Friday, June 12, 2009 

Blears today, gone tomorrow.

You have to hand it to Hazel Blears, if there's one thing she has in abundance, it's pure chutzpah. She wasn't plotting, she regrets "insulting" Gordon Brown, she wishes she hadn't worn a brooch with "rocking the boat" on it, and it was careless to resign only a day before the local elections. If you wanted to extend the rather tired Stalinist analogy, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was Blears having to confess to her crimes before she takes the bullet in the back of the head.

Except it later turns out that she's now facing a motion of no confidence, albeit one she seems likely to survive, rather like how she herself failed to displace Gordon Brown despite of course now denying that she ever wished for that to happen. Could Blears denouncing herself and that motion possibly be connected?

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Friday, June 05, 2009 

Brown's bastards and the death of a once proud party.

To call Friday the 5th of June 2009 a day of contrasts would be something of an understatement. On the positive side for Labour and Gordon Brown, what was almost certainly a Blairite coup appears to have been averted, and with it, the Blairites themselves have almost to an individual been purged, or rather, for the most part purged themselves. The only Blairite true believers who remain in the cabinet are probably Tessa Jowell, who ought to be history, Andy Burnham and Peter Mandelson, but who now seems to have bizarrely became as pro-Brown as he was pro-Blair. Thanks to James Purnell, Brown has also apparently been foiled from carrying out the wholesale changes he wanted: Alistair Darling stays chancellor and Ed Balls, his supposed replacement, remains at education, both of which are non-changes for the better. Likewise, that both John Denham and Alan Johnson have been promoted, two of the most capable and pleasant ministers within the government is also a wise move. Johnson has the potential to be a vast improvement over the last three home secretaries (what happened to Shaun Woodward, being so talked up earlier in the week?), and you can also detect perhaps an ulterior motive from Brown, to be giving probably the most poisoned chalice within government to the man so heavily tipped to be his successor.

Those are however the only positives to be taken, as the local election results have been completely cataclysmic for Labour, something which the media, fascinated and intrigued by the machinations at Westminster has failed to really delve into. Labour lost control of its last four remaining county councils, and some of the wipeouts have been breathtaking, losing 30 of 32 seats in Staffordshire and 17 of 21 seats in Lincolnshire. Earlier in the week the talk was that if Derbyshire was lost then Brown should have been finished; it's gone, and he's for the moment clinging on. The results leave Labour with only around 130 councillors across such councils, and the party itself reduced to a rump, moribund with the activists in despair. We shouldn't write the party off, and the Conservatives have recovered from similar disasters, but it does make you wonder whether this isn't the slow, agonising death, not yet ofLabour itself, but New Labour certainly.

The ostensible Labour share of the vote is 23%, 1% down on its previous poorest showing, but that covers up just how terrible the kicking has been. Almost certainly the European election results will be even worse; it surely isn't unthinkable now that Labour's share of the vote could be well below 20%, and that is especially chilling when you consider how many former Labour supporters will have crossed the box for the BNP. Hopefully most will have plumped instead for UKIP or the Greens, but Nick Griffin gaining the respectability of a Europe seat is an ill wind about politics in general. That the Conservative vote has dipped to 38% from its previous high suggests that all are suffering to some extent, but Labour the most. The one consolation that remains is that on a similar share of the vote at a general election, unlikely as most who voted for the minor parties or stayed at home will return to the big three and turn out, the Tories will only have a majority of around 4 seats. This is still not yet a Conservative walkover, with the voters attacking Labour and politics as a whole rather than coalescing around David Cameron, although that may well be the next step.

Like earlier in the week, we should again be celebrating that another Labour careerist Blairite, as even John Prescott described James Purnell, walked the plank in such a sickeningly self-righteous manner. In his resignation letter, Purnell hilariously wrote that "[I]t calls for a government that measures itself on how it treats the poorest in society." This is the man that has just presided over changes to the benefit system that penalise, punish, harass and prosecute those very people. Even more staggering has been Caroline Flint's mood swing from backing Brown to the hilt only last night to deciding today that he had been using her and the other women in the cabinet as nothing more than "window-dressing". Mercilessly satirised by the Heresiarch, this seems to have far more to do with the fact that Brown didn't consider her for promotion, despite offering that she could attend cabinet, hence the throwing of the toys out of the pram in a political hissy fit that will have doubtless delighted the "women against Gordon" she was alleged to have been associated with. That she recently posed for the Observer in a range of dresses, some of which have predictably found their way onto the front pages of tomorrow's newspapers (not to mention this blog) seems to have done nothing to deter her from using such a potentially hypocritical turn of phrase.

One thing should be made clear. Despite the fact this is almost definitely a coup attempt led by Blairites (and every single resignation with the exception of Margaret Beckett has been by Blairites), there is no real quarrel here about policies. While there were policy differences in the past between the Blairites and Brownites, however slight, there is now nothing whatsoever to separate them. This is purely about Brown, and how they don't think they can win the election with him in charge, not that Alan Johnson or David Miliband will lead the party back into the promised lead of constant reforming revolution; Johnson after all has just been successful as health secretary mainly because he has allowed the NHS to settle after constant restructuring. This is why if Brown is to be overthrown, and that still in my opinion, despite everything, should not happen, it should be by the backbenchers, not the "bastards who have never had a job in their lives". There are still differences in opinion back there, and it is only they who can claim to have the interests of the party at heart. The anger at the grassroots at the manoveuring of Blears and Purnell is palpable, as the Grauniad's letters page shows, making a bad situation for those already stricken by the expenses scandal even worse.

