The BBC reports today on a development that has the potential to dramatically increase transparency within central and local government.
From November, information on central government spending over £500 will be made available to the public, with details of major government contracts published from September. Civil servants earning more than £150,000 will be named and their salaries disclosed.
Considering the problems I am having trying to persuade Newham council to release information on its 'Preventing Violent Extremism' expenditure last year, the really interesting news is confirmation of an earlier pledge that from January 2011, all local government spending over £500 will be available online.
I can already imagine the panic within Newham Council's inner circles. However, implementation of this new policy is still six months away, so meanwhile anyone interested in seeing how their local authority spends our money is reliant on the Freedom of Information Act.
To that end, I have set up a separate FoIA page on this blog, which I will add to gradually over the coming weeks - and I've put this simple presentation of how to pry information out of those public bodies who currently hold on to it.
Monday, 31 May 2010
The BBC reports today on a development that has the potential to dramatically increase transparency within central and local government.
The BBC reports that up to ten people have been killed and many injured by Israeli commandos who stormed the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, which is part of the 'Freedom Flotilla' carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The ship was in international waters.
A Free Gaza Movement press release this morning accused the Israelis of "fired directly into the crowd of civilians asleep". The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that "this grave incident, which took place in high seas in gross violation of international law, might cause irreversible consequences in our relations".
Inevitably, Israeli propaganda chief Mark Regev claimed on this morning's BBC Radio 4 Today programme that he was "100 per cent" certain that his country's commandos were fired upon, during a "peaceful intervention", by those he accused of "masquerading as human rights activists." He also claimed there were no shortages in Gaza.
The following report by Al-Jazeera includes footage from on board:
An emergency protest has been called by the Stop the War Coalition for 2pm today outside Downing Street.
Sunday, 30 May 2010
Back in February, I wrote a few posts about the dispute between Amnesty International (AI) and Gita Saghal, the former head of the human rights organisation's Gender Unit (see here, here and here). My reaction at the time was similar to that of many onlookers - utter confusion and then increasing frustration about the total lack of evidence in the attacks made by Saghal against former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg. Unfortunately, the severe distraction of my hospitalisation following a traffic accident meant that I lost track of more recent developments. But then I saw Wednesday's furious rant by Saghal on the openDemocracy website.
Saghal makes the astonishing claim that the "tyrants" at AI have "come to resemble the forces that it has done so much to oppose". And that's not all:
This represents the absolute abandonment of perspective or rational argument. AI may not be perfect but it quite obviously does not resemble or mirror governments who abuse human rights. It doesn't encourage support for disappearances, murder and torture and it isn't involved in surveillance and control of cowered masses anywhere. It is neither a government, a powerful multi-national corporation nor an armed militia. It just disagrees with Saghal on whether working with Moazzam Begg is a good idea.
The actions of human rights advocates mirror those of governments from Chechnya to the UK. Recruit former insurgents or fundamentalists and subcontract them to provide surveillance and control over the mass of the population. Defeat one form of fundamentalism by supporting another.
Saghal goes on to allege that groups like AI and Human Rights Watch have "rushed to condemn the niqab ban in Europe", but have said nothing publicly "against increasing dress code restrictions imposed by the State in Iran and accompanied by draconian punishments". This is a criticism that Saghal has picked up wholesale from her allies in 'Women Living Under Muslim Laws', who have a fondness for issuing strident communiqués and who have accused AI of adhering to a "different set of standards when reacting to Iran and its stricter enforcement of compulsory veiling".
But it is also incredibly disingenuous criticism. AI has been far from silent on discrimination against women in Iran and far from soft on the country's human rights abuses, as its latest State of the World's Human Rights report makes clear. Moreover, there would seem to be a obvious difference between responding immediately to restrictions on freedom of expression in EU countries, who have pretensions to respect for human rights, and long-term campaigning against the conduct of a recognisably repressive state like Iran - where practical action in support of women's rights defenders would seem rather more important than just issuing statements.
In a comment to her own article, Saghal said she was "calling for a debate with Amnesty leaders". I hardly think that attacking AI using the same kind of carelessly disproportionate debating points adopted by those who loathe the organisation is the way to ever make that a realistic possibility.
There have been a couple of vitriolic reviews of the appalling gender politics in the latest, apparently awful outing of the Sex and the City franchise - check out Laurie Penny and the astonishing review by Lindy West. I think I may be giving this film a miss.
But I also really enjoyed Mark Kermode's magnificent rant on Radio Five Live, in which he invokes class war politics in describing the film as "consumerist pornography" and the characters as "imperialist American pig dogs" - and sings the opening line of The Internationale.
Here's the review - the podcast in MP3 can be downloaded here.
I popped out for a paper this morning to discover the newsagents at the end of my street is cut off behind incident tape and police vans blocking Katherine Road.
Apparently 24 hours ago, as people were leaving the Sugar Lounge club attached to the Duke of Fife pub just after 6am, shots were fired and one man was killed. Two others are seriously injured.
The Press Association is reporting that "the shooting is being investigated by officers from Operation Trident, which deals with gun crime in the black community".
Saturday, 29 May 2010
The grim fifth anniversary of of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian shot in the head seven times at Stockwell tube station 22 July 2005, is in just under two months and even after five years, it seems the state continues to enjoy pouring insult after insult onto his family.
A week ago it was announced that the the senior officer who oversaw the operation, Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, will receive the Queen's Police Medal for 'distinguished service'. Now her former boss, the Labour-friendly ex-Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, has been made a cross-bench life peer in Gordon Brown's Dissolution Honours List.
Quite how someone, who deliberately delayed an investigation into a hugely controversial death and whose force was found to have made nineteen catastrophic errors that endangered the lives of Londoners, could ever been viewed as fit to serve in the House of Lords, or provide the benefits of his 'specialist knowledge', is quite beyond me. Once again, it rather makes the case for the abolition of the Lords so that such blatant acts of patronage are no longer possible.
This is Brown's final insult to the Menezes family, who are understandably horrified. This is the text of the press release they issued yesterday:
MENEZES FAMILY 'DISGUSTED' AT BLAIR PEERAGE
The family of Jean Charles de Menezes reacted with disgust at the announcement today that Ian Blair is to be given a peerage.
