Saturday, May 30, 2009 

Weekend links.

Apart from the continuing expenses row and with it the reform debate, it's been a very slow week, hence the rather shoddy updating here of late. Nonetheless, Tim kicks us off with a reappearance of old friend Glen Jenvey in the Mail, linked to those who kicked off a minor riot in Luton last weekend at a demonstration against Muslim extremists who had abused troops marching through the town. Ed Vallance on Lib Con asks what Tom Paine would do to reform parliament, Craig Murray notes the arrogance of James Purnell, Anton Vowl looks at the Mail's take on the invasion of the caterpillars, as well as writing an open letter to Mind over their courting of Alastair Campbell, Bleeding Heart Show thinks the cuts to the probation service are a disaster waiting to happen while lastly the Heresiarch writes why he's she's voting UKIP in the Euro elections.

In the papers, Matthew Parris agrees with Polly Toynbee that Gordon Brown has to go, Marina Hyde reflects on the horror that we might have politicians replaced by celebrities, Steve Richards suggests that Labour is resigned to a massacre next Thursday, Howard Jacobson says we can't blame the uneducated for general philistinism, while in the Mail Antony Beevor continues the non-story that is the Queen not being invited to the D-Day anniversary and finally Peter Oborne is the latest to claim that Alan Johnson will be the victor in any coup which sees Gordon Brown defenestrated.

As for worst tabloid article, the normal automatic winner would be today's Mail front page, which is outraged that the BBC might be paying £30,000 to the Muslim Council of Britain after Charles Moore quite clearly slandered the organisation on Question Time by saying they supported the killing of British troops. Obviously, Moore ought to be paying the settlement if there is to be one, but there is surely no argument that such a serious allegation needs to be based in fact, when in this case it is clearly not. Then I read the latest Lorraine Kelly effort:

HOW would YOU like to lounge around watching TV and eating chocolate, then maybe indulging in a bit of pottery to while away the time until someone else cooks you your next big meal?

Sounds idyllic.

Well, astonishingly, this is the life being led by the monstrous mother of little Baby P, the child whose killing shocked the entire nation.

Fair enough then Lorraine, if it's so idyllic perhaps you'd like to spend some time in the segregation wing of Holloway. You too can then wile away the probably 20+ hours a day in your cell doing nothing other than eating chocolate and watching TV, waiting for the next meal which is quite possibly contaminated with a variety of bodily secretions, safe in the knowledge that should you ever leave that cell, either to return to a normal wing or to regular life that you're likely to be hounded and chased for a good part of the rest of your natural life. Not that Baby P's mother doesn't perhaps deserve some of that, but the idea that her life is "idyllic" is the kind of fantasy which only tabloid commentators and witless television presenters can indulge in.

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Friday, May 29, 2009 

Beyond parody.

At first sight, I imagined that the subs at the Graun had had a bit of fun with Pollyanna T's latest column. After starring in the latest Private Eye's Hackwatch with the emphasis being on just how many "last chances" she had given both Labour and Gordon Brown, it would have been a laugh to headline it with just that description. Then I actually bothered to read the text:

Anything that makes enough splash to stop the one story that really matters: will the cabinet and leading MPs seize this last chance to sack their failed leader?


What will it take? They don't need to wait for Thursday's poll results. I have no idea if a coup will happen, but if they let this moment slip, history will record this as the spineless cabinet that threw away Labour's last chance.

Either Pol doesn't take Private Eye, she's sticking two fingers up at them, or she really can only find just the one way to express herself. Perhaps Pol herself should be in the last chance saloon.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009 

Scum-watch: Evil monster in stuffing herself with chocolate shock.

Hold the front page! The Sun has another scorching exclusive concerning the Baby Peter case:

BABY P’s mother has put on TWO STONE in five months behind bars by gorging on chocolate.

Important news I'm sure you'll agree. I'm more interested though in how this amazing story has reached the Sun:

A friend who has kept in touch with her said she whined in a letter that her days at Holloway jail were spent “in pottery classes, watching movies and eating chocolate”.

The 27-year-old monster is being held in the prison’s segregation unit for her own safety.

Her friend told The Sun: “She says there’s very little to do in segregation except eat chocolate and laze around.

“She was an expert at that already.” When she appeared in court last week, the mum looked noticeably fatter and tried to hide her weight gain with an over-sized pink top.

This is obviously quite some friend to be selling her for a few pieces of silver to the newspaper that is making money out of describing her as both evil and a monster. It does therefore make you wonder whether this is a friend at all; one of the oldest tabloid journalism tricks in the book is to get in contact with a notable prisoner, claim to be sympathetic to their plight, gain their trust, and then once they tell you something even slightly interesting, it suddenly appears in the newspaper.

It is all rather stating the obvious though. Not much to do in the segregation unit? Who knew? What would the paper rather be happening to her? Perhaps they ought to get the "decent mums" from Facebook who were up for torturing her to death (slowly) and see just how ingenious their ideas were for bringing their anger and pain to bear on the mother were.

Somewhat predictably, the paper's campaign for the sentences of the three found guilty to be reviewed has borne fruit, although whether the Court of Appeal will decide whether the sentences were too lenient or not is another matter. As Afua Hirsch points out on CiF, the indeterminate sentences given to all three will almost certainly mean that they will serve far longer than the minimums which were handed down, which the Sun emphasised without bothering to explain just how difficult it is to be freed by those dates. Almost 11,000 people are now serving "indeterminate" sentences, of which less than 50 were released once their minimum term had expired. This though is of little concern to a newspaper which has so successfully mined the outrage surrounding the death of Baby Peter, and which also repeatedly informs its readers of just how soft both the lunatic judges and the prison system in general is.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It's reassuring to know that even if everything else is falling apart, the government can still be relied upon to be treating asylum seekers like shit. The Graun discovers that those who have deported back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been taken almost direct from the flights into the custody of the general directorate of intelligence and special services, where at least two "failed" asylum seekers were viciously tortured. Despite the Home Office's operational guidance, which admits that those detained in the country are highly likely to be mistreated, while the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to the country because of the political situation, the Court of Appeal ruled back in December that those who claim asylum in this country are not risking persecution back in the Congo purely because they have done that. This latest evidence rather undermines that judgement. Not that anyone far beyond the pages of the Independent or Guardian will care - instead they'll be focusing on the tabloid headlines of last week which while acknowledging the fall in immigration from the EU ascension countries, noted that asylum applications were rising again.

Somewhat connected is that the mighty Tim Ireland has rather outdone the BNP's "Billy Brit" horror show by purchasing the exact same puppet (which happens to be American) and noting that some "white" heroes aren't all that they seem:

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009 

From expenses to going soft in the head.

After taking an age to respond, with Labour still yet to make anything like the stand which the Conservatives have, you have to wonder whether what began as a crisis in politicians rather than necessarily in parliament itself has started to get out of hand. Not because the proposals for more general reform, especially those set out today by David Cameron, are too radical, but instead because they don't seem to be actually targeting what enraged the public in the first place: personal enrichment rather than general democratic failings.

One of the things that few commentators seem to have attempted to adequately answer is why the expenses debacle, rather than other recent general failures, whether you include the Iraq war, the previous loans for coronets scandal, or more recently the banking collapse and with it the breakdown of what had been a consensus of how the country could be run, has been the straw that broke the camel's back. The former and the latter have cost and will cost sums that dwarf the money which MPs have claimed for second houses, duck houses or duck a l'orange, while our involvement in Iraq has directly cost the lives of thousands, and indirectly hundreds of thousands, and from which it will take our reputation decades to recover.

Certainly, part of it is just a logical progression from the rage that was briefly directed at bankers, although again their greed puts MPs' second home allowances and other perks into stark contrast, albeit bankers were then not using public money for their bonuses. Recessions often are cathartic, and the anger and bitterness that come with the sudden change in circumstances has to be directed somewhere, but at MPs as a whole rather than just at a set of individuals within a party or at one party in particular is something new. Admittedly, this has been building for some time, as more and more, again admittedly with some justice, have started decrying politicians as all the same. Still though this alone doesn't quite explain why the loathing has reached such a crescendo. We seem to want our MPs both to be above the kind of temptations which befall many of us mere mortals, while also being as normal as politicians can be. When it turns out that MPs are, unsurprisingly, just as liable to bend the rules as far as they can go as the rest of us are, for which they should nontheless be condemned, it still seems completely disproportionate for them to come in for the savaging which has been raining down on their heads now for close to 3 weeks.

From this has spawned the obvious look for quick fixes to a system which has been broken for quite some time. The real demand though seems to be far more simple: everyone out, and everyone out now. This is something that the current politicians are hardly likely to accede to, and so there has to be an alternative found. Those who have long sought reform for principles both pure and personal have also found a perfect opportunity to perhaps finally get their way, echoing the Rahm Emanuel quote that you should not let a good crisis go to waste. All this though seems to be ignoring what the public themselves want: they mostly don't seem to care about the inner workings of parliamentary committees or what votes are whipped and which aren't; they just want the rotten out and a new lot in and to let them work it out.

All of us are however making numerous assumptions here. Fact is, we simply don't know how this is going to pan out; it might yet peter out as the Telegraph's revelations eventually do, or it might keep going until an election has to sort it out. This is why the most attractive proposal of all so far has been Alan Johnson's, for a referendum on proportional representation to be held at the same time as that election. That will fundamentally answer the question on whether the thirst for reform is long lasting and thoughtful or short and ugly.

