakespeare ,Plato or Jefferson.
The Internet has been a great source of knowledge about Adolph Hitler for me. I’ve read the first couple of chapters of Mein Kampf and can’t find anything I disagree with ! I think even now, White Nationalists may be apprehensive about coming to close appreciating Adolph Hitler – In my mind a very courageous and truthful man. I suppose there may be a great fear about identifying with anything Hitler said, the argument being that it could set the movement backwards – perhaps the only thing that will push the “Movement” forward in the long run is the Truth – unpalatable and uncomfortable as it maybe.
These are some comparisons that came to mind between Jesus Christ and Adolph Hitler..:
Simon thinks Hitler ‘a very courageous and truthful man’ as well as considering that there are comparsons between him and Jesus - he goes on to list thirteeen in total - I wonder how many of those who voted for him are likely to see things in quite the same way?
There’s rather more to the BNP than just racism - if Simon’s anything to go by, some are just intent on pissing just about everyone off - so we need to put over a better balanced message, one that doesn’t focus exclusively on race but which takes in the full range of appalling views and values one finds amongst its members, especially when one finds comments like this…
I’d certainly agree with the notion that "holocaust denial" as you put it, should be avoided amongst Joseph and Josephine Public.. but then again anything that challenges the average attention span should be as well…
…We can expect to engage the more articulate, intelligent and educated on Stormfront.
A real question for White Nationalist politics is :
Do we educate, or increase political influence by taking on board White ignorance ? (i.e. Playing along with the "Muslim Hijacker" paradigm.)
Or, to put it another way…
Hey, voter. You’re too stupid to be told what we really believe…
What we desperately need to take note of, in addition, are the points raised by Chris Dillow - also in reference to Jo’s comments…
My fear - and I’d like to be proved wrong - is that the Labour party is in no position to heed this call. There are four reasons for this, two tactical and two philosophical.
1. Median voter theory. This says political parties win votes by moving towards the voters’ median position. In this case, this means accommodating racist sentiments, not combating them. Put it this way. In the areas where the BNP is challenging Labour, would Labour really want to take a pro-immigrant stance and fight voters’ racism directly? Or wouldn’t a better vote-winning strategy be to pander a little to the racists, by "listening to their concerns"?
2. The politics of machismo. For reasons best understood by psychotherapists, politicians feel the need to play the hard man, to pretend they’re in control. So they prefer macho talk about fighting illegal immigration. Take this from Liam Byrne. Where’s the positive messages about immigration?
3. Libertarianism. The strongest argument for immigration is the libertarian one - that people have a right to live where they want and employ whom they want. Such talk of liberty, though, would come uneasily from a party as illiberal as New Labour.
4. Public services. One of the main reasons for antipathy towards immigrants is the "strain they put upon public services" such as housing; the argument that immigrants worsen the labour market prospects of indigenous workers is easily tackled. A pro-immigrant party would remove this source of complaint. But to do so requires us to face an unpleasant fact - that public services are unresponsive to needs; their supply is inelastic. Labour wouldn’t want to draw attention to this.
For those of us on the ‘libertarian’/anti-authoritarian left, it is constant source of frustration, even bewilderment at times, to see what are ostensibly party colleagues from the Blairite fringe consistantly failing to recognise and appreciate the full implications for the party of the last nine years of constant parliamentary pissing contests with the Tories on Home Office policy and legislation.
To spell it out in simple terms, our policies in government have now shifted so far out to the right in some areas that, come the next election, Cameron will be in a position to position not only position himself a little to the left of where we are now and, more importantly, lay claim to the ‘moral’ high ground across large swatches of civil liberties issues, from fast-track extraditions to the US to Identity Cards and the database state but, to cap it all, should the Tories win the next election, they’ll also inherent a massive package of authoritarian legislation the like of which they could only ever dream of, going right back to the Thatcher years, legislation of a kind they could never have hoped of passing themselves, while in office, due to their reputation as ‘the nasty party’.
It’s a wonder that the likes of Michael Howard et al manage to keep a straight face in the Commons’ chamber as they watch a Labour government systematically hand them all the policies and legislation they always wanted but were never trusted to have.
