Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fonthill Road

Oh, the joy of Fonthill Road, best-kept secret of the wily bargain-hunting ladies of North London. In a panic because I don't have a frock for the Madrid wedding this weekend - well - I thought I had a perfectly serviceable cotton number until J revealed to me yesterday that it is a very posh society do - I peered into my bank account and despaired. Fabulous frocks are all very well, but weddings - and I have two this year to go to plus two hen weekends - are so flipping expensive. It's not just the frock, but the shoes, hat, bag, jewellery, flights/train tickets, hotel, present and all the rest of it. The average couple spends £1400 a year on attending weddings, apparently. Ouch.

So off to Fonthill Road I ran. Fonthill Road is just behind Finsbury Park train station and off Seven Sisters Road, and is a street where all sorts of bizarrely-named shops sell factory-outlet frocks to the trade and general public at ridiculously low prices. By frocks, I mean, proper frocks. And hats and jewellery and fascinators and handbags and shoes. It's all very international. The outfits come from Italy, Turkey, France, Spain and India (mostly) and there are no changing rooms, so you have to try them on whilst hiding amongst racks of clothes which are all still done up in plastic wrappers. Cypriot and Turkish ladies zip you up, suggest what size will fit better and are ruthless in their criticism and fulsome in their praise if something works ( 'Darliiing! It makes your hips look tiny!' 'No! Too much breasts!..this is better'....wrench...) . It's cash only, and you're welcome to haggle.

They are not exactly the sort of outfits one would wear to the supermarket (although they do have some cheap and cheerful cotton sun-dresses and skirts) but if you can pick your way through the OTT mother-of-the-bride pastel and sequinned numbers, there are steals to be had. I picked up a black with white embroidery corseted strapless fifties style dress with net petticoat for £45, and a crystal necklace and earrings, fascinator and sequinned clutch bag for £50, all in. Then a seventies-style cotton maxi dress for £10 and a waisted linen dress with poppies printed on it for another tenner. Teenage girls were out in force trying on tulle and chiffon princess dresses for their school proms, and two West Indian ladies were picking up suits and hats to wear to church. There were a few budget-conscious brides and bridesmaids rummaging as well.

Some of the dresses are just stunning; elaborate one shouldered full-length creations, with sequins and feathers and beading and embroidery and matching shrugs and shawls... I'm not quite sure where they can be worn - there's a distinct lack of a formal ball-scene in Finsbury Park and débutantes are in a minority in Hackney - but at prices like that it's Prince Charming's loss.

P.S: I will get back to political blogging shortly. I am officially on holiday at the moment so frivolity is what you get. Well, we all need a break sometimes.

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Madrid encore

Madrid was marvellous fun but rather exhausting. We arrived late on Saturday night and checked into the Vincci hotel on Via 66, part of a chain of chic modern hotels. It had been newly refurbished in monochrome and silver, and was light, airy and feminine, with a sweeping spiral staircase, marble and chandeliers and black and white vintage showgirl pictures putting us all in a glam mood.

The bride-to-be was determined to start the party immediately, so we set out in search of tapas and refreshments. Unfortunately even Madridians go to sleep and close their bars sometimes, so after tramping about for an hour we ended up at some late night dive where the food was both expensive and distinctively left-over-ish. Mind you, it was 1am and still better quality than you'd find in the West End at that time of night. We got to bed at 3am, which pretty much set the pace for the next few days.

On Sunday I woke up early and sunbathed on the roof terrace whilst the others slept in. Sometimes I wish I had not lost the old knack of a lie-in, but I would have missed the cerulean blue sky and the swallows darting, the sounds of the city wakening. We went out for more tapas, including the ubiquitous jambon and manchego cheese, and sat wilting and fanning ourselves in the blazing heat -36 degrees - in the Plaza Major, whilst excited Spaniards paraded with flags in preparation for the night's football tournament.

We had a picnic dinner on the roof terrace as night fell, and then watched the nail-biting penalty shoot out; afterwards the roads filled with cars hooting joyously - Spain had not beaten old rivals Italy for over seventy years.

On Monday it was sweltering and oppressive, the air stale and heavy, my headache a warning of storms brewing. We retired to the park where it was cooler and greener, looked at all the fountains, wished we could jump in, and then hired a boat and rowed about the ornamental lake, past statues of merpeople riding turtles. As dusk fell we went to yet another tapas bar and had delicious gazpacho, tuna and red peppers, tortilla and pimentos de padron, my new favourite thing - baby green peppers fried with seasalt. They are addictive.

As we left the bar, the heavens opened. The road became a torrent, and the pavement a waterslide. Merely to stand in the storm for a moment or two left you as wet as if you had leapt into a lake. Overhead, the sky boomed with violet lightening. Enterprising Thais appeared from nowhere and began selling umbrellas, but they were little protection from the water which quickly drenched us to our knees. Even in a Caribbean hurricane-season rainstorm, even in India, I have never seen a storm like it. We clutched each other in fits of giggles under a perilously-sagging awning, then decided to make a run for it to the hotel, holding hands and shrieking as our sandals were almost torn off by the floods, blinded by rain and drenched to our underwear.

On entering the hotel, the electricity went off and the normally-lugubrious staff began to flap; the city soon descended into chaos as the power failed everywhere. I managed to get into our room and find a corkscrew, and towels, and my companions and I began a picnic on the landing, under the emergency lighting, whilst the hotel staff set about freeing less fortunate people trapped in their rooms. As the storm continued, we partied and danced to a battery-powered ipod with speakers, dressed in our best frocks, and when the rain eventually ceased and steam rose from the manholes, we went out to a few clubs and danced until dawn.

On the final day, the air was fresher, and we sunbathed for a few hours before walking the streets in search of - you've guessed it - more pimentos and cold San Miguel. We almost missed our flight, but just squeaked it, and I arrived late last night laden with Tio Pepe Fino (drink chilled in frozen glasses, with olives and salty ham) and duty-free.

I'm now rushing through my emails, and ironing frantically - because I'm off to Madrid again tomorrow for a wedding. A different bride, a different hotel, but the same city and I hope that I will have just as much fun the second time around.

More guest-blogging whilst I am away....thanks Zoe!

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Off to Madrid

I'm off to Madrid for a long weekend with my best friend, and her two other closest mates. My first holiday without J in ten years. The excuse is that my friend is getting married in September. We rejected the idea of a 'hen do', and decided we would rather go flea-market-shopping, and architecture-sight-seeing, and sit in bars drinking cold wine and eating tapas wearing our best summer dresses, as a small group, than go on some grim ritual drinking and clubbing bender as a drunken herd. We have been congratulating ourselves on our new-found ladylike maturity. After twenty years of hard partying, it's about time that we were able to have a pre-wedding party that didn't require the hasty destruction of all photographic evidence the following day. However, my friend has still packed Alka Seltzer.

J and Miff are being left behind in the rain to fend for themselves. Despite me getting in enticing bags of cherries and plums and pears and tomatoes, and bags of salad to encourage a diet that does not lead to scurvy, I expect I will find a teetering pile of pizza boxes on my return mid-week.

There may also be some guest-blogging...

