Friday, July 07, 2006

Good news for the end of the week: Berlusconi to be tried for fraud. And, please note,
"Lawyer David Mills, the estranged husband of British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, has also been ordered to stand trial."

Something utterly non-political to lighten the mood:

Obligatory one year on post

It is 9:20am on Friday 7th July 2006. At this time on Thursday 7th July 2005, I had been hunting around the interweb for quarter of an hour, trying to find out whether the bang that I'd heard tell of was anything sinister. It soon became clear that it was. Meanwhile, across London, Rachel, Holly, Steve, Mitch, Bumble Bee, Hamish, Weaselbitch, Yorkshire Lass, Andrew and countless others were having a rather worse time of it, stuck in the dark deep underground, many surrounded by scenes they'll never be able to forget.

Make no mistake, being in a city during a major terrorist attack is not much fun.


Though the response on the day from the emergency services and volunteers alike was hugely impressive, the last 12 months have not given much room for hope that anything has been learned. A public inquiry has repeatedly been ruled out, despite so many questions still left to be answered and so many reccomendations ignored. Those in charge of the Metropolitan Police have, throughout this time, done little other than repeatedly shooting an innocent man in the head, stirring up anger and resentment through raids based on little evidence, crushing political dissent near Parliament, making repeated public statements of their inability to prevent further attacks, and taken to pointlessly whacking huge numbers of officers in tube and mainline stations on random days (often Thursdays), ostensibly "to reassure".

Today, central London is packed with police. Thousands of them infest the city in their luminous jackets, milling around aimlessly - and scaring the living hell out of everyone chugging in to work and trying to forget the events of last year. Do they have torches, first aid kits and breathing apparatus so they can dash below ground and help out at the first sign of a repeat performance? No. Are they searching everyone trying to get on the underground? No. Is their presence on the streets today anything other than a pointless, wasteful PR stunt? No.

Because how can the police and security services prevent further attacks when they still have no idea quite what caused the last lot? Nobody has any idea what made four Muslims with British passports become so filled with hate that they wanted to kill and maim indiscriminately. There may be no answer to the "why?" - but there's surely a better one than the standard "they were eeeeeeeeeevil".

So, while we sit back at midday for the two minutes' silence and think about those people a year ago whose lives were ended or forever altered through the actions of a small group of maniacs; while we ponder what life must be like in Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan and the Sudan, where events like 7/7 come almost daily; while we think how grateful we are to have got through it - think also about how little we know about that day and the events leading up to it, and call for a public inquiry.

And then, once that's done, let's get on with our lives - the best possible way to stick two fingers up at the tiny minority of bigoted, faith-drunk totalitarians who want to change the way we live with bombs.

Update: A reminder.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Friend of Europhobia Alan Connor has done a nice summary of the state of the political interweb in the UK for the BBC's The Daily Politics - along with lovely little video clips where his cheeky face crops up in all kinds of glamorous locations, from Speakers' Corner to outer space (for some reason). For newcomers to blogland it's a handy introduction (plus puts me in the linklog category, a handy reminder that I've been neglecting this place of late...)

An apology

Had I gone to some press junket as I was supposed to, rather than head home to watch the France/Portugal game (fairly tedious), I would have been within easy assassination distance of Margaret Thatcher last night. I have failed in my duty.

(Even though I'm actually one of those annoying people who thinks Thatcher did more good than bad - but ssssshhhh! I'm supposed to be a bit of a lefty, apparently.)

I must also apologise for bringing you no news of the EU for a while. Nothing on the new Finnish presidency, nothing on the failure of the Common Fisheries Policy, nothing on the supposed revival (once again) of that damn constitution, nothing on populist Europe-wide anti-paedophile drives, because so much of it is simply incredibly boring.

Instead, have a brief summary of a few important EU developments from the last few days:

1) The EU has offered Russia a free trade deal - really designed to head off any more energy crises, but with the potential finally to bring Moscow back towards Europe where (if you're a fan of the likes of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev and their ilk) she belongs.

2) European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has slagged off Gordon Brown, hinting that with Brown as PM Britain would be further isolated within the EU (registration required for the Spectator's site, but doesn't seem to work all the time, so see the Telegraph for a summary).

3) As from today, MEPs are significantly more powerful and so the EU significantly more democratic, as the European Parliament gains the ability to revoke Commission decisions for the first time. (Please note, Danish eurosceptic MEP Jens-Peter Bonde, whose criticisms of this advance are quoted extensively in that EU Observer report, is the husband of the owner of, erm... the EU Observer.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

As Russia's lovely, cuddly Vladimir Putin throws his weight around on the international stage, the BBC has been offering the chance to pose questions for the corrupt, dictatorial ex-KGB nutter via its Have Your Say Forums.

It must be said, judging by the "readers recommended" comments the Russians have learned a fair amount about astroturfing - whole teams of agents desperately signing up with BBC accounts to ensure only the most banal questions reach the top. Only one question about Chechnya and nothing whatsoever about his merciless destruction of political opponents - but plenty of moaning about visa requirements to visit Moscow to see the ballet... All the rest (mostly soft balls about corruption and racism) seem designed for a Blair-like "Ah, I'm glad you asked that" policy announcement.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Biometric Information Roadshow

Ever heard of that? Me neither, and - like the majority of UK political bloggers - I'm a geek about these things.

