Sunday, November 25, 2007

Buff to the rescue!

We can all rest easy. All is well. Gordon Brown has promised to change his ways. He will no longer - so he says - cabal with Douglas Alexander, Ed Balls, and Ed Miliband. Instead, two "greybeards" are being promoted to the "inner circle" (according to the Observer): Jack Straw and Geoff Hoon. Whew! That's a relief. We can all sleep easy in our beds secure in the knowledge that speak-your-weight machine Geoff "Buff" Hoon has Brown's ear.

Jesus wept. It just gets worse.

Brown a serial shagger? Surely not.

Martin Kettle in Saturday's Guardian says that "over and again this month " he has met politicos who are "blindsided" by "Brown's indecisiveness". The question being asked is why someone who so assidiously sought the premiership now seems uncertain about what to do with it (Recalling Robert Redford's question at the end of The Candidate: "Now what do we do?"). Supporters and opponents of Blair are "equally mystified". One "Labour veteran" calls it "The What's It All About Alfie? question". One "cruel" (and rather unlikely) theory is that he "has always feared being Prime Minister more than he craved it".

A lot of truth in this, I think. My diagnosis is that Brown is excessively preoccupied with tactical manoeuvres designed to wrong-foot the Tories. Goats is an opportunist tactic (which will back-fire). So was allowing election speculation to grow (which has back-fired). 56 days and ID cards are about being "tougher" than the Tories. Raising the inheritance tax threshold was a transparently tactical response to Osborne. Brown is as obsessed with spin as was Blair, but without the communication skills.

I'm not sure that someone who can only see out of one eye should bang-on about "vision" quite so much as Brown does, but a little vision might be a good thing...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Turning a blind eye

Banaz Mahmod, aged 20, from Mitcham, south London, was tortured, raped and strangled last year by a gang recruited by her uncle - her uncle - Ari Mahmod, because her family disapproved of her boyfriend. Thursday's Guardian reported that her body was found in a suitcase and buried in a pit three months after she disappeared: "In the weeks before her murder, she repeatedly told police of threats from her family and, on one occasion, an attempt by her father to kill her, but officers did not take her claims seriously". Now it tranpires that one of the despicable monsters responsible for her murder has turned up in northern Iraq, and those who hold him are offering to extradite him to the UK. Incredibly, it seems the UK authorities are not interested. According to Kurdish and British sources, "the CPS has failed to launch extradition proceedings". The CPS say extradition is not possible under Iraqi law. The Guardian contrasts "the CPS approach in this case with the attempts made to bring the suspected killers of Alexander Litvinenko to justice". Indeed.

Has Brown screwed it up?

Ken Clarke on Radio 4 says the Blairites "are briefing" against Brown because (a) they are enjoying his discomfort, and (b) they think he is backsliding on Blairite "reforms".

Clarke thinks it is possible for the Government to turn things around; but that it won't be easy, and it could be that this is the tipping point. The "swinging section of the population" (I don't think means "swingers" exactly but "swing voters"!!) are beginning to think that "the wheels are coming off".

Every day it is something new: Northern Rock (apparently Brown is unwilling to opt for nationalisation - as recommended by Vince Cable, Will Hutton, et al, because this would be an "Old Labour" solution!!); the missing discs; the mutinous ex-Generals; stalling house prices; the credit squeeze; wayward goats; the election-that-never-was; Brown's poor performance at PMQ's; the bizarre decision to go for - what? - 56 days; too many yes-(wo)men (Alistair Darling, Jacqui Smyth) in post; recently renewed sucking-up to Bush; government-by-cabal...It just goes on and on.

It is a long time until the next election, but it doesn't look good. Larry Elliott in Thursday's Guardian commented: "Brown's government has lost control of events since the fiasco of the on-off election...governments have a limited stock of political capital, and Brown has spent the past few weeks liberally blowing that capital just as the economy seems set for its toughest period in the last decade and a half".

As ever, Steve Bell captures the mood.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saudi Arabian "Justice"

There was a truly extraordinary story in yesterday's Guardian. In Saudi Arabia a woman who was repeatedly raped by a gang of seven men, and who had the courage to appeal against their lenient sentences, has had her sentence increased. Yes, amazing isn't it: she was sentenced?!! She faced 90 lashes for the henious crime of riding in a car with a man who is not a relative; and this has now been increased to 200.
Yet it seems that even in a place as miserable and uncivilised as Saudi Arabia there is a glimmer of hope. The victim's lawyer sounds like a brave and decent man. Abdul Rahman al-Lahem is apparently well-known for his work defending women's rights. He has been called an infidel and a "lawyer of homosexuals". In the past he has been jailed and banned from travelling abroad. As a result of the victim's appeal he has been banned from the case and the Ministry of Justice (try not to laugh) have revoked his licence. He is to appear before a disciplinary committee at the Ministry of "Justice" accused of criticising the judiciary and "conducting activist campaigns in the media".


