Does Aidan Burley deserve forgiveness? (The Telegraph)

You’re an MP at the top of your game. Elected just 18 months ago, already a high-flyer. You’re 32, Oxford-educated and part of a new breed of caring Conservatives. You’ve got a bright political future ahead of you. Now, how best to torpedo it?

Anyone considering that conundrum should call Aidan Burley, the Cannock Chase MP and former PPS to Transport Secretary Justine Greening. Last week it emerged that he’d been at a particularly raucous stag party in a French ski resort. It wasn’t that the group got obscenely drunk – though who knows, perhaps they did – or that they harassed the waitresses, or even that they ran up exorbitant bills and then neglected to pay them.

The crime – as it may well be in France – was that the party was themed; a nostalgic night during which guests donned SS garb and toasted high-ranking members of the Third Reich. Unfortunately for the stags, they were in a public restaurant and another diner, a journalist, caught the soirée on film.

For Burley, it was something of a last supper. The Prime Minister has now called for an investigation into his “offensive and foolish” behaviour and Burley has been removed from his post.

He is, of course, still part of the Conservative Party and his career will most likely recover. Politicians have bounced back from far worse. But, even as Westminster convulses over Britain’s future in Europe, it is right that this story and this scandal didn’t just disappear.

Let’s refresh. This was not a mere slip of the tongue. A few days earlier, Burley’s fellow freshman Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith was berated for a careless – but, I believe, absolutely unintentional – reference to Auschwitz. He was scolded, he apologised immediately, and the matter was put to rest.

Burley also said sorry, more than once. So why not forgive him, too? Aside from the suggestion in the Mail on Sunday that he was responsible for hiring the uniforms, the answer lies in his own apology; “I wish I had left as soon as I had realised what was happening,” he said.

This comment piece was first published in the Telegraph. Read the rest of it here


Hugh Grant, Phone Hacking And The Case Against Ofcom For Print (Huff Post UK)

On Thursday’s Question Time, Prime Minister David – sorry, some actor named Hugh – put forward the argument for increased regulation of the press.

The phonehacking scandal was so bad, he said, that there was a clear case for a print media version of Ofcom.

Free press go to hell – you’ve screwed up and now you shall pay.

It’s a kneejerk reaction, and absolutely not the way to go. Let’s be clear, what happened at the late News of the World was disgraceful, but would more regulation really have stopped it?

Ofcom monitors after the event, not before or during. A journalist in the desperate hunt for a scoop, who displayed a willingness to circumvent common decency, would hardly have been deterred by the possibility of censure. Otherwise no potentially libellous and unnecessary story would ever get published and no televisions or radio broadcast would ever be found to have breached regulations.

More importantly, more regulation is essentially shorthand for a weaker fourth estate. Journalists are by no means saints, but neither are they all moral wastrels. Look, this week, at The Times’ adoption campaign.

That’s one example of a glorious history of changing the world through the printed word – a tradition that should be guarded, not dismissed at the first sign of a crack.

This post first appeared on Huffington Post UK. Read the rest here.

Which came first, the chicken or the Cam?

The cracks are beginning to show on the camapign trail in Britain.

Yet again, the divide between fiction and reality has been blurred, as the events of UK politics increasingly come to resemble an episode of the West Wing.

For the last few days, Conservative would-be PM David Cameron has been given a roasting by a new member of his entourage – a giant chicken.

Apart from giving rise to endless egg-cellent puns (especially after an unfortunate yolk-throwing incident earlier today), this is yet another campaign story where the fiction writers got their first.

The brains behind the West Wing, not content with having written Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency before he even dreamed it, also came up with the ‘look out, there’s a giant bird behind you’ storyline years ago.

The feathery fun starts when Josh Lyman, campaign manager for outsider Matt Santos, realises they can’t afford much publicity – so he commissions a costumed clucker to stalk Santos’ opponents. And that’s where the resemblance stops.

Cameron is not so much outsider as establishment, and thanks to friends like Cashcroft we know Conservative coffers are well stocked. Not forgetting that when Santos learns of the egg-centric tactics in play, he bans further chicken fun on grounds of juvenile campaigning.

Juvenile campaigning? In Britain? Never.



All write, enough already

So, the backlash has begun.

After he made the cardinal sin of a spelling mistake in a letter – because no one else has EVER done that before – of condolence to a mother whose son was killed in Afghanistan, it turns out the British public thinks we should be laying off Gordon Brown.

Writing in The Times, Melanie Reid argued that nobody deserves the vitriol being directed to him The Mirror has struck out at David Cameron for making political gain out of the matter, while the Twittersphere is submerged in ‘sympthy for the blind man’ messages.

There are valid points on both sides; surely Downing Street has someone with a keener eye than Brown to check his outgoing mail. And was it really necessary to record what should have remained a private conversation between the PM and Jacqui James Jones Janes? As for The Sun? Well, it has even emerged today that the paper doesn’t always practice what they preach.

