Monday, March 31, 2008

42 days NO - reminder

It's been bumped down the page a bit so here it is again. No, we don't want to give away our freedoms in the name of fear. No, we don't want 42 days. What can you do about it?

Suggestions on this blog post if you scroll down. NO TO 42 DAYS

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Showbiz moment. Ran into Jeremy Paxman last week when I was out to lunch with a delightful and generous friend. Paxo knew my friend, he vaguely recognised me. I explained that I had been on his show last year having an argument with Paul Murphy and the ISC about a 7/7 Inquiry. He was lunching with Matthew Fort from the Guardian and TV's Great British Menu; he had to rush off but Matthew came over and joined my friend ( who he knows very well) and I afterwards for a gossip and some rhubarb sorbet.

Now Newsnight have just called up and asked me to be on the programme again tonight talking about Hassan Butt, a previous spokesman for al Muhajiroun, who later changed his mind and now speaks out against terrorism. The only snag is I'm at the ballet ( Carlos Acosta, superstar dreamboat). But I think I can cab it over to White City afterwards. Anyway, we're checking whether it is possible.
UPDATE: Yes it is, so I will be on. P.S: Running into Paxo last week is nothing to do with this - just a bizarre coincidence. I'm on with the nice Patrick Mercer, who sits on the Home Affairs Comittee. I'm always ending up on things with him.

I thought this was going to be a busy two weeks and it looks like I'm not wrong. And so it begins....

Tonight we are talking about The Mysterious Case of The Repentant Jihadi. Read this. See what you think. Then say whether you think he should be nicked anyway - even though he is now trying to turn his ex-fellow jihadists AWAY from terrorism.

Theological reference for those that way inclined: Luke 23. Questions I'm asking myself: is justice restorative and redemptive, as well as retributive? Do we want hearts and minds or pounds of flesh? How are our interests as a country best served in this case? On a purely practical level re. combating terrorism - is this man better out than in? Or should transgressions always be punished, even after they are repented of?

UPDATE: Report here
Programme can be watched here until this evening, Hassan Butt is 18 mins in
Bloggage and comment - Little Bulldogs, Pixelisation, hat tip to both for pointing me in the direction of the the Nick Cohen piece,
Hassan Butt in The Times
Me writing about Hassan Butt last year

UPDATE: New Statesman

Labels: ,


Author of a 'One Unknown', a 7/7 memoir and Ambassador for charity Peace Direct, Gill Hicks, who lost both legs on 7 July 2005 is doing yet another marvellous thing - WALK TALK. It's a nationwide initiative to bring together people who may otherwise never meet, never talk and, almost certainly never walk side-by-side. It will focus on humanity - on all that we have in common - and aim to create a new 'path' of understanding and reconciliation. See WALKTALK website.

Labels: ,

42 days: NO

Today's spit-coffee moment number one: the Guardian reports today that the Government's own human rights watchdog has vowed to mount a legal challenge to this latest frightening attempt to make it legal to hold people and question them repeatedly for 42 days without charge - without even telling them why they are being held . The Equality and Human Rights Commission says it goes against human rights law and may breach the Race Relations Act.

And number two: Geoffrey Dear, former chief constable of West Midlands Police and HM inspector of constabulary says passing the law will be a PR coup for Al Qaeda. Which is more or less what I said in the Sunday Times, and in the Guardian last November, and said again when giving evidence at the Home Affairs Committee, with David Davis and Nick Clegg. (You can watch all three of us getting worked up about the subject on video here, or read the transcripts or full report).

The Home Affairs Commitee agreed with us by the way: they don't support 42 days either.

Meanwhile, yesterday Nobel peace prize-winner Desmond Tutu and top intellectual chap Noam Chomsky also urge people to vote against the bill, amidst mounting international pressure to drop the clause. Shami Chakrabati from Liberty continues to do her inimitable thing in the tearooms of Westminster, helping MPs see the big picture - and I wish her, and Amnesty and everyone else opposed to this nonsense - which will not make us any safer - every success.

Having spent most of last week working on an interview with a Muslim man - a father of five who was detained for a week in Paddington Green police station, then slammed into Belmarsh jail with most of the U.K's terrorists and terror suspects, before being found not guilty of all charges by a jury, I am clearer than ever about the nature of the threat we face - and what it is like to be suspected of being part of that threat. More on that soon.

This next fortnight you will see and hear a lot about terrorism in the news. The trial of the alleged airline plotters is about to start and the trial of four men alleged to have conspired with the 7/7 bombers. You will hear chilling details from the prosecution's case. You will probably feel afraid. Please, try not to be. The chances of you or your loved ones being affected by a man with a bomb is very, very small. You, and I are most likely to die of heart disease, stroke or cancer, in a bed, not in a terrorist atrocity.

There are undoubtedly angry men planning wicked things who walk amongst us. You do not have to explain that to me: I know, I have seen the damage they do.

They are fuelled by a monstrous, paranoid sense of grievance that the 'war on terror' is a war on Islam and that Muslims are oppressed here, and all over the world. They feed off conspiracy theories - which are not mainstream - and they also feed off news headlines, which are mainstream. They seize on reports of the suffering of Muslims at home and abroad to make their case and recruit others to their cause.

