You paid for this photoshoot

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Yes, I know, we really shouldn’t begrudge Julie Kirkbride that £1040 claimed for professional photoshoots. After all, the rules allow for public support for MPs’ websites, and it is entirely understandable that Julie would want to make her website as attractive as possible. Since she is one of the most photogenic MPs – there are quite a few who you would pay good money to keep away from a camera – her eagerness to be recorded in living colour seems reasonable to me. At the very least, bearing in mind that the Kirkbride family seem to have been living like a posh version of the Gallaghers from Shameless, it’s surely one of her lesser transgressions.

By the way, I love the way Julie, seemingly unable to grasp her constituents’ ire, is whining that she has been forced out by “my political opponents in the Respect party.” Nice work, Mark.

The important thing, though, about Julie’s failure to survive – well, apart from the invaluable nature of the grassroots campaign in Bromsgrove – is that this went against Cameron’s plan. Allow me to explain.

I’ve been making a bit of a study of Rankin’ Dave Cameron, and there are certain things that fascinate me about the Cameron phenomenon. One is that he’s one of that layer of politicians who consistently and mysteriously get a much better press than they deserve. For one thing, it’s become conventional wisdom that he’s done much better than Brown out of the expenses scandal, because he’s been emoting in front of the public and showing understanding of their anger. Personally, when I see Dave pulling his “angry face” and telling us how incredibly angry he is, I’m reminded of nothing so much as David Brent pretending to empathise with his staff. But then, he is a PR man by profession, and PR men are notorious for this kind of thing. At least Mr Tony was a brilliant snake oil salesman – a transparent snake oil salesman is just unintentionally funny.

There are two aspects, I think, to Rankin’ Dave’s good press. One is, quite simply, that he’s coming down with media contacts, and makes big efforts to cultivate the media. Those leaders who don’t – John Major springs to mind – tend to get an appreciably worse press. The other, which explains why the BBC and the Grauniad are so keen on him, is political. That is, that the leader of the Conservative Party is not a conservative. He and his camarilla – Osborne, Vaizey, Gove et al – are basically liberals. Or, to be more precise, he’s a paid-up member of the post-ideological political class. He openly admires Mr Tony, and casts himself as the brave moderniser battling the forces of conservatism. Which is to say, most of his traditional base. Sound familiar?

So this is essentially how young Mr Cameron, whose main experience of government is having acted as an advisor to Norman Lamont at the time of Black Wednesday, got to be leader of the Tory party. The media puffed him up relentlessly, while disparaging his opponent, the experienced and substantial David Davis. It’s true that Davis displayed a lack of media nous, including this stunt:

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which is something even I would balk at. Nonetheless, what counted against Davis is that he’s genuinely principled, and genuinely conservative. In this world of post-ideology, he just isn’t salonfähig for the political-media caste.

Whereas Rankin’ Dave certainly is. As a result, he’s got away with all sorts of daft proposals that would ordinarily have been laughed out of court. There was, of course, his outspoken support for Kartvelian irredentism during last year’s South Ossetia war, although thankfully he wasn’t in a position to do anything about it. There is his harebrained lash-up with the Unionist Party, which he will rue before long. And then there was his bright idea that, if you aren’t a member of the Tory party, you’ve never had any connection with the Tory party, that makes you the ideal candidate to be a Tory MP. Not only that, but celebrity candidates would be especially welcome. My erstwhile comrade Peter Hitchens takes up the story:

David Cameron’s weird appeal to non-political people to join the Tory candidates list is one of those media stories that doesn’t pass the ‘Try it the other way round’ test. This test is very easy to apply. Imagine what would happen if the other lot said the same thing. If Gordon Brown came up with anything so bottomlessly stupid, everyone would say so, and there would be pictures of the Prime Minister running his bitten nails through his greying hair with a look of doom on his ravaged face.

He would be accused of trying to hide behind the glamour or prestige of people like Joanna Lumley (a name which came up during David Cameron’s softball conversation, you can hardly call it an interview, with Andrew Marr on Sunday). He would be accused of desperation, of diluting his party. Labour candidates would be found to protest against the threat the idea posed to long-standing hard-working people etc etc, who had fought their way to nomination.

And quite right too. The idea is patently an unworkable publicity stunt.

You said it, Peter. That’s the sort of scheme just begging to be torn to pieces. Even if he put Lucy Pinder on the candidates’ list, I would still think it was a monumentally stupid idea. Likewise his call for open primaries, which is just a way of covering up the mainstream parties’ collapsing membership. Yet somehow, Dave gets away with this flapdoodle week on week.

And this is where the expenses scandal comes in. Brown has been pilloried for being slower off the mark than Cameron, and while there’s some truth in that, it’s also the case that New Labour has been setting up some kind of procedure for dealing with errant MPs, while the Tory leadership has been unofficially twisting arms and demanding retirements. What’s true in both cases, though, is that this has provided both leaders with a heaven-sent opportunity for score-settling. While I am no fan of Hazel Blears, and would be very glad to see her departure from public life, it’s absolutely correct that she has done nothing substantially different from, say, Buff Hoon or the boy Purnell. What’s different is that factional politics in the Labour Party have come into play.

This is much more blatant in the case of the Useless Tories. One notices that Gove and Vaizey, to name but two, have suddenly become invisible men. Meanwhile, the forced retirements have been of older – and significantly more conservative – members of the parliamentary party, people who never liked Cameron and who he dislikes in turn. This scandal therefore becomes another stage in the de-conservatisation of the Conservative Party. Which explains the encouragement Dave has been getting from his media fan club.

On the other side, the fate of Julie Kirkbride demonstrates the unpredicability of real politics. It has become clear that the resignation of Cameron advisor, and Julie’s other half, Andrew MacKay was part of a deal whereby Julie would be protected. This would work out well on both levels. Since the parliamentary Conservative party contains only four women under 50, three if you discount Julie, she was an important part of the optics of modernisation. It was only her own rapacity and the bolshiness of the good folk of Bromsgrove that got in the way.

Which at least gives us some cause for hope, that the real may at times upset the simulacrum. Indeed, holding onto the Real and denying the Simulacrum is the essential point for any human-centred politics. Baudrillard got plenty of things wrong, but he was dead right about that, and we could use him around today.

