Oh, right. According to this, Jean Charles de Menezes was not, actually, wearing a bulky coat which could have made him look like he was carrying a bomb underneath it. Furthermore, he did not vault the ticket barriers at Stockwell station – he used his Travelcard to get in.
I’ve also read (although I can’t find the damn article now) that De Menezes didn’t come out of one particular flat or house whose address had been found in one of the unexploded rucksacks, as we were led to believe initially – instead, he emerged from a communal entrance door of a block of flats, which anybody living there would have had to use to get onto the street.
The fact that the police have now apparently arrested one of the actual bombers, having disabled him with a Taser stun gun, raises even more questions about the way they tackled De Menezes.
It’s come to something when I find myself agreeing with Jack Straw, but he does have a point that the police are in an incredibly difficult position at the moment. This still doesn’t, however, justify the killing of an innocent man, which we now know to be the case.
I must admit that when I first heard the news on Friday I naively thought the police couldn’t possibly have shot someone who was in any way innocent, as they must have had a foolproof reason for tackling a guy so comprehensively. Then when I heard Jean Charles de Menezes was actually innocent, I still felt that he’d been asking for trouble by running away when challenged and jumping the ticket barriers at Stockwell underground station. This does not, of course, justify a summary execution but it does at least make it easier to see why the police acted as they did under the circumstances. The fact that he was wearing an unseasonably heavy coat which could have concealed a bomb and he initially emerged from an address police found in one of the unexploded rucksacks from Thursday’s botched terror attacks didn’t help his case, but now these details just look like the worst possible bad luck.
It seemed fairly common sense that running from armed police is simply not something you do if you’re entirely innocent of any crime, and that he may have run because he was (for example) carrying drugs or was in trouble over something else which under normal circumstances would have been merely arrestable, as opposed to killable. However, I didn’t originally realise the officers were in plain clothes, and they haven’t said he was involved in any other kind of crime, so the fact that he did run surely proves he wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. To him, the guys with guns chasing him could have been anyone from London muggers to Brazilian mafia – I doubt we’ll ever know the full story.
That said, the police’s case is pretty threadbare. The fact that they allowed him to get onto a bus before they started chasing him doesn’t tally with their defence that he could have been carrying a bomb. It looks like the whole operation was botched from the start, and that the intelligence they had was more than faulty. But on the other hand, in the current climate, if you have even the slightest suspicion that a bloke has a bomb strapped to his body, how you’re meant to arrest him in a peaceful manner without risking death and destruction is very difficult to determine – but nonetheless something for the police to sort out without resorting to murdering innocent people.
Incidentally it’s not that I haven’t been watching the news as closely as everyone else for the past few weeks, but I tend generally to think I haven’t got anything very interesting to add to the fountain of comment gushing forth at the moment. Sometimes though you have to stand up and make an exception…
‘Civil liberties groups have condemned an arrangement between Microsoft and Chinese authorities to censor the internet,’ writes today’s Grauniad.
‘The American company is helping censors remove “freedom” and “democracy” from the net in China with a software package that prevents bloggers from using these and other politically sensitive words on their websites.
‘The restrictions, which also include an automated denial of “human rights”, are built into MSN Spaces, a blog service launched in China last month by Shanghai MSN Network Communications Technology, a venture in which Microsoft holds a 50% stake.’
Now that Tony Blair has won a (not particularly unsurprising, but still annoying) third term, the Independent and others are picking him up on the fact that he did so with just 36% of the popular vote and with the support of only 22% of the electorate. The Independent’s campaign for democratic reform is a bit shutting-the-stable-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted but there’s something to be said for it and who knows, maybe Tony might even listen (although I doubt it). The above link links to the Independent’s page of links on the topic, including an online form you can fill in to sign their petition.
According to today’s Observer, Labour are several points ahead of the Tories in the paper’s latest opinion poll. This article also reports that Peter Hain “launched a fierce attack on self-indulgent ‘dinner party critics’ among the liberal middle classes who are tempted to use the ballot box to punish Blair”. By doing so, he says, such voters “would only hurt the poorest, who were dependent on a Labour victory”. Blair has “got the message” about their displeasure, Hain insists, arguing that those who still disagreed over Iraq or civil liberties “should reopen the arguments after the election”. “There’s now a kind of dinner party critics [sic] who quaff shiraz or chardonnay and just sneeringly say, ‘You are no different from the Tories,'” Hain goes on. “Most of the people in this category are pretty comfortably off: it’s not going to be the end of the world if they get a Tory government. In a working-class constituency like mine, this is a lifeline. It’s not a luxury.”
Well, I have no doubt Peter Hain would love for Iraq and civil liberties to slip off the agenda until after the election. However, he might like to know that it is precisely because of these two issues that I will not be voting Labour on 5th May. He needn’t worry, though, about my vote going to the Tories – they are indeed the totally desperate option. As one of the middle-class liberals he so despises (and, therefore, very proud of it), as stated elsewhere here I will be voting Lib Dem.
Incidentally, Peter should note that I prefer cabernet sauvignon to shiraz, although seeing as he’s so busy generalising I doubt he’s got time for such details. And by the way, are we middle classes he lambasts the same middle classes as those his party want “the poor” to aspire to being? Surely not!
