Friday, July 25, 2008


'Over at the Wardman Wire, Matt is currently presiding over yet another ‘Spartacus Action’, this time relating to a ‘cease and desist’ letter issued by the Texas-based owner of what used to be a chain of Anglican bookshops to a British blogger/cartoonist, Dave Walker, which led to the removal of 75 posts from Dave’s blog....'

Find out more from Ministry of Truth


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Last year I killed a man

At 9.45am on Saturday, June 23 2007, I killed a man. A perfectly ordinary man, on a perfectly ordinary summer's day. CCTV pictures show him entering the station, unremarkable among all the passengers going to the West End. He waited at the front of the platform until he could hear my train approaching, then he calmly stepped down on to the tracks and looked directly at me as he waited for the impact...

read the rest


Monday, July 21, 2008

Drop the knife but we'll keep our missiles, thanks

Another column in the Independent from me today; this one is about the psychology of brandishing weapons and knife crime.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lambeth Country Show

I am going to the Lambeth Country Show in a minute with J and some mates. What is there to look forward to? Ferret-racing! Dog acrobatics! Vegetable sculptures! Jousting! Sheep-shearing! Hawking! African Acrobats Company! Donkeys! A fairground! A random musical line-up! Including ASWAD!

It promises to be an exciting experience. And there's an after-party as well. Yay!

UPDATE: Went both days as it was such fun. The highlight was indeed the ferret racing, (and the merry-go-round, which I have always loved), and afterwards we got to meet the winning ferret in the winner's enclosure. Met lots of mates, sampled the cider and posh sausages, and the weather held. Stayed with delightful friends who are wonderfully hospitable and marvellous company. We didn't make the after-party but stayed in and played guitar instead.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Justice for Jean

Passing it on...

Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead on 22nd July 2005 at Stockwell tube station during a pre-planned police anti-terror operation. Not a single police officer has faced any disciplinary action for the killing. This is despite a jury at the Old Bailey finding the Office of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police guilty of 'catastrophic errors' at the health and safety trial in October last year.

3 years on, his family continue to tirelessly campaigning to find out all the circumstances into how Jean died and for justice and accountability.Please join the family to mark the 3rd anniversary of his death on the 22nd July 2008 by attending one of the following events:At 9.45am a vigil outside Stockwell tube station to mark the exact moment Jean Charles was killed. At 1.30pm to unveil a sculpture of the Brazilian flag made from flowers at Old Palace Yard, W1, next to Parliament Square. The sculpture will bear with the words 'Menezes - 3 years No Justice' written across it. The centre of the sculpture will be made up of 1093 flowers - one flower for every day which has passed since Jean died. Special guests will be announced later this week that will be joining the family to place the final few flowers into the centre of the sculpture on the day.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

WalkTalk - a reminder

The inspiring and gorgeous person Gill Hicks is ( yet again) doing something marvellous - please do what you can to support her and to join in.


Links of the week

It's been rather a busy week so far, in and out of meetings, catching up with mates, and getting ready for the end of the '7/7 trial' ( the jury have retired to consider their verdict on three defendants accused of helping the 7/7 bombers to cause explosions) . I'm working on an update post explaining about where we are with the campaigning for an inquiry. Meanwhile, here is some good stuff from I noticed this week.

1. Unity at the ferociously smart Ministry of Truth investigative blog writes
'I've been looking into the Ladele v Islington tribunal case - the one about the registrar who refuse to do civil partnership ceremonies - and I think I've hit on something big.'
More here

2. Last week I gave a talk at City Circle, at the kind invitation of my friend Dr Usama Hassan.( I met up with Dr Hassan again yesterday after I went to a press briefing at the Foreign Office, where he was talking about a recent delegation back from Egypt to discuss Islamic issues including countering extremism and some footage of the delegation's experiences is linked on the F.O website). After the City Circle talk, I had the pleasure of meeting many interesting people, including Kate Monroe of The Virginity Project blog.

Kate explains
'Losing our virginity…it happens to almost all of us, no matter who we are or where we come from. How did it happen for you? Ever wondered what other people think and feel about this never-to-be-repeated experience? And how much more do we learn as we grow up? I am on a mission to find out. Follow my journey as I collect stories from as wide a selection of British people as possible. From men and women, old and young, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim and Catholic, from the funny and the sad, to the happy and occasionally, the unbelievable'
The Virginity Project is fascinating, sometimes heart-rending reading and deserves all the mainstream media attention it's been getting. It was great to meet you Kate and to find out about your site.

3. Martin Bright in the New Statesman about why he pulled out of speaking at Islam Expo and Harry's Place on why they are being ( possibly) sued.

