Saturday 31 July 2010

The Face Of The Officer Accused Of Killing Ian Tomlinson

Meet PC Simon Harwood (right), the Territorial Support Group police officer who is accused of hitting Ian Tomlinson and causing his death.

Yesterday this photo was circulated by his solicitors Reynolds Dawson to the editors of all the national newspapers for publication, in an attempt to ensure that photographers didn't camp outside his home in Carshalton in Surrey. The Sun ran the picture about an hour ago on its website.

In their letter, Reynolds Dawson allege that there has been "a great deal of threatening material published about him on the internet which has caused him and his family great concern". They are presumably alluding to the disbelief and outrage at the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to take no action over Ian Tomlinson's death, causing considerably more than 'great concern' to Ian's family. However, Harwood's lawyers go on to say that "he is aware that the media will not allow his family and neighbours any peace until it has a photograph of him, and he has taken the view that the only way to protect them from harassment by the photographers camped outside their addresses is to provide one". They add:

For the avoidance of doubt, it would be inappropriate for PC Harwood to comment publicly on the Director of Public Prosecution's decision or on other proceedings in the way that others have chosen to. Accordingly, there could be no legitimate purpose in approaching PC Harwood for further comment.

Now personally, I'm not interested in what Harwood has to say about anything unless it is in the dock and in front of a jury. Equally, anything that prevents his lawyers from trying to argue in future that a fair trial is impossible, because of intense interest from newspapers more interested in headlines than justice, has to be good. After all, there still remains a realistic possibility that the DPP's decision may be subject to legal challenge and that Harwood may yet have to account for his actions in court.

But given how shocking this case is, it is still important to be able to put a face to the name. Anonymity granted to police officers normally extends far beyond what ordinary members of the public can ever expect - not unlike the kind of different treatment routinely granted to police whenever they are accused of causing someone's death.

Thanks to BristleKRS for providing this info - a PDF copy of the letter from Reynolds Dawson is now available from his blog

Friday 30 July 2010

Photos From Today's Tomlinson Demonstration

Photos by unslugged from today's protest in support of the Tomlinson family at the Crown Prosecution Service and on into the City.

LAZY FRIDAY - First as Tragedy Then as Farce

In today's Friday lunchtime distraction, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek gets the RSA Animate treatment as he investigates the surprising ethical implications of charitable giving.

Thursday 29 July 2010

'Save Wanstead Flats' Campaign Calls Mass Community Picnic

The first meeting of the new 20-strong steering group of the 'Save Wanstead Flats' campaign met tonight at Durning Hall Community Centre and is planning a public meeting in late September. The campaign will be inviting representatives of the City of London Corporation and the Metropolitan Police to provide answers about plans to base an Olympics policing operational base on the Flats in 2012. In order to push this proposal through, the Corporation intends to amend the Epping Forest Act, which has protected Wanstead Flats from development since 1878.

Local people want to know why the proposed site for the police base has been chosen, how that decision was made and why the Olympic stadium site itself cannot be used. There has been no consultation, even though the plans involve locating a fenced, high-security compound – with buildings, parking areas, stables and apparently even police holding cells – for at least 120 days and so close to residential neighbourhoods.

On Sunday 5 September, Save Wanstead Flats is also calling a Mass Community Picnic at 1pm on the spot to the west of Centre Road where the police want to site their base. If you live near Wanstead Flats, come along with food, picnic blankets, your children and your friends and join others to demonstrate the local community's opposition to these plans.

For more information, join the campaign's mailing list by e-mailing or contact Save Wanstead Flats c/o Community Involvement Unit, Durning Hall, Earlham Grove, London E7 9AB

Wednesday 28 July 2010

More On Joe Duckworth's Departure from Newham Council

As Mike Law mentioned on his blog two weeks ago, there have been a number of rumours circulating about the abrupt departure of Joe Duckworth, Newham council's former chief executive. This version of events, in the current issue of Private Eye, seems the most plausible of the explanations I have heard so far:

Shameless bullshit from Newham council about the sudden enforced departure of its £240,000-plus-a-year chief executive Joe "Vera" Duckworth.

Newham released a platitudinous statement: "Two successful years... enjoyed time... take career in new direction... seek new challenges" etc. All very chummy - except chief execs departing on amicable terms are not usually escorted from the building by security men. Vera had to go because he was too independent for Newham's power-crazed elected Labour mayor Sir Robin Wales, who demands total obedience to his whims. Duckworth, who in his previous job, following stories in the Eye, exposed a dodgy procurement racket on the Isle of Wight, crossed Wales early on by getting rid of one of his closest cronies, deputy chief executive Chris Woods.

Vera's departure is believed to have been brought about because of conflict over the role of Newham's "executive director change programme", Steve Swayne. Swayne does not have a local government background, which no doubt endears him to Mayor Wales. He is a consultant from an outfit called Kingsgate Interim Advisory and Investment Ltd, which was paid £337,450 by Newham for its services in 2009-10. Sister company Kingsgate Square Mile received £71,530.60 in the same year - a grand total of nearly £409,000. Swayne is a director of Kingsgate Interim, which specialises in "turning round" troubled businesses and has in recent years claimed to be able to do the same for public bodies, although Newham is so far the only council to have had the treatment. Despite his reputation as a "company doctor", Swayne was somehow unable to "turn around" his previous company, electronic components firm Eurodis Electron of which he was chief executive. It went bust in 2005.

So who would want the god-awful job of chief executive next? Recruitment will definitely go ahead, despite the suggestion by local government minister Eric Pickles that the post should be abolished. We know that the Mayor tried two years ago to bring in a figure from the private sector before Duckworth's appointment, but the choice of Roger Tucker, of African Arabian Petroleum, was withdrawn before he took the job. So who does that leave?