As a party, can we honestly say that we’re comfortable with that thought, that we’re likely to be going into a future general election against a Tory party that looks and sounds as if its actually more ‘liberal’ in some its attitudes than we are?
How do we tackle that situation?
Do we try to kid the electorate with the line that they’re still the same old Tories underneath? That may well be true, but can we really take it as read that the electorate will buy into that as a campaign idea, given the abject failure of the Tory’s past efforts to play out that line on us - remember the ‘demon eyes’ poster? That really worked well for them, didn’t it?
Actually, it pretty obvious what ou approach is likely to be given, given the ‘hug-a-hoodie’ jibes directed at David Cameron over the last week.
Okay, so Cameron’s got no actual policies to back any of this up, just the usual wittering on about the wonders of local charities, which is no different to anything that we’ve been saying for quite a while - although it does prove that, like us, he hasn;t got the first fucking clue what most local charities are actually like - and even if he had put some actual policy content into his speech, my own reaction, and that of many other party members, would be distinctly sceptical - talk is cheap, after all, what matters is whether he oculd really deliver.
But hang, look again at what he’s actually been saying?
That many of the problems affecting communities arise out of thing’s like poverty and deprivation, alienation, family breakdowns and a whole host of other social ills, and that somewhere in all this many of the young people being derided in the media as ‘hoodies’ - yeah, sure, we should all be shit-scared of sweat-shirts - actually need a bit of help and support.
And we respond to that to taking the piss?
If you want to take a shot at Cameron because you think he’s being insincere, playing to the press gallery or trying to pick a fight with the old Tory floggers and hangers to get his ‘clause 4 moment’, then be my guest and fire away…
…but just think about what you’re saying for a minute and the impression that conveys.
Doesn’t the term ‘hug-a-hoodie’ just buy into and reinformed all the prejudices and febrile ravings of the Daily Mail/Express set? What kind of message does that send? Suppose Cameron’s speech had been about tackling social justice problems in minority communities - would you be happily writing that off as ‘hug-a-paki’ or ‘hug-a-nigger’?
I fucking well hope not!
Does it not give party members pause for thought to see a Labour Prime Minister citing Thomas Hobbes as authority when launching his ‘Respect Agenda’…
From the theorists of the Roman state to its fullest expression in Hobbes’s Leviathan, the central question of political theory was just this: how do we ensure order? And what are the respective roles of individuals, communities and the state?
Or constantly bastardising Isaiah Berlin’s concept of ‘two liberties’ (which was derived, in turn, from the work of JS Mill to justify more and more state intrusion and control over citizens’ lives…
10 Downing Street
23 October 1997
I very much enjoyed your interview with Steven Lukes in Prospect this month. I hope you don’t mind me following up with a letter asking your thoughts.
The brief discussion in the interview of the relationship between your two concepts of liberty is, I think, illuminating. The limitations of negative liberty are what have motivated generations of people to work for positive liberty, whatever its depradations [sic] in the Soviet model. That determination to go beyond laissez-faire continues to motivate people today. And it is in that context that I would be interested in your views on the future of the Left.
You seem to be saying in the interview that because traditional socialism no longer exists, there is no Left. But surely the Left over the last 200 years has been based on a value system, predating the Soviet model and living on beyond it. As you say, the origins of the Left lie in opposition to arbitrary authority, intolerance and hierarchy. The values remain as strong as ever, but no longer have a ready made vehicle to take them forward. That seems to me to be today’s challenge. Political economy has been transformed over the last 25 years, and it is here that there is a great deal of work to be done. But there remains action, too, to devolve political power and to build a more egalitarian community.
So reconstruction, yes, but the end no!
I would be interested in your further views on the current situation, its historical place and significance, and the prospects for renewal.
All good wishes.
*The Lukes interview cited above appeared in Prospect and was a reprint of an interview given at least five years previously to a different publication, a fact that Prospect neglected to mention alongside the article. Blair’s letter arrived shortly before Berlin’s death - he was too ill at the time to reply and so Blair never did get Berlin’s views on ‘the current situation, its historical place and significance, and the prospects for renewal’. Had Berlin been able to reply and being a dialogue with Blair he would, no doubt, have forcefully expressed his concerns as to the political dangers inherent in the concept of positive liberty, not least his view that there is an elective affinity between positive liberty and political totalitarianism.
