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0 (catherinebennett)
0 (Politics)
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"Whatever happened to the Big Conversation? A chill in the air reminds one that it is now a year since Mr Blair launched what he said would be an honest, "grown-up discussion" in which the whole country could participate. "Big issues need a real debate, a big conversation between politicans and the people." There would be meetings, for those who like meetings, and for everyone else, a website, which was launched with a selection of carefully composed tributes from radiantly satisifed Labour supporters. Before long, the Big Conversation had become, more entertainingly, a home from home for the grumpy and resentful: "I can see myself living the last years of my life in poverty," wrote one, not untypical respondent, "the quality of life here is on a steep decline." Others offered detailed calculations to prove that their lives had become a financial catastrophe. From what was published, it seemed most respondents wanted to complain about council tax, inadequate benefits, over-lavish benefits, house prices, speeding cars, speed restrictions, the railways, the bus services, local councils, pathetic pensions, terrible house prices, awful facilities for the disabled, bullying at work, smoking, the evils of outsourcing and the closure of local facilities. I could not, however, find anyone demanding the creation of super-casinos for the democratisation of gambling. Or expressing any interest in smacking. Overall, the tone - and this relates, of course, only to the messages selected for publication - would probably be familiar to anyone working in a call centre, where staff are trained to respond with an unbroken, impartial silence, followed, in the end, by a bland, "What would you like me to do?" In the case of the Big Conversation, that silence continues. There has been, as yet, no formal acknowledgement of the public's anguished postings. No analysis or summary of their views has been published; not so much as a thank-you has emerged from Mr Blair. It has been, then, a rather funny sort of conversation. Just as Britain was, for a while, a rather funny sort of GB: PLC. Of course, as any survivor of the talking cure will tell you, there's nothing wrong with a conversation in which only one side contributes. It's good just to get it off your chest. But even in the world of therapy I believe it is rare for these one-sided encounters to go on for as long as a year. A party spokesman says that the public's responses were fed into Labour's national policy forum. So this will be one of those debates in which the reply comes in the shape of a printed party manifesto. Will it feature baffles on street lights? Or a ban on membership of the Freemasons? Or the reform of council tax? Or the renationalisaton of the railways? The spokesman mentions the strength of public feeling on smoking, childcare and antisocial behaviour. He says the Conversation "achieved what it set out to do". In other words, having created what amounts to a giant virtual dustbin and filled it with complaints familiar from every MP's surgery in the land (minus the hopeless and illiterate, but swollen by comments from constituents with net access), the Labour party has moved on. As the election nears, ministers will no doubt cite comments made by other Big Conversationalists when it suits. But without any analysis of the submissions of its self-selecting contributors, it is impossible to know whether Labour policy reflects consensus on the website, defies it, or, indeed, whether it should have taken any notice at all of this diligently censored PR exercise. When the website opened, Labour officials claimed that nothing would be "off limits". "Tell us your No 1 priority for Britain," they urged. (After all, there was nothing forcing them to publish it.) In the past year there must have been a few of the 15,000 contributors to the website who thought that the No 1 priority for Britain - after local buses, anyway - was resolution of the war in Iraq. But in the world of the Big Conversation (which our Labour spokesman still describes as "a debate without prejudice"), this subject never came up. Perhaps it never happened. Our priorities are childcare, smoking, and antisocial behaviour. The Big Conversation's work is done. <B>Poor, 'bereaved' Paula</B><B>"
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"Have we all gone mad? Even madder, that is, than our leader, who is now widely considered to be at best "rambling" (Correlli Barnett), at worst, a "plausible psychopath" (Prospect, The New Statesman)? Even madder than Blair's enemy, the no less totally doolally Clare Short? Yet more raving bonkers than Blair's potential successor, the "psychologically flawed" Gordon Brown (diagnosis, courtesy Dr A Campbell)? Still more barking than the "disturbed and dangerous" (Mail on Sunday) Campbell himself, who presides, according to one mental health professional, over a Downing Street "on the verge of a classic trauma syndrome"? We have. Difficult as it is to keep up with developments in the fastmoving world of amateur psychiatry, there seems to be a general agreement that one of the very maddest things anyone could possibly do, during this period of intense disillusion with Blair, is conclude that it might be an idea to replace him with someone else. Rebuking dissidents for their silliness last weekend, the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley said it "makes you wonder who most needs a session in the psychiatrist's chair". Supposing he is right and to go off Blair is to be insane, it is quite worrying, isn't it? Voter on couch: Doctor, doctor - I don't think I'd vote for Blair again. Am I going mad?" Doctor: "Yes." If the prime minister were not himself a signatory to the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Changing Minds campaign, with its ambition to combat "inaccurate representation, in the media and elsewhere, based on stigmatising attitudes and stereotypes ('nutter', 'psycho', 'schizo')...", we might anticipate real problems in finding adequate beds and medication for the thousands of people who will not forgive Blair for making monkeys of them. Even contented Blairites who concede that such disaffection need not, by itself, indicate progressive mental debility, are apt to dismiss any talk of replacing Blair as sheer folly. "Why try to change the most successful leader in the Labour party's history?", as David Blunkett put it recently. So often and so confidently does this claim trip off his supporters' tongues that one tends to forget that Harold Wilson won four elections to Blair's two. And that if Blair has won bigger majorities, the latter was achieved after the smallest turnout since 1918. Moreover, if the "most successful" claim can, according to certain parameters, be justified, what does it actually mean? That Blair will therefore always be identified as successful, no matter how low his former supporters hold him in esteem? That he can never be held responsible for any subsequent mistakes, however grievous, or for the capital he has failed to make from all this unprecedented success? That he can do no wrong? If I understand Blunkett's defence of Blair, past political success is now taken to confer life-long immunity from failure or competition. Because he ditched Clause 4 and secured a minimum wage, Blair has earned the right to more reverential treatment than, say, Churchill enjoyed after winning the war, or Margaret Thatcher received from her colleagues, having also made her party seemingly unassailable. One recalls that even the achievements of Caesar were not enough to mollify Brutus and co; rather as Suetonius put it, "his other actions and words so turn the scale, that it is thought that he abused his power and was justly slain." Given that Blair's critics are only discussing replacing him one day, rather than stabbing him to death in the capitol, it is hard to understand the pre-emptively Mark Antony-ish tone of his allies, with their accusations of lunacy: "O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason... " Would Blair be so heroic a loss? Would we, after he had gone, find ourselves pining for his dashing band of cronies, or wishing his successor could also go round bestriding the narrow world like a Colossus, or yearning for a figure who cared for us so much that his voice often cracked with emotion? Perhaps we would. The more one attempts to understand why, no matter how much Blair might disappoint, the prospect of his departure from the political scene should be so unbearable, the more this fear of losing him seems an unwholesome but not altogether surprising response to his own cult of personality. Urged, repeatedly, to believe in Blair's self-belief and dedication, we have dutifully put our faith in him. Although doubters cannot, in the absence of much political theory beyond "what works", be called heretics, they can be made to feel like traitors, Judases and ingrates. What would we be without him? Maybe, just as children are meant to heed Hilaire Belloc's admonition - "And always keep a-hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse" - we are simply anxious about being led by someone who is not Blair, the saviour of his party. My own solution, when either sentimentality or fear of the unknown strikes in this way, is to remember how smartly Blair has evicted individuals, from Peter Mandelson to Derry Irvine, the penultimate lord chancellor, in whom he himself has been disappointed. Without a doubt, whoever finally succeeds Blair will be more boring. He, or she, could hardly cut so handsome a figure, be so proficient at acting or believe, so sincerely, in a semi-spiritual mission to reforge the nation's destiny (exact details TBC). Is it completely mad, however, to think they might be as good, or even better, at housekeeping?<BR><BR><B>Jeffrey's preposterous taste </B><BR><BR>Although, for the most part, Jeffrey Archer's second batch of prison diaries simply confirm what was obvious from the first instalment - that his sentence did nothing but aggravate his existing self-importance - there is, however, one detail which may be of interest to any art historians who have been tempted, over the years, to believe his lagship's oft-repeated claims to be a connoisseur. <BR><BR>Having heard, from a fellow prisoner, a drug-dealer, that paintings by his Colombian countryman, Fernando Botero might become available to the right person at a knock-down price, Archer is keen as ever to make a deal. <BR><BR>Any work by Botero will do, although Archer becomes very excited when he finally receives a photograph of a painting called The Card Players, featuring a particularly massive naked bum, and proceeds to bid $400,000 for it from his cell, without further inspection. He notes, with satisfaction, that "prices may be shaky after the September 11 atrocities, which happened just over a week ago". <BR><BR>Alas, even with Osama's help, prices are not low enough for Archer and his bid fails. Although he is unlikely, without the help of the drug runner, to be able to afford any other work by Botero (an artist neatly described by Brian Sewell as "the preposterous Colombian-Mexican-Parisian whose inflated balloon figures some giants of the art market take seriously as art") the story will no doubt inspire other dealers to whom it may suggest that the way to awaken Archer's covetousness is not so much the appearance of any work of art, nor its provenance, but stealthy allusions to the dodges and low cunning necessary to get his hands on it." 0 (catherinebennett) 0 (Politics) "The Daily Mail despairs of Cherie Blair. True, even when the woman passed for semi-rational, it never had much time for her, but in the past week, dismayed by her appetite for the manifestly bogus, the paper has focused repeatedly on what an editorial called her "lack of judgment". Lynda Lee-Potter diagnosed her as "gullible, bordering on the cranky when it comes to alternative medicine, homeopathy, gurus and the power of crystals and rocks". And in a special investigation of this gullible borderline crank "the Weird World of Cherie" went into disdainful detail about her allegedly "increasing" dependence on a Dorking-based medium called Sylvia. "The fact that the prime minister's wife faxes questions to the spirit world is at best bizarre, but at worst deeply worrying," wrote Paul Harris. "What's she going to ask them? Should we go to war with Iraq? It is rather an unusual way to organise your future." It most certainly is. But no more so, perhaps, than the Daily Mail's own enthusiasm for another purveyor of occult intelligence, one Michael Drosnin, author of a pre-millennium bestseller called The Bible Code. Throughout the week, alongside bulletins from the weird world of Cherie, the Mail has been treating its readers to lengthy extracts from Drosnin's sequel, Bible Code 2: The Countdown, in which the author rounds up a few scary predictions he forgot to mention earlier. For him, as for so many other professional purveyors of doom, September 11 came as thrilling confirmation that the Apocalypse is - hadn't they told us so all along? - a conflagration just waiting to happen. "All the evidence seems to suggest that the globe will be in a state of perpetual conflict until the year 2006... " His threats concluded yesterday with the clinching revelation that the bible code is the work of visiting aliens, who "arrived here on Earth in a spacecraft". It is thanks to them, the Daily Mail presumably believes, that Drosnin is now able to share the warnings of al-Qaida's activities which he discovered in the aftermath of 9/11. "First, the Bible Code predicted the attacks on the Twin Towers", it trumpeted on Monday's front page, alongside a handy aide memoire: a mugshot of Bin Laden. "Now, it warns of nuclear war. Dare we ignore this message?" Ooh, I don't know. As Harris puts it, it does seem "rather an unusual way to organise your future". Like Cherie, whose relationship with her medium is described as "decidedly long-term", the Daily Mail's reliance on Drosnin and his team of gifted aliens goes back a while, to 1997, when it serialised his first, highly successful attempt to use the bible codes to cash in on premillennial tension. His technique, borrowed from a devout Israeli mathematician, is to search for names "hidden" in the Bible, using a computer to try out equidistant letter sequences. It may be, the Torah being so very long, that it contains a lot of interesting stuff about Lynda Lee-Potter or Alan Partridge, but being a serious person, Drosnin stuck to searching for politicians. When he searched for Yitzhak Rabin, for instance, the name duly surfaced, with the letters spaced 4,772 characters apart. Once the letters have been arranged on a grid, in whatever direction - upwards, diagonally, backwards - turns out to be most rewarding, bible code experts then search the surrounding text for phrases or words that might offer added prophetic meaning. Clinton, for instance, could be made to appear near "hidden secret, lover of maidservant". Drosnin was exultant. "That's as close as the Old Testament gets to 'young female intern'. Rabin, on the other hand, could be made to intersect with the Hebrew words "a murderer who murders". Thus it is Drosnin's boast to have predicted Rabin's murder. His prediction of Netanyahu's assassination is less often advertised. Trying to locate the exact date of Armageddon, back in 1997, proved equally tricky. "There is no way to know whether the code is predicting a war in 2000 or 2006," he decided. "The year 2000 is encoded twice, but 2006 is mathematically the best match." Can't be too careful, eh? Defending this codswallop back in 1997, Drosnin said: "When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, I'll believe them. An enterprising Australian computer scientist called Brendan McKay promptly used the bible codes technique on Moby Dick to find the names of a variety of assassinated prime ministers, including Indira Gandhi, Rene Moawad, Abraham Lincoln and Yitzhak Rabin. Sadly, a search of Moby Dick also predicted Michael Drosnin's own death, by a nail through the heart: "Mr Drosnin will be killed either in Cairo or Athens. Probably both places will play a part, but our skills in reading the secret codes are not yet advanced enough to say more." In 1999, McKay also co-authored a comprehensive repudiation of the bible codes in the journal Statistical Science. "A brief summary of the result of our very extensive investigation", he writes, "is that all the alleged scientific evidence for the codes is bunk." A view resoundingly endorsed in a "Mathematicians' Statement on the Bible Codes", available on the net, in which scores of academics, including John Allen Paulos, agree that "the almost unanimous opinion of those in the scientific world who have studied the question is that the theory is without foundation." The pages of the Daily Mail, however, inhabit a quite different, Cherie-style universe, whose laws allow for Drosnin's many critics to be blithely ignored or baselessly discredited. "Many people scoffed," says the paper, "until they saw the astonishing array of modern events spelled out in the ancient Hebrew letters." With Drosnin also rewriting the past - "the case for the code has just kept getting stronger" - many of the Mail's more gullible readers may now be considering cashing in their endowment policies. For unless Drosnin can locate the aliens' code from its resting place under the Dead Sea, it seems that our lives will probably end horribly in 2006. Photographs of Bin Laden, gas masks and burning towers offer a few, surpassingly tasteless hints of what we can expect. Maybe a nuclear holocaust, Drosnin speculates, or "a plague that could kill one-third of the world's population". Hard to say. Whatever it is, only he knows where the aliens left the key "to unlock the code and see our entire future", but the King of Jordan won't let him investigate! "Time is running out - fast... " Is it? Crikey. If consulting the dead were not such a deplorably gullible and cranky thing to do, one might almost be tempted to get a second opinion from Cherie's spirit guide in Dorking. Does Sylvia accept inquiries from the general public, as well as the prime minister's wife? If so, I have two questions. Should we go to war with Iraq? And can we believe anything we read in the Daily Mail?" 1 (georgemonbiot) 0 (Politics) "Saturday is the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The nuclear powers are commemorating it in their own special way: by seeking to ensure that the experiment is repeated.As Robin Cook showed in his column last week, the British government appears to have decided to replace our Trident nuclear weapons, without consulting parliament or informing the public. It could be worse than he thinks. He pointed out that the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston has been re-equipped to build a new generation of bombs. But when this news was first leaked in 2002 a spokesman for the plant insisted the equipment was being installed not to replace Trident but to build either mini-nukes or warheads that could be used on cruise missiles.If this is true it means the government is replacing Trident and developing a new category of boil-in-the-bag weapons. As if to ensure we got the point, Geoff Hoon, then the defence secretary, announced before the leak that Britain would be prepared to use small nukes in a pre-emptive strike against a non-nuclear state. This put us in the hallowed company of North Korea.The Times, helpful as ever, explains why Trident should be replaced. "A decision to leave the club of nuclear powers," it says, "would diminish Britain's international standing and influence." This is true, and it accounts for why almost everyone wants the bomb. Two weeks ago, on concluding their new nuclear treaty, George Bush and the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh announced that "international institutions must fully reflect changes in the global scenario that have taken place since 1945. The president reiterated his view that international institutions are going to have to adapt to reflect India's central and growing role." This translates as follows: "Now that India has the bomb it should join the UN security council."It is because nuclear weapons confer power and status on the states that possess them that the non-proliferation treaty, of which the UK was a founding signatory, determines two things: that the non-nuclear powers should not acquire nuclear weapons, and that the nuclear powers should "pursue negotiations in good faith on ... general and complete disarmament". Blair has unilaterally decided to rip it up.But in helping to wreck the treaty we are only keeping up with our friends across the water. In May the US government launched a systematic assault on the agreement. The summit in New York was supposed to strengthen it, but the US, led by John Bolton - the undersecretary for arms control (someone had a good laugh over that one) - refused even to allow the other nations to draw up an agenda for discussion. The talks collapsed, and the treaty may now be all but dead. Needless to say, Bolton has been promoted: to the post of US ambassador to the UN. Yesterday Bush pushed his nomination through by means of a "recess appointment": an undemocratic power that allows him to override Congress when its members are on holiday.Bush wanted to destroy the treaty because it couldn't be reconciled with his new plans. Last month the Senate approved an initial$4m for research into a "robust nuclear earth penetrator" (RNEP). This is a bomb with a yield about 10 times that of the Hiroshima device, designed to blow up underground bunkers that might contain weapons of mass destruction. (You've spotted the contradiction.) Congress rejected funding for it in November, but Bush twisted enough arms this year to get it restarted. You see what a wonderful world he inhabits when you discover that the RNEP idea was conceived in 1991 as a means of dealing with Saddam Hussein's biological and chemical weapons. Saddam is pacing his cell, but the Bushites, like the Japanese soldiers lost in Malaysia, march on. To pursue his war against the phantom of the phantom of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, Bush has destroyed the treaty that prevents the use of real ones.It gets worse. Last year Congress allocated funding for something called the "reliable replacement warhead". The government's story is that the existing warheads might be deteriorating. When they show signs of ageing they can be dismantled and rebuilt to a "safer and more reliable" design. It's a pretty feeble excuse for building a new generation of nukes, but it worked. The development of the new bombs probably means the US will also breach the comprehensive test ban treaty - so we can kiss goodbye to another means of preventing proliferation.But the biggest disaster was Bush's meeting with Manmohan Singh a fortnight ago. India is one of three states that possess nuclear weapons and refuse to sign the non-proliferation treaty (NPT). The treaty says India should be denied access to civil nuclear materials. But on July 18 Bush announced that "as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states". He would "work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India" and "seek agreement from Congress to adjust US laws and policies". Four months before the meeting the US lifted its south Asian arms embargo, selling Pakistan a fleet of F-16 aircraft, capable of a carrying a wide range of missiles, and India an anti-missile system. As a business plan, it's hard to fault.Here then is how it works. If you acquire the bomb and threaten to use it you will qualify for American exceptionalism by proxy. Could there be a greater incentive for proliferation?The implications have not been lost on other states. "India is looking after its own national interests," a spokesman for the Iranian government complained on Wednesday. "We cannot criticise them for this. But what the Americans are doing is a double standard. On the one hand they are depriving an NPT member from having peaceful technology, but at the same time they are cooperating with India, which is not a member of the NPT." North Korea (and this is the only good news around at the moment) is currently in its second week of talks with the US. While the Bush administration is doing the right thing by engaging with Pyongyang, the lesson is pretty clear. You could sketch it out as a Venn diagram. If you have oil and aren't developing a bomb (Iraq) you get invaded. If you have oil and are developing a bomb (Iran) you get threatened with invasion, but it probably won't happen. If you don't have oil, but have the bomb, the US representative will fly to your country and open negotiations.The world of George Bush's imagination comes into being by government decree. As a result of his tail-chasing paranoia, assisted by Tony Blair's cowardice and Manmohan Singh's opportunism, the global restraint on the development of nuclear weapons has, in effect, been destroyed in a few months. The world could now be more vulnerable to the consequences of proliferation than it has been for 35 years. Thanks to Bush and Blair, we might not go out with a whimper after all."
1 (georgemonbiot)
0 (Politics)
"William Hague, according to the new register of members' interests, makes about 20 times as much for not being an MP as he makes for being one. We don't know exactly how much he is paid for his other 54 jobs, because members are not obliged to reveal the price of work which doesn't relate directly to their parliamentary duties. But he must have raked in about a million last year. Even so, he's probably not the richest person in the house. According to the parliamentary code of conduct, you must declare any shareholding worth more than the current MP's salary. Dame Marion Roe, the Tory MP for Broxbourne, has 18 declarations, which suggests she owns liquid capital worth at least 1m. Archie Norman, the Conservative party's former chief executive, has 17 registrable shareholdings and five external employers. Michael Ancram, the party's deputy leader, lists, with aristocratic modesty, "farms ... houses and miscellaneous property on Scottish borders". Note the unquantified plural. But there is little sense anywhere - in parliament, in the press or among the public - that MPs' second and third and, in Hague's case, 55th sources of income equate to any kind of problem. Thanks to the rules laid down by the committee on standards in public life, you would now have to be both staggeringly stupid and staggeringly greedy to take cash for parliamentary questions. The potential contest between our MPs' duty to represent the public and their interest in representing their other employers is generally deemed to have been resolved. They are forbidden to act as paid advocates "in any proceeding of the house". They can't speak or act on any issue in which they have an undeclared interest. Their sources of income are listed on the internet. The system is transparent and seemly. But it appears to me that all the commission has achieved is to legitimise a series of disastrous conflicts of interest. The most obvious of these is a conflict which MPs appear capable of understanding only when it involves other people, such as the consultant physicians who are supposed to be working for the NHS. If MPs are permitted to moonlight, and if their salaries are paid whether they do their jobs well or not, they have a permanent incentive to spend as little time on them as possible, and as much time as they can making money elsewhere. There are some MPs who have extraordinary reserves of energy. Chris Smith, the former culture secretary, who now supplements his salary by providing services to another 17 employers, tells me he works between 70 and 80 hours a week, and devotes at least half to his parliamentary duties. Howard Flight, a Tory MP with 11 directorships, works an astonishing 100 hours a week, of which, he says, 80 are spent representing the people. But these MPs are surely exceptional. Research by the Labour member Peter Bradley reveals that MPs with outside interests participate, on average, in 65% of Commons votes, while MPs with no other paid employment attend 91%. One representative I spoke to argued, in effect, that this is because they have nothing better to do. The problem is that this is true in both senses. Perhaps more importantly, the more money MPs earn, and the more they associate with other directors and lawyers and consultants, the less like their constituents they become. There are surely two components of representation: representing the people and being representative of the people. MPs' pay (at 57,500, more than twice the national average) already removes them from the economic lives of most of their constituents. Outside earnings push them into the richest 1%. The servants of the people can employ the people as their servants. All the MPs who defend second jobs argue that the other work they do informs and improves their parliamentary performance, as it keeps them in touch with the outside world. I would be more inclined to believe this if they were moonlighting as hospital porters or assembly-line workers. But no MP takes a second paid job unless it is either prestigious or lucrative. They have no simultaneous experience of soul-destroying drudgery. Howard Flight argues, reasonably enough, that those MPs who are sponsored by trade unions remain informed by the worker's point of view. The problem is that 76 MPs are paid by corporations, and only six are sponsored by the unions. (More MPs have declared gifts of pheasant and grouse shooting than union support.) The trade unions have less money than the corporations, so they can purchase fewer loyalties. The MPs counter this by pointing out that their constituency work brings the whole world through their doors. Ian Taylor, a Conservative MP with seven directorships, told me: "I don't have to be a hospital porter to understand the problems hospital porters are facing." This is true. Being true, it disposes of the argument that external employment is necessary to understand the outside world. Perhaps the biggest problem arises not from the interventions MPs might be prompted by their interests to make, but from those they are prompted not to make. Eighty-seven MPs, including the leaders of the three main parties and eight cabinet members, earn at least 5,750 a year by renting out property. As a result we are unlikely to see action taken against one of the UK's biggest social problems: house price inflation caused by people buying to let. Even if MPs were inclined to attack their own interests, they would expose themselves to the charge of hypocrisy. So they keep quiet and incur no penalty. No one has to declare an interest in what he is not saying, and no code of conduct could make him do so. The clash is perpetually and inaudibly resolved in favour of money. Ask yourself what can be done about it, and you are immediately apprised of a fourth, overarching conflict. We could propose, for example, that MPs should be forbidden to work for anyone other than their constituents. Or we could suggest that they are allowed to continue working or owning houses and shares, but that the money goes either to charity or to the exchequer. The problem is that the last people who are ever going to vote for such measures are the people they would penalise. Peter Bradley was forced to withdraw his attempt to prevent MPs from being paid for neglecting their duties when the Tories promised to talk it out of time. What all this shows is that transparency is not enough. We can read the register of members' interests and immediately discover who is moonlighting and for whom. We can search Hansard and discover whether they are using their parliamentary roles to pursue their own economic interests. But this information simply confronts us with our own powerlessness. Transparent corruption is doubtless an improvement upon opaque corruption, but it seems only to have dissuaded people from pressing the case for no corruption at all. If there is one job which should command a person's undivided loyalties, it is surely the job of representing us. "
1 (georgemonbiot)
0 (Politics)
"The paradox of modern warfare works like this: by enhancing our military strength, we enhance our opponents' capacity to destroy us. The Russian state developed thermobaric bombs (which release a cloud of explosive material into the air) for use against Muslim guerrillas. Now, according to New Scientist, Muslim terrorists are trying to copy them. The United States has been producing weaponised anthrax, ostensibly to anticipate terrorist threats. In 2001, anthrax stolen from this programme was used to terrorise America. The greatest horrors with which terrorists might threaten us are those whose development we funded. Given that the most frightening of these technologies is nuclear weaponry, and given that the possibility that terrorists might acquire them becomes more real as the list of nuclear powers lengthens, we should be grateful to Tony Blair for encouraging disarmament in Libya. Though Libya's programme was less advanced than we were led to believe (its "4,000 uranium centrifuges" turned out to be merely centrifuge casings), and though Blair's enthusiasm was doubtless sharpened by the opportunities Libya offers to British corporations, we should not permit our reasonable cynicism to obscure the fact that, for just the second time in history, a state has voluntarily renounced its nuclear technologies. Libya, unlike India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea or Iran, is now abiding by the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But amid all the backslapping last week, something was forgotten. This is that the treaty which Gadafy has honoured was a two-way deal. Those states which did not possess nuclear weapons would not seek to acquire them. In return, the states which already possessed them - the US, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom - would "pursue negotiations in good faith... on general and complete disarmament". Libya is now in conformity with international law. The United Kingdom is not. At the end of next month, British officials will be travelling to New York for a meeting about the five-yearly review of the treaty. It is hard to see what their negotiating position will be. For they have precious little evidence of "good faith" to show. It is true that, since the end of the cold war, the UK's total nuclear explosive power has been reduced by 70%. But that appears to be as low as the government will ever permit it to go. The defence white paper, published in December, notes: "Decisions on whether to replace Trident are not needed this parliament, but are likely to be required in the next one. We will therefore... ensure that the range of options for maintaining a nuclear deterrent capability is kept open." Trident stays until it reaches the end of its natural life, whatever the rest of the world may offer. And then? Nothing this government has said or done suggests that it would consider decommissioning those warheads without replacing them. To this sin of omission we must add three of commission. The first is the UK's support for the US nuclear missile defence programme, which could scarcely be better calculated to provoke a new arms race. This month the Fylingdales radar station in North Yorkshire is being upgraded to accommodate it. The second is that the government has laid out 2bn to equip the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston with the means to design and build a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons. In this respect, as in all others, we appear to be keeping the US company. Earlier this month, the US National Nuclear Security Administration released its budget documents for research into the "robust nuclear earth penetrator", a first-strike bunker-busting bomb which, if developed, would blow the non-proliferation treaty to kingdom come. The US government had claimed that all it wanted to do was to conduct a feasibility study. But, the new documents show, it has now budgeted to design, test and start producing it by 2009.The third is that our policy on the deployment of nuclear weapons has changed. In March 2002, for the first time in British history, the government suggested that we might use them before they are used against us. Since then, Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, has repeated the threat several times, on each occasion further reducing the threshold. Put items two and three together and the UK begins to look like a pretty dangerous state. So how does the government reconcile all this with its commitment to the treaty? By reinterpreting it. In October last year, Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons: "Under the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, China and Russia are legally entitled to possess nuclear weapons." The treaty says nothing of the kind. It's a short and simple document, which anyone but Geoff Hoon can understand, and it says just two things about the nuclear weapons possessed by the five major powers: they mustn't be transferred to non-nuclear states, and they must be dismantled. Fifteen years ago, amid massive controversy, Labour abandoned its commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament. Now Hoon's rewriting of the non-proliferation treaty suggests that it is quietly abandoning its commitment to multilateral disarmament. Or we could put it another way: that the Labour party has rediscovered its enthusiasm for unilateralism, as long as it's someone else who is doing the disarming. As Simon Thomas pointed out in a Commons debate last week, the government's "non-proliferation unit" has recently changed its name to the "proliferation prevention unit", to reflect the new policy of reverse unilateral disarmament. How all this plays with the new nuclear powers is not hard to imagine. If a nation like Britain - whose prime minister poses as a broker of peace and disarmament - has abandoned the non-proliferation treaty, is installing the capacity to build a new generation of nuclear weapons, has asserted the right to strike pre-emptively and is beginning, in short, to look like a large and well-armed rogue state, then what possible incentive do other nations have to abandon their weapons? Indeed, the lesson the weaker states will draw from the conduct of the major powers over the past year is that they should acquire as many nuclear weapons as they can. If you don't possess them, you can expect to be invaded. If you do, you can expect to be left in peace, or (if you have oil) courted and bribed. And if you get rid of them, you would be an idiot to expect the big nuclear states to reciprocate. Power, the new British doctrine appears to assert, grows out of the payload of a bomb. This may once have been true, when our enemies were states which had everything to lose by starting a nuclear war. But when your enemies are suicide bombers, and when they have no direct connection to a nation state, mutually assured destruction ceases to be a useful threat. Your intransigence merely encourages proliferation elsewhere, and so enhances the possibility that nuclear material will fall into the hands of terrorists. The more we assert our strength, the more vulnerable we become.<B>"
1 (georgemonbiot)
0 (Politics)
"The left, almost everyone agrees, is on the run. George Bush's seizure of power has dragged governments everywhere still further to the right. Most of the world's media are deeply hostile to progressive ideas. Now the war in Afghanistan has greatly empowered the illiberal men who launched it. 2002, most commentators believe, will be the year of the right. All this may be true, yet it fails to describe the full scope of problems the left now confronts. The real crisis for progressives, indeed for social democracy in general, arises from a much deeper trend: the gradual atomisation of society. Collectivism has been both the principal source of social oppression and the principal means of liberation. It has destroyed the lives of women, minorities, heretics and foreigners. It has provided monarchs, capitalists and communists with populations which are easily led and readily deceived. It has also offered health and education, social security, the rule of law, universal human rights, environmental protection and representative government. Today, totalitarianism may be unachievable, but so, perhaps, is the effective redistribution of wealth. There is a widespread fallacy that the destruction of society was engineered in recent times, notably by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The notion is comforting because it suggests that the trend is reversible. But social fragmentation has been the work of centuries. In Britain, the rise of the merchant class undermined the cohesive power of the church, the monarchy and the aristocracy. Enclosure dispersed the peasantry. The urban proletariat was, paradoxically, fragmented by successful mass action, which helped bring about universal education and a better distribution of wealth and power, in turn enabling people to pursue their own destinies. Now, the state has little to gain from social cohesion. We no longer require collectivity even in warfare: battles are fought by a handful of specialists, while the rest of us gawp at them on TV. The only national tasks which demand our engagement are taxation, voting and spending. Otherwise, as far as our leaders are concerned, the less we act in concert, the better. While we can celebrate the end of socialisation imposed from above, we have also lost the class loyalty, the worker solidarity and the coherent demands for universal rights and services developed from below. Political parties and trades unions are withering. Charities are likely to follow. The absence of effective mass action has enabled tiny numbers of people to capture much of the world's wealth, and tiny populations of target voters to capture the attentions of government. There is, in other words, not much left with which traditional social democrats can work. Mobilisation has acquired a new meaning: it's not just that people aren't moving together; they're not moving at all, from in front of the TV or the computer screen. Anti-corporate campaigns have brought together vast numbers of people every few months, but they have so far largely failed to generate a sustained mobilisation of the kind once deployed by trade unions, suffragettes, Chartists, Diggers and Levellers. This leaves them vulnerable to capture by outsiders, such as the alienated young men of the black block, which rampaged in Genoa. It is striking that those campaigns which have proved capable of sustained action - such as the peasant movements in Mexico, Brazil and south-west India, or the strikes by the Liverpool dockers and the Dudley hospital workers - have drawn on people who are still bound together by geography, class and profession. These may represent the end of the old collectivity, rather than the beginning of a new one. What this implies is that those of us who remain committed to the principles of distribution and social justice must strive to develop new forms of collectivism, which do not rely on existing loyalties or patterns of behaviour. This is a formidable task. But, just as mass action accelerated individualism, individualism may help us develop a new kind of mass action. The smashing of society provides us with the means of building movements which are not limited by national or ethnic loyalties, by adhesion to the workplace or the village. It may permit us to create an internationalist movement far bigger than any before, united by a common opposition to what is now an international ruling class. But first we progressives may have to abandon almost every strategy which has worked in the past.<B>"