4. Meanwhile the perenially -excellent Justin at Chicken Yogurt pours scorn on Gordon Brown's New Statesman interview.

5. And Mr Eugenides is unimpressed with Dave 'Lara Croft' Cameron

6. Finally, David Blunkett gets banged up


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground

“...You men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins,
On pain of torture, from those bloody hands
Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground
And hear the sentence of your moved prince.
Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word...''

All italicised quotes are from the same play.

Some years ago, I used to work for a company that published a famous 'men's' magazine. Although the magazine's official readership figures placed the reader in his early twenties, and it was thus allowed to carry alcohol advertising, in reality we knew that the magazine primarily appealed to youths in their mid-to late-teens, who handed over their sticky pound coins to the newsagent each month, seduced not by the gung-ho articles written by middle-class graduates roughing it on expenses, but by the ever-increasing numbers of pages featuring photo-shopped, almost-naked women and the equally-thumbed over pages of other glossy desirables: mostly gadgets and games to parade as a show of alpha-male status.

I was deeply uncomfortable with that particular magazine but I kept quiet, privately despised the 'readers' and frequently myself, and got on with the job, which at the time required me to come up with tempting and creative advertising strategies which pushed the psychological buttons that would jerk an 18-24 male audience into profligately spunking their cash. I was paid pretty decent money in those days to position advertisers' products as 'cool' by producing and selling creative work across a variety of music and lifestyle platforms. Over time I grew quite adept at it. But I never felt good about it, ever.

The final straw came when I opened the men's magazine one day, to see an array of gleaming vicious knives photographed and laid out across the page as that month's must-have objects of desire. The previous issue it had been expensive cameras. The page opposite the feature was usually popular with advertisers. Aghast, I showed it to some of my colleagues.

Hardened as they were to the ever-increasing idiocies of the editorial policy, even they were shocked. I went to my boss. He was more sanguine.

'It's just a blokey thing. Blokes like looking at knives. Knives are cool.'
' Knives kill people. For God's sake, you know how old the readers are. What is this saying to them? That ipods are so two months ago and what you really need to be flashing down the pub is something that can cut someone's throat?'

He shrugged. 'All right, it's a bit near the knuckle. But it's the mag's job to be controversial'

I walked away, fuming and went to see the editor. He came up with the same weak line about knives being cool to look at and beautiful objects and added, without meeting my eyes, that 'anyway, blokes need them for fishing and stuff'.

I lost it with him. He looked genuinely surprised. Or he pretended to be. He did back down, and agree that the magazine would not do it again.

'It's a bit bloody late now', I hissed, as I walked out of his office.

I left the company a few months later. As I walked out the door for the last time, I felt relief, and shame.

This week, five young people were stabbed to death within a day. I thought again of that magazine feature, and I wanted to cry. The horrible fact is that the editor and my boss were right. Knives are cool. And if you have one, it is almost impossible not to want to touch it and to show it off, and to use it. When you hold a sharp, deadly knife, you feel an intoxicating rush of power.

My ex-boyfriend once made me a knife and a sheath as a gift, and to show off his skills he had learned from his brother, an armourer who makes weapons for film props and historical demonstrations. The knife he gave me is a five inch razor-sharp dagger, heavy, thick - it was made by adapting a metal file used to pare down horses hooves - and it fits perfectly into my hand. It is seductive. I keep it locked away, but I oil it and sharpen it twice a year. Not because I want to use it, but because it is an exquisite piece of craftsmanship, and deserves to be looked after.

I can remember what it was like to be a fifteen-year old, awash with hormones and insecurities, dreamy and silly and hyper-sensitive to the pettiest slight. I can remember how angry I was at the bullies in school, though they did not direct the full force of their venom at me. I can remember what it felt like to have no power at all, to have nobody listening, to be afraid. I wonder, if I'd had that knife then, whether I would have been able to keep it locked away, and never show it to anyone.

Years later, when I was no longer a teenager, I can remember how when I was attacked by a violent young man, my lethal knife was safely in its padlocked box, useless to me. Even if I'd had it to hand, I doubt I would have been able to hold onto it in the struggle. It would have escalated things, it would have been used against me. I would probably be dead.

But then again, maybe not. Maybe he would be dead. Sometimes, especially at this time of year, I remember; I play back what happened, and I think, if I'd had that knife to hand when that seventeen year old, high on his own rage and strength and God-knows-what-else came at me, could I have used my blade on him?

