As feared, it would appear that two of the foreign criminals released without being considered for deportation thanks to Home Office blunders have gone on to face rape charges, with three others also found to have reoffended - ranging from dabbling with drugs to inflicting bodily harm. Meanwhile, 63 of the 79 high-risk ex-cons remain unaccounted for.
How is Charles Clarke's position tenable? Sod that - how is the Home Office's position tenable? And what does it say for our justice system that apparently dangerous criminals are being released into the community, despite being classified as "high risk", and not being kept tabs on - even after high-profile murders committed by violent criminals who have been released early?
What happened to "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"? Yes, introducing a Supreme Court is a nice idea, and greater co-operation between crimefighting agencies and police forces could help. But why, after nine years in government, hasn't Labour actually managed to sort this out?
They've been quite happy to scrap other government departments - perhaps it's time to rethink the very existence of the Home Office and position of Home Secretary, and create a series of more focussed ministerial briefs without one person having to cope with all the myriad duties and responsibilities that being Home Secretary entails. Because considering that this latest scandal has been going on unnoticed and unfixed for seven years already, it would appear that the current system at the heart of government - let alone the machinery designed to keep our streets safe - is simply unable to cope.
Plus, as doubtless pointed out elsewhere, none of the current new governmental surveillance plans - ID cards and the like - would be of any use in this situation at all. Not only are these people foreign nationals, some doubtless here illegally anyway, and so would not be on the National Identity Register, but they've also simply dropped off the government's radar seemingly as soon as they'd stepped out of the prison gates.
ID cards will be fine to track the law-abiding Mr and Mrs Boggins, but this is yet more proof that it is precisely the hardened, dangerous criminals that those pieces of plastic and the all-knowing database are supposedly designed to protect us from who will fail to be monitored once it's introduced. Because if the government can't keep tabs on a thousand odd convicted criminals, how the hell can they be expected to keep tabs on nearly sixty million of us?
(And, of course, this is before you even begin to consider the other ramifications of getting scared about people who have apparently all perfectly legally been released from prison having served their time...)
An NHS experiment, part 1
This morning I had occasion to go to the doctor for the first time in years, with a complaint that might be moderately serious (but almost certainly isn't as, despite the beer and the fags, I'm actually in fairly good health, and there are various other factors that mean it's probably going to turn out to be nothing more than a recurring inconvenience).
As such, I present to you the first part of an utterly unscientific test of the efficiency of the system. (Because, with various family members and friends who have, between them, worked for the NHS from its foundation up to the present day, I have little doubt that when it comes to the NHS's apparent woes, it's almost always the system, and not the people, that is the problem.)
8:55 - Arrived outside the GP's surgery and joined the queue of three or four seemingly healthy mothers and children, one old(ish) lady, and three or four 20-30 somethings with nothing obviously wrong with them (much like me).
9:00 - Doors opened. Given an appointment for 10:15. Wandered off for a coffee.
10:00 - Returned, sat in waiting room and read a spot of Dostoevsky (brought with me for such an occasion - the waiting room's available literature being comprised largely of "Do you have mouth cancer?" leaflets and out of date copies of "Prima" and "National Geographic", as expected.
10:45 - Called in to see the doctor - 45 minutes late, but not unexpected, as she is apparently only able to book patients in for 15 minute slots, which is obviously (especially a Friday before a Bank Holiday) going to result in over-run. Doctor (who I'd never had occasion to see before, despite having been registered with her for a couple of years) pleasant, apologetic for the delay, and efficient. Asks the expected questions, prescribes an expected drug, but says that the symptoms are sufficiently unusual that she's going to refer me to a neurologist. But the new NHS computer system isn't working properly. Says she'll try and send me the forms I'll need by post so I can book an appointment online - because using the computer system could delay even booking an appointment by three weeks or more.
11:00 - Leave, wander down to the Chemist, get drugs. Expect not to hear anything from the doctor for a month or so.
14:10 - Phone-call from the doctor's surgery, checking they've got the correct address as they're putting the forms I need in the post this afternoon.
In other words, so far, pretty damned good. But then again, the GP stage normally is, from what I can tell (although there are always some bad apples
). I'll report back as and when I get the forms and start trying to book an appointment. See how long the system can take for something that could - by the symptoms - be very serious and so requires a rapid response. (But isn't. Probably. I hope...)
Well there's a surprise from a near-dictatorship! Belarus opposition leader jailed - and after an "unsanctioned rally", please note. Now that we've got the protest exclusion zone around parliament, will this be how Blair deals with Cameron - bang him as soon as he's spotted walking across Parliament Square slagging off the government?
(You know the really worrying thing? I can't tell when I'm joking anymore... But that might just be the post-migraine headspack I've been having all day.)
More (potential) postal vote fraud in Birmingham in the run-up to next week's local elections. Only this time it's the Lib Dems, not Labour... Nice one, guys.
And herein lies the reason why local elections should be voted for on local, not national issues. The Lib Dems may be a valid protest vote at a General Election - but locally they've got just as much potential for corruption as the rest. It varies from council to council, ward to ward - and can be bloody complicated to work out even if you live there, let alone if you don't. Expecially at local elections where votes can actually carry some weight, think carefully where you mark your "x" - because put it in the wrong box and you could live to regret it.