I hear that some bloke called Tony Hayward, who is hideously expensive and another oil man, is currently available for interview...

Tuesday 27 July 2010

IPCC Must Hold Tomlinson Disciplinary Hearing In Public

One of the new measures introduced with the creation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) on April Fools Day in 2004 was the ability of the Commission to allow the public to witness, in certain cases, internal police disciplinary hearings. This was included within section 30(5) of The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2004, which says:

"Where... the Commission considers that because of its gravity or other exceptional circumstances it would be in the public interest to do so, the Commission may, having consulted the appropriate authority, the officer concerned, the complainant and any witnesses, direct that the whole or part of the hearing will be held in public."

In September 2006, the IPCC published criteria for holding hearings in public [PDF] and it sets out circumstances where any decision "not to hold the hearing in public is likely to have an adverse effect on public confidence in the transparency and effectiveness of the complaints system". These include "the extent and nature of the media coverage of the incident/issues at stake", as well as "a substantial expression of interest in the case... by public representatives, community groups [and] public bodies" and "evidence of the need to sustain and enhance public confidence in the complaints system by a significant section of the local, regional or national community".

Every factor applies comprehensively to the death of Ian Tomlinson. The failures of the coroner, the pathologist, the IPCC, the Met and City of London police and most recently the Director of Public Prosecutions have attracted huge media coverage and intense interest from public organisations. The failure to bring any charges has once again called into question the ability of state institutions to hold the police to account and the IPCC has an unenviable task in trying to "sustain and enhance public confidence".

The disciplinary hearing for Simon Harwood, the Territorial Support Group officer that the DPP Keir Starmer refused to prosecute, is therefore one of the most obvious instances in recent memory where a public hearing is essential.

The Tomlinson family has called for open proceedings and now the the IPCC has to throw off its usual timidity and make a decision - carry out whatever consultation you need to conduct with interested parties and then make an announcement sooner rather than later.

Oh, and try not to screw up yet again. The Tomlinsons have been let down enough times already.


In a tweet in response to my request for clarification, the IPCC press office says that the Commission is "awaiting Met's formal letter with proposed course of action. We'll examine these before deciding how misconduct should proceed."

Seriously. Sooner rather than later.

Monday 26 July 2010

Heralding The Rebirth of Racist Stop & Search Powers?

Buried inside Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting Police and the People, the Home Office consultation on planned cuts, is the following:

3.13 By the end of this year, we will scrap the national requirement for the ‘stop’ form in its entirety and reduce dramatically the burden of the stop and search procedures. We will also maximise the use of available technology to further reduce the paperwork in policing so that, for example, an officer will only need to record manually three pieces of information on a stop and search record.

There is often confusion about what constitutes a 'police stop', much of it coming from police propaganda against form filling for what is often characterised as little more than a chat. It is always much more than that and involves an officer physically stopping someone in a public place and asking them to explain what they are doing, where they have been or are going to and what they are carrying. There was also a good reason why the form was introduced, which was the abuse of stop & search powers by officers directed against black people. Recommendation 61 of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in 1999 called for the formal recording of all stops and searches so that they could be properly monitored for discriminatory use and only last month, the Equality and Human Rights Commission threatened legal action against five police forces with the most disproportionate use of stop and search against black and Asian people.

Scrapping stop-forms in the name of cutting bureaucracy sends out a message that efforts to rein in racist and discriminatory behaviour by police officers are a tiresome burden. This at least has the virtue of honesty - many of us have long recognised that the police loathe having to fully account for their actions. But it is also a massive step backwards - and for some officers, an invitation to start misusing stop and search powers even more than they do now.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Today's Buwan Kothi Challenge Ride

Photos from today's Buwan Kothi Challlenge cycle ride, starting and finishing in Leamington Spa. More here.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Wandering Stratford upon Avon

After helping with the frantic response to the announcement by the DPP on Thursday morning, I finally had my day off and made it to the 'other' Stratford - the one in Warwickshire that's 'upon Avon' - with my good friend Maggie.

Visiting the town has turned into something of a mission, as I have been trying to get there for a couple of years whilst staying with friends in Leamington Spa and have always had to postpone. Here are a couple of pictures: there are more here.

Top: Anne Hathaway's Cottage
Middle: Shakespeare and Hamlet statues by the canal
Bottom: Holy Trinity Church

Friday 23 July 2010

Support the Tomlinson Family's Fighting Fund!

From the Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign website:

Many, many thanks for the hundreds of e-mails and messages of support sent to the campaign yesterday. We can't possibly respond to them individually but it is really important to Ian's family to know that they have so many people supporting them.

Many have asked if there is anything more they can do and today, we are launching a Campaign Fighting Fund. There is still long road ahead in the fight for justice and the Fund will help the Tomlinson family to make decisions about the direction of the campaign without always having to worry about the financial costs, especially when the emotional ones are tough enough already.

Donations by PayPal won't be up and running until next week, so check back then. But if you personally or your organisation (union branch, community or campaign group, for instance) can help by making a donation, please make cheques payable to 'Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign' and send to:

Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign
c/o Newham Monitoring Project
170 Harold Rd
London E13 0SE

The Tomlinson's family campaign has survived over the last 15 months on little more than the time and goodwill of a few dedicated individuals (Estelle at the east London civil rights group NMP deserves a mention for the tremendous amount of work she has done). The Fighting Fund is therefore an opportunity for members of the public, trade union branches and campaigning groups to show their support and provide financial assistance in the knowledge that every single penny will make a real difference in the coming months.

Paul Stott on his blog has another very interesting idea that I hope will be taken up by others: he asks whether it is possible for Millwall supporters and England supporters "to make it clear to police officers who attend the New Den or Wembley that Ian has not been forgotten". It would certainly take some organisation to pull off, but it's exactly the kind of action we need - people prepared to act on their own initiative rather than leaving the struggle for justice for the Tomlinson family to fight alone.