Their unelected spokesmen oblige the cameras with blood-curdling soundbites - which make excellent copy and are duly publicised by the media. This in turn hardens the attitudes of the public, which makes politicians think draconian laws are what will play well with the electorate. It also infuriates Muslims, who see the excessive coverage being given to the extremist fringe, and who wonder why.

And so anger hardens and polarisation begins and we all lose our freedoms, we all become less safe, and nobody wins. Nobody at all.

We can win against this tiny minority of people who wish us evil. We have already made some great strides into discrediting and disrupting them. They are extremely vulnerable to good intelligence operations. They can be infiltrated, tracked and arrested and stopped. They know this, and it makes them even more paranoid. They know that were they to stand for election, they would never win any votes. They know they are weak; that one of their best weapons, indeed, their only real weapon is FEAR - and the knee-jerk anger that divides and splits us neighbour from neighbour, colleague from colleague, family from family, along racial and religious lines. They need PR and horrifying headlines to sustain them and give them cover and legitimacy.

This latest law will help them and it will not help us. We must not let this law through, we must not allow our fear to enfeeble us and drive our responses - that's setting the debate on their terms, the terms of making us afraid. That's what terror is - the art of making us terrified.

We need to cut off their oxygen, we need people to speak out against them and name them for what they are: murderous death-fetishists who shame their religion and their communities. This law, this unnecessary, unfair and dangerous law will not help people do that.

What you can do:

1. Write to your MP. It has never been easier to do this - this website sorts it all out for you.
2. Visit LIBERTY and AMNESTY for ideas and suggestions
3. Sign the 'Not a Day Longer' petition and pass it around.
4. Write to your newspaper
5. Write about it on your blog and I will link you ( let me know if you do)

Say no to terrorism, no to terror and no to fear. We need to act like winners, not like losers. There is no need for this law, it is shameful, it is harmful, and it is not needed . It's time to speak out, if you love freedom and want justice and if you want to feel proud.

Tom Paine's The Last Ditch
Looking for a Voice
Chicken Yogurt
Ten Percent
UK Liberty
Letters from a Tory
Coming up for air
Chicken Yogurt again
Heresy Corner

News media comment and coverage
Rachel Sylvester in the Telegraph
The Independent
Guardian Leader

The rebels, Lib Dems and Tories won't show their hand yet: the bill will go into a Committee hearing, and the real fight will kick off in May.

Worth making a fuss early though - before the cavalry charge and full-on assault at vote stage.
Let your MP know the score NOW so they can be in no doubt what you, who elects them, wants.

UPDATE: David Mery adds '42 days is only one of the several unjust proposals of the Counter Terrorism Bill 2008. You may want to add a link to CAMPACC as it has published good background on the CT Bill and material to help write to one's MP. See I've republished the summary in html at Creating a climate of fear: counter-terrorism and punishment without trial.

Justice has also recently published a briefing on the Counter Terrorism Bill.
(More slightly older links in Oppose any extension to the pre-charge detention period - lobby your MP)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Painting elephants

This is absolutely amazing. Does it change the way you think about animals and humans? Knowing that we are not the only species who can see the world, and paint it? There are massive implications from this, I think. ( Hat tip u75)

I so want this to be real, not a clever trick.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Rolling Exhibition

Thanks to Gaynor for letting me know about this

Everyone tries to create a story in their heads to explain the things that baffle them. For the same reason we want to know how a magic trick works, or how mystery novel ends, we want to know how someone different, strange, or disfigured came to be as they are. Everyone does it. It's natural. It's curiosity.

But before any of us can ponder or speculate - we react. We stare. Whether it is a glance or a neck twisting ogle, we look at that which does not seem to fit in our day to day lives. It is that one instant of unabashed curiosity - more reflex than conscious action - that makes us who we are and has been one of my goals to capture over the past year.

Blackstock Road raids

Well done and thank you to the cops. I have got pig-sick of the verbal and sometimes physical harassment walking home, the intimidation of passers-by, (especially unveiled women) by posturing, disrespectful gangs of youths, the blatant selling of stolen goods, and the take-over of my neighbourhood by racist, abusive criminals.

UPDATE: Watch the BBC footage here - ( top right, video and audio news)

My local Turkish shopkeepers were all thrilled as well; they have cut out the article and stuck it on the wall of the shop. Everyone in the shop was talking about it. I'm sorry I missed the big bust: I was writing up interview notes, but if I had known I would have gone down and taken pictures. And cheered.

Last month I was hemmed in and groped by a pack of Algerian teenagers outside an internet cafe: they pushed me up against the wall as I walked home at 9.30pm. I screamed at them - roared at them - to stop; they let me go, then they advanced on me, shouting the most filthy sexist and racial abuse and threatening me. I was near a shop where I knew the owners, and knew they had a baseball bat under the counter, otherwise I would never have dared raise my voice back to them. It was the sixth time I have had to shout back at street harassers in the last six months. I didn't bother calling the police because I couldn't face making a statement and wasting more time on these idiots. I went home, had a double whisky and shook for an hour instead.

Late last summer I had to slap away the marrauding hands that grabbed at my thighs and my bag whilst voices hissed at me that I was a XXXX-sucking XXXX English dirty whore who needed to be taught a XXXX-ing lesson.

My 'crime'? Going out of the house in muddy shorts, gardening boots, no make up and a long-sleeved T shirt to buy a bag of compost at 3pm in the afternoon.