DD website up, with a blog, so you can leave comments and pick up on the continuation of the debate about 42/28 days started last might on Question Time. Main DD website here

Friday, June 20, 2008

Smearing and sneering

It is unworthy of someone in a senior government position - it is unworthy of anyone, come to that, and it is absolutely pathetic. This is how people in the Government respond to a wide-ranging public debate on the important issue of the erosion of ancient freedoms. With tittle-tattle lies and grubby little smears and sneers, innuendo and baseless gossip: and so it starts. I expect worse to come in the next three weeks. And will anyone from Labour stand and fight the corner they claim they have overwhelming public backing for?

No. And that says it all, doesn't it?

Lots of talk about a changing world and ghastly threats to our way of life in the PM's recent speech about liberty and security. But who is really feeling threatened? It looks to me like the government is running scared. Too scared to run a candidate in the liberty by-election, just as they seem too scared to allow us a referendum on the EU, and were too scared to have a general election last year. Bottling it, then. Again.

When this government talks about 'security', it looks like the security that they are most interested in is their own job security. And by 'liberty', they seem to mean the liberty to snoop and spy and spin and lie and then retreat into a bunker saying that we don't understand and it's for our own good and if we knew what they knew, then we'd all be grateful and shut up. We should always keep a-hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse,

What a disgrace. No wonder people across the country are completely fed up with it all, and are saying so. The old right/left divide is falling away; it's now authoritarian and libertarian lines that we divide along. Those who want to keep a-hold of Nurse and those who would rather not, thank you very much. Lions? Hmmm.

UPDATE: Liberal Conspiracy

'The comments sprang from a subconscious, short-sighted, self-aggrandising boorishness - which often involves chauvinism, but is in fact a different beast. It’s the arrogance of the territory-jealous middle-manager run power-mad (not a bad description of the Labour experience as a whole, in fact).

We’ve all been half-bullied by these half-people at some time (or maybe I just think we all have and it’s actually just me…) and the drip-drip narrative goes something like this: You disagree with me, ergo everything you do is worthy of ridicule, all your motives are untrustworthy and you are to be treated with contempt.

It’s a narrative that twists facts to fit its own picture of how the world should be - Davis obviously must be a lying snake in the grass, therefore any impassioned discussions he may have with senior civil liberties figures can only be a “joke” that reflects badly on both of them.'

UPDATE 2: Guardian - see also the comments raging.

P.S: The casual implication that the phones of anyone prominent in the civil liberties lobby are routinely tapped is particularly creepy and might as well be guest conspiracy theory of the month, though the genuine shock when Davis announced his resignation actually proves that this isn't so...

P.P.S: And this issue has been running as news for eight days so far. And shows no sign of dying down. Heh.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Scared New World

It's all very well to keep going on about protecting liberty, and to make a big speech on security, and talk about how we live in a 'new' (5o mentions), 'modern' (14 mentions), 'changed/ changing' (19 mentions), world

- which is full of 'terrorists' (22 mentions) and 'terrorism' (10 mentions) and 'crime' (18 mentions) and 'criminals' (10 mentions) - in which the government is mad keen to be seen to be 'safeguarding the individuals right to be free'...because 'people are understandably fearful that they may become victims of a terrorist attack, (even though there are 2000 terrorists compared to 60 million of us on this island, so the chances are pretty slim...)

...but if someone could explain why I should feel safe and secure in handing over all my details to this Government, after the recent fiascos of secret files left on trains (twice in the last ten days), followed by Hazel Blears laptop being nicked, because despite their protestations about our right to security being so terribly important, they don't seem to have any idea of how to look after confidential data at all.

Either that, or the Civil Service are out to really get them.

UPDATE: Ha, excellent sketch in the Times

UPDATE 2: A superb fisking over at Septicisle/Obsolete

re-re-re-re-re-re-wind.....the Sun's gone back in again

Can you hear it? The sound of the Sun, and the rest of the media, back-peddling. A reverse ferret', as Obsolete describes it in an excellent post.

Last Friday saw furious Davis-bashing in the Sun, and lofty sneering as the media and political establishment decided anyone giving a stuff about piffling old freedoms instead of personal advancement was clearly 'bonkers', if not traitorous. Matthew Parris described how it happened...

Within the space of an afternoon a relatively small number of people - MPs, broadcasters, journalists, party hacks - gathered within a relatively confined space and, communicating mostly with each other, worked each other up into a clear, sharp and settled judgement on the question of the hour. By now it was almost unanimous. The judgement was conveyed electronically to the offices of the national press, bouncing back at Westminster in the form of vituperative editorials and opinion columns by dawn the next morning.Thus, by echo, a single opinion reinforced and magnified itself.
The public, however, thought otherwise. And said so. Loudly and clearly, in their thousands. Cue dissenting blogstorm, cue public opinion tidal wave, thousands of emails, phonecalls, comments - and lo, cue rather hasty re-evaluation by the Fourth Estate. Rarrrr!

But no-one has done a more startling volte-face than the Sun, who were originally cooking up a plan to stand their very own man, ex-editor Kelvin McKenzie, against Davies, on an authoritarian pro 42 days ticket. After refreshing themselves at a surprise 40th birthday party for Rebekah Wade, on Thursday night, the plan was hatched.

Friday's Sun leader was 'Crazy Davis' and duly put the boot in

HAS David Davis gone stark raving mad? How else can we explain his silly act of self-styled martyrdom? The Shadow Home Secretary rambled on about making some sort of “noble” protest.
But what was he protesting about?

By Monday, though, the paper had worked out which way public opinion was running. The Sun's political editor, Trevor Kavenagh began to turn a corner. 'Dave's all ego, but he's right on state snoopers', he wrote, talking of 'contempt by public servants towards the public they are supposed to serve'. Owch.

Annoyingly, though, it is hard to disagree with the cause Davis has decided to embrace.
Britain IS now a nation of unaccountable snoopers with sweeping powers to pry into every nook and cranny of our daily lives... The knee-jerk response from the shadowy world of officialdom is that if you’ve nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. I used to think that was true.But there are too many recent examples of innocent, or at least harmless, citizens being bundled off to police cells for no good reason. Even more alarming is the unyielding response from blank-faced authorities when caught in the act: We were just following guidelines, guv.

"Acting on orders" is the first and last refuge of the totalitarian jobsworth...

Most Sun readers will instinctively support 42 days’ detention without trial for terror suspects if it helps prevent an atrocity on the streets of Britain.

They would accept ID cards as a sensible way of co-ordinating swathes of information already in the public domain if it made life easier as well as more secure.

CCTV cameras can undoubtedly be a force for good and DNA data banks have put killers and rapists in jail who would otherwise have escaped justice.

But along with many Sun readers, I don’t trust this Government, the police or the State bureaucracy to discriminate between keeping an eye out for our well-being and spying on us...

Today, Fergus Shanahan, the Sun's columnist, goes even further, in a piece titled 'I respect Davis for defending freedom'. Yes, really.

Davis has hit the nail on the head. We HAVE allowed ourselves to be browbeaten by fears of Islamic terror attacks into abandoning too many of our freedoms — something I have said for months. Many Sun readers agree with me.

They aren’t soft on terror any more than I am.

But like me they worry that this is ceasing to be a country we feel at ease in, or the country we once knew.