Even then though, there is no indication whatsoever that they would be listened to. Brown certainly doesn't trust them, or rate them, as there will now be 7 unelected ministers in the cabinet. How can Brown or anyone else claim to be interested in genuine reform when he has to turn to the Lords repeatedly to shore himself up? While he may not have appointed peers in the same way that Blair did, this apparent contempt both for backbenchers and for the idea that our reprensentatives should be elected rather than cronies is another sign of his weakness. For now he might have saved himself, or rather the Blairites might have saved him through their own pitiful conspiring, but Labour is set to sink whoever is at the helm. 15 years of New Labour has destroyed it, and who knows how long it will be before even the slightest recovery will begin.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009 

With a bang, not a whimper.

Normally the departure of Hazel Blears would be a wonderful cause for celebration. The epitome of absolutely everything wrong, not just with New Labour, but with politics as a whole, she jumped before she was pushed. No one imagined that Blears, despite being an awful politician, was also on the make or out to "take what was hers", in the words of Michael Martin; perhaps her expenses are still a genuine oversight or based upon bad advice from the fees office. It was however the icing on the cake when it came to someone who based their entire career up until very recently on unstinting, unquestioning loyalty and belief in the righteousness of absolutely everything that New Labour has done, manifesting itself most vividly in her recent interview with George Monbiot, when her wild-eyed fanaticism looked as if turning instead into sad, desperately lonely certainty.

In normal times, Blears would be a pygmy, in more than one sense. There is however no other interpretation but that this was further revenge from a woman who has been both scorned and wronged, who knew she had the power to inflict yet more damage on an already flailing prime minister. Whether she was involved in the leaking of Jacqui Smith's resignation, as alleged by some in Downing Street or not, this was without doubt a further act to that. Her resignation letter is as pointed, both in its repeated emphasis on how she will be returning to her roots, and in its failure to pay any real tribute to Brown.

Downing Street should have been able to laugh this off. This is after all a non-entity, someone with ideas above their station who failed miserably when she stood for the deputy leadership, coming dead last. Her brand of clap-happy, shiny smiley ultra-Blairism could not be more out of fashion, and her brandishing of a cheque on television to pay back the over £10,000 she owed in capital gains tax could not have been further removed from those she claims to have backed and defended her entire life. Some of those doubtless could not have put together a cheque for £100, let alone that sum. Indeed, for someone who claims to have the interests of the Labour party at heart, she has almost certainly just cost some Labour councillors their seats, and taken votes away from their European candidates. The irony of the local government minister, through an act of petulant, pathetic self-indulgence, doing the equivalent of shoving a bottle up local Labour activists will ensure that her return to Salford is unlikely to be a happy one.

Quite how weakened Number 10 has been by this is shown by someone having the temerity to claim that Brown and others had "smeared" Blears by apparently leaking further information about her tax payments to the Torygraph. Blears has just done the equivalent of leaving a turd on the doorstep of Brown's den, and her allies are suggesting she's the victim in all of it! Whether there is a concerted plot by "friends" of Blears, almost all Blairite women, which includes Jacqui Smith, who seemed to laugh her way through a Sky News interview to kill Gordon through bleeding to death from a thousand cuts or not is impossible to tell. What is clear however is that despite the claims of Polly Toynbee, this does have the potential to cause deep resentment within the party, perhaps not on the level which consumed some Tories after Thatcher was deposed, but poison nonetheless. The plotters almost to an individual all seem to be Blairites, or Blairite-sympathisers, some who have always either disliked or loathed Brown, and now seem to finally sense they can have their revenge. This wouldn't be completely ignoble if there was a genuine leader waiting in the wings who could unite the party once Brown goes, but there isn't. Does anyone honestly believe that Alan Johnson is a long-term Labour leader rather than a stop gap? Is David Miliband even approaching ready to become prime minister, even only for a couple of months until he'd have to call an election?

There is however still one way out of all this, as proposed by the Heresiarch, which I thoroughly agree with and am rather shamelessly borrowing. Brown on Friday should go to the palace and ask for parliament to be dissolved for an election. It's the one thing that would wrongfoot absolutely everybody, his opponents in the party, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and doubtless the Queen herself. The Labour ranks would be forced to get behind him, the other parties would have to actually tell us what their alternative will look like, and it would also appease those who are demanding an election now because of the expenses scandal. It would remove those who have said they are standing down far quicker than they might like, also a very good thing. At the same time there could also be that referendum on voting reform, a vote for which David Cameron could almost certainly not ignore, and which would be one thing which Brown could cite as his legacy, as well as being the biggest change which the expenses debacle demands. Whatever Brown now does, he's going to lose. Why doesn't he go down fighting, not just for his leadership but for the country as well?

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Friday, May 15, 2009 

Off with their heads?

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, May 11, 2009 

The Nuremberg defence and democracy following it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, May 04, 2009 

Just one fucking thing after another.

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008 

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

The problem with the election of Obama for our own parliamentary equivalents is that it doesn't exactly show them in the most flattering light. Here's a master of oratory who's managed to inspire millions to go to the polls, and here's our bunch, left looking like a stood-up date on a particularly filthy evening. Whilst we've learned the lesson the hard way about charisma and the apparent "everyman" quality, you're still left absolutely bewildered, wondering where our own personal Obama might suddenly come from. With no suitable candidate in sight, we instead have to make do with both Gordon Brown and David Cameron fighting over which of them is most like Obama, reminiscent of two little boys at school squabbling over who the new girl likes the most.

