Saturday, March 04, 2006 

The most cynical act of manipulation possible?

I can't think of anything more likely to make people cynical of politics and politicians than today's staged announcement that Tessa Jowell and her husband David Mills are to have a trial separation, due to the strain put on their relationship thanks to his controversial financial machinations.

Instantly, everyone is meant to feel sorry for the up till now happy couple. The media have broken them apart by sitting on their doorstep for a week! While the media spotlight on them will get the flak, Jowell is now in the clear. No one will dare condemn a woman who has just split from her partner of 25 years. It also leaves Mills with the opportunity to perform a cleansing of himself, to get ready for his possible trial and become a new man. She just never asked her husband, that's all she did wrong! And so a "popular" minister carries on, lies forgiven. Isn't politics great?

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Blair: Insanity or the last gasp of a scoundrel?

Blair's comments on Parkinson raise a few questions. Has Blair, like all prime ministers are supposed to, finally lost any small fragment of his sanity that was remaining? After all, in the past when questioned on God and his beliefs, Blair has either avoided the question or Alastair Campbell famously stepped in, saying "we don't do God." So why did he seemingly open up to Parkinson, and why now?

It's very tempting to dismiss his comments as his last gasp justification to himself that the war on Iraq was still just and legitimate. As things have steadily got seemingly worse and worse, any man, even this prime minister with all his hubris, must have doubts and anxiety about his decision. It then makes sense that he would say God will judge him, and that he prayed for guidance on what to do. This may well be what psychologically Blair is now doing to justify to himself that what he decided on was right.

On the other hand, Blair is entering the last days of his premiership. The seeming sharing of the job now with Gordon Brown is the obvious first step towards the handing over of power. Perhaps this is meant to be a clearing of the air so that Gordon can start with a clean slate. This may well point to Blair stepping down either after the education vote, or maybe the Labour party conference in the autumn. Either way, he has reignited a debate that perhaps would be better aired now in his reasoning than in a later interview which then detracts from Brown starting in "the job".

In this way, his comments are the last gasp of a scoundrel. Disliked immensely by the public, on his way out with little sight of a true legacy, Blair finds himself cast out, somewhat like Adam and Eve from the garden, with only the knowledge that it will be history and his God that judges him. While I don't share his beliefs, I somehow wonder whether his God will be as kind to him as Stephen Pound was, when he called him "painfully honest." Maybe, but being honest now doesn't make up for his dishonesty which led to this mess.

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Sun-watch: A story of changing headlines.

Well, here I was going to make a post about the Sun using the same headline as yesterday's Star on their front page story on Arsene Wenger's comments on the Ashley Cole case, but it seems that the version I saw was of an earlier edition, as lo and behold, here is what is on both the Sun and Sky websites:

Instead of Arsene: Sex row is balls, the headline was something along the lines of Arsene: I don't care if there are rear gunners in my team. Seemingly, the Sun either thought that they couldn't get away with more or less stealing yesterday's Star headline, or they decided that it was tasteless, especially considering their recent antics involving biting pillows and limp dems. I can't tell whether the story itself has changed with the different editions, but the version I read in the newsagent again just mentioned that two newspapers were being sued. The Sun in other words is unwilling to tell the public that it was one of those papers being sued by publishing that fact on its front page. Cowardice of the highest order. If the anonymous comment left on the last Sun-watch post is true, then it's even more cowardly. If anyone happens to have a copy of today's Sun with the earlier headline and can take a photo of it, please leave a comment, as I'd be most grateful to have it.

Also of note today is the Diana Express, which obviously thinks that its editorial is more important than actual news:

According to the Express, inheritance tax is theft. Stan Myerson, Richard "Dirty" Desmond's managing director would know all about theft. He was sacked by the Express back in 1994 for pocketing vast amounts of expenses and bonuses, only to be brought back when Desmond bought the Express group. Desmond himself is not averse to theft - of 10 Xbox 360s to be given away in the Star, despite paying himself £51 million last year, he took one as a present for his teenage son. (Thanks to Private Eye for the above.)