Dear God - someone pass the mind-bleach
And I thought the mental image of (the late) gnome-like Robin Cook with his (then) secretary was bad enough, or gravestone-toothed David Mellor with that horse-faced model woman in his Chelsea strip. But oh no - Labour can always go one better... I mean, PRESCOTT of all people? The standards of 40-something secretaries really have slipped, haven't they? AND he didn't even have the decency to do it in the back of one of his two jags, but his Whitehall flat. (That's the one paid for by the taxpayers, rather than the one he failed to pay Council tax on...)
Update: It's just sunk in how utterly screwed the government should be over all this. I mean, in just the last week we've had:
the ongoing loans for peerages/contracts crisis
flogging Eurofighter jets to the human rights-light Saudi regime
cock-ups over calculating NHS debt
£7,000 spent on the PM's wife's hair
threats of NHS strikes
revelations that new troops deployed to Afghanistan will have insufficient air support
revelations that a bunch of people who should have been deported haven't been
the resignation of the Chief Executive of the NHS / Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health
the Health Secretary under pressure to resign
the Home Secretary under pressure to resign
yet ANOTHER overpayment of tax credits, threatening to destroy yet more hard-up families as they are forced to repay them
the Deputy Prime Minister having an affair
And God alone knows what else I've missed. Do they actually WANT to get wiped out at the local elections next week?
Chris Lightfoot has demolished yesterday's Charles Clarke speech, so I don't have to:
"The speech is remarkable in that almost every factual assertion Clarke made about the recent legislation of his department was false"Update: Oh dear, poor Charlie's come under fire for not doing his job properly...
ID phase three - Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do...
Police in "demanding more powers and interfering in public policy" shocker! Yep, "senior police officers" are reading from the government's ID card script and spreading yet more stories of identity theft, passport forgery and whathaveyou. (And please note how carefully I'm avoiding the phrase "police state". Oh... Damn...)
Because, you see, having got the ID cards bill through parliament, there's still the database to sell. And, starting with a few friendly anonymous police officers mouthing off to the press to make it look like it isn't just Whitehall that's after this thing, they're going to sell it like this:
1) Passports are easy to forge, even after the introduction of watermarking, lamination and machine-readable documents - all designed to make this more difficult
2) Credit cards are also easy to forge, despite electronic security measures
3) The placebo of chip'n'pin, hooking credit/debit cards to some kind of centralised registration computer, makes people feel safer and can help cut down on fraud
4) Therefore a centralised identity register will act as a handy placebo when ID cards inevitably start being forged
Although, naturally, they won't use the word "placebo"... (In my case, chip'n'pin's not even that - I've gone from entering my pin number once every 2-3 days, always at sheltered cash points where I can check if anyone's looking over my shoulder, to entering it at least once a day, usually in crowded shops with no kind of screen to help me shield my number from anyone who happens to be watching - all they then need do is jump me outside, nab the card, nip round the corner to a cash point and empty my account. Which may be why Blair apparently wants us all to have to use ID cards when making withdrawals of £200 or more... Chip'n'pin has actually made electronic theft/fraud even easier.)
Of course, quite why identity theft will be cut back on when all criminals need to do is forge one single form of ID - where currently to achieve anything significant they'd have to forge a passport, bills and sometimes bank records, involving far more effort - has yet to be answered.
But I'm being cynical. Once the Hal 9000 of the National Identity Register
is up and running, nothing can possibly go wrong... Labour are already starting to sound like Hal
- and not just when it comes to assurances of the ID system's reliability:
"The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error."
"'I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that... This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it."
"Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?"
"Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye."
"I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you. Or else
the terrorists will win you'll let the Tories in by the back door you risk letting the BNP into power..."
(I may have made up that final sentence...)
A quick meme
Because I'm busy, I thought I'd belatedly pick up on that Wikipedia birthday meme a bunch of people have been doing. Apparently it's three events, two births and one death, as such:
41 AD - Claudius - the guy who conquered Britain, thus laying the foundations of our language, civilisation, and shared culture with Europe - becomes Emperor of Rome
1327 - Edward III - the chap who started the Hundred Years War - takes over his father's throne (well, his mother deposes his father, at least) to begin his 50-year reign
1919 - The League of Nations - the half-arsed predecessor of the United Nations - founded
1640 - William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Devonshire - womaniser, revolutionary, builder of Chatsworth House and all-round top Whig
1882 - Virginia Woolfe - writer and manic depressive who, coincidentally, committed suicide not too many miles from where I was born...
1640 - Robert Burton - author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, one of the finest books ever written (and available online here and, to download, here)
This makes me rather cross - especially after the fuss made about the official fund that was set up in the aftermath of the 7th July bombs (which I linked to the next day - although the press release has now vanished from the Mayor of London's site...). Just as the powers that be are prepared to abandon victims of miscarriages of justice, they also seem quite happy to ignore the victims of terrorism. Lovely, aren't they?