Appropriately enough, the anti-Barack Obama decided upon today of all days to stick her head above the parapet and talk about something she clearly has absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever. I'm talking of course about the walking, talking, Labour-vote destroying robot which is Hazel Blears. Hazel Blears deciding to talk about political disengagement is a little like getting David Irving to talk about the problem of Holocaust denial; Blears, with perhaps only Tony McNulty for company, is the epitome of everything that an member of parliament should not be. She's loyal to the point of willing to sacrifice herself instead of the leader, or at least was to Tony Blair; she refuses to answer any question with anything resembling a straight answer; she has not a single apparent ideological bone in her body which might explain why she's joined the party she has; and when faced with overwhelming odds against her, she starts making things up. These might all be qualities which are essential to rise up the ranks of almost any political party today, but for those of us who actually want our representatives to have some specialist knowledge of any subject whatsoever, excepting motorbikes, or heaven forbid, even be more intelligent than we are, Blears and her friends, overwhelmingly Blairites, incidentally, are everything that is wrong with our politics as it stands.

All things considered, it therefore takes quite some chutzpah to imagine that you're suitably qualified to lecture anyone on political disengagement. Blears isn't interested in just why people are politically disengaged; she wishes to apportion blame. Predictably, it's not the fault of the politicians themselves for having indistinguishable policies, all the charm of a wet Sunday night in Salford or for prostituting their wares to the gutter press, but rather the media itself and additionally, bloggers.

Says Hazel:

Famously, Tony Blair called the media a "feral beast" in one of his last speeches as prime minister. But behind the eye-catching phrase was a serious and helpful analysis of a 24-hour broadcast media and shrinking, and increasingly competitive, newspaper market which demands more impact from its reporting – not the reporting of facts to enable citizens to make sense of the world, but the translation of every political discussion into a row, every difficulty a crisis, every rocky patch for the prime minister the "worst week ever".

Serious and helpful as in spelling out the bleeding obvious, as your humble narrator set out at the time. The liar in chief himself had to have balls to come out and attack the feral beast, having used said beast to get elected and then stay in power, but he of course didn't attack those most responsible for the cynicism with which politics in this country greeted, the Daily Mail and Sun, because if he had they would have chewed up said balls and spat them out in double-quick time. No, he instead attacked the Independent, which nobly stood up him to over the war and many other things, for daring to put its opinions on its front page, something the other tabloids had been doing for decades. Disingenuous could have been a adjective invented to describe Tony Blair, but he at least made the speech on his way out. Blears you would have thought still desperately believes she's on the way up.

In any event, Blears' claim that somehow it's just the media that exaggerates differences of opinion and bad days is simply nonsense. Blair himself was again partially responsible for this: he demanded and expected complete and utter unstinting loyalty. Read Alastair Campbell's diaries and see how he complained bitterly whenever the Labour party resisted his latest wheeze on principled grounds, with him condemning his colleagues for not "being serious". Blair went for such an uncompromising stance both because he wanted to be seen as the indomitable, strong leader, but also because the media had a hefty role in ensuring that Neil Kinnock never became prime minister. Campbell and Blair himself didn't want to see a Labour prime minister on the front page of the Sun again on election day inside a light-bulb, but the ends, suppressing all dissent and Faustian pacts with the likes of the Sun never justified the means. Politicians have themselves to blame as much as anyone else.

Blears continues:

And I would single out the rise of the commentariat as especially note-worthy. It is within living memory that journalists' names started to appear in newspapers; before then, no name was attached to articles. And in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as cabinet ministers. And if you can wield influence and even power, without ever standing for office or being held to account by an electorate, it further undermines our democracy.

As Unity has already argued, this is the equivalent to suggesting that only politicians are allowed to have complete freedom of speech. Blears is correct in suggesting that comment has swelled as investigations and genuine journalism has declined, and that the Guardian's maxim, that comment is free but facts are sacred has irrevocably broken down, but the idea that commentators are viewed as valid as elected politicians is abject nonsense.

As is her follow-up point:

The commentariat operates without scrutiny or redress. They cannot be held to account for their views, even when they perform the most athletic and acrobatic of flip-flops in the space of a few weeks. I can understand when commentators disagree with each other; it's when they disagree with themselves we should worry.

Even before the advent of the blog, commentators had to deal with letters in green ink as well as to the editor, and also the occupational hazard of appearing in Hackwatch in Private Eye, not to mention being parodied by Craig Brown, as many of those considered to be the most influential have been. Half of blogging is mocking what the mainstream thinks, or disagreeing with it, especially the likes of Polly Toynbee, so ruthlessly watched and baited by the right online. The only way in which Blears' statement makes sense is if you remove the word "commentariat" and replace it with "tabloid press", but she's hardly about to start attacking them.

There will always be a role for political commentary, providing perspective, illumination and explanation. But editors need to do more to disentangle it from news reporting, and to allow elected politicians the same kind of prominent space for comment as people who have never stood for office.

Ah yes, that's it; what's wrong with our politics is that politicians themselves don't have enough space to inculcate us with their philosophy and policies. Once they have we'll realise just how wrong we are about the lack of difference between them.

She then gets onto those of us pathetic and vain enough to run blogs:

This brings me to the role of political bloggers. Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a Samizdat style. The most popular blogs are rightwing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?

There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.

Unless and until political blogging adds value to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair.

If Blears thinks that Guido represents vicious nihilism, then she presumably hasn't read the finest of our swear bloggers, more's the pity. She does have something resembling a point regarding how the most popular blogs are right-wing; partly that is obviously because the government is nominally left-wing, but it's also because the left is far more disparate than the right tends to be in this country. As Unity has again already stated, politicians' blogs are almost notable only for their dreariness, with perhaps only Tom Watson and Tom Harris, excluding Bob, rising above it. Blears sees most bloggers as having a disdain for politicians and the political system, but while some are only concerned with the propagation of their own political world view, there are hundreds if not thousands of others who blog because they care about that self-same political system, and think that the current lot are debasing it through their very actions. Of course Blears would see this as a threat: she's wholly satisfied with how things are at the moment, where loyalty to the party counts above what is actually best for the country. She likes how this government has not been held to account for the Iraq war, for the complete abandonment of those that it was elected to defend, and for being in complete subservience to the City over everyone and everything else. Bloggers, for all their faults, and they are myriad, are the future. Barack Obama and the Democrats in America recognised this, and they treated them as more than equals. Instead of learning from their harnessing of the web, Blears only sees the dangers rather than the opportunities. She dares not imagine that she and her party are the problem, not the solution.