The Express wants to have its cake and eat it. In common with the other tabloids it has screamed about women with breast cancer being denied the so-called "wonder drug" Herceptin, which costs £26,000 a year, yet then claims that a tax which only hits the very rich and which goes towards helping the public services is theft. Instead of campaigning for the tax threshold to be risen so that it only hits the super-rich instead of the very-rich, they instead call for its abolition. As stated above, I'm sure this has nothing to do with Desmond perhaps being concerned for what might happen to his millions if something unfortunate happened to him. No, the Express is fighting for the common middle class person in the street as always. Remember, the Express doesn't stand for freeloaders!

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Friday, March 03, 2006 

Cheek by Jowell.

There are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are the lies told by Tessa Jowell. She expects the public to believe that despite signing a joint-remortaging of her home with her husband so that he could take part in an investment opportunity, that she then never bothered to ask whether that loan had then been paid off, at least until recently. Her husband, David Mills, apparently also never bothered to tell her that he had paid off that mortgage just 10 weeks later, with a gift which, depending on who you believe, either came from Silvio Berlusconi, or Diego Attanasio, a shipping magnate and convicted criminal.

The inquiry by Sir Gus O'Donnell was nothing of the sort. He didn't investigate the source of the money, whether Jowell told the truth or any other of the byzantine details of the storm surrounding Jowell and her husband. He simply ruled that it was up to the Prime Minister to decide if Jowell had broken the ministerial code. He took at face value Jowell's statement that she had not been aware of the gift of £350,000 until 2004, when it was decided that the money was taxable. As it was then not a gift and classified as earnings, there was no need for Jowell to report it to her permanent secretary. As you would expect, Tony Blair consequently ruled her not guilty of any wrong-doing.

The whole thing smacks in the face of common sense. What kind of marriage do Tessa Jowell and David Mills have in that they apparently don't talk to each other about financial matters, despite having mortgage burdens hanging over their heads? You would think that any normal couple would be concerned about having to pay back a mortgage of £400,000. Obviously not for this couple. According to Jowell, Mills must not discuss any investment matters with her either, nor gifts or earnings that he apparently makes, as she didn't know until 2004 that someone had paid him £350,000. You would think that would be something which would crop up at the dinner table, the fact that someone had just given you a huge sum of money that could instantly be used to pay off a debt, or as it seems, that he had just remembered he had money sitting in a hedge fund that could be used to pay off the mortgage he had took out to fund another investment.

All of this will seem to barmy to the average person. They are meant to believe that such sums of money are so piffling that they don't warrant discussion, that Jowell doesn't ask her husband what he's currently working on, or seemingly isn't concerned at all, despite the possible implications due to her being a government minister. This is without even getting started into the possibility that the money came from Berlusconi as a result of Mills giving favourable evidence for him in a corruption case.

It seems that for now Jowell is safe, despite the whole incident stinking to high heaven. The reason, rather than her innocence, seems to be because she's "popular". The Sun starts its leader by saying:

IT IS hard to dislike Tessa Jowell . . . which is why she clings to office for the time being.

Apparently the new "caring 'n' compassionate" Tories also didn't bother to raise too much fuss, as they also recognise her as being popular. Really? Are we talking about the same minister that laid herself on top of a roulette table at a casino for the cameras, and who introduced the bill which would have deregulated gambling even more that it already is, allowing "supercasinos" to open all over the country, thankfully now reduced to just one being opened on a trial period? Is this the same minister which some tabloids attacked for introducing 24 hour drinking? Apparently because she was "instrumental" in the Olympic bid, we can forgive her for the first thing, and while I was never bothered about the second, it seems everyone else can forgive her for that as well.

As the Guardian puts it in its leader, the only way that incidents such as this can be sorted out fairly and properly is for a nominated independent person to carry out a full inquiry, not a civil servant directly involved with the government, or for the prime minister himself. Until then, we're supposed to believe that Tessa Jowell is either an idiot or a liar. I'd rather believe that she's both.

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Daily Star and Sun-watch: Street of shame just doesn't do it justice.

