Monday, April 07, 2008

More of Have Their Say?

Last week, we reported on the BBC's use of the Have Your Say to select quotes for stories and the possibility that this system was being abused by the BBC to give their own views. In that instance a quote was provided that was supportive of the BBC when it was way down on the list of popular sentiments.

Today I checked the Have Your Say page. The question asked is "Should sport and politics mix?" in relation to the Olympic Torch and the occupation of Tibet. There are two quotes selected. One reads "Those who disrupted the torch relay should be fined, jailed and where necessary, deported" which appears on page 11 when ordered according to recommendations, but at least it has 12 of those. The other comment reads "I have nothing but contempt for "personalities" who've chosen to endorse this mockery of the Olympic spirit" from one "Adrian, UK". Only trouble is, this doesn't even appear to be a published comment.

Perhaps the BBC could publish their rules for these sorts of things to avoid confusion. This comment may well be one of the 1149 in the moderation queue, but if it has been published one must assume that it has been moderated. And why have the "Readers Recommended" option if the BBC continually ignores those comments?

The entire system is open to abuse. Since effectively the BBC can get any quote it wants from the thousands provided it is left to someone to choose one quote. And with apparently no oversight on the selection process it is all too easy to choose a nice quote that fits the mindset of the person writing the article and instantly it becomes an opinion piece not a news article. So if the BBC is going to continue to use this quoting system there needs to be an awful lot more transparency.

Ken Twists

Ken was on a walkabout in Islington on Saturday with "peace and anti-war campaigners", according to a Press Release. It's a slightly fascinating statement for a number of reasons, not least it's aim. I'm going to try a little deconstruction.

Firstly, then, is the opening line:

Ken Livingstone will join Tony Benn and other peace and anti-war campaigners today on a walkabout in Angel Islington.
That's an interesting expression - "peace and anti-war campaigners". Perhaps Team Livingstone can explain what the difference is between these two breeds? The simple implication is that quite a number of those campaigners aren't interested at all in peace.

The next paragraph reads:
To reinforce the need to keep the forward-looking approach that London has seen over the last eight years, Londoners for Peace activists will be highlighting the clear differences between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson's record on war and nuclear weapons.
Ever heard of this group "Londoners for Peace"? A Google search reveals that the only sites mentioning the group are those reporting on this event. The same result comes from Yahoo and MSN. So does this group really exist or was it conveniently set up for the Mayor's outing?

Next we have:

Veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent said:
"Ken Livingstone has worked tirelessly for community harmony and international peace. He is my first choice for Mayor."

This would be Bruce Kent formerly of CND. One wonders why Ken might be his first choice? Could it have anything to do with Ken's allowing the CND to use City Hall for free? And how about "community harmony"? Won't take long for most of you to think of at least one community in London that Ken seems to have worked tirelessly to antagonise - to the extent that he was suspended for a while because he couldn't bring himself to apologise for the offence he had caused. And international peace? Well, if you include cosying up to certain unpleasant people like Castro and Chavez.

Ken Livingstone said:
"London rejected the war in Iraq from the start and subsequent events have shown that they were right.

From the start? That would be why according to GLA commissioned poll more Londoners supported the war than opposed it? [see here pdf]

But it's the end of the statement that is the most twisted:

The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people, created a firmer basis for terrorist organisations in Iraq and made our city more of a target for terrorist attacks.
I am proud as Mayor to support the anti-war movement and to join the millions of people who demonstrated against the war in Iraq. The majority of Londoners, and every major candidate at previous elections opposed the invasion of Iraq - as do myself, Brian Paddick for the Lib Dems, and Sian Berry for the Greens. Boris Johnson enthusiastically backed the invasion of Iraq.

If Boris "enthusiastically" backed it, what did the Labour party do? Of course, Ken wasn't an MP at the time so he didn't have to vote in favour of the war but isn't it just plainly dishonest to try and portray himself as some bastion against the war when he's very happy to be the candidate of the party that took us to war?