1 (georgemonbiot)
0 (Politics)
"A few months ago, I accepted an invitation to speak at the Oxford Union, the university society famed throughout the world for the brilliance of its debates. I don't think they'll be inviting me again. We were supposed to be discussing an issue of critical importance ("this house believes that big business is the natural enemy of the environment"), but it soon became clear that hardly any of the students who had chosen to speak were remotely interested in the subject. One of my supporters appeared to have confined his research to examining the definitions of each of the words in the motion. One of my opponents flatly contradicted himself six times in his efforts to establish his circumlocutory magnificence. The president - a drawling, swaggering 20-year-old in white tie and tails - announced that, as was customary, the Spectator magazine had reserved a magnum of champagne for the best speech from the floor; before awarding it, as also appeared to be customary, to the person who made the evening's most fatuous contribution. Throughout the "debate", the speakers used conventions which made the House of Lords look chic: "No, honourable sir, I will not yield". The men forced their squeaky voices down the register until they sounded like port-soaked peers of the realm. They were no more than 19- or 20-years-old, but it seemed to me that they had hearts like stones. I went home feeling physically sick, and turned on the radio while I was brushing my teeth. It was Today in Parliament. I listened with a growing sense of recognition: there was the same cleverness, and the same utter lack of conviction. It struck me more forcibly than ever before that power in Britain remains the preserve of those who care for nothing but themselves. Shaun Woodward, complete with butler, estate and personality bypass, slides effortlessly across the house. Michael Portillo, once the most illiberal man in mainstream politics, can reposition himself as the champion of the oppressed. When politics is a matter of convenience, not conviction, only the self-interested prosper. So how, in the age of information, do these people continue to steal power from the rest of us? An article this weekend by Tess Kingham, who was elected Labour MP for Gloucester in 1997, but who stood down at this election, shows just how far unprincipled and power-hungry people will go to defend their political monopoly. When she refused to vote for cuts in disability benefits, Labour whips threatened that the government could withdraw resources from her constituency. If she continued to cause trouble, she was warned, her "political career was finished". She complained to one of the papers. In response, the whips threatened to expose her private life in the tabloids. Another woman MP who refused to vote as the government instructed was physically assaulted in a House of Commons corridor. Tess Kingham was given a bal lot form for the national executive committee elections, only to find that it had already been filled in for her by party managers. She was told how to vote even on early day motions, which are supposed to be independent of party control. It's impossible for idealistic, free-thinking people like Tess Kingham to survive in a system like this. But for some of those I met in the Oxford Union, who appear to possess neither standards nor principles, it offers a straight path to power. Only those who are prepared to make a mockery of representative democracy can prosper under the parliamentary whip. Before the 1997 election, Tony Blair promised to change all this. He would, he maintained, "create a new relationship between the government and the people, based on trust, freedom, choice and responsibility." He launched a programme of constitutional reform to tackle some of the 17th-century absurdities which still govern our political system. And he did, in truth, introduce some significant reforms: establishing Welsh and Scottish assemblies, allowing the passage of the Human Rights Act and reducing the number of hereditary peers allowed to vote in the House of Lords. But, as the pressure group Charter 88 has shown, Labour has swept away parts of the old constitution, but failed to replace it with a new one. By dismantling some of the old-fashioned checks and balances, it has merely consolidated the inordinate power of the prime minister and his advisers. Mrs Thatcher's constitutional legacy lives on in the New Labour government. Tony Blair has continued to challenge the independence of the civil service, to remove power from local government, to bypass the cabinet, to bully his MPs. His office appears to have controlled even the appointment of the new "people's peers". In March, when one of the government's bills looked as if it would run out of parliamentary time, Labour MPs were forced to agree that the bill "shall be deemed to have been reported to the House ... as if" its clauses and schedules "had been ordered to stand". In other words, as Private Eye has pointed out, for the first time in history the Commons voted to pretend that a bill had been passed by parliament when it hadn't. MPs are now all but redundant. Though New Labour has dismissed real constitutional reform as "a chattering classes issue", it must surely now be obvious that the abysmal turnout among voters of all classes was the result of its failure to change the way that politics works in Britain. When Labour MPs are forced to vote as if they are Tories, there's not much point in choosing between them. And while our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system survives, there's not much point, in most constituencies, in choosing anyone else. When the political class keeps power to itself, it can't expect the rest of us to participate. It seems to me that one of the key tasks of the next four years is to mobilise the millions of disenchanted voters who stayed away from the ballot, to demand both a wider choice of electable candidates and their freedom to vote as their constituents would wish. Proportional representation and the full state funding of political parties must clearly be part of the package, but we also need to find the means to prevent people who are interested only in themselves from representing anyone else. My proposal is to peg MPs' salaries to the national average wage and forbid them any further earnings. This would ensure that they were forced to live like the rest of us, rather than, as the sonorous pipsqueaks of the Oxford Union are practising to live, like our lords and masters. People interested only in self-advancement would keep away from parliament. It seems to me that there is also a clear case for abandoning the entire parliamentary whipping system. It should be illegal to interfere in an MP's decisions. If parties wish to persuade their members to vote in a particular way, they should do so by means of argument, not threats. Any suggestion that someone's voting record will affect the course of her career would be referred to a parliamentary ombudsman. With a written constitution, full public disclosure of all government business and an enforceable list of MPs' duties towards their constituents, the people of Britain might begin to see the point of parliament once more. But if Blair is not prepared to complete the constitutional reform he has begun, we'll be left with the least accountable political system Britain has seen since women secured the vote. And when politics belongs to someone else, it's not hard to see why the electorate should be so reluctant to endorse it."
1 (georgemonbiot)
0 (Politics)
2 (hugoyoung)
0 (Politics)
"John Smith did not have the chance to be a great leader of the Labour Party. But he was the necessary, probably the inevitable, leader in his time and place. As such he was a brilliant success. Never did a more decent man rise to the top of British politics. He had a rare coherence of morality as well as mind. Although he was a skillful advocate in court, and a wonderful performer in the bear-pit, it was the advocacy of social improvement that came from the core of his being, and here his hierarchy of principles never changed. With unqualified passion, he wanted the betterment of all society, not just part of it. The Scottish belief in community, and in the duty of successful men to advance its case, came as naturally to him as it once came to a certain kind of Tory: the generous, inclusive outlook most public people used to have. It is not too soon to see John Smith as a transitional figure. When the decencies have been done, you can see it right away. He ran a half-modernised Labour Party but he was a man of the old politics, the last survivor of the Callaghan cabinet. Steeped in Labourism, burnished by the swiftness of a clever Scottish lawyer, he asked the party few awkward questions. With the Government in free-fall decline, this comforting style paid dividends. Fate compels the party to look at itself once more, and make a statement about what it is. The necessity for choice will pose essentially two alternatives: carrying forward the momentum towards true modernity, or extending the transitional phase Smith thought sufficient to take Labour into power. By demanding such a debate, John Smith's tragedy need not be the party's catastrophe. Handled sensibly, the contest could yet make Labour a party for which people will vote with enthusiasm rather than the resignation that now widely obtains. It will range the John Prescott against the Tony Blair school of politics, and those men will surely be among the main names in the field, with Gordon Brown and Robin Cook upholding the claims of the Scottish dynasty. For my part, I hope the party thinks deeply about what it means to look forward, not back, and seizes its chance to make the positive appeal John Smith had yet to articulate. The leader matters. The wrong choice could bring disaster in its train. The system, as much as the party, is owed a leader the whole nation can respect. But the state of things is on his side. The leader is dead, long live the leader. Without the 18-month tenure of a brave, accomplished man, that sentiment would have been impossible to set down, except as a sour joke."
2 (hugoyoung)
0 (Politics)
"When Ronald Reagan dies, will Dan Rather wear a black tie? Unlikely. Will American television newsmen be cursed from one end of the print media to the other for their sartorial disrespect? Out of the question. When Reagan dies, Americans will behave with respectful maturity. There will be a big funeral, and many television obituaries. But there will be no collective nervous breakdown over the finer details of the obsequies. That is because Americans have much to teach the British about a healthy attitude to the past. Reagan, the defiant British may reply, is not royal. He was only a temporary piece of history. He came and went, and held no constitutional role after his presidency. He disappeared, lost to the public mind as thoroughly as Alzheimer's claimed his own mind from himself. Yet Reagan was a head of state. He did enormous things, helping to change world history. He merits far more reflective consideration by the American body politic than the Queen Mother does by the British. But there will be no national frenzy if he's judged by some people not to be getting enough. Reagan's death will take its place in the scheme of things. Americans have a reverence for their past, but not an obsession with its power to guide the present. They know their history, cultivate their heroes. Washington has a selection of monuments commemorating the greatest of them. They take care of their historic sites, especially those that mark the civil war. Sometimes they seem to want a longer history, and come to Europe looking keenly for it: marvelling at medieval cathedrals, searching for roots. But for most Americans, the past gets in the way of the future. They look backwards as much in apprehension as celebration. They think hard about the lessons of disaster, such as slavery and Vietnam. The old preoccupation of the American psyche with isolation from the entanglements of the world lives on. But history does not infuse everything they do. Respect for history is not a precondition of contemporary action. The past does not suck them in, preoccupy them, define their sense of self. Hardly any American ever says how much better life was 30, let alone 100, years ago. It's a sentiment I've never heard expressed there. There is rather little nostalgia in America. The British are still different. Here the national psyche is inextricably defined by the past, the period of national greatness that has gone. For some people, clinging to the past is a way of remembering that life undoubtedly was better however many decades ago. The past and its icons seem to supply the strategies by which we stoically remind ourselves that things, alas, can never be the same again. The Queen Mother's death expressed that. But what did so even more were the arguments about how it should be talked about. These revealed some deep insecurities. The worry was not just about the tone of the commentary but, underlying it, the very future of the monarchy. Was sufficient respect being deployed? Was the timelessness - the unchangeability - of Britain being adequately recognised? Were we still in touch with that great country where the army was once powerful, the people knew their place, and respect for authority was reliable and might, if only that queenly world could be rediscovered, still be so. The British dream, whereby the past is required to infuse the present, has not, even in modern times, always been a fantasy. There's something fitting in the coincidence that the Queen Mother died, unleashing all these passions, in the week when memories of the Falklands war are doing the same. The war is relished, if at all, not so much for its contentious substance but the fact that it happened. It proved that the days of imperial duty were not entirely gone. We did it. The 20th anniversary is marked by poignant, sometimes angry, analysts getting to grips with the awful fact that Britain could never do that kind of thing again. Whether these longings, or this wallowing in the past, reflect the majority mood of Britain is debatable. Each side in the argument claims the nation for itself, but especially those who make the fullest-throated case for honouring the past. My own impression of most people, when they think about the Queen Mother, is that they do not engage with much of this argument. They don't reflect the Guardian letters column, an atypical fount of bile. They soberly recall a pretty admirable old lady, who lived to 101 and did service to the nation, but then they move on. They mark her departure politely, while remembering that she was hardly more of a monarch than Ronald Reagan. The political class, in which the media should always be included, are another matter. The charge and counter-charge that this very normal death has prompted are more fatuous than in any political argument I can ever recall. The disproportion between the facts and the response seem to reveal editors and columnists who have lost the last shreds of a sense of scale. Their righteous rage at the BBC could not have been greater if the person of the Queen herself had been violated by Greg Dyke. Betrayal has been the word of the week. The betrayal of the people by the BBC is matched only by the betrayal of Falklands veterans by the MoD, when it calmly says it is accustomed to celebrating 25th but not 20th anniversaries of battles large and small. Modernity does creep in here. The foaming rage of the Daily Mail is part of a topical agenda, to do with trying to dismantle the BBC. We learn that in fact the Royal Family were not at all furious with the way the BBC performed. Prince Charles himself said so. One would suppose not, given the vast output the corporation has set aside on all channels. Mendacious venom, however, is not troubled by tedious truth, when commercial rivalries are being conducted behind a sanctimonious debate about what is and is not proper. It's hard to imagine the Times, under any other ownership, actually leading Tuesday's paper with a headline about Peter Sissons' tie, reinforced with pious little pictures showing what a good little black-tied boy the Sky presenter had been compared with the burgundy hooligans on BBC1. There are many subliminal routes towards establishing the fake parity of respect that Sky would dearly love to claim. But essentially the passion is not modern. It is the old British disease raised to new levels of hysteria: of fear for the passing of the past; of sentiment that's always in danger of overspilling into every corner of British life. This is a country that still finds in the past a place of safety. While nobody would want to forget history and still less, of course, undo it, what is better worth remembering is that history can be a curse. In Britain more than most countries, it has been the enemy of the future. Now that our oldest embodiment of history has been gathered, perhaps her finest epitaph would be that she marked the beginning of the end of that affliction."
2 (hugoyoung)
0 (Politics)
2 (hugoyoung)
0 (Politics)
2 (hugoyoung)
0 (Politics)
2 (hugoyoung)
0 (Politics)
"Scouting the tundra that is New Labour, some Tories claim to know where it will break up. They think the issue will be Europe. Iain Duncan Smith is running his leadership bid on that misguided fantasy. Actually, the real fault line is about as uncomfortable for him as for Tony Blair. We see the beginnings of it in the Greenpeace escapades at Menwith Hill. For two days running, demonstrators broke past dozy guards at the American listening post in Yorkshire to make their point against national missile defence. It has been a perfect gesture: well-organised, attention-getting and sparking into life an argument the government was hoping to suppress. It also signals a contest in which the anaesthetic sibilance of New Labour will face its hardest struggle to put the instincts of the old left to sleep. Unlike Europe, NMD strikes at the living heart and mind of Labour. As an issue of principle, Europe is dead. The socialist souls it stirs are barnacled with age. George Bush's missile defence schemes, by contrast, draw conscience and politicstogether to demand a statement about the modern world. Here the argument has only just begun. NMD's presumptions about the post-cold-war world challenge the European left to think seriously. Mr Bush ended his recent visit apparently thinking he had it licked. Such was the briefing from spokesmen and spinners, especially in Washington and London. Europe, we were led to believe, agreed that there were missile threats from rogue states, and did not fundamentally oppose the US in its efforts to counteract them. The phrase "moral imperative" was even attributed to one European power, believed to be not a million miles from Madrid. The strategists, both political and military, of the Republican right sustain the assertion that, come what may, NMD is irreversible, will go ahead and - a more recent promise - will be deployed whether or not it has been proved to work. The imperative has become political. "It is a simple question," the June 9 Washington Post quoted a Pentagon official as saying. "Is something better than nothing? The president and the secretary for defence have made it pretty clear that some missile defence in the near term is in fact better than nothing." The definition of near term appears to be set just before the end of Bush's first term as president. The European response is in fact more fragmented, more aware than ever of the fragility of some of the claims coming out of the ultra-hawkish Pentagon, and the plethora of defence businesses that would be the only unambiguous gainers from NMD. There's a seamlessness between the Bush and Clinton missile programmes, and more evidence appearing of the critiques that were made of the Clinton approach even from within his administration. In a telling piece in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, John Newhouse, who worked in the Clinton State Department, pours scorn on the threat-analysis that persuaded Clin ton he needed "red meat thrown to the rightwingers on the [Capitol] Hill". North Korea and Iran were depicted as capable, within a few years, of threatening the US with strategic missile systems. "But within and beyond the administration," writes Newhouse, "as well as within the intelligence bureaucracy itself, the threat was widely seen as greatly inflated." It reminded him of the later 1970s, "when cold warriors in and out of government exaggerated the strength of Soviet strategic forces, in part by intimidating the intelligence community and skewing the intelligence product." The key player in both the late 70s and late 90s was Donald Rumsfeld, the present secretary for defence. "His agenda is modest," writes Newhouse. "He concentrates on just a few subjects, but these he routinely bulldozes into submission." Although, on his own recent visit to Europe, Rumsfeld continued to bulldoze - NMD is "simply inescapable", he said - many allies are becoming less not more willing to accept his analysis. The politeness they showed to Mr Bush masks the growing likelihood that any European government with a socialist element in its coalition will be working to oppose NMD, as a source of global instability which Washington has not succeeded in talking down. In response, the British line is that it's too early to raise such alarms. Everyone should hold off arguing until we know more about Washington's real intentions. This is typically disingenuous. "
2 (hugoyoung)
0 (Politics)
2 (hugoyoung)
0 (Politics)
3 (jonathanfreedland)
0 (Politics)
3 (jonathanfreedland)
0 (Politics)
"It must have been the effect of reading Martin Amis on the prime minister's last days in office so soon after watching England draw against Brazil, but I have finally realised who Tony Blair reminds me of, who indeed serves as his spiritual doppelg&auml;nger. Why, of course, it's David Beckham.It's not just that both men are engaged in drawn-out epilogues after long spells leading their nations. (In 2006, Beckham resigned the England captaincy and Blair announced he would be gone within a year - both prompting a rash of tributes. Yet look: they are both still here!)Nor is it that they are both en route to pastures new and more lucrative: the US. We know Beckham has signed a four-year, &pound;128m contract to play for Los Angeles Galaxy. But Blair is no less of a cert on the US calendar for 2007/8, where he is surely destined to rack up mega-bucks on the lecture circuit.The money will come in handy, because both men are partnered by women with a taste for the finer things in life - combined with a nose for a good deal. Note the fondness for free stuff exhibited by both Mrs Beckham, when she was caught by a 2002 TV documentary gladly receiving merchandise gratis from Topshop, and by Mrs Blair in 2003, when the manager of a Melbourne clothes outlet suggested Cherie pick out "a few things" as gifts - only to see the PM's wife leave with 68 items, worth more than &pound;2,000.Nor is it even that both men have overcome the impediment of speaking voices that do not automatically fit the macho expectations of alpha-male leadership. (Listen to early Beckham and Blair: their voices are slight, even vaguely effete.)All of these parallels are striking, but there is one that matters more. It was touched on by Blair in that interview with Amis. What will you be in the future, the novelist asked: an ex-politician? Oh no, came the answer. "I'll be a former celebrity."This, of course, is what sets both men apart from their peers. Blair was never just a politician, just as Beckham was never just a footballer. They both transcended their fields, becoming internationally iconic figures. When the historians of the future want to understand the Britain of the early 21st century they could do worse than start with these two. Like paired lions on a coat of arms, they are the very symbol of contemporary Britishness."
3 (jonathanfreedland)
0 (Politics)
3 (jonathanfreedland)
0 (Politics)
"Schools do it, hospitals do it, even FTSE-listed companies do it. So let's do it, let's see how we've done. After all, this is the age of the performance assessment review and this column is surely not immune. We're happy enough to dish it out on these pages, so we can hardly object if the harsh light of scrutiny is turned on ourselves, just this once. As it happens, I have an easy mechanism in place for some searching self-assessment. A year ago I set out a clutch of "reckless predictions" for 2004. Flush with the success of a similar effort 12 months earlier - in which each one of my guesses came true - I thought I would have another go. To look back at the list now is to have a handy, at-a-glance guide to where I hit the bullseye - and where the dart plunged deep into my own foot. I began with the Hutton report, which was then just a few weeks away. Rightly, I predicted that there would be no "killer sentence" accusing Tony Blair of leading the country falsely to war, and that the prime minister would survive. I also guessed that his lordship would fault the BBC for its sloppy editorial processes and the dual role of its board of governors. After that, my vision got distinctly cloudy. I reckoned that Hutton would "spread the pain evenly", criticising the government for the naming strategy that outed David Kelly, perhaps even laying some direct blame for that at Blair's feet. I suggested that some Ministry of Defence officials were vulnerable, too. As we now know, that was all wrong. Hutton inflicted pain only on one side. I thought the judge would "steer clear" of the most perilous terrain - the honesty or otherwise of the September 2002 dossier - but he was not nearly so timorous. He ruled unambiguously that the dossier had not been sexed-up. Next was the US election. I guessed the final result right - predicting that Bush would win comfortably - but got the other half of the race badly wrong. I tipped the former Vermont governor Howard Dean to be the Democratic nominee, failing even to mention John Kerry. On Iraq, I was again only half-right. I expected the violence to continue, dismissing the wave of euphoria at that time over Saddam's capture and the faulty assumption that he had been masterminding the insurgency from his spiderhole. That was OK. But I also guessed that the US would spend 2004 looking for the exits, timetabling elections for August so that at least some US troops could start coming home - in time to be photographed hugging their wives before Americans went to their polls on November 2. Not so. Iraqi elections are scheduled for next month and the US is as dug in as ever. Israel-Palestine offered similarly uneven proof of my soothsaying abilities. I didn't have to be Doris Stokes to guess that Washington would continue to refuse to pressure Israel. But I also said that a slew of rival peace plans would dominate Israeli domestic politics and that the old Sharon way would be seen as futile. That turned out to be right, though in a way I did not predict. For it was Sharon himself who felt compelled to generate a new strategy, in the form of his Gaza pullout plan. Where I was 180-degrees wrong was my hot tip that corruption allegations would finally engulf Sharon, prompting his resignation. It's nearly 2005 and he's still there. On the home front, I thought Michael Howard would have a goodish year and score solidly in June's European elections. It's true that the Tories did top the poll - but with a dismal 27% of the vote, their lowest share in any nationwide election since 1832. On Labour, the crystal ball was slightly clearer. I wrote that Ken Livingstone would be readmitted to the party and cruise to re-election as London mayor: he was and he did. And on the government's longest-running soap, I offered just one line: "Gordon Brown stays on as chancellor - and waits." All told, it's a patchy, middling record. So, in the manner of these exercises, it's probably wise to look for some lessons learned. On the US, the Dean debacle has taught me to relearn a rule I used to swear by when I worked in Washington: that the US conventional wisdom is always, always wrong. I can give a hundred examples, but the most recent is surely the consensus that existed among Washington know-alls on the afternoon of November 2, declaring that America was about to salute President Kerry. The US punditocracy has a knack for getting it wrong, and I should have distrusted that herd instinct on Dean - and on everything else. But there is a larger point that connects the blunders and, coming from a journalist, it's a surprising one. Put simply, I suspect I was insufficiently cynical. I really did think that Lord Hutton, as a senior judge, would feel obliged to weigh all the evidence fairly, rather than give the constant benefit of the doubt to the state he had always served. I similarly believed that the Israeli political system, for all its flaws, would recoil from the evidence against its prime minister. But that's not how it was. This turned out to be a theme of the year, one I certainly did not predict: unaccountability. Thus Tony Blair could survive a second inquiry, even though its inescapable conclusion was that he had led the nation into war on a false premise. In America, the truth about Abu Ghraib could be revealed - and not a single senior head roll. So 2004 has taught me a couple of lessons. First, don't expect the mechanisms of accountability to work. Second, predictions are a mug's game. As we have seen this week, the world is just too turbulent. Put it this way: if someone had told you that 2004 would see a cabinet minister caught in a love triangle with an American socialite, who would have been the last name on your list? Mine would have been David Blunkett."
3 (jonathanfreedland)
0 (Politics)
3 (jonathanfreedland)
0 (Politics)
"You may have drawn up your own list: a catalogue of decisions that have to be made in the year that begins today. Perhaps 2003 is when you finally resolve to change jobs or move house. Maybe this is the year a key relationship has to shift gear. Whatever dilemmas we face individually, we've certainly got a stack of decisions to make collectively. Think of them as an alternative set of new year resolutions: questions we have to resolve in 2003. Here are just six that loom over Britain and the world - and a reckless prediction for each one. <B> 1. War on Iraq:</B> Any day now Americans have to decide whether to take on Saddam Hussein immediately - or whether to delay a year. The advantage of a wait is nakedly political: it would give George W Bush the glory of victory in the election year of 2004, rather than seeing him peak too early (his father's mistake in winning Gulf War I in 1991 rather than in election year 1992). But delay has a cost too. The world can't remain on hair-trigger alert for another 12 months without getting twitchy and irritable. As the North Korea flap shows, other global crises get neglected when the world's hyperpower is focused so obsessively elsewhere. America's allies almost want to get this thing over with. Also, the longer this stand-off drags on, the more Bush risks looking indecisive. The argument has raged in the Bush inner circle for a while now, but a decision has to come soon: the winter window will close next month, only reopening in November. <B> Reckless prediction: </B> Desert Storm The Sequel is a 2003 production. <B> 2. Israeli elections:</B> Voters in Israel have to choose a new government on January 28. If they pick Labour's dovish ex-general, Amram Mitzna, they will be opting for an instant restart in the peace process with the Palestinians. If they re-elect Ariel Sharon, they will be asking for - and will get - more of the same: a military crackdown on terrorism and no more diplomatic activity than the minimum required to keep Washington happy. <B> Reckless prediction:</B> Sharon wins handsomely, but goes on to rule with a narrow, rightwing coalition that struggles to survive long into 2004. <B> 3. The euro:</B> By June Gordon Brown has to decide whether his five economic tests for British entry into the single currency have been met. If he says yes, a referendum will prove the biggest challenge for New Labour since the 1997 election. If he says no, Tony Blair's ambition of a "Britain at the heart of Europe" will remain unfulfilled. <B> Reckless prediction:</B> The chancellor has already made his decision. (Witness Brown ally and T &amp; G leader Bill Morris's call for no referendum in 2003.) Brown will declare that his five criteria have "not yet" been met, marking the clearest breach yet with euro-enthusiast Tony Blair. It will also postpone (if it was ever going to happen) the handover of power famously promised in 1994's Granita summit: Brown will have to wait for his prize and 2003 may be the year he gets impatient. <B> 4. A new Europe:</B> By this summer, the EU will be handed a draft of a new constitution, even mulling a new name. Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing has led a constitutional convention which aims to do for the EU what Philadelphia in 1787 did for the US. It hopes to restructure the union to cope with 26 (or more) states, making the EU the greatest supranational enterprise in history. Blair is said to regard the outcome of Giscard's convention as "more important than Iraq." <B> Reckless prediction: </B> this will be no Philadelphia. Instead of a clear, simple new structure to please logical purists, Europe's leaders will broker and horsetrade their way to a fudge. Britain (and France) will get their way with a strong council of ministers, keeping national governments as key players, with foreign policy and taxation still in national, not EU, hands. Federalists will be happy with a beefed-up commission and greater integration on justice and home affairs. Giscard will not win a name-change to United Europe: it will still be the EU. <B> 5. Britain's mini general election:</B> On May 1 UK voters everywhere but London should have a chance to cast ballots. Elections for the Scottish parliament and for the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies are due to coincide with council contests throughout England. Voters have to deliver their verdict on the newly devolved institutions - and to decide whether to give Labour a bloody nose in time-honoured, mid-term fashion. Toughest of all, the UK government must decide whether or not to allow elections to go ahead in Northern Ireland at all. If they do, Sinn Fein is likely to emerge as the largest nationalist party, with anti-agreement unionists enjoying similar success. <B> Reckless prediction: </B> Labour remain in charge in both Scotland and Wales, though still reliant on coalition allies the Lib Dems. Edinburgh might see a boost for the nationalists, building on their low base of 1999, while in Cardiff, Plaid Cymru fail to repeat their high-watermark performance of four years ago. Both struggle with turnout, especially in Wales where Labour already predicts voter participation of 35% or below. In England, Tories do well - but is it well enough?<B> 6. The future of IDS:</B> In 2003 the Conservatives will have to decide whether to stick with Iain Duncan Smith - or dump him. May 1 could be crucial. If Tories fail to poll above the 33% they won under William Hague in 2001, the IDS-must-go cry will become deafening. <B> Reckless prediction:</B> On a low turnout, Conservatives scrape to or just above 2001 levels - giving IDS a reprieve. But the whispers and sniping intensify over the summer, leading to full-blown plotting in time for the party conference in the autumn. Eventually the Tories' instinct for self-preservation kicks in, as they realise a failure to ditch IDS in 2003 will leave a new leader only 18 months to prepare for battle with Tony Blair. Expect 12 or more months of Tory bloodletting. Oh, and a happy new year.<B>"
3 (jonathanfreedland)
0 (Politics)
"Summer can be the cruellest season for those whose life is politics. The big cat only has to slip away for a week or two and the mice are soon at play, cheerfully wreaking havoc. Tony Blair has seen the summer curse work its familiar magic these last few weeks: environment minister Michael Meacher would not have allowed himself to be quoted attacking his own government's green record while the boss was in town. But Blair should be used to it by now. In 1997 he had barely cracked open the Ambre Solaire before John Prescott and Peter Mandelson were squabbling over who had been left in charge. (A highlight came when the deputy PM held up a jar containing a crab, telling bemused photographers he had named the ugly crustacean Peter.) Still, Labour's holiday woes seem rather innocent compared to the summer spectacular being laid on by the Conservatives. They have followed up last year's ratings winner - Leadership Contest, in which an entire parliamentary party does its best to destroy itself in full public view - with a fitful, but enjoyable sequel. Once again, the same motifs have been on display: vicious attacks on one another, profound disagreement on the way forward and a desperate fear of electoral oblivion. As befits his role, Iain Duncan Smith set the lead. He sacked his ambitious party chairman David Davis while the latter was soaking up the Florida sun, thereby injecting a whiff of civil war into the air just in time for the plotting season. Sure enough, the conspirators have taken the leader's cue and spent the steamy July and August nights scheming. The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday a plan by 50 Tory young turks, including a dozen parliamentary candidates, to break away and form their own Start Again party. Over swish dinners and via email, the disaffected have apparently shared their collective panic at the Conservatives' seemingly permanent residency of political rock bottom. They are worried by polls that refuse to budge, stubbornly holding them at 35%. Their plan may be mere fantasy at this stage, but they believe a fiscally conservative, socially liberal SAP could do for the Conservatives what the SDP did for Labour: inflicting a painful split, but one that ultimately brings the old party back to its senses. If that is the threat from the left - most of the SAPs backed Michael Portillo last year - the Tory right is hardly being any kinder. Duncan Smith's replacement of Davis with Theresa May, trumpeted as a gesture of kinder, gentler inclusiveness, was a modernisation too far for Norman Tebbit: "The politically retarded managers at central office ... seem obsessed with the ethnic and sexual minorities, forgetting that those who share our values will come with us and those who won't will not." More insults are on their way from the same wing of the party tomorrow, in a new pamphlet, Paralysis or Power?, from the arch- Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies. "Conservative spokesmen spout 'baloney'," writes its author Rupert Darwall, a former adviser to Norman Lamont and a veteran of the legendary Conservative research department of the 1980s. Tories have become "political pariahs", he says, short on talent or anything else that might make them attractive to voters. "The hard truth is that the Conservative party wasted its first term in opposition," he concludes. Lest IDS draw comfort from that apparent blame shift on to William Hague, Darwall hurls a rock with Duncan Smith's name on it: "More than one year into the second [term], little progress has been made." The attack has two clear prongs. The first is that the Tories have erred by fretting about style rather than substance, trying to change their tone of voice rather than what they say. As one former Hague lieutenant puts it, in a voice dripping with derision: "This is the lip gloss and Botox strategy - trying to make Tories look nice." Instead, says Darwell, Conservatives have to get to the heart of the matter, fighting Labour on the battlegrounds of philosophy and principle. So far they have mistaken Blairism for mere opportunism. That is "a huge error". For Labour stands on one side of a clear, ancient ideological divide: it believes in the active, expanded state while the right has always demanded the reverse. That is the second limb of this new critique. Conservatives used instinctively to argue for minimal government and low taxes, but since 1997 they have lost their nerve. "The Conservatives didn't lose the argument. They stopped making it," seethes Darwall. Rather than robustly opposing Labour's lavishing of cash on hospitals and schools as doomed in principle, the Tories have mumbled and muttered that they would do the same but with slightly smaller sums of money. That "amounts to a Vichy response to Blairism". At first glance, this argument should make Blair cheer and IDS sob. For what Darwall is advocating is a platform that would surely send the Conservatives plunging into polling gloom. If the Tories followed his advice, they would tell voters the "hard truth" that they will have to pay "charges for healthcare"; that Railtrack was a perfectly good system that failed only because Labour ministers "wanted to prove that rail privatisation wouldn't work" and that lower taxes would rapidly produce better public services. Imagine IDS or any member of the shadow cabinet going on television to argue any one of those cases: they would be eaten alive. So the fact that talk such as this is bubbling in Conservative circles should be good news for Labour. They want clear blue water between themselves and the opposition and now the Centre for Policy Studies has provided bucketloads of it. This year's budget and comprehensive spending review drew the dividing line, with the government coming out clearly for an active state funded through higher taxes. The centre's paper suggests some Tories are ready to stand on the other side of that divide, loudly opposing, on ideological grounds, such collective action - preferring a low-tax world that leaves individuals with more money to pay for their own private schools or hospitals. Labour should not be too encouraged by this Conservative return to hardcore market fundamentalism. For the centre's text also serves as a warning. If the Blair-Brown strategy fails, if the river of cash flowing into the public services does not transform the NHS or the local comp into first-class services, this is the argument waiting to be deployed. In their thinktanks and salons, this is what ideological Conservatives want to do: to reduce public spending from its current level, around 40% of GDP, to 30% within two parliamentary terms. So Labour, which likes to say that now is the "social democratic moment" cannot afford to let the moment pass. For now we know what will happen if they fail."
3 (jonathanfreedland)
0 (Politics)