Just two days after running an equally tasteless and distorted headline about homosexuality, the Daily Star just can't help itself. Ashley Cole, who plays for Arsenal, nicknamed the Gunners, is suing two newspapers over insinuated claims that he had a gay orgy with two other men. So what headline does the high quality upmarket tabloid Daily Star choose? I'M NOT A REAR-GUNNER. Of course, in the world of Richard "Dirty" Desmond, no doubt every gay man indulges in anal sex. In real life, it doesn't work like that. But it sure does work out well for an offensive headline towards a minority group in society for the second time in three days. Also, Cole didn't say that he'd sue anyone who says he's gay. His lawyers are suing the Sun and News of the World for insinuating that he took part in a gay orgy, when they apparently have no proof that he did.

On then to the Sun itself, which also features the story about Cole on its front page. You'd expect that in its story that it would defend itself, or at least own up to the fact that it is one of the newspapers which is being sued. But no, instead it only refers to two newspapers which are being sued by the England player, then just tells readers to turn to page 4. A supreme act of cowardice not only towards itself, but also a shocking failure on its part to tell its readers that civil proceedings are being launched against it because of a non-newsworthy story that it printed. Rebekah Wade, a coward, a traitor and a liar.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006 

Sun-watch: DANGER!

Being a responsible newspaper, the Sun has highlighted a shocking "EDUCATION BOMBSHELL", namely that 3 "perverts" are still working in "our" schools. How did they decide to do this? With a restrained, cautious front page, highlighting what is obviously a problem? No, that would be silly. Instead they've combined the road sign which cautions motorists to watch out for children as there is a school or playground nearby with the blackest and hugest lettering they could find: DANGER PAEDOS IN CLASS. Man your panic stations! Of course, we don't actually know whether these adults who have been judged to be a risk to children are teaching or not, or whether their crimes were committed against children. They've just been judged to be a risk to children, which it has to be said isn't very reassuring. All this comes after the witch-hunt in January against Ruth Kelly which has now been largely forgotten, especially now that's there some very iffy dealings going on involving Tessa Jowell. The issue has now actually been sorted, as the Sun story then goes on to say as the legislation to solve the initial problem is now being rushed through.

Note that the Sun nor any of other of the tabloids have apologised to the man who set off the whole moral panic. He was cautioned for apparently viewing child pornography, under Operation Ore. It's since come to light that the information behind the raids under Operation Ore was not by any means air-tight. Some of the credit card information obtained by British police was used on ordinary adult porn sites, which were hosted on the same servers as the ones with child pornography. There is no evidence to suggest that some of those arrested, cautioned and in some cases imprisoned actually viewed any illegal material, but simply went along with the charges in order to make sure that as little publicity as possible was made by the arrests, for obvious reasons. The original man was cleared to work with children and was told by a minister that he was an exceptional teacher. All of this of course was somewhat overshadowed by the likes of the Sun calling him a pervert and a paedo, which led to him fleeing into police protection.

In other Sun related news, yesterday saw the start of a campaign for Pete Doherty to be taken off the streets, following his arrest for allegedly stealing a car and having class a drugs on him, again. That it was the likes of the Sun who catapulted him into the public domain due to his on-off relationship with Kate Moss, their constant following of him and coverage of every last twist and turn of their brief romance obviously hasn't had any impact on his behaviour. Doherty is now checked into a hospital where he has apparently been diagnosed with manic depression. That the Sun decides now to start up a campaign for him to be jailed, when he is fighting both illness and addiction to drugs is typical of a tabloid which shows no respect to anyone except those that it builds up to then bring down. The very last place Doherty should be is a prison cell. He needs medical help, and coming from an editor which lied about how she came to be arrested after drunkenly beating up her husband, it's rather breathtaking.

Finally then, both the News of the Screws and Sun are being sued by Ashley Cole and a DJ, after a story in the Screws which alleged that two unnamed Premiership footballers and a music DJ engaged in a "homosexual orgy". Britain's press: easily the world's finest.

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Lib Dems elect Campbell: The right choice?

Congratulations then to Sir Menzies Campbell, who in the end despite being behind in some of the opinion polls comfortably won the Liberal Democrat leadership election by 29,697 votes to Chris Huhne's 21,628. While inevitably the media and probably myself will now trot out the cliches about them deciding to go with a "safe" pair of hands, I really do wonder whether the membership has made the right choice.