Ian Blair was the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in July 2005 when Jean Charles, an innocent 27 year old Brazilian, was shot seven times in the head at Stockwell tube station during a disastrous anti-terrorism operation.
Vivian Figuereda, cousin of Jean Charles de Menezes, who lived with him at the time of his death said:
“We are disgusted at this decision. As Commissioner, we believe Ian Blair was ultimately accountable for the death of Jean, for the lies told and the cover up. He even tried to stop the IPCC investigating our cousin’s death. This is a final slap in the face for our family.”
A spokesperson for the J4J campaign said
“This seems like a final flourish of a discredited Parliamentary system handing out tawdry awards to political allies and cronies. Actions like this only reinforce the impression that politicians remain detached from the views of ordinary British people.
The peerage system should be seen as recognition of a long and distinguished service to the people of Britain. By handing this award to Ian Blair, a man who presided over and attempted to cover up, one of the darkest moments in the recent history of the Metropolitan Police, the death of an innocent man gunned down as he went about his lawful business, it has diminished the whole peerage system itself.
That we expect a man who failed in his most fundamental duty to ‘serve and protect’ the lives of the London’s citizens should now be in a position to decide the very laws he failed to uphold as Commissioner should cause us all great concern.
And as Ian Blair puts on his robes of ermine, he would do well to bow his head and remember the family of Jean Charles, whose lives he has changed forever.”
Friday, 28 May 2010
Anyone with an ounce of common sense may think the headline of this post is a reverse-Rentoul, especially after Littlecock infamously said of the serial murders of sex workers in Ipswich in 2006, "in the scheme of things the deaths of these five women is no great loss" and that "strangulation is an occupational hazard".
Now he's at it again, raging that the women murdered over the last ten months in Bradford have been "described not as prostitutes, but as 'women who worked as prostitutes' and resenting, as before, "the widespread implication that their murders are somehow society's fault".
Some of the comments on Littlecock's piece have rightly taken the blustering over-paid fool to task:
Given the amount of genuine hate you managed to impose upon yourself following your disgraceful "No great loss" comment over the Ipswich murders, I am staggered you would go anywhere near the horrific Bradford Murders. No wonder your face has all but disappeared from our screens and the best you can do these days is independent local radio gigs.
Peter Brant, Worthing
Stewart Lee devoted five minutes of stand up to Littlejohn's original comments about the Ipswich prostitute murders, he expresses his disgust at Littlejohn in a funnier and more eloquent way than most could ever hope to.
So, to save everyone the effort, here's the superb Stewart Lee clip in question - he gets going on Littlecock at 4 minutes 53 seconds:
Spot on CD you've hit the nail on the head.
I think everyone reading this should search for the youtube clip of Stewart Lee where he talks about Richard Littlejohn. I wish I was as articulate as he is in that clip.
Flatfoot, Witney, Oxford
Today's Friday lunchtime distraction is a flashback to the long hot summer of 2003, the year when carrying a placard was chic once more.
This is a great video made under the name Grafiti, a pseudonym for Mike Skinner of The Streets, although he tried to deny it at the time.
Several female friends say that they have partners who are just as bewildered and angry as this - I couldn't possible comment...
Hat-tip: James The Cheese Merchant
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Considering the police's proven ability in Newham to dramatically misjudge intelligance and spread unfounded rumour, this sounds incredibly suspicious to me. However, Channel 4 News reported this evening that the knife attack on 14 May on my local MP Stephen Timms is being treated by police as a "terrorist investigation". Timms' assailant Roshonara Choudhary has been charged with attempted murder.
The report also claims that four MPs, including Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, have been offered "advice and assistance" by the police about the risk of attack by Islamist extremists.
Time to start asking around, I think, although I suppose it makes a change from crazed accusations claiming Timms is himself a terrorist sympathiser.
Channel 4 News understands Scotland Yard is reviewing security for all 650 members of parliament in the wake of fears over Islamist extremists.
Senior police sources have expressed concern that politicians may be at risk from so-called "self-radicalisers" - lone extremists who are not part of an organised plot but who are inspired by al-Qaida. Scotland Yard tonight declined to comment.
The disclosure comes two weeks after the former minister Stephen Timms was stabbed while speaking to constituents. The attack in east London by a young Asian woman is now being treated as a terrorist investigation. His assailant is believed to have been radicalised by Islamist extremists.
The Space Hijackers have announced that they are selling their Alvis Saracen Armoured Personnel Carrier, which contributed both to April 2009’s G20 protests and a substantial proportion of the prosecutions that followed. Charges of impersonating police officers were eventually dropped in January and now the Space Hijackers are parting company with their vehicle, nicknamed "FREDom", for £7000 (or nearest offer) so they can "focus on other projects".
Following the arrests in 2009, bungling Metropolitan police officers managed to crash the Saracen into one of their own riot vans as they were confiscating it, so it apparently needs some minor repairs, but otherwise it is in good condition. Viewings are available and unsurprisingly, the Space Hijackers insist that the buyer collects. Perhaps one of the police vehicle geeks who posted comments on this blog earlier this year might be interested?
Saracen FV603 6 wheeled armoured personnel carrier
Seats 11 (8 passengers, one driver, one commander, one gunner)
Size - 2.5m x 5m x 2.5m
Colour - Navy Blue with black and white checked stripes
Built - 1957
MOT / Road Tax - Exempt
Annual Insurance - approx. £130
Driving Licence Category - D1 (large minibus)
Petrol Consumption - don't even ask
Asking price - £7000 ono
When I visited relatives in South Africa in September 2007, each day we drove back and forth between Cape Town and Somerset West along route N2, passing the vast Khayelitsha township in the Cape Flats, the fastest growing in the country. To the horror of my aunt, my Dad and I even made the journey together down to Cape Point via the False Bay coast road, passing Mitchell's Plain and the city's biggest informal settlements. One thing hasn't changed in the twenty years since Mandela's release - white South Africans are still terrified of the townships.