I looked at the shops and cafes that were closed today. I was not in the least bit surprised. I could have predicted which ones would be targeted by the police.

I hope these vicious little turds get
a) jailed for a good stretch b) separated from each other whilst in prison c) deported

My tolerance for bullies, criminals, racists and liars is at an all-time low these days. I want my neighbourhood back. This is a very good start.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Deadline hell

Deadline hell is bad, deadline super-hell is when you lock yourself in a study, ignoring all calls and emails, live off apples, water and the odd slice of toast, work 16-hour days flat-out without even having time to shower or change for the last 48 hours, in order to transcribe 4 hours of interview tapes and get it over for first thing Friday, ending up with an unshiftable blinding headache from looking at a computer screen... only to discover that the editor has decided to run the piece next weekend instead of this one (because of a serialisation deal)

Anyway, that's why I haven't been blogging all week.

I'm pleased with the interview though - so is the editor, and even better, so is the subject. It's still too long, at 5500 words but quite honestly it could have been a whole book.

I won't say who the subject is yet, or thank my fabulous researcher and interviewee-introducer, so as not to give the game away - but it's going to be even more topical next weekend, when the second reading of the latest anti-terrorism bill will be occupying Parliament, and two major terrorism trials will be starting - the alleged 7/7 co-conspirators, and the alleged airline plotters.

But now I've finally finished ( bar the final chopping and editing, which can now wait 'til next week) I'm going to have a well-deserved glass of wine, get out of this room where the walls are starting to close in on me, and stop looking at my computer screen.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, March 24, 2008

It's cold outside...

...snowing in fact. We were going to paint the outside of the flat and do gardening things, but the weather is hardly inviting.

So for anyone who is bored, stuck indoors and surfing the internet, here is an internet horror story.
The Life and Death of Jesse James.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Face-blindness and stones

I learned something new today. This link explains about Prosopagnosia or face-blindness, using stones.

One of the hardest things to do is to try to imagine what it is like to experience the world in a completely different way. One of the reasons I read books (and blogs) is to walk in someone else's world for a while - whether that world is fictional or real.

Wildlife in North London

J woke up ridiculously early and went off to watch sport in the sitting room, whilst I stayed in bed reading, only to get a shock when a big black shape swooped right past the window. It was a heron, flying very low through our back garden. It beat its wings and wheeled over the garage and flew away down the street, trailing its legs behind it.

Two nights ago, walking back in the rain from a late night run to the Turkish greengrocers for milk, I saw not the usual small ginger fox but three drenched-to-dark-red foxes, strolling down the road together. They saw me, turned round to look, flicked their ears, then walked on, unconcerned, although they sped up when I followed them and melted away into the shadows under parked cars. When I weed the front garden, I usually find a collection of bones, carefully buried. Chicken bones, lamb bones, stolen from bins.

And as I write this, a jay is staring at me. Sitting on the fence, looking at me through the window. It's very windy today, with snow flurries. The sparrows are hunkered down in the ivy on the garage roof, chattering noisily. The grey squirrel who Miff is respectful of since a stand-off on the wall a year ago - is nowhere to be seen. Miff cries to go out into the garden - and then runs in again, looking cross and ruffled; she doesn't like the cold wind blowing up her tail.

I like sharing the city with so many birds and animals. There is a whole secret life going on that we don't always see as we rush about our daily business.


Friday, March 21, 2008

A more perfect union

Change is difficult and even excruciating, he was saying, but the sine qua non of self-improvement is moving beyond fatuous news cycles that inflate the significance of whether he was in the pew when the Rev Wright raged away; and deflate the importance of confronting the inter-racial suspicion that underscores both Wright's anger and Obama's grandmother's fear, and thus perpetuates the evils of ignorance, poverty and segregation.

Barack Obama talked to Americans on Tuesday, as I said, as if they were adults. He did unto them, to adapt a closing line from a speech the commentator Andrew Sullivan called deeply Christian, as he would have them do unto him. Whether Americans have the capacity to respond as adults, or whether they cling to the comforting blanket of sideshows like the ranting Rev Wright, will go as far as anything towards deciding the Presidency.

Matthew Norman in the Independent

Now watch the video - over 2.5 million views since Tuesday, the most popular video on Youtube - is a political speech. I cannot say how much it means to me to see this: a politician who speaks hopefully, truthfully, inspiringly, who people are excited about. The mere idea of being political or trying to get involved in politics has been so tainted, so spoiled by cynicism, apathy, frustration, resentment these last years that it is actually shocking to see this man, in the running to be one of the most powerful men in the world opening his mouth and talking like this.

I remember the last time I felt such hope, that surging sense of possibility, that change could come.

It was at That March, that million-plus-march five years ago, when I saw the sound and size and fury of so many people, so many different people standing against the war, shuffling for peace on a raw early spring day. Grandmothers, students, children, parents pushing prams, old men in military medals, nuns and priests, imams, rabbis, people veiled and bearded and turbanned and dreadlocked and hair-gelled and pink-cheeked and brown-eyed and shivering, stamping, drumming, whistling, trudging, passing about hip-flasks, hoping, hoping, that we would step back from a bloody and brutal and morally compromised war. At that march I saw political engagement of a kind I had never seen before, the sheer thundering jawdropping numbers - I had been to many marches before, several in the months running up to the war - but that one was special. It was intoxicating, how could they not pause, and look at this righteous anger of voters, and tremble?