All forms of tampering with human beings, getting at them, shaping them against their will to your own pattern, all thought control and conditioning is, therefore, a denial of that in men which makes them men and their values ultimate. - Isaiah Berlin
With hindsight one cannot help but wonder quite what might have emerged had Blair been able to pursue his desired dialogue with Berlin, although one suspects from Blair’s obvious interest in the ‘limitations of negative liberty’ at the outset that he would almost certainly have been disappointed with Berlin’s response to his enquiry. What can be said, however, is that over the last 5-6 years, Blair has certainly provided ample proof to support Berlin’s contention that the concept of positive liberty is all too easily used, and abused by government to justify authoritarian attitudes, values and policies and ever-increasing state control over the lives of citizens - not that I think Berlin would have been gratified to see that proof supplied so close to home.
- - -
There is, however, rather more at stake here than merely the vindication of the work of a noted philosopher.
Since winning the election, last year, the government, a Labour government, has appeared to lurch from one foul-up to the next while all the time doing its utmost ot avoid even the merest hint of accountability for its actions.
It’s been scandal after scandal - if one is to take the media at face value.
Loans for peerages. Casinos for cowboy outfits. Too many immigrants, so its claimed. Foreign prisoners getting released and not deported when the should be - as if most of them are any more dangerous that our own home grown criminals. Sentences too short - who wote the sentencing guidelines? (Hint: not the judges). Dangerous offenders paroled too soon. A terrorist attack (and no public inquiry). An extra-judical shooting (and no one seemingly likely to be held to account). A hopelessly one-sided extradition treaty that, as Owen points out, will stay just as one-sided, even if the US ratify it. Internement and house arrest and dodgy deals on deporting alleged terrorists to countries where the torturers art remains in high demand. Turning a blind eye to ‘extraordinary rendition’ - or kidnapping as is should be called if you take away the euphemisms.
The list goes on and on and on…
At what point in all this do we, as party members, turn around and say, ‘Enough!’
Why do we stand against fascist parties like the BNP? Because there’s something in it for us? Because we get a little more out of it and scape that little bit further up the greasy pole to the top?
No, we do it a matter of principle, because fascism stands against everything we believe in… and so we put up a fight.
And if we can do that there, why can we not carry those principles through to other issue, not least the conduct of those who most visibly represent (allegedly) our interests and values?
Reading the feeds on Blogger 4 Labout over the last few months, one of the most dispiriting things one encounters is the seeming willingness of some Labour bloggers not only to turn a blind eye to our own party’s failings but, in some cases (and I won’t name names here) to openly try and defend the indefensible.
Blair’s personal fundraiser/ fixer, Lord Levy, gets his collar felt and how do some respond? By claiming that this is all just a bit of theatrics by a bunch of on-the-make coppers.
Never mind that the underlying accusation here is that our own party has used the honours system, which we are supposed to be against anyway, as a means of filling party coffers from the back-pockets of self-interested millionaires - that’s not something we should be concerned about as party members is it?
And even if it turns out that the Police cannot make a charge stick against Levy or anyone else caught up in all this, none of that removes the simple fact that having promised to make party funding more open, honest and transparent on coming into office, and worse still, having changed the rules on disclosure of donations supposedly to that very end, we then get caught side-stepping the very same rules that we created.
And the excuse for that? Well, the Tories were doing the exact same thing… so what! Since when did start judging our values by Tory standards - and don’t come the smartarse and reply 1994…
Same with Prescott - oh that’s all a right-wing plot, its his personal life and nothing to do with his political office, oh and its just the usual establishment snobbery as well…
Try looking again a bit more closely and that not the issue at all - the issue is that it looks for all the world as if oru policy on the liberalisation of gambling laws has been written by a small bunch of high-stakes casino operators and has only come unstuck when parliament put its democratic oar into things.
Where, I have to wonder, are the Christian socialists on this one? They seem awfully quiet of late, don’t they - so much for their contribution to the moral character of the party…
Look even more closely at this one - I have - and just look at who we’re doing business with here and on what terms.