"Apparently all is well. The custodians of our civic good health have conducted a thorough examination and found nothing untoward. We are in the clear. Sir Anthony Hammond was first to give the good news. He methodically prodded and poked into the cash-for-passports affair, before declaring happily that he had found nothing "improper". Peter Mandelson, Keith Vaz and their numerous officials were guilty of no wrong- doing; their relationships with the Hinduja brothers were perfectly sound. On Monday the House of Commons sleazebusting committee of MPs issued another set of exonerations, this time not quite as complete. Their probe into the earlier affairs of Mr Vaz cleared him of nine charges, finding him guilty on only one: failing to declare that a man he had nominated for inclusion in the honours' list just so happened to be a contributor to his own constituency fund. Still, that was not too serious, certainly not worthy of any punishment. The committee decided no action was necessary. And there has been an equally cheery verdict on the weekend reports that Downing Street intervened in a controversial planning application by the billionaire arms broker, Wafic Said. Sure, an official memo spoke of "pressure from the prime minister's office not to delay the decision" on Said's plan to build a business school on the site of a much-loved old railway station in Oxford. But that means nothing. Number 10 insists it was merely concerned with the timing of the decision, not the decision itself. Once again, everybody behaved perfectly properly. So given this rash of good news - confirming our public officials' complete probity and propriety - why do we feel so bad? Why is this sequence of denials, rebuttals and exonerations not good enough? If the rules say nothing wrong happened, why doesn't it feel quite right? The answer is common sense. Forget what the reports and inquiries say; these cases are all versions of the same, all-too-familiar story: someone, somewhere got special treatment because they have money. Hammond confirms it. Even as he insists there was no wrongdoing, he provides chapter and verse on the extraordinary efforts made in pursuit of the Hindujas' applications for British citizenship. Their forms weren't processed by some overworked staffer in the passport office - they were championed by the head of the immigration and nationality directorate himself. The rules were bent, too, so that SP Hinduja got his passport in a quarter of the normal time, even though he clearly did not meet the usual residency requirements. Watching over it all were a choir of guardian angels, from Margaret Thatcher and Edward Heath to Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw, all doing their bit to make sure the Hindujas' request was dealt with "helpfully". Hammond accepts all this as perfectly proper, but we don't have to. We know what it amounts to: special treatment for the wealthy. Just as we knew it when Tony Blair exempted Formula One from the ban on tobacco advertising after Bernie Ecclestone gave 1m to the Labour party. We knew it when the Tories bagged a peerage for Michael Ashcroft soon after he gave the party so much money he became their treasurer. The officials may tell us everything is "proper"; but all that proves is their definition of "proper" is wrong - and we ought to get a new one. But how? How can we stop money talking? The default response is to demand that politicians stay well clear of millionaires, by freeing them of the need to raise cash in the first place. Then Blair and William Hague wouldn't have to grovel to the likes of Ecclestone and Ashcroft. The state could fund political parties and all would be well. Wrong. Even if state funding did not contain risks of its own - like squeezing out new movements by denying them funds - it would not solve the problem. After all, the Hindujas were not offering money to the Labour party, but to the dome. State funding would not have kept Mandelson, Blair and Straw away from them. Accepting the presence of money in politics, but regulating it, seems the next best step. But that's what the MPs who just cleared Vaz are meant to do - and just look how ineffective they are. They had to give up on eight additional charges against the minister because he refused to cooperate with their inquiries. They were powerless to resist. No, we need a new, more radical solution to the problem. And we may find it in, of all places, the law. For what is the real offence in the Hinduja case, or episodes like it? Surely it's the clear evidence that there's one rule for the rich and another for everyone else. It is a violation of our deep belief that everyone should be equal under the law. That can be more than a sentimental hope. In the United States, the 14th amendment's insistence on "equal protection of the laws" has formed the basis for countless civil rights actions demanding fairness and an end to discrimination. It was that clause which underpinned 1954's legendary Brown v Board of Education decision, ending the racial segregation of America's schools. It has been invoked regularly ever since, with Americans petitioning their courts to outlaw preferential treatment for one group of individuals over another. That option is now open to us. Under a happy coincidence, we have a 14th amendment of our own: article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, now absorbed into British law as the Human Rights Act. That article bars discrimination on grounds of sex, race, colour and "any other status." That "other status" could be wealth. Put simply, there is nothing to stop two, hypothetical Patel brothers petitioning the courts to demand why the passport request they made for their third brother was not treated as swiftly as Prakash Hinduja's. A Wafic Smith could complain that the decision on his planning project was not announced as swiftly as Wafic Said's. Bernie Bloggs could claim discrimination denied him the policy exemption that so pleased Bernie Ecclestone. Such scenarios need not be fanciful. Leading human rights lawyer Keir Starmer says: "The whole point of the Human Rights Act is to give protection against discrimination - and discrimination against those with less money could come within the prohibitions set out in article 14." As long as you amassed the evidence and could prove that, say, the Patels and the Hindujas were genuinely comparable in every other respect bar riches, Starmer reckons you could make a serious challenge under the act. At the very least, it would force the discriminating authority to explain why they favoured one set of individuals over another. The experts always told us this new law would make a big difference. In the US the bill of rights has long been used to advance civil rights, from abortion to women's status at work, that were too hot for the politicians to handle. Now it can be our turn. For those of us who are sick of the fast track and special favours granted to the rich, politicians are now too much the problem to be the solution. It may be time to go to court."
3 (jonathanfreedland)
0 (Politics)
"Like a maestro debuting his fourth and finest symphony, Gordon Brown's hour at the dispatch box yesterday should have been his most golden. The climate shines on him more generously than any chancellor you can name. Just days ago Britain learnt that its economy had nudged ahead of France to become the fourth mightiest in the world. Under Brown, the country's accounts have moved from blood red to reassuring black. Yesterday he could brag and boast his way through an astonishing battery of numbers: growth higher than predicted, inflation lower than planned, unemployment at its lowest for 20 years and a deficit in 1997 converted into a 12bn surplus today. Even the usually-ascetic chancellor couldn't resist offering a toast to himself. This fine record was the result of a strong economy and "our prudent management". But self-congratulation was not enough for the restless Mr Brown. He quickened the pace, the maestro wowing his audience with sheer audacity. He revealed delights that would have made even his Tory predecessors blush. He slashed through capital gains tax too fast for the scribblers on the opposition benches to keep up. Within seconds he was on to inheritance tax, hacking away at it at such speed that the thing was in ribbons before MPs could pause for breath. Once he was done, the House could only marvel at a Labour chancellor who had served up a budget that could have been written by the Elders of Middle England. They will now pay the lowest corporation tax anywhere and, if they inherit money, only four in a hundred of them will pay tax on it. The reviews on planet Daily Mail should be stellar. But he was not done yet. Having tickled the New Labour converts, he would soothe the old Labour faithful. "Something for the heartlands," was the tacit message as he announced bundles of cash for education and health. He had pulled it off again. Just as last year he seemed to squeeze a 40bn injection to schools and hospitals into the same budget as a penny tax cut, so yesterday he simultaneously announced giveaways for the well-off and spending for the needy. Within 50 rapid-fire minutes, galloping Gordon had cut taxes, increased spending - and still kept the public coffers in the black. Surely this was yet another Brown blockbuster, satisfying left and right alike? And yet it didn't quite feel that way. Despite the confidence of the opening, the final flourish on health sounded oddly defensive. That was because a performance which had begun with economics ended in politics. Far from displaying Gordon Brown as the unchallenged master of the universe lionised in Westminster mythology, yesterday's speech revealed him as a mortal politician - as vulnerable to the gusts of mood and "events" as any of his colleagues. For although Brown's speech lasted less than an hour yesterday, it looked as though it began two months ago - on David Frost's sofa. There, on January 16, Tony Blair sought to cool anger over the winter crisis in the NHS by admitting that spending was too low - and promising increases of around 5% above inflation for the next six years. To the naked eye, yesterday's speech seemed like an urgent attempt to honour that pledge - with a commitment to spend a staggering 69bn on health over five years. (In fact Brown exceeded Blair's promise, pledging cash rises at 6.1% above inflation.) That may be unfair. An alternative version says Brown and his aides realised more than a year ago that health was too hot a political issue to be handled like the rest of government activity. Where other departments could be told to reform first and receive new money later - and to wait for the Treasury's comprehensive spending review to take its course - health, the Brownies realised, was a special case. Ministers might be able to attack teachers for low standards, witholding extra cash until they changed their ways, but no politician could dare do the same to doctors and nurses. When David Blunkett appears on the Today programme pitted against a teacher, chances are the audience is rooting for him. When Alan Milburn squares off against a cancer specialist, it's the doctor demanding money who wins everytime. Brown's team calculated that they would have to cut through the "noise" about resources by breaking their own rules and announcing money up-front first, insisting on reform second. That's why Brown promised the cash yesterday, with Tony Blair launching the major review today. Either way, the chancellor acted like a conventional politician yesterday, reacting to events rather than shaping them. With most ministers that would be no big deal; but you notice it with Brown - partly because normally he does such a good job of appearing above the everyday fray. Colleagues dislike the way he dodges the flak - ducking when trouble looms over Kosovo or the NHS crisis - but it adds to the aura of Brown as a heavyweight, a grown-up among political juniors. Sometimes he seems more like an emissary from the global economy than a humble British cabinet minister. But that mystique was punctured a little yesterday. There are three other worries. First, BMW's dumping of Rover left many Britons anxious to hear Brown say something for manufacturing industry. BMW insists its hand was forced by the strong pound: it made exporting British goods economically unviable. Yet nothing in the Budget hinted at a fall in sterling: on the contrary, tax cuts and increased spending, as promised yesterday, could well have the opposite effect. But Treasury insiders argue that their record of fiscal discipline - turning debts into surplus - should have begun to reduce the value of sterling by now. The fact that it has not suggests not that the pound is too strong - but that the euro is too weak. A second concern centres on one of Brown's loudest applause lines yesterday. He announced sackloads of money for schools - going straight to the head teacher's cash-box and bypassing the local education authority. That has obvi ous, anti-bureaucratic appeal. But that logic could eviscerate local government, eventually depriving authorities of half their budget and a large chunk of their raison d'etre. This is hard to square with Brown's constant rhetoric about a decentralised, devolved Britain flowering into a rich, civic society. Finally, the chancellor may come to regret bowing to politics on health. What's to stop other ministers now demanding similar up-front injections of cash ahead of reform? Has he perhaps created an incentive against reform, by rewarding the service with the deepest problems ahead of those which have most improved? These are not urgent worries. Gordon Brown's centrality to this government was confirmed rather than undermined yesterday. He is still, at the very least, a co-conductor of the Labour orchestra - standing at the front, calling the tune."
4 (martinkettle)
0 (Politics)
"A year or so ago, I got into discussion with a Labour minister who knows his history. At one point, we found ourselves talking about George Dangerfield's 1935 classic (still in print, I believe, and still being discussed in relation to modern politics) The Strange Death of Liberal England, the book that tries to make sense of how the apparent Liberal hegemony in early 20th-century British politics collapsed into complete marginality in the aftermath of the first world war. Were we beginning to witness the Strange Death of Labour England, I wondered. Even then, it felt as though Labour was sliding inexorably downwards from its own hegemonic years under Tony Blair. It was hard to see a sign, or indeed any reason, why the slide should not continue. Not so fast, responded my ministerial companion. Labour is certainly sliding disastrously, he admitted. No argument about the short-term seriousness of the decline. But you forget that Labour's vote is still based on class identity, not ideology. That wasn't, in the end, true of the Liberals once all men and women got the vote after 1918 and 1928. The Liberals were an ideological party. When they went into decline they went into decline everywhere north, south, east and west as their ideology fell apart in new conditions. Labour is simply different. Even in decline, Labour is still electorally concentrated in particular regions, where its class identity remains strong. As long as first-past-the-post continues, Labour is likely to remain strong at Westminster, and thus is in a position, if it takes the right decisions, to rebound. The classic proof of that came in the 1983 election, when Labour and the Liberal/SDP Alliance each polled about 8m votes, but Labour ended up with 209 MPs against the alliance's 23. Today, as the 2009 Labour party conference disperses, there is still truth in what the minister said. Those who are angrily anxious to write the obituary of the Labour party on the basis of its current slide in the polls at 23% this week, Labour is now five points adrift of the 28% it polled in 1983, hitherto seen as the most ignominious result in its modern history need to recognise that opinion poll decline does not necessarily translate into terminal irrelevance. First past the post has a lot to do with this, but in a different way in 2009-10 compared with 1983. Back in 1983, it was the solidity of the Labour heartlands that allowed the party to remain a big player. This time, the growth of third, fourth and fifth parties may have a similar effect, allowing Labour to win a surprisingly large number of seats on quite small shares of the poll in individual constituencies. In other words, Labour could benefit from a microcosmic effect rather similar to the macro effect from which it benefited in 2005, when 35.2% support gave Labour 356 seats and a healthy Commons majority of 66. A lot of Labour MPs may actually survive next year thanks to the strength of small parties outright winners with shares in the low 30s and even the upper 20s may not be uncommon. Brighton gave one a kind of hallucinatory vision of how this process might feel. Inside the conference bubble, Labour has had a decent conference. Gordon Brown was quite good. His senior ministers were often more than OK. The party had good things to say. There were no plots and few embarrassments. The conference found, to its surprise, that the party actually felt quite good about itself. The conference has been, in short, restorative for a party that fears and even knows that electoral disaster is now just months away. It's all relative, of course, and blind loyalism is an unattractive quality at the best of times, but my point, which I don't think anyone who has been in Brighton can seriously dispute, is that this has been a good conference for Labour in all the circumstances. Outside the bubble, of course, it feels and is different. People aren't interested. They think Brown is useless. Politics is not an important part of their lives. Leave the conference centre and you don't meet lobbyists or protesters, you meet freshers' week students getting legless on pub-crawl drinking binges. It's another world entirely. But that's my point. When the election comes, most people will vote, not stay away. And in Labour areas, a lot of them will continue to vote Labour for all the old mix of reasons. I'm not at all saying Labour will win or do well in the general election. The result will probably be decisively awful. But I remain to be persuaded that Labour is as dead as some now believe. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, a sign of hope or of despair, is not the point. This isn't the strange death of Labour England (or Scotland or Wales). It's the strange living death of Labour England. And that's a different thing from the oblivion that was wreaked on the Liberals nearly a century ago."
4 (martinkettle)
0 (Politics)
4 (martinkettle)
0 (Politics)
"Ever since 2001, the comparison between Tony Blair and William Gladstone has become columnar stock in trade. Matthew Parris, ever sharp, was one of the first to draw it after 9/11. Lots of the rest of us have echoed it since. And, yes, some of the similarities between the prime minister and his four-time Victorian Liberal predecessor are striking. Few British leaders have combined the religious, the morally driven, the interventionist and the impetuous more readily than these two.Yet the Gladstone-Blair comparison goes only so far. It is hard, for example, to imagine Blair returning from holiday in Egypt this week and feeling the inner confidence to say the following, noted down by Gladstone as he returned to London in the autumn of 1876 after campaigning against Turkish policy in the Balkans. "On Monday morning last between four and five o'clock, I was rattling down from Euston station through the calm and silent streets of London, when there was not a footfall to disturb them. Every house looked so still that it might well have been a receptacle of the dead. But as I came through those long lines of streets, I felt it to be an inspiring and a noble thought that in every one of these houses there were intelligent human beings, my fellow countrymen, who when they woke would give many of their earliest thoughts, aye and some of their most energetic actions, to the terrors and sufferings of Bulgaria." Politicians of the democratic age have a more cynical and nervous view of their countrymen and women. Rattling through the streets of London in the early hours in 2005, a passing prime minister is more likely to notice the ravages of late-night partying and drinking. And it would be a very confident leader who persuaded himself that the waking thoughts of many Londoners this week would concern the sufferings of Bulgaria or its current equivalent. That is why it is going to take rather more than the current swell of national self-esteem about the British people's response to the Asian tsunami to reshape Blair's view of the electorate to whom he will shortly make his appeal. The popular response has indeed been inspiring, and may also be a reminder that better angels lurk within all but the most selfish souls. But it does not prove we are a nation of consistently energetic visionaries on the Gladstonian model. In a sense, we have been here before. Twenty years ago, in the summer of the Ethiopian famine, it was briefly fashionable to see Live Aid and its associated work not just as a rebuke to Margaret Thatcher's aid policy - which it undoubtedly was - but even as a harbinger of new forms of political engagement - which it turned out not to be. Live Aid was, indeed, a major event. It left its mark on many lives. But it did not fundamentally change either Africa's vulnerability to famine or the state of British politics. The response to the 2004 tsunami, like that to the 1985 famine, caught politics by surprise. In both cases, ministers were wrongfooted by the public's capacity for generosity. But in each case the furore about government inaction has frequently been a surrogate. Those who have had it with Blair have taken out their anger on the fact that he stayed on holiday. But such people would have damned him if he had come back (imagine the charges of presidentialism and headline chasing), just as they have damned him for not doing so. Any stick to beat a dog. Nevertheless, things have moved on. Twenty years ago, we had a government that deliberately cut overseas aid, that saw supplicants as scroungers, and that was intellectually attracted to the notion that all aid was both corrupt and futile. Today, that is demonstrably no longer so. It would be a travesty to pretend that Blair shares Thatcher's gut contempt for aid as such. None of this, though, makes Blair a Gladstone. The Grand Old Man may have thought he discerned a sleeping nation capable of being roused to action by Turkey's injustice towards the Bulgarians. Blair, by contrast, is more likely to discern a sleeping nation fearful of an influx of Turks and Bulgarians alike. And who is to say, despair over it as we may, that he is wrong about that? Right now, we may feel good about ourselves. But enjoy it while you can. Come the election, things are likely to be very different. <B>"
4 (martinkettle)
0 (Politics)
4 (martinkettle)
0 (Politics)
4 (martinkettle)
0 (Politics)
4 (martinkettle)
0 (Politics)
5 (maryriddell)
0 (Politics)
5 (maryriddell)
0 (Politics)
5 (maryriddell)
0 (Politics)
"Be very afraid. The Home Secretary implies the streets are dangerous. Liza Minnelli almost gets mugged on her latest honeymoon. A pigtailed yob of 11 may be hurling breeze blocks through the window of a shop near you. Three thousands offenders currently enduring Her Majesty's oversubscribed hospitality will soon be out, tagged but supposedly casting lascivious glances at the Volvos and Vodafones of a nation on high alert. Few, give or take the lowland fox, can think themselves protected now. In Wimbledon, some rich women barely venture out, for fear of being carjacked on their way to a lettuce lunch. In Primrose Hill, a security firm offers UN-style protection to citizens unloading groceries from people-carriers. In an ICM poll, Labour's lead falls from 17 points to nine because voters are terrified of street crime. But the economy prospers, retail sales are up 1.5 per cent and the daffodils are out. Despite Quatermass politics and newspaper hysteria, the streets feel as safe as they always did. They are. In 1981, Britons had a one in 200 chance of being attacked by a stranger. The same statistic applies today. Under the red tape theorem, the more pen-pushing police officers you have, the higher the number of recorded crimes. The British Crime Survey, a more trusted measure, says that overall crime fell by a third between 1995 and 2000 and that violent offences dropped by a fifth in the final year of the last century. The subsequent rise in street crime is mainly due to mobile phone thefts. Phone-snatching is not, as some suggest, a playground craze, like hopscotch with menaces, but neither is it evidence of civil meltdown. There is no shortage of grim areas and tragedy; a 15-year-old boy is stabbed to death; a woman of 82 is robbed for the fourth time in as many years. But random crimes, however brutal, offer little evidence for notions that most law-abiding citizens are holed up in Mugabe Mansions with drug-crazed psychopaths baying at the gates. So what's going on? David Blunkett wants serious money from Gordon Brown and offers some grim tableaux to make his case. That bullishness is only part of it. Lurid press stories of kids from hell have not helped Mr Blunkett. On the contrary, public unease may have prompted his summons, with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to Downing Street. Mr Blair offered support but will also have demanded some solutions. The Prime Minister favours 'eye-catching initiatives'. His wish-list is, however, unlikely to include the spectacle of more public sparring between Mr Blunkett and Sir John Stevens, who share a desire that no crisis should ever knowingly be undersold. Dramas breed fear and Mr Blunkett risks becoming the victim of a muddled and febrile mood his high profile has helped engender. In January, he sought to damp down public anxiety, announcing that the chances of becoming a crime victim were the lowest in 20 years. Last week, he warned that we must 'reclaim the streets'. The mantra is one of toughness, but jails are full and prisoners will be released early. Marching yobs to cashpoints, one of Mr Blair's less felicitous eye-catchers, is back on the agenda in amended form. And the Home Secretary professes 'bewilderment at the debate going on'. Mr Blunkett's not the only one. Nor is he, a Minister who has done some fine things (and a few appalling ones), a prime culprit. He is simply part of a modern jigsaw of confusion. Hierarchies of trust were never reliable, but now few gold standards, or even bog standards, of impartiality, consistency and objective assessment exist in public life. Lord Woolf, the great rehabilitator, demands that young, mobile phone robbers are jailed. Reports linking the Chancellor's mission to rescue the NHS with his baby daughter's death hint that private tragedy informs public policy. The suggestion may be preposterous, but a doubt is sown. Geoff Hoon says he is 'absolutely confident' that, in the right conditions, Britain would be willing to use nuclear weapons against Iraq or any other rogue state. Suddenly, Mr Hoon, a Minister to whom one would hesitate to entrust a peashooter, is a master of the embattled universe, brandishing nukes against Saddam and dispatching 1,700 troops to fight the guerrillas of al-Qaeda. To wonder whether the Defence Secretary has a clue about what he is doing does not imply the slightest disrespect. In the war against terror, publicity swamps insight at all levels. When few have any knowledge and everyone has an agenda, the capacity for disinformation is spectacular. President Bush has exploited it to the full. After months of propaganda, bin Laden remains at large, Mullah Omar is presumably pedalling the cycle lanes of Gardez and no one can explain exactly what mission confronts outgoing British troops. Last week, American defence chiefs announced compelling evidence that al-Qaeda had bases in Somalia. A day later, they retracted that proof as bogus. How lucky for Somali civilians that someone noticed one error in a catalogue of assertions too vague to satisfy the modern consumer in any sphere but war. You wouldn't buy a mail- order sweatshirt on the data provided by the CIA, let alone a possible second Vietnam. The less verifiable the truth, the more febrile the unrest. In Salem in 1692, old scores got settled 'on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord'. Once again, it's fine to 'cry witch against one's neighbour', whether the target of suspicion hails from Yemen or Yarmouth. In war, as in crime, terror takes over when truth gets malleable. A quarter of women fear sexual assault, but only 0.078 per cent of victims report such an attack. One in five adults worries that his car will be stolen, when the chances are 1.5 in 100. The perception is that criminals walk free when, as Nacro's figures show, many more are being jailed. Mr Blunkett's tagging initiative may actually drive up the prison population. Crime scares always do. With equal certainty, quiet voices are barely heard. The Prison Reform Trust's new report, Barred Citizens, makes the case for better rehabilitation. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary warns that there is a dearth of analysis of 'what works and why'. Interest in allegations linking Commander Brian Paddick to gay sex on the Gatwick Express far exceeds calls to extend his successful drugs strategy for Lambeth. Car alarms and phone disablers stop crime, but dull measures don't get talked about. Roll up instead for a ghost train ride of cheap thrills. It is easier to turn a child vandal into a media superstar than to ask what sort of a society produces, or gawps at, an 11-year-old girl who breaks up shops for fun. Or what kind of people are more interested in demonising 'evil' children than in devising a system to help stop three in four young offenders being reconvicted within two years of release. If society, in keeping with the hot moral rhetoric of the age, treats the young, the victimised and the deprived as beyond redemption, that is how they will emerge. And then it will be time to be afraid."
5 (maryriddell)
0 (Politics)
"When ticking off the media for their 'corrosive' cynicism, Prince Charles likes to quote the last lines of Middlemarch. His fondness for this hymn to unsung heroes must mean he thinks George Eliot an ally in bolstering respect for the monarchy. Perhaps the prince does not know that she was much more subversive than the torpid hordes now declining to make jellies for the jubilee. During a flirtation with republicanism, Eliot referred to Victoria, her contemporary and sometime fan, as 'our little humbug of a queen'. Which just shows that you are never safe from cynics. Charles Clarke thinks elements of the press are 'actually about promotion of cynicism'. Tony Blair, on his recent visit to Africa, lambasted 'the cynics back home'. Greg 'cut the crap' Dyke offers yellow cards to can't-do sceptics on his staff, and Gavyn Davies berates 'white, middle-class, middle-aged' whingers complaining about dumbing down the BBC. Alas, Mr Davies's tirade has only invoked a further flurry of cynicism from those who fear that, if Rolf Harris is the jewel of arts programming, it cannot be long before nu-metal band Slipknot is kicking Saint-Sans off Radio 3. We are losing faith in old institutions, and they are losing faith in us. Early next month, the political philosopher Onora O'Neill will address the first of her BBC Reith lectures to the collapse of trust between the British people and the Civil Service, the medical profession, politicians, church and business. It is not certain what Lord Reith might have thought of Mr Dyke's 'Operation Top Dog' fact-finding trip to the United States, complete with a stay in a hotel reportedly favoured by Mick Jagger. Nor is it known what Baroness O'Neill, a latter-day Kantian and Lords cross-bencher, will make of her subject matter. I hope she calls it for the cynics. Cynicism is the fuel of public life. When political ideology and money get sparse, it is a prime deliverer of standards and probity. Blind trust in business is, post-Enron, only for the gullible and shredder salesmen. Unquestioning belief in doctors led to abysmal regulation and arrogance. Those are replaced now, thanks to cynicism, with greater transparency, convictions for the Dewhurst branch of gynaecology, plus the hope that babies are no longer likely to be killed at Bristol or bottled at Alder Hey. But for cynicism, we might marvel at the altruism of Edward and Sophie, believe that Signor Berlusconi is the new prophet of workplace fairness and trust that women who use the right brand of shampoo can rely on mermaid hair. No wonder politicians search for the elixir of squandered faith. Too late. Cynicism is the new politics, and how useful it can be to Ministers professing to abhor it. In an age of innocence, Mr Blair's endorsement of creationist teaching at Emmanuel School in Gateshead would be truly worrying. Now it matters less that children, as neo-Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins rightly protest, are being fed 'ludicrous falsehoods'. The failsafe is that children, even sheltered ones, are cynical rationalists. The debate between evolution and creation was settled, for good and in the former's favour, in the 1860 Oxford debate between between T.H. Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. Any teacher now hopeful of persuading streetwise Limp Bizkit fans that God created the world quicker than Glenys Kinnock can rustle up a Fray Bentos supper is likely also to believe in Santa Claus. But politicians think scepticism a sin to be excised. There is something sly, cynical even, in their attempts to re-engage an electorate of whom fewer than 60 per cent voted in the last election. (Even this figure is less worrying in the context of Robert Mugabe's 112 per cent turn-out in some polling stations, but that is by the way.) Moves towards e-democracy and away from in-your-face campaigning are about machinery, not message. Nor do Ministers acknowledge their own double standard. Apathy, the hated twin of cynicism, is the Ritalin of the masses and thus the drug of political dreams. If people were as apathetic as politicians complain, there would have been no fuel protests, no anti-globalisation marches, no MMR furore, no Garbagegate. While not all of these are desirable, they demonstrate plenty of engagement in politics. It's just all the wrong sort, supposedly practised by selfish, embittered carpers encouraged to stick the boot into the corpse of deference by a cynical media in thrall to New Cynicism. Old cynicism looked different. The founder of the Cynic sect, Antisthenes, was a fifth-century BC philosopher so avid for moral wisdom that he travelled every day from Piraeus to Athens (tricky by public transport, even in pre-Byers times) to hear Socrates speak. His disciples' code of strict religious observance, ragged cloaks and revolt against decadence seems, give or take Mittalgate, pink pinstripes by Sir Paul Smith and a BlairForce One jet (cancelled), more in tune with the pious ways of political leaders than with the electorate. Who are the real cynics now? It's hard to judge, when each side thinks the other so corrupted. The certainty is that politicians have not grasped that the British electorate, while abhorring mendacity and sleaze, prefers cynicism to zealotry in its leaders. Morality drives Tony Blair to support currently indefensible action against Iraq. George Bush, a President of unimpeachable godliness, maintains his axis of good by tearing up weapons treaties and sending a mentally-ill mother who killed her children to jail for 40 years. If this is virtue, one can only wonder what terrors Saddam's evil entails. We will have to keep on guessing. The dossier that appalled Mr Bush and Mr Blair is locked in Dick Cheney's briefcase, to be fluttered in front of Middle Eastern leaders who seemed suspiciously unscandalised by the Vice-President's proof. In less doubting times, any government move towards military action against Iraq would be deemed as scrupulously tested as a Which? best-buy toasted-sandwich maker. Instead, there is scant enthusiasm. So thank heavens for cynicism, the province of satirists from Molire to Wilde and the last long-stop of democracy. We are going to need it. That doesn't mean that Mr Blair fails wholly to understand public disillusion. In his convincing speech at the LSE, the Prime Minister ditched the messianic, rabbit-out-of-the-hat salvationism pitched somewhere between Martin Luther King and Paul Daniels. His gospel of public service delivery won't enthuse potential voters, any more than Barcelona smallprint will captivate those stuck on a commuter train at Luton Parkway. But as a move towards the more sober dialogue the Government wants, calm objectives beat both hot rhetoric and the anti-media witchhunts so popular with Ministers and royalty. As Charles should consider next time he dusts off his Middlemarch, such tactics offer an uncomfortable echo of Jonathan Aitken's promise to beat 'bent and twisted journalism' with his 'simple sword of truth'. Establishment moaners will have to find a better remedy against public scornfulness. It would be helpful to Mr Blair if young people were inspired by activism, but grassroots politics, like Passing Cloud cigarettes and jitterbugging, is a redundant craving. Enthusing voters will become easy only when government rebrands cynicism as the manna it professes to crave; the holy grail of reasoned opposition."
5 (maryriddell)
0 (Politics)
5 (maryriddell)
0 (Politics)