Thursday 22 July 2010

No Charges Over Death Of Ian Tomlinson

So on the fifth anniversary of the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes, the news is as bad as it can be. Having kept the family waiting for so long, the DPP Keir Starmer has decided that there will be no charges brought over the death of Ian Tomlinson. None at all.

Although the DPP has accepted that he was struck by an officer and that there was sufficient evidence to consider the possibility of an assault, the disagreement over medical evidence, one caused by the findings of the pathologist Freddy Patel (who faces GMC disciplinary charges for incompetence in other cases), is the main excuse for doing nothing.

Ian Tomlinson's family are understandably stunned. As I said yesterday, the chances of a positive decision was always likely to be a huge step for reluctant state authorities, but no charges at all when there is video evidence is still a massive insult.

Anyone who can should get down to Scotland Yard for 1pm today to protest against the way the police have got away with killing a member of the public yet again.

above - Jean Charles de Menezes' cousin speaks at the picket in support of the Tomlinsons outside New Scotland Yard (photo: Dan McQuillan)

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Decision Tomorrow On Tomlinson Charges

Finally, 478 days after Ian Tomlinson's death during the anti-G20 protests around the Bank of England in April 2009, the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer will finally announce whether any police officer will face criminal charges. He had early promised to reach a decsion by December 2009.

The continuing delay suggests that that when the Tomlinson family are finally informed of Starmer's verdict in the morning, the news will not be good. Rather than a charge of manslaughter, the likelihood is that, at best, we can expect either assault or 'misconduct in public office', although no charges are also very possible. Anything less than the most serious charge will continue the long tradition of treating the police with kid gloves in circumstances where other professions, or members of the public, would face a far more vigorous response from the state.

Tomorrow is also the fifth anniversary of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian gunned down by supposedly 'elite' firearms officers at Stockwell station. They too were never forced to account before a jury for the life they took away. Despite the thousands of deaths in police custody over the years, charges are seldom brought and no British police officer has ever been convicted for manslaughter.

A call has been made for anyone in London who wants to show their support for Ian Tomlinson's family to use their lunch break to head over to Westminster and the Metropolitan Police headquarters at New Scotland Yard for 1pm. It's on Broadway, London SW1H 0BG [nearest tube: St James Park | Map]

Whatever happens, the struggle for justice continues.

Supporting the Buwan Kothi Challenge This Sunday

Of all the frustrations over the months since I was knocked off my bike, knowing that I wouldn't be able to take part in this year's Buwan Kothi Challenge cycle ride has to be one of the worst.

The annual sponsored event was dreamt up by my friend Cilius and I in 2007 to kickstart fundraising for the Buwan Kothi International Trust. The first year was particularly poignant not only because it was a kind of journey home for me, out to Southend-on-Sea where I was born, stopping off outside the house in Ashingdon that I hadn't seen since the early 1970s. It was also completely overshadowed by the sudden death in March 2007 of my great friend Gilly Mundy, whose marriage to Debbie in the rural Indian village of Buwan Kothi in Haryana had provided the inspiration for establishing the charity.

Gilly's passing helped to give his many friends and his family an extraordinary sense of purpose. We had all reacted with a certain amount of scepticism when, two months before he died, Gilly had suddenly promised to take part in the ride, but I know everyone had that promise at the back of their minds as they slogged through the Essex countryside in July.

Between us, we prevailed - and raised over £16,000. In three years, cyclists from London, Leamington Spa and beyond have so far seen the total funds raised by the annual rides rise to over £40,000. Without their efforts, the Gilly Mundy Memorial Community School in Lehrian, just outside of Buwan Kothi, would not now be providing a decent education to almost 250 primary-aged children in the middle of the vast Haryana farmland.

So today I'm leaving London for Warwickshire and this Sunday, although denied the opportunity to take part in the fourth ride, I'll still pull on my custom-made Buwan Kothi cycle jersey and gather with the riders in Leamington, this time as chief steward and official worrier. I'll be tweeting from @copwatcher throughout the day and if you can spare some cash, I'd like to request that you sponsor two of the riders - Gilly's wife Debbie Mundy and the ride's co-founder Cilus Victor.

The Buwan Kothi Challenge, like the charity itself, is something I am incredibly proud of - and on Sunday, as always, my friend and comrade Gilly will never be far from my thoughts.

Cilius' fundraising page is here and Debbie's is here.

For more information on the Gilly Mundy Memorial Community School and our efforts to support it, visit

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Daily Mail - Taser Fail

This is a terrible story - an innocent man in Bridgwater in Somerset was pulled over by the police and then accidentally shot in the groin with a Taser gun.

The Daily Mail has a fairly sympathetic article on its website today, but the first version of the report, at 11.52am, contains the following sub-editor's plea for less euphemistic language (see the circled portion in the picture above):

But the weapon discharged 'accidentally' and Peter dropped to the ground in agony after one electric probe missed his meat and two by three inches - this needs to be rephrased.

Indeed it did - and by 1.34pm, the genitals of Mr Peter Cox (such an unfortunate name, in the circumstances) were thankfully restored. He categorically denies acting aggressively towards the officers, as Avon and Somerset police have claimed in a statement to the press.

The fate of the unnamed Mail reporter remains unknown.

Hat-tip: Jo Wood (there seems to be double entendre names everywhere today!)

Monday 19 July 2010

What Not To Wear?

I've always suspected that most people who get so upset about a woman wearing a veil, so angry that they demand it is banned, also happen to live in areas where seeing a Muslim woman, never mind one whose face is covered, is incredibly unusual.