A country of ID cards and databases, secret cameras, tax snoopers who can barge into your house and council spies who can fine you £200 just for dropping a crisp.

And here's the this the start of a climb-down on 42 days?

Three myths are peddled by Davis’s opponents.
The first is that if you are against 42 days, you are soft on terror.
Rubbish. I have backed capital punishment for terrorist murderers while many of those kicking Davis are against it. How am I soft on terror?

The second myth is that weary old chestnut: “If you’ve nothing to hide, why worry?” That’s what German civilians told each other as they looked the other way while the concentration camps were being built.

The third myth is that there is massive public support for 42 days.
Yet I can find only one recent poll giving a clear majority for Brown. The internet is full of opposition to 42 days.

The truth is that just as Davis says, there is real unease because many see 42-day detention without charge as another sinister step towards making the state all-powerful. Forty-two days is also a smokescreen for Labour's failure to use existing terror laws.

Now that is pretty damn amazing. I blinked, several times. And then cheered.

The voices of the people are actually being heard, thanks to new communications technology, and people, in their thousands have made Westminster and the media listen. And I don't just mean the political blogs, though I know they are being monitored (hello to my three new readers from News International!).

It took one of their own to shock the political elite by breaking all the rules and making a stand, on, splutter, principle. He has used the system against the system. And it needed an insider to do it. No worthy lobbyist, no unknown back-bencher, no diligent campaigner could have caused such a stir. You might not agree with his brand of conservatism, nor how he has voted in the past but here it is - a break. A big break, a shocking break. A break for people who want to say something about freedom. We can carry on blogging and lobbying and moaning and protesting and raising awareness and hand-wringing in the usual way - or we can grab this chance now the issue has suddenly gone bigger. The issue of liberty, and its defence was being talked about in the pub at the weekend and it was still being talked about in the cafe where I went for a bacon sandwich today. And I didn't start the conversation.

Now Davis has taken this issue away from the closed Westminster hot-house, with its arcane unspoken rules, and horse-trading, and whipping, and bullying, and nods, winks and tricks and put it right out there. The debate has been ignited in a big way. Now it is up to us to get involved, and to fan the flames, not pour cold water on them. It is time to get out of the closed mindset of party political loyalties and tribalism. It is time to storm into the debating space which has been opened up, before it closes again. As Sunny Hundal says, at Liberal Conspiracy

'Forget the politics for a minute. Forget that he may be positioning himself. Forget the fact that he is effectively out-maneuvering both the Liberal Democrats and even the Libertarians on civil liberties. Think about the outcomes.

If Davis fails, both Labour and Conservatives keep the status quo or push it further into authoritarian territory'

Yes, and that's the point for me. If this turns into a circus, or is allowed to fizzle out, then we have made things worse not better. Authoritarians would love this to be a nine days wonder and then an embarrassment. This is not going to the Tory side, this is getting a big Tory on our side.

Davis, a Tory, a career politician, a big bruising beast, is inserting himself forcibly into the Westminster machine until it grinds and smokes and sparks fly - but it is not a man nor a party that people are rallying to, it is a cause, and it cannot be about one man, but about one thing - our freedoms.

And that cause is cross-party - it must be - how can any one party 'own' standing up to protect basic freedoms? David Davis does not own this debate. He has just done a big thing to throw himself into the debate. It is above politics, or it flipping well should be. It goes to the very core of what it means to live as a free member of British society. The fact that the party politicians and the establishment can't understand it and think it is mad to go out on a limb for it proves it.

It is up to us to step into this space and open this thing out, to make this space fill with those who support liberty, and get as many people in the space, standing shoulder to shoulder, on this single issue: to demand a limit to the abuse of State power. To question how that power is used and what is being done to us, and for us, and by us, against us, in our name, by those we elect to serve us.

Stop being cynical. Stop looking for the catch. Do you want this debate or not? Get involved.
Or sit back, and watch it die again. I can't do that.

I'm in. I'm not in the Tory party. I'm in the crowd, saying, don't give me fear. Give me freedom.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Treading Water

At 5 Grove Road is a man with a knife who's about to stab his wife. We know this, because he dialled 999 and told us so. After he stabs her, he's going to stab his son, then his daughter. And then he's going to kill the first cop who comes through the door. At the moment, that's likely to be me. I am therefore waiting at a distance that cannot possibly be misconstrued as coming through anything, waiting for units with taser to arrive and electro-shock the man to his sense.

It's Friday night in Blandmore, and while the man at Grove Road considers his options, a thirteen-year-old robber fresh out of custody climbs the stairs of a multi-storey car park and stands on the edge of the top level waiting to be noticed...

read the rest of the post at PC Bloggs


Should I go and campaign about liberty with David Davis?

Dear readers,

I would like to ask your advice. Should I go up to Yorkshire and campaign about liberty with David Davis?

As regular readers will know, the subject of terrorism and the causes of terrorism and how we protect ourselves from its effects is one close to my heart. Equally close to my heart is the subject of liberty and democracy; things that those who would like a Sharia State are not at all keen on. By the chance accident of being on a train three years ago, and then writing about it on a message board when I got out of hospital and got home, and then being asked to keep a diary by the BBC, which became this blog, I ended up being part of a big news story, and the political, for me, became the personal, and vice versa, in a rather unusual way.

This blog is where I express my personal opinions, like millions of other bloggers do on their blogs. I like writing and debating, and after a while, my writing jumped from blogging into mainstream media. There are lots of journalists and commenters expressing their opinions about politics and terrorism, and I joined them, and the debate, in a small way. If Melanie Phillips, say, or Matthew Norman can express an opinion on the anti-terror laws, civil liberties or security measures, then why shouldn't I?

Even though I keep trying to say that my views are just my views, except when I am specifically campaigning or acting as a spokesman for a group view ( such as the campaign for an independent inquiry into the 7 July bombings which is supported by a group of survivors and families), there is a worrying tendency to try to make me the voice of all victims. I am not. How can I be, how can anyone be? That is just lazy journalism. Three trains and a bus were bombed, and if you were to go onto any three trains and bus this morning you would find a wide range of people with a wide range of views. We who were unfortunate enough to be caught up in 7/7 were just ordinary everyday people of all ages, races, religions and political persuasions. That was the whole point of indiscriminate bombings targeting the general public.

There are families and survivors who support 42 days and all sorts of increased powers and I entirely respect their viewpoint. I was not seriously wounded or bereaved on 7/7, although I do understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of hateful violence. And I understand grief and anger, even more now since my mother died suddenly last summer. I too feel the urgent desire to do everything possible to stop a repeat of the London bombings, or worse. That is why I campaign for an inquiry into 7/7, that's why gave evidence to the London Assembly as part of their drive to improve communication and response on the aftermath of a disaster, that's why I stayed engaged in the debate and continue to be, three years on. Because I don't want it to happen again, and I care about the issues raised. Passionately.

But I also don't want to live a life of fearfulness, in a climate of suspicion and anxiety about being blown up at any moment. I want an accurate picture of the terrorist threat. I don't think the threat should be exaggerated to win votes or play politics or sell papers. I also think it should not be underestimated. So I follow the news, watch the court cases, talk to people - everyone from police and security personnel, experts and academics, politicians and journalists to ordinary people who have been affected by terrorism and the terrorism policies of this country. I try to learn as much as possible about what is going on. I'm still listening, still learning.