Gerry the Prod

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What is the difference between the backwash of the Ryan report and the conviction of Frank Dunlop? I think here that there’s a rather obvious disconnect between individual responsibility and corporate responsibility. The multiple tribunals on corruption have tended to look for high-profile scalps. Charlie Haughey, of course, is dead, but they did manage to get a damning report out on his finances. Bertie Ahern, sleekit weasel though he is, may yet be done – in fact he’ll have to be, if the astronomical cost of the Mahon tribunal is to be justified.

And so it is with Frank the Canary. Not that Frank can complain about his conviction, but self-evidently he didn’t operate in a vacuum. He bribed politicians to advance the business interests of his clients. His activities can’t be separated from the politicians who willingly accepted his bribes, or from the business clients who profited from those politicians being encouraged by Frank to take the right decisions about planning applications. Furthermore, while the Irish lobbying industry has been straining mightily to insist that Frank is such a singularly bad apple that no conclusions about their industry can be drawn from his transgressions… well, you can believe that if you want.

The Ryan report is something else. Let’s leave aside Biffo Cowen rumbling about prosecutions of the miscreants. That’s not very likely, since all of the institutions investigated have long since been shut down, most of the perpetrators are long since dead and, following previous sex abuse scandals, the Catholic hierarchy has put serious effort into getting an effective vetting procedure in place. So we have the spotlight being turned on the religious orders and whether they’re willing to shoulder responsibility for the sins of their predecessors – which is the point that Archbishop Nichols was discussing. That’s fair enough, but it’s far from being the whole story.

Another point is that much of this is really about catharsis. The 2000 or so victims are a constituency who feel, rightly, that they have been ignored in the past and want to be heard now. Basic human sympathy, and public acknowledgement of their pain and anger, is the most important thing that can be done.

There are other points about Ryan – which is a hefty and complicated document – which shine a light on aspects of Irish society, some of which haven’t really been touched on. It will be argued that the failure of the Irish state to become properly independent, which meant that the historical outsourcing of important social services to the churches was never rolled back, forms a crucial part of the backdrop. (I realise that a lot of the media coverage in Britain and its D4 colony has depended on the frisson of Catholicism. It may be worth asking whether a study of care homes in Britain over the same period would show a difference in the fundamentals, as opposed to the details.) There’s also an aspect of the industrial schools being used as a source of what really amounts to slave labour, and what that says about class structures in Ireland.

While we’re on the class aspect, there was another thing that struck me, which was the broad definition of what constituted abuse. Had Ryan had a narrower focus on serious cases of assault or rape, the report would have been much thinner, but there would certainly have been enough there, and in a focussed way, to make a big impact. The introduction of categories like “emotional abuse” had me scratching my head a little. Perhaps this is a generational thing, as I can remember an educational system where a rap across the knuckles with a ruler, or occasionally a chalk duster thrown at your head, were accepted disciplinary tools, and if you got a clip round the ear at school, you would get another one at home. The revelation that the regime in these institutions decades ago was not in accordance with present-day thinking on the rights of the child is not very startling.

On the other hand, you have to bear in mind that the kids who were sentenced to these institutions were drawn from the poorest of the poor. The religious who administered the institutions were, as a general rule, drawn from more respectable layers of society. There is something to be said for a rounded description of the routine brutality in the institutions, not least for what it says about the extreme class hatred that existed – and still does – in Irish society.

Well, there is a lot of backwash still to come from this. And, if experience is any guide, it won’t be long before the substance of the story is drowned out by the sound of grinding axes.

Anyway, on the same general theme, this provides me with an opportunity to look at a contribution on the issue from someone who’s relatively new to blogging, but whose presence does lend a bit of tone to the Irish blogosphere. Yes, it’s Gerry Adams.

I have to say, I’m finding the Grizzly blog compulsive reading these days, as much for linguistic as political reasons. Gerry can do the folksy thing when he’s down with his constituents addressing local politics, but when he puts on his high politics hat, he sounds like nobody on earth. Or at least nobody in West Belfast. More precisely, he sounds like a Trotskyist sociology lecturer circa 1978, overlaid with a heavy veneer of Humespeak. And I’ve noticed that he has a liking for the impersonal locution “this blog believes…” when he’s dealing with serious issues, as opposed to the “me and my muckers” style he uses for local stuff, or quoting Meat Loaf lyrics.

Anyway, Gerry has been dealing with the Ryan report. And, by and large, he writes well on the subject and I agree with most of what he says. But what struck me was a little bit in the middle where he gets all theological. You see, Gerry agrees with Mr Tony Blair that the Catholic Church needs to be reformed:

This blog has long held the view that the institutionalised Catholic church is undemocratic in many ways. For example women are denied the right to become priests. Church lay members have no say in who their pastors are. Bishops and cardinals are elevated to positions of power and authority for life. Compulsory celibacy is a nonsense and the theology on which it, and other teachings, are based is entirely flawed.

Yes, well, we will skip over the incongruity of the leader of Sinn Féin complaining about the top-down style of the Catholic bishops. But this isn’t totally new. Gerry, when not hugging trees, has publicly bigged up the Protestant churches in the past, having particularly kind words for the democratic regime in the Irish Presbyterian Church. (Your actual Presbyterians are wont to say that it’s a self-serving oligarchy, but at least they have the appearance of a democratic say.) And the other stuff he’s saying, about ending celibacy and ordaining women, looks very much like a programme of radical reform to me. I certainly can’t see Pope Benny going for it.

This poses an interesting question, because Gerry is, as we know, a regular Mass-goer and certainly is at ease with what we might term cultural Catholicism. And, bearing in mind where his support comes from, you can understand why he doesn’t just up sticks and join a Protestant church. But there is a certain fascination in his occasional revelations of Prod tendencies. After all, as I remarked about Mr Tony, I couldn’t figure out why the arch-moderniser had chosen to belong to a reactionary church. As for Gerry? Next thing you know, he’ll be parading on the Twelfth.

Mr Tony and the architecture of corruption

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From the current Private Eye, adding some welcome background:

Tony Blair and accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers jointly helped push through a rule change in 2004 that brought the MPs’ expenses scandal to the heart of government. Without Blair’s new rule, explicitly designed to boost ministers’ expenses, many of the current frontbench embarrassments would not now be an issue.

The Senior Salaries Review Board looked at MPs’ pay, using a survey of MPs prepared by PwC, and the firm was happy to support a point that Private Eye understands was pushed by the Prime Minister. Its report said: “There were comments made about the rules which require ministers and other paid office holders to elect their London residence sa the main residence and the constituency as their second property. The rules mean that the ACA [Additional Costs Allowance] is used against costs on a property which in many cases has been owned by the MP and his or her family for a significant number of years and where the mortgage is typically low.”