The statement finishes:
It would be grotesque if Londoners, who oppose the Iraq war by an overwhelming majority, were to have a Mayor who supported it.
And so what about a Mayor from the Party that instigated it? The duplicity is incredibly thick here. Ken himself might be opposed to the war but he's running for the Party that started it and is still the biggest supporter of it. And he claims it would be grotesque to have Johnson as Mayor - surely it would be worse to have Labour in charge from that argument?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Johnson Gets it Wrong

Boris Johnson has announced a new policy to ban alcohol from the Tube. He said:

London has a higher rate of alcohol-related crimes than any other region in England and I have been told time and again that people are scared of taking the Underground late at night because of aggressive behaviour by drunken yobs.
Too many people find themselves forced to sit opposite someone swigging from a can of lager and engaging in behaviour that is intimidating or worse. I want everyone’s journeys to be safer and more pleasant.
Iain Dale comments:
As a liberal Conservative I instinctively recoil from banning things. However, is it liberal to allow tube users to be abused by drunken louts? No, definitely not. I think this policy will be welcomed by many as long as it is policed properly.
I think this is the problem. How will this be policed? The press release states:
Under the London Regional Transport Railways By-laws, TfL staff are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ to remove persons who breach any of the by-laws. TfL staff can prevent people from going through ticket barriers if they are in breach such as carrying any open alcoholic drinks. In the same way that anyone smoking can be prevented from travelling on the Tube.
This is all fine, but it only helps if a) there are TfL staff at the station and b) they see the person carrying an open alcohol drink. And what about unopened drinks that are opened on the Tube? Johnson could try banning all alcohol on the Tube but then runs the risk of stopping people taking bottles of wine to a friend or to work or wherever. And of course we have the problem of people already drunk before they get on the Tube.

The only realistic way to police this policy is to have staff, preferably from the British Transport Police, on the trains. But if they're there anyway there is no need for the ban on alcohol.

Overall, the aim is good but the policy itself won't work. No doubt it will be something of a vote winner but in terms of practicalities and effectiveness Johnson has got this one wrong.

Olypmics Benefits

A survey carried out by the BBC revealed that 73% of people in the UK thought that they would receive no noticeable benefit from the Olympics in 2012. Tessa Jowell hit back saying:

We're not idiots here. We have actually given more thought and careful planning than any other city has ever done before, in making sure that people all round the country have a part in the Games and benefit from the Games.
Last year it was announced that the budget for the games had gone up to £9.4 billion. Of that £6bn is coming from central government, £2.2bn from the National Lottery and £1.2bn from the GLA. According to a report published by Oxford Economic Forecasting (read full report here [pdf]) London pays for approximately 20% of the UK's taxes. So, if we leave aside the National Lottery contributions for which breakdown of ticket sales is going to be tricky we are left with a total £7.2bn. Of this £1.2bn is being paid directly by Londoners through the GLA and a further £1.2bn is being paid by Londoners through central government. That leaves £4.8bn paid for by those living outside London, or 2/3rd of the cost.

So, if you're not idiots, Ms Jowell, how do you plan to ensure that 2/3rds of the benefits for the Olympics will be received by those outside London? Come to that, how do you plan to ensure that all Londoners share in the £2.4bn they are expected to pay for this?

Boris Battles BNP Best

Yesterday the BNP told their supporters to give their second vote in the London Mayoral elections to Boris Johnson, as he was the "lesser of two evils". In what can hardly be called a ringing endorsement they said:

Our suggestion … is that you hold your nose and cast it in favour of the Conservative candidate, Boris Johnson. This is not because we think that Johnson would be any good as mayor — he is as politically correct as any of the other candidates and has no real ties to our London — but because he wouldn't be actively bad in the way that [Ken] Livingstone [the Labour candidate] is.
Of course, the three main candidates had to react and rather unsurprisingly two tried to make political gain out of it. Ken said:
Two parties have now called for a second preference vote in London's Mayoral election. I am proud that the Green Party's Sian Berry has called for a second preference vote for me. That the BNP have called for a second preference vote to the Tory against me is no surprise. I hate and despise everything the BNP stand for as against every value of London as a great multi-ethnic tolerant and diverse city.
The message apparently being "I hate and despise the BNP but Boris doesn't." Brian Paddick also follows the same line:
Clearly the BNP have recognised Boris's talent for causing offence and creating division.
Whenever an extreme group endorses a candidate that candidate's opponents try and construe that into being indicative of the policies of the candidate. They try and make the candidate guilty by association. Never is it harder to do that then when the endorsers give such reluctant support as the BNP did to Johnson. Doesn't stop those who are desperate though.