Even living and working around Forest Gate and Upton Park in east London as I do, a full Afghan burqa is still a rarity, although the niqāb (face veil) is fairly common, so much so that now it barely registers (see here for the differences in terminology). The only time it always does, or at least it did until March when I was knocked off my bike and forced through injury to walk everywhere, is when I'm cycling around the borough. I'm sure that other cyclists are, from experience, wary of niqāb-wearing pedestrians stepping out in front of them due to the restrictions the garment places on peripheral vision.

The controversy about the niqāb really took off with Jack Straw's remarks in 2006 and has rumbled on ever since. Rarely has it been constructive and overwhelmingly it has used by racists as a convenient means of expressing anti-Islamic prejudices. It has be reignited by last week's vote in the French parliament's lower house to ban face-covering veils, a decision expected to receive approval in the Senate in September.

Now the new government in Britain seems divided on the issue. First the Tory MP for the predominantly middle-class, rural constituency of Kettering, Philip Hollobone, is conducting a futile attempt to introduce a Private Member's Bill that would make it a criminal offence to wear a veil in public. Now today, the press has reported comments by the new Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, which appearing to describe the choice to wear the veil as "empowering".

I'm sure that Spelman, with the best of intentions, was simply trying to counter the bigotry that exists in her own party, hamfistedly expressing the view that banning the veil would run counter to the freedom to choose what to wear. But her comments about empowerment are still rubbish.

Even if the decision to chose to wear a niqāb is made freely and without pressure, it can never be truly 'empowering', because it is based on a deeply conservative cultural view of the position of women in society, one that restricts personal, social and economic freedom outside the confines of the home. Face-covering is not simply a fashion statement, as Spelman's comments seem to suggest, but a religious one that encourages a separation between the supposed world of men (the public space or the community) and that of women (the private space or the family). It is therefore a symbol of patriarchal oppression and, where it is strictly enforced by men in conservative communities, an instrument of oppression too.

That doesn't mean that the veil should be banned, although it does mean that anyone who chooses not to wear a niqāb must receive legal protection from those who try and insist that they should. Once the state starts deciding what its minorities can or cannot wear, it can target anyone: the garb of the Hasidic Jews of Stamford Hill, for example, or Sikh turbans, or the plain dress of the small German sect based in Forest Gate (when it comes to appearance, one of the most diverse communities in London is even more diverse than you might expect).

I've always thought it is revealing that most people who get so upset about a woman wearing a veil, so angry that they demand it is banned, have an awful lot in common with those men who seek to police the customs and behaviour of 'their' Muslim communities. Both have a rigid, narrow view of what a a religious and cultural identity represents and both fail to understand that within broad religious perspectives, people interpret their beliefs in a variety of different ways - sometimes regrettably by embracing oppressive customs and more often by creating new codes and traditions.

When it comes to religion, it's not about needing to understand the views of others, but about tolerating them, no matter how absurd they may sometimes seem. I'm sure plenty of Muslims find my atheism incomprehensible - but if people don't tell me what not to think or say then I won't tell them what not to wear.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Evidence - Caught On Camera

A brilliant little film of a flashmob in December 2009, shot on cheap cameras by volunteers. The track is called Evidence by Bradford's La La & The Boo Ya and its about to Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008, which makes it an offence to elicit information about a police officer, a member of the armed services or of any of the intelligence services.

Who Says Americans Don't Do Irony?

This is near Warrensburg in the state of Missouri, just east of Kansas City. If only we'd seen the signs earlier...

Friday 16 July 2010

LAZY FRIDAY - What Do You Reckon?

Today's Friday lunchtime distraction is from David Mitchell and Robert Webb, who explain the thinking behind the government's two distorted versions of genuine public consultation - the 'Spending Challenge' and 'Your Freedom' websites.

Hat-tip: The Other Tax Payers Alliance

Thursday 15 July 2010

Does This Ad Make Sense? Search Me...

I don't know whether the advertising agency employed by Bedfordshire Police for its recruitment is just completely unaware of the current controversy over stop and search powers, or whether thoughts of moving on because of proposals for the force to merge wiith a neighbour has left everyone slightly stir-crazy, but the ad above really is unintentionally funny.

So if you happen to be in the Luton area, remember to stop a cop and ask him or her to turn out their pockets - and don't forget to offer them a receipt when you're done.

Hat-tip: fotdmike

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Packed Public Meeting Demands Answers on Olympic Police Base

Those of us who were involved in planning tonight's residents' meeting at Durning Hall Community Centre hoped perhaps that 50 people would attend. But instead, the number was nearer 250, with the centre's main hall packed to capacity with local people wanting answers to plans by the Metropolitan Police to base its Olympics operational centre on Wanstead Flats during 2012.

My earlier posts (here and here) on this issue said that this proposal involved enclosing part of the Flats for 90 days, but as I found out this evening, this has already jumped to 120 days, a fact confirmed by a new information page on the City of London Corporation's website that makes clear what decision it would prefer to make.

But now the Corporation has a real fight on its hands - a variety of different objections to any attempt to amend the law that has protected Wanstead Flats for well over a century were rehearsed in detail at tonight's event. Those in attendance ranged from the more middle-class residents who live near to the Flats to members of the local Asian community, lads who have played football there and pensioners who have enjoyed its open space since they were children. And without exception, they are really angry.

A campaign has been formed, with thirty volunteers for its steering group. The plan is for a second public meeting, with representatives of the Corporation, Newham and Redbridge councils and the Met police coming along. They will be asked to explain why the site west of Centre Road has been chosen, how that decision was made and why the Olympic stadium site itself cannot be used. People also want to know why there has been so little consultation - and what possessed those who drew up the plans to stick what will be a high security enclave, "Fort Apache Wanstead Flats", so close to a residential area.