The report makes it clear ministers complained that because they were deemed to live in London, they could not “flip” homes in order to claim higher expenses; they could only claim on their generally cheaper properties outside the capital. According to the review board, the rule was dropped in February 2004.

Hazel Blears’ property ladder, Maria Eagle’s flipping, Caroline Flint’s new London flat, the bulk of Shahid Malik and Shaun Woodward’s expenses and Kitty Ussher’s war on “bad taste” Artex all depend on the 2004 rule change, as do the bulk of Gordon Brown’s own additional costs claims.

The Commons members’ estimates committee of senior MPs told Private Eye that it changed the rule in February 2004, reflecting the concerns in the PwC report.

The former PM’s support for the change was no random act of greed (indeed, Blair did not personally use the change to raise money himself, relying instead on a complex mortgage transaction on his constituency home.) He was actually trying to increase his ministers’ income while publicly appearing to keep a lid on their headline pay.

He did so by following a model set in 1985 by Margaret Thatcher, who, trying to hold back public sector pay and wanting MPs to appear to set a good example to teachers and the like, had introduced the crucial change in the Additional Costs Allowance which allowed MPs to begin claiming their mortgage costs rather than simply hotel bills or rents. Thus began the great Westminster property speculation game – Blair simply extending the perk to his London-based ministers who were always whingeing that they didn’t earn enough.

Quite so. I would simply add that this is another classic example of the law of unintended consequences coming back to bite New Labour in the arse. Back in the day, when MPs would vote themselves a generous pay rise, there would be a few days of bad headlines and it would all blow over again. It’s precisely the desire to avoid those few days of bad headlines that has led to the culture of systematic dishonesty, and thus directly to the last three weeks of shocking headlines. Who knows, maybe it’s karma.

Frank the Canary goes down

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I’ve come across Frank Dunlop several times down the years, and I must admit I always liked him on a personal level. But then, Frank never handed me a brown envelope full of banknotes. The bastard.

As longtime readers will know, I’m not massively enamoured of the judicial tribunal system in the Banana Republic. This has not so much to do with the problems they’re supposed to address – which are real problems in Irish society – as with their sociological function, which is a) to give the impression that the powers that be are doing something, and b) to provide an enormous state subsidy to the legal profession. Well, that and they take an inordinately long time to tell us what we already knew, and what wouldn’t need these tribunals if there was a properly functioning criminal justice system.

I may well be coming back to the report of the Ryan Commission presently, as it demands some thought. For the moment, I’ll just pose the question of whether the systematic brutality of the industrial schools was such a deep, dark secret that it took a ten-year judicial process to whether or not it happened.

Anyway, back to Frank the Canary. Frank is going to chokey, and he can’t say he didn’t ask for it. Nevertheless, there are one or two things niggling away at the back of my mind. The most obvious one is the time frame. That is to say, Frank took the stand way back in 2000. Having taken the stand, he then remained on it for months on end, testifying in stupefying detail about how he’d bribed councillors to encourage them to vote the right way on planning decisions. So the guy cheerfully admits that he’s a crook, but then it takes nine solid years to get any sort of conviction against him. I do remember that old crack about the mills of God, but bearing in mind that Frank’s going to be out in less than a year, grinding exceeding fine doesn’t really come into it.

Then there’s another thing that follows on, as if you say A then you must also say B. Namely, Frank has been shown to be corrupt. The fact of him having bribed politicians is now legally established. So, are we soon going to see the politicians who accepted bribes from Frank before the courts? It’s not as if he physically pinned them to the ground and stuffed money into their pockets. And corruption on the council is at least as unsurprising as sadism at the industrial school. Certainly, those in the media who celebrated the property bubble must have known how profoundly dodgy the planning system was. All the same, I suspect it will be some considerable time, if ever, before elected representatives are brought to book.

On the other hand, and I know I’ve said this before, these epic tribunals, lasting many years and spending hundreds of millions of euro, mostly on legal fees, inquiring into political corruption, have to justify their existence somehow. The best way to do that is to claim a major scalp, and the obvious man is Bertie. At this point, I have long since lost interest in Bertie’s labyrinthine personal finances and am prepared to write them off as one of those great historical conundra, like the Marie Celeste or the Man in the Iron Mask. The guy is out of power and his reputation is shot to pieces, and that will do to be going on with. You don’t need to be a died-in-the-wool Fianna Fáiler to question whether the Irish judiciary needs to spend from here to doomsday on the former taoiseach’s bungs.

To return to the point, we’ve got here a situation where the judicial tribunal as an institution was invented by Charlie Haughey as an expedient to stop Des O’Malley walking out of their coalition. But, having proved a useful expedient, and judicial activism being what it is (excuse me for sounding like a member of the Federalist Society for a moment), the bastard things were soon popping up all over the place. The enormous time – and more pertinently, the enormous cost – involved in these tribunals does at least raise the issue of whether, in the new age of austerity, this is the way to deal with corruption.

Actually, you really don’t need an elaborate legal inquisition to clean up politics. Most importantly, you need a change of culture – and recall that, in the much-maligned de Valera era, politicians were often ostentatious in their austere lifestyles and high-minded commitment to public service. This would require some big changes in personnel, but that’s no bad thing. The second thing you would need, as I’ve mentioned, is an effective and efficient criminal justice system that will deal with transgressions with the required severity. Finally, a combative press that gets up off its arse and does its job. The Freedom of Information Act isn’t there just as a decoration, but can actually be a useful tool, believe it or not.

Rud eile: Garibaldy is very good on the sectarian murder of Kevin McDaid, beaten to death by a mob of drunken loyalists in Coleraine. I noticed that the area’s MP, Gregory Campbell, was remarkably understanding of the situation. Also, the news bulletins picked up quickly on the talking point that there were clashes between rival gangs – that would be those with pickaxe handles and those without.

Rud eile fós: The always readable Justin Raimondo tells it like it is on Korea.

He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy

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Lately I’ve been reading Tariq Ali on Pakistan, which is always worthwhile – I’ll freely admit to blowing hot and cold on Tariq, but get him on his specialist subject and he can be tremendously enjoyable. One thing he’s particularly good on, drawing on plenty of first-hand knowledge, is the peculiar character of the Pakistan Peoples Party, since it emerged from the anti-junta movement in the 1960s.

