Friday, 30 November 2007

Things have got better – much, much better

I have been very slow off the mark here. I have only just seen Guido's post showing that Mr Eugenides's lust object, petite Wendy Alexander, is now, as he puts it, 'toast', shown up for having incontrovertibly lied about when she knew about the donation made to her by Paul Green.

(As an aside, I think that 'toast' may be an understatement. 'Incinerated' seems nearer the mark to me. But these things are notoriously a matter a taste, of course.)

Two thoughts leap to mind.

One, I cannot wait to see her letter of resignation, which I have no doubt is being composed even now. Stand by for weasel words raised to new heights of sanctimonious special pleading.

Two, tempted though I am to instruct my staff to fetch a second small bottle of pale ale from the cellars to toast (in a different sense, of course) Wendy's imminent humiliation, I cannot help but wonder if her departure won't serve the Bottler's cause. If enough Labour high-ups can be sacrificed – and Harman will surely be the next victim – inevitably the pressure on the Bottler will be reduced. In other words, the corpses strewn so spectacularly in his wake will allow him to assert that he has been ruthless in purging his more unworthy followers, distracting attention from his own wrong-doing.

Still, on the other, other hand, Iain Dale seems to have something pretty killing on the Bottler here.

Cripes, I have never, ever known a meltdown like this. It makes even Major's long drawn-out death throes look dignified.

It is genuinely astounding.

A little something to cheer up the Bottler

He is a keen footy fan, as we know. So perhaps he'll like this.

Stalin to Mr Bean

I do like Youtube (sometimes)

Is Baroness Jay ...

... the ugliest woman in Britain?

On the whole, yes.

Administrative errors

This from Peter Hain, another lucky recipient of Abrahams's largesse back in June, on his regrettable failure to register the donation:

We wish to make clear that this was entirely an administrative error on the part of my campaign. I very much regret the donation was not registered as it should have been and I am taking immediate steps to do so.

I do hope 'adminstrative error' enters the language as code for 'deliberate cover up for as long as I think I can get away with it'.

It would be a worthy companion to 'Ugandan affairs' and 'tired and emotional'.

My mistake. It wasn't Abrahams who gave the money to Hain, it was Mendelsohn, which in some ways is even more sinister.

Poor old Polly

In the midst of yet another plea for the Bottler to radicalise his government in her Guardian column today, La Toynbee makes the following entirely unsupported assertion:

Yet anyone impartial would say that teaching, lessons and schools are almost unrecognisably better than a decade ago.

This bear in mind only two days after the Progress in International Reading Literacy study highlighted that reading ability among English children has plummeted over the last five years, dropping from 3rd to 19th place in its international rankings of children's literacy.

Personally, Poll, I would have said the precise opposite was the case, no?

Still, I applaud your loyalty. Good to know someone is sticking by the Bottler.

Fame! At last, at last!

Your humble Brute, aka The Creator, responded to a question put by Dizzy two days ago to come up with a name for the Labour funding scandal.

In a brilliantly pithy one-word comment, which you can see here, under the post Name That Scandal, he came up with Donorgate.

And now Guido, political conspiracy bloggist par excellence, has endorsed the name, as you can see here.

Well, I see from the Englishman, to whom I am duly indebted, that the Beeb and The Sun have picked up on the name, too.

At this rate, I may be obliged to instruct my domestic staff to fetch a small bottle of pale ale from the cellars.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Poor old Bottler: a footnote at best?

Anxious as ever to scatter before you the distilled fruits of my political insights, it strikes me that the calamity of the Brown implosion is as opportune a moment as I will ever have.

In the space of two months, Gordon Brown's premiership – long yearned for by him and as long plotted for; triumphantly acclaimed for its spin-free sagacity when, finally, it was confirmed; hailed even more as it then seemingly effortlessly deployed a combination of calm and far-sightedness in the face of a series of early crises – has descended into catastrophe.

Heroic certainty meets daily reality and disintegrates. It hardly inspires.

Startlingly and suddenly, incompetence and corruption are now elbowing each other for first place.

It's unknowable of course, but I'd say that there was every realistic expectation to think that Brown, to the extent that his premiership will trouble historians at all, will emerge only as footnote, the not-very-funny joker in the political pack. In 50 years, who will know the name of the third-shortest serving prime minister?

It amounts to a political horror-show without precedent, an near instantaneous evaporation of 15 years of painstakingly accumulated electoral advantage by Tony Blair, a charlatan but, unlike Brown, a vote winner.

The transformation of Brown from sage father of the nation to sweaty victim of events has been complete.

Labour's apparently impregnable electoral edifice, elaborately built up since 1992, has disintegrated near over night.

Open-mouthed amazement is about the best I can do.

What the Bottler knew – and when

Since his press conference on Tuesday, the Bottler has been insistent that it was only on Saturday night that he knew that David Abrahams had been funnelling donations to Labour through third parties.

When he asserted this, first on Tuesday, then yesterday on PMQs, I took it as read that it must be true. He could not conceivably have made so unequivocal a statement knowing that, if it was later shown to be untrue (aka 'a lie'), he would have been out of No. 10 in about one second flat.

No one who had schemed so assiduously and so deviously for the throne for so long could possibly be prepared to risk it after just five months on a blatant lie. If nothing else, caution is his middle name. Put it another way, calculation is in his blood.

Yet I am seriously beginning to wonder.

It is a certain fact that four Labour big cheeses knew all about Abrahams. If Dale is to be believed, it may have been five. Common sense suggests it was a great deal more.

And none of these people thought to necessary to tell Brown, the same Brown whose campaign team had already turned down a donation from Janet Kidd on the grounds that she was 'not known to them' and who were by definition already suspicious of her?

It makes no sense.

Oh, Mr Bottler.

It looks worse than bad.

Tories 11 points ahead?

And then better and better and better.

Iain Dale reports that a YouGov poll in tomorrow's Telegraph has the Tories 11 points ahead of Labour, on 43 points to 32.

He highlights, too, how the Labour party seems suddenly to be fracturing, with briefings and counter-briefings rife.

Jesus, they are in the deepest of deep doo-doo.

Mendelsohn Mk. 2

This just gets better and better and better.

Here's the Mail reporting that in the spring Mendelsohn had suggested ways of funding candidates for the Labour leadership contest – not that there was one of course – using intermediates.

The pleasure of seeing someone as loathesomely smug and self-satisfied as Mendelsohn being properly exposed is almost more wonderful than I can say.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The irresistible Ana Ivanovic

Immediate antidote to ugly-mug bruiser Redknapp urgently needed.

A further picture of Serbian sex-bomb Ana herewith rushed into the front line.

Bloody hell, she could fell oak trees with those thighs.

Footy to the rescue

As a dedicated footy fan, no doubt the Bottler will be distraught to learn that Harry Redknapp, the loveable manager of Portsmouth FC, has been hoovered up by the plods for ... er ... irregular transfer dealings, aka bungs.

On the other hand, seeing as this may well put a slightly different slant on Thursday's front pages, perhaps it's good news for Gordo after all.

At any rate, for a slice of Rednapp's limitless charm, take a look a this interview with him on the training pitch.

Great guy. Loves his players. Swears by them.

PS One day I'll be able to do proper links to youtube. In the meantime, apologies for the clunkiness.

A question for Mr Mendelsohn

This is the full text of the statement issued this morning by Jon Mendelsohn, the Bottler's Director of Labour Party General Election Resources. On the whole, I would say there was a very strong case it is bollocks more or less from start to finish.

When it was announced yesterday that Lord Whitty would be investigating the background to these donations to inform the work of Bishop Harries and Lord McCluskey, I immediately offered to provide all of the details I had.

I started in my role as Director of General Election Resources on the 3 September 2007, work I undertake in a voluntary capacity.

When I was researching previous gifts and plans I enquired into the names of individuals I did not know or otherwise recognise which included Janet Kidd, Raymond Ruddick and latterly John McCarthy.

I was informed by Peter Watt to whom I reported that this was an arrangement with David Abrahams which was long-standing and which was appropriately dealt with in relation to the Party's reporting requirements. He told me these donations fully complied with the law and I had no reason to doubt that information.

However I was unhappy with the arrangement whereby donations were taken through a third party and was determined it would not play a part in our future plans. I was very concerned that these arrangements did not meet the strict transparency test that I wished to see in place.

I did not discuss this with the officers of the National Executive Committee or party leadership but I decided to tell Mr Abrahams that his method of contribution was unacceptable. I had no intention of asking Mr Abrahams for donations and wanted to give him the courtesy of explaining this personally.

At the beginning of November I asked my assistant to try and fix a personal meeting with Mr Abrahams so that I could tell him this. He was only given the general reason for the meeting that I wanted to update him on our plans. He declined to have a meeting on this basis. He specifically asked if it was for asking for money and was given the reply that it was to update him on our plans.

I had considered it likely that given our personal history of past disagreements he would be reluctant to meet. I signed a typed letter on the 22nd November. The letter does not ask for funds, but is a polite and courteous request to organise a meeting at which I was planning to tell him of my decision.

I am submitting all this evidence to Lord Whitty.