I think it is possible that I could have flown at him ( 'and fire-eyed fury be my conduct now' Romeo says, grabbing his weapon in a rage and setting off to kill his wife's cousin - who has just killed his best friend). Thundering with adrenalin and outrage, terrified beyond measure, armed with my lovely, terrible knife, would my reaction have been the other one of the three 'Crisis-reaction 'F's - 'Fight-back' - instead of 'Freeze' or 'Flee'?

I'm glad I will never know.

There is a secret arms race going on in our schools and streets and lives are being lost because of it. Yet as we hold up our hands in horror at teenagers carrying knives, we turn on the news and see Iran test-firing missiles, America saying it will not hesitate to defend Israel, Israel brandishing its military hardware, hawks circling. The old, old game of brinkmanship and bullying, the fatal human trait of aggression and self-aggrandisement, the lust we have for more territory, possessions and power is reported daily on our TV screens. And we wonder that youngsters are gripped by the same dark desires, that the same macho strutting and desire for vengeance, and - bitter irony - respect - are played out on street corners, parks and playgrounds as well as in parliaments and politicians offices? Of course they are. These are our children. They feel and do as we do.

The end result is the same, whether the one arming himself is a president or a school prefect. If people feel threatened, they are more likely to lash out - and when they collect deadly weapons to use as a deterrent, and can't stop themselves from displaying them and using them, then people get killed. Poor sacrifices of our emnity indeed.

What can we do? In Romeo and Juliet, where violence runs as a taut thread throughout the play, Prince Escalus threatens those fighting in yet another bloody, pointless brawl with 'pain of torture'; meeting violence with violence, pain with pain. Tory politicians this week suggested mandatory prison sentences for those caught carrying knives. Labour dismissed it as unworkable. The prisons are full as it is. Parenting programmes, fresh police powers, and shock warnings to youngsters are mooted instead by Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary. Maybe they will work. Maybe the Government can spend enough on advertising to make knives uncool. But I doubt it.

It is not my beautiful knife that is the problem, it is what I could do with it, which is why it must stay forever locked away. It is not knives that kill, but the people wielding them, which is why we must not carry them. It is the fire-eyed fury that threatens to engulf us, our angry reactions to each other, the desire to protect ourselves from violence by threatening worse violence. Our duplicity, our fragility, our posturing, our desire for vengeance, our stupidly comforting delusion that we can be safe only by being harder and stronger and more fearsome than our the figures in our own nightmares - that is the real lethal threat.

Until we are adult enough to throw our mistempered weapons to the ground, or at least put them away and stop brandishing them for effect, what chance do our children have?


Thursday, July 10, 2008

That speech

Yesterday I went up to East Riding with the irrepressible Bob Marshall Andrews and Shami Chakrabarti to take part in a debate about liberty on the eve of the by-election hosted by David Davis. This is the speech I made. Minus the Leeds United opening gag.

UPDATE: Now on The Guardian's Comment is Free

Three years ago I was on the way to work when a 19 year old British man detonated a suicide bomb in the carriage I was travelling in, killing 26 innocent people and wounding over a hundred more. So I understand first-hand how terrifying terrorism is. But I now know that the real aim of the terrorists is not to kill hundreds but to terrify millions. To terrify us so much that we forget who we are and what we stand for and become like frightened children begging only to be kept safe. To use our own nightmares against us and to amplify them through the media and news cycle's endless feedback loop of fear. But as any parent knows, it is not always possible to keep those you love safe, and a person who is always safe is a person who never knows freedom - and who has no life.

Tony Blair once said that the freedom not be to be blown up on the way to work was the most important freedom - and that sounds temptingly true, until you unpack it. For no government can keep us safe, even if they watch over us and film us and listen to us and check our emails and internet use and hold our most intimate data and fill hundreds of prison cells with people who are merely suspected of - but not charged with - any crime at all.

When terrorists attack us, they try to divide us. They want a panicked reaction and a divisive, draconian response. It plays into their propaganda machine and by deeming them our terrible enemies against whom we must wage all-out endless, limitless war, we dignify and glorify their hateful - and hopeless - cause.

But what I learned on 7 July was that we are each other's best security. We are the guardians of each other's liberties and lives. I learned this when the bomb exploded and on each carriage of the train, trapped underground, despite the terrifying darkness and choking dust and screaming, men and women still took each other's hands and comforted and calmed each other, shared water, passed tissues, whilst other men and women ran into dark tunnels, into unknown danger, to rescue the injured. Further horror and injury was only prevented by people's calm and altruistic response. And in the darkness, you could not know if the person who reached to touch your hand was male or female, or what race or religion or sexuality they were. Just a stranger in the dark on whom your own sanity and survival depended.