It's also instructive that proportional representation is one of the few things that David Cameron has actively ruled out, in what has been variously described as either the most radical thing ever, "the spirit of Glasnost", as Cameron's Guardian article rather pompously puts it, or more plausiably, as politics having gone soft in the head. Instructive in that it's one of the few things that genuinely would change the way politics is run, while Cameron's other lauded promises, or not even that, potential aspirations are tinkering at the edge. Some of his proposals are simply laughable, such as the idea that the person who currently employs Andy Coulson as his chief spin doctor is going to be the one that puts an end to sofa government, promised by Brown and also broken. He wants to end the quangocracy without naming a single one which he actually plans to abolish, as so do many others who rant against them. He wants to tackle the power grabs by the EU and judges, without leaving Europe and without withdrawing presumably from the ECHR, making the ripping up of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British bill of rights an utter waste of time. Then there is just the madness of ultra-Blairism still writ large within the Cameroons: ending the "state monopoly" in education, which is in actual fact local authority control, giving parents the power to set up their own schools, as if they have the time or will to do so. The similar powers on housing seem to be a recipe for banana-ism: build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything, while on policing seem destined to result in the futility of "bobbies on the beat" while politicising the organisation. He meanwhile has nothing whatsoever to say on Lords reform, the monarchy or on the anachronisms of Westminster itself which seem to be kept only so that tourists can experience the quaint old-worldiness of the mother of all parliaments.

Cynicism is easy, but it's difficult not to be when you reflect of how many in opposition have promised reform along these lines only for it not to materialise once power has been grabbed and when such changes are no longer so attractive. You can't help but think all we might eventually get from Cameron's changes are the schools and parliamentary debate on YouTube; that again though, might all be the public themselves want. It's difficult not to reflect that the old adage we get the politicians and politics we deserve still rings as true as ever.

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Monday, May 25, 2009 

Your new overlord.

In line with Jamie's decision to enter his dog as a Conservative candidate for the next election, as a response to David Cameron's call for those who shares his values but who are not robots or necessarily Tories to join his party and become prospective MPs, I have decided that Stumpy the gerbil is the sensible candidate for these sensible times.

Stumpy is everything a modern Conservative should be: he may be hideously white, but his red eyes certainly make him stand out from the crowd. Despite suffering an accident while in a wheel which resulted in him losing the use of his back legs, which he then chewed down to stumps in frustration at his predicament, he still believes in standing on his own two (front) feet, and has more than overcame his adversity through nothing more than pure hard work. He might not have had a job prior to becoming a Conservative candidate, but he very rarely bites, and his food allowance will be negligible. He will fight for disability rights, which are very close to his heart, but he has no truck with the equality agenda of Harriet Harperson, who seeks to discriminate against white gerbils for no other reason than a fanatical feminist agenda. That, and he's unlikely to ever get his end away, which considering the past of the Tory party is also another evident bonus. He's also unlikely to live long enough to serve a full parliament, so if anyone subsequently regrets voting for a gerbil, it won't be too long before they'll be able to elect in an actual Conservative, although probably one with even less intellect.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009 

Weekend links.

Story of the weekend remains expenses, but it's rather branched out, since the Telegraph (apparently) succeeded in getting Nadine Dorries and her wacky (as described by the Tories themselves) allegations about the Barclay brothers removed from her website. The Barclay brothers are notoriously litigious and prickly about their privacy, but to be taking such nonsense seriously and deeming it so potentially wounding that it has to be removed by legal means is a spectacular own goal. Dorries had quite obviously just ruined her image as a victim following the Damian MacBride debacle; now she has it back once again, and can even rely on her allies to proclaim her the latest free speech martyr. From a newspaper which has in some instances (such as over Brown's cleaner, where it was apparent that he had done nothing wrong) got the wrong end of stick over the expenses information handed it, it rather sticks in the claw that it's reacting in much the same way as the MPs it's exposing.

Elsewhere, not to big myself up or anything, but there's my latest post over on the Sun Lies concerning the paper's Baby Peter coverage, Alan Thomas on Lib Con calls for an election, with some interesting comments below it, Craig Murray defends Dorries' freedom to blog, Paul Linford has his latest column, Flying Rodent returns with a majestic post on expenses, Mr Eugenides adds to the Dorries comment, as does Rhetorically Speaking, Freemania sees a gap in the gate market, and Daily Quail notes the Mail's lovely coverage of a former front page superstar.

In the papers, Matthew Parris says kick them, but not necessarily out, Janice Turner also defends MPs to an extent, considering their work load, while Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Graun does almost the opposite, Deborah Orr talks how prison is not the place for those who wish to do harm to themselves, Chris Mullin attempts to argue that not all MPs are at it, while Andrew Grice also wonders if Westminster justice is fair.

Worst tabloid article of the weekend has us going full circle, as the Independent reprints Dorries' ravings, sans the Barclays stuff. Nice work if you can get it.

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Friday, May 22, 2009 

Scum-watch: How much more hysterical can the outrage get?

Emotional pornography in today's Sun leader:

But today, when Judge Stephen Kramer sentences the three monsters involved in Baby Peter's death, he will have to consider more than the failings of organisations meant to protect vulnerable children.

He must also send out a message that depraved brutes, like the trio involved in this baby's horrible end, have no place in a civilised society.

It is hard to think of a punishment that fits this particular crime without reducing ourselves to the level of the guilty.

The judge must reflect that even the wildest animals care for their young.

They do not leave them screaming for protection like Baby Peter, as they slowly and sadistically destroy their bodies.

His evil mother, her sadistic child-rapist boyfriend and the paedophile lodger all face 14 years behind bars. The boyfriend faces life in jail for the separate rape conviction.

All of them must now get the maximum sentence possible. With no remission. Not a single day.

The Sun really should get an award for such writing: no other newspaper so successfully dehumanises those convicted of crimes. It doesn't matter that it credits those responsible for Baby Peter's death with intelligence and planning which the evidence the court received hardly backs up, or indeed that even the baby's father detected nothing wrong with him despite seeing him only the weekend before he died, which perhaps provides an insight into the other failings; it really has just gripped hold of the outrage that surrounded this case, for both right and wrong, and is squeezing every drop that it can from it.

Predictably then, it's already launched another petition calling for the sentences handed down to be lengthened, despite all being sentenced to indeterminate sentences, with the paper seizing on how the mother could out within 3 years, the boyfriend within 8 and the lodger within 1, although to call that unlikely would be putting it lightly. It's also reopened the comments for the first time since they got out of hand, and they are also, wholly unsurprising. They also echo the Sun's dehumanisation:


Death penalty should be brought back for these three animals.

they should be locked up for life !!!! and for him bring back the electric chair, save our taxes !!!thats disgusting.If I were in charge they would all get the death penalty.& I would flick the switch or stick the needle in.********.

These 3 individuals are so sick and twisted. As a mother to a baby boy myself, I get so emotional and upset when I hear any of this story. A life sentence is too good for them. Why waste tax payers money? Bring back the death penalty for such evil monsters! We can only hope their lives are made a living hell by fellow inmates.


the person who thinks the sentences were reasonable is obviously no beter than those three who should rot in hell

Can't believe this is happening in Britain in 2009.

The justice system was better 100 years ago.

Protection for the evil, is that what the British justice system is all about.

There is no chance for children born into evil like this, if if this is the punishment they get.

Quite how the Sun's leader tomorrow will go one up on today's sense of fury will be difficult, but it doubtless will.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009 

The wonderful world of Nadine Dorries.

How then go things with the expenses of Ms Nadine Dorries MP, who at the weekend was facing questions concerning her allowances? Like Margaret Moran, the Labour MP for Luton South who is facing the possibility of being in a who's the more repellent fight with Esther Rantzen at the next election (Rantzen, despite everything, easily wins) after she claimed the additional costs allowance for a house in Southampton, as well as claiming for the treatment of dry rot at the property, she faced allegations that she was using the second home allowance, not to claim for a house in London but instead for the one in her constituency, which she claims she spends less time at than her digs in the Cotswolds.

Unfortunately when you're an MP that blogs about the mundane things in life, this tend to leaves a trail which might not be to her advantage. Tim points out that she has talked plenty about her time spent in Woburn, but not so much about her bolthole out in Chipping Camden. This could be because she's only recently been spending more time at the latter, and also because she "didn't want her constituents" to think she wasn't dedicating enough time to them, in her rather feeble defence, but it certainly raises questions for the internal review body which is going through the Conservatives' expenses claims and considering whether or not they're squeaky clean.

Meanwhile, there's another hole in her defence regarding other properties which she claims rather emphatically that she does not own:

I've finished going through all my receipts and thought I had better make some things crystal clear:

I do NOT own a home in South Africa.

I do NOT own a home from which I receive a rental income

That sadly isn't what the register of members' interests says:

DORRIES, Nadine (Mid Bedfordshire)

8. Land and Property
House in Gloucestershire, from which rental income is received.
Holiday home in South Africa.

This could just be Nadine's unfortunate forgetfulness. In response to a Mail on Sunday article last weekend, she wrote:

Have an article on me today which is just a joke. I haven't owned a holiday home in South Africa or owned a home in the Cotswolds since marriage split. As I have said over and over, I rent two homes. They probably got that information from the register which I probably havent up-dated but they really should have just asked me, they phone often enough!

Is it really their fault when you've forgotten, presumably, not to update the register for two years, which is when Dorries' marriage ended? Despite the publicity, Dorries has still apparently forgotten to correct this oversight: the register was last updated yesterday, and still has Dorries down as not just having two homes, but four. If it stays like it much longer it might again be worth wondering whether she's telling the whole truth.