It looks as if Grdon Brown cannot quite kick his love of decision-by-cabal. Here is Martin Kettle in yesterday's Guardian:"One thing on which there is a lot of agreement is that Brown has got to widen the circle soon. Brown promised a different sort of government, but many of his worst and most controlling habits have reasserted themselves since things started going wrong. Cabinet still has some good discussions,but in No 10 the bunker is back. Brown, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander talk every morning by phone at seven, meet every day at 10 to decide priorities, and are running the whole government. And, judging by the record, running it pretty badly".

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The "regeneration" of Manchester

The Guardian reports that the Conservatives have “branded Manchester a divided, failing city”. They are not altogether wrong. For years now the City Fathers have banged-on about the regeneration of Manchester after the 1996 IRA bomb. In reality what happened was that a bigger and if possible even more vulgar Arndale Centre was constructed with Marks and Spencer in prime position. The centre-piece of the whole thing is, God help us all, a huge TV screen, which is routinely tuned to the shopping channel and occasionally hosts gangs of foul-mouthed drunken louts watching football. Yes, there are lots of trendy bars and cafes etc in central Manchester now, and those who can afford it can fork out several squid for a cup of coffee and pretend they are on the set of Friends, but a kilometre or two away are areas of high unemployment awash with drugs, prostitutes, and violent criminals (Meanwhile the police are busy making TV programmes in which a helicopter crew equipped with all sorts of ultra-expensive high-tech heat-seeking devices and assisted by three police cars chase after someone who has stolen a Volvo in Didsbury). In Chorlton and elsewhere what are essentially “gated communities” have sprung-up so that the better sort don’t have to mix with the scum (as reported in Community News Feb. 26 2007); the photo shows Chorlton Green. The “regeneration” has been largely for the benefit of the better-off denizens of Manchester. And, of course, there is no discernable green agenda. Very little of the town centre is pedestrianised. The green paint which is supposed to be a cycle path is used as a car park and bus lane. Walk through town and there is litter everywhere. A third of Piccadilly Gardens seems to have been sold-off and a Kro-bar built on it (almost as if the City Fathers are offended by the sight of grass). And there is another bloody TV screen in Piccadilly Gardens. There it is – the shopping channel – the living testament to the cultural progression of Manchester under the guidance of our enlightened City Fathers.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Box Clever

Labour needs a more nuanced response to Cameron on immigration that was evident this morning on the Marr show. Helena Kennedy argued that the Tories were moving back into their “comfort zone” and Peter Hain – while magisterially absolving Cameron of racism – spoke (vis-à-vis the Tory candidate who has praised Enoch Powell) of the “racist underbelly” of the Conservative Party (not that he's wrong about this). My own feeling is that both the tactically superior (and more socially responsible) response is that of Trevor Phillips who praises Cameron’s attempt to “deracialise” the issue, while at the same time criticising Cameron’s precise proposals for capping immigration. One can see why Labour would want to depict the Tories as retreating to the right under grassroots pressure. But Cameron’s and Osborne’s pitch is (currently) smarter than that (for example, this morning Osborne was taunting Helena Kennedy with the “British Jobs for British Workers” slogan, which Brown used at Labour’s last conference, and which Osborne implied was racist, and the most this clever and usually articulate woman could do was to bluster unconvincingly). Labour should follow the Phillips line: agree that immigration is an important issue, welcome Cameron’s attempt to take race out of it, agree that a serious (“adult”) debate is needed and that inflammatory language should be avoided and, again, welcome the approach that Cameron has taken in this respect, but then – on the policy detail – say where the disagreements lie. On the Tory candidate who praised Powell it would have been smarter to say something like “I am confident, in the light of his recent remarks, that Cameron will do the right thing…” rather than “demand” that the guy be deselected. Wait and see what happens. If they don’t deselect him then ask “why not?” and how Cameron squares this with his recent remarks? Cameron is boxing clever (and I should think the Tory candidate who praised Powell is toast). The last thing Labour should do is throw blind punches. Keep cool.

Scotland Pays Its Way

The Guardian reports that according to an analysis by the consultants Oxford Economics, published in the Glasgow Herald, tax revenues in Scotland almost match the country's £49.2 billion each year, at least if North Sea oil and gas revenues are allocated to Scotland. The figures show, in other words, that despite all the squealing about the Barnett Formula, that Scotland pays its way, and could be economically viable as an independent country. Further, the average of £9,631 public spending per head in Scotland is less than in London (£9,748) and the tax-take from Scotland is outranked only by London. The Glasgow Herald reported (on Nov. 3) that: "Scotland would be the third-wealthiest country in Europe regardless of whether it was allocated 90% or 75% of the UK's oil wealth, according to figures published yesterday... Based on information supplied by the UK Office for National Statistics, the table puts Scotland just behind Luxembourg and Ireland (as the third wealthiest country in Europe) and still ahead of the Netherlands whichever of the two oil share percentage examples are used".

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Another Clarkson Clone

7 a.m. Friday 2 November. Another candidate for the Jeremy Clarkson Award (otherwise known as the Arsehole of the Week Award) A different car, also on Wilmslow Road (Manchester) near Owens Park, on a double yellow line and in the green cycle path. I shall be posting on this theme in future and in a (probably vain) attempt to "name and shame" I shall note the licence number of future miscreants.