As for Boris, he simply stated:
I utterly and unreservedly condemn the BNP and have no desire whatsoever to receive a single second-preference vote from a BNP supporter. I hope as many Londoners as possible turn out on May 1 to prevent the election of a BNP candidate.
No attempt to spin this support in his favour. Good on Boris. A pity the other mayoral candidates couldn't be so clear in their opposition to the BNP. It's one thing to oppose the BNP, but when that opposition is linked to an opposition to another candidate, as Ken and Brian did, the opposition is weakened and the principles blurred. At least one candidate has clear moral scruples.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Speaker, Labour and the BNP.

During today's PMQs one member asked Harriet Harman about a BNP candidate who had commented that rape is not a heinous crime and compared it to "force-feeding a woman chocolate cake". Conservative MP Charles Walker condemned the comment maintaining that the candidate was not fit for public office. Ms Harman replied agreeing with the condemnation and adding:

The best way to avoid a BNP member being elected to the London Assembly is to make sure that as many people as possible vote for all the other parties.
While I fully support the condemnation and hope people do not vote for the BNP I was left slightly bemused by the exchange. Before Tony Blair left office David Cameron asked him who he would recommend to be his successor as Labour leader, and hence Prime Minister. The Speaker refused to allow Cameron to ask the question. So why was this question allowed? Surely a question directly pertaining to the next Prime Minister is far more appropriate in the House of Commons than one relating to a local election?

If MPs cannot ask questions about political parties during PMQs why was this allowed, and if they may, why was Cameron's not? If anyone has an explanation please let me know.

Ben Elton and BBC Bias

Another day, another celebrity attacking the BBC for bias. Ben Elton told a Christian magazine that the BBC was scared of Islam jokes. He said:

There’s no doubt about it, the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass. They might pretend that it’s, you know, something to do with their moral sensibilities, but it isn’t. It’s because they’re scared. I know these people.
He added:
I wanted to use the phrase ‘Muhammad came to the mountain’ and everybody said, ‘Oh, don’t! Just don’t! Don’t go there!’ It was nothing to do with Islam, I was merely referring to the old proverb, ‘If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain.’ And people said, ‘Let’s just not!’

It’s incredible. I’m quite certain that the average Muslim does not want everybody going around thinking, ‘We can’t mention you. We’ve just got to pretend you don’t exist because we’re scared that somebody who claims to represent you will threaten to kill us.’
The BBC didn't agree. A spokeswoman said:
No subject is off limits for BBC comedy. The treatment should not cause harm or offence as defined by the BBC's Editorial Guidelines or breach other BBC Guidelines. There is no evidence that the BBC is afraid to tackle difficult subjects.
No evidence? Dear me. Not that long ago the BBC held an "impartiality summit" and during a discussion concerning Room 101 - a comedy show - most of the BBC staff present including senior staff said that they would allow the Bible and the Archbishop of Canterbury to be thrown into Room 101 but not a Koran.

What evidence do the BBC need then, one wonders?