You would forgive embattled MPs who haven't done anything wrong descending into conspiracy theories to explain just what has befallen them over the last couple of weeks. Sadly, for Nadine, such flights of fancy are a natural reflex, whether it's over a photograph she claims shows a baby thrusting its arm through the womb despite the surgeon himself denying that was the case, or over how her amendment aimed at reducing the time limit in which to have an abortion was defeated by a government whipping operation, despite the vote being a free one. Even by her standards however, the rumour mill she claims to have overheard at Westminster is a furiously operating one:

The Telegraph are uncovering a few cases of fraud, but not enough, so they are more than slightly embellishing some of the stories. I write as a case in point.

Enter the Barclay brothers, the billionaire owners of The Daily Telegraph.
Rumour is that they are fiercely Euro sceptic and do not feel that either of the main parties are Euro sceptic enough. They have set upon a deliberate course to destabilise Parliament, with the hope that the winners will be UKIP and BNP.

A quick online check of the Barclay brothers and their antics on the Island of Sark is enough to give this part of the rumour credence.

Another rumour is that the disc was never acquired and sold by an amateur, but it was in fact a long term undercover operation run by the Telegraph for some considerable time, carefully planned and executed; and that the stories of the naive disc nabber ringing the news desk in an attempt to sell the stolen information are entirely the work of gossip and fiction.

These rumours do have some credibility given that this has all erupted during the European Election Campaign and turn out is expected to be high with protest votes, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, or should I say the Barclay brothers.

Now, if this is all a power game executed by the BBs, how would they do that?
It is a fact that these men are no fools and are in fact self-made billionaires.
I would imagine and believe that if any of this is true, they know the British psyche well enough to whip up a mood of public anger, hence the long running revelations in the DT.

Where do I get this from? Well, at heart I am just a cheeky scouser. I like to go into the rooms of the faceless and nameless in Parliament, sit on their desk and ask pertinent questions like: who are you? What do you do? I've made friends with one or two. One in particular I am very fond of. He is a mine of very astute information; and whilst in his office yesterday, we chunnered over the 'what is this all about?' question.

He reckons this is all a power game. That the British public are being worked like puppets by two very powerful men. Whipped up into a frenzy to achieve exactly what they want.

His very poignant words to me were “if any of this conjecture is true, Parliament will become full of racists, fantasists, and has-been celebrities. We will be rendered impotent and may never again regain the authority to withstand the pressure, opinion and whims of the overtly wealthy.”

Yeeessss, or it could just be that a minor official who was a civil servant has just become fantastically wealthy after he saw the opportunity to copy a hard drive containing all the expenses details, as outlined by the Wall Street Journal, Sunday Times, Mail on Sunday and the Guardian. Or are they all in on this conspiracy as well, masterminded by two gentlemen on an island, presumably stroking white cats in a sinister manner? Wouldn't it have been rather easier for the Barclays to just get the Telegraph to support UKIP, rather than the Conservatives, therefore pressurising the party to become even more Eurosceptic than embark on such a fantastically complicated and fiendish plot to forever bend the whim of parliament to them? Still, helped to distract from her own predicament for a while at least.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 

Election chaos.

Gordon Brown didn't exactly cover himself in glory when he said that calling an election now would cause "chaos", which he elaborated on later to mean, rather disingenuously, that it would cause chaos for the public services to suddenly have to adjust to the Conservatives' planned cuts.

It isn't an entirely unjustified claim however. Half of the reason why the Conservatives are able to call for one is because they know it isn't going to happen. The Tories are no more ready for a snap election than the other political parties are, although they are probably the most well prepared, able to rely for direct funding to specific constituencies on Lord Ashcroft, something which neither the Liberal Democrats or Labour can compete with. None of the parties have manifestos ready to go, although they probably exist in draft form. More pertinently, the parties don't have the policies to even go in the manifestos; the Conservatives have come along further in the last year on specifics than they had previously, fleshing out their law and order stance, but we know next to nothing on what they do intend to cut faster and further than Labour. There wasn't a problem with that when we were still a year away from an election, but if Gordon Brown were suddenly to decide to just get it over with and follow Cameron's demands, that suddenly looks less like political sense and more like not knowing what they actually plan do if they suddenly find themselves in office.

There's little doubt that were there to be an election tomorrow, the Conservatives would sweep the board, which makes the Sun's claims, which is more or less hand in hand with Cameron in demanding an immediate ballot, that Brown has more to gain than lose in calling a vote even more hilarious. He has everything to lose, as is obvious. As horrendous as everything currently is, in a year it's still feasible, if unlikely, that the economy will have recovered sufficiently, the MPs that abused their expenses removed from their posts or disciplined and the reforms that are hastily being agreed will have bedded in enough for the anger to have diminished and for some to consider that perhaps they'd still rather vote Labour after all. One of the reforms that should be considered on a wider scale to help with re-engaging the public with politics should be fixed-term limits, removing the ridiculous and unfair advantage the governing party has in being able to call an election when they feel like it, but until then the ball is in Gordon Brown's hands.

As attractive the idea is of the public being able to cast their judgement on MPs immediately is, the cynicism behind the proposal from the Conservatives is clear: they're asking for one both because they know they won't get one, while also knowing that if they do, they'll be the ones to take full advantage. Also as righteous as much of anger currently descending on politicians is, actions taken in anger are often rash. An election should never be fought on a single issue, as one now would be. Far better to give all the parties a further chance to flesh out not just the specific reforms to our political culture which are now undoubtedly needed, but also their policies in full. An election now is the worst of all possible worlds.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009 

Scum-watch: More on Alfie Patten.

It's a real shame that the revelation that the Sun's story concerning Alfie Patten has been shown to be completely wrong isn't getting the attention it deserves, with the continuing row over MPs expenses overshadowing it, because the account of what actually seems to have happened continues to worsen.

In what seems to be a growing pattern of newspapers promising payments for stories only to later then renege on the details, it now appears that the Sun did not pay Patten's parents any money for the story. Whether this was because they had no intention of doing so, knowing that it would breach the Press Complaints Commission's code if they did is unclear, and it has to be said we are relying on the distinctly unreliable Max Clifford for the allegation that the paper had promised a large sum of money for the story which it then failed to stump up (his claim that he stopped the coverage seems to be erroneous; social services got a court order which definitely did stop it). The Guardian does however confirm that the paper has now promised that it will set-up a trust fund for the child itself, which distinctly suggests that considering that Patten will now presumably have no involvement with the bringing up of the child, no payment is going to be made to either him or his parents.

Clifford, for once, does seem to be on the side of justice in this case. In a previous interview with the Graun, he said that he had started representing the Patten family because of the tabloid mob which was trying to desperately get their own side of the story, trying his best to curb the excesses they were resorting to. Whether if they had gone to him first rather than to the Sun he would hold the same view is questionable, but when even Clifford thinks that a story should never have been published you ought to sit up and take notice.

The Sun, predictably, still sees no shame in what it has subjected a 13-year-old boy to as a result of both their greed and his parents' initial attempts to gain financially from the situation they seemed to have found themselves in. There is no apology in today's paper, and no editorial comment defending their reporting of the story, which is even more pathetic than if they were bothering to defend their journalism. There is however, remarkably, a comment from the paper's agony aunt attached to the main piece on the story, headlined "[K]ids who are given no sense of values". A more applicable headline would be "Journalists who are given no sense of values", as quite clearly Rebekah Wade, a woman who has repeatedly campaigned supposedly on the behalf of children, such as for Sarah's law, saw nothing wrong with paying (or rather, not) for a story about teenage pregnancy when they hadn't bothered to even ascertain the basic facts or to give even the slightest thought to what the publicity they were about to come under would do those involved's already fractured psyches.

The not paying for the story or paying less than promised is not just a Sun technique, but is now seemingly increasingly a ploy used by all the tabloids. Most recently the Sunday Express apparently refused to pay for their exclusive about Jacqui Smith's husband claiming for watching two pornographic films on expenses, which came from the same source whom has since sold the full details to the Telegraph. Prior to that, the News of the World paid a lesser sum than promised to the dominatrix who secretly filmed Max Mosley taking part in an orgy, for which he subsequently successfully sued on privacy grounds. Most indefensibly, the News of the Screws also, despite signing a contract with Iraq veteran Justin Smith for an interview, worth £15,000, then tore it up and said they would "only pay £1,000, £1,500 tops".

These are the same people, it's worth bearing in mind, who are currently raging against members of parliament for their expenses fiddles and lies. Despite everything that can be justifiably thrown at MPs, none of their claims have directly affected individual lives; when newspapers renege on deals and use and abuse the likes of Alfie Patten, they care nothing for the damage they leave in their wake. The only way we will get the root and branch reform that is required in all areas of our political culture is not just through a general election, as the Sun is calling for, but through the throwing out also of the media barons that have done just as much if not more to coarsen and diminish our representatives while also thwarting reform that threatens them as much as it does those with their noses in the trough. Any reform that focuses only on parliament and not on the media also is doomed to failure.

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Monday, May 18, 2009 

Scum-watch: The truth about Alfie Patten emerges.

You might recall I made a rather cryptic post at the end of March regarding a truly reprehensible piece of journalism which had appeared in the Sun being proved to be wholly inaccurate. If you didn't manage to work it out, I was referring to the Alfie Patten story, the 13-year-old who at 12 while looking 8 had apparently impregnated his girlfriend, although whether that's an adequate description of her is uncertain. There was at the time wide speculation that Patten was not the father (mostly incongruous that someone who looked so young was capable of being a father), and this was confirmed when the Mirror briefly put an article up on their website suggesting that was the case, in breach of an apparent court order, resulting in it disappearing within a matter of hours.

The Sun itself is now, without a hint of shame, "revealing" that Patten is not the father, presumably meaning that either they are now breaching the court order or that it's expired/been overturned.