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Friday, May 23, 2008 

Giving a message to Hazel Blears.

Keeping it short and sweet, as you too might after spending the best part of the evening swapping round IDE cables and jumpers in a random fashion as that's apparently the only way to fix the piece of crap I'm currently laboured with, could someone be good enough to "give a message" to Hazel Blears by taking her out and shooting her in the fucking head?

Thanks in advance.

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Friday, March 28, 2008 

An unwelcome message and Labour's complicity.

You can't get much further from the message of the Sun's "mothers in arms" than the statement given yesterday by the mother of Sophie Lancaster, the gap-year student beaten to death simply for being a goth, or as her attackers referred to her, a "mosher".

"I stand outside this house of justice today, not as Sophie's mother, but as her voice," she said. "Her voice that was cruelly silenced in a single mindless act. I have lost an adorable and adoring daughter, but her death has also ruined the lives of those responsible, as well as the lives of their families. Today, more than ever, we need to show respect, compassion and tolerance for those whose appearance and culture differs from our own."

Her concern and sympathy for Sophie's murderers and their families, despite their own behaviour towards her, is something that not everybody will be able to understand. Her message however is one that ought to be universal.

All of this puts the Sun in a difficult position in how to report and comment on the murder. Naturally, it's being used as part of their campaign against "Broken Britain", but it completely jars against the demands of the "mothers in arms", which include the reintroduction of the death penalty, a compulsory DNA database, zero tolerance for minor crimes and the repeal of the human rights act, the very legislation which protects those who appearance and culture differs from those of the powerful.

The article itself is filled with the usual Sun hyperbole and harsh adjectives, but it's the Sun leader which is most of interest, mainly because it manages to go through the whole thing without referring to the fact that Sophie and her boyfriend were attacked purely because of what they were wearing, or indeed to any of Sylvia Lancaster's pleas for respect, compassion and tolerance, although it does wrangle this from somewhere:

Among the many eloquent remarks made by Sophie’s courageous mother Sylvia, a youth worker, was this:

“I have always been leftie liberal and now I come from the other side and just see it as ‘this is how it is’.”

That’s a message of which our soft judges and Government ministers must take heed.

Which looks to me as the Sun completely taking her remarks out of context. As a youth worker, she would already know "how it is". She's now looked at it from the other side, but it hasn't changed her views despite that, as her other comments make clear. It's therefore deeply predictable which the next line is:

Liberal attitudes on parenting, education and crime have led us here. There is only one way to turn back the tide.

So the mother that calls for liberal attitudes to continue is therefore completely ignored: she's irrelevant because her views don't fit with the Sun's, which has long made its mind up about what works and what doesn't. Despite 10 years of Labour getting ever tougher on all three of those issues, it can never be harsh enough to appease the demands of a press which cannot possibly be sated.

Last week at a meeting between the Labour pressure groups Progress and Compass, the former Blairite and the latter on the soft-left, Hazel Blears had the audacity to dismiss the arguments made by Compass as "pandering to the Guardian". Chance would be a fine thing. After 11 years of New Labour pandering purely to the Daily Mail and the Sun, pandering which will never ever secure their support over the very issues of immigration and crime which Blears and her Blairite clique are obsessed with being ever more reactionary on, it'd be nice if Labour decided to pander to the Guardian for a while, and see where that gets us. The time to do that however was in 1997; now Labour has not just lost the lumpen working-classes that it has abandoned and fails to understand, talk about and to, it's also lost the lower middle classes that it briefly wooed. The last remaining supporters of New Labour are the middle-class "intellectuals", and even they are finally getting fed up with a party that laughs in their face while taking their votes. 1997 had its Portillo moment; I yearn for 2009/2010 and hopefully its equivalents in Blears/Hutton/Flint and all the other Blairites getting dumped once and for all, even if it means Cameron and his ghastly acolytes replacing them. I really can't see how they can be any worse.

Related post:
Enemies of Reason - The Hatred of Otherness

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Saturday, February 02, 2008 

10 years of not much.

Yesterday was the periodic time when the few remaining Blairites that haven't been told to go forth and multiply attempted to yet again move the "debate" their way. Reports the Grauniad:

Labour modernisers, with the support of a group of cabinet ministers, will today press Gordon Brown to offer a radical reform programme, warning Labour is now engaged in a serious fight for the centre ground with a new, more socially liberal Tory party.


A statement drawn up by the Progress thinktank goes on to address one of the key questions for Labour since Brown took over, that of the legacy of Tony Blair. It urges "a future agenda which is post-Blair, not anti-Blair; building on the achievements of the past decade, not running away from them".
It warns the party it cannot win the next election based on its previous tactics, because the Tory party has changed. "The public no longer view the Conservatives as the 'nasty party' of the 1990s. We are now engaged in a serious fight for the centre ground with a party which is socially more liberal and constantly engaging in counter-intuitive positioning."

This is naturally supported by the most delightful of the Blairite clique: Hazel Blears, Tessa Jowell, James Purnell, Alan Milburn and Ed Miliband.

