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.