I personally originally backed Simon Hughes, but after the Question Time debate found myself swaying between him and Chris Huhne, who like pretty much everyone else outside Westminster I had not heard of before. His passion and policies, such as the green tax he advocated almost won me over. Now with the party probably facing its biggest challenge in years, taking on a somewhat rejuevanated Tory party and a Labour party which seems obsessed with creating more new laws just for the sake of it (and Blair's legacy) I felt that either Hughes or Huhne would be the best to lead the party.

Ming Campbell has a few problems. He has been linked with the back-stabbing and whispering which led to Charles Kennedy having to step down, (although I felt that was the right decision) has been very timid on the Iraq war, despite his opposition to it, and few know of his ideas on the home policy stage. He also seems to have the support of the "Orange Book" squad, who want to turn the party into another centreist group battling with New Labour and the "New" Tories. Then of course, there's his age. Although the chances of the Lib Dems winning the next election are almost non-existent, you somehow can't imagine him as the prime minister, not that you could Charles Kennedy either. Many seem to have voted for him based on the plan that he will hold the leadership only until after the next election, when the likes of Nick Clegg are more likely to be known throughout the country. Even worse, his first few statements already sound ominous:

Sir Menzies, who got 57% of the vote, said he was ready to take risks to "modernise" the party and lead it "back to government".

In his victory speech he pledged to fight for fairness, freedom and environmental protection.

But he added: "Let me make it clear now that caution and consolidation will not do.

"Safe pair of hands yes, but ready to take risks, ready to challenge orthodoxy and ready to challenge the party too."

He added: "Our task now is this: To build a strong, effective powerful Liberal Democrat party with the objective to ensuring a greener, fairer, decentralised and democratic Britain, a Britain at peace with itself at home and admired abroad."

Words like "modernise" and "orthodoxy", especially coming from Menzies mean likely that the nonsense criticism from the likes of Geoff Hoon, who dismissed the party as a protest vote because they're "soft on crime" is having an effect. Economic matters, such as the pledge to replace council tax with a 50p surcharge on incomes over £100,000 are also likely to be thrown out the window. Hopefully when Campbell really means, especially with building a stronger party is to make sure that policies are the same in London as they are in East Fife. Saying different things to people in different constituencies will no longer do. The Liberal Democrats have a huge opportunity with both the Tories and Labour moving to the centre-right to outflank them on the left and win the votes of those fed up with Labour's increasing attacks on civil liberties, its lies over foreign policy, rendition and the blame culture which they are increasingly attaching to young people. That is without going into the disaster of the public finance initative, timid redistribution of wealth and the current reforms on both schools and hospitals. Those kind of voters find themselves increasingly disenfranchised, thanks to the first past the post system and the two main parties, as if they vote for either the Greens or Respect it's more or less wasted. The Liberal Democrats are a viable alternative, but only if they realise the opportunity they have. If Menzies Campbell doesn't, then the next general election could leave the party facing extinction.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006 

Daily Star-watch: How to distort a story to your own prejudices.

I know I said the other day that the Daily Star should no longer be considered a newspaper, but today's front page needs challenging.

To judge by the headline, you would think that the BBC had been ordered to put more gay men into its chief soap opera, EastEnders. The actual story is based on a press release from the gay rights group Stonewall, which released research by the University of Leeds. The report also isn't an "exclusive", as the Guardian gave the story 91 words on its 8th page:

The BBC was accused yesterday of delivering "astonishingly poor value" for gay licence fee payers by failing to accurately reflect their lives and frequently indulging in "low level homophobia".

The gay rights group Stonewall published research by the University of Leeds claiming that in 168 hours of prime time programming, gay lifestyles were portrayed "realistically" for only six minutes.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, called on the BBC to track the portrayal of sexuality in the same way as it measures the depiction of ethnic minorities and those with disabilities.

Nowhere did the gay rights group tell "the Beeb to get more gays on the box." What they were pointing out was that gay lifestyles hardly ever feature in prime time television. The group also says that the BBC frequently indulges in low level homophobia. Obviously trying to go one better, the Daily Star decides to indulge in high level homophobia, with its somewhat tasteless benders headline pun. Essentially what the Daily Star is doing is trying to say that "political correctness" is rearing its ugly head again. While doing so they take on the persona of someone who is clearly suspicious of homosexuality, or at least male homosexuality. After all, the Daily Star is owned by Richard "Dirty" Desmond, who owns numerous adult softcore TV channels, which often broadcast lesbian shows that obviously aren't meant for lesbian titillation. The hypocrisy, as ever, stinks.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006 

David Cameron: The new king of spin.