As ever, they've got the wrong end of the stick. It's not that Tory party has changed; you only have to read the rantings of some of them on certain blogs, or the report which John Redwood helmed to realise that. Instead, the Conservatives have simply decided that they'd like to win again. This has involved dressing themselves up in New Labour's not centrist, but centre-right clothes. When the Tories have gone occasionally further towards the right, Labour has then said, oh, that's just what we were about to do! Inheritance tax? Terrible thing, having to pay it when you die after paying it all your life as well, we'll raise the threshold too. Easier stop and search powers for the police? Why, that's just what our former copper doing a review is going to suggest!

The other main reason that the polls have turned is that New Labour is obsessed more than anything else with winning the next election and forgetting they're actually meant to be governing before that happens. If there's one thing that has screamed more loudly since Brown took over, it's been incompetence in department after department, whether it's the fault of the minister in charge or not. 25 million families' details going missing was just the straw that broke the camel's back and brought it completely into the open.

Moreover, when there has been an opportunity to move leftwards and where the public would certainly support it, they've decided it would be too dangerous. Everyone and their mother told them to nationalise Northern Rock, including the Economist and the Financial Times for God's sake, while the Conservatives hadn't got a clue what to do, let alone a policy. Instead Brown and Darling asked Goldman Sachs to come up with a solution, and amazingly, it involves the taxpayer keeping all the liabilities while the City will reap any of the eventual benefits. It took the Tories to propose a tax on non-doms before Labour did anything, then it backed down over the capital gains tax rise, instead of excluding those who were selling their businesses, which would have brought down the entrepreneur ire. Martin Kettle in his companion piece says that no one is talking about further crime crackdowns. Where on earth has he been this week?

We need to provide a stronger narrative about the overall purpose of a Labour government and the direction it wishes to take the country in.

But doesn't that just say it all? After 10 years, what has been the purpose of a Labour government? Or, what has been the point of a Labour government that contains such deadwood and flotsam as Hazel Blears, who doesn't seem intelligent enough to even have joined the Conservatives, or Tessa Jowell, who didn't know about her husband and the mortgages on her house but is the Olympics minister in control of however many billions being spent on a 2-week long sports day? The best thing Alan Milburn ever did was decide to spend more time with his family. When these were the people responsible for bringing the party to its current state, why do they think that they have the solution, or that we should listen to them? It used to be enough to frighten the voters with "think what will happen if the Tories get in!", but the obvious reply to that now is, how would we know the difference?

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Friday, May 11, 2007 

47 Blears later.

Sometimes, you wonder if you're on the same left as the others who proclaim to be "progressive" are. How on earth is it possible that I supposedly share the same political values and goals as these more than 47 members of the undead?

You at least have to hand it to Cameron for that insult. The description when applied to these brain-chewing decomposing throwbacks could not be more apt. Hazel Blears, a woman without a single idea of her own, without the slightest clue to how to deal with someone with a grievance except spit the same old platitudes back at them over and over again, someone who most probably loses Labour another thousand votes every time she appears on any political programme, who clearly doesn't know what to do if anyone so much as points out the complete vapidity of her entire belief system, a person who could test the patience of Ghandi with her half-baked whimpering, and still she and 47 other similarly deluded idiots for Labour think that she could honestly bring more voters in through her down-to-earth lack of any discernible talent or substance whatsoever. I suppose that's all right though, because according to Cosmo Landesman, that's what people like now. Maybe we can get Blears on Big Brother masturbating with a beer bottle. Or on seconds thoughts, let's definitely not.

Fair's fair, the deputy leadership of a party in terminal decline isn't that taxing a job, and it's hard to imagine anyone being worse than John Prescott, but I'd rather have a lying, shagging, ex-union semi-proletarian who can't get his words out right, but who clearly has a soul and a definitive ideology than this bag of dyed red hair and approximately sixteen braincells,
all of which contain only Labour's greatest achievements over the past 10 years, those being hospitals up to their eyeballs in debt thanks to PFI, and tackling anti-social behaviour, which Labour itself created by giving an 81-year-old woman and vulnerable suicidal people badges of honour while destroying civil liberties and creating a surveillance society.

Labour was once a party which counted the likes of Nye Bevan, Ernest Bevin and even Hugh Gaitskell amongst its members. Today it's reduced to Tessa Jowell, Chris Bryant, Ruth Kelly and someone called John Heppell, who thinks this about Blears:

We need a deputy leader who can inspire, enthuse and lead. I have no doubt that Hazel can do all three.

Indeed. Straight to an inevitable Tory victory.

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Friday, May 04, 2007 

The post election comedown.

No alarms and no surprises from my modern day rotten borough. The Labour candidate did slightly better than last time, if my memory serves me correctly - grabbing second place with a whopping 262 votes. The Tory got 1,218, while all his opponents combined managed only 488 between them.

For some reason known only to myself, I spent the best part of the night/morning watching the BBC coverage of the results as they came in. There's little more painful than witnessing in succession, John Reid, Hillary Armstrong, John Hutton and finally, Hazel Blears try and fail to put a gloss on the massive Labour losses. It wasn't the wipeout that had been predicted by some, but 485 lost seats is still impossible to put a positive spin on. This was Labour being cut down to its core vote that will always turnout, previous supporters staying at home or returning to the Tories, especially in the south. The party simply has no one to blame except itself; this isn't the fault of the individual councillors, it's down to the party being prepared to indulge Blair's vanity for far too long.

This couldn't have been more exemplified by Blears and her eternal loyalty to her master. As some of the poor results came in from Wales, she had the audacity to suggest that this was down to there not being enough public service reform, that Welsh Labour with its policy of "clear red water" between it and Westminster was part of the problem. In fact, as anyone apart from Blears could have pointed out, the only overall losses Labour have suffered were to Plaid Cymru, who had campaigned on a nakedly socialist platform, the exception being Cardiff North which fell to the Tories who had targeted it relentlessly. The reason that the losses weren't heavier was that Labour in Wales still maintains some of its principles which it has long since abandoned in England.

