February 2009


jack-straw-webmail

Poor Jack Straw. Having embraced the flexible wonders of webmail for his constituency inbox, he was stung by Nigerian scamsters yesterday who hacked into his account and sent out a group email begging for £3,000. The tabloids had a field day.

If the gap year story circulated by Straw’s Nigerian imposters was slightly less than believable – “I was on my way to a conference in Lagos when I lost my wallet” – it’s also incredible how easy it is to get into people’s Hotmail accounts. Armed only with a browser and Google, I decided to have a go at Straw’s address myself.

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As you can see in the screenshot, the only thing standing between Jack Straw’s plentiful contacts book and the prying eyes of fraudsters was a security question – his grandfather’s occupation. A 30-second trawl through Google pulled up this profile from The Independent with more biographical details than you can shake an identity thief’s swag bag at. Apparently, his maternal grandfather was a TGWU shop steward on London buses.

I decided to leave my foray there, but the fact the whole exercise took me less than 5 minutes makes it all the more amazing that 24 hours on, Straw still hasn’t changed his email address.

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chuka-ummuna

The buzz surrounding Chuka Ummuna, Labour’s 30-year-old prospective candidate for Streatham, is remarkable given that he’s not even a professional politician yet. His name must be one of the hottest Google searches of the moment judging by the number of hits I get relating to a tiny article I wrote on him months ago.

 

Chuka took a break from his legal work last Friday to come and tell our politics class at City how he handles the pressure of people’s expectations, what drives him and how it feels to be compared to the US president. The first thing that struck me was how well a good dose of litigation prepares people for politics. At a glance he reminded me not of Barack Obama, but a grittier talking Tony Blair.

 

He kicked off explaining how important he thinks it is to be able to go ‘off message’ and break with the party line. “For any Labour politician doing that after 10 years in government, it is quite a challenging thing,” he admitted, referring to the element of dutifulness that will inevitably encroach on his public profile if he wins Streatham. But he quickly went on to demonstrate his ability to deliver cutting comments by taking a sideswipe at ‘identikit’ politicians:

 

I think the problem we’ve got is there are politicians who aren’t idealistic at all, even when they’re young… A lot of people muck around doing student politics, then go and work researching for an MP, then go to work in a think tank, then think they’re ready to step up to Parliament.

 

So for them, it’s a career.

 

He wouldn’t be drawn when David Miliband’s name was mentioned, insisting: “I am talking across the board”.

 

I think it’s quite easy to get warped by the environment in which you are working. In the Blair era, if you even dared to think about certain things you’d be treated like you had committed a gaffe…

 

People now tend to talk as if they’re managing the big ship UK PLC. Maybe it is partly that we have, in a way, allowed ourselves to become part of the Establishment.

 

When the unavoidable question came up, Chuka said it was “extremely flattering” to be compared to Barack Obama but emphasised, “I wouldn’t dream of comparing myself to him”. He also said race isn’t something that makes him self conscious.

 

Being mixed race, I can operate in any environment, but I don’t walk into a room and think, ‘I am the only black person here’. It’s not something I generally think about. When you open your mouth people tend to be interested in your ideas rather than what you look like.

 

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At the moment he’s juggling a full-time job and gearing up to fight for the Streatham seat at the next election. “I’m trying to meet as many people as possible,” he said, “so I can communicate what I want to do in the community.” In a sense he echoed David Cameron’s call for a return to localism when he described the Streatham community as the starting point and focus of his urge for politics. He added:

 

Do I feel the pressure? It would be spectacularly awful if I didn’t get elected. If I couldn’t live and work for Streatham, I don’t think I would want to go anywhere else.

 

Throughout the chat Chuka’s delivery was impressive and he struck a relaxed pose lolling on one of the university’s cheap plastic chairs. It was hard not to feel fired up when he described the UK political landscape as “going through a real moment” and when he said it was “an exciting time” for young people with the drive to effect change.

 

It was only when I went back through my notes that I realised how careful he’d been in everything he said. He managed to provoke some strong reactions – and agreement – while avoiding pinning himself down to much detail. I think that was what brought back the memory of a young Blair before the travails of war and office soured his idealism.

harrietharmanqofhearts-703443 What an awful week it’s been for the women once dubbed Blair’s Babes. Now grown up, they’re taking a battering from all sides. Since the Mail on Sunday ‘outed’ Jacqui Smith over expenses for a second home two weeks ago, she’s had to face the embarassing prospect of an investigation led by John Lyons.

Tessa Jowell’s estranged husband, meanwhile,  has managed to clock up a four and a half year spell in an Italian clink for accepting the modest ‘gift’ of $600,000 from Silvio Berlusconi.

And then the Daily Telegraph heaped more bile on the female cast of the cabinet today with an excoriating assault on Harriet Harman.