Several papers report today on an interview Tony Blair granted the UK’s war-friendliest rag, The Sun, in which Tone confides with characteristic disingenuousness that he considered resigning over his stance on Iraq and that he was “upset” when the UN didn’t pass the second resolution. It’s hard to imagine a more minty piece of humbug than this: if millions marching through central London (and just about everywhere else in the world) to protest against the war, and the vote of some 150 of his own MPs in opposition to the government’s action didn’t convince him to either quit his post or oppose military intervention himself, what, exactly, would have done?
The Guardian (which headlines its report, “Blair feared for premiership over war” – what, in the past tense?) also quotes Blair: “The most terrible thing for someone in my position is to end up losing your job for something you don’t really believe in.” Final proof, then, that the killing, “orphaning”, maiming and general destruction has always come second to our illustrious leader’s preservation of his own career.
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So, farewell, then, Sir Paul Getty. When I read the news, I couldn’t help but think of the great line from Leonard Cohen’s song Jazz Police: “Jazz Police are paid by J. Paul Getty / Jazzers paid by J. Paul Getty II…”
A Charles Kennedy interview in today’s Independent quotes him on his disappointing revision of his party’s stance on the war: “You have to give your moral support to the troops… I still believe diplomacy should have been given more time, but unfortunately that was defeated in Parliament and we have moved on,” he says. I can’t decide whether he’s just a woolly liberal or if it’s simply naive to think any major party could seriously take a more hardline position than that.
The article also mentions William Hague’s “joke” during the parliamentary debate on military action that if the Iraqi army collapsed with the same speed as the Liberal Democrats’ argument, “it will be a very short war”. Apparently Jack Straw called this “one of the greatest parliamentary put-downs of all time”. Nice to see our political representatives at ease and making humorous, intellectual capital of death and destruction.
Further to Blair’s TV address about the war, we’ve now had televisual statements on the issue from Iain Duncan Smith and Charles Kennedy. Each has seen them addressing the camera exactly as Blair did from a pleasant living-room type background lit by a table lamp. The lighting in the Blair address was harsh, to drive home how tough this course of action is for him and the country; the other two went for a softer, more reassuring approach. Kennedy’s lamp looked a bit cheap, perhaps, but I preferred it to Duncan Smith’s posh affair, which matched perfectly the Tory leader’s patronising and unctuous delivery. Only in Britain could you have leaders of political parties fighting a war from the lighting section of Homebase.
Meanwhile, Mark Steel writes on ZNet today: “Peter Hain was one of several ministers who claimed the French made the war inevitable, by voting against the war. Similarly, I’m one of millions that should apologise for putting Margaret Thatcher into power by voting against her, and making the Cheeky Girls Number One by not buying their record. Hain went on to say, on Radio 5 on Tuesday, ‘The French have decided, by their veto, to not talk when the talk making war with their veto.’ John Prescott must have thought, ‘At last – someone who speaks my language.'”
I just had a frightening thought. Given that Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory of evolution must surely now lay in tatters with George W. Bush not only in the White House but now leading one of the most stupid wars ever conceived, could Dubya be proof of the existence of God?
More seriously, I deeply resent the assumption by people like Peter Hain and the Prime Minister himself in his TV address (as reported in “Blair addresses divided nation” in today’s Guardian) that even though the country is divided over the war, “the British people will now be united in sending our armed forces our thoughts and prayers”. The argument from these and other quarters that “the troops just have a job to do” and that we should “show unity for their sake” is naive, patronising and simplistic. This isn’t to say I don’t care about our soldiers’ lives and welfare; on the contrary, that is exactly what I do care about. What sickens me is that the people who put the soldiers on the front lines have done so less to disarm Saddam than to fight a political war against “old Europe” and shore up public opinion for this conflict in a far more horrifyingly vivid way than they have been able to achieve by debate and diplomacy alone. To recognise the country’s division, and then to say that we should support the military regardless, is both emotional blackmail and Orwellian doublespeak of the most repulsive kind.
Blair’s TV address incidentally was bizarre. Come ten o’clock, the Blair broadcast had been mysteriously replaced by a one-man performance of The Iceman Cometh. His haggard, exhausted appearance was as disingenuous as his words, coming across less as a reflection of how knackered and stressed he is than a conscious effort to drive home exactly how knackered and how stressed he is. This was borne out by the designer harsh lighting that did him no favours whatsoever – what a coincidence. And then there was the wobbly camera and dodgy slow close-up as he wound up his address, giving the suspicious impression the whole thing had been jumped on a surprised Blair at two in the morning by a couple of minor members of his clerical staff, who had filmed it themselves with a Woolworths camcorder. Who are these people trying to kid?
As part of my job at a London press cuttings agency (he said hurriedly) I have to read through editions of financial magazines, including Professional Pensions. The references to “war” and “potential war” are increasing daily and are not very reassuring. In a story headlined “Schemes urged to invest in equities and catch upturns”, from the edition dated 9th January, Threadneedle Investments’ head of investment communications Helen Mackin says, “An outbreak of peace or a quick, clean victory for a US-led but UN-backed force would be the best outcome [for the markets]. Either could swiftly erase the ‘war premium’ in the oil price … with positive knock-on effects for the US economy.” Shurely shome mishtake… she can’t be both for and against war, can she?
However, this is nothing compared with Mark Dampier of Hargreaves Lansdown’s sentiment in a piece headlined “Between Iraq and a hard place” from Money Marketing of 9th January: “A short war could be good for Isa business.” What on earth is wrong with these people?