A number of points, m'lud.

Though it is not clear precisely when Mendelsohn was told by baby-face Watt that Abrahams was the actual donor behind Kidd, Ruddick and McCarthy's apparent donations, it seems that it was some time last month. At that point, according to the statement, Mendelsohn had no reason to believe there was anything unlawful about the donations.

Nonetheless, on Saturday, ie once aware that the story was about to break, Mendelsohn wrote to Abrahams – a handwritten letter according to Abrahams, typed according to Mandelsohn (a discrepancy which only adds to the more-than-slightly surreal air hanging over the entire affair). Abrahams received the letter yesterday, Tuesday (well done the GPO!).

This is the text.

Dear David,

Thank you for your message which Oliver passed onto me. The party is of course very appreciative of all the support you have given over many years. At some point I would like to have the opportunity to talk with you personally about what we are doing and our plans for the time between now and the next general election. I know your diary is very busy but as one of the party’s strongest supporters it is only right that you are kept informed of what we are doing and the priorities that we are assigning to our resources. Any time that your diary allows, when you are next in London, I would very much like to meet to discuss this with you.

Warmest regards,
The Director of General Election Resources

Intriguingly, Labour party 'sources' are apparently claiming the letter was written on Thursday last week and only franked on Saturday, which, if true, wouldn't say much for the efficiency of the party's mail room even if it suggests a rare devotion to duty for staff to have been working over the weekend.

Not entirely unreasonably I'd say, Abrahams interpreted the letter as an invitation to donate more money to Labour. According to Mendelsohn, however, it was to arrange a meeting with Abrahams in which he, Mendelsohn, would tell Abrahams that the party didn't want any more of his money and he could in effect sod off.

And this because, despite Watt's assurances that Abrahams's donations 'fully complied with the law', Mendelsohn had become 'unhappy' about them, in fact so 'unhappy' he had decided further such donations 'would not play a part in our future plans' and that Abrahams's 'method of contribution was unacceptable'.

Crucially, he did this entirely off his own bat, telling no one. In a phrase that might almost have been dictated by the Bottler, he states: 'I did not discuss this with the officers of the National Executive Committee or party leadership'.

So, here is the third-biggest donor to the Labour party since the start of the Bottler's premierships and, entirely on his own initiative, despite the financial crisis facing the party, Mendelsohn decides the party will take no more of his money.

Here is a question for Mendelsohn. It is not hard. When did he write the letter? If it was on Thursday, then it is just about credible that his very pally handwritten/typed letter was
actually no more than the overture to telling Abrahams to bugger off and take his money with him. It is equally credible, however, that the letter was what Abrahams took it for: an invitation to set up a meeting in which more money would be asked for.

But if it was written on Saturday – and if it was typed then presumably there is a date on the letter itself rather than just on the envelope – then no one other than the congenitally simple-minded could conceivably believe that it was anything other than a panicked response to the news that the Mail story was about to break, almost certainly taking the Director of Labour Party General Election Resources with it.

So, Thursday or Saturday?

It would be interesting to know.

In denial?

Being sort of curious as to how the Labour party itself might be covering the Donorgate lark, I thought I would have a look at its website.

There is Watt's resignation statement, undated, a reply from Dianne Hayter (ususal guff:
We would like to thank Peter Watt for his long service, commitment and dedication to the Labour Party) and ... er ... that's it.

Institutionalised stupidity

I am beginning to think that Donorgate, to coin no phrase at all, may be evidence less of institutionalised corruption in the Labour party so much as of institutionalised stupidity.

David Abrahams is self-evidently a card-carrying nutter. This is a man – 'a confirmed bachelor who enjoys musical theatre,' as the Mail felicitously puts it – who in 1990 presented himself for selection as the Labour candidate for Richmond in Yorkshire claiming to be married and with an 11-year-old son.

This turned out to be untrue, the woman in question and her son having effectively been hired by Abrahams. When the story broke, as inevitably such a childish attempt at deception would, Abrahams asserted that claims he was unmarried were 'totally false.'

(As an intriguing sidelight on Labour's apparently inbred stupidity, once the deception was exposed Abrahams was nonetheless re-confirmed as the candidate for Richmond, reluctantly stepping down only the following year, not that this deterred him from standing, unsuccessfully this time, for selection for another parliamentary seat).

Self-evidently then, Labour knew they were dealing with a lunatic, a known fantasit and liar.

Would you think it prudent to accept money from someone with this kind of track record?

Just how stupid do you have to be to become general secretary of the Labour party?

Odd, no?

As the whole bizarre business of the Labour donors fiasco unfolds, there is one point I am not sure I have seen addressed.

How did the Mail get the story in the first place?

It would seem unlikely they dug it up for themselves.

In which case, presumably they were tipped off.

If so, by who and why? And why now?

It would seem reasonable to assume it was someone inside the Labour party.

In which case, things may be even nastier for the Bottler than they look.

With friends like this ...

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

When is 'known' not 'known'?

The Bottler has told us that when he was offered money by David Abrahams's go-between, Janet Kidd, it was turned down because: 'It was not the practice of my campaign team to accept money from people not known to them'.

At the same time, Harriet Harman has said that her campaign team accepted money from Janet Kidd because Kidd was a 'known' Labour party donor.

As she was. Between May 2003 and December 2005 the 'unknown' Janet Kidd donated £67,000 to the Labour party (all of course actually paid by David Abrahams). By any measure, that made her pretty well 'known'.

However, leave aside that, as a result, Janet Kidd was 'known' only to the Labour party but not to the Bottler and consider this.

If a politician is offered a donation by someone 'not known to them' then all logic suggests that it is in the interests of said politician to find out just who this person is, in other words to make them 'known to them'. If they have already given your party £67,000, this would hardly seem to require the services of Sherlock Holmes.

Consider, too, that Hillary Benn, also offered money by Janet Kidd, was warned off it by Margaret Jay, by any measure a pretty big cheese in Labour circles, on the basis that she, Jay, knew the money was actually being paid by Abrahams and was, as such, suspect.

In other words, we are expected to believe that Jay knew who Abrahams was but the Bottler's team didn't.

The real answer seems much simpler.

That of course the Bottler knew about Abrahams and was more than happy for the party to accept his money provided it was the party rather than him personally who would be blamed if the subterfuge was subsequently discovered. Shades of Lord Levy? It seems reasonable, too, to assume that he had already prepared a get-out route, by which I mean that he had identified a sacrificial victim, in this case Peter Watt, who could be relied on to offer himself up if the deal was rumbled. I say this, too, on the basis that no one with claims to sentient thought believes that Watt could ever have not known that Abrahams's donations were illegal.

Which leaves only Harman. What really was her role? A different kind of patsy, I'd say. It seems credible to believe she and her team weren't in the loop, saw the money, make perfunctory checks, were reassured that Kidd was a previous 'known' Labour donor and simply thought, 'Goody. More money.'

I suspect it will prove an expensive, possibly terminal mistake for her.

But the question still needs to be followed up. Why was a 'known' Labour party donor not 'known' to the Bottler?

How to get under the Bottler's skin

Interesting moment in the Bottler's press conference.

On the whole, he seemed almost relaxed, stern when needed, even able once or twice to force a joke. Yet toward the end, asked yet again if he had full confidence in Harriet Harman, he suddenly twitched. He started stuttering and frowning, whanged the desk once or twice, before forcing out that 'of course' he had full confidence in Harman.

I hope Cameron took note. There is no question the Bottler is at his most vulnerable in public when he becomes angry. It may work with his toadies. It sure as hell doesn't when he is on public view.

Why socialists are stupid Pt. 5

Lying on my bed of pain yesterday, I was unable to decide which of two articles in the Independent could legitimately be thought the stupider. It was a tough choice. How to decide between two versions of the 'progressive' point of view at its most fatuous?

The first was by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and was hilariously headlined: How did the BBC fall into the hands of right-wingers?

What she was essentially saying is that if BBC does not adhere to her pure notion of 'progressive politics'– ie her laughably loopy lefty view of the world – if, for example, it has the nerve to make a programme about the 'besieged' white working classes, code for nasty racist thugs – it has given in to 'right-wing ranters'. In the process, it has shamefully abandoned its former commitment to 'free speech and journalistic ethics'. No less shamefully, this amounts to the BBC's writing off the 'progressive' left as 'passé, irrelevant, annoying, elitist and soft'. (Personally, adjectives such as cretinous, pestilent, hypocritical, self-serving and, above all, wrong seem closer to the mark. But I'll settle for 'passé, irrelevant, annoying, elitist and soft' if pushed.)

It is worthy example of the left's warped view of the world that anyone who disagrees with it is by definition a 'right-wing ranter' who should, indeed must, be silenced instantly in the interests of free speech.

The second was by our old pal Johann Hari and appeared under the headline: Thatcher's baleful influence lives on.

This of course immediately wins bonus points by dragging in St Margaret, still 17 years almost to the day since her fall the totemic hate figure for the left, the devil incarnate.