Tonight's meeting really was excellent and a great start. Many thanks to whoever suggested a collection and to everyone who helped raised £185 towards future flyers. An information sheet with the contact information of key decision-makers, plus some initial unanswered questions, will be available from Durning Hall's reception desk from tomorrow.

Meanwhile, if anyone is interested in joining the campaign, they can contact it c/o The Community Involvement Unit, Aston-Mansfield, Durning Hall Community Centre, Earlham Grove E7 9AB.

Photo credit: Forest Gate resident William Heron

Spending Challenge Website is "Comedy Gold"

I have written before about the new government's 'Your Freedom' website, describing it as "the Cones Hotline for the 21st century". Unfortunately, its next fumbling attempt at crowdsourcing, this time seeking ideas about how to make cuts in public spending, is just as bad.

Clifford Singer of the
Other Taxpayers Alliance has very kindly allowed me to reproduce the following brilliant post, which originally appears here.

Spending Challenge: race hate meets comedy gold

The government's Spending Challenge website, launched on Friday, invites us to send our ideas for cuts. "A team has been put together right at the heart of government," claims the blurb on the homepage, "and their job is to make sure that your ideas and comments are taken seriously."

Which is deeply worrying, because for the most part the contributors to Spending Challenge give the impression that they have moved there directly from the Daily Express comments board. Many entries have little bearing on government doing "more for less" and instead reflect personal hobby-horses, like the ubiquitous "Bring Back Capital Punishment". Others are exercised by "benefit scroungers", such as the contributor who wants to sterilise young girls who "just breed at will".

One of the most popular tags is "immigration". Entries here tend to fall into one of two categories:
  • racist ranting written entirely in lower case
The former includes a post, "there is only one way to save money", which states:

"now i am not a racist person but this country has had problems since the early 60's we need to decrease the number of immergrants in the uk i walk dow the street only to see hundreds of illegal immergrants that cant even speak english and i mean polish and muslims mainly and most of themare working in our local shops and local call centres."

The latter includes "STOP IMMIGRATION START REPATRIATION", which even links to a Facebook group.

All of which has led one contributor to ask: "Is the moderator asleep?" The answer seems to be yes, as many hateful comments remain online despite being having been highlighted on Twitter and in blogs since the weekend. Some users have helpfully added the tag "Racist" to offending posts to assist the sleepy moderator.

Where is the TaxPayers' Alliance when you need it? Why is the government spending our taxes on a repository of racial, sexist and homophobic hate? The BNP already has a website.

Happily, there are some more enjoyable moments to be found amongst the dross, including the following austerity-inspired measures:
And is it just possible that Ed Balls has joined in too, with a suggestion to "Send one Miliband brother to Africa to supplement international aid"? "In this age of austerity we can't really afford two of them," writes "jeesus"/Balls, who adds thoughtfully: "Flights have a huge carbon footprint so he should be sent there with a boat."

Perhaps the most ingenious suggestion is entitled "Create Spending Challenge Website":

"Create a website where the entire population of the UK can make absurd suggestions on how the Government can save money. Allow easy access and registration so that users can create multiple accounts to vote on their own suggestions. As hundreds of thousands of citizens will be sat on their computer, they will not be a drain on resources outside their own homes such as roads, police, oxygen etc. Saving money."

So why is Spending Challenge turning into the Tories' biggest crowdsourced car crash since Cash Gordon?

First, the premise is wrong. The deficit has spiralled due to bank bailouts and recession – particularly falling tax revenues. Government cuts – driven by ideology rather than necessity – may well increase the deficit by dampening growth. If Spending Challenge focused on improving services, it might have something to commend it. But the title gives it away: it's about cuts.

Second, this simple crowdsourced approach, while perfect for the Photoshopped fun of MyDavidCameron, is entirely ill-suited to developing policy. Guy Aitchison explained why, in relation to the government's more benign Your Freedom website:

"I have some experience of trying to run an online political consultation having done so with the Power2010 campaign. As with 'Your Freedom' we asked people to submit ideas to be discussed and debated online in comment threads before being voted on. This process brings with it the well-known problem that the most organised and active interest groups will push their agenda to the fore (this is true of democracy in general, of course, but on the web it's amplified). It is also extremely limiting. People visiting a website have no obligation or real incentive to educate themselves on the issues or explore alternative points of view. It’s easy just to turn up, copy and paste your favourite rant, and then move on.

"Of course, there will be moderators who can identify this but I can’t help but feel that an opportunity has been missed to build in more deliberative processes that would have allowed people to explore and probe the issues face-to-face, as happened with Power2010’s deliberative poll ran by James Fishkin which brought a representative sample of over 100 people together over a weekend to discuss political reform.

"It was striking how seriously people treat the issues when given the chance (especially compared to most web discussion) and I can’t help but think an opportunity has been missed for a much richer public discussion of what the values are that people want protected. This could have informed and fed into the online deliberation and would have also been more inclusive allowing the large percentage of the population who aren't internet users to join in."

Others, too, seek more meaningful forms of public engagement – Paul Evans's Local Democracy blog is well worth reading. But for now we must make do with cut-and-paste ranting, which means this might be the only Spending Challenge suggestion that actually works: "Charge £10 a go for suggesting 'make benefit claimants work for their money' on this site."

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Daily Express Translation Service - "Beware The Blacks"

The warning, appropriately on the right, from today's Daily Express is its sensationalist interpretation of an allegedly "explosive report" on research by the University of Leeds. This predicts an increase in the proportion of black, Asian and other ethnic minorities to 20% of the population by 2051. The story has also offered another chance for the Daily Mail to provide a platform for Sir Andrew Green and his right-wing pressure group Migration Watch, who repeats their call - yet again - for cuts in migrant numbers.