So, after three days of wrangling, apologies and remorse, how about we let Gordon Brown gets back to the big picture? Apart from anything else, if we want to reduce the number of mothers in Jacqui Janes’ position, we need to allow the government to, well, govern.

It’s the same story with the drugs advisory council furore. Nutt’s comments caused a fuss, and quite clearly sent Alan Johnson a message as well as reviving the very important debate on drug legalization or decriminalization. But then yesterday, three more advisors made very public resignations.

I don’t doubt they have a point. But proper policy change doesn’t come from publicity stunts.

When the government is forced to spend their time dealing with these scandals – from biscuit preferences to allegations about eyesight – it takes time away from dealing with the real issues.

Pressure is important. Holding the government to account is fundamental for a thriving civil society.

But this is a democracy, not a free for all. If you have to shout about it, go to speakers corner.

Take your complaints through the proper channels, not to the tabloids.

Issues not eyesight

Look, OK, I get it. Gordon Brown is public enemy number one these days. Down in the polls, unpopular with his party, derided by columnists; he might be Sarah’s hero but he isn’t anybody else’s. Fair enough, we have reason to be angry at him. The economy is down the pan, I have as much chance of getting on the property ladder as Robert Mugabe does of winning the Nobel peace prize. Strikes, scandal, sleaze – all under Gordon’s lead.

Still. Can we stop hitting the man while he’s down. First it was Andrew Marr giving credibility to a hardly objective rumour mill simply to augment his celebrity status. Today, headlines everywhere are screaming about Brown’s eye damage.

Apart from the fact that Gordon having eye damage is hardly remarkable, (it is no secret that as a teenager a rugby accident caused him to lose sight in his left eye), I can’t really see (NOT intended as a pun) why this is relevant. I can understand why having a leader on antidepressants might present a problem, though that wasn’t why Marr was asking, but having eye problems?

He’s PM, for crying out loud, not a driving instructor. You don’t need great eyesight to understand political dilemmas, to solve economic woes, or make good speeches.

Good foresight maybe, but not good eyesight.

Besides, the man almost always voted most beloved PM in history, Churchill, was renowned as a drunk, so I think its safe to assume his liver was not in tip-top shape. Across the pond, the messianic president himself, JFK, had Addison’s disease. Neither of them were better or worse as leaders because of their health. A good leader doesn’t succeed because he is healthy, but in addition to that. If (don’t want to use the inevitable when) Brown loses the next election, it should not be because he is not in good shape.

It is downright wrong to judge him on this, as it is wrong to like or dislike Cameron’s politics just because SamCam’s dress was from Marks and Sparks. In any other profession, discrimination on such grounds would be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Hold him accountable for his bad decisions, his weaknesses and his political flaws. But please, let’s stop judging our politicians for things that are entirely peripheral to their careers.

Let’s step out of the mud and, instead or name calling and slurs, let’s have a real debate.




Does Labour’s pain really mean Tory gain?

So I survived another Yom Kippur without any dramatic fainting! of course, this might have had something to do with staying in bed for the whole of the morning services – made getting through the afternoon and evening all that bit easier.

Also gave me time to read the newspapers pretty thoroughly.  Summary from The Times; people are mad that M&S are only allowing a 35 day return window (because really, with all the many things wrong in the world, only having 35 days to return that shapeless and misguided Marks & Sparks version of catwalk, is the real travesty).  Oh, and Gordon Brown and Labour are doing really, really badly at the polls, worse than the Tories were doing before they lost power in 97.

So its all doom and gloom for the Labour Party, unless one of the young heirs to the throne stages some kind of coup and gets rid of the not-so-dear leader.  Which would be news, except that we’ve been hearing the story of Labour about to collapse for a good few party conference seasons.

It’s no secret that Labour are having all sorts of problems, internal squabbles, lack of direction, low voter confidence, blah blah blah.  What is being kept a secret, apparently, is why we’d be so much better of with anyone else other than Brown in power.  Maybe I’m the only person left in Britain with an ounce of sympathy for Gordon Brown, but does anyone seriously think the Conservatives make for a credible alternative?

Under Cameron, they’ve been better at presenting a united front, sure, and much more media savvy.  But in terms of new ideas, or real solutions, they are curiously quiet.  We hear them say how bad the government are all the time, there’s an awful lot of criticism going on, but very few new and feasible ideas being put about.  Rather than saying how bad Labour’s plans for the economy, public services, education or whatever it is, are, why don’t they construct a better alternative?  They are tipped to win the next election, but it says less about them having a viable manifesto than it does about a media-fuelled anti-Labour bandwagon. 

Perhaps we’ll hear something from the Conservatives at their conference.  In the meantime, lets give Labour and Brown the benefit of the doubt, because as Harold Wilson said, ‘a year is a long time in politics’.  The election hasn’t happened yet. 

Lets stop talking about the result and start listening to what the candidates have to say.