It was always doubtful that the Sun's story was in the public interest, and I argued that even if it was, there are times when even if something is in the public interest, it shouldn't necessarily become public knowledge. In a case such as this, where the paper didn't even attempt to deny that it had paid Patten's parents for the story and where it was also clear that neither the parents or the paper had any real interest in the well-being of either the baby or the baby's juvenile parents, but rather respectively their own personal enrichment and their sales, with the Sun boasting of how its completely inaccurate article had resulted in it shooting to the top of the internet newspaper rankings, the Press Complaints Commission really ought to come down like a ton of bricks.

Equally clearly, the Sun has breached the PCC's code concerning children, especially the fourth clause:

iv) Minors must not be paid for material involving children’s welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

It was arguable that even if Patten was the father, the effect on him from being thrust onto the front page of the nation's biggest selling newspaper was hardly likely to prove conducive to him being fully involved in the child's upbringing. Now that it turns out that Patten was not the father, there simply isn't an argument: if his parents hadn't gone looking for money, and if the Sun hadn't been looking for the latest terrible example of Broken Britain, then he would still probably have had to deal with learning that he was not the father after all, but not in the full public glare. This is the sort of thing which scars people for life: newspapers know this all too well, but Patten is the sort of individual who may as well not exist except as a commodity, someone to be used and abused and then forgotten about.

The Sun, naturally, had already featured the claims of the boy who has turned out to be the real father. As Peter Wilby noted at the time, usually those who fear they might have been the one to have knocked up a one-time girlfriend deny everything. Seeing that there was potentially money to be made, at least two and as many as six claimed they were the father. Again, without the slightest irony, the paper quotes the boy's father as saying:

He has broken down in tears at the thought he might be the father. He thinks his life has been ruined by this.

He might well be right. Patten's life though undoubtedly has been, and a baby and her parents have got off to the worst possible start imaginable, all thanks to the greed and shamelessness both of their own parents and of a newspaper that quite clearly has no morals whatsoever.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009 

Weekend links.

Doom and gloom is pervading Westminster, with there only being one topic again this weekend. Sunny at Lib Con calls for a campaign to clean up parliament, while also arguing that Shahid Malik has been made a scapegoat, Paul Linford argues that this week will mean root and branch change, Rhetorically Speaking sees Labour setting up a personal job creation scheme, Hopi Sen notes that it's just getting worse and worse, while the Heresiarch looks somewhat sympathetically at Tam Dalyell's valedictory claiming of bookcases to hold his copies of Hansard, at a cost of £9,000 to the taxpayer. Most popular in blogland though is the sight of Nadine Dorries finally getting her comeuppance, or something approaching it, with Tim, Justin, Jamie, Bob, Craig, Sim-O and RS all enjoying the moment. Away from the expenses row, Lenin sees Israel wiping the occupied territories off the map, Anton Vowl has some suggestions on what to do with your BNP election leaflet (which I've yet to receive, so I'll have to make do with the UKIP one) and lastly Back Towards The Locus looks at the continuing persecution of the Roma in Italy.

In the papers, Marina Hyde draws attention to Dr Richard Taylor and his almost immaculate record in the Commons, Peter Oborne wishes that Vince Cable could be PM, Matthew Parris thinks the outrage is being overdone, while Ken Macdonald criticises the remaining secrecy, with Andrew Grice also thinking the Lib Dems could be the ones to benefit, although for the moment it looks as if UKIP and the BNP at least in the short term will be the main beneficiaries. The Independent's leader column also more or less calls for a general election, which is interesting. Other topics include Janice Turner on the idiocy and uselessness of SATs and Deborah Orr on the "dog problem".

As for worst tabloid article, we have the usual efforts from both Lorraine Kelly and Amanda Platell, but to come full circle we'll stretch the rules beyond breaking point and give the award to Ms Dorries for her impassioned defence of her right for privacy and for her second home not to be public knowledge, even if she has since removed the caps from the post.

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Friday, May 15, 2009 

Off with their heads?

A week on from the start of the Telegraph's disclosures, and you would have thought that this would be a perfect time to begin to take stock and see how just how badly the brand of politics in general has been damaged, to take the analogy to breaking point. Yet still the story rolls on, although whether the law of diminishing returns has started to kick in yet is difficult to ascertain. Tomorrow the Telegraph, after claiming the first ministerial scalp today in Shahid Malik is set to target a Lib Dem and this blog's favourite member of parliament, Ms Nadine Dorries, who has already put up a spirited defence of herself on her blog. It's hard not to fall victim to schadenfreude, seeing two of the most downright unpleasant specimens (the other being Hazel Blears) in the Commons having to defend themselves not against accusations of being terrible politicians, which is beyond dispute, but of financial impropriety.

As always when "crisis" descends, it's easy to lose perspective. The anger which has been expressed over the past week will subside, that much is certain. Few can sustain such fury as that expressed on phone-ins and last night's cathartic edition of Question Time for such a period of time. Again, the key period to look back to for indicators of what might happen next is the last days of the Major government, but although the allegations then were far more serious than involving "petty" abuse of expenses, there was an opposition party which was felt to be on the verge of being a viable alternative, if it was not already, as well as being one which was unblemished by the scandals. This time round, although David Cameron has put in as strong a performance as could be expected by someone who knows that he has much to potentially gain from putting the government's response to shame, his own party is only marginally less, if not as culpable as the government itself. It remains the fact that the biggest rage is being directed towards the "flippers" and profiteers, such as the previously sainted Ms Blears, but no one watching Question Time could fail to note that all politicians are taking a beating.

All of this was completely avoidable. The most mystifying thing is that a week on, parliament still refuses to get everything out in the open now and end the steady corrosion which only gets worse the longer the drip, drip of revelations continues. Second only to that has been the ineptness of Labour's attempts to get a grip on the situation, almost making you wonder whether they've completely lost all hope, both in themselves and in their chances of coming anything higher than 4th in the European elections. After all, if Shahid Malik has to stand down while his claims are investigated, why on earth are Hazel Blears and Jacqui Smith still in the cabinet, regardless of their denials and in the former's case, the brandishing of cheques? The answer might well be that they're already doomed in the next reshuffle, but the way things are going you almost wonder whether there is going to be a next reshuffle: perhaps it ought to be better to get everything over with now and call an election, rather than wait for the anger to turn instead into apathy and mistrust which will be unshiftable for years to come.

There is an argument to be made, amidst all of this, for less of a reactionary response, perhaps most forcefully made by Martin Kettle, even if his blaming of the press doesn't fully wash. Pushed down the agenda, for instance, have been examples of genuine, old style Tory corruption, only by Labour peers in the Lords. Both Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor are likely to be suspended from "the other place" after they were investigated following the Sunday Times' entrapment operation in January. Petty personal enrichment and bending if not breaking of the rules looks squeaky clean and understandable compared to the boasts made by both men of what they could do in exchange for money in the old fashioned brown envelopes. Why, also, do we not reserve such fury for the £40 million which the monarchy costs us every year, to far fewer individuals for far less work while they really do live in the lap of luxury? It also reflects badly on what it seems the public really cares about: the hate expressed over the past week seems far beyond anything that was displayed at the time of the Iraq war, when life itself was cheap to leading politicians. Some of it undoubtedly boils down to pure envy, but how on earth can that be criticised when Labour's record both on poverty has been shown to be so dismal, and now when so many are having to make do on £64 a week? On more sure ground is the hypocrisy and cant of the newspapers themselves, especially of the Mail, Telegraph and Times/Sun, all of whom are owned by individuals who are either tax exiles or do their best to avoid paying their fair share while demanding that everyone else play by the rules in the most sickening, hectoring manner.

None of the above however will make any difference for the moment, such is the apparent momentum behind the story. The fear expressed by some that this could end up turning into a "Clean Hands" style affair such as that which took place in Italy in the early 90s are probably overblown, but there is little doubt that even if there are no suicides, some now seem likely to lose their seats. The irony in all this is that while our political system is rotten in so many ways, whether down to party tribalism, whipping, or fear of offending the real power in the land, it seems likely to be the moats, trouser presses and swimming pool repairs which bring it back down to earth. In the end, we will all end up the losers in a who can wear the hairiest shirt contest, and change which fails to tackle the real problems, such as the change offered by David Cameron, will turn out be just as illusionry as that offered by New Labour.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009 

Hey mummy, what's a sex pistol?

I don't know a lot about art, but I know what I like. You can't help but think that's exactly what four supermarkets thought when they saw the cover art for the Manic Street Preachers' new album, Journal for Plague Lovers, above. 15 years on from the release of their opus, The Holy Bible, the vast majority of the lyrics for which were written by Richey Edwards, who went missing less than a year later, the band have finally had the courage to return to the remaining lyrics which he left behind for them. Appropriately, they decided upon using a painting by the artist Jenny Saville, who also provided a confrontational cover for the THB, a triptych of an obese woman in white underwear. The art for JFPL is undoubtedly striking; it's also quite clearly one of the best album covers in years.

Quite why the four supermarkets think that a painting of a young girl (as it is, although like with THB's art Saville has gone with both ambiguity and androgyny) that, if you don't look closely enough, has a tear rolling down her bloodied face is so potentially disturbing or challenging that it needs to be hidden behind a plain slipcase is perplexing. Presumably the defence they would rely on is that it potentially depicts an abused, bruised and frightened child, a startling image that some would find upsetting, or difficult to explain to a child and which might seem out of place staring down amidst the distinctly unchallenging covers from the CD aisle. You would imagine that would be their argument: as it is, all Asda have said is that it "wanted to be extra cautious" in case it upsets any customers, while Sainsbury's said it "felt that some customers might consider this ... to be inappropriate if it were prominently displayed". In other words, they haven't a clue how the public is likely to react; they just think that some might not like it.