"By the time Posh Spice admitted that her lip ring was a fake, the piercing parlours of Britain had been inundated by imitators. 'She is a real cow,' said one hole-punched acolyte. 'She must have known fans would copy her.' Of course. Every time Posh's husband has some new variant personal topiary, a cloned army turns out with Mohican haircuts or half an eyebrow. Who knows better than the Beckhams that we are the most susceptible nation on earth? The Government, for one. A policy consultant to the Department of Health claims that EastEnders and Coronation Street have replaced the State as the main source of sex education for children. Simultaneously, Tony Blair is being urged by liberal commentators to borrow his thinking on teenage pregnancy and lone parents from more dubious sources. Bill Clinton's tough love is working, according to two US think-tanks. Compulsion and welfare withdrawal have wrought a miracle. Fewer teenagers get pregnant. More single mothers go out to work. Left-wing Jeremiahs predicting misery and poverty have been proved wrong. Except they haven't. The think-tank findings, like Clinton's initiative, are nothing new. We have known for some time that the US cut its welfare bill by $9 billion between 1992 and 1998. That period showed a 40 per cent reduction in those claiming benefit, and the number of lone parents working rose from 44 to 57 per cent. We also know the dire trends underpinning the headline results. Coercion and a five-year lifetime limit on claiming welfare meant that the poorest were left to sink. Of the supposed success stories, almost half of those who found work earned less than they got on benefit. Two-thirds of welfare-leavers in Wisconsin lived below the US poverty line. A moral climate in which parents go on Oprah to renounce their 'welfare mother' status as if they are kicking heroin has no resonance in Britain. Nor is there much appetite for a system that forces mothers to return to live with hostile parents or violent partners as the alternative to destitution. But, beyond all that, there is no crisis here. As One Parent Families points out, lone parent families have stabilised at around 1.7 million. Teenage pregnancies are the lowest since 1994. The divorce rate is falling. Big problems remain, but the statistics do not invite panic, let alone a return to a sterile quest to manipulate social behaviour by economic whip-cracking. The debate over whether such tactics could work was held and lost in the Eighties. And yet, curiously, the new American research has not been questioned here. Its findings, whiskery and disturbing, have been greeted effusively. Blair is being chivvied to abandon his crusade to eliminate child poverty in favour of compulsion, cruelty and creating a new caste of the destitute. Why are we suddenly so gullible? The answer goes wider than social policy. Increasingly, we are trapped in a copycat culture that seeps into almost every area of life. Everyone, the theory goes, does everything better than us. We can't boil an egg unless Delia shows us how, or paint the spare bedroom in any shade of emulsion lacking the Carol Smillie imprimatur, or pull up a weed without first consulting Charlie Dimmock's breasts. A Radio Times survey last week claimed that more than one in two Britons does not necessarily need human contact but feels lonely if deprived of a television role model. Private reliance on the views and the guidance of strangers, however, is mild compared with the filching habit of the magpies in the public domain. Like a snoopy neighbour wanting the loan of a cup of sugar, the Government is continually on the borrow from next door. Required items for the national begging bowl this week include the following: 1. More foreign doctors and nurses, as usual. Plus French and German hospital beds for sprightly South-East dwellers. Sick and elderly northerners must continue, usefully, to clog up the waiting-lists that Alan Milburn needs as the chief rationing tool for an inadequate health service. 2. Some teachers. Lightly qualified Australian back-packers welcome, along with graduates from Africa and India. This, as the head of VSO has said, is not recruitment. It is looting by a country terrifyingly bereft of its own resources and ideas. Globalisation means a homogenised world of Starbucks, Gap and sponsored Labour Party conference events run like a Big Mac franchise, but that does not fully explain the deadweight of British dependency. Even last week's Zagat guide survey claiming that London is better than Paris for eating out fell short of an all-out endorsement of Britishness. Eight of the 10 highest-ranked restaurants are French-based. By way of reciprocity, the French are mad for Bottom and Ab Fab, all of which show the British as sad and manic losers. The reason that the copy movie, Absolument Fabuleux, has just bombed in French cinemas is partly because a self-confident nation can't emulate the savage self-satire engendered by a country undergoing a nervous collapse. The flipside of our insecurity is always bombast. We may see ourselves as Blair's 'new internationalists', imbued with chicken tikka massala multiculturalism, but the media mood is for xenophobia. Off go our football fans, a Union Jack-draped yobocracy encouraged to view the Germans as sausage-chomping towel tyrants. In come euro notes and we are invited to pity those who must forgo the Queen and Sir Edward Elgar for ugly modernity. The message is that we are too individualistic and our culture too distinctive ever to bow to bland uniformity. If only. We are the Arthur Daley of the planet, engaged in a global rip-off campaign that extends from pizza toppings to maths teachers. It isn't quite, as Samuel Johnson said, that almost all absurdity of conduct arises 'from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble'. The additional problem is that we steal the wrong things from the wrong people. Gordon Brown, a Class A raider, quite usefully poached American schemes ranging from the Roosevelt-style New Deal to the tax breaks that created the US enterprise explosion of the Nineties as central planks of his policy. More dubiously, Jack Straw got his 'three strikes and you're out' automatic minimum sentences from the States. Labour politicians have bought US policy like trans-atlantic shoppers stockpiling tights from Bloomingdales. But the sprees for fresh ideas are less rewarding now, and when a good one does emerge, notably Bob Kiley's Tube plan, the Chancellor insists, perversely, on a botched alternative. Copying is fine, but we need new, European icons. Germany demonstrates why proper status for teachers is the only answer to our schools crisis. France shows what a better health service can do. Holland suggests the wisdom, stubbornly rejected by us, of vaccinating against a foot-and-mouth epidemic. Our railways crumble, tourism slumps and even the body-piercing industry has been dealt a nasty blow by Posh. We are forced to import our teachers and export our sick. When we need new ideas so fast, the only answer is to abandon we-know-best smugness and beef up our copycat culture. The time has come for kleptomania." 5 (maryriddell) 0 (Politics) "Babies and elections have always been, in the jargon of the moment, contiguous. This time round, there is a difference. Now babymania can jump species. Phoenix the calf, an emblem of Disney cuteness among mountains of scorched flesh, gets the livestock cull curtailed. Less flamboyantly, the 750,000 human infants born every year in Britain also score a victory. Each will soon have a dowry of 250 apiece, rising to 500 for the poorest. With three further top-ups of 100 and a government promise to match any family contributions, the least well-off 18-year-olds should end up with a modest nest egg, courtesy of the four fairy godfathers of government. David Blunkett is the political driver for the Child Trust Fund, successfully piloted in the US over the past decade and imported by the left-wing think tank, the IPPR. Alistair Darling is also keen on asset-building. An ominous silence hung over the Treasury when baby bonds were first mooted before Gordon Brown eventually proclaimed himself in favour of a plan designed to ensure that every newborn will enter the world with the word 'Prudence' practically stamped on his or her brow. As for Tony Blair, this idea had everything. To the Right, it offered the camphorous odour of Thatcher's mothballed credo of a property-owning democracy. Baby-bonders would, in the Tory view, be the spiritual heirs to the Sids who snapped up shares and council houses. To the Left, it bore the equally comforting whiff of progressive universalism. While the scheme's foundation, on the shaky faultline where Beveridge and neo-liberalism collide, rendered it acceptable to almost all, the plan has a special resonance for Blair. In his 1999 conference speech, he described two babies, side by side in the labour ward and destined, if he had his wish, to live in a meritocratic society where all began life on an equal footing. Baby bonds match the policy to the dream. Better still, a scheme costing a modest 1 billion a year offers a branding unbuyable even by a government that splurges 62 million on three months' worth of advertising. This, the subtext reads, is an administration that loves poor children. And still, our child poverty rate is the third highest in the industrialised world: 100,000 more children were plunged into hardship during the first two years of the Blair government. Although changes to tax and benefits have reversed that trend, more than three million children will remain below the breadline at the election. Of those, 600,000 of them could have been removed from income poverty if the 2.4bn forgone by last year's cut in the basic tax rate had been used to increase benefits. Regressive taxes on cigarettes and petrol continue to clobber the poor, as does the Social Fund. The Social Security Select Committee recently reported that the fund, a model of Dickensian parsimony, exacerbates child poverty because parents cannot afford to repay crisis loans for items such as fridges and cookers. So far, the Government has resisted subsequent calls for a review. As ever, the children of poor households continue to do worse at school and to get the worst-paid jobs, or none. By their late teens, that damage may be irreversible. Certainly the notion that 18-year-olds will emerge from a chrysalis of poverty into fully formed trustafarians, ready to spend with care (rather than to squander their money on drugs and drink as their rich-list equivalents tend to) seems unproven. Nor are parents struggling to buy food and shoes likely to be sustained by the knowledge that their children are custodians of untouchable funds worth several thousand pounds. Perhaps such caveats count for little against a suspicion that approval from those debarred by extreme poverty from saving, including the seven out of 10 lone parents who currently have no back-up funds at all, is not the applause Labour most desires. Despite last week's volte-face allowing more generous parental leave, women of all backgrounds remain sceptical of a government perceived to have done too little on childcare provision and flexible working hours. So how helpful to have news programmes full of vox pops involving wards full of new 'mums' (not a father in sight, even on politically correct Channel 4 News ) offering warm plaudits to Blair's largesse. Though it would be cynical to accuse the Government of blatantly touting for votes among those impressed by its drive towards child equality, there is no doubt that some remain more equal than others. One minute, the Government is offering Hans Christian Andersen fairytale outcomes, in which all must have equal prospects. In the next, it sketches cautionary tales worthy of a Hoffman or a Belloc, on what must happen to those corrupted by the forces of exclusion. Slap a curfew or a school exclusion order on them. March 'yobs' to cashpoints or incarcerate them in one of our scandalous young offenders' institutions to rot or, if especially unlucky, to die. Tony Blair's latest wheeze, to reward non-offending teenagers in high crime areas with vouchers for CDs or trainers, looks either like a belated balance of carrot to stick or the feeblest of pre-election gimmicks. It may also be a sign that Blair, an expert on wayward adolescents and infant innocents alike, has a Dr Spockish urge to treat the nation's children as his own. The trouble is that parenting is a haphazard, emotional affair, whereas politics is structured and calculating. Conflate the two and the upshot is the liberal press gurgling over Blair's plans while the Daily Telegraph, simultaneously, infers the extinction of the welfare state and the advent of a US-style residuum. The suspicion is that Blair is bowing to the perception that the views of Left and Right must, like the rich child and the poor, be equally indulged. In addition, political entrail-reading usefully magnifies the scope of what's really on offer. Baby bonds, and an allied savings scheme for poor adults, are a valuable gesture, but a tiny one. Suggesting that they are the foundation of a DIY society is as unrealistic as hoping to buy Chatsworth with Green Shield stamps. Last week, Blair's personal think tank filled in the gaps on an anti-poverty strategy. The Performance and Innovation Unit urged him to increase income and inheritance tax and end the middle-class stranglehold on getting the best education. A meritocratic society depended, it said, on high social mobility and the absence of any association between class and opportunity. Such truisms bear repetition in a week when Blair plans to stick to his 1997 pledge not to put up income tax while his 'People's Peers', a Gilbert and Sullivan array of toffery, make the notion of democratic appointments look risible. As for baby bonds, the enthusiasm of its reception should make Labour bolder and less disingenuous. Though the sketch is vague and the budget small, we would love it to work. But voters also know that children's lives cannot be transformed unless direct taxes rise. Blair should flesh out his trust plan, reform the Social Fund, step up the crusade to end child poverty by 2020 and concede that notions of forging equality on the cheap belong in the realm of storks and gooseberry bushes." 5 (maryriddell) 0 (Politics) "Robin cook likes a curry. I remember sitting opposite him in the Foreign Office canteen one lunchtime, watching him demolish a pile of tweed-coloured slurry draped over a gaudy heap of pilau rice. Personal preference may have informed his decision to spurn the Chinese takeaway (its image dented by foot and mouth) or the doner kebab (never a winner with the River Cafe set) and single out, during his speech to the Social Market Foundation, chicken tikka massala as a 'true British national dish'. How right Mr Cook is. There is something quintessentially British about the diner who piles out of the pub, 10 pints of lager to the wind, in search of an Indian meal to fortify him against a night of aggro. Nothing conjures up some aspects of our national culture more effectively than tanked-up, Union Jack-flapping soccer fans belting out the 1998 World Cup anthem of 'Vindaloo'. Even at the genteel end of the market, the flock wallpaper and acid lighting of the average high-street Indian takeaway evoke exhausting hours and low pay for its staff rather than get-ahead vibrancy. Cook might have been on safer ground if he had stipulated stuffed crust pizza or pot noodles as our culinary emblem of multiculturalism. Alternatively, he could have recalled that politicians seeking to unfurl a vision of a certain type of Britain rarely sound convincing, whether their theme is cricket on the village green and spinsters cycling to Communion or an ode to an onion bhaji. Still, in some ways, the Baldwin of Brick Lane was successful. Given the febrile mood of the Opposition, all antidotes to racism are welcome. As a bonus, Cook's catchy way into the race debate provoked predictable and gravy-curdling wrath from beef Wellington fans incensed by his statement that there was no such thing as an 'ethnically pure' British race. Smoking out racism, in the Tory party and its supporters, would be more rewarding, but for the fact that the cheerleaders for Anglo-Saxon purity are so pathetic. John Townend was unknown before his recent anti-immigrant speech. Sir Richard Body, author of the xenophobically titled book, England For the English , exudes as much Powellite menace as Peter Rabbit. James Cran and Eric Forth, opponents of the Commission for Racial Equality's code of electoral conduct, hardly add up to Jorg Haider and Jean-Marie Le Pen. Michael Portillo, the most senior non-signatory, is not a racist but a tactically- brilliant Judas whose gesture will endear him to all those Tories who cannot decide whether William Hague or the bossy CRE appals them more. Hague is not a racist either. He is something almost worse, an opportunist who decided that it would be useful to mimic one. Hence his 'foreign land' speech, his authorisation of a leaflet on 'bogus asylum-seekers' and his swipe against the Macpherson Report. Some time ago, Andrew Lansley, the former Tory election strategist, told this newspaper that 'immigration played particularly well in the tabloids in the 1992 general election' and 'has more potential to hurt'. Now the pain is all Hague's. His attempt to be both asylum-seekers' scourge and immigrants' champion looks as fake as Lansley's assertion that his leader never played the race card. Of course he did, but so has Cook; not through his message but by his omissions. In particular, his cosy, curry-house scenario seemed oddly pitched in the week when white and Asian communities in the north of England went to war. Whatever racial unrest exists in Britain today is less a product of Tory rants than of the reality of life in Britain under a Labour administration which, as the Foreign Secretary did not say, has too often been a poor deliverer on issues involving race. Foot-dragging over the promised review of the iniquitous voucher scheme for asylum-seekers continues. The wider policy shambles has prompted the Council of Europe to castigate Britain for its treatment of migrants. While Hague might have been even harsher, the measure must be outcome, not intent. Cook, like all his senior colleagues, is a committed anti-racist. Personal credo does not, however, entitle him or any of them to paint a vista of a wish-list Utopia and pass it off as the real thing. Modern Britain, however tolerant and well-integrated, is far from a frictionless haven. As Ofsted discovered last year, the failure gap between Afro-Caribbean and Pakistani pupils and their white counterparts is nearly double that of a decade ago. Students from ethnic minorities have a much lower chance of getting a job than white graduates. In one recent week on BBC2, the only non-white faces in the channel's top 10 programmes (combined viewing figures of 33 million) were those of cartoon characters in The Simpsons. While government cannot be held responsible for who joins Charlie Dimmock on Ground Force , there is, in areas it can influence, too great a mismatch between rhetoric and results. Despite the eagerness by Jack Straw and the Metropolitan police commissioner to apply the findings of Sir William Macpherson, old tensions reappear as the second anniversary of the report approaches. In Bradford last week, a fight at a Hindu wedding erupted into a car-burning, window-smashing, battle between white and Asian youths which echoed the devastating 1995 riot. In Oldham, the tribal battles between young Bangladeshi and Pakistani men have mutated into a new delineation of aggression. According to police, more than half of the 572 racist attacks recorded in the town during the last year have been against whites. However the battle lines are drawn, the causes remain a constant dirge of unemployment, overcrowding and bleak futures. An exponential rise in the nationwide reporting of racist crime, up by 107 per cent over 12 months, no longer looks like Macpherson-inspired openness. It looks like more racist crime. That is not to criticise Sir William or those who seek to implement his recommendations. It is to say that there is a vast, unbridged gulf between semantics and solutions. Presentationally the Government (asylum-seekers apart) has been a model of correctness, but signatures on CRE declarations and benedictions to Macpherson are the easy bits. They are also camouflage on the uncomfortable reality that, at a time when racial harmony is lauded and the economy is strong, too little has been achieved. The conditions that create inner-city brawlers and school failures are also the complex issues of economic and social polarisation that fail to interest the Tories. The measure of their cynicism is that both Hague and Portillo have now, in different ways, mortgaged race issues to personal ambition. As for the Government, Robin Cook's vision of a multicultural nation sitting down to break poppadoms together does not quite reflect a landscape in which teachers, police officers, politicians and the judiciary remain disproportionately white. A Conservative Party that shows no sign of being in a position to ensure that such unfairness prevails looks less worrying than the prospect of a second-term government failing to alchemise its wishes on racial equality into results. Squandered influence is always more dangerous than none." 6 (nickcohen) 0 (Politics) "Yesterday, about 300 hunts were roaming Britain. If you saw one, you may have wondered if parliament truly had banned hunting with dogs a year ago. Almost everything would have looked as it had always done. Perhaps a few of the hunters would have set off early to lay a trail and one of them could have been carrying a falcon. But the riders would still have charged over the fields and their dogs would still have chased any fox that crossed their path.The anti-hunting law that aroused so much passion is now producing contempt and indifference. Only one hunt has closed and hunters behave as if the 700 hours of parliamentary debate that preceded the ban was so much wasted breath. Those of us who weren't caught up by the passions of either side are seeing the obvious flaw in the legislation work itself out.The difficulty was always that the anti-hunters weren't trying to protect foxes, but punish a particular type of hunter: the caricature Tory toff with a red coat and redder face. As foxes go for lambs and chickens, parliament couldn't declare them a protected species and be done with it. So today, a farmer can still shoot or snare a fox, but if he goes after it with more than two dogs, the police will arrest him. That's the theory. In practice, the police have arrested hardly anyone.Lord knows, I find the class hatred behind the hunting of the hunters easy to understand. Britain is the only rich country not to have had a modern revolution. In France, America, even Ireland, hunting arouses no great opposition because the aristocracy's estates were broken up in the 18th and 19th centuries, or were never there in the first place, in the case of America.The typical continental smallholding, with a few acres on which the owner can do as he or she pleases, is a rarity here. This land is not our land but the property of great families or the Forestry Commission and the National Trust. Naturally, its owners are resented. I also understand how after 18 years of Conservative rule, Labour MPs wanted to get their own back on the Tories and, indeed, on Tony Blair, who had made them to give up so much they held dear. Nevertheless, their vengeance is looking futile: a pretence that the parliamentary Labour party could still fight a war Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair had won. The MPs who forced through the ban are starting to resemble an old drunk pretending to be tough by flailing his fists in the air.Because their leglisation would not and could not protect foxes per se, hunters are exploiting all kinds of loopholes. As there is no ancient hatred of falconry in Britain, parliament allowed falconers to set off with an unlimited number of dogs to flush out mammals for birds of prey to swoop on. All right, said the hunts, we'll take a falcon with us.The law says the police have to prove that hunters intended to set their dogs on a fox, otherwise they would have to prosecute a pet owner whose dogs bolted in the country and killed a fox. All right, said the hunts, we will lay a trail for the hounds to follow and if they run off after a fox, we can say our intention was to have a drag hunt, not a fox hunt.The current issue of Horse & Hound contains an interview with one Graham Sirl, who says he despises the League Against Cruel Sports and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for running a lavish campaign that has now produced 'absolutely zero'.No surprise that Horse & Hound should condemn the ban as an absurd waste of parliament's time, you might think. And it wouldn't be surprising if Graham Sirl wasn't a former chief officer of the League Against Cruel Sports. He's not alone in giving up on the cause he once championed.In the past decade, the league has lost two chief executives, two chairmen, one treasurer and one regional head. All of them concluded that an effective ban would lead to the slaughter of foxes by farmers with guns who no longer wanted to keep them alive for the hunts to chase. I cannot think of another protest group that has seen so many of its officers go over to the other side. It is as if senior staff of Greenpeace regularly joined the board of Texaco.The people who are at the league, for the time being at any rate, told me they expected the police to collect evidence that the hunts are intentionally breaking the law and bring prosecutions soon. If they don't, their ban will join Margaret Thatcher's prohibition of the promotion of homosexuality and Jack Straw's curfews for children in that list of fatuous legislation that was designed to make vocal minorities feel good and succeeded only in bringing the law into disrepute.<b> A good man done down by ideology</b>It has long been the case that universities which depend on free speech have contained too many intellectuals who are ready to censor and howl down others. The forced resignation of Larry Summers as president of Harvard, however, takes the treason of the clerks to a new level.His critics hounded him out for being a sexist who believed that nature had made men better engineers and physicists than women. Even the BBC reported last week that he faced a second no-confidence vote because he had said women had less 'intrinsic aptitude' than men for science.He said nothing of the sort. What he did do, in January last year, was go into a long and complicated discussion about why there were more men than women at the very top in maths and physics. He was talking about the few thousand people in the world who understand, say, string theory and wondering aloud if nature or nurture accounted for the sexual imbalance.Maybe nature matters at the highest levels, or maybe breaks for childbirth and social pressures that push young women away from studying science fully explain the difference. Even if he got the emphasis wrong, it ought to a legitimate area for debate. But his enemies didn't want inquiries of any sort. They spun his remarks and pretended he had said that any woman mathematician or physicist had less intrinsic aptitude for science than a bloke in the pub, which is clearly nonsense.That their campaign was successful throws a little light on the cowardly response to the threats against Danish cartoonists from murderous tyrants and religious fruitcakes. When the intellectuals whose livelihoods depend on free thought won't stand up for it, why shouldn't editors and governments follow their lead and abase themselves before fanatics?<b>Oh Huhne, my hero</b>Who can save Britain from her many troubles? We need a leader who is strong and brave and can see through problems with X-ray vision.For years, Chris Huhne roared round London in his company BMW as if it were a Bondmobile with lead-free petrol.Last week, he suggested another comparison when he told the Mirror that his mother, Ann Murray, was an actress who had played Clark Kent's mother in one of the Superman movies.He was 'rather vague about which of the Superman films she was in,' the Mirror noted, and I couldn't find one with an Ann Murray in the cast list.On no account should this apparent lapse stop the Liberal Democrats making Huhne their leader. He may not be able to play the superhero, but he is shaping up to be a fine comic turn." 6 (nickcohen) 0 (Politics) "I know your New Year's Day will not be complete until you have heard my predictions for 2006, so let me put you out of your misery. David Cameron's bubble will burst when the public realises he's a PR man flogging a shabby brand. Tony Blair will stay Prime Minister after a crash in the property market triggers a classic deflationary spiral that shreds Gordon Brown's reputation for fiscal competence.There will be a few jolly diversions from mass unemployment. Margaret Drabble and the Archbishop of Canterbury will stun literary London and the General Synod of the Church of England when they appear on I'm a Celebrity... In sport, Laughing Boy will delight the bookies when he comes in at 100-1 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Meanwhile in America, Congress will impeach George W Bush after he...I could go on. As I write, I'm aware that all around me, my colleagues are going on. Read the comment pages of the newspapers or listen to radio presenters giving soft interviews to their fellow journalists and a fair chunk of what you will get is Mystic Meggery. It is hard enough to find out what has happened or is happening, and yet a cocksure media devote an unwarranted amount of time to announcing what will happen.We are not alone. Interest rates and fiscal policy are determined by the Bank of England's and Treasury's economic forecasts. Clairvoyants in the City direct their investors' money to companies that are themselves predicting what new lines will sell. The lives of British troops depend on predictions of the likely behaviour of Baathist and al-Qaeda terrorists. Forecasting is the motor which drives politics, economics, foreign policy and industry, while our private happiness can be determined by predictions on whether he or she will say 'yes' if we ask for a date.The mania for prophesy is easy to explain. You have to make guesses about the future to know what to do in the present. The same magical status the Romans gave the keepers of the sacred chickens goes to those who make a career out of it, so there is a strong incentive to pretend you have second sight.But here is something harder to understand. I know a lot about British politics and have only a passing interest in racing. The odds are, however, that I am more likely to get the winner of the Gold Cup right than foresee who will be in Downing Street next Christmas. Actually, it could be worse than that. My political predictions may be more reliable if I made random guesses than if I sat down and drew on my expertise.I can at least foretell my failings with confidence because of a remarkable study by Professor Philip E Tetlock of Berkeley University in California. Expert Political Judgment has been 20 years in the making. He began work in the Cold War when the future of the human race depended on predictions about how the Soviet Union would behave. Liberals lambasted Ronald Reagan for upping the pressure on the communists and warned that his arms race would lead to nuclear annihilation.Not so, as it turned out. Soviet power collapsed. Conservative hawks would have had every right to be satisfied had they not completely failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union because they refused to take Mikhail Gorbachov's reforms seriously.Tetlock finished his work during the Iraq crisis in which intelligence agencies failed to predict that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction worthy of the name. Liberal doves would have had every reason to be satisfied had not they completely failed to predict the success of the Iraqi elections.Over the decades in between, 284 experts in academia, government, think tanks and the media helped by giving him 83,361 forecasts not only on the future of the Soviet Union and American policy in the Gulf, but also on dozens of other public policy issues. They covered everything from the likelihood of Pakistan and North Korea obtaining nuclear weapons to whether Aids or refugee movements would create a humanitarian crisis; from how technology firms would perform in the dotcom bubble to whether countries would abide by their Kyoto commitments to limit greenhouse gases.Tetlock's research reached a blunt conclusion. A chimpanzee throwing darts at a dartboard with a selection of answers pinned to it was more likely to get it right than an eminent professor or distinguished pundit. Indeed, the more eminent the experts, the more likely they were to be wrong. Knowing a little was often better than knowing a lot, and specialisation in the minutiae of a subject was subject to the law of diminishing returns. Because experts invested so much energy in attaining knowledge, they could not accept thoughts that contradicted what they had learnt and staked their reputations on.To prove his point, Tetlock tells the story of students at Yale who had to guess where a laboratory rat would find food in maze. The rat won by a comfortable margin because the answer was stupidly simple. Pride handicapped the humans. The setters of their test made sure that none of the complicated mathematical formulas they had acquired could explain where the food was likely to be.The worst forecasters were those who appeared most often in the media. As anyone who has been on television knows, it fosters a manic egotism. Otherwise well-balanced people are filled with bombastic certainty - 'David Cameron's bubble will burst' - and make spectacular forecasts that please the producers by grabbing the attention of channel-hopping viewers - 'the property market will crash', 'the Archbishop of Canterbury will appear on I'm a Celebrity'.Beyond egotism and pride lies political bias. People who hated Ronald Reagan and George W Bush predicted their policies would lead to disaster, just as those who hated the Soviet Union and Baathist Iraq predicted that all would be well. I think that submerged bias explains the popularity of prophesy among civil servants, academics and broadcasters. They have professional obligations to be neutral. They can get round them by pretending to be time travellers who go to the future and impartially report on the calamities that will befall the world if their partisan views are ignored.Tetlock dismisses the comforting notion that public life is 'a marketplace of ideas', in which the peddlers of daft predictions are exposed as frauds or fools. The market does not work because large parts of the audience want comfort rather than truth. For instance, I have a deep and just possibly irrational dislike of PRs - and Tories, now I come to think of it. Those among you who share it won't turn on me if David Cameron is a winner. On the contrary, you might well turn on me if I accurately predict that he will be Prime Minister in 2009.The above makes Tetlock sound like a bog-standard postmodernist who believes that there is no possibility of finding objective truth. He hasn't ended up in the mire of relativism because, among his experts, was a minority whose predictions were good. In Isaiah Berlin's division of intellectuals between the darting foxes who 'know many little things' and the solid ideological hedgehogs who 'know one big thing well', Tetlock says the foxes won hands down.Like a stopped clock, the ideologues may occasionally be right, and the foxes could end up baffled if they darted about too frantically. Overall, however, it was forecasters who drew 'from an eclectic array of traditions and accepted ambiguity and contradiction as inevitable features of life' who performed well.With lives and livelihoods at stake, his findings are worth noticing. Tetlock offers three pieces of advice to politicians and others who must decide if a prediction is likely to be true. First, civil servants, academics, spies and - may the Good Lord protect and preserve us - journalists should be judged by the accuracy of their previous forecasts. Second, an audience should ask itself how well a prophet's beliefs reflect observable reality. Finally, it should check that the prophet updates his or her beliefs in response to new evidence.His last recommendation is the most important in my view. 'When the facts change, I change my mind,' said JM Keynes. My only good piece of advice for 2006 is you shouldn't listen to those who don't." 6 (nickcohen) 0 (Politics) "The scandal of the moment is that Sir Mark Thatcher was arrested in Cape Town and is helping police with their inquiries into allegations that he helped finance a plot to overthrow the dictator of a miserable West African state which has no obvious attractions to the sons of Tory leaders other than enormous oil reserves. Among the alleged co-conspirators are Simon Mann, a mercenary and an old boy of Eton, Sandhurst and the SAS; David Hart, another old Etonian and one of the most ruthless operators of the Thatcher years; and Ely Calil, a British-based Lebanese tycoon who makes his money from the West African oil trade. As The Observer reported, Peter Mandelson, twice-sacked minister and EU commissioner, rented a flat from Calil. It was in Holland Park, a part of London so expensive I don't need to waste time describing where it is because you can never afford to live there. Mandelson had been forced to move to Calil's apartment after the press revealed that he had used a private loan from a fellow minister, Geoffrey Robinson, to buy his previous home in Notting Hill, another part of London you may as well forget about. Mandelson and the Lebanese oil baron have a common friend in James Palumbo, the upper-class owner of the Ministry of Sound who made tens of millions by slumming it in the pop business. While Mandelson was in Holland Park, he was forced to offer one of his many resignations after he was accused of lobbying on behalf of the billionaire Hinduja brothers, who were at the time up to their necks in the biggest arms scandal in the history of independent India. No one suggests that Mandelson has anything to do with the alleged African conspiracy. What's telling is that he has been mixing with very rich men, be they the friends of the Thatcher family, sprigs of the Palumbo family or the brothers from the Hinduja family. These are odd circles to find a Labour minister in. Let me put it to Labour readers like this: if you were invited to these people's parties, would you want to go? The scandal before the last scandal was the gossip about David Blunkett's love life. If he had behaved like a decent Labour politician and had an affair with the chairwoman of his constituency's Unison branch, it would have been a private matter. But after so many years of stealing Tory policies, New Labour has moved on to stealing Tory wives. His liaison was with Kimberly Fortier, the American publisher of the right-wing Spectator . Fortier set up home in Britain with her husband, the publisher of Vogue, in a 2 million town house in Mayfair, yet another of those central London districts you can't afford to think about. Blunkett had a romantic retreat on the Chatsworth estate of Deborah 'Debo' Mitford, the dowager Duchess of Devonshire, who, I should add in mitigation, was one of the few Mitford sisters who wasn't actually a Nazi. Again there is a jolting sense of dislocation. Blunkett constantly plays the prolier-than-thou card against anyone who questions his attacks on civil liberties. His opponents are Hampstead bleeding-hearts, he bellows. Guardian -reading girls' blouses who don't know what hard men forged in the furnaces of Sheffield must do to clear the mean streets of crime. But when his day's work is over, he dismisses bourgeois Hampstead as too common for his refined tastes and heads up-market to the aristocratic attractions of Mayfair and Chatsworth; to parties at the Spectator and dinners with Barbara Amiel. He shows no signs of worry that the company he keeps may mark him as a stonking humbug. Before the last two scandals, there was the one about Tony Blair choosing to accept a free holiday from Silvio Berlusconi, a billionaire who has bought the Italian media and politics as a job lot. Before that there were Lakshmi Mittal, Enron, Arthur Andersen, Ecclestone. The common thread is money: old money, new money, funny money - and the peculiar individuals who get and spend it. You had better get used to seeing politicians partying with money in all its guises. Learning to love the rich may soon become the only way for politicians to survive. Last week the Electoral Commission released its latest report on party political funding. Quite rightly there was a great deal of interest in the coincidence of Paul Drayson, a biotechnology entrepreneur, giving 500,000 to New Labour six weeks after New Labour made him a life peer. But focusing on the details of one case misses the wider trend: British public life is increasingly dependent on the grace and favour of the super-rich. Such has been the accumulation of wealth at the top, the parties no longer have a financial need for mass memberships. Dr Peter Facey, director of the New Politics Network, a think-tank which monitors the cash flows, adds that for all the talk of the corporate takeover of government, they don't need corporations' money either. Donations from big business have, in fact, all but disappeared. The rich are now so rich they no longer have to go to the trouble of persuading directors and shareholders to authorise a payment from company funds when they can pay it from the petty cash. In the last three months of 2003, for instance, Labour received 4.1 million. About 1.85m came from its traditional source, the trade unions, which can't donate without the approval of their members. The union contribution was matched by the personal presents of three men - Sir Christopher Ondaatje CBE, Lord Paul Hamlyn and William Haughey OBE - who gave 1.83m between them. Sir Christopher alone handed over 1m. Donations of this size aren't always dubious. Try as the media might, we haven't been able to find anyone with a bad word to say about Ondaatje. He's just a rich man who thinks that Tony Blair is an excellent Prime Minister and wants to help him fight elections. But you don't have to go back into the dealings around Ecclestone, Mittal and the rest to realise that the overall effect of the rise of the plutocracy is pernicious, even when it manifests itself in the amiable form of Ondaatje. Last week's figures showed that the UK Independence Party received more money than the Liberal Democrats in the run-up to June's European elections. Its good fortune wasn't the result of a surge in membership, but because a Yorkshire businessman, Paul Sykes, gave Ukip 715,000. Suppose that as well as hating Europe, Sykes despised gays and loathed fox hunters. Would Ukip's leaders and members dare risk losing his money by drawing-up a manifesto which was for homosexual equality and for fox hunting? Maybe they would, but it isn't over-cynical to believe Sykes has bought himself a party which would never dare cross him. It isn't just Ukip. Iain Duncan Smith's fate was sealed when Stuart Wheeler, the Conservative's biggest donor, said he wouldn't give a penny more to the party. When Duncan Smith was duly fired and Howard took over, the spread-betting tycoon opened his wallet and gave another 500,000. The Tories are no longer dependent on the support of business as a whole, but of one businessman, Wheeler, and a handful of like-minded tycoons. Think of how many raffles and discos ordinary party members would have to organise to raise Wheeler's 500,000, Sykes' 715,000 or Ondaatje's 1m. The result is a vicious circle. The big donors' big cheques go to the parties' headquarters in London. They strengthen the power of the centre, weaken local workers and fuel public suspicion of influence peddling. Party members sense their irrelevance. They drop out of politics and leave their parties more dependent on the big cheques from the big donors. Next month the Electoral Commission will offer its proposals for reform. I hope they suggest cutting the cost of politics by banning billboard advertising and offering all kinds of incentives to politicians to seek small donations from ordinary citizens. I hope they're ruthlessly radical because at the moment we're looking at a future where public life will inevitably be run by an ever-shrinking coterie. The Mandelsons and the Blunketts hang around the rich because they want to. Their successors may hang around the rich because they have to." 6 (nickcohen) 0 (Politics) "Just before the Leicester South by-election on 15 July a flier was slipped under the windscreen wipers of cars in the constituency. It showed a picture of Parmjit Singh Gill, the Liberal Democrat candidate, shaking the hand of one Stephanie Dearden. She looked odd, like a man: indeed, the flier told us, she once was a man. It announced in bold capitals that Singh Gill had joined the Liberal Democrats for GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL and TRANSGENDER Action. Underneath it quoted Ms Dearden as saying: 'I was born in 1956, and as a child growing up, I knew I was different than everyone else. As I got older I realised I was a woman trapped inside the wrong body ... I underwent a full sex change operation in 2002.' No one knows who put the leaflet out. It may have been a rival party. It may have been a freelance queer-basher who got his angry thrills by monitoring obscure trans-gender websites. But the message to working-class voters was that the Liberal Democrats were a bunch of weirdoes who hung out with lady-boys and shemales - an appeal to prejudice which echoes much of modern political propaganda. It's no secret who put out leaflets during the by-election held on the same day in Birmingham Hodge Hill which followed a West Midlands tradition of gutter politicians appealing to xenophobia. In 1964 the Tories secured a shock victory in Birmingham Smethwick with the catchy slogan of 'If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour'. In his 1968 'Rivers of Blood' speech to members of the West Midlands Conservative Political Centre, Enoch Powell attempted to turn the white working class from Labour by telling them that 'in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the upper hand over the white man'. It worked. Not only did he incite the mass beating of blacks and Asians, but Powell's racism helped the Tories win West Midland marginals and with them the 1970 general election. Before the 1997 election, Andrew Lansley, a Tory minister and born-again Christian, declared that immigration had hurt Labour in the past and has 'more potential to hurt' in the future. Nicholas Budgen, a wizened Powellite, took him at his word and tried to stop Labour taking Powell's old seat of Wolverhampton South West seat by running on an anti-wog ticket. Rather marvellously, he lost. And, equally marvellously, Tony Blair declared in his speech to the 2000 Labour Party Conference that he wanted nothing to do with such squalid politics. 'I know asylum is a problem and we are trying to deal with it, but if people want me to go out and exploit the asylum issue for reasons of race that we all know about, then vote for the other man because I will not do it.' But that was in 2000. In 2004, when it risked seeing the Liberals take Birmingham Hodge Hill, Labour reshuffled the pack and played the race card which had been played against it so many times before. Liam Byrne, the Labour candidate, told the voters, 'I know that people here are worried about fraudulent asylum claims and illegal immigration. Yet the Lib Dems ignore what people say. They ignore what local people really want. The Lib Dems want to keep giving welfare benefits to failed asylum seekers. They voted for this in Parliament on 1 March 2004. They want your money -and mine - to go to failed asylum seekers.' Labour didn't mention that the disputed measure was a plan to take the children of asylum seekers from their parents and put them into care, which Michael Howard had denounced as 'despicable'. The leaflet implied that Byrne was a comrade of the working class rather than a former City slicker who made his pile as an accountant at Andersons Consulting and a banker at NM Rothschild. 'I know what you want,' he cried. 