A similar story has emerged in Scotland. While England has moved to the right, Scotland and Wales have shifted back towards the left. The SNP victory is "historic", but they must be secretly disappointed that their major opinion poll leads were cut back to in the end a win of just a single seat more than Labour. The SNP profited in particular from the implosion of the Scottish Socialists, and despite the opposition of the Scottish Sun to independence, running scare stories, they have Murdoch to thank for destroying Tommy Sheridan, who failed to win a seat with his new party, Solidarity. Just how much the SNP mean what they say is open to question: their opposition to the renewal of Trident and to the Iraq war is not going to mean much when they can't do anything about either, while support for independence itself is probably more popular in England than it is north of the border.

Probably worthy of more comment than the actual SNP win is the monumental cock-up of trying to run different elections on the same day with little apparent input on how people were supposed to vote correctly. While it's unlikely that any results might have been different if the spoiled ballots had been counted, the actual disenfranchising of up to 100,000 voters is something we thought was more associated with stripping the rolls of black voters in Florida than in the Western Isles. It doesn't augur well for the SNP's attempt to ram through a referendum on independence only with "additional questions"; it seems plenty of people found it difficult enough to fill in ballots where you had to either mark an x or put your choice in order of 1, 2, 3.

Best news of all was the comprehensive failure of the fascists. This was meant to be their big year, with immigration high up the agenda, and with their largest field of candidates in years, yet they made a net gain of a single seat. Such a result is bound to lead to an implosion within the party, when discontent is at such a high but they can't make a breakthrough. The local activists and councillors across the country deserve major credit for their efforts in stopping them.

As for the biggest and most unexpected losers on the night, they were undoubtedly the Liberal Democrats. They made no progress whatsoever in Scotland or Wales, and lost over 240 council seats. Whether this is down to a poor campaign, the switching of voters back to the Tories after playing coyly with the Libs, the end of the bounce their opposition to Iraq gave them, or the blandness of Ming Campbell is hard to tell, with all probably playing a factor. The most punishing thing for Campbell may not be the losses, but the appearance of Charles Kennedy on Question Time, coming across as well as ever. It's still not beyond the imagination that Campbell could yet be deposed, although Kennedy is an unlikely candidate.

David Cameron's claim that the Tories showing was "stunning" is by the same measures a little hollow. They're still nowhere in Scotland and Wales and in the big cities in the North West, even if they've made slight progress in places like Sunderland. If Gordon Brown were to call a snap election, which he certainly isn't, there's nothing to suggest they'd grab a majority, with a minority government being the most likely outcome. In fact, this is possibly the best possible outcome. Such a result would mean either Labour or the Tories having to call on the Lib Dems to help them form a government, which might finally mean getting PR at Westminster, even if yesterday's ballot wasn't exactly the greatest advertisement for it. Wales and Scotland shows that the left or left policies can still get a result: it's just that Labour has abandoned it.

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Friday, March 02, 2007 

Hazel Blears shares a joke.

Courtesy of the Ministry of Truth - and not in the slightest bit safe for work, or life in general.

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Friday, February 23, 2007 

Hazel Blears, the sensible candidate for the sensible idiot.

Can Hazel Blears really be standing for deputy leader? Does she really think she can get the 44 required nominations, let alone enough votes from the membership to win? Does she not realise she's a handy 5ft walking target for everything that's gone wrong with Labour? Is she insane, deluded or ignorant of how much she's reviled?

In fact, to be fair to Blair and Blairites in general, even they've got more gumption and ideas than this train wreck of a woman, nicknamed the chipmunk by other blogs. In an interview with Tribune, which seems an insult to everything which the weekly has ever stood for, she comes out with the most appallingly vacant statements since George Bush informed us that man and fish could live together in harmony:

"There is a factory in China which makes half the world's microwave ovens," she said. "We simply can't compete in producing white goods like that.

"The development of the next generation of digital and broadband is critical."

Do what? It's quite clear that Blears doesn't have an utter clue what she's talking about, but she seems to think that if she constructs a sentence involving what all the kids are down with the media might not bother to question her on just what the development of the next generation of "digital" and "broadband" involves. Next issue: housing.

On housing, she noted: "Young people want to get a start on the housing ladder but it is really expensive in many areas."

Thanks for that, Hazel. Any ideas on how we might solve the problem? No, thought not.

In a briefing to MPs, Ms Blears said: "I know that [after] 10 years in office some members feel disengaged. That does not mean we should change course or distance ourselves from our own successes. But we should recognise that one product of a lengthy period in office is that some party members feel left out. They don't have a relationship with their Labour government, other than what they read in newspapers."

After 10 years of ignoring them, the Blairites finally realise they're going to have to reach out to the membership if they're going to continue their hegemony over the party, and they're surprised that most of the card-carriers aren't particularly happy with what's gone on. That everyone other than the membership itself has been at some point fawned over by the Blair government seems to have passed them by entirely.

"I am not putting myself forward as the woman candidate - but in a modern 21st-century progressive left-of-centre party, people would love to see a man and a woman," Ms Blears said. "They would like to see men and women working together to solve problems."

Once you've finished smashing your head into the keyboard in complete despair at the ghastly image of Blears and Brown hand in hand, skipping through a green field with rictus grins on their faces, it suddenly hits you that Blears genuinely believes that the party, despite everything, is left-of-centre. She isn't a Blairite anymore though, oh no, she's a centrist who can see just how gorgeous Gord is once he stops scowling:

"People are looking for maturity. It is a pretty scary world out there."

