April 2009


streatham-online

It seems Labour candidate Chuka Ummuna is facing battle with an enthusiastic, if decidedly unsophisticated internet adversary for the seat of Streatham. Streatham Online, a site mysteriously keen on rival Tory candidate Rahoul Bhansali (above), saw fit to post no fewer than five identical comments to my blog in response to an interview with Chuka in February.

The comments were – thoughtfully – a cut-and-paste of material from Streatham Online and contained the immortal line:

What Streatham ultimately needs right now is an ‘Action Man’ who can urgently restore it to it’s Former (Socio-Economic) Glory. [Rahoul Bhansali]

Matters of punctuation aside, the idea that Streatham was once a sprawling Byzantine kingdom of learning and commerce can only be described as highly questionable. Branding your candidate an action man, even in inverted commas, also raises serious issues. While you can’t fault Bhansali’s spin machine for raw energy, Alastair Campbell shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder just yet.

 

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I was listening to Ed Balls on the Today programme on Wednesday and was immediately struck by his unconvincing attempts to distance himself from Damian McBride, and to portray Smeargate as “an issue for all parties”. He didn’t sound as if he believed it himself.

That anodyne interview seems to have been the basis for the Sunday Times’ explosive front page story today. A whistleblower took exception to Balls’ obfuscation and spoke out on what plenty of people have already tacitly suggested – that Balls is at the centre of the Brownite culture of thuggery that sustained McBride.

It was a brave article at the end of a week that has seen Guido Fawkes – and even Alice Miles in the Times – bemoan the subservience of the Westminster lobby to political interests. Judging by the hysterical tone of Balls’ press officer, who described the allegations as “completeley fabricated and malevolent nonsense without any foundation in fact”, the story was a nasty little bolt out of the blue.

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The malaise clearly goes deeper than the immediate scandal. The Telegraph carried a damning front page headline, “Now Brown pays the price”, with poll figures showing a haemorrhaging of Labour support over the last week. Peter Oborne wrote an interesting piece in the Observer calling for an end to the all-powerful celebrity Prime Minister. Earlier in the week Simon Heffer wrote an excoriating piece calling for Jacqui Smith’s head.

As Paddy Ashdown candidly remarked on this morning’s Andrew Marr show, no betting man would plump for Labour at the next election. Smeargate is the culmination of years of dirty briefing, and now it’s open season on the Government.

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The Mail on Sunday took the unusual step of sharing its front page story with other Sunday papers today, ensuring Geoff Hoon’s ‘three homes’ scandal was splashed around generously. Hoon was outed for living rent-free in Admiralty House for three and a half years – apparently due to security reasons as he was defence minister at the time – while claiming expenses on his home in Derby and renting out his London townhouse.

The general impression of MPs rolling around in public money like pigs in litter isn’t helped by the shabby excuses they put out when Paul Dacre and friends inevitably track them down. Hoon told the Mail:

I only claimed whatever the rules allowed for. The [Commons] fees office was aware what was happening. Indeed, I was told to move to Admiralty House on security advice. I was told unless I went into secure premises I would have to have round-the-clock police protection at my home in London and that would cost the taxpayer a great deal more.

As more revelations showed Jacqui Smith claimed £304 for a barbecue – they must have been pretty amazing burgers – the home secretary took the the blue airwaves of the Telegraph to defend herself. “I thought that was the wrong thing to do [to claim for her husband’s porn films] and that’s why what we immediately did was apologise and pay the money back,” Smith told the newspaper, using that cunning New Labour formulation that looks like an admission of error but is actually just an excuse.

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Amid all the expense hounding, one story in the Telegraph made me laugh. Philip Hollobone, MP for Kettering, is loathe to claw back expenses from the taxpayer and is apparently keen to get his annual claim even lower. “I’ve got a board [with my name and contact details on it] at Kettering Town football club and that’s £15,” he told the paper. “I could stop that.” I think we can all allow him that little bit of hedonism.

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Twitter feeds, live podcasts and video are pumping out reports of the G20 riots in the City with breathless excitement. The #G20 tag on Twitter is brimming over with posts. As Tweeter robcthegeek just pointed out, journalists are rather enjoying channeling the mayhem.

Amid frenetic news of RBS’ windows being smashed, office equipment being thrown out and even an armoured car being stopped by police, a bit of comedy has been peeping through. A few nice Tweets I’ve picked out:

andrewnorfolk: “HAH, #G20 protesters smash RBS windows, it’s nationalised you morons!”

 

davidteather: “It is like apocalypse now, but with decent food”

 

rachelwilliams2: “‘This is the worst festival i’ve ever been to’ quips one man as we are squeezed round a corner by a police line”

 

madduane: “Saw a sign in the G20 protest coverage that said “Capitalism Isn’t Working.” I couldn’t help but wonder what a pro banner like that costs.”

 

JasonGregory“Can someone tell the man smashing the RBS windows that he (presuming he is a taxpayer) will have to pay for that. #G20”

 

tuileries: “The thing is, the British and their protests, it’s all just anoraks & rucksacks. If we were French the water cannons wld be out by now.”

 

In the background on the Sky News radio feed, you can hear Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ being murdered by a handful of unwashed students with a guitar.