Brilliantly, Hari argues that Thatcher herself is responsible for the current travails and miseries of the Bottler's government. Forget that NuLab have been in power for ten and-a-half years. It is all still Thatcher's fault.

Impressively, he therefore holds her responsible not just for America's sub-prime mortgage crisis, not just for the Northern Rock fiasco, but, piece de resistance with a vengeance – Bravo, Johann! Bravo! – HMRC's losing the two CDs.

Hari's piece was written before the more grisly details of David Abraham's donations to the Labour party had emerged. But I feel sure he could have found a way to blame these on Thatcher, too, had he been writing 24 hours later.

On the whole, I think Hari shades it. But is is a close-run thing.

Watt's it all about?

Easily the most interesting aspect of the whole bizarre Abrahams affair, the apparently reclusive property developer in the Northeast and the £550,000 he seem to have illegally donated to the Labour party via his hapless associates, one of them a solicitor note, is the assertion that baby-faced Peter Watt, the party's now ex-general secretary, was the 'only' person in the party who knew the source of the donations.

If it defies credulity well beyond breaking point to believe that Watt was unaware that there was a legal requirement for the name of the actual donor to be made clear, then you can only assume the party takes us all for straw-haired village idiots if it assumes it can pretend that no one else was aware who this was.

That said, it seems clear that Watt's near instant resignation is an attempt to persuade us that the exclusive fault lies with him. Equally, it begs the question, easily answered I'd say, as to whether he jumped in the full knowledge that if he didn't he would be pushed.

Then again, it's as well to bear in mind that when we are assured that the Bottler knew nothing of the real source of the money – "Ah good, PM, I see that nice builder Ray Ruddick has given us another £80,000. That makes £104,000 is less than a fortnight. Extraordinary what you can make installing kitchens in Newcastle." – it is only fair to point out that the same Bottler, the man who as Charlie Whelan reminded us last week 'masterminded' three Labour election victories, apparently also knew nothing of the source of the £15m that paid for the Labour campaign in 2005. And this our 'greatest-ever chancellor'.

Oh dear, Bottler. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

From cash for honours to cash for kitchens.

UPDATE: Now the CPS has been called in. Read it here.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Got the flu

Damn and blast. Not on tip-top fighting form today. So blogging temporarily suspended.

Back tomorrow with a little luck.

PS Anyone know why I can't get into Sitemeter?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

No more narratives

Cliches are very odd things. They crop up without warning and then for months, sometimes years, torment and irritate us to distraction and beyond.

Recent candidates are 'minded' as in 'The minister is minded to approve the scheme'; 'tipping point' as in 'Could this be Labour's tipping point?'; and John Reid's infamous 'not fit for purpose.' There are plenty of others of course. NuLab is particularly wowed by its use of 'world-class', as in 'world-class services', which is their way of saying utterly useless; and 'delivering excellence', which is another way of saying utterly useless.

But the newest candidate, and in some ways the most irritatingly vacuous of all, deemed by its users to bestow a cool authority when in reality it is merely intensely tiresome, is 'narrative'.

God, I can scarcely begin to say how much I HATE IT!

Here are four examples. And now I am going to go away and be sick.

Brown needs a story, a narrative, a red thread to embroider a picture of the society he wants.
Polly Toynbee
, Guardian

Labour's best narrative is the story of its family revolution, with Sure Start for babies, universal childcare, after-school and breakfast clubs, domestic-violence laws, tax credits and the children's trust fund.
Polly Toynbee Guardian

What makes it additionally damaging is that it fits into a pattern, it can be located in a narrative of government failure.
Andrew Rawnsley, Independent on Sunday

John Major was unable to come up with a narrative of his own, not that it would have done him much good if he had.
Bruce Anderson, Independent

Saturday, 24 November 2007

ID cards – and why the government is so wrong

I am no computer expert, so why I am so completely sure that the government's faith in technology is wholly misplaced?

First, because its track record is utterly dismal. Put it another way, the bigger the IT project, the more certain the eventual screw-up – and the more serious the consequences.

Second, because I have always instinctively felt that, at heart, no government has ever had the foggiest idea of what IT systems are, instead being seduced by the virility and modernity of the technology.

And now, courtesy of CiF, I think a seriously coherent explanation has been produced. I make no apologies for quoting it verbatim. It is a comment on an article by Andrew Brown from a man called Robert Stanfield and should be required reading for all members of the government. In fact, they should learn it by heart.

You can read the original here. Scroll down the page to find Stanfield's contribution.

And now for Mr Stanfield:

The problem is not so much technology as the misplaced faith in it by people who have little or no understanding or experience of how data entry and storage works. Time and again IT projects are commissioned or given the nod by people who can barely turn on a computer and probably have underlings to do that.

It makes them ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous IT consultants. It also makes them ill-equipped to work effectively even with scrupulous ones, as it almost always entails altering specifications as the thing goes along, nixing capabilities that will prove useful and being mesmerised by useless bauble features. I've experienced this myself in database development.

But above and beyond that it is about time the likes of Blunkett, Brown, Darling etc, stopped using words like 'biometric' as if they were talismans and actually listened to some fo the many voices of warning raised by people who know rather more than them about how IT, biometrics etc actually work, what they do best and how they can actually fail or be bypassed. It is our privacy and security they are blithely playing around with.

The managerial class as a whole is fundamentally not qualified to talk sanely or informedly about IT, databases etc. I know a good deal more than average about it and it's not because of ludditism or hostility to computers that I have great reservations about the increasing reliance of government on IT systems. In theory it's all wonderful and logical and failsafe. In practice it's not.

The first truth an IT person learns about computers is that the answer in about 50% of problems is to switch the machine off and on again. That's not a theoretical truth, nor a logical one. In fact it could be said to be a logical nonsense. But it's a practical fact. Brown et al need to learn the difference between what should theoretically be and what actually is. They are often different. That may sound arrogant, but then I'm not the one advocating more IT systems and biometrics in order to protect people's private data. It's the people who manifestly understand less who are doing just that.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Ana ... again

Ohhh! The six-foot sizzler. Here she is again.


Want to know what makes a conductor great? Take a look at this.

Does the devil have all the best tunes? In this case, yes.

But it is still breathtaking.

Lynne Truss beware

I owe the biggest hat tip in the world to my new best friend, Peter Horne, staunch leader of the fearless campaign for 'Bigger Shoes', whose world-shaking views can be found here.

He has alerted me to what is unquestionably the funniest blog in the world.

It is called

Please. Rush there instantly.

Continuations anyone?

I am always very reluctant to poke fun at French people trying to speak English. Given the litany of blunders that riddle my French, I am only too aware of how easily mistakes can be made in another language. In addition, it seems pretty unfair that the French should have to speak anything but their own language in their own country. On the other hand, given the numbers of monoglot Britons in France these days, they frequently don't have much choice.

Hence at our local recycling dump, if I can call it that, there is a notice in English. It reads:

Prohibited to deposit refuse (domestic, plants, materials ... ) under penalty of continuations.
The Municipality

I often wonder if I should point out to the 'municipality' that on the whole the notice might have been phrased better.

But it gives me so much innocent pleasure every time I read it, I don't think I could ever bring myself to.

Cover up or cock up?

There has been an enormous amount of talk since yesterday of how Darling and the Bottler misled the Commons by claiming that the HMRC fiasco was the work of a single junior official operating outside normal rules governing security. As has since become clear, this is not so. Similarly, claims that banks had asked that news of the blunder not be released so as to give them time to put anti-fraud measures in place have also been shown to be untrue.

I find this very odd. It is perfectly clear that once the full horror of what had happened had sunk in, the Bottler decided, or at any rate agreed, that only a full and frank admission of fault would do. Hence Darling's repeated apologies. Hence, too, the Bottler's apologies (apparently the only time he has ever apologised in the House of Commons).

So why should they have lied – or at best have attempted to mislead?

There are only two explanations.

1) That they weren't being fully briefed. No one told them about the various e-mails that went back and forth between HMRC and the NAO or that these were going to be published. Worse, someone also falsely claimed that the banks had asked for more time.

If this is the case, then what remains – and it is not very much – of their claims to competence is damaged further. Once they had decided that honesty was their only hope, they must have stressed and stressed and then stressed again that it was imperative that all the facts be given them.

Are their officials sufficiently incapable as not to have been able to unearth such vital information in almost two weeks? Or are they perhaps merely frightened of the Bottler and couldn't quite bring themselves to tell the truth?

Either way, it's very damaging.

2) That they did know and they lied.

For so 'formidable' a politician as the Bottler, it is again all remarkably inept.


There is no more sure sign that a once-dominant government is on the skids than that it seeks constant refuge in past successes. To be sure, the turnaround in the fortunes of the Bottler's government has been so rapid and so severe it is hardly a surprise if those close to the Bottler are having difficulty coming to terms with it. After all it was only two months ago that the vile Balls et al were smugly contemplating the extermination of the Tories and the serene prospect an apparently limitless period in office.

Nonetheless, it is extremely telling that at PMQs on Wednesday that Bottler, clearly provoked, was thrown back on ranting about 10 years of economic, prosperity, stability, growth, etc (none of which, needless to say, was remotely relevant to the matter at hand, to wit the fuck-up at HMCR).

