Thursday, September 26, 2013

McBride's Self-Deprecating Memoirs

Damian McBride, former spinner to Gordon Brown, has received a great deal of publicity of course, but his book is well worth reading.  Or at least it looks as if it will be from the perspective of starting chapter 3!  I think it's the sharp turn of phrase and witty self-deprecation that's winning me over.

Here's how he ends chapter 1, having described his desperate escape from the media scrum in the boot of his girlfriend's car:

"Alone with my thoughts in the darkness, one word came to my mind: 'Twat.' "

And no sooner have we chortled over that, than the second chapter gives us:

" I wasn't always a nasty bastard, but you could argue the signs were there."

If Mr. McBride does decide to return to the political arena, there's no reason why his writing shouldn't enliven our reading of it in the press on a regular basis.

Red Ed?

Has Ed Miliband committed Labour to a sharp leftward move?  The Spectator's Fraser Nelson thinks so, in this piece analysing the new Ed, taking credit for the 'Red Ed' label (really? that needs crediting?) and suggesting that Milband's sharp left turn might be just what's needed to wean Tories off UKIP.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Personality Politics Ousts Policy This Weekend

We love gossip, and we love reading or hearing about the outrageous goings on of our political masters.  For public consumption, of course, we all say we're fed up with personality politics, and attacks upon politicians by their enemies.  The media is with us.  They too hate the sordid world of personality politics and would much rather the political classes concentrated on good, hard policy.  Which is presumably why so much of today's political coverage is devoted to the distinctly gossip based revelations of Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, Damian McBride.  And why yesterday, so much time was spent showing and discussing the laughably neanderthal views of an MEP for a minor party.

Godfrey Bloom (I keep wanting to call him Orlando, bizarrely) is a largely joke figure who seeks - genuinely it would appear - to reinforce his image as a caricature blunt speaking, offence giving politician.  He probably sees himself as "telling it like it is".  Most people see him as being, frankly, a bit of an ass.  He used the hackneyed term "bongo bongo land" to refer to Africa (following in the verbal footsteps of the late Alan Clark, who got into hot water using the same term), and completely unsurprisingly has caused more opprobrium to be heaped on him and UKIP by referring to women as "sluts".  Actually, he hooted the phrase "all the women here are sluts" or some such, whilst at a champagne fuelled reception marvellously titled "Women In Politics".  Mr. Bloom's final escapade was to rage at the Channel 4 journalist Michael Crick for being a 'racist' (Crick had pointed out that all the faces on the UKIP manifesto cover were white; Bloom presumably thought his best line of attack was to inexplicably refer to Crick as a racist).  He then hit Crick over the head with the manifesto - something most politicians have probably wanted to do to Mr. Crick in the past (you can see it here).

The best thing to have done with Godfrey Bloom is probably to ignore him, a bit like ignoring the ubiquitous nutter on the bus who plagues you with his political views.  But the modern British media doesn't have that level of self-restraint, and rather enjoyes stories featuring the Godfrey Blooms of this world, and in any case it was a lot more fun than reporting the actual mechaics of the UKIP conference.  So cue much coverage of the lamentable UKIP MEP.

Then there's Damian McBride and his memoirs (the revelations from which have caused Ed Miliband to suggest that he called for McBride's sacking - very quietly, it would seem *).  The iniquities of Mr. McBride when he was a spin doctor to Gordon Brown are already largely well known, but he's just written his memoirs, and apparently they're quite well written and in any case, here's a great opportunity to have another go at Labour and Ed Miliband if you happen to be a Conservative supporting newspaper, which the Daily Mail - who have serialised the memoirs - is.  There's no doubt that it is fascinating, gripping stuff.  It has frankly malicious, sinister, utterly amoral political doings at its heart that illuminate a paranoid and dark time at Number 10 when Gordon Brown was in charge.  But it is also essentially a story for the Westminster political village.  The fact that it has gained such extraordinary coverage is back down to the undeniably sound principle that we all prefer a good gossip to a conversation of substance.  Covering McBride's sordid past is far easier, and much more entertaining, than trying to engage in genuinely enthusiastic discussion about Ed Miliband's new welfare policies, or whatever his Next Big Thing is going to be.