We’ve a eight ‘horse’ race for the one uber-casino licence we could get though parliament - one that’s entirely fair, transparent and above board…
…just as long as you ignore the fact that one of the runners will be paying the government a 15% kickback on casino profits if they get the licence thanks to the deal they pulled off when taking on the Millenium Dome - or alternatively cutting out half what they planned to put in to the deal if they don;t get it, if you prefer to look at it that way around. Oh, and you also need to ignore the fact that this same runner has been having regular meetings with both Prescott and with ministers from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport - which just so happens to the department responsible for casino licencing - as well as just happening to run across the same guy at a dinner party organised by his PR consultant.
Oh, and did I mention this is guy who paid $4 million to the New York State Attorney General to avoid getting charged over a little bout of IPO spinning that netted him $5 million, whose one-time telecoms company was up to its arse in the MCI Worldcom crash, although he was never personally fingered after the US authorities bought into his ‘I know nothing’ defence. He’s also the same guy to tried to get rid of some his home state’s equality laws - the one’s covering the gay community - and one of guys who finances the Discovery Institute, which promotes the psuedo-theory of ‘intelligent design’ - its a wonder he hasn;t been offer an academy or two with that track record.
And if that’s not enough, what about his partner the in casino deal - the one who created the Sun City resort and allegedly bribed the government of Transkei in effort to get exclusivity on gambling in their territory and was then sheilded from prosecution by South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Is all that a right-wing plot by a couple of Tory bloggers? Open your eyes, for fuck’s sake.
Much of the time, its not even the big headline stuff that should be setting the alarm bells ringing…
We’ve got at least one NEC candidate who’s been mouthing off about ‘party discipline’ and how we should be cracking down on any sign that we have members who display an unfortunate tendancy to exhibit signs of having a mind of their own - guess who won’t be getting my vote, BTW.
Still, I do have to wonder quite what some of our more disciplinarian Labour bloggers make of this, which appeared today…
For the first time, in over a year of writing this blog, I have received my first ever complaint.
For anyone reading the site earlier today, a rather humourless MP has threatened to take legal action unless I remove a post that mentioned his office.
Although I stand by what I said, I have no intention of a) upsetting people b) being involved in a long legal dispute - so I have removed the ‘offending’ article.
I note the MP has ‘reported me to the Chief Whip under new PLP rules’. Oh dear, oh dear.
I’ve not seen the ‘offending post, but from the comments it appears that this is nothing more than a piece of petty bullying by a humourless tosser with a bit of added ‘overkill’ - I note the MP has ‘reported me to the Chief Whip under new PLP rules’.
And then there’s the stuff you don’t see because it goes on out of sight and out of mind, where only us ordinary members on the frontline get to see it.
I can’t give details, for obvious reasons, but over this last week I’ve been dealing on of the byproducts of the good old ‘Respect Agenda’…
a mixed-race family who’re on the fact track to losing their home under an ASB-related eviction as a result of a series of piss-poor complaints from neighbours many of which are obviously racialy-motivated, if only you bother to investigate this properly.
But then their situation is being being investigated properly because its shunted by the landlord - an RSL - into the hands of a supposed firm of ASB ‘enforcement specialists’ who’ve already decided that this family is the problem and, having put them on the fast-track to eviction - isn’t going to back off for anything quite to unimportant as the truth.
*Must mention that this firm of ‘ASB enforcement specialists’ appears to provide no information about their background and no means of contacting them other than a mobile phone number. There’s no record of them with Companies House, no listing for an office in the phone book or yellow pages, no website - not even a PO Box on their letter - and certainly nothing to confirm that they’re in any way adequately qualified to carry out the work they’re doing. For I can find out about them, they could easily be a one-man-band operating out of council flat - and yet they appear to operating more or less independently of the RSL that employs them to the extent that when this family contacted their landlord about the notice they received, the manager the spoke to hadn’t even got a fucking clue what they were talking about to begin with.
Before crowing about how wonderful all this fast-track summary justice and ASBO crap is, maybe people want to see what’s actually going on first hand, out here in the real world - at the effect it has on ordinary people’s lives when the system decides that they’re the problem even when there’ substantive evidence to back such view.