This summer South Africa hosts the 2010 World Cup and has spent 33bn rand (about £3bn) on stadiums, tourist facilities, airports and hotels, whilst millions of South Africans continue to face appalling living conditions. In informal townships across the country, whole communities are being denied access to essential public services. And next to route N2 between Cape Town and Somerset West, a massive new housing project near the airport has been speeded up to 'beautify' the city and hide informal settlements from the tourists. This has led to mass evictions of 20,000 shack dwellers from the Joe Slovo Informal Settlement and their displacement to isolated transit camps like Blikkiesdorp - whose tin huts and strict rules have been compared to the alien internment camp of the science-fiction film District 9.
This interactive map of Cape Town produced by War on Want explores in depth the issues facing the city's residents in the lead-up to the World Cup. Click on the icons below to learn more about the neighbourhoods, settlements, townships and geographic markers that define the city's landscape – as well as the expensive construction projects developed for the World Cup.
The plight of the poorest in South Africa has grown worse as the World Cup has drawn nearer - but they are fighting back, aided by social movements like the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign and shackdweller organisations like Abahlali baseMjondolo.
The World Cup kicks off on 11 June and on Thursday 17 June, War on Want has organised an event on its impact on South Africa's communities:
Who’s going to win the 2010 World Cup?
7 pm – 9:30 pm
28 Commercial Street, London E1 6LS
Map | Facebook
A panel discussion including:
- Ashraf Cassiem, Anti-Eviction Campaign (South Africa)
- Phineas Malapela, Anti-Privatisation Forum (South Africa)
- Caroline Elliot, War on Want (UK)
The World Development Movement has set up Who Should I Cheer For?, a website that ranks all the teams playing in the World Cup to find the most supportable on the basis of their efforts to eradicate poverty and social injustice. England are 27th out of 32...
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
This sounds really interesting - courtesy of Freedom Press:
Freedom Press is proud to announce the forthcoming publication of the authorised history of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), one of the most effective political groups of the past quarter of a century. Written by those actively involved in confronting the far right between 1977-1997 it is an authentic piece of living social history.
Beating the Fascists: The Authorised History of Anti-Fascist Action is published on 28th July 2010, the 25th anniversary of the launch of the original AFA. Copies can be pre-ordered from Freedom at the special price of £10.00. Email to reserve your copy.
"Following the electoral collapse of the National Front in 1979, fascists went on the rampage. Race attacks escalated. NF/BNP gangs employed violence on the streets, on the terraces and to control the music scene. Young anti-fascists stepped up. A new hardline leadership emerged and AFA was formed in 1985. ‘A state of war’ was how one rueful BNP leader would describe what happened next.
Not only is ‘Beating the Fascists’ a meticulously researched study, it is also a much-needed piece of ‘history from below’. Throughout, the voices of working class anti-fascists come across hard, clear, and without apology. Illuminating and sometimes chilling by turn, the running commentary they provide helps ensure the tempo never flags. Gradually the reader is drawn into an outlaw world of back street idealism, paramilitary style violence and heroic self-sacrifice".
One of the pledges made earlier this month by the new coalition government was to "ban the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by councils, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime."
What, one wonders, has been so problematic about a fairly obscure piece of legislation that has led to such a severe curtailment of its use? RIPA was introduced by Labour in 2000 to regulate the way law enforcement agencies carry out covert surveillance, supposedly in preparation for the duties imposed by the Human Rights Act of the same year. When the act was passed only nine organisations, including the police and security services, were allowed access to private communications records, but RIPA has become so controversial because its use has extended far beyond tracking terrorists, drug smugglers and organised criminal gangs. RIPA now gives 474 local governments and 318 agencies — including the Ambulance Service and the Charity Commission — powers once held by only a handful of law enforcement and security service organisations.
Because surveillance can be instigated with only the approval of a council officer, local councils have used the law extensively, for everything from spying on their own employees, dog fouling and enforcement of the smoking ban to littering, illegal tree pruning and selling alcohol to under-age children. As a report by Big Brother Watch launched yesterday shows, 372 local authorities in Britain have conducted RIPA surveillance in 8,575 cases since 1st April 2008. Councils around the country are carrying out over eleven covert surveillance operations every day for minor offenses that hardly warrant such an intrusion into citizen's privacy, but few ever result in prosecutions and fewer still are successful.
So how has Newham council used RIPA? The Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by Big Brother Watch show that Newham used RIPA covert surveillance powers 18 times in 2008-09, rising by 56% to 25 investigations in 2009-2010. In both years, the offences investigated were for suspicion of taking bribes, under age sales of restricted goods, suspected persistent breach of court injunctions, rogue traders and car-clocking. No information was provided for prosecutions.
However, at least three of these offences seem serious enough for police investigation rather than council surveillance and the remainder are trading standards issues. So is it really necessary for a local authority to have such disproportionately extensive and unaccountable powers - especially as it seems to be using them more and more often?
The Grim RIPA - Cataloguing the ways in which local authorities have abused their covert surveillance powers [PDF]
Monday, 24 May 2010
Hackney born photographer Dennis Morris was just 11 years old when one of his photographs was printed on the front page of The Daily Mirror. He was invited to photograph Bob Marley and The Wailers on tour whilst still a teenager and was subsequently asked by Johnny Rotten to take the first official shots of the Sex Pistols.
With a career spanning more than 20 years, Dennis Morris has photographed some of the leading musicians of the time such as Bush, Oasis and The Prodigy. Several books of his work have been published; he has held exhibitions in the UK, Japan and Canada, and his photographs have appeared in Rolling Stone, Time, People and The Sunday Times, amongst others.
On 22 June at the Bishopsgate Institute, Dennis Morris reflects on his remarkable career and his impressions and memories of growing up in east London, in conversation with Renée Mussai, Archive Project Manager at Autograph ABP. Morris will discuss some of his documentary exhibitions of every day life in East London including Growing up Black, an autobiographical work documenting his upbringing among the Afro-Caribbean community in and around Hackney and The Happy Breed, which captures his life as a child in the East End in the 60s and 70s.
