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


Jody McIntyre and the Tottenham riots: quelle surprise (The JC)

Two days after the worst rioting in Tottenham since the 1980s, and the facts of what happened are slowly coming together.

What’s already fairly clear is that not all the rioters were locals; as David Lammy MP noted in the Times: “Many of the people arrested weren’t from Tottenham. The grief of one family must never be hijacked to inflict grief on others.”

Coming after months of social unrest and protests, particularly in the capital, the idea that a peaceful protest could be hijacked by the more anarchic elements in society should come as no surprise.

Nor should the fact that one of the key figures has been pinpointed as Jody McIntyre, a far left protester who rose to prominence in the wake of the student rallies after he alleged that he had been knocked from his wheelchair by a policeman (the incident was investigated and the Met was later cleared of wrongdoing).

It later transpired that McIntyre was no political ingénue, but a venomous anti-Israel campaigner who had made a catalogue of unfounded allegations against the Jewish State on his personal blog.

He labelled Israel schizophrenic and lunatic and spoke of having a casual sandwich break with Hamas terrorists (only he didn’t describe them as terrorists). In the months since, he has been on the platform at Palestine Solidarity Campaign events and continued to rail against Israeli “apartheid”.

Of course, he’s been less vocal on the subject of the rockets fired at Israeli towns, the murder of a three-month-old baby by a Palestinian extremist, or the bomb that went off in Jerusalem earlier this year – killing a British Christian.

He is, of course, a poster boy of the far left, a darling of the socialist world. He even writes for the Independent and occasionally for the Guardian. Regardless of his views on Israel, he has painted himself as a crusader for the oppressed, a fighter for the poor and unrepresented.

So as small businesses and the homes of those who didn’t have a back-up plan were being destroyed, was this bastion of the left condemning the violence and its impact on those who didn’t deserve it?

No, actually on Friday he slammed the lack of accountability in the police in an Indy post about the “violence and provocation” of the force.

And the next day, as the riots broke out, he was advising his more than 9,000 Twitter followers to get involved and add to the pain.

“Be inspired by the scenes in Tottenham, and rise up in your neighbourhood,” he cried. “100 people in every area = the way we can beat the feds.”

I’m sure those people who have had their livelihoods destroyed will be delighted to have been part of the attempt to “beat the feds”.

Hey, my flat’s burnt to the ground, my windows have been smashed, kids terrified. But we’re sticking it to the man, yeh.

Today, as most of us looked in horror at the photographs of destruction on the front pages, McIntyre didn’t show any remorse. “You ask if looting is justified, I ask if the police will ever be held accountable for killing people?”

It’s for the Indy to decide if they want him to continue writing in their name (they stated yesterday that they don’t “condone lawbreaking”).

I doubt the PSC or the rest of Britain’s far left anti-Israel brigade will distance itself. He hates Israel, so that’s enough. It doesn’t matter how unpalatable the rest of his behaviour is.

But isn’t it interesting that someone like McIntyre, a self-proclaimed campaigner for social justice and rights, is only bothered when it suits him.

This post was first published on The Jewish Chronicle website. Read more of my work for The JC here.

Gun control and tragedy in Arizona

Michael Bloomberg said it best, although he’s not the only one to have made this point.

The mayor of New York told a crowd in the wake of the Arizona shooting spree: “We don’t know all the facts in this case yet, but we do know that every single day, 34 Americans are murdered.

“Every single day. Yesterday it was Judge John Roll and five other Americans and many more across the 50 states. Tomorrow, there will be another 34.”

As a Brit, I find the attitude towards gun control across the pond baffling, to say the least.

The second amendment of the constitution argues for the right of Americans to bear arms. But that’s a nebulous concept.

The founding fathers weren’t talking about weapons with the capacity of modern machine guns and were theorizing in a time of frontier lawlessness that cannot possibly be compared with today.

As Nathan Thonrnburgh points out in Time magazine: “The real question in Tucson, though, is why the alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, was allowed to buy the murder weapon.

“Beyond the clearly delusional nature of online videos ascribed to him, Loughner was suspended last year from Pima Community College apparently because of mental problems…The Army also denied Loughner’s application for unspecified reasons.

“Still, he passed a background check, and late last year legally bought the 9-mm Glock 19 semiautomatic handgun allegedly used in the shootings.”

The familiar refrain, when it comes to arguments about gun control, goes something along the lines of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

It’s a flawed logic. Yes, even without a gun in his hand the alleged shooter could have been harbouring antisemitic, extremist views and planning how he could end the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford.

Sure, he could have attacked her and the six others who lost their lives in their rampage with another weapon. Not having a gun wouldn’t necessarily have stopped him hurting people.