A google search turns up nothing, yet here's a report from Morley Today, the website of the Morley Observer & Advertiser, a wee rag from up north as far as I can make out, which seems to suggest that the government is spending yet more of our money on a low-profile propaganda trek around the country. So low-key, in fact, that they've brought out the utterly anonymous Joan Ryan, MP for Enfield North and apparently the Under-Secretary of state for nationality, citizenship and immigration.

Ryan was apparently appointed, with little fanfare, on 6th May, and has an overwhelming number of really rather important responsibilities, including:

ID cards
the Forensic Science Service
refugee integration
extradition and judicial cooperation
the Criminal Records Bureau
Home Office research and science
improving regulation
design and green issues
In other words, technically she's in charge of ensuring all those nasty foreign criminals are deported, providing internet security for the entire country, using the latest forensic techniques to track down criminals and terrorists, helping immigrants become acclimatised to the British way of life, keeping track of everyone who's committed a crime in this country, and every single research project in the Home Office (even though these were all put on hold last week for no apparent reason), as well as implementing the single most complex and expensive IT project in history with the ID cards scheme.

It's quite a portfolio - has John Reid got anything left to do? And what about her supposed boss, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne - what does he get up to all day?

Still, Joan seems to be just the sort of Labourite they need to pimp this ID nonsense to the ignorant masses. Although she's only spoken in six debates in the last year (595th out of 646 MPs) - and apparently only once in both 2003 and 2004 - she's attended 93% of Commons votes (23rd out of 644 MPs). You'll doubtless be unsurprised to learn that she was strongly in favour of all of the most controversial Blairite legislation, from the anti-terrorism nonsense through ID cards, foundation hospitals, student top-up fees and the Iraq war inclusive.

But still, what is this "Biometric Information Roadshow" and why is there so little information available about it? Well, after some digging, apparently it was launched in Manchester back in September, and offers some wonderful attractions:
"Members of the public will be able to have their irises and fingerprints recorded"
Yay! Sign me up! Where do we get our barcodes tattooed? Forehead, or back of the neck?

But still - if their aim is to improve recognition of the benefits, why so little promotion? Why such a no-mark MP fronting the thing? Are they beginning to doubt their little scheme, or is this a new approach, attempting to convert us all one at a time (and harvesting our biometric details in a fun and informative way as they go, naturally)?

How much effort would it have been to set up a page on the Home Office's website for those of us unfortunate enough to have missed this lovely roadshow? How are ignorant refuseniks like me (not that it did me much good) going to come around to seeing the benefits of this massively expensive and unnecessary new instument of state control - sorry, valuable tool for tackling fraud, terrorism and organised crime - if there's no readily-accessible information about it? Why do I have to rely on stumbling across a link to a story in a local newspaper from a town which I couldn't point to on a map to find out about a government information initiative about an important topic that will affect us all?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Busy weekend...

As if by magic, as England get booted out of the World Cup and the country basks in a heatwave, all sorts of New Labour unpleasantness has bubbled to the surface once more, the stench cunningly hidden by the reek of booze-addled mourners. (Note to Blair: Beckham resigned as Captain in a timely manner in order to enable his successor plenty of time to settle into the job before the next major tournament... Hint hint...)

So, this weekend has seen rumours of another 1,000 troops being sent to Afghanistan, where "we face defeat" - just the most prominent of a vast array of stories which would tend to suggest (as if we didn't know already) that the government is staggering around grasping for a purpose like a Blunkett without his dog.

So, why has the Home Office suspended all research projects? Dsquared was on the case, ready to trawl through the dross with an army of volunteers, but "Research Thursday" was cancelled without fanfare or prior warning.

"A spokesman said: 'There's a pause while we reaffirm what the department's main objectives are. Research has got to feed into policy and we want to do research into high-priority areas.'"
These high priority areas are, it would appear, likely to include finding ways of removing protection from government whistleblowers, providing further justification for again rejecting calls for a proper inquiry into the 7/7 attacks, changing public perceptions that Blair has failed on crime (note to the Home Office - it's easier to be "tough on the causes of crime" if you, erm, actually do some research into what those causese might be), changing businesses' perception that the government will always sacrifice their interests to those of the United States, finding ways to overturn the centuries-old right to trial, getting over yet another defeat in the Labour heartland, hiding the ridiculousness of the utterly barmy (yet strangely sinister) protest exclusion zone, finding excuses for deportation tactics so harsh that even former Home Secretary Jack Straw thinks they're a bit off, and coming up with yet more excuses for holding any and all of us for 90 days without trial, courtesy of Gordon Brown.

Expect more anti-terror nonsense throughout this week in the run-up to the anniversary of the 7th July attacks on Friday, as Gordon tries to show us how tough he is and the rest of the government continue to try and make excuses for the utter lack of any progress in protecting us from swivel-eyed maniacs with bombs.

What, you don't seriously think you're any safer now than you were this time last year, do you? Of course you aren't. It is still just as easy to smuggle a load of bombs onto the underground, a bridge, a bus, a train etc. etc. etc. as it was on the 7th or 21st July 2005.

Because no matter how many draconian, high-profile measures they put in place supposedly to prevent another attack, no matter how many armed police they put on the streets, no matter how many people they lock up just in case, preventing another attack is impossible. Just look at Israel.

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