And this is an object lesson in the difference between what a party formally stands for, and its sociological function. On paper, the PPP is a party of the left, a party that stands for the working man, and moreover an affiliate party of the Socialist International. Functionally, it’s a vehicle whereby the impoverished masses can register their support for wealthy feudal magnates – primarily the Bhutto family and their entourage – and thus help these magnates become even wealthier. The more the magnates fleece the peasants, the more fervently the masochistic peasants support them.

And they’re not alone. The Second International – which has quite a few rum members, all told – has several similar affiliates. I draw to your attention the Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanon, a party which is neither progressive nor socialist but exists mainly to allow the Druze peasants of the Chouf to demonstrate their fealty to the Jumblatt family. Or there is the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, which is a vehicle for the peasants of the Black Mountain to dedicate themselves to the further enrichment of the tobacco-smuggling oligarch Milo Djukanović.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this all sounds a bit like Premier League football. And so it does. In particular, it sounds a bit like Newcastle United, but that’s really because, as Jamie argues, the Toon demonstrate the pathologies of top-flight English football in a particularly clear form.

This is where, following Newcastle’s relegation, a little schadenfreude kicks in. It’s not unmixed, though, because over the last while I’ve been hearing quite a few sober Newcastle fans who’ve said, correctly, that they’ve been shockingly bad this season and fully deserve to go down. But on the other hand, you couldn’t get away from the kind of people who would ring TalkSport to bum and blow at inordinate length about how they were too big to go down. Now it’s clear that nobody’s too big to go down, if they don’t string some wins together.

So, let’s see that Shearer sticks around to sort things out. What are his options? Well, he may be aware of the chilling statistic that 40% of clubs relegated from the Premier League have never made it back. And he may also like to cast an eye over the fate of the best-supported club in League One – yes, it’s Leeds, another club whose fans thought they were too big and with too illustrious a history to go down. Once they were relegated, they had to face a tremendous hangover from their period of living the dream, a hangover that’s still to catch up with a huge denialist wing of their support.

What you’ve got at Newcastle is two interlinked problems, neither of which seems easily soluble. Firstly, the team. The manager may fancy clearing out the dead wood, which in this case means virtually the entire starting eleven. Having an enormous support base, and the third largest stadium in England, counts for little when you’ve a team full of lazy shits which has been serially underperforming for years. The core of the gang is the team that got Big Sam sacked, augmented by Dennis Wise’s inspired purchases – although I’m not sure whether he was inspired by astrology, voodoo or radio beams from Venus. A swinging hatchet would seem to be on the order of the day.

This may be tempting, given the second problem, which is economic. In other words, an enormous wages bill which will need some serious pruning back. But here’s the rub. Few if any of the lazy shits seem to have relegation clauses written into their contracts, the by-product of a club that assumed it was too big to go down, so the question would never arise. So a possible fire sale becomes quite a tricky proposition – you would have to pay off the lazy shits, then hope against hope that somebody’s willing to pay enough for them to make it worth your while. And there again, while the lazy shits might reckon themselves too good to be playing in the fizzy pop league, the cold logic of the transfer market might say differently.

So what’s left? Soldier on with that crippling wage bill and hope for an immediate return to the big league? Hope that Ashley will be willing to dip further into his dwindling fortune, or, in the event of him deciding he’s had enough, hoping that some Russian oligarch or Sheik of Araby will appear over the horizon? Or start again from scratch, hunkering down to possibly years of hard slog rebuilding?

I’ll also be interested, perhaps more so, in how the fans comport themselves. For a relegated team to show signs of arrogance, an assumption that they’re too good to be where they are, and have some sort of divine entitlement to be in the top flight, is the sort of thing that seriously fucks people off. That’s why Leeds, facing their third straight season in League One, are easily the most unpopular side in the league, which is quite an achievement when they’re rubbing shoulders with MK Dons. On the other hand, there have been relegated teams that have shown some humility, grafted their way back to success and won friends in the lower leagues in the process. How will the Geordies adapt to their new environment?

And, perhaps more to the point, is anyone going to get to grips with the Premier League’s bubble economy? From the look of things, I suspect a whole series of clubs will have to go bust before serious change comes onto the clár.

Vinnie takes the See of Westminster

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In considering the elevation of Vinnie Nichols to the Archdiocese of Westminster, I’ve been pondering a little on Evelyn Waugh. You see, given the ingrained anti-Catholicism of English culture, including – or maybe especially – the English intelligentsia, it’s always puzzled me a little as to how Waugh’s novels gained such a cachet. Yes, he was a wonderful writer, but that’s not all there is to it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of this has to do with class, ethnicity and romanticism.

The romanticism is easy enough. It’s something that was actually quite funny when all those High Church Anglicans converted some years back. Because the High Church Anglicans were notoriously more Catholic than the Catholics, and a lot of them seemed to have constructed for themselves a romantic image of Catholicism that was all purple robes, incense and Latin. Those guys got the shock of their lives on encountering the actually existing Catholic Church. All those jumper-clad priests strumming guitars – that’s just the sort of thing they’d been trying to escape.

And it feeds into the class-ethnic element in an interesting way. Historically, the large majority of England’s Catholic population have been strongly working class. They’ve also been, to a very large extent, Scotto-Irish in origin, although over recent decades the gene pool has been enriched by Poles, Italians, Ukrainians and others. But this has not necessarily been the most public face of English Catholicism. And it’s definitely not the image one takes from Brideshead Revisited, with its Catholic aristocrats steeped in tradition. That was very much English Catholicism as Waugh, whose reverence for the aristocratic virtues is easily mistaken for snobbery, would have liked it to have been.

Not, though, that Waugh was completely removed from reality. For, as well as this great grubby Catholic proletariat, there was in fact a thin but significant Catholic upper crust, which held enormous power in the community. It perpetuated its power via a network of elite schools. Its regular organ was the Tablet, as opposed to the Universe, which is still very much the paper of the Irn Bru-drinking classes. (To be fair, the Tab has opened up a lot, and these days is a must-read current affairs magazine. A bit like the New Statesman, only better written and more socially progressive.) Most importantly, since the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850, it’s the posh boys who have dominated the plum clerical positions.