But they took no notice, because of course we were far too late. We should have stormed the streets a year before, when Bush told Blair of his plans as they strode around in too-tight blue jeans at the President's ranch.

And it wilted, it soured, that hopeful, angry, passionate can-do, might-work re-ignited politics of the street shufflers: if they can ignore that many of us, people said, then what is the point?

Well, there is a point. But you have to believe that change is possible.
Which is why Obama is important.


Old Fogey's Mashed Smackers

Old Fogey has started to collect examples of the worst screen kisses.
Made me smile. I always feel sorry for those poor actresses in old movies who get swept into the hero's arms - and then bent backwards for the kiss; with the tight girdles/corsets and high heels they were wearing, it must have been extremely uncomfortable, not to mention precarious.

I wonder if they ever toppled over? Or fainted? I bet all that 'swooning into his arms' business had a more prosaic explanation than paroxysms of passion: vice-like foundation undergarments, sweltering layers of flannel and silk and cotton, and then being forced into backbreaking contortions by some fervent man with a tickling mustache, as he tried to suck your face was what was knocking these ladies for six. Keeling over or going limp at least stopped your ribs getting broken, and if you were lucky, might get someone to unloose your stays and fan you down as well.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pole position

At the end of a manic week it is always nice to kick back with my pole girls. We have choreographed a routine to Dusty Springfield's Son of a Preacher Man.

I arrived feeling like a wrung out dish rag, rigid with stress, but within ten minutes of starting the class I could feel my energy coming back. My back uncrunched, my waist and hips unlocked and we managed to make up a dance that was both burlesque and athletic. The girls I dance with on Thursday night have been coming for over two years now: this is more than a dance class, this is a sisterhood.

Walk round, big step, back spin, bump, shimmy, rock n' roll spin twice, drop into plie, shake head, carousel spin, pivot, Egyptian spin, windmill,

and laugh and laugh.

New beginner's 4 week class starting Tuesdays, 6.30-7.30, April, New North Rd. Email me if you want to join in.


More on 7/7 inquests

The BBC's Daniel Sandford also covered this story last night on the 6.00pm News.

Cliff Tibber at Oury Clark Solicitors, who have been working pro-bono for us since November 2006, and to whom we are immensely grateful for their support, are writing to the Treasury Solicitors to raise our concerns about this worrying new clause in the latest counter-terrorism laws, which are to be debated and voted on at the beginning of April.

We will keep up the pressure. We are not going away. It's good to see the campaign gathering momentum...

Labels: ,

7/7/ inquests may be held in secret

From today's Telegraph

Families fear they may never find out the truth about the July 7 suicide bombings under Government plans that could mean that the inquests into the victims' deaths are heard in secret.

July 7 attack inquests may be held in secret
A date for the inquests of the July 7 victims has still to be set, almost three years after the attacks

The Counter Terrorism Bill contains proposals to allow the Government to appoint special coroners to inquests where national security is deemed to be an issue, such as instances in which people have been killed in terrorist attacks or in wars. These inquests could sit behind closed doors and without a jury.

It comes just days after Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, went to the High Court in an attempt to prevent coroners criticising the Ministry of Defence at military inquests, which provoked a furious reaction from families of troops killed on the front line.

Robert Webb, whose sister Laura was killed in the Edgware Road bomb on July 7, 2005, said that the new proposals were "very worrying".

"The most important thing from the point of view of the brother of a victim of a terrorist attack is that we have a need to know what happened and if any lessons can be learned from the attacks," he said. "Clearly if parts of any inquest are going to be held in secret not only do we not get the answers but the wider public don't.

"It's my belief that society as a whole needs to be as well informed as possible about these attacks so we can all play our part in preventing them."

He added that it was important that a coroner independent of the Government be appointed to look impartially at each case.


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Meeting the ISC

See Mirror today
and today's Evening Standard

Back in October last year, the '7/7 Inquiry Group' - a group of survivors and families campaigning for an independent inquiry into the London Bombings of July 7th 2005, helped pro-bono by Oury Clark Solicitors - had a breakthrough in terms of the process of trying to get more answers to the many questions which still remain about the 7th July bombings.

Following a meeting with Jacqui Smith last autumn, we made contact with the Intelligence and Security Committee (the security services 'watchdog') and attended one of their meetings. The ISC have been sitting every month since May 2007 to re-examine the 7th July events - in particular, what was known about the bombers and whether they could have been stopped from unleashing their deadly attacks which killed 52 innocent passengers and injured nearly 800 more.

Tony Blair asked the ISC - a cross-party committee of Parliamentarians appointed by the PM - to re-investigate following a huge outcry and masses of media coverage in the wake of the 'Crevice' fertiliser-bombers trial - after it came out in court that two of the 7/7 bombers had been associating with the group of 'fertiliser bomb' terrorists when under surveillance by M15. The would-be fertiliser-bombers were thankfully prevented from carrying out their attacks after an enormous police and security services operation. The 7/7 bombers, tragically, succeeded.

