Turning Guido Fawkes onto himself

There was recently something raised by Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) that I couldn’t help but agree with entirely (a very rare thing indeed); that being the inability of the journalist to really dig deep on certain politicians due to a strange debt that journo’s have towards those who may well soon get into power.

Guido highlighted this in a debate he had with the Guardian‘s Michael White, and the BBC‘s Nick Robinson, also not happy with the short amount of time was given to deliver his main points at the event, he addressed them on CiF.

The quote that I agreed with the most was his attack on White;

” … why do you think the influence of blogs has grown? It is because the likes of Michael White have failed to keep sufficient checks on politicians and to hold MPs to account.”

Now I wouldn’t have picked out White myself, but given the context I understand the plea. But more generally, there is a strong element of truth concerning what the press can feel unthreatened about releasing, and this sentiment couldn’t have worried me any more than it did when reading Andrew Rawnsley’s bit in the Observer today, when he noted;

“There has been a reluctance among some of the press to really go for the Tories over the phone-hacking scandal, partly because many other newspapers are implicated in the practice as well, and partly for fear of crossing Mr Coulson, who will be a powerful figure at Number 10, with a lot of control over access to stories.”

Now of course such reluctance should not be applied to bloggers, who are free of the constraints that newspaper journalists may have, and what with the very many inside tell-tales that Guido knows well, the control over access to stories should not be a concern at all.

However, those avid readers of Bob Piper’s blog might see the twist in this tale: that Guido fell foul of his own view that the blogosphere can conquer the newspaper hack taken party political hostage. He was one of the bloggers that pretended not to have anything to do with Andy Coulson and was quick here and here to spin weak claims that Coulson was not implicated in the NotW crimes, before the even weaker attempt to seem non-partisan.

Later on in Guido’s article on CiF he mentions;

“The years of Labour lies and spin, personified in the power that Damian McBride wielded over a compliant press lobby – now that was corrupting our democracy, the off-the-record smearing, and it was smearing, not briefing, that went on – was out of hand.”

In light of Coulsongate – and now separate from Guido and his hypocrisy – bloggers should once again assume some of the freedom from the shortfalls of lobby journalism in criticising the Tories, which may well slope as a consequence to their dominance in the opinion polls. Such unwritten – but yet wholly acknowledged – blackmail should not deter the power of the internet.


The new Speaker and the Poles: Another bad night for the Tories

Its been on the cards for a bit, but the Tories, and David Cameron, are going to lead a new right-wing fringe group known as the European Conservatives and Reformists, the Guardian reports.

The Tories have taken themselves out of the centre-right EPP on a anti-federalist ticket, while Cameron has told other conservatives not to listen to Ken Clarke – known for his Europhilia –  who told BBC1’s The Politics Show that: “If the Irish referendum endorses the treaty and ratification comes into effect, then our settled policy is quite clear that the treaty will not be reopened.”

As the article in the Telegraph explains “Mr Clarke’s comments confirms that there is a serious shadow cabinet split on Europe”.

But this Tory split will not be the major focus for the next couple of days, since Conservative candidate John Bercow has tonight been voted new Speaker of the House of Commons, beating his nearest opponent Sir George Young by 322 to 271 votes.

Tories have been hard-pushed not to express their disgust at the winner. Already rumours are circulating that “Tories have been muttering about running a candidate against him at the general election, or trying to vote him out of office at the next election.”

Further in the above Guardian election run-down by Andrew Sparrow, he notes that “My colleague Michael White, who was in the chamber, says it was striking how little applause Bercow had from the Tory benches.”

And Michael Crick for the BBC, re-told this story;

A Labour MP was standing in the House of Commons gents and found himself standing next to David Cameron.

“For the first time in my life,” admitted the Labour MP, “I voted for a Conservative today”.

David Cameron inquired which of the Speaker candidates he meant.

“John Bercow,” replied the MP.

“He doesn’t count,” said Mr Cameron.

Is this the anti-Tory vote, as Sparrow asks?

The New Statesman attests to the Bercow vote as being, against all odds, a vote for the “most progressive candidate …. [s]tate-educated, and someone who sends his own children to state schools, he is no longer regarded as “one of us” by his party colleagues”.

But in an Guardian editorial, also on the left, and also against all odds, seemed to back Young, saying “His background will put many off and he shared his party’s opposition to freedom of information when Labour brought it in. Against that he has a dry resilience that could make him a tougher and more radical Speaker than his grandee status suggests.”

As for me, I was with Bob Piper and the anybody but Young vote (I do believe he was being sarcastic).

I suppose part of me didn’t want to see London oust another member of the working class in a political role for an Etonian that has a history of saying twatish things (when Housing Minister Young once joked that ‘the homeless are the sort of people you step over when you come out of the opera’.)

But I suppose at the end of the day the right person won. His Monday Club history well behind him, his willingness to reform the commons, and especially, his ability to get co-Tories all worked up.

So while Cameron mourns the Tories defeat (too far?) to a moderate, William Hague makes his position clear on the new European friends of his party;

“Hague dismissed “out-of-date and ill-informed” criticisms that Poland’s Law and Justice party was homophobic. “The Law and Justice party is a party committed to be against discrimination, for equality under the law,” he told the BBC.”

The same party that, in the run-up to 2005 elections, “accused gay and lesbian couples “of being a cultural and even biological threat to the Polish nation, lowering the birth-rate, and imperiling (sic) what ultra-conservatives lovingly call “natural law marriage and family.”

It seems that in an odd reversal, the Tories are reinvigorating a cross-European Monday club.

Not King Midas, its Gordon Brown

Today’s events have proved Michael White’s prediction wrong that the speaker will remain until next general election when he said last week “Few Labour MPs nowadays left school at 15 and worked on the shop floor. It may be solidarity or sentimentality, bloody-mindedness or plain feebleness. But they will not give him up next week.”