So it's worth remembering, when we read newspaper editorials loftily telling us that politicians have failed us all by focusing too much on personalities and not enough on policies, just who it is who gives such nonsense a free run for so long.  That'd be the newspapers.

* McBride confirmed Ed's account in a tweet to journalist Tim Walker, saying that he told Gordon Brown to get rid [of McBride] and he was right.  Tweets here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Michael Le Vell's Hell and the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail was all sympathy and outrage on behalf of 'Corrie' star Micahel Le Vell yesterday, headlining the question "Why Was He Ever Charged?".  But as the Media Blog points out, the good journos at the Mail might not need to look much further than their own and their fellow tabloids' efforts over the past few months.  Yet another triumph for the unregulated press!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Politician 'Boring' Shock

And today's shock revelation is that even television news editors think that their politician guests are boring.  Ian Katz, who has admittedly only been editing Newsnight for a week, was caught out with a tweet - intended to be a direct message, but these things can be so difficult to work out - that described last night's guest, Labour front bencher Rachel Reeves, as 'snoring boring'.  This can hardly come as a revelation to anyone who has bothered sitting through a Rachel Reeves interview, but an offended Labour hierarchy has forced him to apologise for his undeniably accurate comment.

Several Labour nonentities have already announced that they might not appear on the programme, which can only enhance the prospect for some more energising news viewing.  The Telegraph's Michael Deacon has a great take on the whole affair here, while the rest of us live in hope that the unfortunate Mr. Katz's indiscretion might just wake MPs up to the need to stop reading party lines and start being - well, interesting.

Previewing Obama's Speech...And a Housekeeping Notice!

Barack Obama's move to refer the decision for a military strike against Syria was an extraordinary one, and gave the impression that this president, at least, didn't want the burden of what he considered necessary but unpleasant action to be placed on him alone.  Was it an abdication of leadership?  His opponents would argue so, but as we look back at the last half century or so of American foreign policy there have been times when such an abdication might have spared the US some truly disastrous interventions.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama's speech to his country tonight may presage some further backing off from military strikes in the light of the recent Russian diplomacy and Syrian government response about its chemical weapons.

Ronald Reagan's former speech-writer, Peggy Noonan, has a forthright and - of course - elegantly expressed view about Obama's dilemma in her Wall Street Journal blog.  She holds no candle for a president she clearly despises, describing him as "a self-besotted charismatic who can’t tell the difference between showbiz and strategy, and who enjoys unburdening himself of moral insights to his peers" (ouch!).  She also has a nice turn of phrase about his speaking tonight to advocate a position that he is himself gradually abandoning.  "It will be a president appealing for public support for an action he intends not to take", she writes.

Noonan has some perceptive insights into the sort of speech Obama might make, and the spin that he could employ, as befits an author who was one of the finest speech-writers of her time.  But in her antagonism towards Obama, she quite fails to pay attention to the one legacy that is haunting his every action, and making even the thought of military action so lethal in America and across the world.  And that is the legacy of one George W Bush.  The legacy of a Republican predecessor whose own military adventures have made any such considerations so toxic now.

If Obama's room for manouevre has significantly lessened from that of his predecessors, its restriction owes much to the actions of those very predecessors.  In finding an alternative way forward, however, he may finally be earning the Nobel Peace Prize given to him at the outset of his presidency, whilst having maintained pressure on both Syria and Russia.  Who, after all, can doubt that the recent diplomatic flurry oculd only have come about because of the American threat of action.  Obama could be playing a bad hand very ably.  Only time will tell, but Ms. Noonan's stiletto should probably not be quite so gleefully applied.

A brief housekeeping note.  I'm aware this is the first post since June, and while teachers take long holidays that gap really is rather excessive.  But as the new term gets into its stride, blogging should become more regular here, and there is shortly going to be a bit of a change to the nature of the blog itself.  More soon!