Tickets are £7, concessions £5.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
Rather later than others, including Harpymarx and AVPS, I have only just seen the footage of the 'direct action' yesterday by members of the Socialist Workers Party at the offices of ACAS, where negotiations between Unite and British Airways were disrupted. The following clip is from the BBC and there is more from inside the building here (hat-tip: AVPS):
Usually I'm all in favour of direct action and there is nothing necessarily wrong with directing it at attempts by union leaders to short-change their members. It's not as thought either Derek Simpson or Tony Woodley (who has started looking more and more like an over tanned Tony Bennett every day) don't have form in this regard - consider Woodley's support for the disastrous Phoenix Consortium takeover of Rover, for instance, as an example of how to completely misunderstand the interest of your members.
However, let's not forget the context here. The ACAS talks were not the result of efforts to cobble together a cosy deal, but the direct result of industrial militancy that has refused to cave in to either condemnation of the strikers' cause by the media or an employer bent on breaking their union. Willie Walsh, the CEO of BA, is desperate to win without making concessions (hence the shameful use of legal technicalities to try and prevent a strike) and today has tried to imply that Simpson "undermines discussions and raises questions about how this union operates" by sending updates on the negotiations on Twitter. Walsh doesn't want to be anywhere near ACAS - which means that supporters of BA cabin crew staff should know that keeping him there must be important.
So what possessed the SWP to invade the talks? I suspect it wasn't planned, the coincidental proximity of the party's Right To Work Conference was a factor and so was the evident absence of security at ACAS' headquarters. But that explains how the demo happened, not why.
In the context of an airline dispute, using the description "parachute politics" may seem a little overworked. However, for many of us (especially those of us who have been anti-racist campaigners for some time), the SWP's tactics will seem very familiar. Time and again we've seen them parachuting their members and resources into an area, with little or no interest in the nuances or context of an issue and certainly no thought for those already engaged in campaigning. Having made a noise, claimed leadership of the opposition to whatever latest injustice working-class people face, recruited a few members and then moved on, others are left to pick up the pieces. It's chaotic and short-term - and they have the cheek to accuse anarchists of being disorganised.
This is a point that shouldn't be overlooked - yesterday's event, although perhaps more blatant and ill-considered than usual, is par for the course for the SWP. I would argue that so too is the response of the party's front organisation 'Unite Against Racism' to the English Defence League, one that often (although not always) leaves Asian communities to deal with the aftermath of UAF protests and the local racist sentiment that one-off protests stir up, just as often happened with the early 1990s version of the Anti-Nazi League.
For many of us, this tactic has been a defining feature of our deep mistrust of the Trotskyist left. There's no point religiously repeating the instruction of SWP guru Tony Cliff that "the revolutionary party must conduct a dialogue with the workers outside it... not invent tactics out of thin air", if this is seldom if ever translated into practice.
I strongly believe we need an organised opposition to the imminent escalation of attacks on public services and on the pay of millions of people whose taxes bailed out the banks. But as yesterday showed, inventing tactics out of thin air is the last thing we need.
UPDATE - 25 May
The Guardian's industral editor Tim Webb continues the paper's legendary regard for accuracy by blaming 'anarchists' for the invasion of the ACAS offices...
Saturday, 22 May 2010
According to the BBC, David Beckham's torn left Achilles tendon has recovered sufficently for him to fly out yesterday from RAF Brize Norton to Afghanistan for a surprise visit to British troops, where he is "due to take part in a question and answer session".
The former England captain is quoted as saying:
A reminder to everyone at home? This is, of course, the latest stunt in continuing efforts to shift the public's perception of the military, efforts that have by and large been extremely successful. The war in Afghanistan drags on, with little prospect of anything but an unhappy ending, yet a celebrity can still burble on that troops are undertaking "an amazing job" of propping up a corrupt warlord government and most people won't bat an eyelid.
"I have nothing but admiration for these young men and women and it makes me very proud to be British.
"I've wanted to visit Afghanistan for a long time and I hope that in some small way
it helps remind everyone at home what an amazing job they are doing out here in very difficult conditions. I feel very humble."
Beckham reminds me of that old reactionary Bob Hope, touring Vietnam to 'boost the morale' of US troops, but at least Hope had the wit to joke, "the country is behind you 50 percent." All Golden Balls seems capable of is reading from a script provided by his army media handlers and happily posing with some guns, apparently oblivious to the fact that nearly three-quarters of the public view the conflict in Afghanistan as "unwinnable" and half don’t understand why Britain is still there.
So step forward David Beckham - no longer just a fading footballer and celebrity clothes-horse, but the patriotic, militaristic, propoganda-spinning Bob Hope for a new generation.
This review appears in the next issue of Red Pepper, out at the beginning of June...
Chris Morris, the director of the recently released ‘suicide bomber comedy’ Four Lions, is a tough subject for a biography. Influential as a fearless satirist and respected for radio and television programmes including The Day Today, Blue Jam and Brass Eye, Morris has not performed as a stand up comedian, seldom gives interviews and unlike comic collaborators like Steve Coogan, has never become the subject of gossip or scandal. Indeed, he appears deliberately contemptuous of the idea of celebrity, not least in his willingness to ridicule the media’s pomposity and in inviting the press to explode in self-righteous outrage by pushing the limits of ‘acceptable’ taste.
This poses something of a problem for Lucian Randall in filling a book that has his subject’s blessing but not his cooperation. It is an achievement that Disgusting Bliss manages to draw out stories from fiercely loyal friends and to sort through the often improbable myths surrounding Morris’ career, but over 250 pages it often seems bogged down in the detail of radio and television production. But when a more detailed perspective of the power of the media would have been welcome – on the controversy surrounding the humiliation of celebrities and MPs by Morris’ Brass Eye series and especially the storm of protest about the now infamous special on paedophilia – Randall left me wanting to know more. When a comedy is condemned by government ministers in Parliament, it probably deserves more analysis and a far greater range of contributions than Randall has managed to muster.
Definitely a biography for the committed fan, then, and after reading it I went online and bought The Day Today and Brass Eye DVD box sets. Although some of the early sketches look a little dated, Brass Eye in particular is still brilliantly savage and the real-life absurdities of television news are, if anything, even closer to Morris’ mocking vision with the advent of 24 hour rolling coverage. The thing is, you can pick up both series for about the same cost as Disgusting Bliss and for my money, they say about as much – and as little – as Randall’s book reveals about Chris Morris as a writer and performer.