They did.

In the last days of Blair, those of us on the left were sick of his statesman(sinking)ship. We (including back then Polly Toynbee with her nose peg) thought butter wouldn’t melt in Brown’s mouth. Unlike Blair, not everything Brown touched would turn to stone.

It did.

The Michael Martin resignation was one more thing that went awry and out of favour for our hollowing premier. Andrew Sparrow’s bit in the Guardian mentioned that “Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has now given up saying that he thought Martin was doing a good job.” Perhaps he has seen that the odds of him becoming next speaker are 250/1 (far better than the odds of him winning Labour a fourth term).

The man who was forced down for not doing enough about the expenses scandel today said the only thing he could have, “that MPs will no longer be allowed to “flip” second homes or claim for household goods”.

Sunny Hundal imagines that a parliament clean out of system abusers will cure the ills of the political system. But since voters want to give the big three parties a kicking, why bother getting rid of those MP’s who are otherwise effective in the house (say, Ed Balls, for example) if a rule change can reunite the voting public with (Labour) establishment politics?

I’m not blind to the reasons why people feel all “abusers” should be kicked to the curb, and mine is not a justification of MP’s wrongs, anything but. However its the system that must be amended, and those politicians that have done the abusing need to work twice, (clear throat), three times as hard to appease the voters (provided they are not unwanted baggage), rather than be part of a wholesale reshuffle.

But enough about the outgoing speaker for one night, carrying on the subject of premier’s who were unpopular towards the end, but only paved the way for a lot worse, I’ve just heard that “The United Nations [have] named former President Bill Clinton … as its special envoy to Haiti, with a mission to help the impoverished nation achieve some measure of stability after devastating floods and other crises.”

Change, can we believe in?

In Sweden its known as the “Toblerone affair“. In October 2005, the social-democrat Mona-Sahlin – the country’s youngest MP – was looking to replace Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, who had announced his resignation. Only these hopes were dashed when it emerged that Sahlin had used her government credit card to purchase a delightful chocolate snack.

In Sweden tax returns are transparent, and due to Sahlin not paying the money back, her petit crime was revealed (not to mention the private cars, unpaid fines etc etc).

So when apologies are being thrown about left, right and centre – Gordon Brown’s cross-party apology, David Cameron’s umbrella apology, Richard Timney’s porn apology (that cringeworthy video again) – and calls for system change are a symbol of repent, what is it that can change the expenses system?

(I don’t suppose it matters that they may be released early, does it?)

Do we really have to have everything out in the open. Do politicians’ tax returns need to be published?

One thing is for sure, if the tories win the apology game (today the Royal College of Nursing, tomorrow youtube, Wednesday Eastenders – provided its shown on a Wednesday, I don’t know, who cares) and the next General Election, they are still not “pure“, as Michael White in his Guardian blog noted, and the expenses system will still have to change.

As Jeremy Seabrook noted in a recent article,”You don’t have to agree with the British National party to see the legitimacy of its claim to represent those written off by Labour”. Something that “those written off by Labour”, by whom he means the white working class, should not expect to draw great influence from is the class differences in those things MP’s have made expenses claims on. As good as fraudualent claims have been made by both Labour and tory. But if I could for a moment point out that the excessive uses of taxpayer money to pay mortgages on houses that would be sold months after was a tactic used more by tories than Labour MP’s. Some Labour MP’s expenses crimes were rather more trivial than offensive; tampons, porn and 2 toilet seats.

Not to mention that among the lowest claimants were both Labour MP’s and sons of leading socialists; Ed Miliband whose Father was the left wing academic Ralph Miliband, author of The State in a Capitalist Society, and Hilary Benn whose Father needs no introduction. Its class War!

But apologies aside, the situation has escalated calls by many for Brown to either start a new popular war or the more realistic call of leadership change if (or, again realistically, when) the European elections nosedive for Labour. Nowhere has this latter message been more cutting than in Polly Toynbee’s comment today in the Guardian calling for Alan Johnson to take leadership unopposed.

In her knife wielding diatribe she told the world;

“It’s all over for Brown and Labour. The abyss awaits.”

and that

“He may be the best-read prime minister in decades, but his learning seems to hamper instead of illuminate his path […] But then the decisions he takes are too often tactical, not purposeful or strategic. Trident, the third runway or post office privatisation are mere positioning in some illusory business-pleasing ploy, their long-term damage far outweighing one day’s headlines.”

But then there will be those faithful’s that come out in support of pre-election unity, and one of those voices will be the ever grateful Peter Mandelson, who in a recent article, also from the Guardian, asked the electorate to concentrate more on imaganing for a moment how a tory government would have handled the events of the last year.

He elaborates;

“Northern Rock would have been allowed to fail, regardless of the potential costs in lost deposits and financial panic.

There would have been no fiscal stimulus. No VAT cut to generate £8bn-£9bn in retail sales that would not otherwise have occurred. No frontloaded government capital spending to boost construction. No lift for hard-hit car manufacturers. And as for the G20, David Cameron can hardly bear to go near Europe, let alone find his way in the rest of the world.

Instead, a Tory government would have stood aside, seeing the recession, as some shadow ministers have admitted in unguarded moments, as something that must just be allowed to take its course.”

To add to the list of clear advantages Brown’s government has acheived is the new proposals of locally usable criminal assets, allowing local communities to use £4million of criminal assets to pay for local projects.

Also the new deal with China’s stock exchange will help secure some political weight on an international level, but this could all become deadweight if the 4th of June sends a scathing message.

Will Polly Tyonbee be proved right about leadership change on the 5th of June, who will come to Brown’s support and who will come out yelling. Watch this space.