I have held on to that lesson ever since.

I expect terrorists to attack our way of life and to try to use fear to divide us and change our behaviour. I do not expect our government to do the same, nor do I expect us to collude in giving up our ancient liberties and thus to do the terrorists' work for them.

Make no mistake, this is not about being soft on terrorism. I have no empathy for terrorists and I will cheer loud and long when one is convicted by a jury of his peers of plotting murder and mayhem and is locked up for a very long time indeed. But it is simply not right that we should support laws where people merely suspected of terrorism should be locked up for 42 days and nights without being charged with any crime at all. More than half those arrested for terrorism so far have been found to be entirely innocent, and terrorism laws have been used to harass and harry ordinary people: poets and protesters, chefs and pensioners, students and parents and priests. Ordinary people like you or me.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, the ex-Director General of M15, in office during 7/7, many senior police and the ex Attorney General, and numerous others whose job it has been to protect us, and prosecute those who mean us harm say 42 days is not needed nor is it workable, and I support them. How can I not?

Sometimes an issue is so important that it transcends politics and party lines. We have a choice: whether we focus on our fears or our freedoms. To defy the terrorists by standing together, strong in what we know ourselves to be, looking at what unites us. Not to tolerate political posturing and base attempts to cajole and frighten us. I pray that we have the courage to stand up for the freedoms our enemies want to destroy, and older generations died to protect; whatever our party politics, whatever our background. To say that our liberty is our security and our freedoms the key to unlock our fears, and so let us breathe and live and love and work as we want to, as humans, as is our right. Our birthright, our human right.

I am not a Tory, but I am passionate about the debate that is playing out in David Davis' constituency and all over the UK. They say if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything, and I am glad to stand shoulder to shoulder with people from all across the political spectrum, knowing that freedom is something worth standing for, worth fighting for, worth dying for. I stand today asking for freedom. I ask you to stand up, and stand for it too.

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City Circle

I'm doing a talk at the City Circle tomorrow night, 6.45-8.45pm, having been kindly invited by the lovely Dr Usama Hasan, details here. There are still a few places left if anyone is interested.


Tomorrow I am debating with Kelvin McKenzie on Sky at 10.20ish

...which should be quite interesting( !) We're talking about whether the by-election was a waste of money or a good thing for democracy. What do you think?

I'm also doing BBC Radio 5 Live at 7.10am on the same subject, with Iain Dale as the other guest.

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Campaigning about liberty with David Davis and friends

Yesterday I went up to Yorkshire on the eve of the by-election to support the civil liberties debate opened by David Davis. I spoke with the irrepressible Shami Chakrabarti and Bob Marshall Andrews QC and afterwards there was a Q&A in a packed room of constituents followed by a round of interviews. We were boosted by two great pieces of news, firstly, a new poll showing that two thirds of the public were not behind 42 days, and secondly, by ex-Security Services Director Dame Eliza Manningham Buller's maiden speech on Tuesday in the House of Lords, where she savaged 42 days. (Dame Eliza was DG of M15 during the 7/7 attacks.)

The turn-out for the by-election is expected to be badly hit by 5000 students in the area being home for the holidays and the Yorkshire County Agricultural Show being on and drawing huge crowds, but I am crossing my fingers and I am delighted that the debate has stayed in the news for over three weeks - this can only be good for the state of democracy and politics to have people all over the UK discussing our civil liberties. It remains a disgrace that New Labour did not field a candidate - where is the courage of their convictions? As they are so fond of telling us, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. Ho hum.

UPDATE: The local paper reports, OpenDemocracy was there, and so were some young people from the UK Youth Parliament who I had the pleasure of talking to. The Green party candidate was being pretty rude, and I see that she is now trying to make out that she was excluded from the meeting. The plain fact is that it was a meeting for 100 constituents, including local councillors businesspeople, and youth councillors, and it was clearly advertised as such, and she does not live in the area so she is not a constituent. She was making mischief.

The previous day there had been an open meeting which she had attended along with all the other candidates. Two candidates who were constituents attended the meeting and asked long questions, got long replies and had the opportunity to say who they were and why they were standing as part of their question.

Shami and Bob and I had great fun travelling up and back together and talking all the way, though we missed the train back and had to wait in a hostelry allegedly frequented by Dick Turpin and eat crisps for an hour. When I eventually got back to London I rushed off and did Newsnight, where I had been asked to come in and comment on a film Shiraz Maher had made about jihadis in Saudi Arabia being rehabilitated through a regime of kindness.