Even more so when you consider that empty-brained non-entities like Blears can somehow rise up the ranks to be party chair. Even a few days ago she was still spouting the same old platitudes that are rightly held in contempt both by the media and anyone who isn't an idiot:

1. Do you regret your support for the Iraq war in the Commons vote in March 2003?

Hazel Blears Labour party chair

No, I don't. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was essential for the peace of the region, for the protection of the Iraqi people, and for our own security.

Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis later, air strikes on Iran looking more likely by the day, and with the threat from terrorism greatly increased, as the security services warned, and Blears still can't even for a moment think that supporting the war was the wrong decision. At least Hilary Benn ties himself in knots while answering.

Speaking of Iran:

3. Would you support a military strike on Iran if the prime minister of the day recommended one?

Hazel Blears

Labour party chair

There's no point speculating about this purely hypothetical question.

Which, as a letter the following day to the Guardian pointed out, is the most pathetic way of not answering a more than reasonable question imaginable. Politics is about asking and attempting to answer hypothetical questions. Her answer though isn't a surprise. It's the answer of someone who has no imagination or ideas of their own, someone who doesn't understand that their very appearance is enough to repel people, and that it's been these two very distinct characteristics that have helped bring Labour to where they are now in 2007. The only positive to be taken from her declaration is that she'll be humiliated, with the message getting through that rise of the robotic, lobotomised apparatchik is finally at an end.

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Monday, January 22, 2007 

It's the end, why don't you admit it?

According to "Dr" Cliff Arnall, today is the most miserable day of the year. Despite this not having any basis in fact whatsoever, seeing that Cliff Arnall has already been exposed by Ben Goldacre as a corporate whore, it seems that New Labour really does want it to be the day when you're most likely to think of doing a Saddam. Nothing could be more apparent than the continuing attempts of ministers both to questioning the police for so much as daring to question Ruth Turner, as well as the Blairite's continuing belief that only the "super-marginals" matter.

Let's start with Frank Field, who has written what can only be described politely as an "interesting" comment piece for CiF:

A successful terrorist attack on London could make part of the capital uninhabitable for decades and make Britain permanently poorer.

New York, despite having the two tallest buildings in the city demolished without warning, managed to be back up and running within weeks, although whether the dust created by the collapsed buildings will turn out to be a long-term health hazard remains to be seen. Unless our suicide bombing loving friends manage to explode a nuke, there's not much that could make the capital "uninhabitable" for decades.

This is only part of Field's first paragraph. This is where it gets really "interesting":

Yet, while London awaits its fate, Scotland Yard is fiddling away on an enquiry into the alleged sale of honours. How can the Metropolitan commissioner defend this enquiry as the best use of scarce police resources?

How can the Metropolitan commissioner defend investigating kids getting mugged for their iPods? How can the Metropolitan commissioner defend sending officers out to arrest people caught shoplifting 2 or 3 chocolate bars? How can the Metropolitan commissioner defend apprehending burglars?

This is quite possibly the most pitiful argument that an MP could ever possibly come out with. Believe it or not Frank, the police have different departments to investigate different crimes. See, there's the Counter-Terrorism Command, there's a Economic and Specialist Crime Command, and gasp, John Yates has set-up his own team of six detectives to investigate the "loans for peerages" affair. And you know what, the Met are even kind enough to provide a web page with all the information on each different department of the force. You could have seen it there.

In criticising the Metropolitan Police commissioner for a serious misuse of police time I have not assumed that there is no case to answer on the honours front. No 10 has at the very least been sailing close to the wind. The whole saga is tacky, to put it mildly.

Tacky. Prostituting the party to huge corporate sponsors because no one else was willing to stump up the cash at the last general election, possibly selling honours as a sweetener on the deal, and then deliberately hiding what had been done by exploiting a loophole in the very law which Labour brought in, and Field only finds this tacky, to put it mildly. I'd call it as bad as some of the worst sleaze which the previous Tory government indulged in, and seeing as Neil Hamilton received money in brown envelopes for asking questions and Jonathan Aitken prepared to have his daughter lie for him in court, that's quite an achievement.

The way that the police have conducted the enquiry suggests to the media that it is the PM who is in the frame. But where did those senior Labour party figures who run the party, particularly in the run-up and during the election, believe the £18 million spent on the election came from, if not from wealthy donors? When the small group of top Labour officials, including the prime minister and the chancellor, mapped out the campaign, did they all believe that the £18 million or so they were committing to election campaign grew on trees?

Maybe, just maybe Frank, they thought that the funds had been properly donated, all above board, keeping in line with the very measures which Labour introduced. They didn't have any reason to be suspicious, so they didn't ask.

What is the financial control structure in the Labour party that allows the treasurer to claim that he had no idea of the source of the £18 million? Does not the Labour party have an audit committee to ask such elementary questions before money is committed?

From what we know, Labour was so desperate for money that Lord Levy had to go out glad-handing, begging and bribing. Neither Jack Dromey, the Treasurer, or Jeremy Beecham, the head of National Executive Committee, knew about the loans until the papers exposed them. In fact, Dromey was so concerned that he was going to end up being the fall guy, that he then he made clear that he had, to paraphrase Manuel, "knew nothing". This didn't spare him then being attacked for not being inquisitive enough when he had no reason to be. John Prescott, and it has to be assumed, Gordon Brown also didn't know about the loans. According to the Independent, only Blair, Levy and the then party general secretary, Matt Carter knew about them. This is what is known as shifting the blame. Even if the treasurers had been aware of the loans, would they have been able to persuade Labour to either forgo them or convert them to donations? It seems unlikely.