Similarly, there is a very potent analysis by Martin Bright in the New Statesman – read it here – that makes the point:

But people around Brown remain convinced that the broader economic record over the past decade, of sustained economic growth and tackling child poverty, will override the negatives in the public's mind ... Their analysis shows an alarming complacency.

There is an intriguing precedent for this. In the spring of 1989, Nigel Lawson went on the telly on the evening of what turned out to be his last Budget. By this point, it was abundantly clear that the economy was rocking, with inflation creeping into double figures (it would eventually peak that autumn at over 14%). None of which Lawson mentioned. Instead, he concentrated almost exclusively on the economic successes of the previous ten years. These were real enough of course. In 1979 Britain was an economic basket case. But it was perfectly obvious that Lawson could not bring himself to admit just how wobbly things had since become.

Ditto Bottler, Balls and the other very unlovely members of the inner circle.

So I think we can all brace ourselves for endless reminders of past glories as they desperately struggle to restore their reputation for competence.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Why I love footy and Britain by G. Brown, form IV B

Poor old Bottler. He just doesn't get it.

With all four of the home nations failing to qualify for Euro 2008, he has suggested a one-off revival of the home nations footy championship next summer.

Trouble is, Bottler, we all know why you are saying it.

One, it's Britain, eh? Your great patriotic cause. National motto, Union Jack, great shared heritage. Heart swells. Just don't mention the West Lothian question. Or the fact that you are Scottish. Or that NuLab is in power only because of its Scottish MPs. To say nothing of the absolute political imperative for you of stressing Britishness over Scottishness as a result.

Two, it chimes with your matey I'm-a-dedicated-footy-fan-at-heart-just-one-of-the-lads-never-happier-than-with-my scarf-and-rattle-on-the-terraces-and-sometimes-I-even-support-England-line. A line that is so transparently, laughably bogus as to have us all rolling in the aisles.

I mean, Christ, you can see it coming from about eight million miles away: Gordo wringing every drop of transparently insincere patriotic fervour he can contrive from his supposed passion for the people's game.

Even Heath, with his best plastered-on smile and heaving shoulders, wasn't this clunkingly obvious.


It is a measure of the government's absolute desperation that it has chosen today to announce that HIPs will be compulsory for all house sales from December 14.

They are deeply unpopular and, far from speeding sales, are likely only to slow them. Which you might have thought the government was anxious to avoid given the almost certain fall in the housing market.

In short, a completely pointless extra layer of expensive (but of course!) bureaucracy that will do nothing but bugger people about andwith unknowable conomic consequences.

And that's good news?

How long, Gordo?

For the Bottler's edification, here is a list of Britain's shortest-serving prime ministers. He may find it instructive.

George Canning 119 days
Viscount Goderich 130 days
Bottler Brown 148 days
Andrew Bonar Law 209 days
Duke of Devonshire 225 days
Earl of Shelburne 266 days
Earl of Bute 317 days
Sir Alec Douglas-Home 362 days
Baron Grenville 1 year 42 days
Duke of Grafton 1 year 106 days

He might also be interested to know that Edward Heath served for 3 years, 259 days; John Major for 6 years, 154 days; Tony Blair for 10 years, 56 days; and Margaret Thatcher for 11 years, 209 days. He may also like to contemplate the time in office of Britain's longest-serving prime minister, Robert Walpole, whose single period in office lasted for 20 years, 314 days.

Should he cling on in power until May 2010, the legal term of this government, he will then have been in office for 2 years, 314 days, which would leave him in 34th place, rather than his current 50th spot, in the list of all 52 of the country's prime ministers.

Also by way of reference, he might like to know that Edward Heath is in 26th place; John Major in 20th; Tony Blair in 9th; and St Margaret in 7th.

Long way to go yet, Gordo.

Still, perhaps of more immediate relevance is whether he can challenge the 39th-placed Anthony Eden's 1 year, 279 days in office.

Gordo's week

I can't remember how many times during Blair's premiership we were confidently informed he had had his 'worst-ever week'. But I don't think any of them compared to the Bottler's week. And it's still only Thursday. Thus:

Scotland 1 Italy 2
Scotland fail to qualify for Euro 2008

YouGov poll confirms Bottler's personal popularity has dropped 40 points in seven weeks

Darling confirms to HofC just how much taxpayers' money is to be pissed away on shoring up Northern Rock

Darling announces that HM Revenue and Customs has lost banking and other details of 25 million people

Savaged at PMQs, forced to apologise then reduced to ranting about you've-never-had-it-so-good-10-years-of-prosperity. Followed by DPP Sir Ken Macdonald telling Commons home affairs select committee he saw 'no reason to justify the proposed extension' to the pre-charge detention limit for suspected terrorists, effectively scuppering the Bottler's plans to up them to 58 days.

Further outbreak of foot-and-mouth at the government's institute for animal health (which only got its licence back after August's outbreak 12 days ago). Five former defence chiefs savage government's management of defence. Bottler buggers off to Uganda

NAO report on QinetiQ: more savaging a certainty.


Interesting name. And one we will all become only too familiar with over the next couple of days.

Read about it here.

In short, another stunning triumph for the Bottler.

Well done, Gordo!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

The EU Referendum

EU Referendum rightly points out how quiet the media and the blogosphere alike have gone on the government's breaking of its promise to hold a referendum on the EU Treaty/Constitution. They are right. It has all gone eerily silent.

That said, it is easy enough to understand why. It is not as though there has not been quite a lot else to divert us lately. Confronted with cock-ups on the scale of HM Revenue and Custom's losing the details of 25 million people, Northern Rock and the 5,000 (or should that be 10,000?) illegal immigrants working with government approval as security guards to say nothing of yet another case of bird flu, the EU Treaty, arcane to many at the best of times, necessarily seems of much less immediate importance.

But silence precisely plays into the Bottler's hands. It has been obvious for a long time that he hoped a) that we would all forget about the Treaty anyway; and b) that continuing to focus on it would only highlight potential Tory divisions.

There is a serious risk that he may be right on both fronts.

Yet for all that, the Treaty's long-term implications are hard to overstate. Plus there is the small matter of the government's lying. In short, this is a matter that must still be pursued.

But the obvious question is how can Cameron best frame an attack? Given that the Bottler is obviously determined to ram the Treaty through Parliament, once enshrined in law it will be exceptionally difficult, if not actually impossible, to overturn. Hence the Tories' recent obvious equivocation.

But there is still an answer. The political climate has undergone what amounts to an earthquake over the autumn. Nobody saw it coming but its effects have been astounding. It is not just the government as a whole that is in trouble but the Bottler in particular, his credibility vanishing by the day and his authority with it. The prospect of a Conservative government is more real now than it has been since at least 1992.

One obvious consequence is that the prospect of power is very obviously already concentrating Tory minds in ways that naturally restore party discipline. That's what pragmatism does. Another of course is there are also a lot of increasingly nervous Labour MPs in marginal seats.

The question is whether there are enough of them of the Gisela Stuart tendency who are prepared to defy the party line on the basis that there is no point supporting a defunct government on a matter of such fundamental principle when there is such obvious and widespread popular opposition to it.

My honest answer is that I don't know, though I don't doubt there are parliamentary insiders even now eagerly adding up the numbers.

But what I do know is that the Tories must attack on as many fronts as possible. Self-evidently, this is one of them. The government lied and is continuing to lie over a matter of fundamental importance.

Granted, if the Bottler does succeed in bullying the Treaty through, there may well be little the Tories, in government or not, can do to overturn it later.

But that hardly sounds like a reason for not trying.

I'm not all right, Jacques

This is getting serious.

The question is, is Sarko behind it?

I strongly suspect so.

Paul Gray

There has been much talk about how Paul Gray has upheld the highest traditions of the civil service by resigning so honourably from HM Customs and Revenue.

Guess what? It turns out to be a rather odd kind of resignation. This from the Daily Mail:

Meanwhile, Paul Gray, the £190,000-a-year chairman of HM Customs & Revenue who resigned yesterday, is set to remain on full salary pending a deal to let him retire on a full pension.

Mr Gray, who was praised for quitting "as a matter of honour", will not lose a penny by falling on his sword

Anyone know where I can get one of these special non-jobs that I can resign from, too? You can see the attractions after all.

You get paid in full and a pension without the tiresome inconvenience of having to do any work. Plus everyone hails you as a thoroughly good fellow.

Our greatest ever chancellor

On the one hand, we have today's Telegraph running an outrageous piece of puffery by Charlie Whelan on behalf of his old boss, the Bottler.

On the other, we have the very lefty-leaning Independent running a devastating analysis of just how and why the Bottler is so startlingly inept.

I may mourn the fact that the Telegraph should apparently have become so willing an accomplice in its own nobbling by No. 10. But the Whelan piece at least has the advantage of being so shamelessly stupid as to be hilarious.