I really wish I could give you the whole story, but I can’t - not with eviction proceeding pending, but what I can say is amongst the ‘complaints’ cited on the notice they’ve been issued are allegations that gave a neighbour ‘dirty looks’ and that they were ‘lauging and mocking’ a visitor to that neighbour - no mention at all that these ‘incidents’ took place while they were being subjected to racial harassment by the the complainant, or that the family making the complaint had, themselves, been evicted for causing verious problems (including racial harassment), or that the first this family were aware of these complaints (which are three years old) was when they read the notice-seeking possession.
And you want to know what the sickest joke is, in all this? The next item listed on the notice after these complaints alleges that they caused a nuisance by asking a neighbour who witnessed one of these incidents if they would be willing to provide a witness statement, after the family had reported the incident to the police!
Actually, that not the sickest joke - that signal honour belongs to the system and the fact that this family stand a fair chance of being evicted because it allows hearsay evidence like this to be presented in court - oh and the fact that because this family receives working families tax credit, they’re not eligible for legal aid, so the fact they can’t afford to pay a solicitor to defend them puts them even further up shit-creek.
In fact, the only saving grace here - their one paddle - is the incompetence of this so-called ASB enforcement speciallist, whose managed to issue them with the wrong notice - one that does not apply to the kind of tenancy they are actually under.
Anyone feeling quite so proud of our achievements in introducing ASBOs and fast-track evictions now?
Some of you, I’m sure, will look at this an think this case is just a one-off - not our fault, its all down to the incompetence of the people dealing with this case…
…except that it is our fault. It our policies that made this sorry-ass situation possible, which have taken away the one solid defence this couple would have had against the malicious complaints that might just cost them their home - a fair and equitable system of justice which demand proof beyond reasonable doubt adn evidence based on facts not uncooroborated hearsay…
I should point out that the actual reason all this is happening to this family is that they’ve recently been hit by a new series of malicious complaints from a new neighbour who - by strange coincidence - has also previously been through the ASB system for casuing nuisance at their previous address and also has a history - so its alleged - of involvement in racial harassment. The trigger for all this was dispute with the neighbour over a high-fence that the neighbour put up with notice or permission from the landlord, which the neighbour then had to remove after this family complained.
That;s something else, BTW, that the ASB enforcement specialist dealing with this doesn’t appear to have noticed either…
I suppose at least you can’t say that the system we put in doesn’t provide some people with a learning experience, because some of them clearly seem to learning real quickly how to work the inadequacies and iniquities of the system to fuck over their new neighbours.
I’ve covered a lot of ground here, I know - from fighting the BNP, past ‘hug-a-hoodie’ and flogging the odd peerage or two through to ASBOs and evictions, but rest assured there is a theme here, an underlying thread which ties all this together.
In the not too distant future its going to be all change at the top of the party and thoughts have long since turned to the end of the Blair era and where we go on from here…
…and with that in mind and in view of everything I’ve written and everything that’s gone on of late I’d like to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we need to get back to a situation where we actually know what we fucking well believe in as a party and then start acting on those beliefs once again - because if all we give a shit about is power for its own fucking sake the the Labour Party and everything it ever stood for is dead in the fucking water - fourth term or no fourth term…
Read this piece by Emily at Second Child Syndrome - just read it, check my comment on it and see if you feel the same as I do.
I really don;t know what else I can say…
Menezes - IPCC recommend criminal charges
Apropos my comments in this post, earlier this week, the BBC are reporting this…
Report calls for Menezes charges
An inquiry into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes has recommended that three police officers face criminal charges, the BBC has learned.
The Crown Prosecution Service has been asked to consider bringing manslaughter charges against a senior Scotland Yard officer and two firearms officers.
An educated guess based on the phrase ’senior Scotland Yard Officer’ suggests that ther IPCC may have recommended that charges are brought against Cressida Dick, who was the officer in charge of the firearms squad side of the operation at the time the shooting occurred.
