Sunday, 10 February 2008

The State We're In

It's been a busy week in the news, what with Rowan Williams' ill-advised comments about Sharia law, the Man. United commemorations, and changes in the interest rate - and yet two not-so-newsworthy items have underlined the State, and the state, we're in.

The consortium of banks that have been funding Metronet, the now-bankrupt private operator that was responsible for modernising the London Underground, is being paid off by the Government. It is an admission that the Private Public Partnership, devised by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, has failed. The justification for PPP was that it would transfer the risk of the project to the private sector, and that it would be more efficient, yet it has now been shown that it would have been much cheaper to fund the whole thing through the public sector - and it has cost £1.7 billion to buy the banks out. £1.7 billion.

It has been announced by the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that coroners are to be abolished in certain cases - once again in the name of fighting terrorism. The coroner system has been in operation for around 800 years - surviving wars, revolutions, even attacks on the House of Commons by the prescient Guido Fawkes - but Jacqui Smith obviously knows more than everyone who has lived in these islands over that time. She has reassured us that the new powers will be used only sparingly; but who really believes her? (And we have to remember that the Government told the coroner into the death of Dr David Kelly that he'd not be needed, and that everything would be dealt with by the Hutton Enquiry into his death; truly, their mendacity knows no bounds.)

Monday, 4 February 2008

New Labour's Buddies on The Observer

Nick Davies has recently thrown the whole New Labour-'liberal' - worth apostrophising that word, as the government and the paper concerned are anything but - press hegemony open with the publication of his Flat Earth News. Amongst many startling and not so startling revelations about how journalism works, the genuinely shocking one is the complicity that existed between The Observer's Editor and Political Editor - respectively Roger Alton and Kamal Ahmed - and the Government in the run-up to the Iraq war. Davies says that not only was The Observer broadly supportive of the Government's line - Saddam was a danger, WMD etc - but that it suppressed - seven times - reports from its American correspondent stating that a CIA report had found that Saddam had no WMD, that Ahmed had a sneak preview of the 'dodgy dossier' courtesy of Alistair Campbell, and that Alton lifted parts of Campbell's e-mails to incorporate into The Observer's leader columns (Campbell having identified the paper as 'key', in order to get the lefty-liberals onside, and an ally in softening up opinion). Davies suggests that the Observer effectively became a Government mouthpiece.

The Guardian - The Observer's sister paper - have dropped plans to serialise the book - although Private Eye haved picked up the mantle - and one can only speculate the high dudgeon that that paper would effect were similar claims made against, say, The Sun and John Major's government. (It should be said that The Observer - now under new editorship - has published a review of the book by somebody who was on its editorial board at the time refuting some of Davies' assertions, but she specifically fails to deal with the allegations outlined above.)

As the commentator Stephen Glover says, 'there is no greater disgrace for a newspaper than to collaborate with a government in the propagation of a lie that leads to the deaths of many people'. Quite right, and I'd add that 'many people' should actually read 'tens of thousands of people and the destruction of a country', and that The Guardian should be ashamed of itself for failing to report such an important story, particularly as it has always haughtily railed against the invidiousness of cross-media ownership; seems like it's only a bad thing if used by the Right.

Friday, 1 February 2008

A Hat-Trick!

Today we discover...

1) The Government has refused the All-Party Parliamentary Group request for minutes of the UK's discussions with the US concerning the 'rendition' - that is, illegal kidnapping and torture - of people using the British island dependency of Diego Garcia. They have said that to do so 'would prejudice the defence' of territory by 'exposing plans to counter possible terrorist attacks' and that it could damage diplomatic relations between Britain and America. How disgusting. How shameful. How evil.

2) For ten years we've heard 'no more boom and bust' from Gordon Brown; now the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research forecast that the Government will need to raise taxes by at least £8bn over the next year to balance the books. Practically no forecaster agrees with the Government's forecast for growth over the next two years, yet Brown and Darling insist that - in the director of the NIESR's words - 'something will turn up at the end of the rainbow'. Anyone who reads Tom Bower's biography of Brown will know that this follows his pattern of denying expert advice, and hiding dreadful economic news - as all the analysts say, he should have been saving when the boom was in swing, and now it's going down there's nothing in the pot - in ever more labyrinthine rules, measurements and forecasts. It's looking really grim, and we're not being told the truth by those in power.

3) The Lisbon Treaty is being rushed through Parliament without proper scrutiny. Now this might not mean much to most people - which is what the Government is hoping. Having promised 'line by line scrutiny', important areas such as asylum and immigration and delegated powers away from Parliament to Europe are not being debated, but whipped through. Whether one believes in closer ties with Europe or not, surely no-one disagrees that the consequences of major change should be fully disclosed to the people, whose representatives should have a chance to properly scrutinise such important shifts of power.

So we have torture, lies about torture, lies about the economy and taxes, and lies about the future of our democracy. All around a good day then.