We get all the usual, breathtakingly cynical sob story stuff about the death of his daughter, against which 'a few bad opinion polls pale into insignificance'; plenty of guff about 'vision'; the usual tosh about how the Bottler 'masterminded three great election visions' (actually I think Peter Mandelson might have something to say about this); plus, of course, the bog-standard spin about the Bottler as our 'greatest' chancellor; and lots of 'getting on with the job'.

Tellingly, there is also a rather nasty swipe about how 'people he had considered his friends swiftly manoeuvered to block his path to the leadership' after the death of John Smith. Still smarting, eh, Bottler?

Even more preposterously, on the subject of the election that wasn't, we get the claim that 'Gordon has never been a short-termist politician, which is why he was so reluctant to go to the country so soon'.

Yet the piece de resistance is this line: 'There is not one person in this country whose circumstances suffered in any way because there was no early election.'

Well, I can think of one.

The McRae piece by contrast precisely dissects the Bottler's shortcomings, in the process making very clear his central role in the government's near endless incompetence. He highlights not just the Bottler's botched merger of the Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs, to the obvious detriment of both, but his role in devising the regulatory system that gave us the Northern Rock fiasco.

But perhaps most revealingly, he points up the shortfall in government revenues this year and consequent increased public borrowing. And we all know the part our 'greatest ever chancellor' played in this.

So much for the the Bottler and his 'formidable intellect'.

Do read it.

Why the Guardian loves the Daily Brute

Writing of Darling and the lost CDs yesterday, I wrote: 'Another day, another disaster'.

This morning, the Guardian heads its leader on the Darling disc debacle: 'Another day, another disaster'.

Elsewhere in the paper, Simon Hoggart comments on the fiasco, opening with the words: 'Another day, another disaster'.

Should I be flattered? Or should I worry that I seem so instinctively in tune with the lefty's newspaper of choice?

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

A matter of extreme regret

Ben Brogan in his blog at the Daily Mail talks today about how the government has become 'plain unlucky.'

I think we can be a little bit more precise.

As has just been confirmed, the details of every single child in the UK – names, addresses and dates of birth – plus the banking details of all their parents and/or guardians – have been lost by the government.

These are records that affect 25 million people, approximately 7.5 million families.

It was information sent by HM Revenue and Customs to the National Audit Office on October 18. It was on two CDs and it was sent in the mail. Not registered mail. Not by courier. Not even by a mototorbike messenger. Just posted. The regular mail. That's all.

The two CDs have yet to be found. Are they languishing, unknown and unrecognised, in someone's letterbox or perhaps in some sorting office? Has someone, somewhere, already received them and are wondering what they are?

Who can say? At all events, they are lost.

The chancellor, Alistair Darling, has told the House that this was a 'huge, massive mistake,' and that 'he deeply regrets and apologises for any anxiety that may be caused'. It is, he says, 'A matter of extreme regret.'

I'll say.

What does it signify?

Let me spell it out.

Three things. Cock-up, chaos, confusion.

In short, the precise hallmarks of this government.

First Northern Rock, then 5,000 (or should that be 10,000?) illegal immigrants allowed to work as security guards, now the records of every child in the country lost. Please note that: of every child.

This has gone beyond parody.

Darling, unlike his boss, the Bottler, is plainly an honourable man. Deadly dull, quite possibly hopeless and almost certainly out of his depth. But honourable nonetheless.

So I think we can be fairly sure the Bottler will shortly be offering him up as a sacrificial victim to his spin-free, open, collegiate government of all the talents.

Put it another way, I am not sure that 'luck', plain or otherwise, has anything to do with it.

In short, another day, another disaster.

Bravo Bottler.


Just a little filler before Darling's statement to the House.

I keep reading that the Bottler is 'grooming' Balls as his successor. Here's an example.

All I can say is, do me a buggering favour. Does anyone in possession of even a single brain cell think that someone so deeply unlovely, sinister, grim and scheming as the semi-human (if that) Balls could ever in about eight million years be a credible candidate to take over as prime minister?

Well, do they?

Oh dear

From the Daily Mail:

HM Revenue and Customs chairman Paul Gray has resigned after the department lost personal information covering more than seven million child benefit claimants.

Chancellor Alistair Darling is due to make a Commons statement on the issue at 3.30pm, in what could become one of the world's biggest data protection failures.

Roll on ID cards, eh?

Ooooh! Global warming! Help!

Headline in Telegraph:

Cold snap prompts dreams of white Christmas

Plastic bags and other bollocks

It can't be much fun being the environment editor of any newspaper these days, permanently bombarded by ever more shrill demands from environmentalist pressure groups and other self-styled activists. Even the stoutest would wilt in the face of these incessant assertions that only instant action now can save us all from armageddon.

So it is with Charles Clover, environment editor of the Daily Telegraph. He has a piece today headlined 'Too little, too late to reverse climate change'.

He writes:

The time has passed when it was possible for a politician in any British party overtly to take the side of the Flat Earthers, who still do not want to believe what the majority of climate scientists tell them.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the article has attracted a huge number of comments. And though naturally a number are from the 'we-are-all-doomed'school-of-environmentalist-bollocks', a very much larger number pour a hefty dose of robustly British scorn all over poor Clover's head.

Good. In fact, very good.

Best comment of the lot comes from AndrewG:

A lot of hot air would be saved by the application of just one plastic bag over the head of each member of HMG.

Monday, 19 November 2007

The silliest man in Britain?

I have been vastly entertained over the last couple of days by the preening antics of a man called Neil Clark.

This Clark, 'a 41 year old journalist and writer based in the UK' and with his own blog, is clearly mad. Not mad a la Bottler, foaming at the mouth, yelling at underlings and thumping the desk, but at heart no less fundamentally deranged.

He champions a bewilderingly wide range of beliefs, part straight old-school socialist (renationalisation of public utilities and 'a new top rate of tax for the very wealthy'), part loony-tunes sub-fascist. Among his more barmy assertions, for example, is that Slobodan Milosevic, by any measure one of the nastier gangsters of post World War 2 Europe, was a mightily wronged innocent.

As intriguing, he claims to be 'a regular contributor' to both the Morning Star and the Spectator.

Who is this colossus, straddling such wildly improbable worlds?

Well, I am sure that regular denizens of the blogosphere know that he is also the newly crowned winner of the Best UK Blog award. This is in fact an American competition rather than a British one. But it is out there nonetheless and, having chosen Clark among its 10 finalists and then seen him win, it has accordingly allowed him to boast that his crack-pot views are the real voice of the wider British blogosphere. (It is worth pointing out that, having belatedly discovered that he had been nominated, Clark embarked on a frenzied round of shameless canvassing that Mr Eugenides in particular has highlighted with justifiable glee).

Since his win, in an astoundingly silly article in the Guardian under the headline 'We need a blogging revolution', Clark has now taken po-faced self-congratulation to a realm beyond beyond parody.

It starts with a ringing declaration: 'It's official. We now have 4m bloggers in the UK.' It continues in a mood of potty self-delusion.

What is nowhere mentioned in this hilariously self-important puff piece is that exactly 4,249 votes were cast for the Best UK Blog Award; that is, 4,249 votes among all 10 finalists. Now, it's true that Clark captured 1,116 of them, 26.3% of the total, in his words an 'overwhelming victory'.

Nonetheless, of the 4m 'official' bloggers in the UK – Clark's description, not mine – 0.025% voted for him.

It doesn't sound entirely 'overwhelming' to me.

Still, where would the Daily Brute be without Clark and his nut-case ilk to laugh at?

For those who can bear to look, there is a picture of this very, very odd man above.

Very Stade Francais. Very Sanderson.

Those of a more traditional cast of mind might be forgiven for assuming that, rugby being a manly kind of sport, rugby players themselves are fairly bluff no-nonsense types. I think it can stated fairly unequivocally that this is not true of Stade Francais, however.

Stade Francais, for the unitiated, are one of the two leading French rugby clubs (the other is Tolouse). Being based in Paris, there are also by some measure the chicest.

For several years, they have been raising eyebrows not just for their annual calendar, Dieux du Stade, which features various players pooving it up in the nude – all very gay iconish, etc – but for their shocking pink shirts with blue lightening bolts on them.

But yesterday, for the first time this season, I saw their new shirts, or at least their new away shirts.

To call them startling is to understate the case. What you have, as shown above, is a kind of combined Hawaiian shirt and Carnaby Street tie c.1967 with more than just a hint of vicarage chintz curtain whanged in for good measure, the whole on a seriously weird sludge background. And it's skin tight.

However, I am not sure they will be in too much of a hurry to wear them again. They were playing Bristol yesterday, in Bristol, in the Heineken Cup, and were royally turned over 17-0, the first time they have failed to score even a single point in a Heineken Cup match.

It was also pissing with rain and blowing a near gale. Not exactly the weather for a fashion statement.

Bottler's Fortress Britain

The Bottler's bizarre and sinister determination to create what he laughably calls Fortress Britain precisely encapsulates his glowering style of government. At prodigious expense, a vast and unwieldy structure will be created and imposed from above that will profoundly inconvenience millions, significantly undermine personal liberty and which, you can be sure, will not work anyway both because it will be incompetently administered and do nothing to deter terrorists in the first place. What it will do, however, and here the clunking fist reveals itself in all its obvious deviousness, is greatly increase the power of the state.