With the Independent having reported that most of the police who were considered for prosecution were advised to lawyer up and keep schtum, it will be interesting to see if the CPS do take action on this recommendation, or as the Indy suggests they might, come back with the claim of insufficient evidence and simply do the Met for a breach in health and safety law…
Stupid old me for not realising the significance of this straight away…If it is correct and the IPCC has recommended that three officers be considered for manslaughter charges - and it’s now confirmed that Cressida Dick is one of them - then that, by inference, reveals one of the findings in the report as such a charge would only be considered if the IPCC thought the actions of the officers in question to constitute gross negligence.
Is this becoming Blair’s Brown-Trousers Wednesday?
Enron witness found dead in park
A body found in north-east London has been identified as a banker who was questioned by the FBI about the Enron fraud case, sources have told the BBC…
All very reminiscent of this
Three years ago…
On the morning of July 17, Kelly was working as usual at home in Oxfordshire. Publicity given to his public appearance two days before had led many of his friends to send him supportive e-mails, to which he was responding. One of the e-mails he sent that day was to New York Times journalist Judith Miller, who had used Kelly as a source in a book on bioterrorism, to whom Kelly mentioned "many dark actors playing games,"
He also received an e-mail from his superiors at the Ministry of Defence asking for more details of his contact with journalists.
At about 3:00 p.m., Kelly told his wife that he was going for a walk. He appears to have gone directly to an area of woodlands known as Harrowdown Hill about a mile away from his home, where he ingested up to 29 tablets of co-proxamol, an analgesic drug. He then allegedly cut his left wrist with a knife he had owned since his youth.
They say trouble comes in threes, so what could possibly come next?
When the Levy Breaks…
Tony Blair’s chief fundraiser Lord Levy has been arrested.
His arrest is in connection with the "cash-for-honours" inquiry by the Metropolitan Police.
Lord Levy, 61, made his money in the music industry in the 1960s and 1970s, managing singers including Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea.
He has been a high profile fundraiser for Labour since Tony Blair’s election. Lord Levy is understood to be being held at a North London police station.
Asked if he had any reaction to the news that Lord Levy had been arrested, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: "I cannot comment on that, it is a party matter."
He confirmed the peer was still the prime minister’s Middle East envoy.
A Scotland Yard spokesman would not confirm whether Lord Levy had been arrested, but did say a man had been arrested by the Specialist Crime Directorate of the Metropolitan Police in connection with inquiries into possible breaches of honours and election laws.
The spokesman said the man had been asked to attend a London police station on Wednesday morning and questioned about possible infringements of the Honours (Prevention of Abuses ) Act 1925 and the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act.
Scotland Yard is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into loans and donations made to all three parties to see if there is any evidence that honours have been given as rewards for financial help.
It was prompted by the revelation earlier this year that a number of multi-million pound loans were secretly given to Labour before the last election, and that some of the lenders had subsequently been nominated by Tony Blair for peerages.
All involved have denied any wrong-doing.
BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said the arrest was "deeply damaging for Tony Blair" because Lord Levy is a particular friend of the prime minister.
He said the fate of Lord Levy and Mr Blair was "intertwined". "It doesn’t get much more serious than this," he said.
Angus MacNeil, the Scottish Nationalist Party MP who initiated the police inquiry, called for a freeze on all future honours until the investigation is completed.
"This is a significant development and one that would appear to justify my decision to report this matter to the police," he said.
Definitely what you call a brown-trousers moment for out Imperious Leader - could this be where it all starts to unravel, or will Levy take the fall alone?
Not such good news…
From Craig Murray…
New Labour are not as stupid as they seem. I have now had a chance to take legal advice, and that advice is as follows. To defend this case would cost the price of a London house. I don’t have a house, in London or anywhere else. I am therefore obliged to give in to force majeure and remove some of the documents from my own site. This reeking government is therefore able to mask its stink on this particular miniscule corner of the internet.
Here is another piece of legal advice I received. Copyright cases cover one instance of publication in one place. Anyone else who has published any government documents that might be Crown Copyright, or not, (and I believe there are hundreds of thousands of documents on the web on which the government could, by the argument in Mr Buttrill’s letter, claim copyright), is an individual case and can wait to hear from Mr Buttrill.
Force Majeure wields a two-edged sword.
Fear not, a workaround may be in the offing…