Friday, 21 May 2010
Today's Friday lunchtime distraction is a trailer for the insane Finnish sci-fi comedy from Energia Productions, Iron Sky. It is due out next year.
Towards the end of World War II the staff of SS officer Hans Kammler made a significant breakthrough in anti-gravity. From a secret base built in the Antarctic, the first Nazi spaceships were launched in late ‘45 to found the military base Schwarze Sonne (Black Sun) on the dark side of the Moon. This base was to build a powerful invasion fleet and return to take over the Earth once the time was right.
Now it’s 2018, the Nazi invasion is on its way and the world is goose-stepping towards its doom. Get ready to kick some Nazi arse!
Bill Barol at Boing Boing isn't so sure about the Fast Company's theory - that the best Olympics have the worst mascots and therefore Mandeville and Wenlock inevitablty mean London 2012 will be "awesome". Then again, the Fast Company also call the London organisers the "owners of what may be the most widely panned logo in history".
Anyway, I thought the following from Adrian Chen at The Gawker, on how the designers might have come up with the idea for London's genetically mutated Teletubbies, is just brilliant:
5:38pm January 12th, 2010: T— Design Studio, London
DESIGNER ONE: OK, we need to design the mascots for the 2012 Olympics.
DESIGNER TWO: But I'm tired!
DESIGNER ONE: Here, we'll make it easy. We can just reuse the pattern for the walking penises we made for the London SEXpo.
DESIGNER TWO: Great! Should they have fingers? Or creepy stub-like claw things?
DESIGNER ONE: Stub-like claws. Fingers are really hard to do.
DESIGNER TWO: I think their trademark gesture should be the "sieg heil".
DESIGNER ONE: Definitely. They should walk around and just do the sieg heil everywhere.
DESIGNER TWO: I still can't believe that London chose a neo-Nazi design firm like us to make their Olympics mascot.
DESIGNER ONE: We've got some extra blue fabric. What should we do with it?
DESIGNER TWO: Well, one of the key principles of mascot design is to draw attention to the crotch. So let's put it there.
DESIGNER ONE: OK, all done. Let's go get drunk.
DESIGNER TWO: We're already drunk.
DESIGNER ONE: Oh, yeah.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
According to Amnesty International. "visit Bethlehem today and taxi drivers vie to take tourists on a 'Banksy tour'".
As well as stencilling and plastering the city's walls with brilliant artwork and Israel's illegal separation wall with vast murals, Banksy and 13 top international street artists have joined Palestinian artists to sell their art in Santa's Ghetto, a former fast-food restaurant in Manger Square in Bethlehem, raising over $1 million for local charities.
Some of their artwork is featured in an exhibition at Amnesty International's Human Rights Action Centre that runs from 2-11 June.
On Thursday 10 June at 7pm, the Centre also hosts the launch of William Parry's new book Against the Wall: The art of resistance in Palestine, with a panel discussion that includes the author and Peter Kennard, the photomontage artist known for the iconic images he created for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s and more recently for the Stop the War Coalition. Parry's book features prints from the exhibition and graffiti written by people from all over the world on Israel's Wall in the occupied West Bank.
Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, EC2A 3EA
The exhibition is open from 9.00am - 6.00pm, Monday to Friday, and entry is free.
More information here.
Just as the new coalition government that promised a bonfire of the quangos buries its disagreements by setting up a series of review commissions, I see that a think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), is instead calling for the establishment of yet another one.
RUSI Associate Fellow Margaret Gilmore, another senior BBC journalist firmly embedded in the security establishment and the ghost-writer for Andy Hayman's dreadful book The Terrorist Hunters, has written a paper suggesting that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) becomes “a non-departmental government body or agency, with new legislation to facilitate independent oversight.” Acknowledging the controversy over ACPO's status as a unaccountable private company that is “increasingly influential” and “the unofficial co-ordinator of forces”, Gillmore argues that it is nevertheless a “much needed part of the policing mechanism in the UK” that fulfils “a critical function”. All it needs, apparently, is “the strong, independent oversight of other organisations funded largely by the taxpayer.”
This is the most charitable view possible of ACPO's position. Another would see ACPO's very existence as an obstacle to democratic control of the police, with senior police officers willing to allow some public involvement at the fringes so long as they maintain control of the commanding heights.
ACPO has become a powerful lobby group, actively supporting controversial proposals such as the introduction of ID cards and the extension of pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects, lobbying backbench MPs and leading the way in attacks on the Independent Police Complaints Commission after the G20 protests. This isn't just my view or even an outlandish one - even the Tories have previously accused ACPO’s leaders of providing “political cover to the Labour Government repeatedly and consistently”, of engaging in “gratuitous photocalls” with Gordon Brown and other ministers and of “publicly and privately lobbied against a number of key Conservative issues, going far beyond its role”.
Bringing ACPO under the usual perfunctory 'oversight' would leave the fundamental power that it holds unchallenged. Even a fairly liberal position, certainly one more liberal than offered by Gillmore, would argue that there is no reason why most of ACPO's activities, paid for with our money, shouldn't be taken over by central government and become directly accountable to Parliament.
At least that would mean that its many nefarious bodies – the Criminal Records Office, the Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, the National Community Tension Team, the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, the Police National Information and Co-ordination Centre, the Confidential Intelligence Unit – would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. At least government ministers would be forced to explain the true cost of searches for information from the Police National Computer or why £1.6 million needs to be spent on flats in central London.
I personally think that democratic control of the police requires a far more drastic and radical approach than piecemeal reform, but in the short-term, there is no justification for ACPO's continued existence in the heart of government. It's not as though officers of senior rank who want to a body to represent them don't already have a separate staff association.
A new government promising “the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th century” could therefore do no worse than abolishing ACPO immediately.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
I appreciate that the BBC television series Life on Mars has provided a certain unwarranted sentimentality about 1970s policing procedure. But the new Home Secretary Theresa May’s proposal to return to the police the power to decide, in a huge number of cases tried by magistrates, whether a suspect is charged is taking things way too far.