And the position I came to is this: the bomb exploding is only part of the terrorist's strategy. What they really use is the fear of the bombing and the effect this fear has on all of us, which is far more people than they could ever hit with an explosive device. They want us to be afraid and to imagine our worst nightmares. They want us to become angry and to start looking at all Muslims with suspicion and preferably, hatred. Then they can move in and say to young Muslims: see, you are victims of an oppressive system that wants to make war on Islam and hates all Muslims. Rise up and fight back!

They would like this very much: the British people to be permanently afraid of them. It makes them important, it dignifies their 'cause'. They would never get enough people to vote for them, so they rely on propaganda and the threat of violence to get us to notice them, and to recruit to their cause.

I do not want to do their hateful work for them. We have withstood far greater threats than this, most recently, waves of terrorist bombing campaigns from the IRA, to the mighty German war-machine hammering us with ariel bombardments, night after night, the WMD of their time. Children evacuated, gas-masks supplied to the population, streets flattened and people maimed and killed by the thousand. Every night, every week.

And whilst this was going on, and whilst men and women went off to fight and die in other lands, we still held on to our fundamental freedoms. Soldiers served to protect and defend us and to keep us a free country. Even 18b, legislation introduced by Churchill's government during the war to intern up to a thousand suspected fascists without charge or trial was abandoned before the war had even ended, Churchill having said that to detain a man'“without the judgment of his peers is in the highest degree odious and the foundation of all totalitarian government, whether Nazi or communist”. After the war, ID cards were dropped, and life went back to normal.

Now, we're told, the new complexity of terrorist plots means the police might need longer than 28 days in the future to actually charge someone they have arrested for questioning. But for the last ten years M16 and the police have been investigating complex plots in co-operation with other nations' security services -such as international weapons or drug trafficking cartels -and they have had to deal with evidence cached on hundreds of computers, witnesses speaking foreign languages, complex networks who are resourced with their own protection muscle, their own lawyers and often the assistance of corrupt officials - and they have not said that they need six weeks to question suspects and investigate before charging them.

There have been no terrorism cases where longer than 28 days has been needed, police have gone to the wire on three cases only and even that may be, we're told, not true. (Who has not gone to the wire on a deadline? I know I have). But to lock someone up for six weeks in a windowless cell - yes, even a person suspected of terrorism - and then to go on a fishing expedition and look for proof to charge them - running all the while the risk that they may be innocent - and 50% of people who are detained under the terrorism laws so far as I understand it - have been found to be innocent - how is that right?

These laws can be used on anyone. Anti-terrorism legislation, despite reassurances at the time of passing it that it was only to be used in the most serious cases, has been used against a pensioner shouting 'nonsense!' at a conference, numerous protesters, people gathering petition signatures , actors, journalists .. and they could be used against you or me.

And the anger the laws foment when applied heavy-handedly or in way that suggests that Muslims are being criminalised is actively used against us, to damage one of our best sources of intelligence, information from local communities. It was local Muslims in Bristol who tipped off the police about a Muslim convert who was arrested and allegedly found to be assembling explosives, making some kind of vest. He was not on the security services radar.

These laws do not make us safer. We do not become more free and safe by giving up freedoms.

So, this is important, and I have said it all before.

Now, should I stand and say it again, at Mr Davis' side?

Reasons against

1. In some ways it is quite frustrating being a 'survivor' of a terrorist attack. No matter how much research and work I do, no matter how well I put my case, people are not listening to me because I am reasonably well informed and have done the leg work. No, it is because I am a 'victim'. Well, that should actually be irrelevant. Debates about liberty and security should not be won or lost because of sympathy for the person on the stump. The fact that I happened to be on a train with a suicidal terrorist is not the point. The fact that afterwards I tried to find out as much as possible about both sides of the debate before coming to a decision is of more relevance. You should not be able to win a debate by simply shoving someone onto the floor who has suffered as a trump card; that is cheap and exploitative and wrong.

2. This debate should be above party politics. It should not be about point-scoring against the opposing political party to your own. The people affected by the London bombings should not be used as a political football, or to make emotive arguments. The bombings were an attack on all of us, indiscriminately, and the debate about how far we go and how much we change in the aftermath equally affects all of us and should be participated in by as many people as possible. That's how democracy works.

3. I'm not a Conservative. If I go and campaign with DD, I am campaigning for a Conservative candidate who has in the past said things I strongly disagree with, such as supporting Clause 28 and the death penalty. My own 7/7 experience, and 7/7 itself, could be used to support a Tory campaign. Because people will look at me and go '7/7 victim' and want '7/7 experiences', not reasoned arguments and research. Or perhaps I am just being cynical. But I can see me saying my stuff , and then the opposition bringing on someone in a wheelchair or someone who has lost a loved one, who disagrees and then it will become all about 'who has the right to speak more because who has had the worst time of it' and it will be shameful.

4. I am not a politician or a professional campaigner backed by an organisation. I am a civilian. I do not have the support of lawyers, advisers, staff to protect me against spin and attacks and abuse and hate-mail and intimidation. I am not particularly thick-skinned, I have not had a great time over the last six years and I have taken the brunt of some very nasty stuff already for speaking out, which has included a criminal harassment campaign, abuse, heckling, intimidation, threats to 'pop round', the attempted publishing of my home address and family details, people contacting my family, unsolicited nasty communications, vicious lies and abuse published on the internet and on two occasions, death threats. Quite honestly, there have been times when I and my family have been very scared and upset. Am I really up to walking into a bear pit, unprotected? With the Sun against me and the government's spin machine grinding away?

Reasons for

1. I have said and I still say, that Mr Davis is making an important and principled stand on a matter which is extremely important to us as a nation. I have said that if you do not act on your principles, then they are just opinions. It's all very well blogging about it, and going to demos, and lobbying, and being in a documentary about liberties, and writing articles and giving speeches but should I do more, if asked? And I keep being asked.

2. This debate should be above politics, and not just left for the Conservatives to have internally about how far they might go if elected to repeal or pass terror laws. Already two Labour MPs have stepped forward to support the campaign, as have Nick Clegg, Shami Chakrabrti, Helena Kennedy, Henry Porter, NO2ID and others who support the cause of civil liberties. It affects me as much as anyone else, it has been a passion of mine for some years, I am deeply involved in it, so why should I not speak up?

3. If I do not stand and speak out, then how can I decry people for not standing and not speaking out, not getting involved? How can I stand back and let the Sun make out that standing up for liberties is somehow letting down all the victims of terrorism? How can I let 'victimhood' be used as a stick to browbeat people with? It is simply false to equate 'supporting civil liberties' with 'being soft on terrorism'. I bloody well hate terrorism, I have seen the horrific things bombs do to people, I have lain awake shaking as the memories crowded back in. I want to stop terrorists killing and maiming people. I am also certain that the laws being put forward are being put forward for political reasons, and run the risk of being counter-productive.

4. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't really, aren't I? Like I said to the Home Affairs Committee, please don't take my opinion any more seriously than the opinion of anyone else. I am just an ordinary person. I do not have any special wisdom. I'm scared of terrorists, sometimes, I'm scared of being attacked and abused. But I don't want to be. I want to stand up for what I believe in, I want to live my life freely, I want what everyone else wants. The freedom to speak and the freedom to keep silent. To be fairly heard and fairly treated, to work and live in a way that is meaningful to me. I didn't choose what happened to me, but I can choose how I act afterwards .

So, should I stand and speak?

I apologise for the length of this public-soul-searching post. Just typing it up has helped me think it through, though. Now it is over to you. If you were me, what would you do?

And what do you intend to do in this debate about freedom and fear?
And what do you think Mr Davis, the other candidates and the political parties and the government should be doing?

Thank you in advance.


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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thank you Poons and Marina

I just found two new reviews of my book, Out of the Tunnel, that are actually a few weeks old, but I had missed them when technorati went wobbly.
Thank you x a million Poons and Marina.


Which way the wind blows

Civil liberties campaigning Observer columnist Henry Porter comes out for Davis, as does the redoubtable Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti in the Mail on Sunday. And so does Labour peer Helena Kennedy in the Independent.

Belatedly, media are catching up with the public mood...
The Spectator
gets it. The Mail on Sunday headlines with 'Poll reveals huge public support for Davis' decision to force by-election over Government anti-terror laws'

The Observer's Gaby Hinsliff writes that 'suddenly Labour is not laughing at David Davis', as the paper strongly backs the principle of what Davis is doing in an editorial. Simon Hefffer in the Telegraph thinks he is setting a powerful example. Davis himself writes in the Telegraph of how he is fighting to defend basic freedoms, and readers come out in support in droves in the comments. The letters page is keen too.

In fact, support for having a proper debate on civil liberties is now rife across the political spectrum. Blogs and readers' comments, pretty well everywhere, are in support of DD, from the Guardian to the Telegraph and Times and BBC. Meanwhile, Kelvin McKenzie is rumoured to be pulling out , and there is speculation that Mr Murdoch is considering fielding baggage handler John Smeaton, who shot to motivational speaking fame after 'setting aboot' an inept extremist at Glasgow airport, though the Sunday Mirror says this is not the case.

The debate has ignited, and the Tories now have to hold the line on liberty, and not back-track, and Labour really need to field a candidate. A proper one who can answer questions in detail about the government's anti-terror laws and policies. A Labour politician, then, not a symbolic cut-out. Only snag is, the Labour candidate where Davis is standing doesn't, apparently, support 42 days. Bob Marshall Andrews, a Labour MP critical of the anti-terror line, has gone further and said that he will campaign with Davis.

If Labour are so confident of their anti-terror position, and the poll that says the public broadly support Brown's anti-terror laws, then they should have no problem meeting principle with principle, point with point, political argument with political argument, matching a politician against a politician, should they?

The country deserves nothing less. I wonder if the government will have the courage of its convictions or continue to smear and sneer from the sidelines, ever more out-of-touch with the public who recognise a genuinely principled stand and applaud it, even if they don't agree with Davis on 42 days? Calling it a 'farce' looks cheap, and worse, cowardly - and simply makes Brown look like an unelected ditherer who won't put his policies to the real test - a public vote.


Update: oh dear, about that poll....

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Saturday, June 14, 2008


From today's Financial Times

'The tantalising prospect of an election battle between Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron mesmerised Westminster yesterday, before the media tycoon moved last night to kill off the idea.

The genesis of a "Sun versus the Tories" by-election was a 40th birthday party thrown for Rebekah Wade, the tabloid's editor, on Thursday night. The Sun, the principal media cheerleader for Gordon Brown's contentious 42-days detention proposals, was outraged by David Davis's resignation. A characteristically unrestrained leader in the tabloid yesterday, headlined "Crazy Davis", fulminated against the former shadow home secretary's "shabby act of treachery" and "petty grandstanding".

Ms Wade and her team had on Thursday afternoon already been discussing a cunning plan to convert this print attack into a full-blown campaign battle, by approaching Rachel North, one of the survivors of the July 7 bombings, to stand against Mr Davis.

As journalists and politicians - including senior Tories but not Mr Cameron - mingled and gossiped at Ms Wade's party, the idea gathered momentum. Mr Murdoch was among those captivated by the concept of a Sun campaign...'

I mean, what the hell? I wish that I had found an answerphone message from Ms. Wade or one of her assistants on my mobile. I would have been quite tempted to put it on youtube, perhaps remixed. I can't believe they were discussing this at a fortieth birthday party. Mind you, I've come up with some madcap ideas at parties myself, that seem deranged in the sober light of dawn.

The back-peddling then starts and the rest of the article is quite funny.

Why on earth would I stand against Mr Davis? I'm not a politician. And I don't support 42 days. (As I thought I had made rather clear, by writing this, for example, in The Sunday Times, which is published by Mr. Murdoch. And by going on and on about the subject for the last two years on my blog and elsewhere.)

Why isn't a Labour politician standing? There's enough of them voted for it. If they are so sure that the public is mad for 42 days they should have no problem convincing them, should they? They were all keen enough on it when I watched them debating it last week on TV. They were all delighted to vote for it and were not whipped or cajoled or encouraged or bullied or 'incentivised' at all, oh no.

I have never voted Conservative, because I am not a Tory. I usually vote Labour or Liberal Democrat. I'm really struggling to support Labour these days for reasons which are well-known to my regular readers.

Personally - and this is my personal opinion expressed on my personal blog - I would support a cross-party alliance of people who campaign to raise the single issue of civil liberties, and if Mr Davis can summon up such an alliance, great. I expect lots of people would support it. Judging by the public reaction on blogs, message boards, and in the readers' comments on newspaper sites, there are a great many people of all sorts of political persuasions who are very excited by the idea of a debate and pleased about Mr Davis' stand. The debate about freedom and fear, liberty and security is a very important debate, and one that is of significant relevance to everyone, not just people who were randomly involved in a terrorism attack, such as Locherbie, or Bali, or the London 7 July bombings.

Mr Davis is a senior and serious politician with many year's experience. What is the point of putting someone who is not a politician nor experienced in the ways of political campaigning, up against him, just because their life was blighted by a bomber, by chance, three years ago? How is that fair? How is that a debate?

In fact, the idea of using a symbolic 'terror victim' to do the government's heavy lifting was first floated on Hackney Labour councillor Luke Akehurst's blog...and got a huge kicking from bloggers of all political persuasions, who said, quite rightly, that it was wrong. And a lot of other things besides (sensitive readers beware: high-velocity swearing in many of the following links)

Meanwhile, it is interesting that the Westminster village has been chuntering so much and been so negative about what Mr Davis' decision to raise the issue of civil liberties and resign his position to do so. Neither journalists nor politicians like being completely surprised, and Mr Davis surprised them.

To put it mildly.

Matthew Parris has some musings on the subject, in The Times

I thought this week had been mad but it just keeps on getting madder and more bonkers.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Don't get cynical. Get passionate

Land of no return. Read it and be shocked.
Paul Linford on why Labour should stand.
Cookiemouse is anxious, but listening for angels
A stupid idea is responded to (see also all the links under the original damnfool post)
Iain Dale gets hitched - congratulations.