'Someone who is tough and on your side. Someone who wants the same as you. And I do. I want to push my new baby's buggy along the road without having to face a gang of youths spitting and swearing.' Who would want that? But I suspect that the babies of former employees of Rothschilds don't have to endure too many tours of the Birmingham slums. In Fairness, the Liberal Democrats often provoke their opponents into going over the top. They pose as saints while fighting campaigns which are as dirty as anything Labour or the Tories can manage - often dirtier. They shift their shape depending on which constituency they're contesting. Are they right or left? Pro-privatisation or anti? For the overthrow of Saddam Hussein if the weapons inspectors had been given more time, or against?Answers to these questions have more to do with geography than ideology. For the duration of a campaign, the Liberal Democrats are whatever a contested constituency wants them to be.Thus in Hodge Hill, a Lib Dem leaflet sent to predominantly Muslim wards featured a picture of Charles Kennedy surrounded by Asians. The same leaflet was pushed through the doors of predominantly white wards, but only after a quick bout of ethnic cleansing at the printers had removed all trace of the brown faces.And, as I'm incessantly told, it's true that the right-thinking, left-leaning middle classes need to think carefully before dismissing New Labour's crime and asylum policies as stunts used by the powerful to con the powerless into voting for them. (They still are, but we'll leave that for another day.)Crime rates may have collapsed, but the sale of council houses has meant that some of the nastiest families in the country are concentrated in the remaining estates. Asylum seekers, like prisoners released on licence and the mentally ill being cared for in the 'community', are also sent to the poorest neighbourhoods least able to cope with them.But when all the caveats have been made, having a rich man rouse popular passions by posing as a commoner helped Labour hang on to Hodge Hill, and is a sign of what's to come. You can expect a lot more in the Byrne style in the run-up to the election.The Hartlepool by-election will come first. The Tories are out of it, as they are out of most things, and once again Labour isn't fighting the Lib Dems on its impressive economic record. Instead it's following the pattern of Hodge Hill and accusing its rivals of being soft on drugs, soft on pornography, soft on teen gangs and soft on crack houses. Typical of the guff was Labour's claim that the Lib Dem lawyer candidate had made 'excuses for junkies', because she had once represented heroin addicts in court.Barristers have to take whatever cases are allocated to them. By Labour's logic Cherie Blair is a supporter of the poll tax because she once represented councils seeking to extract money from protestors who couldn't or wouldn't pay.I shouldn't have to add that raising prejudices by banging on about crime and race are the desperate strategies of right-wing parties with their backs to the wall, and you might have expected an uprising from within the Labour ranks.But where is a principled opposition to come from? From the Labour left? At the time of the Hodge Hill election Ken Livingstone was embracing as a comrade Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a 'moderate' Muslim leader, whose Islam Online website supports the murder of Israeli civilians because 'on the hour of judgment, Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them'; describes homosexuality as an 'evil and unnatural practice', which can only be stopped when Islamic society is cleansed of its 'perverted elements'; says rape victims must carry a portion of the guilt if they dress 'immodestly'; and advises that a husband may beat his wife 'lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts'.The new Respect Party, which boldly proclaims itself to be a left-wing alternative to Labour, is as willing to ally with religious barbarism and the enemies of the Enlightenment as Livingstone, and is led by George Galloway, a man who flew to Baghdad to greet a fascist dictator with: 'Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.'These are paradoxical times. The Conservative Party is nowhere, but conservative ideas are everywhere, not least on a left whose manic skid to the far right makes the slipperiness of the Liberal Democrats and the willingness of Labour to betray its principles appear modest changes of position in comparison." 6 (nickcohen) 0 (Politics) "Every summer the graduates of Britain's universities decide what to do with their lives. As in previous years, thousands will have rejected the ideals of public service and the excitement of setting-up their own businesses and decided instead to fill the gaps in the ranks of Britain's 250,000 accountants.Britain has as many as the rest of the EU put together, and it's easy to see why. There's no state-guaranteed monopoly for engineers, factory workers, call-centre girls, small businessmen or women, computer programmers, inventors or any other wealth-creating trade. Indeed, when the working population's jobs head east they are told in thunderous voices that their sloth is being deservedly punished by the wrathful gods of the marketplace. But auditing can't go east. Every institution in Britain has to have its books audited by a member of one of the British accountancy associations.In theory they are the police officers of finance, forever on the lookout fraud and gross incompetence. In practice they differ from the police in one respect. Detectives are not allowed to sell 'extra services' to potential criminals. They might think twice before breaking up an international cocaine-smuggling racket if their force relied on that same ring for a large slice of its income. No similar pettifogging concerns about conflicts of interest constrain the accountancy racket. Accountants are free to sell advice on how to install IT or avoid taxes to the very managers they are meant to be policing on behalf of pension funds and employees. If they blow the whistle, they might lose the contracts, so the whistle has a tendency to stay in the pocket. It shouldn't be a surprise to learn that British accountants make a comfortable living. Management Today found that the average annual pay packet of British accountants in 2001 came to$117,000 (82,000), which was way ahead of their nearest rivals in Europe, the Swiss, who struggled to get by on $73,000 (51,000). Thrusting graduates have always aimed to hack their way to the top of one of the 'Big Four' accountancy firms - PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst &amp; Young, KPMG or Deloitte - which dominate the global and British markets. The most ambitious will hope one day to emulate Mike Rake, the head of KPMG, who last year received a 45 per cent pay rise to take his salary to 2.4 million. 'What do you spend it on?' a reporter from the Sunday Times asked. 'Sixteen polo ponies,' Rake replied.In the past, Rake and his colleagues were partners who had unlimited liability for their partnership's debts. Like the Lloyd's names, they put everything they owned on the line, and their exposure must have caused the odd sleepless nights. Auditors had approved the accounts of Robert Maxwell, Polly Peck, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Enron, WorldCom, Equitable Life and many another grotesquely mismanaged company. Until New Labour came to power the threat that Rake and his fellow partners might be sued for presiding over a disaster should have troubled even the self-confident head of KPMG. Everything, the pied--terre in London, the home in Henley-on-Thames, the villa in Spain and the 16 polo ponies, could have gone. The example of Arthur Andersen provided a terrible warning. The Big Four were once the Big Five until Andersen approved the accounts of Enron and WorldCom and earned the imperishable distinction of failing to notice that the first and second biggest frauds in human history were going on under its nose. Andersen went bust because, understandably, no reputable organisation would go near it. The Bush administration reacted by making it all but impossible for auditors to sell other services to clients in the United States. What if Parliament was to enforce the same regulations here? If Enron wasn't bad enough, what of the policy holders of Equitable Life who are suing Ernst &amp; Young for several billion for their failure to warn that the mutual was heading towards a financial calamity? I don't know if Rake suffers from panic attacks. If he does, he will at least be able to reassure himself on one point: however calamitously the accountancy giants audit British business, his polo ponies will be safe. As this column has noted before, the most striking vice of New Labour is not its friendship with business - all modern governments have to make friends with business - but its anxiety to acquaint itself with the most notorious capitalists: the Mittals, the Hindujas, the Murdochs and, now I think of it, the Arthur Andersens. The Tories had banned Andersen from receiving government contracts after its perennially myopic auditors had failed to spot that tax-payers money was disappearing by the boot load from the DeLorean car plant in Belfast. Andersen responded by sucking-up to New Labour and waiting for a change of regime. Patricia Hewitt was hired by its consulting arm. Andersen's services were offered free of charge to Labour when it was in Opposition. When Tony Blair won the 1997 election, the unpleasantness about DeLorean was tidied away and government contracts began to flow Andersen's way again. In 2000, the government bowed to a long campaign by the accountancy giants and limited their liability. Partners could protect themselves by changing their partnership into a limited company. Better still, they could still be partners and retain all the tax advantages and freedom from public scrutiny partnerships brought until they were successfully sued - when they would be able to claim the immunities of the directors of limited companies. The personal assets of the partners - the pads in Chelsea, the piles in the Chilterns - couldn't be seized by bailiffs whatever alternative they choose. The old wisdom about never giving into bullies has held true. The Big Four weren't satisfied with the government's gracious treatment and upped their demands. With personal liability gone, they now want a cap on the damages their firms can be required to pay for negligence or fraud. If they don't get it, they warn that one of their number could go bust. The Big Four would become the Big Three and the group would offer an even less competitive service to the business world. As Rake put it, business 'can't afford to lose another accountancy firm'. From inside the City the apparently outrageous demand for benefit of the clergy for accountants makes a kind of sense. What, after all, are the Big Four worth? Their offices in central London should be fetch a fair price, and photocopiers, computer terminals and the rest. But what was the main asset, the unlimited liability of the partners to meet debts, was removed by an obliging Labour government. A successful action by Equitable Life against Ernst &amp; Young could close it down because Ernst &amp; Young may no longer have the assets to redress the claims of the victims of its alleged ineptitude.Needless to say, Patricia Hewitt's Department of Trade and Industry has been convinced and is all for going along with the Big Four's demands for lame duck accountants to be protected as an endangered species. But the rest of us may wonder that if claims for damages against accountancy firms can be capped, why shouldn't claims against any other business capped? Or claims against trade unions? Or hospitals? Or you? Or me? What incentive will there be for auditors to improve on their lamentable record if they receive fresh privileges? If they are hired by another Maxwell, why should they be any more concerned now about protecting pensioners from penury than they were in the 1980s?These columns normally end with a lament about the general worthlessness of New Labour's unprincipled ninnies. But for once there's a faint whiff of hope in the air. Last week the Office of Fair Trading said words to the effect that the Big Four should stop taking the mickey. Meanwhile institutional investors are lobbying against auditors being placed beyond the full reach of the law. According to rumour, they've been joined by Gordon Brown's Treasury. If the rumour is true, then delegates preparing for the Labour Party Conference should consider asking the Chancellor to overcome his notorious politeness and put Ms Hewitt in her place. The Labour Party wasn't founded to create a Milton Friedman world of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor; where Mike Rake keeps his polo ponies while savers with Equitable Life lose their pensions." 6 (nickcohen) 0 (Politics) "With the Hutton Report due in weeks and Blair's future in the balance, it has never been more important to stay abreast of the news. Traditionally, the editor either instructs newsagents not to sell the paper to readers who score 10 or below in the annual quiz, or, if he's in a bad mood, persuades David Blunkett to intern them in Belmarsh. Not this year. He recognises that it's been all but impossible to keep up in 2003 and believes that anyone who has kept up deserves a medal. He is therefore delighted to announce that he has OBEs for the first 25 readers to get all the answers right. (They can be returned, at no cost to sender, within 10 days, if you are not fully satisfied with any aspect of local, national or international politics.) <B>The End of Tony Blair?</B> <B> 1</B> While Downing Street was compiling its dossier on Iraq's 'region-threatening' arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, which Blair aide asked Alastair Campbell, 'Alastair, what will be the headline in the Standard [London Evening Standard] on the day of publication?' <B> 2</B> Which newspaper had the headline '45 Minutes From Attack' on the day of the dossier's publication? <B> 3</B> Months after a war in which Saddam didn't fire chemical weapons in 45 minutes (or 45 hours or 45 days for that matter), who said he was confident the claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction ready to fire in 45 minutes 'was accurate and that the use made of it was entirely consistent with the original report'? <B> 4</B> Why was this worrying? <B> 5</B> Who admitted he knew that his government's claim that Saddam could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes referred only to battlefield shells, not long-range weapons that might spread destruction across the Middle East and even hit British bases in Cyprus as the press reported? <B> 6</B> Why on earth didn't he try to correct what was an honest error on the press's part and stop the public being misled? <B> 7</B> Tony Blair said that 'people know Europe needs America, and I believe America needs Europe too'. Who dismissed the idea and revealed the true balance of power in the 'special relationship' when he said that if Britain pulled out of the war 'there are workarounds' and the US had the forces to go into Iraq on its own? <B> 8</B> Who said in July he had played no part in the naming of David Kelly? <B> 9</B> According to Sir Kevin Tebbit, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, who chaired the meeting where the decision to leak Dr Kelly's name was taken? <B> 10</B> On 27 June, who told Alastair Campbell: 'You well know that it is a matter of principle for us not to reveal our sources'? <B> 11</B> On 14 July, who privately told a Liberal Democrat member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that Dr Kelly had been the source of 'my colleague Susan Watts, science editor of Newsnight '? <B> 12</B> On 15 July, when he was asked by the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee what lessons he had learned, whose last words in public were: 'Never to talk to a journalist again, I think'? <B>The Death of Anti-Fascism</B> <B> 13</B> Which scientist showed he couldn't spot the difference between fascism and a fast-food restaurant when he told the Independent that to say the overthrow of a fascist regime justified war was the logical equivalent of saying that 'improvement in children's diet' justified blowing-up McDonald's? <B> 14</B> Which scientist avoided that category error when he told the Guardian that 'Saddam destroyed our lives and not the lives of people sitting comfortably in England. What he means to us Iraqis is completely different from what he means to you. You can't begin to understand. I was eight years old when Saddam came to power, and now I am 43. I feel that my life has been stolen from me.' <B> 15</B> Which impersonator of Tony Blair, acclaimed by critics and public alike for his national television shows which attacked Blair's subservience to Bush, said he was fighting the PM's 'moral imperialism'? <B> 16</B> Which impersonator of Saddam Hussein, who was banned from Iraqi television, said of the death squad sent to assassinate him: 'Fortunately the guys were all arrested [by Kurdish freedom fighters]. They were found carrying a list. All our names were on it'? <B> 17</B> <ul>They read good books, and quote,<br> but never learn a language other than the scream of rocket-burn. <br> Our straighter talk is drowned but ironclad: <br> elections, money, empire, oil and Dad. </ul>Which poet wrote the above in 'Causa Belli' in January, as Her Majesty's armed forces prepared for battle? <B> 18</B> In April, as Saddam fled from Baghdad, which poet brought up a cause of the conflict missed by his English colleague and wrote these prescient lines in his 'Runaway President'? <ul>O runaway president <br> Listen just once in your life <br> If you have escaped the trap this time <br> I can assure you it will not be for long <br> Even this temporary safety is misleading <br> It is deadlier if you think about it <br> Fear will suck dry your red cells <br> And sooner rather than later <br> You will waste away <br> First you lose interest in your appearance <br> Then you will find no need to shave <br> And like exposed garbage you will start to stink </ul> <B> 19</B> Which playwright, who wept buckets for the victims of a genocidal regime when Saddam was a de facto ally of Britain and America in the 1980s, wrote in 2003? <ul> Dear President Bush, <br> I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments. </ul> <B> 20</B> Who said? <ul> Where are these friends now? Regrettably, many are denouncing a war that would liberate Iraq. Like those [in power] who shunned us in the Eighties, some of our former friends find the martyrdom of the Iraqi people to be an irritant. They avert their eyes from the grisly truth of our suffering, while claiming concern at the human cost of war. </ul> <B> Business as usual </B> <B> 21</B> Who described Charles Kennedy's proposal to fund universities by taxing the rich rather than the young as 'completely unfair'? <B> 22</B> Which Canadian tycoon said in his 1993 autobiography that he had ignored the 'deafening chorus of scandalised self-righteousness' from 'faddish groupies' and Ontario's 'yuppie-ridden lumpen proletariat' and sacked shop workers from a store he owned because 'a minority [had] since time immemorial, stolen more each year than the profit attributable to the shareholders'? <B> 23 </B> In 2003, which Canadian tycoon was the subject of an American Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into allegations that he used shareholders' money to fund 19 million of unauthorised executive payments, a monthly tab at Le Cirque 2000 restaurant in New York, an apartment in Park Avenue, New York, an 11-bedroom mansion in Kensington, a butler, a chef, a chauffeur, a maid and a vintage Rolls-Royce? <B> 24</B> Who, after writing in 'Bought and Sold' that... <ul> The ancestors would turn graves <br>Those poor black folk that once were slaves would wonder <br>How our souls were sold <br>And check our strategies, <br>The empire strikes back and waves <br>Tamed warriors bow on parades <br>When they have done what they've been told <br>They get their OBEs </ul>... was offered an OBE? <B> 25</B> After he had refused it on many grounds, not least that the Civil Service clearly hadn't read his poems, who then returned her MBE as a protest against the Government's treatment of asylum-seekers, the Iraq war and the behaviour of the House of Windsor (while conceding that the honours lists included 'little people - nurses, community activists, dinner ladies - for whom such recognition is priceless')? <B> 26</B> Who then wrote to the press saying that she may return her OBE because 'the idea of a vainglorious parade [for the victorious England rugby team] is exclusive of the whole ethnic-minority population of this island and redolent of Anglo-Saxon imperialism'? <B> 27</B> Is it socially acceptable for anyone other than 'little people' to accept an honour? <B> Tiebreaker </B> <B> 28</B> Who was Iain Duncan Smith? <br><br> <b>Answers</b> <B> 1</B> Jonathan Powell <br><B> 2</B> The Standard <br> <b>3</b> Sir Richard Dearlove <br><B> 4</B> He's the head of MI6 <br><B> 5</B> Geoff Hoon <br><B> 6</B> Because 'my experience is that, generally speaking, newspapers are resistant to corrections' <br><B> 7</B> Donald Rumsfeld <br><B> 8</B> Tony Blair <br><B> 9</B> Tony Blair <br><B> 10</B> Richard Sambrook, director of BBC News <br><B> 11</B> Andrew Gilligan, BBC defence correspondent <br><B> 12</B> Dr David Kelly, BBC source <br><B> 13</B> Professor Richard Dawkins, University of Oxford <br><B> 14</B> Dr Mohamed Ahmed Salih, University of Baghdad <br><B> 15</B> Rory Bremner <br><B> 16</B> Mahir Hassan Rashid <br><B> 17</B> Andrew Motion, Her Majesty's poet laureate <br><B> 18</B> Salah Niazi, Iraqi poet, who can be read via www.opendemocracy.net <br><B> 19</B> Harold Pinter <br><B> 20</B> Barham Salih, Kurdish socialist leader <br><B> 21</B> Tony Blair <br><B> 22</B> Conrad Black <br><B> 23</B> Conrad Black <br><B> 24</B> Benjamin Zephaniah, poet <br><B> 25</B> Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, pundit <br><B> 26</B> Elsie Owusu, architect. (Only she was thinking nothing of the sort. The letter was a forgery) <br><B> 27</B> No it is not <br><B> 28 </B> Leader of the British Conservative Party (2001-03)" 6 (nickcohen) 0 (Politics) "As the stock market crash makes comparisons with 1929 seem too plausible for comfort, the Government has acted decisively. It doesn't want to protect the owners of pensions and endowments, who have seen their savings slashed. Rather, it wants to shield the 'Big Four' accountancy conglomerates, which presided over the frauds and manias of the speculative bubble, from the consequences of their actions. A few weeks ago, Patricia Hewitt slipped out a remarkable parliamentary answer. The Government was considering sheltering auditors from being sued for negligence, she said. The details had yet to be sorted out, but a review of company law would limit auditors' liability. Accountancy Age added that Hewitt had capitulated after a lobbying campaign by the Big Four - PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Deloitte &amp; Touche and Ernst &amp; Young - had 'won sympathy' in Whitehall. A cap of somewhere between 100 million and 200m on their liability was on the way. It is perhaps worth pausing to consider how impervious the political class is to a world it no longer understands. Like all bubbles, the 'New Economy' dementia of the late 1990s was powered by the perverse belief that it was profitable to buy dotcom and telecom shares, even when you knew their long-term value was likely to be nothing. But, as the collapse of Enron and WorldCom showed, fraud played its part in whacking up the price of worthless companies. Arthur Andersen was the auditor in both cases. By a weird coincidence, Hewitt was employed by Andersen before New Labour came to power. She won't be able to go back there when she's finally thrown out of politics - robbed American investors have sued Andersen out of existence. However, she can still help the rest of the City. Even before she announced she would grant accountants privileges not available to other institutions, Hewitt had made it clear that she wouldn't tackle the brazen conflict of interest at the heart of auditing. Because auditors can sell valuable ser vices to companies, including advice on how to dodge the taxes the rest of us must pay, they have a compelling incentive to keep senior managers sweet by failing to alert the public to crime in the boardroom. Investigations into the corporations at the heart of the crash have shown that turning a blind eye to fraud wasn't a one-off offence committed by lightheaded auditors in the madness of the late 1990s: it was a systemic policy. As early as 1987, dealers in Enron's New York office were betting on the future price of oil without protecting themselves with hedges in case their gambles backfired. They also set up shell corporations in Panama. These created phantom deals which impressed Wall Street and produced healthy earnings for Enron, on paper at any rate. Large bonuses flowed to the traders in recognition of their good work. The managers in Houston didn't realise that the deals were phony, but did notice that company money was disappearing into the traders' pockets. Kenneth Lay, the Enron boss, refused to fire his thieving employees. 'I have decided not to terminate these people,' he said. 'I need their earnings.' The traders stayed on and committed Enron to supplying tens of millions of barrels of oil it didn't have. The company was stuck in an unsustainable position. If its rivals had found out, they could have wrecked Enron by forcing up prices. With luck and phenomenal bluffing, the management escaped bankruptcy by a whisker, although it was compelled to make an$85m charge against earnings in 1987. Far from learning caution from the near-death experience, Lay learned that the paper profits which impressed shareholders and bankers could be inflated or, let's face it, invented. He avoided the unpleasantness calling in the police would have brought. An Enron accountant who saw Lay stick by his crooked colleagues told Vanity Fair : 'It was obvious to us and to Arthur Andersen that [the traders] had opened fraudulent bank accounts, and we felt that they were going to con tinue to manipulate transactions.' Lay wasn't bothered. He was 'a guy who put earnings before scruples rather than reacting to the dishonesty right in front of him'. One of the reasons why your investments keep going down is that auditors didn't nip fraud in the bud. If they had, the fees from other services, and the possibility of switching jobs and joining the firms they were meant to police, would have disappeared. They don't need to worry about serving the public interest by doing their work honestly. Their sole fear is they may join Arthur Andersen in the corporate graveyard if investors sue them for gross negligence. Hewitt is determined to save them from that terrible fate and, in doing so, is proving that New Labour is well to the Right of the Tories and the Bush administration. You can't turn on the radio without hearing wails about the compensation culture. Lawyers shake billions out of the NHS each year and government departments are punished for insisting that civil servants should have the good manners to be tidily dressed when they meet the unemployed. Hewitt won't limit their liability. The nearest she can come to a justification for giving benefit of clergy to the City is that there will be a cartel if another accounting giant is destroyed by its crimes. She ignores the fact that the Big Four already is a cartel. A reputable system of financial management would require it to be broken up by ending the accounting conglomerates' conflict of interest. If auditors were banned from selling extras to managers, the firms would have to be split into separate auditing and financial services companies. Rather than tackle a quasi-monopoly, Hewitt is strengthening it. In the United States, the regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission have already rejected attempts by British accountants to limit their liability for false statements. Investors who believed what the Big Four said were entitled to sue if the accounts turned out be fraudulent or misleading. Even Bush's corporate-powered America has its limits, it seems. In Britain, there are none. The accountancy cartel badgered Ministers for years to grant it the favour of capping its liabilities. Prem Sikka, professor of accountancy at Essex University, said it lobbied the Tories, but found that they were a tougher proposition than New Labour. In 1996, the Law Commission said: 'We can find no principled arguments for a "capping" system... it cuts across a principle that a wrongdoer should compensate the plaintiff for loss.' So it does. And with so many people facing such large losses, you do have to wonder why the Government is desperate to protect the profession which helped get us into this mess in the first place. <B>It is not only David Irving who denies the Holocaust</B>The ease with which 'a racist, a Holocaust denier and a falsifier of history' can prevent the public reading books which expose him as a racist, a Holocaust denier and a falsifier of history continues to be a wonder of the English libel law. Last year, I reported on the strange career of Telling Lies About Hitler by Richard J. Evans. The professor of modern history at Cambridge University had produced an account of the libel action David Irving brought against Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, the author of Denying the Holocaust. Irving's attempt to ban the book and win a fortune in damages was a crushing failure. Mr Justice Gray ruled that he was a racist, a Holocaust denier and so on. The way appeared clear for readers to learn how fraudulent history prospered. Among the many lies Evans dissected was how Irving inflated the death toll from the RAF's bombing of Dresden tenfold 30 years ago. The fake figure is quoted to this day. Four publishers promised to produce the detective story, but pulled out for fear that Irving would sue. Their terror was absurd. What little reputation Irving had before the trial was destroyed by the judgment. He can't sue because he has no reputation to lose. The mere threat of a libel action was enough, however, to turn the fine liberals of literary London into censors. The story seemed to have a happy ending when Verso, a small Left-wing house agreed to release the book. Six thousand copies were sold, and you can still buy it in good book shops. But not on amazon.co.uk. The online dealer boasts that it provides 1.5 million titles. Nazi works are among them. Yet Amazon has dropped Evans's attack on a man who fabricated in the Nazi interest. As it stands, the law of libel allows booksellers to be sued, as well as publishers and authors. It's as if telephone companies could be taken to court for slanders that their phone lines carry. Given this authoritarian provision, I would have a touch of sympathy for Amazon if it hadn't told Professor Evans's publishers that it put the protection of its shareholders' wallets before freedom of speech and freedom of publication."
6 (nickcohen)
0 (Politics)
6 (nickcohen)
0 (Politics)
6 (nickcohen)
0 (Politics)
"Many parents wonder about the point of having children. They burn up your money, sleep and social life, and then blame you for all their problems. In politics, however, children are a source of perpetual joy. They must be seen and heard at every opportunity. In 1993, Michael Howard found that children were just what he needed to prevent the young Tony Blair outflanking the Tory government on the Right. The parents of children as young as 10 would be fined, and in extreme cases jailed, if their sprogs didn't comply with court orders, the tough Home Secretary announced. Alun Michael, Labour's Home Affairs spokesman, condemned Howard's plans as 'unworkable and pathetic'. But in the jailing of parents as in so much else New Labour proved it could be flexible. In the run-up to the 1997 election, Jack Straw promised that 'parental supervision orders' would be imposed on the parents of children who played truant. Failure to comply would lead to a spell in the slammer. Howard matched him word for word. Once in power, New Labour announced fines and possible prison sentences for parents in November 1997. It did so again in September 1999. And in March 2000. And in October 2000. And in this year's Queen's Speech. None of these schemes will ever amount to much because the courts have the sense to realise that jailing parents often means sending children into council care - which short of shooting the dears is about the worst thing you can do to them. But nothing stops this Government. Even though the Queen's Speech was scarcely a month old, Charles Clarke tried to divert attention from the Cherie affair last week by announcing - but, of course - the fining and jailing of parents. The media treated it as a serious and novel measure. What with one thing and another in the past fortnight, journalists have given the impression of being cynical brutes. In truth, we are drooling innocents with the memories of goldfish with learning difficulties."
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
"There's strapping, bustling Jo Frost, sense and sensibility poured into a sensible suit. Dozy dads turned round in 30 minutes flat. Weepy mums dusted down or braced up. Appalling kids tamed on her "naughty seat". She is Supernanny incarnate (with male public school fantasies loosely attached). So why do I keep dreaming about the next TV series after Jo? Let's call it Supergranny, with Supernumerary Grandpa in tow. Supernan and Gramps have been auditioning for the job in Barcelona these past days, minding a three-child shop (six, four and two) while Mum and Dad were away on an Italian job for five nights. See Supernan getting six and four ready for school and a 40-minute commuting trail across town. Watch less-than-super Grumps deal somewhat irresolutely with two's breakfast. I should, perhaps, explain at this stage that Beatrice is pretty memorable as tiny two-year-olds go. Is it her great, dark Spanish eyes? Is it her habit of suddenly saying surprising things? ("Look, Grandpa, the sun is going down over the hill and the shadows are growing longer.") But, for the moment, it's only 7.15am and the sun has barely crawled out of bed yet. Six and four are eating their cereal peaceably in the living room, one eye on CBeebies, the other flitting occasionally floorwards as Supernanny puts their socks on. Beatrice, meanwhile, has clambered on to the kitchen sideboard and is ransacking cupboards. "Do you want Sugar Puffs or Coco Pops?" I say. She wants the Puffs. Clear instruction. So I pour them out into a blue plastic bowl. No!!! Not the blue bowl. The yellow bowl? No!!! The red bowl. This red bowl? No, the other red bowl!! And do you want milk or tea? Tea. No, not in the yellow cup, the red one (which seems oddly orange-coloured, but maybe the racket is turning us both colour-blind). Let's go and see CBeebies with Leo and Georgie, then. We troop next door - at which point it becomes clear that six and four are eating Coco Pops. The Sugar Puffs are duly renounced. It is Pops or nothing, or a bit more of a commotion. In the blue bowl or the red bowl? The reds are still on their winning streak. Supernumerary Gramps departs on the school trek with six and four. The bedraggled Pops float, uneaten, rejected with impunity, in a puddle of milk when I return an hour-and-a-half later. Now there are several things to say at this point. One is that Beatrice, like her brother, sister and our other five grandchildren, is a pearl beyond price. Family politics. Another is that, as I scrabble in assorted cupboards for bowls and Pops and Puffs, obeying ever-changing demands with a vacuous grin, I feel oddly like Michael, Tony and Charlie back home. Red bowls, blue bowls, yellow bowls, krispies, krunchies, munchies? Yes ma'am, just put your cross on this scrap of paper here. Politics as usual. But the one thing you can't do is call for sensible Jo, for this is an entirely different sort of show. Supernanny, of course, is formula TV down to the last kick and yowl. Scene one: desperate parents plead for a miracle. Scene two: Ms Frost whispers in their ear. Scene three: happiness is just a thing called Jo, jetting off to her new rescue act, leaving her trained agents of tranquillity behind. What happens next? There's always a brief line filed "a fortnight later" which claims that the miracle yet endures. And four months later? We're never told. But Supergranny and Gramps aren't in such wham-bang business. Their most precious gift is time. They want to come back again and again, so Jo is mostly total Frost. Are we in loco parents, required to do the full naughty-seat routine when Beatrice demands a large plate of prawns and noodles, sucks the prawns, ditches the spag and demands another ice cream? No: we're not parents. The parents are away. We've nil reason (Supergranny wisely says) for majoring on their absence. Why go around stirring up misery? Our role is to hold the ring, to make sure everyone has the cheeriest days possible and not to let things go to hell on a handcart (or the scooter Beatrice likes to whiz along the corridor on, prompting voluble Catalan gloom from the lady in the flat below). Is that an easy role? By no means. Skills learned across two decades of editing the Guardian don't wash with Beatrice when you have to explain that her sister has swigged the last Actimel. There's no one-hand or other-hand here, nor any firm prescription: only persuasion and distraction or humiliation. Supergranny is a lifetime show, not 30 minutes of brusque denouement. Supergran is being in charge, but not in charge, of leading but following, of lips bitten without demur, of diplomacy and self-abnegation. No, Endemol, you could never sell it - except as a 24-hour rolling stint on E4. Back home for Paxo and Howard and other delights, we have two more (nine and seven) of the eight stay overnight, watch TV from 7am as not-normally-allowed, eat pancakes and demand treacle sandwiches on the Jamie Oliver memorial beat. "Not golden syrup?" says their bristling Supermum. "The sugar drives them wild." No, it's black treacle ... you know, organic, healthy? Diplomacy cuts both ways. Beatrice, as it happens, is three this very morning. Goodbye to the terrible twos. Happy birthday, love. Time and wisdom and beautiful eyes are on your side. And meanwhile, just over there in CBeebies' corner, the leader of the Conservative party, wriggling on a naughty sofa, is putting thousands of refugees in his blue bowl for another Frost - and pushing them out to sea. Somehow, looking after kids feels like a nobler job too."
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
"Should Sven go? And Chief Constable Westwood, for that matter? Not to mention Ian McCartney, Blair, Blunkett, Posh, Becks - and anyone else whose span in the headlines seems to have outstayed its welcome? This is post-failure time, scapegoat time, the morning after of the long knives: time to go out and make a meaningless sacrifice.Our illusion, most of the while, is that dumping the boss equals dramatic action. Are M&amp;S or Sainsbury's under the cosh? Then bang goes yesterday's whizz kid and everything's all right (or, more probably, not). But the sack, accompanied by sackloads of fivers, isn't the difficult option; it's an easy, often vacuous stop gap, a lever pulled for the sake of appearances. Farewell Piers Morgan, but does anyone think the Mirror's fortunes stand one jot transformed?Occasionally, to be sure, personnel shuffling grows inescapable. Kevin Keegan, and Glenn Hoddle after him, were tadpoles from a shallow, stagnant pool of talent who were never going to make fine frogs, and Sven at that moment of despond was a necessary recourse. He qualified for the big ones twice over and, left in place, he'll probably do it again. But that's not really the crux. The drums beat for him now from habit, impatience, boredom. Forget all the lousy passing, weary legs and absence of a class keeper. (Oh my Swift, Banks, Clemence and Shilton long ago!) Give us somebody else - anybody else - to get the juices flowing again.The impulse, on calmer examination, is exactly the reverse of what we say we want: that is, good management. Good managers know that mostly you have to build from the ground up, recruit solid people, construct a team and an ethos. Good managers know that most quick fixes fall apart just as quickly and that, in all probability, leaving the best man of his generation - Bobby Robson - in charge for 30 prudent years at a stretch would have brought England far more success than all the frenetic switchings. True business builders - like Stanley Kalms at Dixons or the good family Sieff at the old Marks - need the space to think and grow. True leaders aren't packed off if it begins to rain.But then, who cares about basic management theory when the headlines grow too lowering? We're in Chelsea land, Abramovich land, toyshop land, the land of the stinking rich where minds change as easily as fawning acolytes.What's the new wonder ingredient that, uncoincidentally, our government and loyal opposition both suddenly espouse? It's a return to grass roots and local option, an empowering of the consumer-citizen in his or her community, it's choice and connections. Get the suits of Whitehall out of the way. Boot the central bureaucrats. Let doctors and nurses and teachers, just doing their thing, save the day.That's one theory of course; actually the theory that ruled public life through the centuries before there was a national health service or anything you could call a national educational system. But it also shreds now at the first hard challenge.What is the democratic point of local police authorities if their views - close-up, informed, on the ground, community-based - doesn't count at a crunch? Why should David Blunkett know best and, if he does, why do his Health and Education mates sing from an utterly different hymn book? I've read the Bichard report and, if I were some omnipotent home secretary, might well want to hang David Westwood's scalp on my belt pour encourager dozy police forces everywhere. But that's not the point. The point is that the whole tide of government theory is flowing in an exactly contrary direction."Oh, but there are children's lives at stake here," say his supporters. And in the schools and hospitals too, sunshine: you can't pick and choose. Kicking out Westwood won't solve the real story floating at the back of all this - the chronic under-investment in police computer systems and the even more chronic lack of high-level staff to run the systems we have managed to install. (Simply, police-pay rigidities mean that they can't pay the market rate for the skills they most need).Kicking out Westwood, jawboning and litigating over the heads of those who know him best, is just another desultory blow to local democracy, local autonomy, local living. If this particular chief constable has learned all the lessons and is as determined as he claims to put things right, then give him that high-profile chance.Which brings us straight back, of course, to one team facing relegation from the premier league: New Labour, supposedly plotting its last reshuffle of the second term. Whose card is marked for the chop? Why, small, round, squeaky Ian McCartney. Somebody has to pay for June's election debacle, and it's the party chairman.But sooner or later you have to hoot with derision. Was Mr McCartney any less small, round and television-unfriendly when the prime minister solemnly appointed him 14 months ago? Does anyone truly suppose that the Euro-vote was a vote against squeaky Scotsmen? The difficult truth, when you look at it, is that this government of supposed competence and managerial talent has shuffled more twitchily, mindlessly and redundantly than most. It has sacked first and thought later. It has set a lousy, churning, aimless example. And mangling McCartney would put the lid on all that.Does Tony Blair ever wonder why the one pillar of the team which hasn't changed - Gordie next door - is also the most successful? Because of time and experience and long-term toil. Because every shoot-out has its penalties, Sven."
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
