Take Me To Your Leader Writer

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...has written more leaders (newspaper editorials) than anyone alive or dead, an honour still to be recognised by the Guiness Book of Records or the Nobel judges. I have produced them for the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Sunday Mirror, Today, the Sunday People, the Evening Post (Hemel Hempstead), the Caithness Courier and the Student (Edinburgh). My creed is: Have opinions, Will travel.

Friday 31 December 2010

A miserable new year to you all

Take that rictus New Year's Eve grin off your face. There is nothing to be happy about.
We are entering a year that is likely to be as bad as any encountered in our lifetimes.
Barely anyone outside the City will be unaffected as the sackings and cuts begin. Whatever your living standard is now, it will be noticeably worse on the last day of 2011.
Over the Christmas period I have heard of several people who are in the process of making up to half of their organisation's/department's staff redundant. How is that going to help the economy? Ruth Lea was exhorting everyone in The Times yesterday to go on a shopping spree. What with? These people live in la-la land.
Battle lines are being drawn. There are stirrings of action by the unions, though don't hold your breath. Any proposals for united resistance will be met by a bone-crushing campaign by the press accusing anyone who goes on strike of threatening the country and condemning the nation to penury.
Naturally no such accusations were, have been or are made against the bankers who have saddled us with £3 trillion of debt with their naked greed.
Instead we are being force into an un-cultural revolution that will undermine the fledgling edifice of a civilised society which  has been built up in Britain for much of the past century.
A Happy New Year? I really don't think so.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

A fool and his job shouldn't be parted

What do Vince Cable, Mick Jagger and I have in common? Give up? The answer is that we are all of an age.
So I feel myself particularly qualified to explain and comment on Cable's behaviour when confronted with two (I suspect) attractive, doting and giggling young women.
It isn't a matter of there being no fool like an old fool. It is that age is no barrier to a man (well, a sizeable proportion of them) continuing to throw caution to the wind when he sees a pretty face, particularly when it appears to take an interest in him.
Everyone expects that from Jagger. Yet recently he seems to be acting with a decorum missing from his earlier years. As for me, I don't get the chance to see how I would behave.
But Vince Cable is different. He is a star. Not just politically but through his Strictly Come Dancing performances. He is widely seen as very clever and fun, a rare combination. And he has come to this adulation late in life.
He is also vain, as are most politicians. It is a dangerous combination which has bitten the Business Secretary very nastily.
Just as dangerous is this form of "journalism" which is a form of entrapment. It is usually applied by red-tops to hook celebrities. Now the Telegraph is using it against MPs.
Vince Cable was an absolute fool to say what he did about Murdoch. But, as with the loss of David Laws, this Government has too few ministers of experience and quality to ditch those who do know how to run something.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Snow? The Government ploughs on regardless

This blog has been off air due to a number of unforeseen circumstances. First it was in mourning for the loss of its little-friend blog Iain Dale's Diary, which passed away to a better ether (mainly LBC).
Then it got snowed in, trapped in the blizzards raging in Gloucestershire. Now, finally, esconced comfortably by the fire and munching on a mince pie, it can resume. And it isn't too late, even though Christmas is so close.
The House doesn't rise for its Yuletide break until Tuesday, the 21st. How unlike the administration of the late leader, Gordon Brown, when hours at Westminster were short and vacations long. By contrast, this Government is busy, busy, busy.  So much to do, so litttle time.
Barely a day goes by without the announcement of another initiative, another part of the revolution which is changing the structure of the UK, while ministers leap swiftly into any situation which arises, as Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, has done over the snow crisis.
At this rate, you can expect to see Mr Hammond, accompanied by Messrs Cameron, Clegg and colleagues, distributing mince pies and mulled wine at Heathrow by the middle of the week.
Parliament doesn't return until January 10 but it is impossible to imagine ministers being able to contain themselves until then. There will be a series of launches. announcements and initiatives from the moment the sound of Auld Lang Syne dies down on New Year's morning.
You have been warned.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The Baldwin truth

Remember that terrifying scene at the end of Carrie when the hand thrusts out of the grave? Or the moment the bunny boiler bursts up in the bath in Fatal Attraction?
The political equivalent has happened with Ed Miliband's new media appointments. The disembodied figure bursting on an unsuspecting world is Alastair Campbell.
The hand of Campbell is clearly in evidence in the hiring of Tom Baldwin from The Times and Bob Roberts from the Daily Mirror. Apart from anything else, the new Labour leader doesn't really know many journalists so it isn't hard to see why he should turn to the spin master for suggestions.
Bob Roberts is the latest in a long line of Mirror political editors to take the Labour shilling but he is an excellent appointment. He is honourable, trustworthy, likeable and conscientious. The Westminster hacks he will now be dealing with know they can rely on him. Well done, Alastair - good move.
Tom Baldwin is from a different mould. He is certainly a clever fellow and in many ways a good journalist but he has a decidedly dodgy record when it comes to handling politics. He was known as Campbell's mouthpiece when Blair was in power, not a good recommendation.
Greg Dyke says of Baldwin: "When I was still running the BBC I once asked Robert Thomson, Baldwin's editor at the Times, why he didn't sack Baldwin, as he wasn't an independent journalist at all but a mouthpiece for Downing Street. He replied: 'He gets good stories,' which missed the whole point. The reason that Baldwin got good stories from Downing Street was that he was Campbell's man; he acted as their messenger."
Couldn't have put it better myself.
Perhaps Tom has now found his proper home and will be brilliant for Ed. Despite his many faults - including lying, deception and oiling the wheels that took Britain into an illegal war - Alastair did great things for Blair and the Labour Party.
Let me ask one thing, though. Andy Coulson is under continual attack for the role he may or may not have played in phone tapping when he was editor of the New of the World. But I believe him to be a decent, honourable man.
Who would you most trust not to get involved in the production of a dodgy dossier for his boss: Andy Coulson or Campbell/Baldwin?