NEW: Glen Greenwald in on the US and UK right differences

Have a good Friday.

Reaction to Davis - and will Labour stand?

Well, it seems people are agog, aghast, a-quiver or cock-a-hoop. Opinions are divided over whether this is good or bad for the Tories and good or bad for Labour. Either way, it's electrifying.

Shocked reactions as the news broke at ConservativeHome with opinion divided. Blairwatch is pleased that Davis spoke for an awful lot of us.

Septicisle has a well-written and thoughtful post saying Davis deserves our support.
Matt Wardman applauds Davis for nailing the Tories to civil liberties and drawing support from across the political spectrum in doing so.
Conor Foley has just resigned from the Labour party, over 42 days, and says it is with mixed feelings that he recognises Davis is now the most important symbol of opposition to a fundementally flawed piece of legislation.
The Spectator on the Passion of David Davies.
Iain Dale, who worked as Davis' man for the leadership campaign and was everywhere yesterday, on Davis' walk into the unknown
Unity thinks it a futile gesture and Justin wonders about premature capitulation and Matthew Norman thinks we're world leaders in security blunders

Will Labour stand? No, it looks like the Sun, the only paper to run with the Government's authoritarian line, will run a right tit instead. Well, it is important to stand - or fall for what you believe in. Over the last hundred years, people have died to keep us free. People have died to keep us safe.

If Brown's government are so sure that 42 days and their current anti-terrorism and surveillance policies are designed to keep us safe and free and are willing to whip, harry, bully and buy a vote in the Commons, then why will they not also put it to the people? Let them vote for a Labour candidate backing the Government's tough line on detention, ID cards, CCTV surveillance, curtailed right to protest, rendition, war and all the rest of it?
Do Labour not have the courage of their convictions?

It would be fascinating to see a cross-party alliance forming on this, a democratic liberties party ( which commenters on Liberal Conspiracy are discussing). We shall see where the political storm blows us over the next few weeks...

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

If you don't act on your principles, they are not principles, they are only opinions.
Sometimes I used to wonder whether senior politicos would recognise a principle if it bit them on the nose.

Judging by today's hysteria, they wouldn't, because they are seemingly entirely unable to recognise it in DD. It's not a publicity stunt, mental illness, a tiff, a rage, or any of the other foolish things that are being said. It is what it looks like - someone doing something because they think it is the right thing to do.

Outside the Westminster Village, in the real world, people recognise that. They might not agree but they respect it.

David Davis: An man of honour


Just - wow.

I have met Charles Clarke, John Reid and Jacqui Smith in the course of campaigning for an inquiry into 7/7, and whilst I was pleased that they agreed to meet me and other families and survivors asking for an inquiry, the meetings were ultimately disappointing.

I met David Davis, and Nick Clegg when I had the honour of standing beside them to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, about this wretched terrorism bill that was voted on yesterday. I was glad and proud that we all said the same thing: we do not defeat terrorism by throwing away what we hold dearest of all, our liberties. We said it again and again. And the comittee agreed.

I met Mr Davis again afterwards, and I have to say that before the meeting I was a little wary, because I didn't think the 7/7 inquiry campaign should be used as a political football by the Opposition, because the people who were directly affected that day have all sorts of different political opinions, (obviously) and important matters of terrorism and liberty should be above politics in any case.

But Mr Davis was so obviously sincere about his support for the 7/7 inquiry campaign, and then I saw how he lit up and was clearly so passionate about civil liberties and freedom, that after the meeting I walked out with a much lighter heart, because I had seen that this was not political, but personal, and that he really believed it. And that could only be a good thing for Parliament and his party and for all of us who want to preserve freedom and what we stand for and not be cowed or bullied by terrorists or anyone else.

I applaud Mr Davis for this brave and rather wonderful thing that he is doing ( yes, I know it is a safe seat. So?)

I can't stop smiling. I want to cheer. I woke feeling very gloomy this morning after yesterday's disappointment, and squalid show, ( even though I had high hopes for the Lords fightback to come over 42 days). But now it feels as if the sun has come out and the rain has stopped falling.

Well bloody done sir. Well done.

You have done yourself and the cause of freedom proud.

I salute also my MP, Diane Abbott, who I have just written to, thanking her for her inspiring performance in the Commons yesterday.

Who said politics is boring?


Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Sold, to the *Democratic Unionists, for a parcel of promises, our liberties.
What a damn shame.

UPDATE: Come on the Lords, unelected saviours of democracy.
To be fair, that was so narrow, and they were wheeling people in on wheelchairs and dragging them out of bed, that I don't think that has really done Brown any favours at all.

*corrected, ta!

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Unravelling

Kamal El Helbawy, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who helped bring in moderates at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, believes that Al Qaeda's days may be numbered: "No government, no police force, is achieving what these [religious] scholars are achieving. To defeat terrorism, to convince the radicals ... you have to persuade them that theirs is not the path to paradise."

Full, fascinating article 'The Unravelling' is here in The New Republic
The Sunday Times ran part of it, under the header Al Qa'ida -the cracks begin to show

I was pleased to see Dr Usama Hasan quoted prominently. Dr Usama Hasan was once a member of an extremist group and a fan of Bin Laden. Now he speaks out against extremism and Al Qa'ida at Leyton Mosque, where he is the imam. His journey from extremist to counter-extremist is one that is happening all over the world, as Muslim scholars add their voices to condemnation of Al Qa'idas toxic hate-propoganda and murderous tactics used against innocent Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

I have met Dr Usama and spoken with him several times.He is a man of sincerity and courage. He has asked me to speak at the Muslim debate and study group, City Circle on July 11th which is an honour.

3 posts that moved me

Granny P on grief

Twenty-five years on, she's learned the hard way that as you grow older, as the deaths mount up, each one comes ever more freighted with past deaths, old griefs, with whole lives lost in the past; lives leaving little but photographs behind them- the odd object - the odd reminiscent piece of music - to remind you of how things were. At that funeral her dad was, she's sure, weeping not only for his sister, but for his long-dead parents, for his two much older brothers swallowed up in the killing machine that was World War One, for his wife, her mother, dead at 53: for all those lost lives - his lives - that theirs contained. At such moments the past reaches away behind but is also very close, close as the stratified layers in an archaeological site: whole centuries lying one on another, a mere whisker or two apart, in a single wedge of earth.

Girl on sex, anonymity and pastures new in Observer Woman
and covering the same topic on her blog, but this time talking about the impact on family life

Indeed, even at my grandmother’s funeral last month, a woman in her 60s who I’d never met, came up to me, and asked, “You’re Zoe aren’t you? You write that sex column. I love it! All my friends read it now; we talk about it a lot. I can’t say I agree with or relate to your experiences but it’s certainly an education!” I thanked her for her kind words, but felt awkward on two counts: Firstly, just moments before, I had been shovelling earth onto my grandma’s coffin, whilst I wept for my loss. And secondly, in front of my mum, it was rubbed in, yet again, about others’ reading my book and her not being able to.

Clare Sudbery on poignant family moments

I was just reading this, during which the writer describes one of those memories, of a moment. When your child is crying, and you know it is all your fault.I have one of those memories, one of those moments. It's incredibly strong. I doubt I'll ever forget.It was such a small thing, and I doubt my son shares the memory. I hope he doesn't. He'll have others of his own, no doubt. That he remembers, but I forget.