In a bid to see whether they're at least being consistent, I had a look on their websites to see if they were showing the same caution online as they are in-store. To Tesco's credit, or cowardice, whichever you prefer, they aren't using Saville's painting for their main CD page link to the album, although on its actual page it's there in all its glory. Asda however, despite being "extra cautious" in store, and in fairness to them their corporate parent Wal-Mart is notoriously sensitive to which CDs and magazines it stocks in America, even when it's also the nation's biggest seller of ammunition, has the art uncensored on their main CD page. Sainsbury's and Morrisons don't seem to yet have pages up for it.

The Manics' singer quite reasonably points out that "[Y]ou can have lovely shiny buttocks and guns everywhere in the supermarket on covers of magazines and CDs, but you show a piece of art and people just freak out". Although there have been occasional campaigns to censor the front pages of "lads mags", and they're usually put on higher shelves and sometimes at least half covered, it's rare that the front pages of the likes of the Daily Star and Sport are similarly felt to be "inappropriate", despite the abundance of flesh which usually beams out from both. As for CDs, a quick browse through the current week's top 40 has some album covers which would more than benefit from being placed in a plain slipcase, and which could well offend some of the more delicate souls out there. These though are photographs of the artists themselves, although whether that word can possibly be used to describe the Pussycat Dolls should be left perhaps to the more inventive swearbloggers out there. Surely no one could possibly find inappropriate a spreadeagled P!nk, a vomit inducing horrendous photoshop disaster featuring the gorgeous pouting Dolls, or a presumably distinctly deliberately unsexy shot of Alesha Dixon in fishnets, could they? After all, these are artists which appeal directly to the supermarket demographic, where the crap is piled high and sold cheap. The Manics, who might have once been mainstream but have rather faded from their height and have followed up one of their most accessible albums with one which is the diametric opposite, are unlikely to sell by the bucketload, and so their record company and they will need every last sale. Hence they can be bossed about.

With the downfall of record shops, and the spectre of even the likes of HMV eventually falling victim to the internet, there is the danger that anything outside the vast selling stars starts to become completely ghettoised. Doubtless this will appeal to the genre nerds who already stop liking bands they formally idolised once they breakthrough, but it also threatens to greatly compromise what has always been great about music, as of everything else: the iconoclasts who genuinely do push things forward. Once, as alluded to in the song from JFPL, Jackie Collins Existential Question Time, the Sex Pistols were seen as so threatening that they were banned; it's surely a sad state of affairs that in 2009 an album cover which is simply a portrait is censored lest anyone be upset should they see it.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009 

Scum-watch: They've only banned page 3!

Never let it be said that the Sun doesn't involve itself in high profile campaigns which are directed at resolving injustices that simply cannot be allowed to stand. Whether it's the right of residence for the Gurkhas, the "mothers in arms" or the right to string up paedo-pervs from the nearest lamp-post, the paper undoubtedly often provides a public service that should never be sneered at. In its latest showing of public spiritedness, it's demanding that the politically correct namby-pamby killjoys at the MoD lift the ban on

Before we get completely carried away, it's not clear whether this is a specific ban on the lovelies, whether the MoD has suddenly blocked "adult" websites from those presumably using their servers, or whether has been added to the firewalled list. The quote from the MoD in the article, that "adult content has nothing to do with our core business of defence,” suggests that it's part of a general filter. In any event, it allows the Sun to launch a frivolous campaign, just as it has whenever page3 has been "banned" by other organisations in the past.

Do the soldiers themselves really care, though? One would assume that those out in the field don't have to rely on the likes of page 3 to get their jollies; the Americans especially are notorious for the large quantity of rather harder material distributed among the ranks on DVDs. In a completely unscientific attempt to see whether it's really rankling in the ranks, I decided to check ARRSE to see if they're getting steamed up about it. As far as I can tell, there doesn't seem to be any thread whatsoever discussing the banning of the likes of gorgeous pouting Keeley from Bromley, but there is this thread, titled "So, the Sun is pro-Forces eh?", which contains these choice posts:

The Sun, is pro "The Sun" end of.

The Sun's always said it's the forces paper - but truthfully they're only onside when it suits them. As someone else said, they're only interested in selling papers.
They've run enough stories panning various parts of the forces before now, always seems to get overlooked when they say something good...

Actually the Guardian is probably more pro forces and the people who serve in them than the Sun - who as someone pointed out is pro the Sun.

Underneath every pro forces story there is usually a "do you know the individual / unit call 0800...."
So people can phone in with their stories about people and units

It dosen't take long before the papers turn on anyone look at Goody two tears ago they were trying to drive her out of the country now the Sun are claiming she's a princess and single handedly save the lives of millions of women

The Sun are c unts.
I've read many an army stich up story over the years,my own regiment included. As previous posters have stated,they play on the public sentement of the time.
Ask the scousers how well the Sun sells in Liverpool.

Which gives something of an added piquancy to this from the Sun's leader column:

Obviously they’ve never been near a war zone. Servicemen on the front line have few comforts of home — including their favourite daily newspaper.

Which seems just as likely to be the Grauniad as it does the Sun.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009 

The curse of Toynbee.

Even those of us who are sympathetic towards Polly Toynbee's politics have found her on-off relationship with Gordon Brown to be bordering on the strange. The stream of articles singing his praises, then condemning his failures, then giving him one more chance, then repeating the pattern have all the sophistication of pulling the petals off a flower while saying he loves me and he loves me not in turn. Finally, it seems that all bets are off: yesterday Toynbee called for Brown to be overthrown after the European elections. To be fair, her main argument for the defenstration of her past hero is sound: he has, as she says, made the poor poorer and the rich richer. This however was always to be expected when New Labour felt that it couldn't actively redistribute, or even use the word, such was the fear that the newspapers and Conservatives would cry class war (which they did regardless). Instead, it had to do what it wanted to below cover, using the tax credit system primarily, a fantastically inefficent and expensive way to do so when it could have just lifted the very poorest out of tax altogether and instituted a citizen's basic income, for instance.

Again, to be fair to Toynbee she made much the same argument, but that didn't stop her calling for the nosepegs in 2005, and supporting Brown even when it was apparent that he was unlikely to prove the change from Blairism which was required. How could he when he was the person who signed the cheques, and who indeed, some argue was ostensibly the prime minister when it came to much domestic policy, especially that interwined with the Treasury? She even admitted at one point that the SDP, the party she stood as a candidate for in 1983, was far to the left of the party she now allied herself with.

Like how the SDP was the wrong move at the wrong time, when the enemy was Thatcherism rather than the Bennites and the Militant Tendency, it's now also surely not the right time to get rid of Gordon. The time for doing that was last summer, when it would have given the successor a chance to bed in before the election, and also now we realise before the banks were to be bailed out. Even then it was difficult to believe that the replacement, whether it be David Miliband, Alan Johnson or someone else would be able to win a fourth term; now it seems just as plausible as Dr Death himself returning, winning the leadership and doing just that. Even if the polls continue in the way they're going, with both Labour and the Conservatives suffering as a result of the expenses debacle, the Tories are going to romp home, and David Cameron's performance today will have only increased the chances of that. Getting rid of Brown now will only damage Labour further, and while having one "unelected" (I loathe the implication that Brown is unelected; we vote for parties, with the individual standing for the party only being of significance in the constituency itself. Do we really want a completely presidential system?) prime minister might just about be OK, having two in one parliament is simply not going to wash. If Brown goes now, is the replacement, when he inevitably loses the next election, going to resign then as well? Better that the next year is spent limiting the damage, ensuring that there is a viable successor, as there isn't at the moment, and then making certain that the Conservatives face an actual opposition from the very beginning, as the Tories failed to provide during Labour's first term and more or less up to the Iraq war.

In any case, as Toynbee has now pronounced, it seems the opposite will most likely happen: expect a crushing Labour victory this time next year and Gordon Brown still being Labour leader and prime minister in ten years time.

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Monday, May 11, 2009 

The Nuremberg defence and democracy following it.

In The Thick of It, probably the closest television has come to getting close to the reality of being an MP since Yes Minister, the politicians are almost uniquely portrayed not as venal, corrupt or stupid, although Hugh Abbott is certainly close to being incompetent, but caught in-between the spin doctors, the media and the public at large, all of whom are shown in a far more negative light. From the outraged woman who wants to know what Abbott is going to do about how she has to clean up her own mother's piss, to those who leave insults on the Conservative MP's blog about his sexual predilection for cats, you can't help but feel sorry for the MPs who work incredibly long hours only to be abused by all and sundry around them.

Sadly for the few honourable members who have not made outlandish expenses claims, and there are indeed some who haven't, it's now going to be a long time before anyone feels sorry for the political class as a whole. If things seemed bad when the Telegraph first unleashed the leaked disc sold to them for around a six figure sum on Friday, on Monday night, with still more abuses to be revealed tomorrow and presumably over the coming days, it's the continuous drip drip which is now in danger of doing lasting, long standing damage not just to this parliament, but potentially to democracy itself for some time to come.

The last time parliament felt under siege like this was when there seemed to be "sleaze" stories concerning the last Conservative government emerging week by week. This went from the highly serious, concerning Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken to the sex "scandals" which we have since rather stopped putting so much importance on. The difference was that these were almost uniquely affecting the Conservatives, and New Labour was doing its utmost to gain from them. No one is pretending now that any party has been more "pure" than the others, although it remains to be seen whether the Lib Dems and the nationalist parties (Sinn Fein apart) will have as many apparently on the take in their ranks as the two main parties seem to. The cliché used to be that it was the Conservatives caught with their trousers down, while with Labour it was money. Despite a recent Daily Mail story that suggested that the expenses would reveal affairs and that Labour whips were on suicide watch, such was the fear of what was to come among some on the backbenches, it now seems to be money, or rather claiming both for property and for the furniture to fill it that dazzles all.