In addition, given that it is overwhelmingly the case that 99.9999% of the population of Britain are not terrorists, why treat them as though they are? Why target the plainly innocent? Why treat everybody as a potential threat? If MI5 already knows of 2,000 Islamists conspiring to commit acts of terror, then self-evidently these are the people who should be targeted rather than every granny, maiden aunt and two-year-old in the country. How will employing airport-style security checks at 250 railways stations, for example, do anything other than a) waste money; b) waste time; c) screw people around?

It strikes me that the Bottler is now so far removed from reality and so deluded that he simply doesn't understand how and why people are very rapidly going to get seriously fed up with being permanently pestered by pea-brained bureaucrats and self-important jobsworths when they are doing no more than going about their everyday, legal business. Once the information then gathered – none of which is remotely the government's business in any case – is then lost, mislaid and/or muddled, as it will be, and people start being accused of plotting crimes of which they are entirely innocent, the wrath unleashed will be startling.

In fact, I am more than ever convinced that the Bottler has gone mad. Actually mad. Barking, bonkers, certifiable. I have a strong feeling that his heavily sedated, strait-jacketed form will have to be smuggled out of Downing Street in the dead of night by men in white coats carrying very large syringes.

My betting is for this side of Christmas.

Of course, it does also raise the alarming question of who would take over in his place.

Process stories

Well, my non-Bottler edict for today clearly hasn't worked, because here we go again. Apologies.

As part of what is clearly a coordinated attempt to rebut suggestions that the Bottler's government is collapsing around his head, with ministers stiffled and bullied and the Bottler constantly interfering, the baby foreign secretary, David Miliband, has dismissed reports of a rift between him and the Bottler, claiming that they are 'process stories.'

What, when they are at home, are 'process stories?'

Can someone enlighten me please?

Clapped out

I think it's time for another Bottler-free day here on The Daily Brute. So I will restrict myself merely to mentioning that it was hardly possible to open a newspaper yesterday without coming across yet another story about how the Bottler is losing his way, alienating his colleagues and crashing around the political undergrowth ever more frenziedly as he struggles to assert himself. And that in the latest YouGov poll, which appeared yesterday, support for Labour has dropped from its September high of 44%, with the Tories stranded on 33%, to 35%, with the Tories steady on 41%. And that the Bottler's own ratings have crashed by 40 points over the same period. Enough said.

No wonder the silly old sod looks so clapped out.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

If a week is a long time in politics ...

... eight weeks is clearly an eternity. It was eight weeks ago tomorrow that Peter Kellner was writing in the Telegraph – you can read it here – that the Bottler was looking at a majority of around 100 were he to call an autumn election. Despite Northern Rock, the Labour lead over the Tories was 11 points, 44% to 33%. The Bottler in particular emerged strongly, 42% of those polled believing he would make the best prime minister. By contrast, a derisory 20% of those polled believed the same of Cameron.

Fast forward to the most recent YouGov poll and Labour are on 38% and the Tories on 41%, breaking the 40% barrier for the first time since 1992.

Has there ever been a more spectacular or precipitate collapse in any ruling party's fortunes? If all political careers end in failure, this nonetheless generally tends to be the result of a steady, eventually remorseless erosion of support. But what we have seen this autumn is a vertiginous plummet that looks likely only to end in a massive crash landing. It is hard to see many survivors staggering from the wreckage.

Yet at least as interesting is the transformation of the fortunes of the Bottler himself, the self-styled far-sighted father of the nation giving way to near gibbering wreck. There is an unmistakeable sense that, as the crisis has unfolded, so the Bottler has been reduced to yanking the levers of power ever more frantically – full ahead! full astern! hard to port! no! no! to starboard! I mean port! – while simultaneously ever more maladroitly manipulating the puppets who make up his government. More ham fisted than clunking fist.

It is an astonishing spectacle. I strongly suspect it is far from over.

Grim and grimmer

Bloomin' heck, even the Independent has turned against the Bottler now. Its leader on the unfolding Northern Rock shambles – 'a financial disaster of truly horrendous magnitude' – pulls no punches. Not pleasant reading for the Bottler and his unhappy teeny chancellor.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Why I love climate change

Commenting on the IPCC's latest report, The Times today states that:

Heatwaves, rainstorms, drought, tropical cyclones and surges in sea level are among the events expected to become more frequent, more widespread and more intense this century.

But of course they are! That's why climate change is so wonderful! It can do anything you want! Anything at all!

And that's why I love it!

PS Anyone know what 'surges in sea level' are?

Daily drip, drip, drip of uselessness

I realise this story may hardly compare with Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust's managing to kill 90 of its patients after infecting them Clostridium difficile. But it nonetheless seems to me a precise example of the daily drip, drip, drip of NHS incompetence. This is it.

My son, Theo, 14, broke his collarbone over the summer. It was a perfectly ordinary accident. He was playing with some chums and he fell over. We were in England at the time, in Kent, about 10 miles from Canterbury.

So, off to Canterbury hospital we went. I had vaguely heard, or so I thought, that the A&E department there had been downgraded, so I was accordingly reassured to see, as reached the ringroad, a series of signs with a large red H on them, with underneath, also in red, the letters A&E.

Ominously, however, on arrival, the A&E department turned out to be something called a Minor Injuries Unit. On the other hand, a broken collarbone sounded like a pretty minor injury to me, nasty of course but hardly life threatening. Plus perhaps Minor Injuries Unit was just another example of pointless rebranding. Perhaps this was what all A&E departments were now called? Christ, we had been in France for the last seven years. Who knew might have been happening in the meantime?

First impressions were pretty encouraging, however. We were able to register more or less at once and within about five minutes Theo was on his way to be X-rayed. This, too, was pretty speedy so that within about 30 minutes of arriving an X-ray had been done and the broken bone clearly confirmed.

This is when it started to go wrong.

I should stress that this was mid-afternoon on a weekday, so hardly the busiest of times. Nonetheless, we then had to wait fully two and a half hours before Theo got to see the doctor. Except that it wasn't a doctor. It was a Practice Nurse.

Because this was a Minor Injuries Unit and they don't have doctors there. No, they have Practice Nurses. And our Practice Nurse, who I should say could hardly have been kinder or more helpful, could only frown, look serious and say that Theo had to see an orthopedic specialist.

'Ok, yes, good. That's why we're here,' I said. 'When can we see him?'

'You'll have to go to casualty in Ashford', she said. 'There isn't one here.'

In other words, not only did Canterbury, a city of 40,000 people, have no A&E department, its hospital, which to my untrained eye was pretty enormous, had no orthopedic department.

Put it another way, we had to wait over three hours to be told what we could have been told when we arrived or, at worst, once the X-ray had been done.

Further, it takes a good half hour to drive from Canterbury to Ashford, meaning that by the time we got there it would have been close on five hours since Theo had broken his collarbone and he still wouldn't have seen a doctor. Plus, who was to say how long we would have to wait once in Ashford before he could see one?

On this point at least the Practice Nurse could reassure us. 'Don't worry. They know you are coming. They'll be expecting you.'

Except of course that they weren't.

We arrived at about 8 in the evening. If mid-afternoon in Canterbury Minor Injuries Unit is quiet, 8pm in Ashford's A&E department is anything but. In fact, it was a seething mass. As I subsequently discovered, one reason for this is that those who might once have gone to their nearest hospital, Canterbury for example, now all had to go to Ashford, which is accordingly swamped. In fact, if our experience is even remotely typical, scarcely able to cope at all.

So we waited. And we waited. And we waited some more. Three hours in total, my increasingly exasperated attempts to explain that we were apparently expected and that it was now six hours, then seven hours, then eight hours since Theo had broken his collarbone and he STILL hadn't seen a doctor having exactly no effect at all.

Eventually, at 11, he did see a doctor. He, too, could hardly have been nicer. But he could recommend only that Theo be kept in overnight to see the specialist in the morning. Which is what happened.

In short, though in neither case was the government target of all patients being seen within four hours broken, it had nonetheless taken eight hours before Theo was actually seen by a doctor. And this in southeast England, one of the most affluent and supposedly civilised areas of the world.

I know I am biased, but the contrast with France could hardly be more stark. Where we live, in deepest southwest France, the local hospital is about 20 minutes away. It serves a town, Jonzac for those who are interested, with a population of slightly less than 2,000. We have probably had to go to the A&E department there – and, yes, there is one, a real one, known as Urgences in French – perhaps half a dozen times. And we have never once had to wait more than five minutes. Seriously. And guess what? They have doctors, too. Real ones.

As a final little twist to this tale, when the next morning Theo did see the specialist, he told us Theo would have to come back in a month for a check-up. All perfectly routine.

'Not a problem,' I said. 'Expect that we have to go back to France on September 1. The appointment will have to be before that.'

'Of course, of course,' came the reply.

A few days later a card arrived with the date of Theo's appointment. It was for September 3.

What a hoot!

The news that net emigration from Britain since 1997 has now reached 800,000 and net immigration 2.4m is an apposite comment on the grim state of an increasingly dysfunctional country presided over by an increasingly dysfunctional government.