Monday 13 December 2010

We're still not all Thatcherites now

So now we know the legacy of New Labour. During the 13 years it was in power, Britain shifted more to the Right than in any period on record.
This finding of the latest British Social Attitudes survey is reported today as the country becoming more Thatcherite. Can that be unwelcome to Messrs Blair and Brown? After all, both invited her into No. 10 for a cup of tea and a homily as soon as they had taken up residence.
Cameron may claim to be the heir to Blair but as Blair was the heir to Thatcher, that makes Cameron the heir to Thatcher, once removed. If you get my drift.
Except that this Government is pushing the boundaries of Thatcherism into territory she could barely have dreamed of. She did the groundwork by changing minds and attitudes, now all they have to do is the dirty work.
Over the past quarter century there has been a relentless hardening of the way people think about the unemployed, those on benefits, the underprivileged and underperforming, immigrants and asylum seekers, and young peope.
Meanwhile the bankers  and the City have ripped us off for countless billions, forcing the country into record debt, distorting the housing market and allowing a tiny minority to revel in greed and roll in dirty money. And so few of us see why that is responsible for what has happened.
It isn't just the fault of the media that this upside-down view has been created, though it does bear much of the blame. It is the result of smug, self-satisfied ignorance.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Out of the kettle, into the frying pan

Forgive me for the break in this blog but I have only just got out of the kettle at Parliament Square.
If only. Though I can imagine few things worse than being trapped by the police in that seething mass at Westminster, I am ashamed to say I was not on the demo.
What we are witnessing isn't a few young people "showing disrepect" by daubing Churchill's statue and pissing on the Cenotaph  but the start of the rebellion of an entire generation.
It is so pathetic to see politicians and the media chastising the young for disrespect. Disrespect to what?
Politicians have a disrespect for honesty and the press a disrespect for the truth. How much less harmful it is to show it to a statue.
At last there is a growing realisation that the big issue isn't that future students will be saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of debt but that the Government is slashing the money for higher education teaching by 80 per cent.
This is the fifth or sixth richest country in the world yet we are told we can't afford to educate the next generation beyond the age of 16. We should all be on the streets protesting.
The arguments used - by ministers and on radio phone-ins - for the new financial arrangment boils down to: "Why should the taxes of a 16-year-old who has left school pay for the university education of someone who has the priviliege of staying on?" How fatuous is that?
Few 16-year-olds can get jobs at the moment and those who do will pay little or no tax. And why should their taxes and those of others who haven't been to university pay towards the schooling of clever kids or the family benefits of the rich or care of the elderly who own their own homes yet not for higher education?
This Government, by its revolutionary zeal, has unleashed the politicisation of the formerly apathetic. Fantastic. Maybe the real revolution will start here.
Excuse me while I put the kettle on.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Political schizophrenia, Part Two

The sort of people who think it isn't rape for a man to have sex with a woman against her wishes are also the ones convinced that Julian Assange is a threat to our way of life.
So while they would have been foaming at the mouth in defence of anyone else who was threatened with extradition for what the WikiLeaks founder is supposed to have done, in his case they are prepared to make an exception, revel in his incarceration in Wandsworth nick, pray that he will be shipped off to Sweden from where he will be taken in leg irons to America, and there to be jailed for 99 years or, with luck, executed.
That would teach a lesson to those who believe it is OK to shine a searchlight on the sewer of "diplomacy".
On the other hand, the sort of people who want to see any man who forces himself on a woman dragged through the courts are those who would elevate Assange and WikiLeaks to hero status. I am in that camp.
The way out for our double-think is to believe that the charges against him are completely trumped up, that he did nothing at all and the black hand of the US secret services are behind the whole thing. Though personally I think they are too incompetent to have done that.
It isn't possible to separate the sex charges from the accused, although the judge at the extradition hearing pretended it was. It is all about Julian Assange and what he has been doing.
Surely not even his most rabid right-wing opponent could pretend that any other itinerant accused on such flimsy evidence - one person's word against another's, the curse of all charges like this - would face deportation.
The aim is to smear, neutralise and punish him. They have got to be stopped.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