Yes, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can be completely rubbish – not least when it comes to its repeated failure to bring prosecutions against serving police officers. But there were fundamental reasons why the police were themselves stripped of powers to make these decisions in the first place.
Before the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, which created the CPS, there had been considerable unease about the way that the police made decisions about prosecutions. During the 1970s, police forces around the country used different standards and not every force had its own independent prosecution department, although this had been the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Police as far back as 1962. Moreover, too many weak cases were being brought to court, leading to a high number of acquittals. There were serious doubts that an individual officer who had investigated a case could ever be relied upon to make a fair decision whether to prosecute or not - and equally serious doubts about how their case evidence was often obtained.
The Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure under Sir Cyril Philips, whose report was published in 1981, had been established following wrongful convictions for the murder of Maxwell Confait in Catford in 1972. A prosecution should never have reached the courts, based on confessions by minors extracted through police violence, raised many of the concerns that the Commission went on to consider – the proper balance between the rights of suspects and need for justice. Sadly a similar case from the 1970s, that of Stephen Downing, took much longer to see justice served – it wasn’t until 2002, after he had served 27 years in prison, that Downing was finally released.
On the day that the Independent's political editor has used his paper's front page to laud Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as the reincarnation of Lord Grey, with Clegg reassuring jittery Lib Dems by promising to end to "obsessive lawmaking [that] simply makes criminals out of ordinary people", one of Clegg's cabinet colleagues proposes a massive step backwards to the 1970s and a means of deciding on prosecutions that has demonstrably failed.
Now that, my friends, is sadly what coalition government is going to look like again and again over the coming months.
Monday, 17 May 2010
On Saturday, campaigners from London Rising Tide, London Tar Sands Network and Climate Camp London gathered to shut down the Shell petrol station in Islington for 5 hours, in protest against Shell's involment in Canada's Tar Sands project. Further protests will focus on Shell's AGM tomorrow.
More information on 'dirty oil' at Tar Sands Watch
Friday, 14 May 2010
At the moment (12.30pm), I'm probably still unconscious and recovering from early morning surgery. But I love this, another Friday lunchtime distraction from Mark Fiore on the absurdity of oil dependence, so I thought I'd schedule it in advance:
Thursday, 13 May 2010
More on protesters attempting to storm Leinster House in Dublin on Tuesday, in protest against bank bailouts.
Hat-tip: The Daily Bail
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
From the website of the Home Office Identity & Passport Service (surely facing an imminent name-change):
Both Parties that now form the new Government stated in their manifestos that they will cancel Identity Cards and the National Identity Register. We will announce in due course how this will be achieved. Applications can continue to be made for ID cards but we would advise anyone thinking of applying to wait for further announcements.
Until Parliament agrees otherwise, identity cards remain valid and as such can still be used as an identity document and for travel within Europe. We will update you with further information as soon as we have it.
So some of the new ConDem cabinet has been announced:
Percentage of ethnic minorities in the neighbourhood where I live: 64%
Percentage of ethnic minorities in the new ConDem cabinet: 0%
Percentage of women working in my office: 62.5% (including the boss)
Percentage of women in the new ConDem cabinet: 10%
(and that's Theresa May, for God's sake!))
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Unfortunately, I am still in far too much constant pain from my cycle accident to travel and so won't be able to make tomorrow's Democracy on Trial event at the Resistance Gallery in Bethnal Green. It's a shame as I also missed the last event by Join the Mutiny back in February and I was keen to throw my tuppennys-worth into this particular debate.
Resistance Gallery is at 265 Poyser St, London, E2 9RF [map] and the event starts at 6pm. More info on Facebook here.
So please - somebody let me know how it goes!
For five days there has been no government and the endless speculation in the media about negotiations for a coalition government has reached the level where, in the absence of any real developments, journalists and spin doctors are almost trading blows.
But as I start writing this, the TV is showing aerial footage of Gordon Brown on his way to Buckingham Palace to resign as Prime Minister, the general election of 2010 is finally over and we know we'll soon be facing up to a 'ConDem' enemy - either a formal coalition or a marriage of convenience.
With the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives combining to launch an unprecedented reduction in public spending, I guess the last vestiges of 'Cleggmania' are over too - and all those (like the leader writers at the Guardian) who supported the Lib Dems as a way to keep the Tories out must be feeling bloody foolish and severely betrayed tonight.
Meanwhile, having desperately tried to cling on in the hope that it could chaperone a number of smaller parties into a Lib-Lab "progressive alliance", Labour seems to have already forgotten that it was the biggest loser in the election. Some of its supporters seem to believe that a ConDem coalition is some kind of "electoral gift" and that all the party has to do is ditch Brown, choose a new leader and await a revival at a second election this year, when Labour will be presented with its opportunity to implement its own period of intense hardship at a slightly different pace.
Personally I think that if the party, having given us war in Iraq, timidity in reining in the banks after they were bailed out and repeated attacks on civil liberties, thinks it will naturally reclaim the support of the bloody foolish and the severely betrayed without making changes it is simply unwilling to make, it is severely deluding itself. Nor do I think a ConDem coalition will collapse as quickly as Labour supporters might expect (for this reason if no other).
Whilst New Labour tries to work out whether David Miliband or Ed Balls (God help us) is the most like Blair, what it won't be doing is what you might expect an opposition to do - actively opposing the cuts themselves. If it comes at all, that kind of opposition will come from outside Parliament. There are no guarantees and an alternative won't appear out of nowhere - to quote from one notable Italian, it will take "organisation, organisation and more organisation". That's why I've argued that concentrating so much energy on the election itself is rather less important than the aftermath we now face.
Whether the left of Labour manages to avoid getting sidetracked by the party's internal blood-letting and plays a significant role in a genuine alternative to the new age of austerity remains to be seen. On one level, it will of course be fun to see left-wing MPs making all those government-supporting backbench MPs squirm by calling for a debate on Trident, a policy the Lib Dems fought the election on. My blogging comrade Harpymarx believes that a leadership challenge by the MP John McDonnell "can open up political room for the left to put forward its ideas", although I remain to be convinced - but I completely agree that we need "a clear ideological account of what the left is and how to fight neoliberalism".