These are some of the very important questions the Labour party leadership needs to answer. They are not questions which have so far been put in public debate. But we shouldn't have to turn to the police to gain answers to questions which tell us something pretty fundamental about how political parties are run in Britain today. That a full scale police enquiry was put in hand raises not for the first time the judgement of Ian Blair the commissioner.

Much as Ian Blair has to answer for, this is nothing to do with him. Sure, he has ultimate say over the investigation, but once a complaint has been made, the police have a duty to thoroughly investigate it, which is exactly what they have done. Much as Field would like for it not to have been turned over to the police, the very reason a complaint was made was because there is a suspicion that the law as it stands very well may have been broken. There have been claims in recent days of the Yates' inquiry discovering a "smoking gun", which may well be the other reason why New Labourites of all shades have taken it upon themselves to question both the police's remit and their tactics.

The commissioner has found himself in choppy political water recently and it was obviously easier for him to allow the enquiry to advance than to defend that with all the issues facing the Yard, the honours for sale fiasco was no where near the top of his agenda. But the easy option is, in this case, a negation of leadership.

During Ian Blair's watch the nature of the terrorist threat to Britain has fundamentally changed. Irish terrorists were about destroying buildings, usually after giving a warning. The nature of the threat posed by Islamic extremists is carried out by suicide bombers. What none of us know is when the next outrage is going to occur.

And your point is what, Frank? Are you trying to suggest that Ian Blair is negating his duties in countering-terrorism? Blair is more than open to the charge of being all mouth and no trousers, since he's more than happy to exaggerate the true level of the threat and to demand even more draconian powers, but surely he can't be accused of lacking leadership over tackling it, especially over an investigation that involves only six detectives.

Speaking of scaremongering, here comes Frank "I'm shitting bricks" Field's take on what the evil terrorists could possibly do to London:

Nor is the threat, awful as it is, confined to such horrors visited on innocent individuals. An explosion of a dirty bomb could make parts of London uninhabitable for decades or more. Such an explosion would bring down more than the surrounding buildings. Twenty per cent of Britain's income comes from the financial services sector. A dirty bomb would see much of this industry leave our shores. At a stroke our national income would be reduced from being at the top of the league of advanced countries, to the bottom, with huge repercussions for income and employment levels.

Likewise, bombing the Thames barrier at a record high tide with strong incoming winds would not only flood Canary wharf. Such an attempt would result in a pack of financial lemmings scuttling from our shores with the same devastating effect on national prosperity as a chemical or dirty bomb attack.

Field has then came up with two nightmare scenarios, and that is exactly what they are, nightmares. As a commenter on the thread notes, the studies into the threat posed by dirty bombs have all played down the threat, or rather, have concluded that there is a threat but that it's nowhere near the fevered imaginations of some of our politicians and other defense "experts". The real threat posed, as has been made all the more obvious by the 21/7 bombing trial, is from jihadists preparing their own bombs with easily available materials. A more realistic nightmare scenario would be multiple suicide bombers attacking multiple cities and multiple targets in a co-ordinated attack. That doesn't however pose the same horror as the use of nuclear material, or flooding the city through bombing the Thames barrier.

It is against the need to try and prevent a catastrophe on this scale for our country that I continue to question the use of police time over the alleged sale of honours. I know it's much easier for the police to chase a somewhat old fashioned crime as the alleged sale of honours than to try and foil the next, and then the next, terrorist outrage.

Right, so apparently our police have suffered so much under Field's own government that they can't do two things at once. He must realise that this is a completely false argument, so completely ludicrous that you almost do wonder whether he actually does realise that. Have you finally lost it, Frank?

The commissioner has put what we are told is his most gifted senior policeman onto this task but it is these very gifts that we need to employ trying to keep ahead of the new terrorists. Given the choice between ruffling some feathers of the smaller creatures at No 10 for perverting the course of justice or reinforcing the unglamorous daily grind of trying to protect the security of our country, Ian Blair's judgement looks eccentric, to put it mildly.

And so this litany of disingenuous garbage finally comes to the end. Is this is what Labour has now been reduced to? Faced with a police inquiry right at the top, a government that has given the police nearly every single new power they've wanted, all of sudden the supporters of Blair come out to question the very same organisation they've time and again defended to the hilt. Field doesn't just question the police's actual reason for existing, to investigate allegations of breaking the law, he has to bring in terrorism, the new catch-all for justifying anything and everything to cover the backside of the current occupier of 10 Downing Street (see today's ruling on Brian Haw for another example of this). It'd be easier to understand if a rabid Blairite had written this pathetic, new low for a Labour MP, but Field isn't, and never has been.

Which brings us neatly to Hazel Blears. She too believes, like Liam Byrne and Bill Rammell that the next election will be won through targeting the "super-marginals".

New Labour came to power with its belief in the "third way", that left and right politics no longer applied and that such labels were obsolete. It now even seems that vacuum has been thrown out of the window, in favour of anything that pleases a few select people. Gone is the belief in any broad narrative, that's so 20th century. Instead, we are all consumers and we're all going to choose what we want. Blears however, unlike Liam 'n' Bill, seems to know what the voters want; while Liam 'n' Bill think aspiration will win the day, Blears thinks that what the people are interested in are what she wants to talk about i.e. the police, the NHS and education, rather than foreign policy, civil liberties concerns or immigration.

All this though is just a waste of breath on their own concerns. Blair's downfall, Field's attack on the police for doing their job and Liam, Bill and Hazel's ideas are all connected. All of them are doomed. All of them are on their way out. It's the end for Blairism. Sure, it might be about to replaced by a slightly lesser form of Blairism in Brownism, but they're finished. It's the end. They just can't admit it.

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