Some background might be helpful. The initial ISC report published by the ISC back in May 2006 completely exonerated the security services of any blame in failing to stop the bombers, even though it later found out that two of the bombers had been bugged and photographed and followed by the security services - and so were definitely known, named and on the radar - rather than being 'clean skins', who attacked 'out of the blue,' as initially claimed by the then-Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

It was in 2005 that I first found out that this 'clean skins' business was nonsense: at a survivor meeting I attended in the Home Office, a senior police officer was asked how they managed to identify the bombers so quickly. He blurted out that credit cards and other ID in the name of Mohammed Siddique Khan had been found at three of the crime scenes 'and when we ran the name through the police computer it came up that he had links to international terrorism'.

Hardly a 'clean skin' then.

So that was when we started getting annoyed and wanting more truthful answers - back in 2005.

In May 2006, two reports were published- the original ISC report about the security services and 7/7, and a Home Office Narrative, written by an anonymous civil servant. The narrative appears to contain worrying inaccuracies, including placing the bombers on a *train into London that never ran. The lack of clarity soon led to various conspiracy theories being bandied about, (*John Reid later corrected the train time in Parliament.) The conspiracy theories include unhelpful and inaccurate speculation that the bombers were never in London, or were part of a 'fake terror exercise' and frequently assert that the bombers were innocent of murdering 52 people.

Our conspiracy-theory-free campaign for an independent inquiry into 7/7 carried on, supported by the media, notably the Mirror, and by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, and by the Greater London Assembly, who had held their own inquiry into communication failures and the city of London's resilience to the attack.

Numerous meetings occurred with the John Reid, Home Office, Tessa Jowell and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (which is responsible for victims of disasters), but still no inquiry.

In November 2006 we were we grateful to be offered pro-bono representation by Oury Clark Solicitors, a firm with a strong human rights reputation, and in May 2007, we went to the Home Office the day after the news had broken of the fertiliser's plotters' guilty convictions - and their association with the 7/7 bombers.

See this BBC news video report

John Reid, the Home Secretary of the moment said no to our request, reiterating Blair's old argument that the inquiry would be a' diversion of resources' .

We went back with a legal argument via Oury Clark, saying that the government had a duty to protect life and an inquiry was a necessary part of that. The Treasury solicitors responded with further legal arguments rejecting our case. So we were put into a litigation corner, and we had to issue proceedings for a judicial review, within the three month window that we had to respond. Meanwhile, Tony Blair asked the ISC to re-start their investigations.

John Reid left the Home Office later that summer. Tony Blair resigned as PM, and off we went to meet the new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in October 2007. We stressed yet again that we didn't want to engage in litigation and were not seeking to blame people, but were just keen to get proper answers about what had happened - especially about what was known about the bombers and whether they could have been stopped.

We also said that the families were still waiting for inquests, and asked why there was such a delay. It was suggested that we asked the Director of Public Prosecutions about the delay, so we did, and he came back and said the inquests were on hold because of the forthcoming criminal trial of men alleged to have helped the bombers plan the attacks ( starting April 2008). It was also suggested that we met the ISC.

The ISC were very nice to us and invited us to attend a meeting with them, stressing that they intended to 'leave no stone unturned 'in their investigation We said we still had many questions, and we asked if we could put them to the committee in writing after the meeting. I think they thought we'd have six or seven key questions, and that they themselves would already have asked them. But we came back with 67 very detailed questions.

We still don't know when the ISC will come back with their report. Nor do we have a date for the inquests yet, though details of how loved ones died were sent in the post before Christmas last year to the families. The 7/7 alleged conspirators trial starts at the beginning of April; this is also when the government will debate and vote on the new terrorism laws, which includes a proposal that inquests in the cases of 'matters of national security' can run without a Coroner, instead having a Judge or person appointed by the Government, and without juries, and where deemed necessary, hear the facts and the evidence in secret.

(See tonight's BBC 6pm news for more on our fears about the proposed inquest legislation.)

But at least, and at last, we have finally managed to put our questions to the security services through the medium of the ISC, who we hope will ask them on our behalf, and then report back with the answers as soon as possible. Probably after the 7/7 alleged conspirators trial, although we still do not have a date for the ISC report.

It's the first time that anything like this has happened with the ISC meeting victims of a terrorism attack - it's unprecedented - and we are very grateful to them for allowing us access and to ask questions. We hope that we will hear back from them soon and that we will be a little closer to knowing more of the truth.

The Judicial Review proceedings are stayed - it hasn't gone away - but in the light of the argument that running an independent inquiry in tandem with ISC inquiry would be a problem, we and the government have agreed to hang fire from going to court whilst the ISC continue their investigations.

One of the best ways to look at the failures of the past is to look at what has changed since. New regional M15 offices, including one in West Yorkshire, the roll out of S019 and new plans for greater communication between the police and security services have all been planned or implemented since 7/7. Which tells you a quite a lot.

But it doesn't tell you the whole story, a story which we would like to be investigated publicly, independently and thoroughly by someone independent of government and the security services who can compel witnesses and review evidence.

Des Thomas, a former police officer has explained that it is possible to hold this sort of inquiry quite easily without diverting resources. When the trial of the alleged 7/7 conspirators begins next month, more information will come out. There has been a constant drip, drip of new information coming out for the last few years and it is largely because of ongoing media interest and legal processes that we have found out what we know so far.