I've had a initial stab at suggesting a vague course of action for working out how we might try and make that happen, but we all know how sectarian and disorganised the left can be. Now that we've at last seen the whites of our new enemy's eyes, I really hope things are different this time. For once, another failure really is too terrible to contemplate.
Monday, 10 May 2010
My contribution to series of articles by the New Left Project on the aftermath of the election
The moment that I realised that yet again I would be unable to join in, herd-like, with something that people were saying was vital and urgent was when I heard the roar of approval for Nick Clegg. I’m talking, of course, about the ‘purple revolt’ of Take Back Parliament, the coalition protesting outside of the Liberal Democrat headquarters on Saturday.
These satellite images are from NASA’s Terra satellite. More are available here.
The environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is predicted to become worse than the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989. But according to Amnesty International, the same amount of oil is spilt every year in the Niger Delta – which is "one of the ten most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world".
This has a direct impact on people's homes, their water supply and food sources and the clean up is completely inadequate. The oil company with the most responsible also promotes its strong ethical business principles – Royal Dutch Shell.
From the Shell website:
Amnesty is targeting Shell's AGM next Tuesday - for more information, visit their website.
Contributing to sustainable development is integral to the way we do business and influences our choice of products and portfolio. As we work to help meet the world’s growing energy needs, we aim to bring benefits to local communities and reduce the impact of our operations.
UPDATE- 18 May
The Press Gazette reports that the Financial Times has refused to run Amnesty's advert, although it has appeared in London's freesheets, the Metro and the Evening Standard. A representative for the FT is quoted as saying:
No, I have no idea what that means either. But I'm sure that concerns about the sensibilities of the FT's corporate customers had nothing to do with the decision.
"Editorially the FT was more than willing to run the advertisement for Amnesty. Unfortunately, whilst Amnesty gave us written assurances that they would take full responsibility for the comments and opinions stated in the advertisement, it became apparent that Amnesty's lawyers had not had a proper opportunity to advise Amnesty on those opinions. As a result, from a legal perspective we were unable to rely on Amnesty's assurances."
Sunday, 9 May 2010
Now that Newham's imperious Mayor has secured a comfortable win and there is an absolute majority for Labour on the council, it will be interesting to see whether Sir Robin Wales - a man notorious for his political vengefulness - will pursue threatened legal action against mayoral opponent Alan Craig over campaign material issued during the election.
The row centres on a advert by the Christian People's Alliance (right), which alleges that a parking space reserved for disabled drivers had been designated for the Mayor because it was closest to the lifts and stairs to the offices in the council's new building, Newham Dockside. The photo used in the advert seems to back up this claim and the issue has been presented as a metaphor for the way that Sir Robin Wales runs the council.
Alan Craig reported on his blog on 26 April that the Mayor had instructed his solicitors to issue a threat of legal action. A letter to the Christian People's Alliance (CPA) said, “it will be understood by those reading (the leaflet) that the Mayor has put his own interests above those of disabled drivers and (it) makes derogatory comments on the Mayor’s motives and values... (It) will undoubtedly cause serious and ongoing damage to the Mayor’s reputation, feelings and chances of re-election.”
The letter went on to make eleven demands, including the disclosure of all the names and addresses that CPA leaflets had been distributed to, the publication of a full apology, the payment of the Mayor's legal expenses and the donation of £5,000 to a charity of his choice.
In the Newham Recorder on 28 April, the Mayor denied any involvement in re-designating the parking bay and added:
Craig rightly points out, however, that the advert had also been included in a council booklet sent to every voter in Newham and had therefore been approved by the council’s Chief Executive, Returning Officer and Head of Legal Services. Approval is not automatic - over in Hackney, Conservative candidate Andrew Boff is hopping mad that his election address was excluded from the borough's mayoral booklet because of his reference to the salaries of Hackney's mayor and cabinet.
"I am offended by this allegation. A lot of claims are made in politics and you have to develop a thick skin. However, the Alliance leaflet is beyond the pale and untrue. They are playing politics with disability and that is shameful."
Had Alan Craig been elected, I suspect that Newham Labour would have gleefully reported him to the Standards Board for a breach of the code of conduct on treating others with respect. However, the CPA lost all its council seats on 6 May and that opportunity for revenge is unavailable.
Perhaps the wipe-out of the CPA will seem like punishment enough - but I wouldn't put it past the Great Helmsman to vindictively continue with legal action if his demand for the repayment of his legal fees and a public apology are not forthcoming.
Private Eye reports that mayoral candidate Andrew Boff called Hackney council himself, after hearing that the voters who phoned the to check whether he was standing were told, wrongly, that he was not.
Without giving his name, Boff recorded a conversation with an unnamed council worker who clearly said – after checking with the council’s elections office – that "He’s not [a candidate] because he didn’t submit valid paperwork on time".
Now the council has threatened legal action against community newspaper the Hackney Citizen for including an audioclip of this conversation on its website. You can listen to the recording here.
You are bidding for the affections of this man, a Spanish speaking manufacturer and creator of kings. Yes, if you need a king swiftly fabricated, then this is your man! May be interested in part exchange for electoral reform and break-up of financial institutions, WHY - cash either way.Anyone seeking to cobble together a coalition government - or a desire to make the orange Tory Boy their gimp - has until 14 May to make a bid.
No "buy-it-now" price but make him an offer and he'll do you a deal!
May be of use to those with an interest in running the country.
Cash on collection.
Those with less than 220 seats, contact me first before bidding. Advertised due to nation of timewasters. Please do not bid if you cannot make up your mind.
NICK CLEGG HAS SOLD OUT! - or, rather, eBay has removed the listing.
Saturday, 8 May 2010
A follow-up to my earlier blog post on Newham council's issues with transparency - this time over considerable funding it has received from central government for 'Preventing Violent Extremism' (PVE).
PVE is part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, known as CONTEST. It is supposedly community-based and intended to challenge the ideology behind violent extremism, primarily in areas with large numbers of Muslims. It is also extremely controversial - accusations that it has been used to spy on Muslim communities have, to give the most generous interpretation possible, hampered its effectiveness. Others (myself included) see it as thoroughly insidious. This controversy was acknowledged in March by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee.