But why make it so easy? Incidents like this, Columbine, Virginia Tech – all were the deranged actions of crazed people with one thing in common. They had access to a gun.

The desire to do something is not the same as the ability to do it.

Take this silly example; I might want a flash car or expensive shoes, but without the ability (ie. enough money) to get them, they remain theoretical.

I could always rob a bank (or, in the case of a shooter, illegally acquire a gun) but it would make the path from A to B far more complicated.

Tightening access to guns won’t stop the disturbed souls out there from sharing their views with the world, or having those views in the first place.

But it would make it a little harder for them to translate those views into action.

Ross Zimmerman, the father of the congressional aide gunned down in Saturday’s rampage, said of his son: “All I ask is that people remember him.”

What better way than to make it harder for it to happen again?

Kendrick Meek, Ken Livingstone and the Tea Party

All politics is, to some extent, tactical. It would be nice to think campaigns could be run, elections could be won and things got done on the basis of ideology alone.

 But as Nick Clegg could probably point out, power invariably involves settling.

America goes to the polls this week, to choose a third of its senators and all of its congressmen. Two years after Barack “the Messiah” Obama swept into the White House, the Democrats are set for major losses and a likely return to a Republican majority in the House.

This is not actually as bad as it seems; it’s astonishingly rare for the incumbent party to come out of the mid-terms with more seats than they had (when Clinton did in 1998 it was the exception, and more a reaction against Republican machinations than the start of a new political tradition). Still, it’s not great that the Democrats are going to go kaput, especially when you consider that a good number of losses are likely to be at the hands of Tea Party loyalists like Christine the not-so-teenage-witch O ‘Donnell.

Still, given the polls and predictions, it’s surprising to see that efforts to secure a non Tea Party outcome in Florida have failed so miserably – and even more so that a Democrat is the one responsible.

The situation is this; Until a year or so, Governor Charlie Crist was something of a golden boy in the Republican, even tipped as a potential 2012 contender. But his support of such abomination as the stimulus, plus an Obama shaped hug, led to a challenge from the right by Tea Party king Marco Rubio and Crist striking out as an independent.

Mr Rubio is an unreconstructed right-winger, fond of soundbites like this one: “The problem is that when government controls the economy, those who can influence government keep winning, and everybody else just stays the same.”

Paranoid? Him?

Of course, there’s still a Democrat hoping to steal the crown, the wonderfully American named Kendrick Meek (can you imagine, President Meek…it’s like a bad spoof film). Meek is drawing about 15 per cent in the polls, Crist around 35 per cent and spades ahead is Rubio, with 42 per cent.

So the choice is this – moderate voters can go for a Democrat with very little chance, or an independent with not much more. Whether the former or the latter, the likelihood is that Mr Rubio will be off to the Senate.

Unless, of course, tactical voting comes into it. I’m no mathematician, but the combined moderate vote is more than a match for the Tea Party support. Surely, it would make sense for one of Mr Crist or Mr Meek to step aside so that, in Chuchillian terms, the best-worst candidate can prevail.

Makes sense, right? Good tactics? Bill Clinton certainly thought so, which is why he tried to broker a deal to get the undeniably weaker of the two, Meek, to do the gentlemanly thing and depart the race. Allegedly there were promises of a good DC job for Meek in return for giving up on a dream that has no chance of being realised anyway.

But while politics is about tactics, politicians are often more about ego. Ergo, Meek refused. Meek, indeed.

Madness. Meek must know that by refusing a deal he boosts Rubio immeasurably, when having Crist in the seat would do far more to prevent the Republicans blocking Obama’s legislative programme in the next two years.

Maybe two years ago, in the giddy rush of “Yes we can”, principle could come first. But Obama’s approval ratings are plummeting, and the prognosis for the next two years isn’t good. What a shame Meek couldn’t act tactically, just this once.

Not that I’m suggesting he should have actively campaigned for his opponent. Supporting another party above your own. That would be absurd, certainly not acceptable behaviour for, say, Labour’s mayoral candidate for 2012.

Oh, but wait. Apparently that’s exactly the sort of behaviour one can expect from Ken Livingstone, who was spotted on the stump for new Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman last week – despite the presence of one Helal Abbas, Labour’s candidate.

Yes, politicians should be pragmatic and tactical. But while Mr Meek doing the gracious thing would have had a purpose, Livingstone’s support of a Respect-backed politician had no such point.

It’s ironic to think, then, that tactical “anyone but Ken” voting was so key in Boris’ victory last time.

Nice Balls and a dull campaign


The leadership hopefuls (photo: J Lipman)

It’s interesting, isn’t it, what a difference a campaign can make.