"Politics is one thing (says a disarmingly frank senior Tory of recent acquaintance) and life is rather another. Life isn't 10-year plans or defining choices or big sackings. It is what happens next, the theatre of the unexpected. It is slopping coffee all over your road map. It is Alan Milburn Mark Two, not Mark One. My Tory - another one who doesn't want to be prime minister - could, indeed, have been talking about reshuffle time, the moment when human hopes and fears come brutally together. But in fact, predictably enough, he was on again about Europe and the euro - and hoping that Tony Blair wouldn't run his pending referendums together into some pseudo-apocalyptic vote on whether we want to be in or out. Give the great British people an allegedly stark choice between pottering on and dramatic change, and the faint hearts will have it every time. But there isn't any real starkness here, he says. That's only the phoney edge of political rhetoric. Vote no and something - something we hadn't thought of, something the pundits of doom had discounted - will turn up. See? Life's a ramble, not a route march. Lie back and think of England on a sunny summer day. Or rather, Ireland and Albania on two successive summer days. Go from one to the other, like me, and wash the scent of Blair right out of your hair. Here we are in Dublin, roaming the narrow lanes at the back of Grafton Street. Cafe society, in the universal uniform of tank tops and tight jeans, is sitting out, chattering. The cash swilling over the counters, of course, is the euro. Are the Irish happy with that? They'd have been happier, perhaps, if Gordon O'Brown had gone a bit easier on his five pillars of wisdom - and happier, too, if the old leprechaun of inflation wasn't beginning to jig around again. But let's not pile on the gloom. Growth is still strong by most reasonable standards. Not many blame the Central Bank. And Dublin itself, for the returning visitor, is a revelation. It used, long ago, to be Liverpool continued by other means: great buildings, narrow terraces, decay and decrepitude leavened with jokes and music. Now it is Europe. You sit with Finns and French and - inevitably - Americans. The girl behind the cash desk is English. Her manager is Chinese. Ireland used to be a place to get away from. Today it's a place where the world wants to call, a place to linger and maybe to live. And that has very little to do with politicians, some of them notably duff and tainted, almost all of them voted out of office after a single term. They're no better than they ought to be. The change, with its lightness of spirit, is in the people. They have seen an opportunity - the opportunity of a political space - and filled it with buzz and bustle. They've transformed their physical existence. They've put the quality into their own lives. The latte touch. And so to Tirana, which used to be Europe's answer to Pyongyang, the capital of a bizarre communist midget state drifting in poverty-stricken isolation between Moscow and Beijing. Only two years ago, it was grey and grim, rotting rubbish piled high in the streets, the fetid stench of abject poverty. No wonder that Albanians - like the Irish of old - took to boats and the backs of lorries and tried to escape. But now it, too, is suddenly part of Europe. Heatwave evening and all Tirana - seemingly all its 750,000 citizens - has taken to the streets. The young, in their kit, sit at the cafes and restaurants which line the streets. Kids run in the parks. Mum and dad do their stately promenade. This is the Mediterranean, part Greece, part Italy, wholly surrendering to the night. Who do we thank? A sort-of politician can take a bow. Edi Rama is a 38-year-old art professor who came home to help when the Hoxha regime crumbled, and ran for mayor. He did the simple things. He filled some holes in some roads. He got the refuse collectors off their butts. He built a new cinema and cleaned up the parks. And - because of the art - he had Tirana painted. The greys have gone. The streets are a chaotic blaze of ochre and azure and crimson and brown. There are trees along the pavements. There is a stage on which people can perform. Those people, again. They've been given the opportunity - and borders open, at last, for business - and they've taken it. Tirana, after decades of oblivion, is another happening place. Six months ago - only six months ago - the currency of local choice was the dollar. Forget that. Now, a spasm of fashion, every taxi driver and every cafe wants euros. I spent the last of my Irish stock in Albania. Too euphoric by half? Of course. Progress is more than a coat of paint and a capuccino. The problems - corruption, crime, sickness, education - are as frightening as any in the continent we share. But there is something precious here, and something which links umbilically with the Dublin experience. A feeling of hope and movement. A surge of energy. A belief that we - we, the people - can transform our own lives. So my Tory who started the week was more right than he knew. Politics isn't life. The cabinet pack that Blair shuffled is next week's cold potatoes. No referendum is ever final. Dr John Reid might as well go to Wimbledon. And the euro, with Gordon doing his brooding bit? All Ireland is becoming a euro zone as it flows unstoppably back and forth across that porous frontier. Not a matter of what ministers ordain, just what ordinary people do. Meanwhile, in Albania, they've done it already, done what comes naturally."
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
"The chances of Gordon Brown ever becoming prime minister have diminished, are diminishing - and will continue to diminish inexorably. A sad, sad song. It's always tough when a hugely talented professional sees his heart's desire slip away. But it is also - no ducking, weaving or glossing - Gordon's own fault: bad politics as well as bad vibrations. Take a few findings from the latest Telegraph/YouGov poll. Do you approve of the government's record to date? No, say 68%. What about issues like Europe and taxation? The Tories are in the lead. And economic competence, the rock of reputations prudently built? Just 32% have kept faith with Brown. And 31% (since you ask) would prefer to see Michael Howard on the Treasury bridge. There's something of the night for all concerned here. Now polls, of course, can be shrugged away. The chancel-lor's spinners say he'll shrug for Britain today when he tells the Social Market Forum that his "prudent and cautious" spending plans are on course, needing no new taxes; that the dear old "fundamentals are sound"; that while our share prices are only 48% down, Germany's have tumbled a whopping 67%. But this, alas, is politics, not comparative economics. This is show-business. Listen, therefore, to the dismal tinkle of luck and applause running out. He said there'd be no more boom and bust. That is not how it feels. He took an early pop at the pension funds. Now they're becoming a national crisis, staggering from pillar to post, demolishing ordinary dreams as they go. Just as the taxation tide turns, so last year's national insurance rises snap into place. Just as the cash for public services comes on stream, so the firemen stoke a different boiler. Just as congestion charges arrive, so the Central line goes awol. And then there is university funding. Every problem that seemed so breezy when there was growth and confidence, in short, now comes glooming round to Gordon's door. Things could be more awful, naturally. That's always true. Yet lustre, once lost, is powerful hard to get shining again. In a normal Westminster world, you'd know what would happen next. A threat to the chancellor would be a threat to the prime minister and continuing governance. It would thus be loyally batted away unless (like Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson) ritual sacrifices were more the order of the day. A chancellor is there to be defended until it's time, in extremis, to ditch him. But Mr Brown and Mr Blair don't live in a "normal" world. They are both big beasts. Almost a decade ago, they sat over lunch in Islington and made the Granita accord. I won't stand against you for Labour leader (and thus prospective PM) if you quit half-way through your second term and let me have a go. Was it ever quite as neat as that? The old Granita restaurant was a famously noisy, clattery place. Maybe Tony dropped his bread roll at the wrong moment? Maybe Gordon found a fly in his soup? Still ... the legend and the black looks live on. What we've had for almost six years now isn't the traditional line of command, prime minister down to chancellor, but more a division of the Whitehall realm into two rival kingdoms. The leaders have their own camps and followers. They jockey, needle and probe. They are allies in public and snarlers or sniffers behind the arras. Like North and South Korea, they always need watching. And it's Granita time, time to move over. High noon. But is Mr Blair going to pack his bags and, like Peter Foster, depart for distant parts? Of course not. That was always an illusion. A disastrous war in Iraq might carry him off - but, in harsh practicality if not morality, it's far more likely that Saddam will crumple and a string of Iraqi scientists thereafter bear witness to the horrors averted. There's no alternative to a continuing Tony. There are, however, plenty of reasons why a continuing Gordon may not be so fireproof. Who wants a magician who's lost his wand? Who wants a baleful, brooding problem when fresh starts are easier? It is because the realm was divided, because the pieces were scrapped over and parcelled out, that Gordon Brown is suddenly so vulnerable. Traditionally, when a prime minister has a night of the long knives with his neighbour, it is the PM's own status and policies that also appear in the frame. Sacking has its costs. But here the equation is different. Because Brown manifestly runs his own five tests, his own prescriptions for the markets, his own private funding initiatives and target-setting squads, because they are his and not Blair's, so the policies and the man can be simultaneously removed without that damage: a liberation rather than an assassination. Would there be crisis and flak when the moment came? Inescapably. But it would also set the prime minister free, on course to be his own man with his own chancellor for a third term. It would allow New Labour a new beginning. And to see the logic, you need only consider the alternative: no change, no joy, animosity as usual. Who can possibly settle for another six years of this? Who would want to? There's the fault with Mr Brown. He shouldn't have believed his own publicity. He should have shifted himself, in triumph, to foreign secretary or deputy PM a year ago. He should have remained forever Mr Boom not Mr Bust. He should have known that, like Jim Callaghan, his time would come if he was loyal and efficient and on the team, not a king over the water. He should, simply, have been smarter."
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
"There may, at last, be the beginning of wisdom. Our erstwhile "natural party of government" does not expect to win the next election (or, perhaps, the one after that). It's down there in the pits, snarling at the Liberal Democrats, trying to hang on to second place. Even today, through a winter of liverish complaint, it is still failing. But at least abandoning immediate hope is a start. Indeed, Iain Duncan Smith - enduring yet another TV re-relaunch with Frost yesterday - seemed to go out of his way to play Charlie Kennedy without the jokes. He talked only about "alternative" policies (to be formulated) and a "strong, clear sense of direction" (to be be discovered). His claim to credibility (pure Lib Demery) rested on the supposedly mighty achievements of Tory councils out there in the wide blue yonder, so many of them apparently that few more could be expected in May. The phrase "when I'm prime minister..." never crossed his dry, pursed lips. A turning point. The Conservatives have spent almost six years pretending that Blair and New Labour are merely some brief aberration, a hiccup amid continuing hegemony. They picked William Hague because he was the obvious young pretender, the inheritor. Then they sucked their thumbs and picked Duncan Smith. Now "desperate Tory MPs" (according to the Daily Telegraph) are hunting round for some "men in grey suits" to give IDS the push. Darkness without much sight of dawn, and six wasted years. There will doubtless be war in Iraq this year, but there will be no euro referendum. Tony Blair has his own problems. He's wasted his extra layers of popularity. But what does that mean for the Tories? It means that, at last, they have to be serious. Ken Clarke was the only serious runner in 1997. No go: a no-no on Europe. The assumption, remember, was that somehow the Tories would be swiftly back in office, so couldn't be led by some Brussels-truckling bruiser. And 2001? The same delusion ruled in the end. Duncan Smith's main selling point (with the Telegraph, among others) was that he wasn't Ken. Yet, with only a thin smear of hindsight, there never was going to be a referendum during Labour's first term. Gordon Brown had got his fix in. And the second term is merely a re-run in less propitious circumstances. Will a third term look any better? Not if the big majorities have begun to shrivel. Not if the Conservatives begin to look remotely electable again. Not if what we fondly remember as "real politics" is coming back. Take a real politician. Kenneth Clarke, now well into his 60s, is never going to be prime minister. He won't be available in 2010. He isn't the man for the long haul. But he is still - just about - the man to rough up a government losing its confidence and way as fatigue starts to gnaw. He knows about running Treasuries and Home Offices and Health and Education. Been there, done that. Nobody has to look at him, as they do at IDS, and wonder how he would cope. If the job is effective opposition, making up lost ground, bringing a few talented people distantly remembered back on to the front bench, then he remains the obvious choice. If they'd picked him for 2001, then Labour would already be breathing less easily - and 2005 or 2006 would look much more problematic. But it's surely too late for any of that. Iain Duncan Smith isn't going to fall on his sword because Lord Black of Crossharbour comes calling. The "Hague rules" for electing a new leader are death to men in grey suits. The next election is lost and the only remaining question is: how badly? And that is where any sensible party, gradually recovering its scattered wits, would start to think hard. The job next time is damage limitation. The essential task is seeing off the Liberal Democrats. (Not so easy if Charlie, rather bravely, turns out to have called Iraq right.) The true focus is on the future, on 2010. That may not be instant politics as we know them, a shift to some distant time frame. It may be not suit what remains of the Tory press - ludicrously hailing Bush for his billions in tax cuts and deficits. The Conservatives won't get another new leader in midstream. They could, however, get a deputy leader, a leader in waiting for next time round. Say Oliver Letwin. They could actually start to develop policies which will have resonance during Labour's third term (when the money has gone in properly and public services are either better or worse). They could resolve their tangle over reduced taxation or increased provision with something a bit more solid than phrase-making. They could, in short, look serious again by admitting what they seriously know in their hearts: that this is the longest haul, without quick fixes. That, compared with all the toil Neil Kinnock endured, they haven't even begun."
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
"It is probably the most visceral question of our times, asked from Chechnya to Kashmir to Armagh and often answered in blood. But the odd thing is that, no matter how many times he hears it, no matter how many times he witnesses its consequences, Tony Blair never quite gets the point. Indeed, he, John Prescott and Robin Cook still troop around blank-faced, offering the question up on a plate. As though it were panacea, not potential poison. What do the Chechens, with their bombs and their kidnappers, want? They want to live in a free little country of their own - not as a runt in the litter of Russia's federation. What do the Kashmiris, with their bombs and murderous attacks, want? They want to be free of the Indian federation (and possibly of Pakistani ambition, too). And the Kurds, the Tamils, the Corsicans and Kosovans? Wherever you look, wherever you go, there are minorities buried within bigger countries demanding autonomy. But the bigger countries - thank you President Putin - are saying: "No." Not maybe; not perhaps, one fine day; just no. Their no is the voice of the majority. Minorities have rights. Majorities have the last word. But in Britain, though we seldom pause to reflect on it, there is another way that gives minorities the last word - and majorities not so much as a word in edgeways. Do Scotland or Wales wish to elect their own parliaments? All they have to do is win a referendum first. The done devolution deal. Does Northern Ireland wish to remain a part of the UK, or join with Dublin? A referendum for Northern Irish voters lies constantly open. All republicans have to do to leave is win, and then push off. And - whisper it gently - the same formula lies there for the Scots and the Welsh one day. It seems so obvious, so normal. Mr Cook at the weekend was peddling regional assemblies for anyone who calls. Mr Prescott sells elected mayors like cans of beans. But in fact this seeming normality is rather remarkable; and perhaps remarkable folly. Tony Blair's biggest mate in Europe, Jose Maria Aznar, would certainly think so. Other democratic countries' byzantine struggles against their own minorities tend not to make newspaper headlines here. They are complex, introverted tales. Spain follows events in Northern Ireland closely, because it hears eerie echoes - but London doesn't linger long over the tumult in Bilbao or Barcelona. Nevertheless, there is reason to linger. Britain long ago offered Gibraltar a referendum to ratify or reject a change in its status should London and Madrid ever seek to negotiate one. Because Aznar and Blair are pals, those negotiations have taken place. Because sovereignty can be shared, that is the preferred solution. But 30,000 Gibraltarians want nothing to do with it. They have their referendum - and other Iberians have suddenly taken up the same cry. We'll hold our own vote in a couple of years, says Juan Jose Ibarretxe, president of the Basque country's ruling PNV. Give us a loose association with Madrid plus a place in the European Union and there's a peaceful way out for everyone. Hey, and if they're doing that, says Arturo Mas, the new leader of Catalonia's nationalists, we'll want a better deal, too. What's sauce for Gibraltar's goose is suddenly the sauce of separatism across much of northern Spain. It is a thick stew of politics, with some parallels - the banning of Batasuna, the Basques' Sinn Fein; the goal of "freedom" within the EU - and some important differences, including a tradition of terror attacks to make the IRA seem wimps. But the most important difference of the lot is Madrid's stubborn antipathy to capitulation. Why should a minority be able to decide the fate of a nation without reference to the majority that surrounds and supports it? Where is the fairness or democracy in that? There's the vexatious question. Majorities have rights, too. They want their country kept whole, for fear of wholesale disintegration. So they need a specific voice in deciding its future, just as Aznar demands a voice that represents the interests of all Spaniards, not just Spain's richest, most disaffected regions. But this is curiously not the current British instinct. Want to bale out of a disunited kingdom? Sure: carry on. Want a block on progress to any solution? Sure: the Gibraltarians have it, whatever the wider British interest. Want a fatter range of subsidies from the centre as your price for staying on board? Sure: that is the precise Prescott-Cook formula for introducing more regional assemblies. If the north-east (say) fancies some of the same boodle as Scotland and Wales, then it need only vote to get it. From Middlesbrough to Hartlepool you can even get your oddball elected mayor if you tick the right box. Yet the people who pay for that decision, who have to live with this jigsaw system, are never asked the question square on. We don't get a national referendum to sanctify the process; we are pushed aside. Stand back and ponder the illogic here. Northern Ireland lapses bad-temperedly into direct rule again. But the direct rulers - us - have damn-all say in what happens next. We merely hold the punchbag. A Gibraltar settlement? No dice. A decent accounting of devolution? No way. A local government framework that offers coherence? Sadly not. More elected mayors to re-charge voting turn-outs? Alas, look at Switzerland, with its constant compartmentalisation and referendums. And don't bother to guess which European country has the lowest voting levels of the lot. What sounds so reasonable can be a recipe for stagnation and fissiparous impotence. A switch-off, not a turn-on. The question is itself a stinker because we gave away the answer long ago."
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
7 (peterpreston)
0 (Politics)
"I broke the habit of half a lifetime last week and filled out a job application. To Mr Stephen Bampfylde of Saxton Bampfylde Hever plc ... "Dear Sir, would you please put me on the application list to be the next parliamentary commissioner for standards?" Dispatched with a first class stamp. I am not, of course, holding my breath. The next parliamentary commissioner ought to be the present parliamentary commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin. That may still happen - and if it shows any sign of so doing, my hat comes straight out of the ring. But does Ms Filkin accept Robin Cook's bland assurance that she has been "neither sacked nor dismissed" from the job she holds? Does her heart rise at the thought that an "open and transparent system" operated by an entirely opaque House of Commons commission will graciously put her on the shortlist if she fills out one of Saxton Bampfylde Hever's forms? Especially when she sees that her successor is offered the "possibility of (contract) extension by mutual agreement" - which means that transparency ends once she packs her bags? I haven't talked to Elizabeth Filkin - and have no idea what she intends to do. But who, wise in the ways of Westminster, would blame her if she decided to sit this humiliation out? After three years devoted toil - and too much whispered vilification - she may reasonably conclude that enough is enough, that playing more of the House's little games merely gives succour to her enemies. Let's fervently hope it's not so. But what if it is? Then (which is the trouble with little games) we have a nasty hiatus. For who else with her reputation, pray, will volunteer to serve three years in the Commons salt mines in a role briskly downgraded between terms - a three-day week and a lower salary if Mr Bampfylde's small print speaks true? It isn't exactly a glowing prospectus. There will, of course, be some applications. Unemployment is on the rise again. But the Filkin reputation will be desperately hard to replicate - and the damage that her "non-dismissal" has done is manifest. MPs may prefer not to realise it, but the fight against political sleaze and public cynicism which began seven years ago goes on unremittingly. Ask Keith Vaz (if you can find him these days). Ask Geoffrey Robinson after his three weeks in the sin bin studying investment portfolios. These barricades need manning. And the men and women who man them need to be visible, not heads sunk below the parapet. Here's why my application went in. I've "operated at the most senior level within a complex institution" (welcome to the Guardian maze). I've a "reasonable understanding of the working of the House" - for my sins. I've trooped through privileges committee hearings and inquiries by the commissioner, given evidence to Nolan and Neill and the over-arching committee for standards in public life. Appropriate "personal standards of integrity and propriety"? This "hound from hell" could at least make the argument. At least, if I'm known to be a contender, then you on the outside have something to measure the workings of the system and its final choice against. If you know what, in part, went in, then you can judge what came out. Three cheers for Elizabeth Filkin (or Martin Bell). No cheers for Sir Simeon Sludgeworthy. The bitter reality, of course, is that nothing was supposed to happen this way. It wasn't what Lord Nolan prescribed in the wake of the Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith debacle. His committee for standards in public life, in its magisterial first report, wanted a parliamentary commissioner of "independent standing" who "would have the same ability to make findings and conclusions public as is enjoyed by the comptroller and auditor-general..." Linger over that. A person of independent standing, not the servant of a committee of politicians free to disregard or water down her conclusions - and to lever her out of her job in a couple of months. A direct comparison with the comptroller and auditor-general: Sir John Bourn has held that job by Crown appointment since 1988. His independence is guaranteed by total security of tenure. Lord Nolan didn't get his way. MPs closed clubby ranks and Sir Gordon Downey was cast as the port of first resort, receiving complaints against Hon Members, making an initial investigation (though without any investigators on his tiny staff) and passing them on to other Hon Members for action. The "outside" influence Nolan thought so crucial to public trust and proper accountability became a transit zone. The fig-leaf tendency glimpsed sunlit uplands just over the time horizon. Not, perhaps, without a struggle. Elizabeth Filkin has struggled mightily. She has taken the rules her political employers gave her and applied them punctiliously. Her investigations of Mr Vaz and Mr Robinson are masterpieces of forensic energy and detail. She has done her duty. With what reward? Murmured moans from the ex-great and good on the lecture circuit. Schoolboy antics of tit-for-tat complaining across the political divide. And, most depressing of the lot, orchestrated briefing against her from "friends" of threatened ministers. Who will rid us of this troublesome commissioner? Enter Saxton Bampfylde Hever plc. Enter due process. In an ideal world, the PM would pause in his moral sermonisings to the world and say what, as an ordinary, honourable Joe, he thinks of Ms Filkin's predicament. In an ideal world, the new chairman of the standards and privileges committee, Sir George Young, would have joined hands with Peter Bottomley and spoken on her behalf. In an ideal world, Sir Nigel Wicks, successor to Nolan and Neill, would have broken cover already. His committee has two big things on the boil. One, a big research programme on public attitudes. The other, a giant stocktake of what's been delivered on those seven reports over seven toiling years. The Filkin fiasco sits balefully under both those headings. It was Sir Nigel who said in his first press conference early this year that Ms Filkin should be given greater power "to obtain information when investigating cases", that she shouldn't have to battle so long through the forests of Vaz or John Reid obfuscation. For "greater power", it seems, read less power and no job. In an ideal world, he'd make that point openly. He can defend the way the Department of Transport handled Jo Moore in a letter to this paper. Gratefully received. But what about Elizabeth Filkin and the basic infrastructure of Commons regulation? Well, we'll see. At least now you know that somebody's applied, and why. Because the commissioner is a bridge to you, not a stone wall at the end of a dark alley. Because you need to be involved and concerned. I promise - famous last words - to keep you informed."
8 (pollytoynbee)
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8 (pollytoynbee)
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"Politicians of all parties have fallen into the unctuous habit of praising the work done by "faith communities" without stopping to think. Britain is the most secular country in the world: a BBC poll last week showed that among the young there are more declared non-believers than there are Christians; in all, 43% of 18-24 year olds said they had no faith.Yet this Labour government is introducing great swathes of faith-based education. It leaves most non-believers perplexed. Why should the secular state use tax payers' money to indoctrinate a largely non-believing nation?Remember David Blunkett saying he wished he could bottle the special magic of faith schools? Tony Blair has since then promoted faith schools through academies sponsored by evangelicals who deny Darwin. Two hundred more Muslim state schools are being created. Already a third of all state schools belong to the religions, most of them Christian.What's the magic? It is called selection. One way or another, most faith schools filter out the most chaotic families. If the vicar or the imam has to sign a form saying the family are regular worshippers, that screens out the disaster families - the drug addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill - who have never got it together to go to church. Their children go to the next door school, which sinks under the weight.As one school improves, the other suffers and more hypocritical parents hurry to church to get their child into the religious school. The neighbouring school loses all its best children. Hey presto! There is the faith schools' 'magic'. Religion has become a symbol of respectability to keep out bad kids. How holy is that? All this is backed up by academic research into admissions. To be sure a few church schools don't do this, but they sink down the league tables along with other schools in poor areas - no magic after all.Britain's thriving voluntary sector does a vast amount of good - and some religious organisations do too. Sometimes the church is the only organisation in the worst estates. But some faith-based drug addiction centres, youth clubs and other outfits are naked indoctrination centres - and dangerous.There is good and bad work done by voluntary groups, but the faith groups have no special magic. They do have special dangers, however, with "charismatic" leaders causing a high risk of abuse - mental and physical - wherever there are closed worlds of believers. A Muslim council employee told an Islamic debating meeting I attended last week that he had recently visited a Muslim school where girls were not allowed to look out of the windows. Is that magic too?State money should only be spent on secular schools and social services. People are free to believe and practise what they like, but keep God out of state schools and social services."
8 (pollytoynbee)
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8 (pollytoynbee)
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"It was a bravura performance - it almost always is. With eloquence, reason and deftness of foot, the prime minister silenced the war wobblers - at least for now. Many remain queasily uneasy, crossing their fingers that Saddam sees sense in time: yesterday's unsurprising dossier changed few people's risk assessments of war. Yet whatever their doubts, both cabinet and loyalist MPs were forced by their leader's inexorable logic to nod in assent at each stepping stone towards (probable) war. Does the UN and international law matter? (Nods all round.) Is all law worthless unless backed by the might to enforce it? (Nods again.) Is there any point in threatening force if the UN does not mean to use it? (No, of course not.) Did diplomacy unbacked by threat of force ever bring dictator down? (Heads shake.) Would failure to enforce UN resolutions tell all dictators they could flout the law with impunity? (Yes, indeed.) And so the path to perdition may be papered with the purest logic, sanctioned by the highest law and blessed with thoroughly noble sentiments - yet still be a dangerously misguided act. Outside America and No 10 there are precious few leaders (and even fewer of their peoples) who sincerely believe that an attack on Iraq is wise. But the combination of Bush's hegemonic will and barrister Blair's legal and moral logic drive on remorselessly. When is the right time to talk of due proportion and prudence? When does the inexorable logic pause to ask which risk is worse - war or continued no-fly containment? Where is the evidence that Saddam will use these weapons, while thus contained? Though White House hawks at first refused to go to the UN, now the UN emerges as the trap forcing the world to threaten war in the name of its own credibility. If Saddam miscalculates and invites attack, then who can pull back from a logic they have nodded through? The problem for MPs yesterday, and for the rest of the world at the UN, is that once the threat is made it can never be withdrawn. This sabre-rattling phase was not the right time for parliament to hold this debate, when every reasonable person wants to show Saddam that he must comply. Yet it might be the only time to challenge the "logic" of all this. Tony Blair was at pains this week to stress the difference between his fundamental beliefs and those of George Bush. Careful to breathe nothing but respect for the president himself, there is much eyerolling dismissal of the hawks about him. Despite the humiliating master/lackey surface, there are two quite different doctrines at work. The Bush doctrine published last week in his new national security strategy lays out the nature of US power in remarkably bald terms. Scant diplomacy bothered to mask its brash self-interest. It outlines an unfettered "distinctly American internationalism" ready to act unilaterally when it wants. Asserting a US right to pre-emptive attack against any hostile state, it offers a recipe for global mayhem on every disputed border. Above all the Bush doctrine promises that never again will any other nation rival American might, whatever it takes to keep it that way. This is America's first genuine post-cold war doctrine, daring to trumpet its monumental unfettered power. The Blair doctrine, as befits a mini-power lacking brute force, instead summons up a mighty moral imperative. First propounded in Chicago when urging Clinton to rescue the Kosovans, all this week Blair has expounded it to all doubters. Yes, he would intervene anywhere, any time to depose tyrants and free victims. In Zimbabwe, if he could. In North Korea. In the mullahocracy of Iran, maybe: the half world still living without democracy is potentially on his list. It is an admirable ambition, casting away the cynical old Kissinger doctrine that wheeled and dealed with any tyrant so long as he was useful, letting sleeping monsters lie so long as they were our monster, South Africa included. The Blair doctrine also arises from seizing a new post-cold war chance. What need stop the onward march of liberation from tyranny now? The trouble with his doctrine is that it lacks reality. To topple the Taliban, a multitude of filthy regimes had to be paid, strengthened and appeased - in my view, worth the result. To invade Iraq again requires abetting regimes as bad on the Blair moral index. He has been right three times - Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan - and he might be right now; or else Iraq could bring his doctrine crashing to earth. (And his political career with it.) There was another great awakening from the cold war this week when Gerhard Schrder won by breaking all the old rules of European diplomacy. Sensing not only among his own voters, but right across Europe, a significant groundswell of anti-Americanism since Bush took power, he severed an umbilical cord with the US. At a stroke Germany's war guilt, Germany's gratitude for the Marshall plan, plus German reliance on US defence in Nato was forgotten. Whatever reconciliation is patched together, overnight Schrder shattered a European taboo: others may now find it easier to turn away from an America whose present regime is abhorrent to an essentially social democratic continent. Schrder's desperate electioneering ploy may start a surprising new spirit of European independence. That would trigger an angry US review of Nato, forcing the EU to forge a useful common defence capability and a more united foreign policy. Is that over-optimistic, since Blair and Schrder's positions could hardly diverge further at this moment? Blair may have yet again lost an opportunity for leadership in Europe, with even Al Gore standing to his left on this. Unease is everywhere, among senior EU figures and politicians all across Europe, reflected in newspaper editorials of many political hues. They watch the Dow Jones and FTSE falling through the floor as war looks likely, hurtling the world towards recession. They see oil prices rising whenever war is mentioned. Labour is falling in the polls. Serious talk in many corridors of power considers the suitcases of horror waiting under unknown beds to be unleashed in US and EU cities the day Saddam falls: no one doubts the dossier's descriptions of what he has, only his likelihood of using it except in his death throes. He is well enough contained currently in his no-fly zone. Igniting Arab outrage, inciting worse terror, uniting enemies against the aggressor with dominoes of states falling to fundamentalist rebellion: all are logical fears, but they seem like mere self-interested cowardice under the blazing moral light of the Blair doctrine. The puzzle is Tony Blair's uncharacteristic recklessness abroad, risking his own career, his support at the polls and much else. How brave he is over the moral certainties of distant war; how over-cautious, by comparison, he has often been over familiar dilemmas at home."
8 (pollytoynbee)
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"Twenty-five years ago, almost to the day, Jim Callaghan's government was defeated in a vote of confidence. The enforced general election that followed opened the way for the injustices and inequalities that we now call Thatcherism. In one sense, the anniversary is unimportant. The idea that there are moments in history when the world suddenly turns upside down is a romantic conceit. If the shot across the bridge at Concord had not echoed round the world in 1775, the American colonists would still have cried freedom. And it was Germany's long-held imperial pretensions, not the assassination at Sarajevo, that caused the first world war. But that late March evening back in 1979 at least symbolises the end of one era and the beginning of another. Now, we are told, it need never have happened. Labour whips had spent the previous week struggling to construct a House of Commons majority. I was deputed to convince two working-class Ulster Unionist MPs that Northern Ireland's interests would best be served by the government's survival. The mission was accomplished. But two other Ulster men, who normally supported Callaghan, defected for reasons that were lost in the mist of Celtic obscurity. As the division approached, it became clear that we were still one vote short. The agony of impending defeat was increased by the fact that we knew who that one vote was. Sir Alfred "Doc" Broughton, the 77-year-old MP for Batley and Morley, was mortally ill. Had he been brought to the Commons by ambulance and kept "in the precincts" while the division took place, he could have been "nodded through" the lobby and his vote recorded. But the journey might have killed him. I was unhesitatingly in favour of taking the risk. So - much to his credit - was he. His courage was, however, confounded by the compassion of the Labour leadership. We now discover that Walter Harrison, deputy government chief whip, approached Bernard Wetherill, his opposition counterpart, with the demand that the sick man be "paired". On radio last week, both men discussed what followed. The account of their negotiations will, to say the least, surprise those Labour MPs who lost their seats in the 1979 general election. Wetherill first insisted that "pairs" were never provided for votes of confidence. The government, if it wanted to survive, must marshal all its forces. Harrison replied that the refusal was a breach of faith. Anxious to defend his honour, Wetherill offered to sit out the division himself - simultaneously matching Broughton's absence and destroying his own career. Touched by the act of chivalry, Harrison told him that he could not accept such a sacrifice. Wetherill voted. The Labour government lost, and Margaret Thatcher became prime minister. Listening to the radio discussion, I got the distinct impression that the two men expected their audience to be impressed. Wetherill was undoubtedly justified in his rejoicing. He won. But Harrison had elevated his definition of gentlemanly conduct above the interests of the whole Labour party. His duty was to defeat the vote of confidence, not behave like a boy scout. Harrison is entitled to argue that the prime minister could have absolved him from the responsibility of choosing between conscience and duty. Enoch Powell had offered to lead all his Unionist friends into the government lobby in payment for the promise that a gas pipeline would be laid between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. Jim Callaghan rightly refused to put the government up for auction. He went down on a point of principle. But a question still hangs over both men's decision. Did they matter anyway? Had either or both of them behaved differently - and the election been postponed until the autumn - would the rancid tide of Thatcherism have been held back? During the last week of the election campaign, Callaghan himself said that the country's mood had turned and that Labour's day was done. Harrison can say, in his own defence, that - even if the vote of censure had been lost - the inevitable would have only been postponed. Two great planks in Labour's policy platform had been destroyed. After the "winter of discontent", the trade unions no longer seemed an unequivocal force for good. And, by arguing in favour of the IMF agreement, we had all added to the calumny that high levels of public expenditure are the root of all evil. Perhaps there was an even deeper reason for Labour's rejection. Britain had lost confidence in collective and co-operative effort and begun to believe that individualism was the secret of success. Even if we had not held the election at a time of Mrs Thatcher's choice, we might have lost. But I still wish we had been given the chance to find out."
9 (royhattersley)