The flip side of this is the Catholic hierarchy’s attempts to reintegrate with the English establishment. Even 25 years ago, it was common for British news bulletins to treat Catholicism as something exotic, alien, mysterious. Those were the days when, if a Catholic issue hit the headlines, the media would solicit quotes from Norman St John Stevas because, well, he was a prominent politician and a Catholic, so he could obviously speak for the Catholic community. The late Cardinal Hume laboured mightily to overcome this breach and normalise the Church’s social standing, something that’s been continued by Cardinal Cormac who, despite the Irish name, is very much an establishment figure. And not without success.

Which brings me to Archbishop Vinnie. The most significant thing about him is that he’s from Liverpool. He spent much of his childhood on the terraces at Anfield, which tells you a lot about him. In other words, while he doesn’t sound like a Scouse scally in interviews, his roots are in the plebeian end of the Church. And as the plebs have been gaining ground since Vatican II – indeed, the vernacular Mass was very much a gesture in their direction – the installation of one of their own in the top job is an important step.

What struck me was that the media coverage of Vinnie’s installation revolved largely around a couple of established talking points. One was that he was supposed to be Pope Benny’s enforcer, a hard man to rival his namesake from the Wimbledon Crazy Gang, and liberal Catholics were unhappy about this. Well, duh. Doctrinal orthodoxy is part of a bishop’s job description, and as for the liberal Catholics – who aren’t very thick on the ground, and may be happier in the C of E – they’re never happy. One may merely note that the real died-in-the-wool reactionaries don’t like him much either.

The other talking point was his pushiness. To approach it from another angle, he isn’t an apologetic Catholic – one of those Catholics you get in the law, medicine or academia who feel the need to pretend they aren’t Catholics. Nor is he as concerned as his predecessors with ingratiating himself with the establishment. No, he’s someone with interests to defend, who will defend them to the best of his ability. And while Cormac is a very nice man – perhaps too nice at times – it’s the steely side of Vinnie that we’re expecting to see.

Nonetheless, we’re talking here about a very capable operator, which is why he’s landed such a sensitive job. He’s proven himself a strong media performer, someone who’s able to argue his corner without being overly aggressive. He’s known as a good administrator, who would rather deal forthrightly with a problem than sweep it under the carpet. That’s why he was the central figure in setting up a vetting system to prevent recurrences of clerical sex abuse. (And this is an area where the English Church might have a thing or two to teach the Irish Church. On the Irish scandal, WorldbyStorm has been covering this exhaustively; also note that the Archbishop didn’t say what the media accused him of saying last week.)

And so, the new man takes the reins. Since there are more practising Catholics in England now than practising Anglicans (although the C of E still has an enormous nominal membership), he has a good claim to be the top Christian leader in England. He will, I fear, rub lots of secularists up the wrong way, used as they are to prelates who don’t defend their corner, and who in some cases don’t even believe in God. But that’s fine by me. After so many years of facing no resistance, it’ll do them good to have an able opponent. They might even have to remember some of their good arguments, going beyond the lazy saloon-bar atheism of Dude Hitchens and his ilk.

More on this from Red Maria.

…und täglich grüßt das Murmeltier…

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Well, the Euro-election in a couple of weeks should be vastly more interesting than usual in the north, thanks to an unpredictability I can’t remember seeing before. Remember that, since direct elections to Strasbourg began in 1979, whilst our original three MEPs (Paisley, Hume and Kilclooney) have all retired, never has a sitting MEP lost his seat. So in the normal run of things we would expect the incumbents, Bairbre de Brún, Jim Allister and Jim Nicholson (in Devo style, the latter shall now be known as Jim-1 and Jim-2) to coast to re-election. This has been complicated, of course, by Jim-1 having defected from the DUP to assume leadership of the Prodiban insurgency. Which in turn has necessitated the DUP standing against him. Someone is going to lose out, and I’m not sure who.

And yet, there appears to be even less interest among the punters than usual. Nor is there much sign of pavement-pounding – apart from a couple of bedraggled Traditional Unionists, I haven’t even encountered any canvassers. On the other hand, the posters are up, and everybody is smiling. Jim-2, running this time under the banner of the Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force, is beaming from ear to ear. The DUP’s Diane Dodds is smiling, and looking 20 years younger – are these recycled posters, or has she been hitting the Boots counter? Bairbre de Brún has that faintly severe smile that will no doubt ring bells with her former pupils. Jim-1, a man who makes Nigel Dodds and Michael McGimpsey look like a pair of jolly larrikins, has managed a clenched-teeth rictus that could sort of pass for a smile. But what’s been annoying my brain has been the posters for the SDLP’s Alban Maginness. For a moment, I didn’t even know it was Alban. For one thing, he’s decommissioned the Groucho moustache; for another, he looks to have been hitting the Grecian 2000. But the really striking thing is the big cheesy grin he has plastered across his bake. If you look at him from one angle, you’d think he was advertising a stand-up comedy night; from another, he just looks pissed. I preferred him when he was grumpy.

But to get back to the substance, the only outcome I would lay money on is Bairbre being returned; she may even get in at the top of the poll. She’s lucky too that the dissidents’ cunning plan of getting Colin Duffy on the ballot paper didn’t transpire, not because I think he would have dented her vote, but because his presence in the contest would have raised awkward questions. We can also pass briefly, in the category of pleasant young men without a chance, over the Greens’ Steven Agnew and Alliance’s Ian Parsley, though I still maintain that Ian’s candidacy is a shameless bid to nick the votes of dyslexic DUP supporters. It’s on the unionist side where you have the imponderables.

In fact, it’s been interesting that it took so long for the DUP to select a candidate, and when they did, they didn’t go for one of the party’s big hitters. Officially, this has to do with all of the big hitters double- or triple-jobbing between Westminster, Stormont and their local councils. Since Diane lost her Assembly seat and is now reduced to a seat on Belfast Corporation, she is available for European duty. Unofficially, while a number of the big hitters were canvassed, there was a marked reluctance to go up against Allister. The local media like to refer to Jim-1 as a formidable campaigner, but that’s a bit of a euphemism. The DUP has a big share of country folks, who might be thinking of what happens when a dog corners a badger – no matter how big and nasty the dog, it invariably comes off worst. Jim Allister doesn’t fight fair, and after decades in the DUP leadership, he knows exactly where the bodies are buried.