M15 not asking for 42 days

I said last Thursday that the security services were not pushing for 42 days. I also said, don't ask me how I know that, because I can't tell you.

Anyway, now it is all out in the open. Jacqui Smith has just been forced to admit that M15 have not asked for 42 days.

So there.

I gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee about this. I wrote about it in the Sunday Times and the Guardian. I have gone on and on and on and on about this on my blog and elsewhere for a very long time, since 90 days was first mooted in fact, and I expect regular readers are sick of me on the subject,

so here are some other people saying it.
David Davis, Shadow Home Secretary on the BBC Politics Show
Sir John Major, ex-Prime Minister in the Times
Senior police officers in the Guardian,
The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Goldsmith
The former Attourney General, Lord Falconer
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International
The General Synod of the Church of England
Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner

65% of the public are reported to back 42 days. Large swathes of the public also back hanging, castration of child sex offenders and Jack Bauer-esque torture of baddies. Large crowds of the public used to come along to watch public executions. If the public are presented with the question 'do you think the police should be allowed to lock up suspected TERRORISTS for 42 days?' they will tend to hear the word TERRORIST and think, yeah, throw away the key.

But nothing is stopping the police from investigating and charging terrorists, and juries finding them guilty and judges locking them up for forty years. It is not a case of protecting the human rights of 'terrorists' over the human rights of everyone else including those who are directly impacted by terrorist bombs. And it is wrong to present it in such terms, as the Sun has been doing.

The grief and anger of victims are not sound bases from which to start to start constitution-shredding. Nor is political posturing and playing to the gallery about who can look toughest on terror.
42 days has not been needed to stop any plots so far.
42 days would not have stopped 7/7, or the Madrid bombings or the Bali attacks or 9/11.
42 days is not going to stop the downwards plunge in the polls for Brown's Government either, which is really the whole point of it.

Yes - it is that cynical.
It's not about protecting us at all. It's about protecting politicians' ambitions and careers.

Which is why, if by some miracle of whipping and bullying it goes through, it will get absolutely trashed by the House of Lords, and sent straight back again, and thus carry on being a stinking albatross round the neck of an increasingly authoritarian government who show disgracefully little respect for the human rights and liberties of all of us.

If the government really cared about 7/7 victims, why are they so slow with injury compensation payouts and why have the families still not had inquests into the deaths of their loved ones? Why is there a clause in this cursed anti-terrorism bill which allows inquests to be held in secret, without juries?

Why indeed?

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Brenda Blethyn in the hood

Brenda Blethyn is filming in Blackstock Rd! I just went out to get some spicy Tunisian sausages and flatbread for the barbie my mate is having in Peckham later this afternoon, and found everyone all agog at a fake police car, a film crew, some actors in police uniform and Brenda. This explains the film units that have been spotted in the road where my friend lives. I had a chat with a man who had come out of his flat to watch the goings-on, and he said that it was apparently a 'Romeo and Juliet story set in N4 being filmed by a French film company'.

I will see if I can find out more. Hackney ain't Verona.



My friend Jim is round tiling the kitchen. It is an epic process, judging by the numbers of buckets, mixers, bags of stuff that have appeared. I can grout, but tiling from scratch is beyond me.

Yesterday afternoon was spent in the garden inhaling noxious fumes as I treated the tiles with some evil chemical impregnator that stops them getting stained and makes them less porous. I used both garden tables to lay out the tiles to be treated, and then still had about a hundred more tiles to go, so had to transfer all the sticky chemical-covered tiles onto an old shower curtain on the bed, since that was the only largish-sized area to lay them all out apart from the floor. The floor was no good because Miff would more than likely walk all over them and then get it on her paws, lick her paws and poison herself, or else lie on them and get the tiles covered with fur and herself covered with aliphatic hydrocarbons.

Miff was banned from the bedroom whilst the tiles dried, she threw herself repeatedly at the door in a mood because it is her favourite place to sleep during the day.

Later J and I went to bed and found that despite using a protective cover, the duvet and pillows were sharp with the smell of the horrible chemical, but we were too tired to get out of bed and change the duvet cover. I fell asleep and dreamed of piles of tiles. Miff got onto the bed in the night and curled at my feet. This morning she smelled faintly of the chemical too. She doesn't seem to mind, but then she is a very messy cat who enjoys rolling in the dirt and making a mess and leaving filthy paw prints everywhere. In many ways she is more like a Labrador than a moggy.

I can't wait for the kitchen to be finished. The mess and the hassle is seriously starting to annoy me. Although Miff thinks it is all marvellous fun. God knows what she will do today, as Jim is mixing adhesive in a bucket with an electric drill mixer attachment, and Miff is a fan of wires, climbing in things and getting in the way...

I've locked her in the bedroom with a sock full of catnip to distract her.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fighting the urge

Want some perspective? Go and visit Ruth's blog.
Here's a good place to start if you haven't visited before


42 days. Once more for those at the back

Jacqui Smith is bowling hard and fast, and stepping up to bat we have the indomitable Shami Chakrabarti, the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, various peers, rebel Labour MPs and the Joint Committee on Human Rights and Lord Goldsmith, all hoping to defeat the government's plans to lock people up for six weeks without charging them with any crime.

Don't be fooled by the 'concessions'. Fluffy and reasonable this ain't. a report published on Thursday the joint committee of MPs and peers said it believed the plans breached European human rights laws and the amendments offered were "inadequate to protect individuals against the threat of arbitrary detention".

The committee said the description of a "grave exceptional threat" was not tight enough.

Committee chairman Labour MP Andrew Dismore said: "The government has talked of a major emergency, the 'nightmare scenario' of simultaneous plots across Britain or two 9/11s at once.

"Yet the amendments tabled by the government provide for possible events falling well short of that."

The report also said requiring the home secretary to declare publicly there was a serious enough emergency to justify the powers was not much of a safeguard without independent scrutiny.

And allowing Parliament to vote on the individual case within seven days - another concession - would make little difference as any debate would be "heavily circumscribed by the risk of prejudicing future trials".

Why is nobody stating the obvious? If there were two 9/11s, there wouldn't be much point trying to bang the perpetrators up for 42 days in the aftermath. They'd be dead.

42 days wouldn't have stopped the 7/7 bombers. ( *Lead bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan could possibly have been arrested for suspected fraud back in 2004 if you want to be awkward, and a more thorough investigation into his activities and associates at the time might well have flagged him as flashing code red if more dots were joined up and intra-agency communication was better). There have been some great successes in the Battle Against Unimaginable Terror. The police and security services brilliantly disrupted the plot to make a fertiliser bomb
(Operation Crevice) and the alleged airline-bombing plot trial is concluding soon. We have not had any further successful attacks since 7/7 and 21/7. Indeed, recently all reports of attempted terrorist activity have shown the terrorists to be pretty useless, and more likely to kill or injure themselves than us.

It was local Muslims in Bristol who tipped off police about Andrew Ibrahim, a 19-year old convert with a history of drug problems who was allegedly making a suicide vest and assembling explosives. He was not on the security services radar. The trust and good will of local communities in preventing murder-attacks is priceless and one of our best assets in saving lives.