However, the BBC points out that one of the report's authors, Professor Philip Rees, has made it clear that predicting population movement is "not an exact science" because it is "impossible to predict exactly how people will move into, out of and within the country... as all of these trends are influenced by a whole range of socio-economic factors." One would imagine that the forthcoming scorched earth policies of the ConDem government might well be one such factor.

Equally, the study's computer modelling suggests that whilst white British and Irish populations are expected to grow slowly, the "other white" ethnic group may expand extremely quickly - as a result of predicted high levels of immigration from Europe, Australasia and the US. But for some reason, the Express is rather less concerned about the 300 000 Russians, 200 000 Yanks, 120 000 Poles, 39 000 Germans, 41 000 Aussies, 27 000 Kiwis or 38 000 French - and these are mainly the figures for London alone. About the only good thing you can say is at least the paper doesn't loathe the Irish any more, although on its past form I'm not so sure the same applies to the eastern Europeans.

But then 'ethnics' isn't even coded language in the way that, say, 'Muslims' is often used to mean Asians. The meaning is absolutely clear - people who aren't white and who Express readers should therefore be afraid of. That's not even subtle - it's nothing but the most base-level racist shitmongering.

There's another obvious conclusion from the report that is worth mentioning- 4 out of 5 people in this country will still be white in 2051. Such a lack of vibrant diversity seems woefully inadequate and is the main reason why I definitely prefer London to the paleness of the provinces.

The final word goes to Charlie Brooker on Twitter:

Monday 12 July 2010

Would You Like Fries With That?

News today of the probable abolition of the Food Standards Agency and accusations that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has caved in to the food industry might seem to suggest that the multinationals who provide us with processed, high-fat, high-sugar food have spent the last decade in the political wilderness. Nothing could be further from the truth, as this story from Third Sector ably demonstrates:

McDonald's confirmed as volunteer coordinator for London 2012 Olympics

Lord Coe says fast-food chain will be 'presenting partner' for the volunteering part of the games

McDonald’s will be responsible for recruiting and training the 70,000 volunteers needed to run the 2012 Olympic Games, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games has confirmed.

Lord Coe, chair of Locog, announced on Friday that the restaurant chain had been appointed as the ‘presenting partner’ for the volunteering aspect of the games. "I just instinctively know we have to get this right and recruit 70,000 of the best volunteers," he said. "McDonald’s is pre-eminent in training and retention, and I’m delighted it will be our partner.

"Athletes know they are supported in so many ways by the quality of the volunteers."

Coe declined to reveal the financial terms of the deal.

Steve Easterbrook, chief executive of McDonald’s, said branches of the chain would display posters encouraging people to volunteer at the games. Some of the firm’s staff would be seconded for two years to recruit and train the volunteers, he said.

"Selecting and training talent is what we’re about," he added.

The volunteers will be called ‘games makers’. There will be specialist volunteers for medical services and press operations, and general volunteers working as spectator assistants, uniform distributors and ticket checkers.

Coe said the applications process for specialist volunteers would open on 27 July and the process for general volunteers on 15 September.

As we all know, nothing quite sums up the Olympian spirit like a Big Mac and fries, but Coe must have super-sized on fizzy cola if he really believes that McDonald’s is renowned for retention. What's the old joke? Stay all day and become assistant manager?

Incidentally, there's a few things that potential 'game makers' need to bear in mind: as well as their 15 hours of training, they must be prepared for at least 10 days of unpaid work during 2012. But at least they'll be provided with "an official Games Maker uniform" that "can be kept as a souvenir of the experience and contribution to the Games".

Zero salary, a free uniform and an undisclosed McProfit for the company. Now I see why McDonalds has been appointed.

Sunday 11 July 2010

64748 - The Number of the Boast

Private Eye's 'Rotten Boroughs' column has been having some fun alleging that sycophantic Newham council staff down at Building 1000 by the Royal Albert Docks have been busy thinking up ways to celebrate the 64, 748 votes the Great Helmsman received in May's elections.

Ideas apparently include t-shirts with "64 748" printed on them, the inclusion of the number on the Mayor's headed notepaper and "having the figure engraved on a pair of cuff links for the great man to wear". But none of these ideas seems substantial enough for a man of Sir Robin Wales' enormous importance and so I'm starting a competition for better suggestions.

To get the ball rolling, here's one initial idea: what about twinning Newham with Golden City, Missouri (population: 884), whose United States Postal Service zip code is 64748? Perhaps Building 1000 could be renamed 'Golden City' as a tribute?

Or perhaps this: surely there must be somewhere in the borough where D_C_X_LM_VDCCXLVIII (64748 in Roman numerals) could be carved for posterity and the enjoyment of future generations?

Or as the hexadecimal for dirty grey is #064748, perhaps Newham should abandon its use of imperial purple in the council logo and use this colour instead?

Anyway, enough nonsense from me. Competition entries by the end of August. Judge's decision is final.


An offline suggestion - and trust a member of the local Labour Party to offer something this harsh. Their idea is for a full-length jacket for both of Newham's MPs with the number 64748 embroidered along the bottom, as a tribute to their coat-tails that dragged up the Mayor's vote as constituents worried about the prospect of a Tory government. Ouch!

Please Don't Vote Random Blowe

In A Ruler of Men, the American storyteller O Henry joked, "a straw vote only shows which way the hot air blows". Quite so, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, between now and the end of July a fair number of regular bloggers (see here and here, for example) will ask their readerships to vote in an annual straw poll of the nation's political blogs, organised by the magazine Total Politics.

Most see this as nothing more than a bit of fun and perhaps a little recognition for their hard work. But I'd like to make a request: if you are one of the 10,000+ unique visitors to this blog in the last month and have enjoyed reading it, please don't bother to vote for it in this year's poll.