There’s also a political aspect to this. What Jim-1 has been saying throughout this campaign is identical to what Big Ian used to say, only he’s left out the baroque theology. The important thing is that, up until his last year in the leadership, the Dochtúir Mór never once let himself be outflanked on the right. He staked out his position as the voice of guldering supremacism, and it stood him in good stead. Now listen to Diane Dodds, and you’ll know what an incoherent message is. She’s banging the drum for the importance of a unionist topping the poll – of course, in a PR election, it doesn’t matter who tops the poll, but as Diane explains, it’s deeply symbolic. She’s also dusted off the rhetoric of the DUP’s “Stop Sinn Féin” campaign from 1985, and is telling us how vital it is to defeat the enemies of Ulster – you know, the same enemies of Ulster her other half is in coalition with. Jim-1 has a number of electoral disabilities, notably the absence of a party machine, but he does have the benefit of a simple and unambiguous message. He’s also been quite prepared to mine the seam of Peter and Iris’ Westminster expenses, and to ask the impolite question of whether we want the Paisley dynasty, the Robinson dynasty and the McCrea dynasty to be supplemented by the Dodds dynasty. Kim Jong-il, how are you.

Now, let’s take a little look at the other runners and riders. Last time out, the SDLP had a torrid time of it. After St John Hume’s retirement, they went with the young and clever but ultimately unconvincing Martin Morgan, and lost 100,000 votes. Alban Maginness is a much more substantial figure, possibly the best of the candidates on a purely personal level. What’s more, having at least eight kids of voting age, he’s bound to do well in North Belfast. He will be aware that even last time, Morgan was only a biscuit behind Jim-2 on the first count, and Nicholson required 40,000 transfers from the DUP to push him over the top – a surplus that won’t be there this time. Could a split unionist vote see him squeeze through the middle? Not impossible, but a combined nationalist vote of maybe 43% is still a long way short of two quotas, so he’s facing an uphill struggle. (We’re also seeing the five-yearly ritual whereby SDLP councillors in places like Cookstown and Portaferry try to explain to bemused nationalists why it’s important to be in the Party of European Socialists. The Lord loves a trier.)

And finally, what of Jim-2? The silent man has managed to put in twenty years in Strasbourg without many people noticing, based on a substantial first-preference tally from the farming constituency and a great big whack of DUP transfers. He may actually be the most likely to lose out, if he drops below third on the first count. The big uncertainty here is whether UCUNF and Prodiban voters transfer to each other on a big scale. Mind you, even the first-count results on the unionist side are impossible to predict.

So there you have it. We’re entering uncharted waters and, although I have a sneaking feeling Jim Allister may do well, we don’t have a compass. Ah well, it’ll all become clearer soon enough.

Fer mair wittins, gae til 1690 An’ All Thon.

Ayo Gorkhali! More from the annals of unpopular populism

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Weakness. That’s what comes to mind at the minute, with this lame-duck government at Westminster staggering to its inevitable doom. And the telling thing is that a strong government could have weathered all the events that seem to be flooring El Gordo. It’s getting to feel like the last days of John Major, when every backbencher who couldn’t keep his trousers zipped would cause a crisis. Let’s be honest, a government that has capitulated to Joanna Lumley and is running scared of Esther Rantzen is not a strong government.

Think of this expenses scandal. A couple of weeks ago, Brown had this meeting scheduled with Cameron and Clegg to hammer out the details of a new system. He could have looked like he was taking a lead, showing responsibility. His personal unconcern for money could have stood him in good stead, in a situation where the public is baying for blood. And what does he do? On the advice of Alistair Campbell (and why is he back in the big tent?) he goes on YouTube grinning like an idiot, tries to pre-empt the scheduled discussion with a few scribbled-on-the-back-of-an envelope proposals of his own, and allows the opposition leaders to walk out on him and look reasonable in doing so. If you’re outmanoeuvred by Rankin’ Dave Cameron and Nick Clegg, not exactly the greatest political minds of our age, then by God you’re out of touch.

Then you’ve the Gurkhas. It’s one thing to say that the campaign has been a good one. It’s been very effective in getting support from the media, from military circles and from the public at large. It’s sobering to realise that Joanna Lumley has been a more effective critic of New Labour than the left. (And, considering the number of NUJ members we have, that really is a disgrace.) But consider the case of the Chagos Islanders, a much greater scandal. They won their court case saying that the government couldn’t bar them from returning to their homeland. They got sympathetic coverage in the papers, and solidarity from the great and the good. Then Jack Straw promulgated a law via the Privy Council to overrule the courts. New Labour effectively told the Chagos Islanders to piss off, and got away with it.

Now we have a situation where Brown puts superannuated NUS hack Phil Woolas in charge of immigration, precisely because of his record of bashing minorities. His brief in office amounts to saying, “Phil, you can never be too tough on immigration. And don’t give these Gurkhas an inch.” And the result has been a wholly avoidable fight, a defeat that was inevitable once the fight was joined and, best of all, the sight of the draconian immigration minister being publicly bitch-slapped by Kashmiri migrant worker Ms Lumley.

What, I ask, would Mr Tony have done? My guess is that he would have invited Joanna and her Gurkhas to Downing Street, schmoozed them mercilessly, let them (and the media) think they’d got what they wanted, then rigged some bureaucratic scam so that five years later they’d discover they’d got nothing.

Frig’s sake, these guys really are on their last legs. Not that the equally corrupt and sleazy opposition offers anything better. I especially recommend my friend Peter Oborne’s offering of the day. And I direct your attention to the conclusion. It says a lot that the Tories are cracking down hard on elderly grandees with moats and duck ponds, while Lord Snooty’s chums, despite much dodgier records of property speculation, are immune. When we get irate about the tax dodger Darling and the benefit cheat Purnell, let’s not forget these bozos.

House of ill repute

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The late Brian Clough’s brief sojourn at Leeds United has gone down in footballing folklore for two reasons. One is Cloughie’s magnetic personality, which positively lends itself to the Liberty Valance treatment. The other is that, back in the 1970s, a team revolting against their manager and forcing him out was unheard of. It isn’t unheard of now, and perhaps in thirty years’ time someone will write a novel about Big Sam’s time at Newcastle.

It’s a less deferential culture now, of course, but economics feed into it too. Thanks not least to Jimmy Hill overturning the maximum wage for professional footballers in 1961, you often have a situation in the top flight where a good half of the squad are earning more than the manager – in one or two cases considerably more – and on such silly money that financial penalties don’t bother them. So it’s difficult to crack the whip, unless you have an Alex Ferguson who can weld together a disciplined team through sheer force of personality. (Though Ronaldo is still a lazy, disloyal shit, demonstrating that even Fergie’s powers have their limits.)