I can't understand why anyone would think this is a good strategy - it means the story just runs and runs and that people just get more and more frustrated and think that the government/police/security services has something to hide, which is hardly helpful or productive. It allows idiotic conspiracy theories to take root, which in turn impacts on levels of public trust, which makes it harder to gather intelligence - our best weapon against extremism and terrorism. And it adds to the distress of people directly affected who understandably want closure.

Well, we shall see where we get. The campaigning continues.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

BBC 3 counties radio tomorrow morning

BBC 3 counties radio have just asked me to be on air tomorrow at 9am-ish to talk about blogging. Go blogging! Go bloggers! Hopefully this time there won't be technical nightmares like when I was on BBC Radio 5 Live the other day, when every word I said was repeated back to me as an echo, making talking extremely difficult - hard to think straight when all you can hear is yourself talking on and on in your ear. It's not the first time that has happened to me though, so I'm getting better at carrying on regardless, but it is nerve-wracking as you sound like a stammering muppet on the nation's airwaves the first time you open your mouth. Fortunately Terry Waite who was the other guest did most of the talking. He got quite feisty, in fact - just as well it was all by phone and not in the studio.

End the violence in Tibet campaign

Fellow-blogger and neighbour Rachel writes and urges everyone to spend a moment asking for the violence to stop in Tibet and surrounding regions....

I just signed an urgent petition calling on the Chinese government to respect human rights in Tibet and engage in meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama. This is really important, and I thought you might want to take action:

After nearly 50 years of Chinese rule, the Tibetans are sending out a global cry for change. But violence is spreading across Tibet and neighbouring regions, and the Chinese regime is right now considering a choice between increasing brutality or dialogue, that could determine the future of Tibet and China.

We can affect this historic choice. China does care about its international reputation. Its economy is totally dependent on "Made in China" exports that we all buy, and it is keen to make the Olympics in Beijing this summer a celebration of a new China that is a respected world power.

President Hu needs to hear that 'Brand China' and the Olympics can succeed only if he makes the right choice. But it will take an avalanche of global people power to get his attention. Click below to join me and sign a petition to President Hu calling for restraint in Tibet and dialogue with the Dalai Lama -- and tell absolutely everyone you can right away. The petition is organized by Avaaz, and they are urgently aiming to reach 1 million signatures to deliver directly to Chinese officials:

Thank you so much for your help!

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lamb and chorizo casserole

Feel a bit guilty that I missed the 5 years since-the-Iraq-war started march yesterday. Respect to everyone who came out in the cold and rain.

Rainy Sundays are an excuse to chill out and stay in and curl up on the sofa J has a bad cold so he has seized the excuse not to do much, especially after working all day yesterday. It was easy to persuade me not to brave the lashing wind and to abandon gardening tasks, and instead have a day of slothful indulgence.

Yesterday I made a huge casserole. We ate some last night and there's still loads left ready to be reheated whenever we get hungry, which I don't think will be for several hours, since we had bacon and eggs for breakfast.

2 red onions
2 leeks
2 red peppers
2 yellow peppers
2 garlic cloves

all chopped up small and sweated in the casserole with a knob of butter and a splash of oil, on a low heat with the lid on for 15 minutes or so until it all softens in its own sweet steam and juices.

2 chorizo chopped up into pound-coin sized slices.
I chucked some pancetta I found in as well
Pieces of lamb,

( or you could use beef or pork or chicken) and this is the clever bit - put the meat in a plastic bag with some seasoned flour, tie up bag, shake it about. The pieces of raw meat come out looking like Turkish Delight, but it is a mess-free way to thicken the sauce).

Put the chorizo in a dry frying pan on medium heat and cook 'til it releases its red oil. Throw in pancetta or chopped bacon bits ( if using) and cook it all some more. Remove sausage and bacon with slatted spoon, carefully leaving the red oil in the pan, and add them to the veg. Add a drop more olive oil to the frying pan, if needed and brown the lamb in batches. (If using pork or chicken I cook it right through, if lamb or beef I just brown the outside.)

Add meat to casserole pan, stir it all together, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and some wine or stock until the meat and veg are just covered. Add seasoning and herbs - I used marjoram, rosemary and a bay leaf from the garden. I don't think you need to add salt if you are using chorizo and pancetta as they are both salty.

Query to readers> Can you use fresh bay leaves? Well, it seemed okay - we ate some last night and we're still alive. But if anyone knows please shout!)

Bring the liquid to a rolling bubble, then turn heat right down to very low, and forget about it for a few hours, stirring occasionally if you are wandering past. If you want a thick sauce, leave the lid off and it will reduce. Otherwise leave the lid on.

We didn't bother with rice or bread, there were enough carbs from the veg. We chucked chopped flat-leaf parsley on it though before eating, and J had grated cheese as well.

I made a similar beef casserole last week, without using flour, using pale ale for the liquid instead of stock, and loads of onions and red and yellow peppers, chopped up small. I didn't put mushrooms in as they make the sauce go a bit grey and I wanted to see the colours of the veg in the golden ale.

(Dad, if you're reading...go try it out in your new casserole dish and let me know how it goes!

I wrote down a load of casserole ideas for Dad last weekend but if anyone has any recommended casserole or stew recipes I, and Dad would be interested to hear them. Making stews and casseroles is my favourite kind of cooking: comforting, creative, meditative with all the chopping and slow-paced, everyone likes the results, you can make loads and freeze it, it's economical, and the longer you leave it the better it gets. )


How mad was Tony Blair?