The media is still being incredibly soft on David Cameron, and exactly at the same time as he's stepping up a gear in his spin campaign to show that he and his party have really changed. Last night they managed to get top billing on both the 10 O'Clock News on BBC1 and on Newsnight half an hour later. How? Cameron and his associates have come up with a wicked wheeze purely designed to emulate Blair and his challenge to the constitution of the Labour party, which he decisively won. He's put forward an eight point plan to be voted on by the Tory party membership, all of which is designed to antagonise the right-wingers as little as possible. He therefore hopes that he will be accepted as prime minister in waiting, his party united and the country shown that the Tories are once again ready for power. Too bad that it's all smoke and mirrors.

Let's look at his eight point plan then. (Click on the image above to see it bigger, taken from the Tories' released PDF.) First point is about taxes, namely putting "economic stability and fiscal responsibility" ahead of cuts. The Tories pledge to share proceeds of growth between tax cuts and public services. Anything new here? No, not really. While the pledge at the general election was to lower taxes at some point, they also pledged to put stability and responsibility first then as well. It also mentions the same old rubbish about government swallowing ever more national income, when what they mean is that they think this government is still thinking up more and more "stealth" taxes, which they've been banging on about for years now. Next!

Ah, Cameron repudiates Thatcher's saying that there is no such thing as a society. Being a sharing, caring, compassionate Conservative, Cameron believes that there is, just that it isn't the same as the state. The test for their policies is how they will affect the disadvantaged, not the rich. Somehow that doesn't really sit properly with the claim just above it. Tax cuts affect the rich a hell of a lot more than they will the poor, unless the tax threshold is changed, such as the Lib Dems suggest, as the poorest in society often still pay more tax by percentage than the rich do. Nothing in this Tory statement suggests a similar move. The rest is yet another attack on the state - the only real mantra of this document and the Conservatives, who are intent on attacking Gordon Brown as being centralising and a "road-block to reform", despite that being utter tosh. Next!

The quality of life matters as much as the quantity of money, apparently. A statement of the bleeding obvious to the average man in the street, it's took this long for the Conservatives to work it out. What's the Tory view then on expanding airports, for instance? How about nuclear power? Would they be steps towards sustainable development? We need answers Mr Cameron, otherwise this is just empty sloganeering. Also the Tories will support the choices that women make, which will annoy the likes of the Daily Mail which thinks the woman's place is at home looking after the kids and making dinner. Another statement of the obvious which should have been adopted long ago.

The fourth point is one which marks how little difference there now is between Labour and the Tories. Both believe that choice is the new watchword - despite hardly anyone other than the politicians being enthusiastic about it and just wanting a good local hospital and school. These services also don't need to be run by the state - the private sector is just as good! Such fine examples of this are the railways, the private finance initiative which is locking hospitals into debt for decades and the specialist private surgery and check-up centres which aren't performing the work they were supposed to but are being paid for it anyway. We can't blame the Tories for this though - Labour hasn't looked back since gaining power.

The fifth point states that it's our moral obligation to make poverty history. They're only a year late with this one, but again, it shows no difference between Labour and the Tories. The argument has been won, and the right argument was the victor, but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth that the Tories think they need to actually state this.

Security and freedom must go hand in hand. Really? To be fair to the Tories, they have opposed the most draconian measures of this government on terrorist legislation. Whether this is out of opportunism or genuine conviction is hard to tell. Ineffective authoritarianism - doesn't the Conservative party support anti-socal behaviour orders, naming and shaming and all the other manifestations of Labour's crackdown on "social ills"? ASBOs have been used on the most vulnerable, have become a badge of honour in certain places and are often unbacked up with other measures. Notice that nowhere in this document are asylum seekers mentioned, nor immigration. Are we meant to forget that the Tories still believe that the refugee and asylum system is in chaos? What happened to the fantasy island where all claimants would be processed? What do the Tories now really believe about the Iraq war? Again, that isn't mentioned here. Does Cameron really believe what the Lib Dems do, as he said in the leaflet in the Dunfermline by-election? This 8-point plan sure doesn't tell us.