Let me explain. I know others are deliberately opting out and some have very specific reasons - in protest against the magazine's decision to interview BNP leader Nick Griffin for instance. There is also clearly a great deal of enmity against the popular Tory blogger and 'aspiring' (read: failed) politician Iain Dale, whose company Biteback Media owns Total Politics. As I am never likely to meet Dale, I find the strength of feeling against him hard to properly comprehend - yes, he can be a pompous twat, but having occasionally checked out his blog, more than anything I've found it incredibly dull. Anyway, Dale is both a Tory and a blogger - and let's face it, most Tories and all bloggers have a tendency towards a little pomposity from time to time.

My own reasons for asking people not to waste their time voting for my blog are as follows:

1. It's like comparing oranges and orangutans

At first glance, there seems like an similarity, but then you realise that one has little in common with the other. The straw poll is just a crude popularity contest, unlike the annual Orwell Prize that at least has an interest in the calibre of individual pieces of writing.

Moreover, Total Politics attempts to lump together a wide range of individual opinion into extremely broad and arbitrary categories - what constitutes a 'Left-of Centre' blog covers a huge range of profound disagreement. My own blog is listed on the magazine's website as 'Green', presumably because I sometimes write about climate activism, which ignores the fact that far more posts are about policing issues. Not once have I ever endorsed the Green Party, although I have a lot of time for its MP Caroline Lucas. If you are a regular here, you'll know that at the last general election, I didn't vote for anyone.

The trouble is, everything has to be made to fit within the narrow viewpoint of Dale and people like him who are trapped inside the Westminster bubble, evidently incapable of recognising that politics is not just a restricted profession carried out by political parties and tribal party supporters. Incidentally, this viewpoint doesn't just apply to Tories either. It includes the sort of arrogant Labour leftwinger who would dismissively sneer, "of course there were also the anti-party crowd, but they’ll never amount to much and can be ignored" - as if the Labour left has amounted to much on its own over the last decade.

2. It's just a marketing tool

The annual blog poll is organised primarily as a means of promoting a magazine that I neither read nor have any interest in, in order to generate more profit for its publishers. Now, as far as advertising and marketing goes, I'm usually in agreement with the comedian Bill Hicks. Encouraging bloggers who eventually end up on a 'Top 100' list to add a commercial advertising badge to their sites without demanding payment in advance may well be clever marketing - but seriously, that's all it is.

3. There's the APCO issue

If you care about such things, the sponsorship of the poll by a US lobbying company with links to BP and tobacco industry astro-turfing (see my previous post and this from Sourcewatch) cannot just be discounted as irrelevant - especially for something that's just 'a bit of fun'.

4. If you want popularity, join the commentariat

Tthere are a number of blog writers who would love nothing more than to be discovered and then offered regular gigs on the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' site or in the New Statesman. Others seek greater recognition inside whatever political party they happen to belong to. That's their choice and I guess crude popularity contests may help them on their way to stardom. But this isn't that kind of blog.

Fundamentally, I just don't give a shit whether this site is more or less popular than another, any more than give a shit whether the things I write about are popular or not (the apparently 'lost causes' are the only ones worth fighting for anyway). Visitors drop by for the same reasons that I read the sites listed in the 'Blogs of Note' column on the right of this page - because they are occasionally curious about an individual post. The rest are basically my mates (morning everyone!) or people have a particular interest in policing issues or things happening in Newham.

So please, don't vote for me. It's not worth the time or effort and there's no way I'm advertising someone's dodgy Tory shit-rag here for the next twelve months. I decided a long time ago that I'll only ever promote causes I actually believe in and care about.


I see Phil at AVPS has set up a 'Top 100 Worst Blogs Poll', which at least has the virtue of not surreptitiously advertising a minority-interest magazine. If you thought this post was utter bullshit, then please go ahead and vote for me there!

Saturday 10 July 2010

Die-In At Stratford Station

Local anti-nuclear campaigners marched around the perimeter of the Olympic Park this afternoon and staged a symbolic 'die in' at Stratford station to highlight the threat posed by the regular movement of nuclear waste trains through London, including through the Olympic site.

Bored coppers at Stratford atation

Today's Forest Gate Festival

I had a lovely afternoon at the Forest Gate Festival today - unlike last year the weather was great, but some things remained as consistent as ever - the lack of commercialism and the genuine sense of community. The response from local people about this Wednesday's public meeting on plans by the police to build an Olympic operation base on Wanstead Flats during 2012 was also very encouraging.

We also had the annual appearance of the Great Helmsman on Osbourne Road, looking 'very fetching' in his ostentatious mayoral chain and middle-manager's short sleeve shirt and posing with his minions for any and every photo opportunity. More pictures of the Festival on Flickr.

Above: Sir Robin models the free Festival bags. Nice.

Friday 9 July 2010

Ian Tomlinson - 500 Days of Injustice

On Friday 13 August, 500 days will have passed since the death of Ian Tomlinson during last year's G20 protests in London and yet the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer has still failed to announce a decision about whether to bring charges against police officers involved in his death.

This continued and unacceptable delay has left the Tomlinson family in a legal limbo, worried that speaking out and demanding answers may be used to blame them for jeopardising the prospects of a fair trial. Whilst other aspects of the protests around the Bank of England and at Bishopsgate on 1 April 2009 have been the subject of reports, investigations and pledges to change the way that public order situations are policed, the DPP's failure to make a decision also means that Ian Tomlinson's death appears to have been all but forgotten about.

So on 13 August, I'd really like you to take action. There are a number of things you can do:

If you are a blogger or journalist - please write about Ian's death, about how his family are still awaiting justice and about how 500 days is far too long for the DPP to sit on a decision to prosecute or not. You can find background information about the case at:

And feel free to use the badge on the right - you can download it from here.