The criminals in their coats and their ties

In reaction to Ken Clarke's marginally liberalising penal policy, the airwaves have been bombarded with calls for offenders to accept their responsibilities to society. We could agree with that except a fair proportion of them don't have a sense of responsibility, which is why they commit criminal acts.
But if people who offend should act responsibly, why doesn't that apply to all of us? Which brings me to Sir Philip Green, Vodafone, many other rich bosses and companies, bankers and the finance and pension industries.
None of them have broken the law but all have enriched themselves at the expense of we little people by avoiding paying the taxes the rest of us can't avoid or ripping off our pension funds and/or savings.
Certainly the young thug who steals an old lady's handbag should be taught a sense of responsility. But what about the tax-avoiding businessman or company who make themselves even richer at the expense of the old lady's state pension or other benefits? Or her reduced housing aid. Or her grandchild's education?
A report has just come out revealing that a Dutch pension is 50 per cent higher than one in this country in which the same amount has been invested. The reason? Our bankers and financial rip-off merchants charge usury-level fees and then pay themselves obscene bonuses out of the inflated profits.
Where is the sense of responsibility in any of that? There isn't any. Not to individuals or society. They are no better, in that sense, than a common mugger or burglar.

Monday 6 December 2010

Abstention doesn't make the heart grow fonder

Why should MPs be allowed to abstain? I ask because this is being touted as an acceptable option for the Liberal Democrats in the vote this Thursday on increased tuition fees.
We live in a representative democracy which means we elect people to represent us. Sometimes we will agree with what they do and sometimes we won't but the least we can expect from them is that they take an attitude on issues, particularly one as crucial as the future of higher education.
Of course the LibDems collectively and individually do have a view, though they don't all agree with each other. They ought to express that view and then put their vote where their opinion is.
Abstention should not be an option. Only Yea or Nay will do. What is the point of having Members of Parliament if they can cop out when the going gets tough and simply sit on their hands or absent themselves in the tea room while the rest are casting their votes?
To make it even more galling, if there is a whipped vote MPs can only not take part if they "pair" with a member from another party who would have voted the other way, thus cancelling out each other's non-vote.
The Speaker should decree that no MP can abstain from an important vote. Any who do will be punished in some way, such as being excluded from the chamber for a week, with consequent docking of salary.
There is no such thing as a principled abstention. Abstention is always unprincipled. If they don't like something, they should vote against.

Friday 3 December 2010

Why do they hate us so?

In all the furious reaction to England's failure not just to get the 2018 World Cup but be humilitated by receiving only one vote apart from our own, the true reason for the debacle has been missed.
This country is absolutely loathed. You can see that in the way we are treated at the Eurovision Song Contest and now we have had our noses rubbed in it by Fifa.
We can come up with explanations for that - our image of drunken yobbery, our arrogance in dealing with other countries, our clinging to a feeling of superiority and our involvement in the Iraq invasion - but none of it touches the depth of antagonism. Surely we don't deserve it.
America is scorned as "the great satan" by Islamic fanatics and sneered at by Pilgerists. There are parts of the French, the Germans, the Japanese which aren't generally liked.
But it is England - not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland - which is viewed with the most contempt.
Our people are not on the whole particularly ignorant - certainly no more ignorant than 60 per cent of Americans. We are not corrupt compared with the Italians or Belgians. We provide a haven for refugees and a home for large numbers of immigrants. We play our part in most international organisations.
Much of our media may be pretty terrible but taken all in all it is as good as anywhere else's.
So what is it about us? And, more importantly, what are the implications for our future?

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Lock 'em up - the columnists, that is

One of the schizophrenic political attitudes that infects policy making is that the people who demand big tax cuts also want to see ever more prisoners banged up in jail.
As each of them costs £45,000 a year to keep (the latest figure, though I have heard senior Tories put it nearer £70,000) why should this additional burden be heaped on taxpayers unless there is a very good reason for it? And there isn't.
All the evidence is that, for most prisoners, particularly those serving short sentences, imprisonment does no good. In fact, it does harm.
Jail used to be called a school for crime. Nowadays it is also fertile ground for drug dealers, with large numbers of non-drug users becoming addicts while serving sentences.
Yesterday's Newsnight, with Jeremy Paxman conducting a debate inside prison, showed how difficult reform is going to be, even though Ken Clarke did his best to put the intelligent and practical case for reducing the jail population.
The people who really know - the governors, officers and, above all, prisoners themselves - could not have been clearer in explaining what works and what doesn't, and what the effects of imprisonment are when the main aim of penal policy should surely be to prevent crime.
However, Newsnight had wheeled in Peter Hitchens who inhabits a la-la land of makebelieve rather than the real world. And the Westminster majority - Labour as well as Conservative - are frightened to listen to the truth, preferring to cow before Hitchens and the other dangerous media eccentrics.
So, despite the courage of Ken Clarke, the prison population will grow and crime will escalate.
I blame Hitchens, Melanie Phillips and the rest of their creed.