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"Is it possible that 80% of the British population want the 2012 Olympic Games to be held in London? My scepticism about that particular finding is as much the result of my faith in the common sense of this happy breed as the consequence of my contempt for much of what goes on in the modern Olympiad. It is, at least for me, impossible to argue that the importance of snowboarding and figure skating is not winning but taking part. And, these days, the main objective of even the genuinely athletic events is not so much running fast and jumping high as making money. If there was a modern Roger Bannister who thought that qualifying as a doctor was his most important task, but still broke and held world records, I might be tempted to join the demand for a British bid. As things stand, I do not care which city hosts the international festival of exploitation. Nor should the British public - whatever their view on the character-building qualities of beach volleyball. For, wherever the games are held, rank-and-file sports enthusiasts will be left outside the stadium. Most of the seats will be reserved for dubious VIPs' "corporate hospitality" or sold by travel agents who market expensive package deals of flights, hotels and restaurants with a quick visit to the women's 200m final thrown in. For the rest of us, watching the games on television in our living rooms, it does not matter whether the tracks and fields are in London, Rome, Geneva or Reykjavik. The outstanding question is, are we prepared to pay between 2bn and 5bn for the privilege of broadcasting the Olympics from London? Officially, the government has still to come off the Olympic fence, but it is possible to judge which way it is wobbling by the figure it chooses to accept as the full cost. The Ove Arap estimate of 2bn, dismissed a month or so ago as far too low, is back in favour. So we must assume that, at the moment, Tony Blair wants the British bid to go ahead. One billion will be subscribed by the lottery and what is mysteriously called "other non-governmental sources" and Ken Livingstone has agreed that the other billion can be raised by a precept on the London council tax. Spread over 10 years, the addition to the tax bill will, it is hoped, be hardly noticed, quickly forgotten and barely resented. Manchester helped to pay for the Commonwealth Games and Sheffield accepted part of the International Student Games bill. According to David Blunkett, council leader at the time, Sheffield's price included the defeat of the Labour party in the local elections. This year the government sees bidding for the Olympics as a way of avoiding potential political damage. The International Olympic Committee will make its decision in July 2005 - two months after, or three months before, the most likely dates for the next general election. How much better to face the electorate after at least attempting to make Britain the centre of the sporting universe than risk the accusation that New Labour lacks the confidence or the courage to do what Los Angeles, Munich and Sydney have done? From out of the past comes the echo of John Prescott urging the cabinet to carry on the development of the dome. "If we can't do this, we can't do anything." The dome comparison is painfully apposite - right down to the collateral argument that the real object of the Olympic exercise is to redevelop neglected parts of London. And, if the government does bid for the 2012 Olympics, the progress of that second attempt to demonstrate its natural exuberance is likely to be no more successful than the first. Costs will escalate when it is too late to pull out. Private backers will lose their nerve, so the Treasury will have to choose between subsidy and national humiliation. An idea that was conceived as proof that Britain is a "can do" society will turn into the opportunity for critics to attack a "can't do" government. While pondering the objective merits of an Olympic bid, the government thought it right to consult not one but three focus groups. All of them were unanimous in the belief that the government should go ahead, but none of them was sure why. Focus groups are "snapshots" - glimpses of a moment which do not even claim to remain accurate pictures when it passes. Nor do they aspire to present their participants with complicated questions such as, "Do you find something pathetic about a nation feeling that it has to demonstrate its vitality?" But the answer to that question must be "yes". It is countries in decline - see Edward Gibbon - that invent proof of their youth and vigour. Mature democracies get on with the everyday business of being peaceful, progressive and prosperous. Britain should have enough self-confidence to do the same."
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"Tony Blair's willingness to "pay the blood price" that the special relationship with America requires goes down in history alongside Ted Heath's promise to "cut prices at a stroke" and Jim Callaghan's incredulous question: "Crisis. What crisis?" All are united by the fact that each of the infamous phrases was an intentional misquotation. But do not expect an angry Downing Street statement insisting that Tony Blair never used, nor could have used, such infelicitous language. For the notion, inherent in that ugly expression, is a distorted reflection of the prime minister's passion for solidarity with the US. That is why the fraudulent attribution was so clever and so damaging. Heath and Callaghan were traduced in the same way. The fabrication of the prices promise - probably intended at the time to make the Tory leader sound "dynamic" - was justified with the explanation that a Conservative research document predicted a rapid reduction in the inflation rate. The fabrication of the Labour prime minister's crisis question - certainly meant to damage him and his government - was defended with the excuse that, on return from a meeting with the president of France, he had suggested that a couple of days spent discussing ways to avoid nuclear annihilation put the breakdown of refuse collection into perspective. The newspapers had, they insisted, done no more than compress long statements into a suitable size for front-page headlines. In Tony Blair's case, the three-card trick was played rather differently. Michael Cockerell, interviewing the prime minister for a television "special", used the offending and offensive phrase in a question. Did standing shoulder to shoulder with America mean that "the blood price" had to be paid? The prime minister followed a reflex "yes" with the explanation that loyalty required "commitment" as well as "support and sympathy" - a sensible enough answer in a reasonable world. It is difficult, even with three days hindsight, to imagine what better reply he might have given. "I would not put it quite like that myself"? Pusillanimous. "Let us hope it will not come to that"? Evasive. "I pray that not a single British life will be lost"? Sanctimonious and transparently disingenuous. Blair was trapped. That is not to say that the trap was intentionally laid. I accuse Michael Cockerell of neither personal animus towards the prime minister nor political prejudice against the government. But there is still something fishy about the entire episode. "Blood price" is an idea that I associate with Sioux and Comanches as they appeared in Hollywood westerns in the days when native Americans were called Red Indians. It is not a word that is likely to spring to a sophisticated television interviewer's mind. Then the prime minister's apparent acceptance of Cockerell's savage language was reported in selected newspapers two days before the broadcast. I do not suggest that Tony Blair was the victim of a conspiracy. He suffered from what the BBC will regard as high quality marketing. Current affairs producers are as anxious to make the news as to report it. Reading about their programme in the papers is a mark of success. And if the confession or dramatic comment is made public before the broadcast, the notoriety helps to improve viewing figures. I guarantee that there will be BBC ratings fanatics who judge that the blood price story hit the jackpot. There are two lessons to be learned from the episode. The first is that television programmes - no matter how lofty their format and exalted their proclaimed purpose - are always looking for sensation. Tony Blair's balanced view on what he sees as the possible need to take military action against Iraq is, in televi sion terms, far less attractive than a gaffe, a slip of the tongue or, in this case, the endorsement of an extravagant expression. Yet paradoxically the trivialisation - for that is what the search for sensation usually amounts to - is sometimes justified. If we do join with America in the invasion of Iraq, British blood will be spilt. Politicians who positively want a war - a category in which I do not include Tony Blair - may not like that stark description of reality, but it is the duty of journalists to expose gory truth. There are many ways in which to describe President Bush's Middle East adventure - all of them, because of the heart-stopping implications of its consequences, likely to be polarised and prejudiced. The president himself calls it an attempt to deprive the world's worst leader of the world's worst weapons. Who could possibly object to that? We hear nothing from him about the body bags, crippled veterans or the death and destruction that will be suffered by thousands of innocent Iraqis. If we send troops to the Gulf, some of the bodies in bags will be British. That may be a price we have to pay. But it is right to face up to the hard consequences of "commitment". The prime minister was conned. But it was a fair cop."
9 (royhattersley)
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9 (royhattersley)
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"All the newspaper metaphors had the sort of literary associations that can be recognised by people who have not read many books. First he was TS Eliot's mystery cat - no more than an excuse to write that whenever the prime minister needs helping out of a jam, in the manner of Macavity, Gordon Brown's not there. Then he was said to be like the dog that aroused Sherlock Holmes' interest and suspicion because it did not bark. Comparisons with Shergar, the disappearing thoroughbred, were only prevented by the near certainty that, when the next big Labour party leadership race is run, the chancellor of the exchequer will win at a canter. Attempts to discover if he was asked to speak up for Tony Blair during the bizarre debate about the proper treatment of the Queen Mother's corpse were dismissed with the weary implication that there was no point in Downing Street issuing an invitation which was certain to be refused. And there is no doubt that Brown's regular detractors spread the word that, if the Treasury is not directly involved in a fiasco, there is no hope of the chancellor coming to the aid of the party. But lofty disdain for the trivia of government makes Gordon Brown Labour's most bankable asset. One day even his most critical colleagues will feel only gratitude and relief that the worst that can be said about him is that he possesses a puritanical determination to distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor. William Ewart Gladstone said that, in politics, things are best done by those who believe in them. It is hard to imagine the intellectually fastidious Gordon Brown arguing with any conviction that the idea of the prime minister walking down Whitehall to greet the Queen Mother's coffin emanated from the foreign secretary's discovery that the sun was shining and that Her Majesty's ministers would enjoy the fresh air. If he was the sort of man who willingly repeated the official line on Newsnight, he would just be another run-of-the-mill party politician. After all, we never read predictions that John Reid will be the next prime minister. Nobody who recalls the grace with which he faced his daughter's death or heard the eulogy which he delivered at Donald Dewar's funeral can doubt that there is a human being inside Gordon Brown's invariably charcoal grey suit. But his addiction to work and the certainty that what he is doing at the moment is more important than anything that occupies anyone else, does make him a difficult colleague. It also attracts the criticism that his single-mindedness is self-centred. Had the consolation notes to recent ministerial rejects been signed by any other minister, they would not have rated even a gossip column mention. But we all assume that Gordon Brown does everything on purpose. No doubt the next leadership election is always at the back of his mind. And he does not seem to realise he is already close to invincible. Yet he persists in making progress toward the summit of the greasy pole on his own terms. A couple of weeks ago Gordon Brown gave the Aneurin Bevan Memorial Lecture. The chairman, Geoffrey Goodman, once the doyen of labour correspondents and still an authority on Labour politics, described the speech as "what the party has been waiting for since 1997". Most members will have to go on waiting. No text was available. The chancellor spoke from extended notes. A member of the audience believed that had the lecture been widely reported, hundreds of party members, tempted to resign in disillusion, would have stayed to support Gordon Brown. As Mark Antony almost said, ambition should be made of more assiduous stuff. Eventually, after much prompting and the chancellor's insistence that he did the job himself, the notes were made into continuous prose and one newspaper thought them sufficiently important to be given some late attention. However, on the day before publication Stephen Byers resigned. All available space was needed for the obsequies and the ministerial reshuffle which followed. Gordon Brown said not a word on either subject. And quite right too. What has the government gained by John Prescott's allegation that Byers was stabbed in the back or, for that matter, what advantage has been achieved by David Blunkett's suggestion that the newspapers are on the verge of lunacy? Gordon Brown's belief that he has better things to do than slug it out with the tabloid newspapers is an immense encouragement to people who think that politics should be a battle of ideas not images. God willing the spasm of playground politics has now ended. If there is another outbreak of juvenilia, the government in general and Tony Blair in particular have the strongest possible vested interest in keeping Gordon Brown above the fatuous battle."
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10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
"There are times in the Commons when the only tolerable response is to throw food. Sadly this is not allowed. Nor may we shout at MPs from the public and press galleries. Otherwise we'd be constantly yelling "Next!", or as they would say in the comedy clubs, "Taxi for the minister!" The urge to interrupt the proceedings is often strongest when members are trying to be funny. This is usually like watching a walrus attempting to tap-dance: you admire the effort rather than the result. Today Harriet Harman, leader of the house, was standing in for Gordon Brown who was at the climate change conference in Copenhagen. Anne McIntosh, the Tory MP for Vale of York, saw her chance. "Copenhagen is the land of make-believe and fairytales," she said. "Does the leader of the house have a favourite fairy tale?" We groaned, silently, for we could guess what was coming. "Could it be The Emperor's New Clothes? Is she The Little Robber Girl, or is she really the princess?" Oh dear. Laugh? We almost started. A team of top French deconstructionists could have spent semesters on that question. The reference to the emperor's new clothes was, I suppose, something to do with the government thinking it had performed better than it had. Or that Gordon Brown was preening himself while wearing nothing but body hair and goose pimples. Who can say? I don't know which princess Ms McIntosh had in mind, since there are several. As for The Little Robber Girl, no doubt this was meant to evoke high taxes, yet the actual story is horrible, involving mass murder and hideous cruelty. It is the kind of tale that was probably read to kids who have gone on to coin millions with misery memoirs: "Mommy chained me to the radiator, and Daddy read me The Little Robber Girl, every night." Anyhow, Ms Harman was prepared, sort of. She leapt up and said: "We could all learn a lesson from fairytales, which is that you need to avoid" and here she waved frantically at the Tory front bench "the brothers Grimm!" She kept on talking, but we couldn't hear. Labour MPs, who had been largely sitting in a grumpy and morose silence, suddenly erupted as if it were the funniest political barb every fired. They rolled round in fits of comedy delight, slapping their thighs and holding their stomachs as if afraid that the force of the laughter inside them might make them explode. I began to suspect that the noise had little to do with the quality of Hattie's joke but the fact that she had made it and had said something brief and crisp in contrast to the endless vague rambling she had offered before. The row did not stop: it grew more raucous, and in the end the Speaker had to intervene. Good humour was one thing, disorder another, he said. The public wanted to be reassured, not disgusted. A good point, but it may be a bit late to worry about public disgust now."
10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
"The Chilcott inquiry heard from Sir John Scarlett yesterday, a spook as different from the spooks of popular fiction as you might meet beside a hollow tree in St James's Park. Present him with a dry martini and an evil billionaire who wants to take over the world, and I suspect he would be dashing off home to spread more John Innes on his roses. What he does have is a remarkable grasp of modern-day management-speak. Clearly this is far more important now than skills at codebreaking and driving fast cars. Before we were two minutes into his evidence, we were talking about "structure, output and tasking." "Bond, I want you to make sure you stay within structure and output guidelines. And no more tasking gorgeous women." The room where the inquiry is taking place is small and stuffy, with pipes running across the ceiling, so it resembles an interrogation chamber in some anonymous military building. As so often, my mind drifted  in this case to Berlin during the 1950s. George Smiley, played by Sir Alec Guinness, is being briefed by John Scarlett, an up-and-coming operative. All jargon comes from yesterday's session. Smiley gazed at the lights reflected in the Spree. Berlin was bitterly cold at that time in winter, but it was not just the chill that made him shiver under his greatcoat. A slender figure slid beside him. It was young Scarlett. "I hear that Kalashnikov was a disappointment." "Oh, I don't know, sir. The interrogation was never formulaic, always substantial and often robust." "Did you get anything worthwhile?" "Well, sir, obviously we had to pay close attention to the requirements and priorities round, and bear in mind the formulation of the medium-term work programme, coupled with other short-term priorities." Smiley grunted. A young couple, screeching with merriment, went past on their way to a bar or nightclub. The girl was clearly drunk and her boyfriend seemed to be almost dragging her along. Not for the first time, Smiley wondered about the coming generation. "Did you see the minister?" "See the minister, sir? Sorry, I don't know what you mean." Smiley sighed. Sometimes it was like dealing with people for whom English was a second, even a third language. "I mean, did you brief the minister of defence about what Kalashnikov told us?" "Oh, gosh, I see, sir! You mean did I interface the customer?" "Yes," said Smiley with infinite weariness. "I suppose that's what I mean..." They actually talk about ministers, army chiefs, etc as "customers". And they don't meet them but "interface" them. Sir John Scarlett is older now, and has learned the techniques of the civil service. For example, he let Tony Blair off the hook when he said there had been no pressure to "firm up" the dossier on Iraq's weaponry. But, he was asked, his dossier was an assessment of the WMD campaign, not a threat assessment. That was all implied in the alarming foreword, written by Tony Blair. "The foreword was overtly a political statement signed by the prime minister, so it was his wording and his comments. I didn't see it as something I could change." The stiletto sinks in before the victim has even spotted it."
10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
"A great PM's questions. But first, a moment in British constitutional history. On Tuesday I reported that Sir Peter Tapsell, one of the last knights of the shires, had been reselected. That morning, another thunderously grand knight, Sir Patrick Cormack, announced he would not be standing again. I am told these two events are closely connected. Both men were desperate to become father of the house. But now it seems almost certain that Sir Peter (known as "Blofeld" on the Labour benches) will succeed. For Sir Patrick this is a devastating time, and all our thoughts are with him. He sat behind his rival, in easy backstabbing distance, but being the ultimate gentleman, Sir Patrick refused to take advantage. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown and David Cameron were knocking seven bells out of each other. The Tory leader wanted to know why Britain was the only G20 country still in recession. Gordon Brown made a mistake. He said that Spain was in recession, and six other EU members were too. I assume he meant Latvia, Bulgaria, etc. This is like saying,: "No, I am not the stupidest boy in the class. Snotty Wilson got one less than me in maths." It is better left unsaid. He went on to say Cameron was "talking down Britain". This is always a sign of the end. John Major used the line in the dying days of his government. Any criticism was "talking down Britain". It was weedy then and it's weedy now. Cameron riposted that Brown had promised we would "lead the world out of recession". Brown did what he always does, and accused the Tories of having no policies. The sound in the chamber grew louder and louder as he shot: "The voice might be that of a modern PR man, but the mindset is the 1930s!" "That must have sounded great in the bunker!" snapped Cameron. Brown fought back with his trusty if rusted old sword, the Tory policy of raising the inheritance tax threshold for, he usually adds, the rich people on Cameron's Christmas card list. This time Cameron was ready. The Labour party was the only party which had already legislated for an increase in the inheritance tax! Brown wriggled for him, quite deftly. He brought up the fact that the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith was a multimillionaire who paid no British tax on his offshore income. Clearly he and Cameron had dreamed up inheritance tax policy on "the playing fields of Eton". The battle of pre-cooked, boil-in-the-bag soundbites was getting nastier. A Labour MP raised domestic violence. The actor Reese Witherspoon had spoken about it that morning. Mr Brown paid tribute to "Renny Wutherspoon". Scottish readers: don't hesitate to tell me this is the way it's pronounced in east Scotland, you English bigot! Witherspoon once played the wife of Johnny Cash. Or, as Labour MPs would sing, "Because you're mine/I toe the line". Finally, Sir Peter Tapsell was called. All sides gave him an immense cheer. The prime minister had said that there would soon be 300,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan, the same number as the Soviets who were humiliated there. Should the prime minister not RESIGN? (Or as Sir Peter, who has a slight speech impediment, put it, "WESIGN!")"
10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
"Normally I would not dream of quoting from a private letter, but Sir Peter Tapsell has topped his note to me "Personal (up to a point!)" so I assume he will not mind my sharing the splendid news with you. For on Friday last, Sir Peter was readopted to contest the general election in the Conservative interest for the constituency of Louth and Horncastle. It will be his 15th campaign, and he will almost certainly have turned 80 by the time it takes place. You could almost hear the huzzahs ringing down from Lincolnshire! What makes his victory especially piquant is that as part of his 45-minute speech to the Conservatives, he read out part of one of my sketches. This was from 2006, shortly after Tony Blair had claimed that God would judge him on Iraq. At the time I compared Sir Peter's interventions to watching Alfred Brendel and George Best in action. (I was tempted to rewrite the Tommy Cooper joke: "Trouble is, George Best was a hopeless pianist and Alfred Brendel couldn't play football." But I didn't.) Sir Peter had finished his majestic question to the then prime minister, "Will he tell us which archangel is now beckoning him towards southern Afghanistan?" No wonder that, even in this youth-crazed world, Sir Peter was chosen again. Yesterday he was in his place listening to the prime minister make another statement about Afghanistan. Sir Peter believes that we should not have gone there in the first place, and that since the Soviets could not hold the country with 300,000 men our 500 extra troops will not make the slightest difference. Gordon Brown's statement required a certain understanding of metaphysics. The gist seemed to be that because our military intervention had been so successful, we needed more troops to make it even more successful. And we should send extra men now so that our lads could come home earlier. And the fact that several countries were threatening to remove their forces from Afghanistan meant that even more nations would be represented there soon. Hmmm. You can always tell when a policy is in trouble when the politicians start turning it into new cliches. "We need a military surge, complemented by a political surge, which is essentially an Afghan political surge," he said. Try prising the sultanas out of that cake! Sir Peter did not at first rise to ask a question. Instead he used body language, the Esperanto of the Commons, to express his deep dissatisfaction. He rested his hands on his lap aggressively, if you can picture that. He leaned forward and scowled. At one point he leaned back, folded his arms, and looked, simply, furious. The prime minister continued, deploying more weird pronunciations. ("Mastiff" armoured vehicles he calls "masteef" to rhyme with the French "canif". Al-Qaida is no longer "Alky Ada", the drunken old aunt. She has become Al, Kay, Ada a music hall act of the inter-war years. Finally Sir Peter could bear it no longer. He stood up and, in his pomp, asked a question not about Afghanistan but Pakistan. So it was a disappointment for his fans, but our cup of good news was brimming over anyway."
10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
"We were gathered for the launch of an exciting new thinktank, ResPublica. It was particularly thrilling because David Cameron was there to pat the tank on the head and send it on its way. The launch was in a hotel conference room festooned with velvet drapes, chandeliers, tapestries and tiled pilasters. It looked like the entry hall of the most luxurious brothel in Bradford. Behind the platform was a placard announcing the aims of the new tank. "Radical solutions revolutionise innovation sustainable future," it declared. My law of reverse meaning states that if the opposite of something is obvious nonsense, it wasn't worth saying in the first place, as in "tinkering at the edges sticking in the mud using tomorrow's resources today!" The room was filled with 300 people. We asked a thinktank tankie who they were. "They are the great and the good of the policy world!" he replied. My heart began to ache and a drowsy numbness started to numb me, drowsily. David Cameron arrived. We hear that many of his shadow cabinet are deeply suspicious of ResPublica, which they fear smacks of socialism and some forms of rightwing fundamentalism. They see it as a freemarket Hizb ut-Tahrir. No wonder Mr Cameron did not stay long. "It's great to be at the launch of another thinktank in Britain!" he said, stressing the word "another" so giving his welcome a slightly sarcastic air. He galloped along. We had a broken society, broken politics, and a broken economy. We needed the "bigger society" whatever that might be. And people were often in public services because they loved their work. "We have to unlock the love!" he exclaimed. The one and only begetter of ResPublica, its director, Phillip Blond, said the Tory leader's diary did not permit him to stay. I'll say. He was out of there like a cat chased by a dog on a skateboard. This left the platform bare except for Mr Blond, who spoke with such profundity that I found it hard to stay awake. I was jerked into life when he pointed out how Conservatives had always been great liberators. They abolished slavery, and it was Tories who led the factory reform movement, "against Guardian-reading Manchester liberals". Heavens, Guardian readers get blamed for a lot, but I didn't realise that included child labour. "Profoundly individualating," he went on. "Reciprocality!" he demanded. "Universality should not be compromised!" He called for an "eco-structure for exchange and ethos". I would have paid more heed to these thunderous abstractions if Mr Blond hadn't looked like a cross between Gordon Brown and DCI Gene Hunt in Ashes To Ashes. "Policing the model," he said. ("Awright, Ms Campbell, better come wiv us, my girl, or you'll cop it.") "Economic actors," ("I'd love to buy a round, darling, but I seem to have become parted from my wallet.") "Postmodern verity against an objective void." "Hear, hear, that needed saying!" as no one remarked. Finally it was over. The food afterwards was great."
10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
"It was our first chance to see David Miliband in action after Hillary Clinton's confession of if not love, then of a deep and profound attraction. In an interview with American Vogue, the US secretary of state came over all Mills &amp; Boon. "If you saw him," she said, "it would be a big crush. I mean, he is so vibrant, vital, attractive, smart! He's a really good guy, and he's so young!" You can say that again. The foreign secretary is 18 years her junior. That makes her what is known these days as a "cougar", an older woman who preys on younger men. (I think I know the origin of this curious term, but it isn't very nice, and I would not dare repeat it in the Guardian.) So Mr Miliband must feel a lot more welcome in Foggy Bottom, Washington, than he does in the Commons. The only woman facing him in the chamber today was Anne Main (C, St Albans) and she is a mere seven years older than him. A puma perhaps, or a lynx. And in any case she didn't exactly look smitten. Nor did Sir Peter Tapsell, the Man Who Warned the World About Afghanistan. He too was clearly not suffering from a crush. As Mr Miliband spoke, Sir Peter's expression ranged from sceptical to cynical, from disbelief to scorn. Finally he rose to intervene with a pair of questions designed to upend our deliciously vibrant foreign secretary through his own superior knowledge of the North-West Frontier and associated hell holes. We learned how the Taliban were once supported only by the Pashtun. Now they were being driven into the Swat Valley and Baluchistan! You could almost see that vital, smart brain thinking: "I've heard of them. They were on the news!" But he thought too soon. Sir Peter, never to be out-manoeuvred in the Great Game went on, "which are an immense distance away from the Durand frontier!" What possible answer can there be to that? It was a magnificent example of one-upmanship, a meeting between Stephen Potter, Flashman and Google Earth. Mr Miliband had no reply, and moved swiftly on to the Israel/Palestine question and something he called "the Clinton parameters". Well, I thought, I've never heard them called that before. It turned out that he was referring to the gorgeous, pouting Hillary's husband, who showed the world his parameters back in 2000. Disappointing. Then William Hague rose and enjoyed himself hugely over the appointment of "Cathy Ashton", as he claimed Gordon Brown's third choice as EU high representative. Why, he said, the foreign secretary had been tempted by the job, for all the right reasons including "his belief that the prime minister will soon be gone". Peter Mandelson had also been put forward. Ministers would have a chance to deny this, but instead "an icy stillness" rose from the front bench. This would not just be a case of a rat leaving the sinking ship, but the lord high admiral himself departing "though we are reluctant to suggest new titles, because he might adopt them". The Labour front bench collapsed in laughter. There is little love lost there."
10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
"A handful of Labour MPs turned up on the day after the Queen's speech. And most of them could scarcely be bothered to stand up and ask a question. Nobody believes in this thing. It's not worth the parchment it's written on. David Heath, for the Lib Dems, called it an abracadabra Queen's speech. "Shazam! The deficit halved at a stroke. Shazam! Poverty abolished around the world. This is fantasy politics!" Other MPs were fractious about losing the public's attention. Nigel Evans thought it "bizarre" that more people were interested in how John and Edward performed on The X Factor than in the new president of Europe. I don't know. The Irish twins have more in common than you might think with the various dreary factotums who are standing for EU president: (a) rather weird faces, (b) even weirder hairdos, (c) come from very small country, (d) no perceptible singing talent, and (e) unjustified but relentless ambition. In a desperate attempt to make themselves relevant, MPs drag in popular culture whenever they can. Peter Bone, the Tory MP who looks exactly like Sven-Gran Eriksson, said he hoped Harriet Harman would become prime minister. He claimed to be the founder "and, sad to say, the only member of Hots Harriet's Official Tory Supporters!" This was a deeply embarrassing moment, as if Mr Bone had decided to make public a liking for rubber underwear. Ms Harman reacted rather like a young woman being wolf-whistled from a building site and pretended she hadn't heard. Or at least heard properly. "I had not realised that the hon member was hot," she replied. Some of us didn't know where to look, but he could not be stopped. "No, you're hot!" he exclaimed. Fresh trousers for Mr Bone! Michael Gove, the Tory education spokesman, may have been watching I'm A Celebrity because suddenly he accused Ed Balls, of being "the Katie Price, the Jordan of the government. All he is interested in is being on the front pages, so he has massively inflated what he has to offer!" Oooh, missus! Actually this was Mr Gove's attempt at revenge, for earlier he was the victim of a fine coup de thtre by Mr Balls. The education secretary said he was fed up with the Tories saying that GCSE exams had been dumbed down. He had with him a few questions from recent GCSEs. Would Mr Gove care to answer them? This from the additional science test: "Name the type of enzyme that digests stains containing fats." Mr Gove squirmed slightly but offered no answer. Mr Balls, who is a playground bully at heart, realised he had found a victim. "Explain how a fluoride atom can change into a fluoride ion! The hon gentlemen is well known as an erudite and intellectual man. What is the answer?" Then: "Does he want to try that? Wanna try?" He sounded like an aggressive thug chanting "Want some, do yer? Want some?" in a pub car park. Finally he demanded, from the maths paper: "Work out three and three-quarters minus one and two-fifths." Mr Gove again, sensibly, offered no reply. (It is two and seven-twentieths.) The bully had won."
10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
"It was the Threadneedle Spectator parliamentarian of the year awards today. Lord Mandelson was the big winner. (I wasn't a judge, so I am not to blame. Others know who they are.) He received his award for politician of the year from Boris Johnson. It was, Mandelson said, a great honour. He was the first winner since 2006 not to have been a member of the Bullingdon Club. Then he added: "This is another to add to the list of things I have in common with Boris. We both spent a long time in Brussels. We both had very public resignations. And we both have an overwhelming ambition to do everything we can to undermine David Cameron." From his right came harrumphing and denial. "Humph. No! No! Harrumph," cried Boris. This protestation might have been slightly more convincing if it hadn't been for Boris's own speech a short while before. This took the form of a mock-heroic address to MPs, who had created a "magnificent catastrophe" to distract attention away from the banking scandal. "How proud I am!" he said, addressing MPs, his former colleagues. "I want to give you the most massive plug but unlike Jacqui Smith I would not dream of claiming for it for the chaotic, shambolic handling which has brilliantly directed media and public anger away from the financial services of London!" Warming to his theme and Boris never cools to any theme on which he has embarked "you resemble Leonidas and the Spartans, or Clint Eastwood in The Bodyguard, standing in the path of public rage! You have taken the bullet for the bankers!" Why, he said, it was marvellous that MPs should win all these awards. They would each need a trophy cabinet from Ikea, or possibly John Lewis, to display them all! This would go on their additional costs allowance. The cabinet might be so full that it could damage a wall. They would need to grow wisteria on the outside of the wall. So: "It would be necessary to add a wisteria trimmer to the bill." Did he mention moat cleaning, or duck houses, or flat-screen televisions? No, he mentioned only wisteria trimming. And who is the only MP to have claimed for wisteria trimming? Why David Cameron. You might need to be obsessed by politics, or by the control of climbing plants, to understand what he was talking about. But we knew. That is Boris's genius. He always gets it both ways. Most other award winners were just happy to get their gong and go. Kenneth Clarke, ironically named newcomer of the year, said the judges had made an old man very happy. Paul Farrelly, the Labour MP Carter-Ruck tried to silence over the Guardian's revelations of toxic waste dumping in Africa, was named inquisitor of the year and said it showed there was life in the "old dog of parliament". The Tory peer Lady Warsi was moving. She said she had been voted sexiest member of the House of Lords, "but in light of the fact that I've still got my teeth, that's not so extraordinary. "But I am the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant mill-worker, and I ended up in the House of Lords." We all applauded madly what a wonderful country we still think this is."
10 (simonhoggart)
0 (Politics)
"The House of Lords used to be the politest place in the land. Nobody ever shouted, like David Cameron, "you're useless!" No one yelled "wrong, wrong, wrong!" You would be as likely to see a food fight in the Athenaeum. There were ways of disagreeing. For example, if someone suggested the return of child chimney sweeps: "The noble lord makes an intriguing point and one which your lordships may wish to ponder. However, Her Majesty's government feels unable, at this particular time, to make the commitment he requests." All is changed, changed utterly. It's almost as nasty as the Commons now. Take the question about the ratification of the Lisbon treaty yesterday. It was answered by Lord Brett, of whom I have never heard, but who appears to be a minister in the Foreign Office. He took the opportunity to gloat about the Tories' problems on this issue. I might have paid more attention to what he said if he had not appeared to be channelling the late Les Dawson, whom he resembles both in voice and appearance. "My old mum used to say: 'Never intrude into private grief," he said. There would be plenty of public grief if the Tories got their way. Lord Howell, the Tory spokesman, said: "I knew we wouldn't get far without this kind of vacuous exchange." Lord Brett: "I noted the comments about the vacuous comments, and I appreciate the vacuous comments he added. Ooh, missus!" (He didn't actually use the last two words, but some of the peers did go "Whooo!") Here's a pub quiz question. "What is 10 in London and 1 in Warsaw?" The answer is the letter Z in Scrabble. Lord Dykes said that the Polish papers were much better than our own, lacking the anti-European hysteria shown by quite a few members of the Conservative party. Whooo! Lord Brett claimed to be concerned about the Tories' strange allies in Europe. "Another maxim of my old mum was: 'By their friends they shall be known.'" We are being governed by the spirit of Lord Brett's mother. But everyone got off lightly compared with poor Lord Young of Norwood Green, who answered a question about grants for disabled students. Apparently these are in a terrible mess. It's the usual combination of arrogance, privatisation and computer cock-ups. Being New Labour, Lord Young called the situation "a success story". Lord Hunt, for the Tories, asked what, in that case, he would call a failure. "The higher education policies of the last [Tory] government" he replied. "That would be my description of a failure." The Tories jeered at the wretched response. Lord Young was, I fear, humiliated by everyone. Peers from all sides circled him like hyenas spotting a wildebeest with a limp. We only returned to normality with Lord West of Spithead, who contrived to work in praise for our heroic Royal Navy into an answer about cannabis use. I thought he might take the salute, or at least splice the mainbrace, whatever that means."
11 (willhutton)
0 (Politics)
11 (willhutton)
0 (Politics)
"The emerging consensus on Tony Blair is that he was a successful to very successful prime minister who made one fatal mistake - Iraq. He should never have allowed his Christian conscience and his anxiety to stand by America to trump the fact that he never got the second UN resolution for which he had fought in order to justify the invasion. He should have stood back and allowed the US to invade by itself. If he had he might still be looking forward to many more years of power today.But that decision had another, more fateful impact: it has made the west's dealings with China much more difficult. In the long run, the character of the Chinese state and whether it abides by the protocols of international law are going to have a much greater impact on the world than Islamist terror, which has been the focus of so much of Blair and Bush's efforts.As it is, China only just stays within the carapace of international law. Its cheap loans to African dictatorships undermine western efforts to promote better government; its desire to secure long-term oil supplies from Iran means it protects the Tehran regime in the United Nations, and it shoots down its own weather satellite without notifying the international community beforehand.This is all within its ambit as a sovereign state - as is its refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol on climate change. But as China grows ever more powerful, it will matter more and more that it accepts the framework of international law. Blair has many achievements to his name. In my view, one of the longest lasting will be the invention of a "liberal labour" tradition - the mirror image of liberal conservatism, and just as big a vote winner. However, it is not just Iraq that sits on the debit side of the ledger; there is the green light that his foreign policy gave China, an authoritarian, one-party state, to behave in the same unilateral way as the US and UK."
End of preview (truncated to 100 rows)