If anything, some of the claims by the Conservative frontbench look worse than that of their Labour counterparts. Some are defending Michael Gove from the accusation that he was one of the politicians who "flipped" his second home, but claiming £7,000 for furniture still leaves a bad taste in the month when you consider that Gove has not just the one salary, but undoubtedly another if not others, continuing to write a column for the Times, serving on the board of the hilarious Standpoint magazine, often appearing on Newsnight Review and also writing the equally laughable Celsisus 7/7, which makes Melanie Phillips' Londonistan look like a paragon of research by comparison. Andrew Lansley, who appeared recently on Question Time and let everyone know that he earns £24,000 a year for 12 days' work serving as a corporate director on the board of a company, renovated a Tudor cottage on expenses, sold it, then switched his second home to a flat in London. Francis Maude, another man with lucrative secondary income, tried claiming mortgage interest.

Apart from John Prescott claiming for two toilet seats and panelling for the front of his house, Barbara Follett (another hardly impoverished individual considering she's married to the novelist Ken Follett) claiming £20,000 for security, Margaret Moran with her second home in Southampton, because without it she wouldn't be able to see her husband who works there, Hazel Blears seems to the Labour MP most deserving of having ordure thrown at her, with both Sunny and the Heresiarch outlining in detail exactly why. Not only did she "flip" her second home three times in one year, claim furniture for them and then apparently avoid paying capital gains tax when she sold one of the properties, earning herself a tidy £45,000 profit, but she is the most prominent individual who seems to find the whole scandal to be frivolous; it isn't her fault, it's the system, she intones, all the while beaming in the same crooked smile which never seems to leave her face. Even today's Guardian leader, having described Blears in such beaming terms just last Monday, suddenly finds that she perhaps isn't the "decent, well-motivated and genuine" person it thought she was. It is of course nice to find that those MPs whom we most love to loathe for their loyalty and lack of independence are not just lacking intellectually but also in the honesty stakes, but those who aren't guilty, such as the Ed Milibands, Alan Johnsons, Philip Dunnes and David Howarths will be dragged down with them.

Although the politicians themselves have been pointing towards them by means of creating a distraction, there is no doubt whatsoever that those most likely to benefit from parliament as a whole being dragged through the mire are the extremists, and the British National Party must be regarding the Telegraph stories as manna from heaven, coming so close to the European elections when they were already likely to do well. How can any party, not just Labour or the Conservatives, try and campaign on the actual issues while this is going on? True, most might just declare a plague on all their houses and not vote at all in what would already be a low turnout election, but the worry must now be that those seats which the BNP could potentially grasp are now theirs for the taking.

The one thing that is abundantly clear is that the politicians themselves can now no longer have any control over their own expenses or their salaries. That not a single one of the 47 MPs named so far by the Torygraph was willing to go on Newsnight to defend themselves was just not a display of cowardice, it was also that they know they simply can't blame a system and not apportion blame on themselves as well. The new regime will have to be overseen by a completely independent committee, otherwise faith in parliament might never return. The second home allowance has to be scrapped altogether, or at least far more heavily policed or regulated, as does the John Lewis list. Those earning £64,000 or more a year simply cannot expect the taxpayer to furnish their homes for them. The tax breaks also have to be ended.

One of the few boasts that could be made about our political system was that compared to some of our European neighbours, not to mention the banana republics and kleptocracies around the globe, ours was remarkably free of corruption, and when it comes to out and out buying of votes, or payments for policies, that still mostly holds true. No one could have predicted that it would be bath plugs and bags of manure which would bring politics into such disrepute, but now that it's happened the shovels have to be brought out. The worst culprits need to be held to account in some way, and as the only way might well be the ballot box itself, there's now even more reason than ever to vote tactically. Ensuring that the likes of Hazel Blears and Michael Gove are not MPs in around a year's time might well be the only way we can hope to restore parliament to even a shadow of its former standing.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009 

Weekend links.

There is only one story this weekend, and I don't think I really need to tell you what it is. On the blogs, Sunny says we should welcome the expenses scandal, Craig Murray says the Telegraph has only occasionally managed to hit a cow's arse with a banjo, and it's hard to disagree when the likes of Margaret Moran claimed for a house in Southampton when her constituency is in Luton, and Barbara Follett claimed an astonishing £25,000 for security after she was mugged, when the paper has instead highlighted Brown's perfectly legitimate paying of his brother to pay a cleaner who worked for both of them, and Woolas's explanations for his buying of women's clothing and comics. Murray also criticises Harriet Harman for bigging up the BNP, as does Mr Eugenides, Paul Linford examines them as well as the earlier hilarious comparison of Thatcher with Hazel Blears, Paulie has two posts which most will likely disagree with, as does Hopi Sen, while just to be different for the last link jihadica looks at the response on the jihadist forums to the purported arrest of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

The theme is the same in the papers. Matthew Parris says increase salaries by £30,000 and abolish all expenses, The Times' leader makes a point made repeatedly that this threatens the political process in its entirety, Steve Richards argues much the same, Andrew Grice calls it both farce and tragedy, while Michael Brown also advocates a proper salary for MPs, although considering they are already paid around £64,000, £40,000 more than the average wage, that's not likely to go down well either. Peter Oborne calls for the money to be paid back, the spivs to be sacked and for the thieves to be prosecuted, Alistair Graham also notes the plummet of faith in politics, while Polly Toynbee connects Labour's failure to deal with poverty with the lack of fairness shown by the expenses. Finally, Martin Bell asks where the shame is. On different topics, Deborah Orr talks a personal connection with swine flu, Howard Jacobson writes on anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and Marina Hyde covers the week's Home Office travails.

As for worst tabloid article, Lorraine Kelly easily wins for yet another pointless piece on the McCanns, doing all the things it criticises others for doing.

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Friday, May 08, 2009 

More unequal than ever.

It's been completely overshadowed by other events, but what really should be the final nail in Labour's coffin was quietly slipped out yesterday: the income gap is now the widest it has been since records began. This should be the very knife in the heart of New Labour: the entire political deal which shaped the party was that even if the rich would be allowed to become filthily so, through subtle and stealthy redistribution the poorest would be lifted out of poverty, with child poverty to be abolished altogether.

Arguably, for a while it worked: the poor were not getting poorer, it was just the rich getting richer more quickly which prevented Labour's record from being noteworthy and successful. The latest figures however show that even before the banking meltdown, the poorest were having to make do on less, while the richest continued to benefit. As alluded to above, this should be the final straw: the whole reason that Labour supporters were meant to put up with the triangulation, the constant appeasing of the tabloids, the wars, the constant reactionary rhetoric on everything that the Home Office deals with and dealt with was because that below the surface, things were slowly but surely getting better for the most vulnerable in society. Now even Polly Toynbee at her most desperate cannot pretend that her nosepegs can keep out the smell that emanates from New Labour's corpse.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009 

A profile of an contempible government.

For a decision made by the European Court of Human Rights, which the tabloids habitually love to portray as a foreign entity imposing liberal madness on this unspoilt land despite our leading role in its establishment, there was surprisingly little apoplexy at the judgement concerning the retention of genetic profiles on the DNA database, especially considering the Sun had scaremongered about the case on a couple of occasions. Partly this was due to being distracted at the time, as Karen Matthews had just been convicted, but also partially down to a gradual changing of views on the general question of civil liberties. After more than a decade where the belief that if you had nothing to hide you had nothing to fear became so entrenched that almost anything, with the exception of the death penalty, was considered as a potential policy to deal with the hysteria over crime, even as crime itself fell off a cliff, sanity has finally begun to make something of a return.

Sanity however is not something that comes naturally to the Home Office under Labour. Despite the hilarious complaints from the Sun, and indeed from Jack Straw that "the criminal justice lobby" have the ear of ministers more than newspaper editors do, the facts, not least a prison population which requires an early release system which actively undermines justice but without which they could not even begin to function, speak for themselves. Admittedly, the DNA database makes for an easy populist cause: while few will still openly call for a "complete" database, the idea that everyone convicted of a crime should be on it indefinitely is still a difficult position to argue against, even if it is as illogical a position as arguing for a full one. At least on one point the government does seem to be willing to be reasonable, or something approaching it: those over 10 and under 18 will have their profiles removed, regardless of whether they are convicted of a crime or not, unless for a violent or sexual offence, when they turn 18, as long as they are not arrested again during their teenage years. Youthful indiscretions it seems will not matter for life as they currently do.

If however being convicted of any offence that carries a potential prison sentence means that your profile should remain on the database indefinitely is indefensible, as the government proposes despite the ECHR's damning verdict, then the idea that those found completely innocent should remain on the database for either 6 or 12 years, depending on the gravity of the offence, is bordering on a complete mockery of justice. While everyone has become acquainted with the example of Mark Dixie, who was convicted of the murder of the photogenic Sally Anne Bowman (who we most likely would never had heard of had she looked more like Susan Boyle), after he was arrested for being involved in a minor scuffle outside a pub, it isn't really an apposite example in this instance because no one is arguing that profiles should not be created from all those arrested and checked against unsolved cases as a matter of course; he would have been caught red-handed regardless. The "consultation" document (PDF)does however contain a more troubling one for those of us who believe those found innocent of what they are accused of should instantly have their profiles removed from the database: Kensley Larrier was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon and had his profile taken and loaded onto the database, but no charges were brought. Three years later Larrier was successfully convicted of rape after his DNA was matched with that left at the crime scene.

