Change You Can Bereave In

Nice, acerbic NYT OpEd piece by A.A. Gill.

These are not three of the most engaging or noble statesmen the nation has produced. Mr. Cameron, the Tory, is personable — your mother would like him. A fresh-faced character who tries, and fails, with emotionally winning oratory. He always sounds like the coxswain urging the rowing team to pull together and straighten their straw boaters.

We look at Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat, and try in vain to imagine him going toe-to-toe with leaders like Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel or even the Queen of Tonga. In any other decade, the best he could have hoped for would have been a post as a junior minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, an ambassador’s bag-carrier. He speaks five languages but can’t say boo in any of them. His children all have Spanish names.

Gordon Brown is a character from a tragic opera, twisted by ambition and a Presbyterian sense of fateful destiny. He has waited 13 years, mostly in Tony Blair’s shadow, for this poisoned chalice and has a pessimist’s luck. He wrestles with an Old Testament temper, and it’s said that he has no friends. Certainly, none of them have come out to contradict this. Last week he was recorded by an open microphone petulantly calling a respectable working-class woman he had just spoken to in the street a “bigot.” Off the record, his advisers say they are quite relieved — it’s usually so much worse.

The truth about Cameron’s Svengali

Excellent Observer piece by Peter Oborne about Dave’s key apparatchik, Andy Coulson, the former editor of the Screws of the World.

First, there is no question at all that the News of the World routinely used private investigators during the seven years that Coulson was running the paper. Though much of what they did was legal, some was not. One of these investigators, Steve Whittamore, ran a network of specialists who concentrated on “blagging”, or tricking information out of confidential databases run by banks, credit card and phone companies, Revenue and Customs, the police national computer and other sources. Whittamore, who provided intelligence for other Fleet Street titles as well, was convicted in 2005 of offences committed under the Data Protection Act.

Mulcaire was an expert in intercepting voicemail messages. However, Mulcaire, who was on a full-time contract worth £100,000 a year until his arrest in August 2006, was also a skilful blagger. In all, four investigators who worked for Coulson’s News of the World have been convicted of criminal offences. One of them, whose name cannot be revealed for legal reasons, was actually re-employed by the News of the World after serving his prison sentence. This happened in 2005, while Coulson was still editor.

It is no exaggeration to state that under the editorship of Coulson the News of the World was running what was effectively a large private intelligence service, using some of the same highly intrusive techniques as MI5. This illegal surveillance was targeted at the most famous and most powerful men and women in Britain, including footballers, politicians, members of the government, police and military. The budget stretched to hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, probably more. As deputy editor, and then editor, Coulson was routinely commissioning and editing stories to which these investigators had contributed vital information.

Yet when Coulson gave evidence to MPs last year, he insisted that throughout the time he was editor he had been wholly unaware of any of this, with the exception of the “very unfortunate rogue case” of Clive Goodman.

By these standards, Alastair Campbell was pretty clean.

Chateau Ashcroft: the gigantic duck house

L’affaire Ashcroft has had one useful side-effect: it’s provided a reminder that no matter how touchy-feely Dave Cameron might like to appear, his party hasn’t escaped from its sleazy background. Marina Hyde had a nice column about this.

Still, we love a tax exile in this country. We let them fund our political parties, and watch as they coincidentally obtain peerages. In the case of Lord Ashcroft, we watch as they become deputy chairman of the Conservative party, amass unquantified power over its leaders, and begin ploughing some of those very millions on which they don’t pay tax into intensely targeted campaigns designed to swing elections. David Cameron has honked loud and long about making trust and transparency an election issue, yet he and his lieutenants either misled the public deliberately as to his lordship’s status, or were too craven or venal to ask questions. They certainly refused to co-operate with the Electoral Commission’s investigation into the matter. Meanwhile, the BBC feel obliged to announce cuts effectively designed to appease that other unelected foreign billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, as though you can appease someone whose goal is your complete destruction.

The biggest problem — as Hyde points out later — is that public outrage over MPs’ expenses is disproportionate compared with what Ashcroft and the Tories are up to. The MPs have been mostly foolish, occasionally venal and in a few cases positively criminal: but Ashcroft is a tax exile who is effectively using his foreign wealth to buy an election. And who also appears to have obtained a peerage after giving assurances that he did not keep.


During the recent snowy spell, we took to putting newspaper down in the hall to reduce the amount of snow brought into the house. As luck would have it, the Guardian G2 issue about Dave Cameron was the first periodical that came to hand. We noticed that people stamped their Wellingtons rather enthusiastically upon entering. But at least they were green. Poor Dave became progressively more disfigured over the week, so in the end we put him out of his misery. On the fire.


This is a wordcloud (generated using tagcrowd) from the text of a major speech made by the Tory Leader at the Open University on May 26 this year. Might be an interesting tool for tracking changes in rhetoric — and perhaps even policy.

The Bollinger Club: still in business

Remember all those stories about how Dave ‘Vote-Blue-to-get-Green’ Cameron insisted that there should be no conspicious consumption of Bollinger at his party conference? Well, a Mirror photographer spotted the Supreme Leader in flagrante. The paper’s report reads:

David Cameron quaffs £140-a-bottle bubbly with his rich chums just hours before the Tories announced a pay freeze for millions of ordinary workers.

Mr Cameron flouted a champagne ban imposed by his own party chairman who was keen to avoid accusations the Tories believe the election is in the bag.

When we caught him sipping fizz at an exclusive party, heavy-handed minders immediately moved in and tried to stop us leaving with the embarrassing snap.