A few years ago, I wrote a piece called how mad is Tony Blair about narcissism and hubris
It is always gratifying to have your suspicions confirmed: thanks to reader Derek for emailing over this fascinating extract in today's Sunday Times from a forthcoming book In Sickness and in Power: Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100 Years, by David Owen.Lord Owen was a doctor before he became foreign secretary.

A senior official recalls that when Blair was advised about the difficulties ahead, he would respond: “You are Neville Chamberlain, I am Winston Churchill and Saddam is Hitler.” It is difficult to conduct a serious dialogue with a leader thinking in this emotional and simplistic way.

A secret memorandum dated July 23, 2002, published in The Sunday Times, described a meeting on Iraq at which, inter alia, the chief of the defence staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, told Blair that the military “were continuing to ask lots of questions”. Yet in conversation with me over dinner the day after this meeting, Blair was dismissive of any difficulties and trying to give me the impression that it was all being dealt with. This was not ordinary incompetence, it was hubristic incompetence. He was becoming immune to all arguments about the practical difficulties that might ensue.


He doesn't seem any better these days: today's Observer has Andrew Rawnsley on the post-PM's office still manic Blair, who by all accounts, just can't say no.

Labels: ,

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Radio 5 live at 10pm

I'm on air on BBC R5 Live tonight from 10-10.30pm with Terry Waite and a former M16 officer talking about the question of whether or not to negotiate with terrorists.

UPDATE: That was a technical nightmare from my end: the echo was horrendous. Everything I said was repeated back to me with a split-second delay. Oh, well, over now and I can finally have a glass of wine!

Something Good 08

I remember this first and second time around ( Kate Bush original, Utah Saints remix). The video can't help but leave you smiling. Happy weekend.


Thwack! Wallop!

I have just come back from a combat/boxing class at the gym. It pretended to be just an ordinary hi-impact aerobics class on the timetable, but in reality it was all about learning how to beat people to death.

At one point, the instructor put pads on and went round the class getting us to throw as many punches as powerfully as we could for a minute. I went at it so hard she suggested I thought about starting boxing training as 'you have an exceptionally hard and accurate hook for a beginner'. I nearly knocked her flying in fact - the floor was slippy, but I like to think it was the power of my punches. I was gritting my teeth and imagining my blows smashing into a particular person's face. Over and over and over again.

I need to work on my kicking though. Too many years of ballet classes: I keep pointing my toes.

Walked home dripping with sweat and crimson in the face, not a great look when wearing a red sweatshirt. But I had a massive smile on my face as I bought a bunch of daffodils.

I never knew being angry could be so much fun.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Picks of the day

I found Old Fogey's blog, through a comment left on this blog win which he mentioned that he had recently written about his experiences on Edgware Rd.
The carriage filled with soot and smoke. We had obviously crashed. There were initial cries of panic, of fear that the carriage was on fire. Many of those still standing then crouched down on the floor. Like a child I stayed standing, feeling foolish.
Then I read some more of his blog and was wowed by his erudite and beautifully written posts about music. Sample
Traditional feminists might have difficulty with it. But I know of no other song that has attempted in this way to capture the elusiveness of a woman’s search for reconciliation with human loss and hope for redemption. It is heartlifting. It is simply and achingly sung.

Next up, I'm chuffed that Helen, reader of this blog, and delightful correspondent and drinking companion is now going to be regular guest-blogging over at the F-Word. Here is her very first post about transition
If you present to me as, let’s say, a woman, I will respect that.-why, then, do so many people believe they know what’s beneath my knickers and think they have the right to make such judgmental and ill-informed comments, to objectify and tokenise me?
On the F-word home page, I found a hopeful article by Rachel Bell about rape, the notion of victimhood and a new scheme pairing rape survivors as peer-supporters for rape victims dealing with the process of reporting rape and going through the court process. Here one of the volunteers talks about her own experiences that led her to offer two hours a week to help other women who had just been raped.

Many years later, an old friend and I had an opportunity to talk and she made it easy for me. She made it clear she was happy to listen. I love her for what she did. Finally, I sought help from a psychoanalyst and paid for therapy to get rid of what the rapists left me - a heaviness in my body, that was me, yet stopped me being me and would never, ever budge, a heavy cynicism weighing me down. The rapists or the government should have paid for that, not me.

And a final pick from the Independent - Johann Hari on how botox is destroying stars' ability to act

... the lines and crevices on the forehead of Tommy Lee Jones are as rugged as the Texas desert his sheriff character patrols. With imperceptibly tiny movements of these crags of skin, he can convey pain and panic and grief. Similarly, Javier Bardem's portrait of a blank-eyed psychopath works precisely because we can see that his sagging face is capable of more than blankness.

The majority of Hollywood stars are simply incapable of doing this.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blog links thanks

I missed International Women's Day, but it was very exciting to find (belatedly) that my blog was linked by Amnesty on the day as a 'favourite female blogger'. Thanks, Amnesty! And thanks to the Bean-Sprouts reader who let me know!

I have just discovered Bean-Sprouts and will be adding that to my blog roll when I get round to doing my blogroll housekeeping, which task is badly overdue. In fact, blogging has been getting very slack around here recently, for which I apologise. (The reason for reduced post frequency is simply that I have been been feeling tired and sad so I took some time out from being public about things. Nothing to worry about, it was just what I needed to do.)