It doesn't necessarily mean of course that Larrier would not have been convicted through good old fashioned police work, and the suspicions of the police confirmed once they had arrested him, but it does leave those of us advocating a complete wiping of the profiles of the innocent from the database with the uncomfortable position of knowing that undoubtedly some will get away with subsequent crimes, including the most serious, which they would otherwise have been brought to book for, or at least brought to justice for far sooner than otherwise. The key argument to make in response is that a few "bad eggs" should not mean that all those unfortunate to come under suspicion should be considered potentially guilty until proven innocent, but even that is far from being wholly convincing. Even if we then point out that no system is infallible, and that unless we are prepared to go down the previously mentioned path of everyone being on the database, some would still always escape justice, it still leaves us open to the accusation that we're prepared to put principles, however noble, before the rights of those to have justice seen to be done.

More indicative though of how the government seems determined to still eventually build such a complete database by stealth, is that all those given just a caution, a warning, or a reprimand will also have their profiles kept indefinitely. The number of cautions given in recent years has sky-rocketed, although it's not clear whether this is due to the huge rise in new offences created by this government, the fact that any offence, however minor, is now also an arrestable offence, or an increasing tendency for "summary justice" rather than court proceedings to deal with those minor offences, but it effectively means that only those officially found to be guilty of no offence whatsoever, which is also increasingly rare, will have their profiles removed.

The government claims that its proposals will not just mean that it will comply with the ruling in the S and Marper case, but that they will go substantially further than the requirements. Whether the court will agree may well depend on a further case being brought, but considering the time it will take for it wind its way first through our court system, where S and Marper failed in their attempts, and to the ECHR to consider again, it will doubtless be years before we find out. Certainly there needs to be a challenge, not just to the 6 and 12 years retention for those found completely innocent, but to the blanket retention of those given just a caution, let alone those convicted and given either a fine or a suspended sentence. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats talk a good game on doing the right thing, but whether the former can be trusted to keep their word, the LDs hardly likely to be in a position to put theirs into action, remains to be seen. In any event, the government has as usual done as little as it feasibly could to not be held in further contempt. It ought to be another thing for which it should be held to account, but even if the mood is slowly changing, there are few votes in giving in to those barmy Europeans.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009 

Another edifying session.

It's a good thing that only politics nerds bother to watch prime minister's questions, because if anyone else had bothered to tune in today, they would have had their reasons for being completely cynical and apathetic about what goes on at Westminster fully confirmed.

Understandably, the Conservatives sense blood after Gordon Brown's last dire week. They realise that turning him into the issue is also the main way to rile him up, and few opposition leaders would have failed to mention the weekend's events with Hazel Blears' newspaper article. Even so, that Cameron used up all six of his questions personally attacking the prime minister, without mentioning either the Gurkhas again, the other tensions within Labour over the proposed part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, or the economy was low politics from those who only a couple of weeks back were calling for a complete change to the way Downing Street operated after "Smeargate".

Admittedly, prime minister's questions has long transformed from the prime minister answering questions into the prime minister not answering questions and attacking the opposition whenever the chance takes him. Gordon Brown didn't start this trend, but has done nothing whatsoever to alter it. Brown also once again resorted to the caricaturing of Conservative policy, describing them as the only politicos in the world advocating doing nothing as a strategy in the face of global recession, which is wrong both counts, but which is not as disconnected from the truth as the Tories would like.

This clearly wasn't just Cameron's strategy however, but the entire Conservative strategy. Brown himself noted that not a single Tory question concerned policy until Iain Duncan Smith stood up and asked about the Gurkhas, 28 minutes into the session. While Brown for the most part floundered, he did score a hit on Cameron regarding u-turns, especially on the "show a lot of love to children" crime policy, which has since turned into the "modern clip round the ear" law and order strategy. "That must have sounded great in the bunker!", smarmed Cameron in response. It was left to Nick Clegg to again raise substantive points, and although his calling Brown stupid was cheap, he seems to have finally settled into PMQs, making the best use of having just 2 questions as he possibly can.

The Tories who continued to pop up increasingly resembled those delightful school children who pile into a fight and aim kicks at the person sprawled on the floor. They caused much hilarity amongst themselves when Stephen Crabb stood up and made reference again to the reports of Brown throwing things around, Cameron already having done so. The only way Brown could possibly have responded to it was to either laugh it off or keep to his complaining about the personal attacks; instead he said "complaints were dealt with in the usual manner", which left the Tories falling about laughing at Brown's latest Stalinist faux pas, also resembling an admission that the stories are true. It was grim stuff, and even if the backbenchers had cheered Brown loudly in his final response to Cameron, the rest of the frontbench were clearly not enjoying it.

Only those that love to descend politics to personalities rather than policy and to insults rather than considered argument will have done. Clearly, Brown cannot complain on either front by his record, but for Cameron, who once said that he wanted to remove the Punch and Judy from politics, it was weak stuff and beneath him. The Conservatives clearly do have some sort of policy on dealing with the recession, and on most other things; they just seem to not want to expose them to any actual scrutiny. Again, that's understandable when they have clearly not finalised them and when we're still a year away from an election, but it is also beginning to suggest that they themselves have no real faith in them, and that they don't wish to scare the electorate with what their "age of austerity" will really mean. Again, the emphasis on Brown's travails has completely deflected any attention away from what the Conservatives are really offering, something that simply cannot continue.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009 

Hazel Blears? She's just like Thatcher...

Apropos of yesterday's post, I was fairly confident that the Graun's leader which featured Hazel Blears had been written by Martin Kettle, who used to be one of the main leader writers, and who now fills in occasionally, but because I wasn't completely certain didn't directly attribute it to him. Today Mr Kettle devotes an even more stupendous column to comparing and contrasting Blears and... Margaret Thatcher, which rather does confirm it. His main argument is that Thatcher, having first been patronised, proved everyone wrong. His penultimate paragraph:

Yet if you look at the Labour party today and try to imagine a current minister of either sex with unchallengeably authentic political roots, an aspirational life story that image makers dream of, a clear sense of where she's coming from, an irresistible confidence in her own instincts, a clear set of convictions, and the potential to turn herself into an iconic political figurehead, you don't find many better candidates than Blears.

In one sense, you have to admire both Kettle and Blears: few are so deluded about either their greatness or someone else's potential to be great; that's impressive in its own right.

The problem with this view of Blears is obvious upon watching George Monbiot's eye-opening interview with her. This came about after Blears responded to a Monbiot column, which wasn't one of his best, which attacked politicians as a whole. Blears, for her part, put in an even more poorly argued reply, which brazenly claimed that those who have never stood for political office shouldn't criticise the great work which politicians are doing. After Monbiot ripped Blears to shreds in his riposte, she rather pathetically asked him to visit her constituency to see the great things that she and Labour have achieved, presumably thinking that he wouldn't take her up on the offer. He did.

This took place before Blears' weekend article in the Observer, which set the slavering Kettle off on his Thatcher riff, but after watching it you couldn't possibly mistake Blears for even the most shallow Thatcher follower. Whatever you think about Thatcher, she was undoubtedly a leader. Blears, despite her pretensions to become deputy leader, where she was humiliated by coming dead last, is not a leader. She's a follower. Monbiot dismisses the distinctions between Blairites and Brownites and just describes Blears as a career politician, which certainly also is accurate, but the Blairite description still holds, because she undoubtedly shares Blair's terrifying sense of self-assurance, his ability to believe two contradictory things at once, which Orwell famously called double-think, and also to argue regardless that of any changes in policy, everything they have ever done has been the right thing, even if the right thing at the time turned out to be the wrong thing and the opposite had to be done to make it the right thing. Brownites, for their sins, have never been so self-assured, and have recognised they have made mistakes. Blairites, however, only believe they made one mistake, and that was acquiescing to Gordon Brown's unopposed ascent to the leadership.

There really is no other way to describe Blears's view that despite hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dying, which, she insultingly says, is a tragedy, that it was the right thing to do and that it was made in good faith, as bordering on madness. It has to be asked: what possibly could have made it the "wrong thing" to do if the deaths of hundreds of thousands didn't? The answer is that there is no answer; regardless of whether the entire population had died, nothing could alter the fact that Blears would still defend it. She knows no other way than absolute and utter loyalty, and as Monbiot repeatedly prods her, you can start to see the desperation and even the loneliness of her position in her eyes: secretly, and deep within the recesses of her mind, she knows that she's wrong, but that she can't find it within herself to admit that either she or the party she quite clearly dearly loves, even if it doesn't love her, can be wrong.

Once you understand this, then her Observer article isn't in fact an act of disloyalty, or an attack on Gordon Brown, but rather concern that the party, which is more important than the leader, even if she thinks the party stands for things which the members themselves don't believe in, is in peril. Although Kettle mentions that Blears prior to 97 was a lawyer, that she's been ostensibly a minister or working for one since 1998 suggests that she can no longer imagine not being in government. Blears clearly has no interest in being a politician who has no power, despite her protestations that she's doing everything she can for her constituents, although her belief in that is doubtless sincere and motivates her. Such a situation can lead to what would normally be drastic action.

The only other thing Monbiot gets wrong is that he admires Blears' engagement and the way she answers questions when others wouldn't. This isn't always the case, as an encounter with Jeremy Paxman a few years back showed. The very problem is that the way Blears responds is what turns people off: if you're not prepared to admit that you've ever got anything wrong, that everything you've done even if it subsequently turns out to be wrong was right at the time, and that the party is always right, you're better off not engaging because it just frustrates and and angers. At least with Thatcher you could channel your hatred against her, because she didn't try to be liked; Blears, on the other hand, desperately wants to be loved while being just as obdurate. Thatcher inspired a generation of those who believed there was another politics possible despite there being no alternative; Blears is inspiring a generation who genuinely do believe there is no alternative. In this sense, New Labour is turning out to be far more destructive than the Tories were.