But what strikes me is that, at least if the balloons ringing TalkSport are anything to go by, huge numbers of fans seem eager to buy into the silly-money culture for the sake of instant gratification, what was known as “living the dream” when Leeds bankrupted themselves for the sake of Ridsdale’s vaulting ambition. In this context, Arsène Wenger’s approach of bringing through talent from the youth team while being cautious in the transfer market’s bubble economy strikes me as sensible, if you’re willing to think in the long term. But every summer you get the more gormless Arsenal fans kicking up and demanding Wenger splash out £80 million signing some galacticos. For even more of this nonsense, you can look at Formula One, where the money is even sillier than the Premier League. For some considerable time, Max Mosley has been making a strong case for imposing financial restraint before the sport goes bust. But it’s not very often anyone on the phone-ins says, “You know, Max has a point worth thinking over.” No, it’s the “Max Must Go” brigade who make all the noise.

I think the explanation of all this is that, while the Ron Manager spirit lives on in the more impecunious areas of sport, at a certain level you enter the entertainment industry. Case in point, women’s tennis, where commercial endorsements mean that the players with the most sex appeal (think of Anna Kournikova’s bra adverts) can earn a good deal more than more talented but less marketable players. And, once you cast things in showbiz terms… well, we don’t really begrudge entertainers much.

Anyway, on the principle that politics is showbiz for ugly people, this brings me back to the Westminster expenses scandal. One thing that amused me was the confrontation on News 24 between George Foulkes and Carrie Gracie. Let me say at the start that I like Carrie Gracie, and have done since she was reporting from China – she has obvious intelligence and journalistic ability, and while there are plenty of people on News 24, of both sexes, whose main function is to look pretty while reading an autocue, she’s not one of them. And I have long had an intense dislike for George Foulkes, a man who has never seen an imperialist war he didn’t like, and who might be described as Denis MacShane minus the wit, charm or sophistication. But Foulkes did have a point. I was taken aback to hear that Carrie’s salary was £92,000, which is nearly half as much again as a backbench MP. (But not as much as her male co-anchor, I notice.) It goes to show, I suppose, that while there are plenty of underpaid and overworked journalists about, at the higher level – news anchoring, say, or the op-ed pages of the papers – we are entering the world of news as showbiz, where Chris Morris is as good a critical guide as Nick Davies.

And at the top end of earners, we really are in showbiz territory. Richard Littlejohnson, who’s been fulminating in the Daily Mail about MPs’ extravagance, has a salary roughly equivalent to a dozen MPs put together. Jeremy Paxman earns even more. You could say that, in terms of his contribution to the body politic, Paxo is easily worth a dozen MPs, but it’s a little incongruous when he’s supposed to be holding them to account about their expenditure. You may as well have Jonathan Ross or Katie Price presenting Newsnight. And that’s without even getting into Fleet Street’s slush fund culture. I wouldn’t be sorry if the investigation into MPs was extended into other areas of society.

But there are good reasons for the intensity of the anger that we saw demonstrated on last week’s Question Time. Firstly, it’s our money. Secondly, while the old system of MPs voting themselves generous pay rises every year led to a few days’ bad headlines, the milking of the expenses system as a means of bridging the gap between what they think they’re worth and what the public think they’re worth, has led to a much fiercer reaction, thanks to the attendant dishonesty, which in many cases looks very much like obtaining money under false pretences. There’s the culture of putting everything on the tab – in terms of the rules, Jacqui Smith’s bath plug is one of the more justifiable claims, but claiming 88p back from the taxpayer for something she could pay for out of her loose change just looks incredibly tacky. And there’s what the claims have revealed about MPs’ lifestyles, fanning the impression that they belong to a metropolitan elite remote from the concerns of their constituents.

While I’m not personally theological about the left’s historic demand for an MP on a workers’ wage, this sort of thing demonstrates why it can be a very good idea – it’s one reason why the late Terry Fields was such a good constituency MP, because he was still living the kind of lifestyle that he had as a firefighter. At the very least, public representatives should not live lives vastly removed from those of their constituents. What might be the best way forward in the interim is to simply link MPs’ pay to that of, say, division heads in the Civil Service, which would take their salaries out of their own hands, and to have a fairly restrictive expenses regime subject to regular audit by HMRC.

And this whole saga does at least demonstrate the virtues of openness. On one level, it’s yet another example of New Labour’s actions coming back to bite them in the arse. They bring in these measures, like the Freedom of Information Act or the Human Rights Act or the Sexual Orientation Regulations – which may be completely defensible in their own right – as cheap progressive-looking measures to keep their luvvie element happy, and then find themselves caught in the unintended consequences. But these disclosures are very much a Good Thing. The odium makes some sort of reform inevitable, although I am less than impressed by El Gordo’s plan to outsource parliamentary administration to yet another unelected quango. The exposure of financial scandals – which is a rare enough thing, remember that the scandals of the Major government were nearly all about shagging – the mass nature of the exposure weakens the whipping system, as all this information coming into the public domain means it’ll be harder in future for the whips to blackmail MPs into voting the right way. And it has also shaken up the lobby system, where the symbiosis of journos and politicos had become so cosy that some correspondents had become little more than gossip columnists. The Torygraph‘s declaration of war on the entire political class can’t be sustained in the long term, but it makes it more difficult to go back to the old backslapping ways.

Parenthetically, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for the hapless Speaker Martin on his being hounded out of office, even though in the end he had to go. A lot of this is due to the background of years of personal attacks by people who found it either hilarious or outrageous that a working-class Scottish Catholic could hold such a high position. (Step forward Quentin Letts, who finds it impossible to mention Martin without going into a tedious “See you, Jimmy” routine – that’s when he isn’t sniggering at Jacqui Smith’s tits.) But to return to the proximate cause, we’re dealing here with the outworkings of decades of corruption – it’s been made known that the sainted Betty Boothroyd is livid, but you had the same set-up under Betty’s speakership and she didn’t exactly bust a gut to change things. Martin didn’t force MPs to fiddle their expenses, still less did he fill in their claim forms for them. In resisting transparency, he’ s only been reflecting the will of the House. And let’s have some light shed on the House of Commons Commission, a committee chaired by the Speaker, yes, but stuffed full of grandees from the Labour, Tory and Liberal parties, and which has been one of the most powerful pillars of the status quo. But yeah, the captain had to take a fall for the team. Greater love hath no man, than he lay down his sinecure for those of his friends.