The 7th point tell us absolutely nothing that the Tories haven't stood for since their very beginning. No changes, but it does give one thing away. Not limited in our aspirations for government - does this show that the party is now so desperate for power that it'll do anything to beat Labour, or is this whole document just empty showboating from a party that long ceased to have any major differences with the party opposite?

The final point then again shows the lack of a difference with Labour. Localism along with choice is the other great big new idea. Apparently they want to see more local democracy - so why didn't they support the northern assembly which was defeated in the referendum? That seems very odd. They also want the devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales to work, which is rather strange because I thought they were already working. Perhaps what the Tories really mean is that they'll only work when they are in power in the respective parliaments - something which there is little hope of them achieving. Communities should have more say over their own futures, again, a statement of the obvious and which no one will disagree with.

On the whole then, an absolutely worthless document with few changes on policy, statements of the obvious and few details on policies which would be actually really controversial with the grassroots. That this is being hyped both by the Tories and the media as a clause 4 moment shows how much the Tories have already achieved in seducing a pliant media which doesn't seem to be bothered with what is really happening. This is nothing like a Clause 4 moment - that was a genuine debate which still has not been conclusively answered. Both state ownership and private ownership of the public services have their own problems, and both have failed in the past. Blair won that argument, and Cameron will win this argument, but they can't be compared.

Cameron then continues on in the vein of his work for a PR firm; spinning and spinning away, given an extended honeymoon by the press while still not telling the full truth or not even being asked to. The document also shows that politics has reached an impasse - both the Tories and Labour agree on so much that there's so little to choose between them. What the Tories are fighting for is a lost cause. If nothing changes between now and the next election, then alienation and apathy will get worse. Politics is dead - long live politics.

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Guardian-watch: Practicing what you preach.

George Monbiot's excellent piece today, showing how unsustainable and dangerous uncontrolled expansion of air travel is and will be shows the incredible damage which the airlines and the government are prepared to accept in response to the permanently growing economy. Imagine my surprise then to find the following adverts, all within the main berliner section of the newspaper:

Yes, that's 5, with 3 of them being actual Guardian reader offers. Sort it out Guardian, otherwise you make both yourselves and the columnist look stupid.

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Monday, February 27, 2006 

George Michael-watch: Predictably bad tabloids.

Remember, no tabloid journalist has ever done drugs. No tabloid journalist has ever got drunk and hit their significant others. No, what the real issue here is about is to make appallingly bad front pages and puns:

The Daily Star (which along with the Sport I don't think any longer merits being referred to as a newspaper) goes with the hilarious "dope me up before you go-go" in reference to the Wham song with a similar lyric. Not that it makes any sense - he most likely doped himself up. Still, never let that get in the way of a great pun. Oh, wait.

Both the Sun and Mirror decide on printing the same headline as each other for the second time in two weeks. They choose the side-splitting "CARELESS SPLIFFER" which is a pun on a Careless Whisper, for those of you not familiar with George Michael's back catalogue. Not that he actually was being careless - being asleep in your car isn't a crime, he was just unfortunate enough to have raised concern in someone who rang for an ambulance, who in turn contacted the police. He had Class C drugs on him, which isn't even really an arrestable offence, but being George Michael the plod had to arrest him. On a day when the press could have covered the continuing anarchy in Iraq, the Tessa Jowell husband "scandal" or what I covered below, it's good to know the tabloids priorities are a washed-up pop star caught with drugs, and in the Mirror's case, yet another dossier on a dead woman. Thank you so much God, for Fleet Street. Also, I'm not exactly sure how the man who starved himself to death in jail committed revenge, or even who against, but the Sun loves a tale of death and misery. If only such plagues would strike Wapping

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Power to the People: naive, half-baked and vague, but populist and a worthy start.