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Headlined ‘Britain’s most deluded woman?’, Andrew Pierce’s piece quoted some off-the-record Brownite heavies who rubbished Harman’s ambition to lead Labour and described her as as a “deluded woman” who “has really lost it”.

Pierce went on to quote one of these aides making a “typically icy observation” about Harman’s plans for a women’s conference in the run-up to the G8 summit in April:

I expect she thinks Michelle Obama will pop in for a girlie cup of tea and a photoshoot.

The tone of the piece was remarkably savage. It was also another example of the thuggery of Brown’s confidantes, who have to have won ‘bitchiest briefing of the year’ with this little effort.

Thanks to Alex Hughes for the playing card images.

This video genuinely cracked me up. It was posted by an anonymous user to YouTube so who knows who’s behind it, but Derek Draper himself had the good humour to flag it up on his Twitter feed, asking if he should be amused or concerned. By the looks of things he thwarted the hopes of one YouTube viewer:

Absolutely priceless – do you think Draper will get the message that he a bullying, totalitarian, censorship ridden idiot incapable of mature dialogue?

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The tedium of bankers’ bonuses dominated the front pages today: according to Politics Home, 75% of political stories were dominated by the theme in some way or another. The fact George Osborne and Alistair Darling managed to sound remarkably similar on the Andrew Marr Show – both pointing out banks like RBS would no longer exist without taxpayer support – just goes to show how little scope there is for real discussion on the question of bonuses, especially after Obama’s $500k salary cap for financiers.

I thought Osborne came across better than usual in a slightly chastened form, less the snarling aristocrat and more the balanced politican, although I wouldn’t go to the rhapsodising lengths of rightwing bloggers like Daily Referendum. Having just said there seems to be cross party agreement on taking actions against disproportionate City bonuses, Nick Clegg managed to take it a step further:

The government’s response has been pathetic. We do not need an inquiry to answer the question of whether bankers should receive bonuses – the right answer is no.

Anyone on the boards of the banks, the executives, should not take bonuses. In future they should not get cash bonuses at all.

The Telegraph and Independent both splashed on bonuses; the Sunday Times linked Glen Moreno, the private sector whizz tasked with overseeing the government’s £37bn banking stakes, to a Liechtenstein bank infamous for exploiting tax loopholes.

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The Mail on Sunday raised some questions about Jacqui Smith’s parliamentary expenses, claiming she raked in £116,000 annually for a second home despite “effectively lodging with her sister”. Whoever said politics wasn’t glamorous?

Interestingly two rightwing pundits, Peter Oborne and Matthew D’Ancona, reckon sleaze could be the banana

skin on which either party slips at the next election. D’Ancona reckons there are increasing parallels between Brown and John Major. Although it’s been said many a time before, he argues Clarkson’s “One eyed Scottish idiot” jibe marks a new low in personal insults directed at the PM.

Finally, it’s worth comparing d’Ancona’s piece with Andrew Rawnsley. The Spectator man argues that David Miliband was fundamentally right to withhold publication of certain details of Binyam Mohamed’s trial; Rawnsley thinks it’s an extension of Blair’s “great moral failure”.

In a shameless attempt to boost my search engine rankings, here’s an insight into some of the weird online meanderings that have led people to my blog over the past few months.

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‘Gordon Brown’s eye’ has to be the most bizarre search, which led people to my very first blog post on Gordo’s glass eye and increasing blindness in his functioning eye. It was inspired by a Telegraph story claiming the PM needs things printed in 36 point font.

‘Daily Mail bigots’ was the next quirkiest one – I’m saying nothing – closely related to searches for golliwog-related material.

Another popular search was ‘Hackney gangs’, which took readers to an article I did ages ago.

Overwhelmingly though, Labour rising star Chuka Ummuna was the most searched for guy. It says a lot about his appeal that, despite not even being a politician at the moment – he’s a lawyer, about to stand for Streatham at the next election – people are already going crazy for him online. It’s another element to his early story that’s bound to prompt more irritating comparisons to Barack Obama. He’s coming in to chat to our politics class at City next week, so watch out for a longer Chuka-related focus piece then.

I can’t wait to see the outcome of a Daily Mail poll that accompanied a Carol Thatcher-friendly story on the web today.

golliwog-poll

It seems slightly irrelevant to debate outlawing something which has been so successfully supressed by social taboo for so long. It’s more than 20 years since Enid Blyton’s publisher stripped out references to Mr Golly, the swarthy skinned proprietor of the Toytown garage who was replaced by a less ethnically challenging character.

To my knowledge Boris Johnson’s former seat, Henley-on-Thames, is one of the few places left where a carefree bigot can splash out on a golliwog doll these days. Last time I walked past Bagatelle Toys on Bell Street, several gollies were staring unashamedly from the shop window. But there are doubtless plenty of Daily Mail readers knocking around that neck of the woods. Maybe we’ll see a triumphant victory at the Mail poll for golliwog lovers everywhere.

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