And you can see a sort of rough justice in action all round. It is entirely correct that the most egregious offenders are seeing their careers go up in smoke. In particular, Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears look like dead women walking, which gives me no end of satisfaction. Not to mention Shahid Malik, who’s always reminded me of a minor character from Minder and whose fall from grace surprises me not in the least. It would be nice to see this followed up by a mass round of deselections, or if all else fails a raft of anti-sleaze independent candidates. On the other hand, there are those who have been honest and frugal with taxpayers’ money – people like Alan Johnson, Vince Cable, Martin Salter, Theresa May or the incomparable John Mann – who deserve to come out with their reputations enhanced. Whether or not you agree with them politically, they have demonstrated themselves on the personal level to be decent public representatives who aren’t in it to line their pockets. And if there is a political dividing line, it is that the Labour left, Harry Cohen notwithstanding, have tended to come out better than the NuLabour apparatchiks, while proper old-fashioned Conservatives seem to be doing better on average than the Cameroons. That is, people for whom politics is about ideas and public service, not about “governance” and PR.

Speaking of PR men, it’s the little juxtapositions that are so telling. Like socialist Luton MP Kelvin Hopkins, who actually commutes to Westminster while his New Labour neighbour Margaret Moran has been claiming expenses on her third home, a hundred miles away. Well done that man. And Geoffrey Robinson has gone up in my estimation because, although he’s a very wealthy man who owns multiple properties, he won’t claim expenses on any of them on the very reasonable grounds that he can afford to pay his own way. Compare that to the Tory leader, who’s been getting great headlines by using his PR training to strike “decisive” poses. David and Samantha Cameron are estimated to have a joint worth in the region of £30 million, which rather begs the question of why he needs a mortgage at all, let alone charging twenty grand a year from the taxpayer to finance it. Or is that the point?

But this is a question the media have not asked, and I suggest that’s because the political-media class has far too much invested in Rankin’ Dave. Just as Mr Tony Blair saved the Labour Party from socialism, and is now trying to save the Catholic Church from Christianity, so it falls to young Mr Cameron to save the Conservative Party from conservatism. Therefore, Dave must be protected.

Rud eile: Although I’ve heard some grumbling in the queue at Asda about the Swish Family Robinson and their enormous expenses claims, I don’t expect this scandal to have more than a marginal effect on votes in the north of Ireland. We don’t vote on those issues, and anyway our Soviet-style economy means we don’t have the taxpayer culture that plays such a big role in Sasanach politics. But I must give an award for optimism to the News of the World, which has launched a campaign to unseat Gerry Adams over his having milked the second-home allowance. As if that was the worst thing Gerry had ever done. And, knowing the West Belfast scally mentality, it’s more likely to make Gerry even more popular.

Rud eile fós: First Hazel Blears, then Shahid Malik, and now Denis MacShane stands accused of sharp practice. The Decent Left’s poster boys and girls aren’t running a very good batting average, are they? Actually, Brian Brivati was on the Bill Turnbull Show yesterday morning, but while he did waffle a little about Bagehot, I was disappointed that he didn’t have anything specifically Decent to say. Perhaps Professor Geras can dust off some old ethics texts, and explain how being signed up to TGISOOT gives you a get-out-of-jail-free card for fiddling your expenses. Or we could have some mea culpas, like Nick Cohen did over his boosting of Hassan Butt… oh, hold on…

UCUNF if you want to…

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It looks as if the rebranding of the Unionist Party isn’t going quite according to plan. While no doubt Sir Reggie was hoping that the freshly minted Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force was going to sweep all before it, the punters seem to be a bit sceptical.

We’ll see, I suppose, when the Euro results come in. But, I was struck at Jim Nicholson, on his posters, eschewing the UCUNF acronym in favour of the simpler “Conservatives and Unionists”. Sensible man. His posters also bear the legend “Vote for Change”, which derives directly from Rankin’ Dave Cameron and his attempts to be the British analogue to Barack O’Bama – in a recent TV interview, I swear I heard Dave say the word “change” twenty times in five minutes. But still, the slogan “Vote for Change” seems a bit incongruous when it sits alongside a big picture of Jim Nicholson, who has been an MEP since the Cretaceous era.

But that’s in the optics. Rather trickier for Reggie is the position of the party’s sole Westminster MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon. Since her election, Sylvia has been New Labour’s most assiduous parliamentary ally, and is adamant that she won’t stand for election under the Conservative banner under any circumstances. You can see what a quandary this puts Reggie in, since the UCUNF boondoggle was his big idea. What’s worse is that Lady Sylvia is quite a popular figure with the housewives of Holywood. She’s classy, presentable, articulate and has built up a political profile that says “I’m slightly left of centre but in a nice, friendly, unthreatening way. A bit like Richard Boyd Barrett.”

So Reggie could give in to Sylvia and let her just run under the Ulster Unionist banner, but that would just expose him as a cipher in his own home. Alternatively, the Machiavellian option presents itself. Reggie is not going to be elected an MP in East Belfast while Peter Robinson draws breath, and South Belfast is Gimpo’s turf, where Reggie would venture at his peril. But if Sylvia vacates the North Down seat, then Reggie might fancy a run at a more winnable constituency. On the other hand, North Down people are a bit parochial, and Reggie would possibly be a bit too, well, Belfast for their tastes.

You know, I still can’t quite process this UCUNF thing. I mean, I know that it’s happened, but I can’t intellectualise it. And I can’t remotely understand what possessed Cameron to agree to it. What’s in it for him? And, while he may not be aware of the dangers involved, why hasn’t the Spectator been running a campaign on the issue? Why are intelligent Tories like Douglas Hurd not writing cautionary articles on the theme of why the Tories shouldn’t go anywhere near the Unionists?

And what’s even funnier is that they’ve suckered Cameron into promising that Norn Iron MPs will hold ministerial office under his government. Yes, he’ll win over Middle England by promising them the mouth-watering prospect of Reg Empey or Basil McCrea sitting in the cabinet. And yet, and yet… I sort of hope he gets the notion of sending Lord Trimble to Hillsborough as proconsul. Now, that would really wind up the DUP.

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