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Monday, May 04, 2009 

Just one fucking thing after another.

Back Brown or boost BNP, says Kinnock. You really would have thought that a former Labour leader would know that the one thing you do not do is tell people that you have to back someone otherwise someone worse will triumph, not only because it's the politics of desperation and an intellectually bankrupt scare tactic, but because most people when told what to do, especially by those in authority, will be even more likely to do the opposite.

Almost equally ludicrous is today's Guardian leader on the government's connected woes, which calls Hazel Blears an "authentic Labour voice". She's about as authentic a Labour voice as Nick Griffin is. It doesn't read like a typical Graun leader, giving the impression that someone's filling in over the bank holiday weekend, and filling in exceptionally badly. It says that Stephen Byers, Charles Clarke, David Blunkett and Hazel Blears are not part of an "undifferentiated Blairite plot", and they probably aren't. They are however, with the possible exception of Clarke, who cooled on Blair after he sacked, either ardent or moderate Blairites, and Blears is quite possibly the summation of everything wrong with New Labour. That she now also seems to consider herself as the voice of New Labour's conscience and feels the need to stick the knife in, as that is clearly what her Observer article yesterday did, also seems to suggest that she is becoming even more certain of herself and her eminent greatness.

Blears, sadly, has a majority of almost 8,000, meaning her seat is likely to remain safe, although the way things are going who knows what sort of carnage might occur this time next year. Then again, even if she was culled, she'd doubtless be replaced with an equally loathsome Tory. Sometimes politics feels a bit like history as described by Alan Bennett: it's just one fucking thing after another.

I was also intending to post on the Daily Mail's latest HUMAN RIGHTS OUTRAGE, namely that lawyers are daring to appeal against someone's conviction, but Mr Vowl has beaten me to it, so I shall direct you there instead.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009 

Weekend links.

No overall theme this week and not too much to cover either, so let's just get straight into it. Craig Murray comments on the prospect of Labour MPs defecting to the Liberal Democrats, which seems likely to be utter nonsense to me. The Tories seem a better bet considering the political views of the disenchanted. Paul Linford posts his usual weekly column, predicting that after the local and European elections on June 6th all hell will break loose. Both Sunny and BenSix comment on the wingnuttery of Geert Wilders at an anti-jihadist conference in America, which was so extreme that even the likes of Little Green Footballs has started wondering some of their compadres. Shiraz Socialist reports on the Stop the War Coalition again refusing to allow Hands off the People of Iran to affilate with it, Bleeding Heart Show looks at yesterday's speech by David Blunkett, Hopi Sen says there should be a televised debate between Gordon Brown and David Cameron, while the Heresiarch examines the equality bill and the Quail discusses Paul Dacre's priapism.

Over in the press, Jeanette Winterson celebrates the new poet laureate being both a woman and gay, and she's also pretty good at verse as well which helps, Matthew Parris, bored of kicking Gordon Brown personally puts the blame equally on the cabinet, Janice Turner asks who to vote for now (answer: either the Lib Dems or any of the groupings further left), there's another call for an inquiry into 7/7 on CiF, Polly Toynbee oscillates as she regularly does from one extreme to another, declaring once again that Labour is finished, Deborah Orr thinks we have to educate parents as well as children if they're going to get the education they deserve, and Robert Hardman watches the Tamil man starving himself to death in parliament square.

As for worst tabloid comment piece, we have the usual execrable contenders from both Lorraine Kelly and Amanda Platell, but the winner by a country mile is the usually rather good Peter Oborne, with his paean to Margaret Thatcher. Quite how he can write such ahistorical paragraphs as this, for instance, is beyond me:

AS A consequence, Britain has enjoyed an unparalleled period of prosperity and influence on the world stage for three decades. For that, we have Maggie Thatcher to thank.

And then there is just complete delusion:

Of course, the BBC, the Left-wing intelligentsia, the dispossessed Tory grandees and the professional defeatists among the political elites have never forgiven her.

They opposed what she tried to achieve at the time, and have bitterly resented her success ever since. They hate her beyond rational computation, and even today they continue to use their massive influence to denigrate her memory.

But they will never succeed because the people who count - the ordinary people of Britain - know exactly what Maggie Thatcher achieved and will cherish her memory for ever.

Perhaps Oborne ought to try asking the ordinary people of Britain north of Birmingham what Margaret Thatcher means to them and about what she achieved. One suspects he might get an answer he doesn't like very much.

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Friday, May 01, 2009 

Another week in the slow death of Gordon Brown.

It has been, by general consent, a terrible week for the government, and an even more terrible one for Gordon Brown. Towards the end of Tony Blair's tenure, the pattern seemed to be much the same: a week of terrible news followed by a weekend of claims in the papers that Blair was finished once and for all, that something had to be done, that there was plotting against him, that the parliamentary party or cabinet was about to revolt, etc, etc. All of it came to naught. He left the Commons at a time more or less of his own choosing, with his head held high, to a standing ovation. In years to come, it might be felt that he got out in time. Largely loathed by the country yes, and forever overshadowed by Iraq, but a politician who will be regarded as a key figure.

I write this not as a contrast to Brown's current position, but because it would be utter lunacy, only a year away from an election and during a recession for Brown to be overthrown, as there are again mutterings of, mostly from the Blairite-sympathisers who have been secretly praying for Brown to epically fail since he took over. At the same time however, Blair never looked as weak as Brown currently does. Blair would never have lost on an opposition motion as the government did on the Gurkhas this week, because he was both too ruthless and too in control. Despite all the claims of Brown's tactics following the McBride affair, the man accused on a number of occasions as being a control freak seems to have lost his party, or rather, the party has lost him. The blame must ultimately lie at the top, but surely all those involved could see just how unpopular the Gurkha policy was? David Blunkett, wrong on many things repeatedly, including today, is surely right when he says the party has lost its political antennae. It's almost as if the entire policy was left in the incapable hands of the likes of Phil Woolas, who only has one thought in his head, and that's to say no to everyone with brown skin, regardless of the circumstances involved.

This not knowing when to say hang on, we're doing something terribly wrong here does however extend right to the top. Who knows quite what was going through the heads of all who were involved in the making of Brown's YouTube video, but the thinking behind it was positively neanderthal. One part was attempting to change the story from the McBride emails onto the other hot button topic of MPs expenses, but the other was simple and crude political calculation, trying to outwit both the Conservatives and Lib Dems, which deserved to backfire spectacularly. More pertinently, there should have been an adviser either at the filming or who watched it afterwards who had the nerve to tell the prime minister not to act like someone he's not: yes, we know that the stuff about you being a dour old Stalinist is tiresome and that you'd like to prove everybody wrong, but curling your face up randomly, looking as though you're about to burst out laughing and then turning immediately back to a position of the utmost seriousness as though someone's shoving a cattle prod up your rectum every few seconds while you're broaching such a topic is not going to do that, it's just going to make people laugh at you even more. It's not quite up there with "LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE" in the meltdown stakes, but it's not far off.

You could perhaps accept a taking of the eye off the ball if Brown genuinely was focusing on the economic situation, but that's evidently not the case. There is more than a hint of drift, of there being no apparent sense of direction, almost as if they are already resigned to their fate of losing the next election. This is not in the slightest bit helped by Charles Clarke, who like Frank Field increasingly seems to just be taking his anger out for past slights on the government at large. He professes to be "ashamed" to be a Labour MP, although he doesn't go into specifically why he suddenly feels this way, although presumably he's referring to either the Gurkha policy or "Smeargate". This of course is a man who was in the cabinet at the time of the Iraq war, and said nothing against it, which you might think is now something much more worthy of being ashamed about. This is a man who was home secretary while Blair was attempting to smash 90 days detention without charge for "terrorist suspects" through the Commons. This was a man who was there when Dr David Kelly was smeared and attacked, a far more shameful episode than the recent emails which were never sent and never used but which has been forgotten by those who can't remember what happened more than two weeks ago, all of which he said nothing about or actively supported.

Even if Charles Clarke is one-trick pony, much like the other Blairites who either suffer in silence or who brief the media with how desperately unhappy they are about the way things are going, the truth is that the Labour party has been reduced to its current state because of the way it has been controlled from the top, and because of the way in which the Blairites themselves operated for so long. Any dissent or deviance was considered to be heresy, and only those who had long been regarded as loose cannons, such as the Campaign and Tribune groups, were left to plow their own increasingly lonely furrows. The end result could have been predicted: a party reduced to a husk, where there is no apparent successor to the TB-GB years, and where there are either no policies or policies which cannot possibly be allowed to happen because they're too Old Labour. When the most likely leadership candidates are Harriet Harman, admirable on some counts but deeply unattractive on others, David Miliband, who is simply too inexperienced and a soft Blairite, and Alan Johnson, whose main attribute appears to be that he's solidly working class and has good relations with the unions, it's not difficult to imagine that Labour will easily be out of power and in flux for around the same amount of time as the Tories have been.

Critically, this has left the Conservatives with next to no challenge, even when they still haven't properly sealed the deal with the electorate. Things are going to be grim whoever wins the next election, but the talk of an age of austerity, which has come so naturally to the lips of David Cameron, chills rather than raises hopes. It leaves the impression that if Labour wants to turn the clock back to the 70s, as we are led to believe, the Conservatives wish to return to the 50s. Of the two decades, it's not difficult to make a choice as to which would be preferable. Labour doesn't deserve to win the election, and it shouldn't, but neither do the Conservatives. That we are effectively disenfranchised if we want a pox on both their houses is just as damaging to our democracy as parliamentary expenses have turned out to be.

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