It's 'Cos I is Muslim

A councillor from East London was stopped today at Heathrow and asked questions about his visit to Cairo. Cllr Oliur Rahman had been there for the now annual and infamous Cairo anti-War conference. He was asked the purpose of his visit and decided that this was unfair. He reports the incident:

A man standing behind the desk when I went to immigration control asked to see my passport and said he was a police officer. He asked me why I'd been in Cairo, how long I'd been there, what contacts I'd made and where I lived. I asked him what was the purpose of these questions and he said he was from Special Branch and had the right to ask under the Terrorism Act. So I asked if he was calling me a terrorist. He said 'no' and went away and left me for half-an-hour.
One can't help but wonder if he didn't get himself into trouble by apparently refusing to answer the questions. But Mr Rahman knows what was really going on:
They didn't stop anyone else from that flight and I'm sure it was because of the colour of my skin and because I'm a Muslim. It really makes you realize what happens to people.
Now it's quite clear that Mr Rahman was convinced of this the moment he was stopped, hence his offended question "are you calling me a terrorist?" But this is patently untrue. Mr Rahman says that no one else was stopped, does he expect us to believe that on this flight from Cairo he was the only Muslim on board? How else could he be so sure that it was because he was Muslim that he was stopped.

Mr Rahman is second on the Respect Party ticket for the London Assembly elections. Do we suppose that his candidacy might be withdrawn for launching baseless and self-evidently untrue accusations at the police? I wouldn't hold my breath.

More Mosque Trouble

Councillor Alan Craig is running for Mayor of London for the Christian People's Alliance. One of his main policies is to ensure that the "mega-mosque" planned for East London does not get built. There are genuine concerns with regards to this mosque. It is being built with Saudi money by Tablighi Jamaat, a group described by French Intelligence as "an antechamber of fundamentalism". They have also declared that this mosque, which will be bigger than St Paul's, is designed specifically to encourage visitors to the Olympics to convert to Islam through Dawah.

Well, the UKIP candidate, Gerard Batten, has taken on this policy and gone one stage further, a stage too far. Writing to The Times today he says:

But I go further than Alan Craig in that as London mayor I would oppose planning permission for any new mosques in London until there are places of non-Muslim worship allowed in Mecca and Medina.

Moderate Muslims should support such a policy so that a message can be sent loud and clear to the extremists. Muslims must apply the same degree of tolerance to other religions in their heartland that they expect to be applied to them in non-Islamic countries.
Of course this is a ridiculous notion and if Mr Batten thinks any Muslims would support such a policy he is deluded. It seems that he is under the impression that all Muslims are one homogeneous group and they all take collective decisions. How else can he explain trying to hold London Muslims accountable for the actions of the Saudi Royal Family. Isn't this as bad as the BNP?

Difficult to see who is worse out of Mr Batten and Ms Ruoff. Which do you vote for?

Mosques and agreeing with the MCB

A member of the Synod of the Church of England said that no more mosques should be built in Britain. Alison Ruoff declared:

You build a mosque and then what happens?

You have Muslim people moving into that area, all the shops will then become Islamic, all the housing will then become Islamic and as the Bishop of Rochester has so wisely pointed out, that will be a no-go area for anyone else. They will bring in Islamic law. We cannot allow that to happen. We are still a Christian country – we need to hold on to that.
One wonders what Ms Ruoff is thinking. Does she believe that Mosques are incubators for Muslims? That somehow by virtue of there being a new mosque there are suddenly more Muslims in Britain than there were before? It's probably a safe bet that mosques are built in areas or close to areas where Muslims already live. And if some Muslims move into an area to be closer to their place of worship it's probably also a safe bet that they're not living in both places at the same time.

On this one I have to agree with Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain:
These are unfortunately very bigoted and, frankly, xenophobic remarks. There must be freedom for all communities and not just for some. I think heads of the Church will be disgusted with the comments.
Quite right, Inayat, for a change.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pre-charge Detention, Outrage and Decadence

The big topic of the day, obviously, is the Government's bid to extend pre-charge detention to 42 days.

There is no widely perceived need for more authoritarian legislation. So far there has been no case where the police would have liked more than the current 28-day limit and only 11 suspects have been held for more than 14 days.
So why do police chiefs want up to 90 days? He explains:

It is during a wave of multiple, complex terror plots or attacks that, security sources say, the power to hold suspects for up to 42 days will be necessary.

They argue that the time to legislate for emergency detention powers is now – when it can be properly considered – rather than in the frenzied atmosphere of a national emergency.