Despite the vast sums lavished on them, both the NHS and schools are in a state nearing collapse, with patients dropping like flies and children leaving school ever more obviously ignorant. Transport is a disaster, the roads clogged and trains late, dirty and ever more expensive. The economy meanwhile, masterminded by our 'greatest ever chancellor' over exactly the same period, is poised on the brink of a serious downturn, with house prices falling, inflation rising and growth slowing. All the while, the public sector expands relentlessly, inventing new means of pointless regulation and devising yet further ways of raising taxes while paying itself larger and larger sums of public money.

The government itself consists of a collection of spineless, plotting nobodies under the thumb of a brutish, incompetent bully who increasingly resembles a care-in-the community reject.

And all this before the great ID-card scam has even got properly underway.

Simultaneously, the armed forces, about the only arm of the government still enjoying widespread public trust, are systematically underfunded and under-equipped yet nonetheless dispatched on unwinnable foreign conflicts.

So, on the whole plenty of good reasons of clearing off while you still can, I'd say.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Is this the stupidest question ever asked?

Today, at the grotesquely pointless charade that is the Diana inquest in London, Michael Mansfield, the lawyer spearheading Mohammed al Fayed's assault on the original decision that Diana died because she had been killed in a car crash, asked the French doctor who led the emergency team treating her, Professor Bruno Riou, if a pregnancy test had been done on the princess.

Riou had already made clear that in 30 years he had never treated a patient as seriously injured as Diana for the simple reason that every patient with comparable injuries had been dead by the time they reached hospital.

When Diana, still just alive, did arrive, a preliminary X-ray revealed extensive internal bleeding. It was decided to cut her chest open. This revealed a major tear to her pulmonary artery. Her heart then stopped beating. For almost two hours, efforts were made to resucitate her. The attempt was then abandoned.

And, guess what, during all this effort, at no point did anyone think a pregnancy test might have been necessary.

Riou's answer to Mansfield's question was straight forward: 'No, she was dying.'

Whatever his fondness for asking awkward questions, Mansfield would be better off asking himself a much more basic question: What am I doing taking part in this pitiful business?

More of the ravishing Ana Ivanovic

It has been fully a week since the Daily Brute brought you a picture of super-sizzling, six-foot, saucy Serbian sex-bomb stunner Ana Ivanovic. So here is another one.

Ana made the semis of the Sony Ericsson Championships last week, where she was beaten by the hateful Maria Sharapova, hereinafter referred to as the HMS. Happily, however, the HMS then lost in the final to Lance Armstrong lookalike, Justine Henin. Equally happily, Ana ended the year ranked 4 in the world and the HMS ranked 5.


The government's 'e-borders' scheme is expected to cost at least £1.2bn over the next decade.

I'd keep an eye on that 'at least'.

2012: the poisoned chalice

The always worthy Wat Tyler has more on the great Olympics fiasco here.

But one further point may be worth making. Given that even before London was awarded the Games it was a near-certainty they would be a catastrophe, shambolically disorganised and miles over budget, the whole quite probably unfinished to boot, it occurs to me that Blair may well have had exactly this in mind when he agreed to support the bid.

From his point of view – from the point of view of any politician – the only purpose of hosting a global event on this scale is the reflected glory it brings in which you can then complacently bathe.

Yet Blair would have known perfectly well that he wasn't going to be PM in 2012. Someone else would have been in the limelight. So there would hardly seem to have been much in it for him.

On the other hand, if you assume that the limelight would actually turn out to be crossfire, then it would be this someone else who was being shot at.

Whether it was a Labour PM – I name no names (see below) – or a Conservative one would hardly matter. They would still be the one being shafted.

Blair could then innocently say, 'Look, I got the Games for you and you've fucked them up.'

There is a parallel here with his stepping down just as the economy begins to falter.

Neat, no?

There is now officially a moratorium ...

... on the Daily Brute on writing about the Bottler and his gruesome gang that will remain in place for ohh, ... at least a day. So I shall sign off on the subject merely by pointing out that, as was announced yesterday, the Bottler has unveiled plans for Fortress Britain to counter the terrorist threat and that, as An Englishman's Castle highlights, Machiavelli had something very apposite to say on rulers seeking to safeguard their subjects in just this way. Read it here.

Instead, today is officially Tintin Day on the Daily Brute.

Tintin is, incontestably, one of the great figures of the 20th century. Between 1930 and 1986, 24 Tintin titles of increasing sophistication appeared. Eight of them, published between 1949 and 1968, represent what might be called the mature Tintin, a bravura combination of technical sophistication, brilliant characterisation, supreme story telling and above all dazzling humour, the whole combining to make a mockery of the series's humble beginnings as a crude black-and-white strip cartoon published in an otherwise unmemorable right-wing Belgian children's magazine, Le Petit Vingtième.

To accord these eight masterpieces their due deference, I list them here with the dates of their publication. They are:

Prisoners of the Sun (1949)
Destination Moon (1953)
Explorers on the Moon (1954)
The Calculus Affair (1956)
The Red Sea Sharks (1958)
Tintin in Tibet (1960)
The Castafiore Emerald (1963)
Flight 714 (1968)

They were the work of Georges Remi, universally known as Hergé, the name coming from his initials reversed – RG – and the pronunciation from the fact that he was a French-speaking Belgian. If increasingly neurotic, haunted by the feeling that Tintin had taken over his life but that he could never entirely renounce him – a fact that explains the increasing gaps between publication after 1963 (the penultimate Tintin book, Tintin and the Picaros, was published in 1976, the final book, the unfinished Tintin and the Alpha-Art, in 1986, three years after Hergé's death) – anyone who could have created so utterly compelling and complete a world can only be hailed as a hero, indeed as a genius.

More particularly, there is a remarkable humanity that shines through the books (which incidentally makes a nonsense of lefty claims that Hergé was a nasty, reactionary racist and probable Nazi collaborator: any intelligent reading of the books makes clear he was anything but).

Almost any Tintin fan will probably say that their favourite character is Captain Haddock, the bearded, irascible, often buffoon-like, always accident-prone sea-dog first encountered as a sad drunk by Tintin in The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), thereafter fiercely loyal to Tintin as well as, however improbably, the owner as a jewel-like chateau, Marlinspike Hall.

Yet it is the character of Tintin himself I find most intriguing. He began life as a boy reporter, chasing villains across the globe. He evolved into the only apparently non-caricatured figure among the principal figures in the series, always cheerful, always resolute, always level-headed. Not least as he retained his bizarre quiff to the end (and his plus-fours almost to the end), there was always a risk that he would remain a mere cypher, a bland goody-two shoes. But he isn't. He may be drawn as a kind of potato face but he is as fully realised and sympathetic as any of the more obvious caricatures in the books.

The sheer quality of Hergé's work would always have been enough to guarantee its success and, let's face it, importance. But at least for English speakers there is a further factor: the exceptional quality of the English translations, which were undertaken by Michael Turner and Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper. Heroically, they not only captured the exact flavour of the French originals but did so in a wholly unforced English idiom. It is wonderful stuff.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Not nice for Gordo

As Guido reports, the Northern Rock investment memo that the FT has sought and failed to publish and which, in PMQs today, the Bottler claimed was too'commercially sensitive' to release, is widely available on the internet. Type in Northern Rock Summary on google and hey presto.

The power of the internet, etc.

But it begs a question. The Bottler will not take kindly to being thwarted in this way. How long, no doubt in the interests of protecting us, will it be before he starts to support moves to regulate (ie restrict) internet access? Works in China after all.

God, I must stop writing about this great, boring Scottish git.

Inside the bunker

It is always such a pleasure to see your deepest prejudices confirmed.

There is a delightful account in the FT of life inside the great, brooding, resentful Bottler's No. 10. Imagine, he has only been PM for five months and people are already talking about a bunker mentality.

What I particularly like about the FT piece is that highlights just how the Bottler has allowed into his inner circle only those with his same strange, semi-human personality defects: Balls, the Milibands and of course wee Douggie.

Hard to imagine a more gruesome collection.

British jobs for British workers?

The Guardian reports this morning that: The Premier League is in discussions with Downing Street over ways in which it can increase the number of home-grown players appearing regularly for England's leading clubs.

Unless this is genuinely what the Bottler had in mind in proclaiming 'British jobs for British workers', I am utterly baffled.

What do the workings of the Premier League have to do with Downing Street? Is the Bottler about to unveil a football master plan? Is he perhaps thinking of going in to football management after he has been turfed out of No. 10?

Can somebody explain?

On second thoughts ...

This is Admiral Lord West, the security minister, at 8.10 this morning explaining why he is unconvinced that it is proper to raise the limit for holding suspects from 28 days to 56 days before charging them.

I still need to be fully convinced that we absolutely need more than 28 days and I also need to be convinced what is the best way of doing that.

And this is Admiral Lord West two hours later explaining why he is convinced that it is proper to raise the limit for holding suspects from 28 days to 56 days before charging them.