Not one of my better performances as I was knackered after talking all day. There was a funny moment where straight after the studio discussion, I was then fleetingly spotted in the next item, a package about the Davis by-election, which must have confused the viewers.

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A Spanish wedding, a French weekend and an anniversary

If you are wondering where I have been, I have been taking a break and catching up with people I love. You wait ages for a chance to get away and then three breaks come along all at once. And I have to say I needed the time out and away from the flat, still in chaos as the kitchen was being painted - the last stage of the epic kitchen refit saga.

After visiting Madrid at the end of June for my best friend's girly pre-wedding weekend, I was back in the UK for just a day and a night, just time to catch up with myself. Then it was back to Madrid (with my bargain outfit from Fonthill Road) for the wedding of J's friend Flash. Flash was an usher at our wedding last year) and he was marrying the beautiful Spaniard Maria, whose family live in Madrid. J's best man and two more of his ushers were also in attendance and it was a joy to be on holiday reunited with friends. As the only person in the party who had been to Madrid before, albeit for only a few days, I ended up being guide to the city, leading the boys from bar to bar and using the extremely rough and ready Spanish I had managed to pick up on my previous visit to order food and drinks and ask directions and so on. Spanish is a lovely language, and after a week in Spain I am hooked; I think I've picked up about a hundred words and phrases and I am determined to learn more so I have bought a CD course to swot up this autumn so I can go back and talk to more people and use verbs instead of mostly nouns and pointing and gesticulating and por favor, gracias.

The wedding ( all in Spanish but we had an order of service translation) was beautiful. Afterwards we blew bubbles and sang All you need is Love to Flash, and Maria, who was radiant in a veil and long train. The reception afterwards in an elegant Quinta 26km from town was glorious; we stuffed ourselves with canapes and 4 courses of delicious food, which put English catering to shame, and then danced for hours. The Spanish families showed us how to spin and sway and clap to Spanish guitar music; we showed them how to, erm, rave. Afterwards the British contingent carried on clubbing 'til dawn. The temperature was in the high thirties each day and I was glad J and I had decamped from the noisy expensive fleapit we in were booked in to another Vinnci hotel round the corner with aircon and sound-proofing: thank God for where I always find bargains. I bought a fan as well, and practiced fluttering it like a coquettish senorita.

After a few days back in the UK, I was off again, this time to Boulogne, by speedferry, with friends. Our trip began in Folkestone, where we had time to kill before the crossing so we followed the Triennial Art trail round town, an exhibition of contemporary art. My favourite was Tracey Emin's 'Baby Things', bronze casts of discarded baby shoes and hats and socks found in places where you might place a dropped article of clothing for the baby's mother to pick up. Emin has said that she was inspired by the fact that Folkestone has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in Europe. My friend revealed a hidden talent for photography and took dozens of pictures. If he gives me permission I will put some up here. The phone rang all day with journalists wanting to know about the end of the 7/7 trial, where the jury will retire at the end of this week.

I managed not to be sea-sick on the choppy crossing ( a first) by sitting on the deck and staring fixedly at the horizon during the one-hour crossing, but it was a relief to be on dry land and to check in to a pretty guesthouse in Boulogne town centre. We celebrated my friend's birthday on Friday, spent the next few days visiting the seaside and paddling, eating delicious food in French restaurants and bistros and exploring some of the local towns and finally picking up wine and cheese before heading back to the UK just in time to catch the men's tennis final.

Monday was July 7th, and a sad, raw day. This year it was a double-whammy, not only the 7/7 anniversary but a year since Mum had her terrible stroke, and my family reeled from the catastrophic blow. I laid my white freesias at Russell Square, then stood in silence with some of Kings Cross United, my friends from the train. The media were all at Kings Cross watching Tessa Jowell and the Mayor lay wreaths and some of KCU who were at that more public ceremony said that they had felt pressurised and intruded upon by the cameras. I was glad of the privacy and an arm to lean on.

I spoke to Shelly's Mum in New Zealand, who has become a dear friend, and said that I would be especially thinking of her, her family, and Shelley.

Afterwards KCU joined up and had coffee with other survivors and families at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport where Tessa Jowell was hosting a reception. We stood in silence again and remembered the passengers who never came home and all those who had suffered. The grief etched on people's faces was terrible to see. I spoke to some of the families who have been campaigning for an inquiry into 7/7 and updated them on where we are.

Afterwards KCU went out for lunch and then to the pub. I broke down; this anniversary was much worse than last year. I wished I could have phoned Mum. July is a cruel month; the three worst things that have ever happened in my life all happened in the first half of July. I wonder if it will ever feel normal.

I was glad that I had managed to get away and spend time with those I love.