It's rather a shame that the Power to the People report by the Power Commission, chaired by the frighteningly sane Helena Kennedy, has come up with a range of proposals which on the whole are either seemingly unworkable or woefully lacking in detail. It's no surprise that Gordon Brown has quickly taken up supporting a number of the main pledges, rather cynically to make the impression that there is still some difference between him and Blair. The main proposals are:

· Individual donations to parties to be capped at £10,000, and those from organisations at £100 a member
· First past the post to be replaced with a voting system boosting the chances of small parties and independent candidates
· 70% of members in the House of Lords to be elected. Only over-40s eligible, to ensure they have experience of life outside politics
· Each voter to allocate £3 of public money to a party
· Citizens to gain the right to initiate new laws and public inquiries
· Ministerial meetings with lobbyists and representatives of business to be logged and listed monthly

Let's start with the good stuff. The ideas on donation are excellent, and have been a long time in coming. £10,000 is, if anything, still a little too high. It will most importantly however stop the hideous spectacle of Blair elevating to the Lords huge donors to the Labour party, and the diabolical rise of Lord Smallpox, aka Drayson. The logging and listing of lobbyists and business is a great idea - it's about time that such meetings were exposed, although again the number of ministers who upon leaving the job go straight into directorships and vice versa still makes something of a mockery of principles and independence.

On to the not so good stuff. First past the post to be replaced - fantastic, but to boost the chances of small parties and independents is so vague as to be worthless. The system of proportional representation to be adopted needs to be discussed and then put forward to be changed to, possibly by a referendum. Just saying that first past the post needs to be abolished isn't good enough. Are we going to have the transferrable vote system - putting the candidates in order of preference and then adding once they are knocked out, or a different system? The commission should have come up with some ideas.

On Lords reform they propose a magical figure of 70% to be elected - how? Do we go with Billy Bragg's proposal of distributing votes on a regional basis at the same time as a general election? Would it be a separate vote? Should MPs vote on who to elect? Coming up with a percentage to be elected is fine, but it needs to have backbone and explanation behind it. Lords reform also doesn't seem as urgent as it once did, as it now seems to be the Lords which is the biggest check on this government. Rather ominously, Blair has apparently now come round to the idea, having opposed it before. I wonder why?

Each voter to allocate £3 of public money to a party - this is going to sound undemocratic and snobbish, but do we really want more money, out of the public purse, going to the likes of the BNP? Would the Tories, indeed even Labour, want a decent amount of money going to the "traitorous" George Galloway in Respect? Such a proposal also seems likely to have to deal with voter apathy and people who just can't be bothered, i.e. "they're all the same". It sounds very good on paper, but in practice it sounds the kind of thing which would lead to an outcry when it becomes reality.

Citizens to gain the right to initiate new laws and inquiries - I know we often complain of feeling powerless, but isn't this what we have MPs for? You can also bet that such a proposal would lead to the loudest voices drowning out the reasonable majority. Before you know it, as demonstrated by the recent Today vote on the most powerful man in the country you have one-issue people voting in their thousands on something which either doesn't need changing or is such a small issue as not to worry about. As above, it sounds good when discussed but once a healthy dose of cynicism is added you find the democratic system itself being undermined by citizens outraged by an issue banged on about day after day in the Daily Mail. A better proposal would be to have a trial period, see what actually happens and obviously to give a committee a certain level of veto on those issues which are brought forward. The power to the people proposal is far too sweeping.

Finally then to voting at 16 - again, sounds great on paper. Then you think about it - are 16 year olds ready for party politics? Do they understand the issues? Yes, that sounds patronising and half the population at times doesn't properly understand the "issues", but 18 still to me seems a fair age. My political awakening didn't really take place until 16, and I'm sure that I wouldn't have voted then. It comes across as being an attempt to move the number of the electorate who voted up, which it likely would because of the novelty of the 16-year-olds at the time being able to. After those guinea pigs, it doesn't seem likely that it would infuse the youth population as much. I think the electoral commission had it right when it poo-pooed the idea, as populist and seemingly reformist as it is. 16 year olds are free to fight me for their right to vote, as after all, they're free to marry with parent permission, have gang bangs and poison their bodies with nicotine at that age. Whether it would lead to more of the younger population actually becoming more involved with politics, and not just with a single issue, is more questionable.

The power to the people report is a good start, but it is just that. Its ideas need to be fully fleshed out before almost anything in it should actually be put forward to become law. Either that, or I'm actually a closet Tory when it comes to constitutional reform after all.

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