I am quite clear that the greater complexities of terrorist plots will mean that we will need the power to detain certain individuals for more than 28 days. I am convinced that we need to legislate now so that we have the necessary powers when we need them.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: 'Lord West made his position quite clear. Lord West gave his views quite clearly in his second statement.'

Welcome to the Bottler's world of bullying.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Lies, lies and evasions

There is a perfect example of the government's instinctive dishonesty on one of the Daily Telegraph's blogs tonight. It is one that precisely nails the Bottler's laughable claims to have ushered in a new spin-free era. It is here.

Christopher Hope, who is responsible for this exceedingly natty coup, is accordingly the first recipient of the Daily's Brute's highly prestigious Clunking Fist award.

Liberty and the state: reasons to be scared

In ways that are substantially beyond my limited means, the infinitely brainy Mediocracy precisely dissects how the Bottler is attempting to redefine individual liberty, while appearing to espouse it, so as to increase the power of the state. You'll find his analysis here.

I suspect many will find it hard to disagree with. It is serious stuff.

But I think there is a further point worth making. Britain remains at heart an exceptionally stable, self-confident country. I suspect that even the most obviously uneducated teenager is aware of this, at however subterranean a level, even if he or she is unable to articulate it.

It is, self-evidently, the product of its past. In striking contrast to that of almost every other country in the world, it has known no major upheaval since, arguably, the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Even Ireland, intermittently the most persistently destabilising element in British political life from the late 19th century onward, has failed to derail the country's fundamental sense of order and structure.

What this amounts to is an essential belief that, if you hold your nerve, any crisis can be surmounted. For close on 300 years, this underlying sense of order has prevailed. An empire was acquired and then (relatively painlessly: ask the French) disbanded. An industrial revolution was exported across the globe. Two world wars were fought and won (though the second emphatically only with the support of others). And democracy was extended.

Underpinning this was a Protestant monarchy, improbably evolved but strikingly successful, legitimising a parliamentary system of government, both absolutely bound by the rule of law. It may have been arrived at circuitously. But only the most perverse would claim that it didn't work.

The result was a country – occasionally complacent, more obviously strikingly fair minded – that could legitimately hold itself up as a model for the world. It was – is – a remarkable achievement for what as late as the early 16th century had been an isolated island outpost in a Europe that was itself still no more than a bit-part player on the wider world stage.

So why do I get the feeling that the Bottler, whatever his protestations of his essential Britishness, is attempting to unravel this inheritance? Well, as I say, Mediocracy supplies many of the answers.

But there are other reasons why I think we should all feel properly uneasy.

The Bottler is essentially pre-programmed. And that programme, whatever his claims to be a high-minded son of the manse, is the authentic voice of early 70s student agitation. Filtered through his own oddly stiff personality and, later, the advent and eventual success of media-friendly NuLabour, it has produced a bizarre combination of bigger government (which always knows best), inevitably funded by ever increasing taxes, and a desperate desire to spin and lie.

That said, a country as fundamentally stable and secure as Britain is surely capable of seeing off the likes of Brown. This, surely, is exactly our strength. Christ, if we can successively defeat Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler, Bottler Brown can hardly present much of a threat.

Except that this time it all feels more insidious. There is a significant sense that we are being undermined from within.

I can claim no kudos for having identified a truly terrifying quote from George Orwell's 1984 which I would say exactly sums up this chilling combination. So I am just going to quote it anyway (while tipping my hat to Mark Wadsworth, who flagged it up last night).

The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists and professional politicians. These people, whose origins lay in the salaried middle class and the upper grades of the working class...

As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages, they were less avaricious, less tempted by luxury, hungrier for pure power, and, above all, more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition.

It's the hunger for 'pure power' that bothers me.

Just wait till ID cards are compulsorily introduced.

Then I would say the real measure of the Bottler will be revealed.

Ditchwater, dull as

Well, I watched the fragrant Jacqui making her ministerial statement in the House this afternoon and I don't think I have ever sat through a duller 30 minutes.

A sturdy opening statement, predictably defending herself and her department, was followed by a desultory series of questions and an equally dire series of answers.

The only moment when I perked up was when the Shadow Home Secretary, the beautifully coiffured David Davis, accused Jacqui of not being Frank Candid. At least, I think that was what he said.

Lucky 13

For the 13th year in a row the EU auditors have refused to sign off its accounts.


Read about it here (where you will also learn how agricutural subsidies are going to ... yes, golf clubs).

And there's more on the EU accounts here.

Burying bad news

The news that the Home Office had deliberately sought to hide the fact that it had employed 5,000 illegal immigrants about perfectly sums up the instinctive mendacity and incompetence of the Bottler's government.

First, the so-called Security Industry Authority, which is administered by the Home Office, employs huge numbers of immigrants but makes no attempt to discover if they are in the country legally.

Then, once the problem comes to light, the immediate response is to keep it secret.

Ominously for the Home Secretary, the spectacularly stupid 'Jacqui' –ooh, love the spelling! – Smith, the Bottler's spokesman reported the prime minister 'retained full confidence in the Home Secretary.'

Well, she is making a statement to the House this afternoon. Will it, perhaps, be her last as Home Secretary? I do so hope so.

Ayone else get the sense of a government on the skids? It has been the most amazing turnaround. Less than two months ago the Bottler had never seemed more assured.

Caving in

There is an excellent piece here by Libby Purves in The Times this morning on the government's evident decision to abandon to the sea parts of East Anglia on the ground that sea defences are too expensive to maintain.

Damn it, I wish I had written it myself.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Terrible weather, worse clothes

I honestly don't know why I find this girl so ridiculously engaging. I mean, Christ, just look at her trouser suit, apparently straight off the shelf from the tropical wear section of Man at C&A c.1976. Plus I can barely understand a word she's saying. So why do I love her so?

What a strange place the world is.

Anyway, here she is.

Backwards through the Northwest Passage

The BBC's ignorant glee last month in breathlessly announcing that 'for the first time since records began' (which turned out to have been all of 29 years ago) the Northwest Passage was 'fully navigable' reasonably enough drew veritable torrents of abuse for the simple reason that it was so obviously, cretinously wrong.

Not that this did anything to stop the corporation's claiming that this apparently freakish occurrence was due to global warming, though it is noticeable that most of the scientists involved were much less ready to point the finger.

The fact is that as the first tentative attempts were made to probe the Passage in the 16th century, then, later, on a much large scale after the Napoleonic wars, there had always been what sealers and whalers, by some way the most experienced sailors of these treacherous seas, called 'good' years for ice and 'bad' years. Good in their terms naturally meant less ice, bad more ice.

What, painfully, these navigators revealed was a vast, barely navigable archipelago of frozen Arctic wastelands. In the brief summer period when the region was navigable at all, waters that were free of ice one year would be impenetrably blocked the next.

Crucially, when the elderly and I am sorry to say obviously incompetent John Franklin led his doomed expedition to the Northwest Passage in 1845, a prime reason it took 10 years before any trace of his and his men's pitiful fate was found was that Franklin's expedition had sailed down a narrow strait, Peel Sound, that was normally permanently blocked with ice.

As Fergus Fleming put it in his supremely good history of the Northwest Passage, Barrow's Boys: 'It occurred to no one that Peel Sound might have been clear when Franklin saw it.' Intriguingly, when the first successful passage of the Northwest Passage was made, by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1903–5, he, too, found Peel Sound free of ice.

I quote*: 'Having reached the northern entrance of Peel Sound in late August 1903, what had consistently been reported as an ice-filled barrier through which no ship could sail, he [Amundsen] found entirely ice free. He needed no second invitation.'

It is perhaps no coincidence that the BBC made no mention of Amundsen's voyage in its original report just as it made no mention of the fact that something in the region of a further 100 crossings of the Northwest Passage have been made since.

However, none of this is exactly news. So why am I posting about it now? Because yesterday on BBC News 24 there was a report by the BBC's environment correspondent, David Shukman, of a trip through the Northwest Passage he and a film crew had just made on a Canadian icebreaker belonging to the Canadian coastguard service.

The report was introduced with the statement that, 'For hundreds of years, the Passage has been impassable. Now it is navigable for the first time.' Well, clearly not.

Undaunted, Shukman, on the ship, then showed us a map of the Northwest Passage, pointing out the route that Amundsen had taken (despite the fact that the route was 'impassable').

I was astounded, however, that when he traced, albeit only with his finger in a pretty vague way, Amundsen's route, it was backwards, ie from the Pacific to the Atlantic when the Norwegian had gone in the opposite direction (which is sort of logical if you are starting from Norway).

Not to worry, I thought. He is only showing us the route and indeed the area in the most general terms. Except that he then said: 'And now we are going to retrace Amundsen's route in the opposite direction, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.' In other words, precisely the direction that Amundsen had taken.

With ignorance on this scale ... I rest my case.

* This second quote is not from Fleming but from a wonderful book, just published, called Incredible Journeys and written by your humble Brute himself. Available from all good bookshops, Amazon, etc. And needless to say, the perfect Christmas present. It is published in the UK by Anova, in the US, Canada and Australia by Reader's Digest. It is a reet corker.