The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) says that "most Prevent funding is allocated to local authorities through the non-ring-fenced Area Based Grant (ABG). Not ring-fencing the grant gives local authorities the flexibility to decide how best to use it in their areas, and so helps Prevent to be delivered effectively at a local level." It is, however, clearly intended to be used to support specific projects through grant aid.
Like the Migration Impact Fund, nobody I know in Newham has the slightest idea how he money is allocated, so in February I submitted the following FoIA request:
The answer, once again, was classic Newham. The council confirmed the names of the 17 people on the Preventing Violent Extremism Delivery Group and that the breakdown of government funding allocated to the London Borough of Newham was as follows:
Please could you confirm the amount of funding that the London Borough of Newham has received under the government's Prevent strategy for Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) in each year to date since the Pathfinder programme in 2007-2008 and provide:
- A copy of LB Newham's current strategy document for delivering the
- Prevent strategy locally
- A copy of the allocated budget for PVE spending in 2009-2010
- A copy of the proposed budget for 2010-11
- Membership of the PVE steering group
- 2007/8 allocation Violent Extremism Pathfinder Fund, £30,000
- 2008/9 allocation, Area Based Grant allocation to Preventing Violent Extremism, £325,000
- 2009/10 allocation, Area Based Grant allocation to Preventing Violent Extremism, £400,000, a subsequent additional allocation of £18,292 was received from Department for Communities and Local Government.
- 2010/11 allocation, Area Based Grant allocation to Preventing Violent Extremism, £473,000, a subsequent additional allocation of £62,830 was received from Department for Communities and Local Government.
Whilst it may not have been possible in February to provide a copy of the budget for 2010/11, there should have been no reason not to provide - eleven months into the financial year - a copy of the allocated budget PVE spending in 2009-2010.
As I have said in my appeal, I would expect, particular because PVE funding is intended to be used to support specific projects through grant aid, to see a breakdown in detail of expenditure on PVE supported projects, including information on salary costs, publicity or other budgeted items. Instead, the review of the action plan has been used as a reason for providing no budgetary information at all. So where has the money gone?
So I’m no nearer to understanding how the council intends to "work closely with groups who are actively working to challenge violent extremism” – just like the £97,000 that Newham council received from the Migration Impact Fund, if anyone can offer any more revealing information, I would be very grateful.
The full response from Newham council is available on the What Do They Know website
So Newham council has returned to the one-party mini-state that existed before 2006.
Four years ago there were three Respect councillors elected in Green Street West (two of whom subsequently flipped to Labour) and three Christian People's Alliance councillors in Canning Town South. This is how these opposition parties fared on Thursday:
GREEN STREET WEST
Rustam Hasan Talati - 3,172
Harvinder Singh Virdee - 3,004
Mukesh Patel - 3,181
Ashfaq Ahmed - 1,362
Abdul Karim Sheikh - 1,189
Sabia Begum Kamali - 1,286
CANNING TOWN SOUTH
Bryan Collier - 2,263
Michael Arthur Nicholas - 2,028
Alan Taylor - 2,074
Christian Peoples Alliance
Alan Craig - 1,399
Denise Stafford - 1,004
Hamilton Amachree - 892
In other words, both opposition parties lost convincingly in the two wards where they had previously been strongest. There is no point in either of them pretending otherwise.
So what happens now? I suspect that far as Labour is concerned, citizens' involvement in local politics came to an end with the conclusion of yesterday's count and the absolute majority that comes with winning around 30% of the electorate in each council ward. Now they would prefer that local people attended the events held periodically in the local parks and kept their months shut. I also suspect that the chances of the council's internal 'scrutiny' process functioning with any greater vigour than we've seen since 2006 has further diminished (it has been useless anyway, even with a tiny opposition).
But whilst the Great Helmsman will probably be insufferably smug over the next couple of weeks, it's not as though we didn't have an elected dictatorship before. The real difference, as we saw when Labour last held every council seat, is that without an outside enemy to plot against and outdo, councillors start faction-fighting internally.
When will the battle to decide the Dear Leader's successor start? Who knows - it's like trying to keep up with the succession plans in North Korea. I'm not even sure that the rumours saying directly-elected mayors are limited to three terms of office and that the Eternal Mayor must stand aside in 2014 are even true.
But for any observer of Planet Newham, it should definitely be intriguing to watch.
It is obviously fantastic news that the BNP have been so comprehensively defeated in Barking & Dagenham. But who knew there were 1,089 people in the West Ham parliamentary seat prepared to vote for old school fascists like Michael Davidson of the National Front?
Friday, 7 May 2010
Discussion online about the general election has been febrile - but in many ways the outcome was inevitable. In another brilliant Lazy Friday distraction, Jarvis Cocker reminds us who is still running the world, regardless of whether we have a hung parliament or an outright victory.
Weighing the Labour vote is a cliché in Newham, but the combination of a Mayoral election at the same time as elections for Newham's two parliamentary seats has provided a far larger turnout and an substantial increase in Sir Robin Wales' vote from 34,061 to 64,748. Overall turnout was up to just over 50% of the electorate in Newham.
Wales' actual percentage vote remains largely unchanged at around 68% of the votes cast. Labour's mayoral vote was just 145 short of the combined parliamentary votes for Stephen Timms in East Ham and Lyn Brown in West Ham, suggesting that the general election has dragged up the Mayoral vote considerably.
In 2006, the second candidate was Abdurahman Jafar of Respect, who received 15,881 (31.8 of the vote). This time, Respect didn't even stand and the second place candidate was a Tory (who increased the Conservative vote from 8,822 to 15,330). Alan Craig of the Christian People's Alliance has seen his vote remain largely unchanged, falling slightly from 6,559 in 2006 to 6,503 yesterday.
There was simply no credible candidate to stand against Wales - and so little reason to vote at all, even if you loathe the man. The one thing we can definitely be sure of is that Wales will be even more unbearable over the next four years than he has been over the last four.
That means the fun starts - especially in defence of Queens Market and whatever new harebrained schemes the Dear Leader comes up with between now and 2014.
Newham election results 2010 can be found here.