Time and again it is pointed out that draconian laws, laws that look like they are targeting Muslims unfairly, drafted on the basis of what tough-talking politicians say might be needed - rather than an honest assessment of the current situation are not only undemocratic but counter-productive. The Security Services, the people who do this day in and day out are not asking for this law. I repeat, the Security Services are not asking for this law. Don't ask me how I know that, because I can't tell you. But it is true.

This is political posturing at the expense of our safety, and to make it even more disgraceful, the threat of Labour being holed below the waterline is being brandished in order to frighten voting MPs into thinking, presumably, about their jobs and their mortgages. Well, tough luck if the Labour top brass has got themselves on a sticky wicket with this dangerous law. They can't say they weren't warned.

And given the sacrifices of blood and treasure
that millions of ordinary men and women have made to protect our freedoms in the last hundred years, against far more dangerous enemies than suburban teenagers with a death-fetish and a bedroom full of hate-literature and a cupboard full of household chemicals, anyone voting for the law against their conscience to protect their bloody job ought to be ashamed of themselves.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Should I take ads on this blog?

I've had several approaches to take ads on this blog over the last few months. A couple of estate agents, a fashion retailer, and some other people whose details I forget now.

I've always said no without really thinking too much about it, my general principle being that blogging is free. I do it simply because I like doing it, and if I want a break from blogging, I just take one, like I did last autumn after Mum died. The charity ads and campaign stuff you see are things that I choose to host, much as I might put up a poster in my window or sport a bumper sticker (if I had a car) for a worthy cause. But I wouldn't like to have a big billboard on the side of my flat and I don't tend to wear ostentatiously branded clothing for similar reasons.

Anyway, it occurred to me that rather than just say no outright all the time, I might as well ask you what you think, dear readers. So over to you. If you think this blog would be improved by the appearance of ads then do let me know.

Obama for President

Speech here. Oh, wow, I'm so pleased. 230 days left, and fingers crossed the most hopeful candidate of a generation makes it to the White House.
Hilary as running mate? We'll see. I'd rather have Al Gore, but it's looking like a good bet.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

42 days: and so it all comes down to this

"The hard politics is very simple: are Labour MPs prepared to defend British civil liberties even if it's at the cost of their own party leader?" - Nick Clegg

Well, you'd bloody well hope so, wouldn't you?

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Operation Manticore

The history of the breast

The book can be bought from Amazon UK.

I picked up an interesting book in the second hand bookshop, The History of the Breast by Marilyn Yalom, first published in 1997. This article describes the reaction when it was first published

When Marilyn Yalom sat down to sign books after a reading in San Francisco, one, then another, then a third set of bare breasts dangled and bounced at eye level as their owners asked for her signature... ... Women took their shirts off at a couple of readings, and men proclaimed their obsession for an ample bosom. Talk radio callers discussed breastfeeding, cancer, implants and reduction and told jokes about both female and male anatomy. “Women seem to love the book. Women feel like I’ve done something valuable for them,” says Yalom. “Men are embarrassed, titillated by it, they don’t quite know what it’s about. Men feel that women’s power is somehow incarnated in the breast,” she says. “They love and fear the breast.”

The book is a history of the female breast which has always been seen through the male gaze.
We start with the sacred breast, and the fetishistic fertility figurines of pre-history, then cover the Mother-Goddesses of the Fertile Crescent, the clothed warrior Artemis and the unclad Aphrodite, the Amazon warriors - who cut off their nurturing breast to wage bloody war - and the sacred breast of El Shaddai - the life-giving, literally suckling God of the early Isarelites. Then we go into breasts in the Talmud and Bible where women are only complete when they suckle a son, and we touch on the extraordinary love poem of the Song of Songs, which has female voices speaking over half the lines - an exceptionally large proportion for a Biblical text.

By Medieval Christian times, breasts were no longer sacred, but associated with a corrupt and earthly nature. Angels and saints are chastely clothed, unfortunate martyrs like St. Agatha have their breasts torn off and present them like dumplings on a plate; meanwhile devils and sinners display pendulous breasts as they tumble into the fires of Hell.

As wet-nursing, low-cut gowns and courtly-love grew in popularity amongst the European aristocracy, the Virgin Mary sucking her child became popular as a devotional figure. By the early Renaissance there were hundreds of Madonna-del-latte representations in fourteenth century Italy, which was at that time suffering famine and plague. Previously the Madonna had been a remote Heavenly Queen. Now here she was engaged in the most earthly of activities. Vials of Mary's milk were venerated in churches and the nursing Madonna remained popular in art for hundreds of years.

Soon the breast was to become more overtly sexualised, even in ostensibly pious representations. Jean Fouquet's Virgin of Melun shows the mistress of Charles VII of France, a nubile young woman half his age, who was famed for her low-cut dresses ( even rumoured to have appeared at court bared to the waist in one shocking incident), and who set a new trend for daring décolletage. Cleavage and modesty, courtesans and good-wives, wet-nursing and mothering were to become hot political issues for hundreds of years thereafter.

By the time of the French revolution, women appeared in the flimsiest of unsupported garments and the breast had become political. Freedom was the unfettered breast.
Liberty was portrayed as a woman in a flowing gown, displaying her breasts to the nation - although bared breasts were also the sign of slavery and humiliation and 'savagery', when their owner was Black.

As psychologists followed Freud in pondering the effect of the maternal breast on the psyche, the commercialised breast and the deployment of the hourglass female form became widely prevalent. Women encased themselves in corsets and foundation-wear, and images of feminine beauty were used in advertising to sell every product under the sun.

In the Jazz age, women bound their chests and shortened their skirts and cropped their hair, as a boyish, liberated androgyny became the ideal. Black dancer Josephine Baker's fame and glamour helped to reclaim the dark-skinned female breast from its association with captivity and degradation and turned it into a symbol of sensual freedom.

Then the pendulum swung and on came the sweater girl and screen goddess with her gravity-defying, prominent chest, symbol of corn-fed capitalist good-times after the war.

The sixties and seventies saw women cast off their corsets and girdles, bras and petticoats, yet the breast became more commercial and sexualised than ever. Topless go-go dancing and sunbathing, top-shelf pornography and nudity in cinema became widespread. Breast augmentation became more common in the eighties and nineties as women sought to purchase the perfect body to maximise their chances of professional and social success, some taking it to horrifying extremes.

Now with the advent of the internet, super- sexualised nudity is just a click away, and mainstream men's magazines with a nipple count in the hundreds are available in supermarkets and cornershops where children buy sweets and soft drinks. Nudity on pre-watershed television barely raises an eyebrow. Yet breast-feeding in public still raises censure, and women who dress provocatively and act 'wantonly' in public after drinking are seen as having invited rape in jury trials.

Perhaps, the book suggests, we will one day move to a society where breasts - and their owners - are truly liberated. Magazines will no longer tell us one season that 'boobs are back', then the next that the 'boyish ideal is in'. It will be possible for women to look at their own breasts - whatever size or shape they are - as simply their own, with positive self-regard.

A breast will be just a breast. And its owner beloved for herself.

How do you feel about the breasts in your life today?