# Dataset Card for "guardian_authorship"

### Dataset Summary

A dataset cross-topic authorship attribution. The dataset is provided by Stamatatos 2013. 1- The cross-topic scenarios are based on Table-4 in Stamatatos 2017 (Ex. cross_topic_1 => row 1:P S U&W ). 2- The cross-genre scenarios are based on Table-5 in the same paper. (Ex. cross_genre_1 => row 1:B P S&U&W).

3- The same-topic/genre scenario is created by grouping all the datasts as follows. For ex., to use same_topic and split the data 60-40 use: train_ds = load_dataset('guardian_authorship', name="cross_topic_<<#>>", split='train[:60%]+validation[:60%]+test[:60%]') tests_ds = load_dataset('guardian_authorship', name="cross_topic_<<#>>", split='train[-40%:]+validation[-40%:]+test[-40%:]')

IMPORTANT: train+validation+test[:60%] will generate the wrong splits because the data is imbalanced

## Dataset Structure

### Data Instances

#### cross_genre_1

• Size of the generated dataset: 2.61 MB
• Total amount of disk used: 5.57 MB

An example of 'train' looks as follows.

{
"article": "File 1a\n",
"author": 0,
"topic": 4
}


#### cross_genre_2

• Size of the generated dataset: 2.61 MB
• Total amount of disk used: 5.57 MB

An example of 'validation' looks as follows.

{
"article": "File 1a\n",
"author": 0,
"topic": 1
}


#### cross_genre_3

• Size of the generated dataset: 2.61 MB
• Total amount of disk used: 5.57 MB

An example of 'validation' looks as follows.

{
"article": "File 1a\n",
"author": 0,
"topic": 2
}


#### cross_genre_4

• Size of the generated dataset: 2.61 MB
• Total amount of disk used: 5.57 MB

An example of 'validation' looks as follows.

{
"article": "File 1a\n",
"author": 0,
"topic": 3
}


#### cross_topic_1

• Size of the generated dataset: 2.23 MB
• Total amount of disk used: 5.18 MB

An example of 'validation' looks as follows.

{
"article": "File 1a\n",
"author": 0,
"topic": 1
}


### Data Fields

The data fields are the same among all splits.

#### cross_genre_1

• author: a classification label, with possible values including catherinebennett (0), georgemonbiot (1), hugoyoung (2), jonathanfreedland (3), martinkettle (4).
• topic: a classification label, with possible values including Politics (0), Society (1), UK (2), World (3), Books (4).
• article: a string feature.

#### cross_genre_2

• author: a classification label, with possible values including catherinebennett (0), georgemonbiot (1), hugoyoung (2), jonathanfreedland (3), martinkettle (4).
• topic: a classification label, with possible values including Politics (0), Society (1), UK (2), World (3), Books (4).
• article: a string feature.

#### cross_genre_3

• author: a classification label, with possible values including catherinebennett (0), georgemonbiot (1), hugoyoung (2), jonathanfreedland (3), martinkettle (4).
• topic: a classification label, with possible values including Politics (0), Society (1), UK (2), World (3), Books (4).
• article: a string feature.

#### cross_genre_4

• author: a classification label, with possible values including catherinebennett (0), georgemonbiot (1), hugoyoung (2), jonathanfreedland (3), martinkettle (4).
• topic: a classification label, with possible values including Politics (0), Society (1), UK (2), World (3), Books (4).
• article: a string feature.

#### cross_topic_1

• author: a classification label, with possible values including catherinebennett (0), georgemonbiot (1), hugoyoung (2), jonathanfreedland (3), martinkettle (4).
• topic: a classification label, with possible values including Politics (0), Society (1), UK (2), World (3), Books (4).
• article: a string feature.

### Data Splits

name train validation test
cross_genre_1 63 112 269
cross_genre_2 63 62 319
cross_genre_3 63 90 291
cross_genre_4 63 117 264
cross_topic_1 112 62 207

## Considerations for Using the Data

### Citation Information

@article{article,
author = {Stamatatos, Efstathios},
year = {2013},
month = {01},
pages = {421-439},
title = {On the robustness of authorship attribution based on character n-gram features},
volume = {21},
journal = {Journal of Law and Policy}
}

@inproceedings{stamatatos2017authorship,