UPDATE: Thanks also to Lib Dem Voice for having me in the short-list for the Non-Lib-Dem blog in their Campaign for Gender Balance Awards.
Bit embarassed that I haven't blogged much recently now. I will try harder.

Visiting Dad

I have just come back from spending the weekend with my Dad. It is still hard going back and seeing the house without Mum in it. There are photos of her everywhere. The kitchen was always her jealously-guarded domain; it is heart-breaking seeing her pots and pans and larder full of neatly labelled jars, her baskets and plates and ornaments. I kept finding notes in her handwriting. Bulbs in the garden pushing up through the dark soil, carefully labelled by her 'Narcissus - Pheasant's Eye', I remember her telling me it was a favourite when I told her about my bulbs last spring. Dad still feels her presence, I feel only her absence.

Dad is drawing on deep reserves of courage to cope with life after the no-anesthetic amputation of bereavement after sudden illness. He is doing better than me in many ways. He is looking after himself, going out and socialising, continuing with his ministry duties and is supported in this by many kind thoughts and prayers and practical help from friends. I am very proud of his grace and determination.

Mum and Dad were so looking forward to retirement together, they lived and worked together for almost forty years. It would have been their ruby anniversary this August. The money set aside for a present for Mum was spent instead on a slate headstone for the grave, which Dad visits regularly. I have not been to the graveside since the internment. I can't.

Dad has taught himself to cook - this started when I bought him a cookery book at Kew Gardens, which we visited together last year. This weekend he bought a casserole dish and I taught him some more recipes: he made a lovely beef and Guinness stew. We spent Sunday afternoon with my brother and his wife and baby; his grandson brings much joy even in days when Dad is very sad and raw.

I said he should get a dog, to live with him, so the house won't be so empty.

He is thinking about it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Leeds Uni civil liberties talk

Am off to Leeds tomorrow to do another talk on terrorism and civil liberties; the talk is at 5pm and is part of a term-long focus on issues of civil liberties that the students and the University have organised. I don't get paid for doing these talks, but I am lucky that I am able to work flexibly and take time off to do this kind of thing now and again. The debate about freedom and fear, liberty and security, is one I am passionate about, and it is a privilege to be asked to speak, having unexpectedly ended up with this platform because of a chance series of events, and because of my writing in the aftermath about the broader issues the events brought into national focus.

I still find it miserably uncomfortable talking about the personal, experiential side of my story. I have said everything I want to say about what it was like in this blog, I have written a book about it and now, when I am asked to relive it all over yet again, I try to explain that it does not help me to do so and that I do not want to. People always want the drama, the backstory, but I am reluctant to feed it to them, although I will do if it is a necessary part of campaigning or speaking out, which it almost always is. As a brief introduction about why I ended up speaking about civil liberties and trying to get an inquiry into the July 7th bombings, it is unfortunately necessary; if it is just for someone's journalism assignment, as a first person horror story, I don't see the point anymore. It took a long time before I felt able to say, enough: I can't help everybody all the time. Survivor guilt can push you into doing things that are damaging. At least I can disentangle my reactions better these days, and recognise when the price is too high to pay.

I can't do everything I am asked to do, but I try and respond to student requests as much as possible because - well, because I think it it is important. If you don't back up your principles with action, then they're not really principles, they're just opinions, someone told me once, and I took that one to heart. Maybe too much to heart, these last years, but five days in Amsterdam with my love has restored the balance and recharged my batteries somewhat, thank God.


J and I try to go to Amsterdam for a long weekend every year, around my birthday time, although last year we didn't because we were saving our holiday time and money for the wedding and honeymoon. Our last visit was in February 2006, when we got engaged in shabby Mexican cantina in the Red Light District. This year we had several things to celebrate - nine years of being together, my birthday, J's promotion, and having been married for almost a year. So we stayed at the five-star Krasnapolsky in Dam Square (which has cheap deals on if you know where to look and which is famous for a sensational breakfast of everything from sausages, ham, cheese, fish, pastries, juice, champagne in the Winter Garden under a soaring glass and wrought-iron roof.)

We drifted round the city arm in arm, wandering miles every day, stopping for periodic refreshment in the brown bars and coffee shops, criss-crossing bridges and gazing at gables, watching people through windows, looking out, looking in. Amsterdam is a city of frank appraising glances, pragmatically cheery transactions, whirring bicycles and rattling trams, the tawdry and the picturesque side by side linked by canals of dark water and narrow cobbled streets, smells of drifting smoke, frying spices and potatoes, tastes of strong golden beer, milky coffee; a city just starting the signs of spring; perfect tulips of every colour forced out and on sale at the Flower Market, along with blossom and bulbs hazing the parks and trees.

Met up for a few beers with blogging Dam resident Dave H, who has read this blog for some years now, but failed to go out clubbing. Too tired. We slept a lot; all the fresh air and tramping about for hours each day left us pleasantly heavy-limbed and hungry by evening. So much has happened since our last holiday nearly a year ago, the worst being my Mum's sudden illness and death six months ago. I was out of the country for Mothering Sunday: that was a relief. I miss her so much. She loved Amsterdam too.