The assumption behind this plan is clear, then. One day the police will have a suspect in custody, will be forced to release him after 28 days and he will go on to kill people. And then there will be such an outrage against the police and government that they will rush through an extension. The essential accusation is that we, the British public, would be so distraught at the loss of life that we will accept, nay demand, that our leaders compromise on our high standards to ensure our protection.

And he's probably right. Just this week we found out that a terrorist had been released a whole 17 days early from prison and there was such an outcry that the government very quickly changed its policy. It would seem that faced with the choice of danger of some deaths or compromise on moral high standards we will compromise every time.

What is more, in the comfort of our safe armchairs, when is all is fine and calm, we will oppose these moves. We will cite freedom and people will talk about doing the terrorists' work for them. But as soon as the bomb goes off and people die we will be shouting for action against those very freedoms.

There is surely only one word for this, decadence. The Islamists accuse the West of this and we are guilty as charged. When all is peaceful we extol the virtues of civil liberties and freedom. We laud ourselves for our high moral standards and unshakeable values. But in reality we're scared, terrified. As soon as something goes wrong, someone dies, we will turn our backs on those freedoms in a heartbeat.

In WWII Britain's ability to take the punishment of the Blitz, of the V1s and 2s allowed us to stand firm for what we believed in. And we rightly look back at that with pride. People died and we accepted that as the price of freedom. A heavy price, but one we were willing to pay. Today we're not willing to pay that price. The result is evident.

We will compromise, demand compromise, on our standards to avoid the deaths of some citizens. We demand that Afghanistan and Iraq are left to fend for themselves against the Islamists lest some of our brave soldiers die in defence of democracy and freedom. We are at a point where safety and calm are more important to us than morality and liberty. We are truly decadent. We should be ashamed.

MCB Praises Fitna

The Muslim Council of Britain gave limited praise to the film Fitna. Acknowledging that it conflated all Muslims with terrorists and Islam with violence they said:

Nevertheless, the film raises important questions about the relationship between Islam and Islamism and lays down the gauntlet for all moderate Muslims to challenge those who would abuse our peaceful religion as a means to promote violence and extremism.
They added:
We plan to include parts of the film in an educational video aimed at teaching children about the dangers of Islamic extremism and we thank Mr Wilders for putting the particular issue of Koranic exegesis in the limelight.
The MCB also plans to send a delegation to Yad Vashem in Israel and is organising a celebration for Israel's 60th.

Fighting Our Supporters

Hassan Butt is a former terrorist. He admits this freely. He admits to having recruited British Muslims for jihad and raising money for terrorism. He admits all this because he has turned his back on Islamism and now fights against it. As part of that fight he is writing a book about terrorism and Islamism.

Last Sunday, Nick Cohen in the Observer spoke about the police's attempt to force the manuscript and sources to be handed over for investigation. He concluded:

If Butt and Malik are prosecuted, how the jihadis will laugh at the stupidity of a country that can't tell its allies from its enemies. 'Look,' they will say to their recruits, 'look at what happens to Muslims who go over to their side. Are they thanked? Are they honoured? No, they're prosecuted. All Muslims are the same to the British and there's no point in trying to please them.'
Well, the police won the right to force the book to be handed over. Newsnight reports:
Hassan Butt's co-author, an independent journalist, has been ordered to deliver draft manuscripts and notes for the book to the Greater Manchester Police.
The question must be asked, how stupid are we? What do we want? Do we want prisons full of Islamic terrorists or do we want a Britain free of Islamic terrorists? I think most people would prefer the latter. And this man is working, partly through this book, to help bring that situation about. We should be helping him, not impeding him. The police have already stated that he poses no danger, he has already done some work with the government to help stop Islamism being spread in Britain. So why would we interfere with that work?

Just a few days ago the Defence Secretary Des Browne suggested that we should try to reach out to members of the Taliban who might be persuaded to stop fighting. If we're prepared to reach out to them, why will we not do the same to the British Islamists. It seems that this government's approach to terrorism is muddled at best, but it looks more like incompetence and ineptitude.