Reading Anne McElvoy’s interview with Ed Balls in today’s Evening Standard, I had to pinch myself to remember that her subject was the same man who spent years as Labour’s comedy bully.

Ed Balls was the unreconstructed Labour man, the union champion, Brown’s enthusiastic and angry number two.

But lo, here he is after a summer seeking the leadership, and he appears articulate, thoughtful and even rather human. Anecdotes about novelty cake and his marriage abound from this “Newly Nice Ed”.

Shame, because he’s not going to win. A metamorphosis for nothing, though he’d probably be happy enough in the chancellor’s seat – and he’s certainly got the best economic credentials out of the gang of five vying for the top spot.

But it’s funny isn’t it. I went to a debate at the beginning of it all, the day Diane Abbott joined in. None of what was said was particularly remarkable; what I took out of the event most of all was the animosity between the Ed’s – patronising replies, furious glances across the podium. This would be a campaign of tension, anger, drama. With Balls around, surely somebody would get into a fight.

But it hasn’t and they haven’t – and any Labour friction has been entirely New in its making, courtesy of Mandy and Blair.

It’s been the campaign that wasn’t.

Sure we’ve had some sniping between the brothers, but beyond a few manufactured media stories that’s been pretty minimal. Diane Abbott has restricted herself to some low-level grumbling from the sidelines, and Andy Burnham – well, he was always going to be nice, wasn’t he.

Can it be that the New Labour drama really is over? If you can’t even rely on an election with five high-profile contenders, including Ed Balls, for a fuss, then maybe so. The party seems to have grown up.

Which, one the one hand is great for Labour’s political rehabilitation.

But on the other, well, it doesn’t exactly make for a nailbiting contest, does it?

Blair Waldorf for president?

Photo: Jennifer Lipman

Could you imagine Blair Waldorf and Marissa Cooper in the White House? Nate Archibald and Seth Cohen wandering around Congress, or Vanessa and Summer leading a protest outside the Supreme Court?

You won’t have to, for much longer. Sort of.

Variety reports that Gossip Girl and OC creator Josh Schwartz and his writing partner Stephanie Savage are planning a new TV show following young DC wannabes.

So, Seth the senator, Chuck the congressman, Dan the Democrat or Ryan the Republican?

Or more likely a bunch of low paid interns who in one of Schwartz’s-trademark ludicrous plots wind up running the government and doing it well.

The show is to centre on “a group of twentysomething roommates who juggle their personal and professional lives in Washington.
“The young politicos find that the ideals that brought them to D.C. don’t always match with the realities of living in the nation’s capital.”
Having already taken on California and New York, this is perhaps the inevitable next step. 
Especially because Gossip Girl, with its anonymnous tip-offs, malicious rumours and incriminating photos, is basically a better-dressed version of the political media.  
This is Schwartz, not Sorkin, so while we can expect plenty of high-stakes drama, one imagines there will be less of a forensic look at the inner workings of the Beltway.
Social politics, rather than social policy, one might say.  
 Still, with West Wing firmly part of TV history, there’s definitely space in my viewing schedule for DC TV.

Meg Hillier warns women against Westminster career

Meg Hillier on the campaign trail (Photo: Hoxton Councillors)


Junior Home Office minister Meg Hillier is no longer encouraging women to enter politics. 

Hillier, elected Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch on an all-women shortlist in 2005, said she is no longer as enthusiastic about female parliamentarians as she was a few years ago.

“Now I am sounding a strong note of caution,” said Hillier, a former councillor who in 1998 became Islington’s youngest ever mayor. 

The mother-of-three added: “The new expenses system makes it very challenging for anyone with young children.” 

She said many of the candidates standing in 2010 had young families and would find life in Westminster hard, especially if their constituencies were not nearby. 

“I’m lucky to be an inner London MP and be able to go and see my children between votes.” 

Last April, Hillier took maternity leave following the birth of her third child. With David Cameron soon to become a father again, she advised that the prospective Prime Minister would have to very organised. 

“Being a working parent is challenging whatever you do,” she said. “It’s always hard juggling [work and childcare].” 

“I just have to have good childcare and have my children well trained,” said Hillier, adding that she sometimes finds herself up in the early hours baking for the school fair and that her kitchen floor is “never swept”. 

But she said she tries to follow fellow Hackney MP Diane Abbott’s example and make time for her children. “I try not to say no to things,” she said. 

As a busy working mother, she said she found the way Samantha Cameron and Sarah Brown were being used as campaign tools “a bit old fashioned”. 

“My husband wouldn’t do it for me and it would be interesting to see if the boot was on the other foot what would happen,” she said. 

This interview was originally conducted for the Hackney Post website.