If you use Twitter - let's see if we can make sure that both #iantomlinson and #500days are trending, leading up to 13 August and on the day itself.

Please send letters to the press demanding that Starmer stops stalling:

The Guardian
The Independent
The Times
The Daily Telegraph
The Observer (subject field of email should say “Letter to the Editor”)
Daily Mail
Mail On Sunday
Daily Express
Financial Times
The Sun
The Mirror
News of the World
The Morning Star

Send messages of protest to the Crown Prosecution Service on 13 August via its online feedback form

What happens if a decision is announced before 13 August?

Then so much the better - it's not as though a few days short of 500 isn't bad enough already. The whole point is to apply some pressure, to try and remind those in power that Ian Tomlinson's death at the hands of the police it not a footnote and has not been forgotten.

OK, that's it. I hope you can help.

LAZY FRIDAY - Trust Me: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Today's Lazy Friday lunchtime distraction is from the brilliant Mark Fiore, wwith a reminder that Tony Hayward and BP aren't the first to revel in the wonders of 'voluntary regulation'.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Government Suspends Section 44 Terrorism Powers

As predicted, section 44 of the Terrorism Act is dead. In a statement to the House of Commons today, Home Secretary Theresa May said that police officers will no longer able to use stop and search powers under section 44 on individuals, although they will remain for vehicle searches:

Since last Wednesday, I have sought urgent legal advice and consulted police forces. In order to comply with the judgement – but avoid pre-empting the review of counter-terrorism legislation – I have decided to introduce interim guidelines for the police.

I am therefore changing the test for authorisation for the use of section 44 powers from requiring a search to be ‘expedient’ for the prevention of terrorism, to the stricter test of it being ‘necessary’ for that purpose. And, most importantly, I am introducing a new suspicion threshold.

Officers will no longer be able to search individuals using section 44 powers. Instead, they will have to rely on section 43 powers – which require officers to reasonably suspect the person to be a terrorist.

And officers will only be able to use section 44 in relation to the searches of vehicles. I will only confirm these authorisations where they are considered to be necessary, and officers will only be able to use them when they have ‘reasonable suspicion’.

These interim measures will bring section 44 stop and search powers fully into line with the European Court’s judgement. They will provide operational clarity for the police. And they will last until we have completed our review of counter-terrorism laws.

Labour's response from the Shadow Home Secretary was predictably depressing: Alan Johnson complained that the European Court of Human Rights' judgement was based on the way the powers were used "some years ago" and claimed that section 44 incidents have "reduced considerably over the last two years". This is a line straight from the Association of Chief Police Officers, who argued in June that since a review in December 2008, "practice advice [had been] issued to forces, supported by training" and "no errors have been found in the application process [of section 44] since that date".

Clearly neither ACPO or Johnson are aware of the arrest of a press photographer covering climate change activists at London City Airport or the stop and search of the Tory MP for Croydon, Andrew Pelling under section 44, both in early 2009.

Nevertheless, the suspension of section 44 powers seems like good news, but one problem with guidelines is that they can be ignored. In December 2009, the head of ACPO's Media Advisory Group, Andrew Trotter, issued guidance to police forces about the use of section 44 and the right of photographers, but within days of this 'clarification', armed police detaining an architectural photographer in the City of London. Then, of course, there is the more recent ill-treatment by police of the young photographer Jules Mattsson, which demonstrated that guidance is far from a priority to some police officers at street-level.

That's why we have to remain vigilant. Let's see whether the government's "interim measures" are adhered to. Equally, we need to see whether the police officers simply rely instead on section 43 powers to stop and search people- it was this part of the Terrorism Act that was used against Mattsson in a another incident just two days ago.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Five Years On - A London Bombings Inquiry Is Still Vital

Today is, of course, the fifth anniversary of a terrible, terrible crime - the bombings on the London underground and the attack on a bus in Tavistock Square.

Most Londoners remember that day vividly, either because of anxiously trying contacting friends on overloaded mobile phone networks or because of the huge disruption to public transport. But it already feels like a long time ago. So much has happened since and little has been good - the execution by armed police of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station, for example, or the the shooting of one of my neighbours in Forest Gate in June 2006.

One of the worst consequence of the July bombings was the draconian Terrorism Act of 2006 that increased pre-charge detention to 28 days - one of the highest levels of detention without charge anywhere in the world. It's worth remembering that at the time, Tony Blair wanted 90 days and over most the last five years, Labour in government repeatedly used the 'toughness' of its stance on terrorism as a political weapon, one that preyed on people's fears and was used to characterise anyone who expressed concerns about the gradual infringements on our civil liberties as little more than terrorist sympathisers.

It was shamelessly populist, but the 'terrorism virility test' is a tactic that the shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson is still using, even though one result over the last five years has been a growing paranoid suspicion of Muslims.

The ConDem government has promised to act on pre-charge detention (but extended it for another six months, which makes little sense). Nevertheless, there are other legacies of 2005 that it has not yet addressed. Whilst it been prepared to set up a "fully independent" inquiry, chaired by former Appeal Court judge Sir Peter Gibson, into claims that UK security services were complicit in the torture of terror suspects overseas, it has reneged on promises made in opposition by Clegg and Cameron for an proper inquiry into whether the London bombings could have been prevented. Even the inquests, which have taken five years to come to court and initially looked promising in addressing the issue of 'preventability', are facing rearguard legal manoeuvring from MI5, funded by government money.

Unlike some of those who were injured on 7 July 2005, I am rather relieved that ceremonies for today's anniversary has been fairly low-key and involved a minimum level of mawkish sermonising from government ministers. A more fitting legacy for those who were injured and killed would still be an independent public inquiry into the London bombings - but apparently its one that the new government seems as unwilling to offer as its scaremongering predecessor.

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.