Thursday, March 29, 2007

Snakes in the grass?

Malcolm's mis-spent youth, touring the flea-pits of Dublin for the movies nobody else bothered with, tells him what to expect. There's always the threatening drums in the distance, the python slithering under the flap of the female talent's tent, the dusky face and blowpipe peeping out of the shrubbery. Standard back-lot B-movie stuff.

Well, here it comes again. There was Hitchens on Monday night (see previous posts). Simon Heffer diverting from his usual snipes at the Cameroonies to have a go at Hain (and, see below, this may be a surrogate target). Today, Thursday, the restlessness among the natives seems to have spread to The Times: as instanced by:
Let Malcolm chew over Heffer first.

Of his eight outings so far this month, Heffer used three as blatant attacks on Cameroonery:
This is ostensibly having a justified go at Vince Cable. Cable had said (and Malcolm feels it is quite a modest proposal):
One specific proposal we are investigating is an annual levy – say 1% - on residences worth over £1m: to be used for tax cuts for the less well-off.
In Heffer this became something far more bloodcurdling, a "monstrous suggestion".

Heffer let Cable off quite lightly, in a way that reveals more about Heffer than Cable:
Dr Cable is a man of erudition. He once had a proper job, as an oil industry economist. Not for him the legion vices of his fellow Lib Dems. The Member for Twickenham has no difficulties with the bottle, or with rent boys. You can tell at a glance that he would never brook such sexual practices as require a working knowledge of Attic Greek, or a multi-volume dictionary, to understand.
And that let-off is because Heffer now tracks onto his real target:
We expect no better of the Lib Dems, the hard-Left party in our politics since the dawn of Blairism. But we need to expect better of the Tories, who seem embarrassed by wealth - which is why they are, I fear, so reluctant to give any back to oppressed taxpayers, to spend as they see fit. The Victorians had a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. If it helps the Tories, let them have one now between the deserving and the undeserving rich. For it is the former, comprehensively, who stand to be bled white by Dr Cable, unless someone finds the guts to speak up against him.
Ah, yes. And so to exhibit 2:Well, there's no difficulty in deciding where that's coming from, or going to:
The Tories are locked into a desperate pursuit of young people who, they are convinced, spend their waking hours worrying about the planet, hugging trees and bunnies, and recycling like mad. Maybe they do. But people with such a commitment are already entrenched voters for parties with a long record of environmental concern. It will take more than a tax on flights to Benidorm to make them vote for Dave. Meanwhile, those who might vote for him are being hectored and lectured about their behaviour and, should he come to power, warned they will have their pockets picked.
And the boot goes in again:
this stunt-driven approach to politics has become Dave's trademark. And, as he has shown this week, he pursues the style with utter recklessness, and a complete disregard for its consequences. No bandwagon can now roll past him without his jumping on it. That is why I fear the new furore about food will, if you can pardon the phrase, be meat and drink to him: any sign that the Left might want to come down hard on food waste will have Dave coming down even harder first. There are many issues that could lose him the next election, but I think he might unwittingly have hit on the daddy of them all.
Malcolm does not feel any of that deserves glossing, so let's move on to exhibit 3:
On the budget, Heffer feels:
The message is simple: the Tories are now the party of high taxation, Labour is the party that gives you tax cuts. And image, as "Dave" knows, is everything now. Oh dear.
Notice that: the Telegraph's premier columnist is dishing the Tories, and specifically:
The cosy cadre of Old Etonians around Mr Cameron [who have] been good at coming up with the odd slogan, and better at ensuring that his image prevails over anything so vulgar as a policy.
For anyone missing the point, Heffer names the guilty:
As David Cameron and George Osborne banged on for months with their silly little catchphrase about "sharing the proceeds of growth", we could all see the hostage to fortune. A tax cut by Mr Brown, even one with more downright prestidigitation than would normally be found at a convention of the Magic Circle, would make the Tories look incredibly dumb. And, lo, it came to pass.
And, now today's contribution, as promised:Surely, this is straightforward Labour-bashing? Well, says Malcolm, not quite: look at the major premise:
There has been so much lying, jobbery, sleaze, depravity, deceit, impropriety and failure (moral and political) that few of us have the energy to express what we might feel about further episodes of it.
Malcolm reads Heffer intending that as a general, not a partisan point. The minor thesis is:
If you seek the personification of this repellent political climate, you need look no further than the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain. It could have been predicted from, as it were, his earliest youth that Mr Hain would turn out as he has. He began life as a semi-professional student agitator. For 15 years he worked for a trade union. Always greasily ambitious, he rose to the top of the Young Liberals. Not being a stupid man (contrary to the impression he quite consistently gives), he then deserted them for the Labour Party, and 16 years ago was elected an MP.
Hold on, says Malcolm. Let's do some textual analysis on that. Does this remind one of someone else, who oozed his way through party and other patronage, worked in PR, is obviously "greasily ambitious", has a flexible lack of principles, and is a "come-lately" to his chosen party, someone who:
is big on sustainable communities and all environmental concerns.
And Heffer's punch-line is Miliband for PM, a nagging thread in the Telegraph of late:
David Miliband is becoming the candidate the Tories least want. If, by some miracle, Labour were to elect him, it would recover much of the territory ceded to David Cameron. Voters warm to Mr Cameron's charm, impatience with ideology, working wife and young family. They contrast him with gloomy Gordon Brown, who presents his last Budget on Wednesday (and who has developed an unnerving habit of smiling at every fifth word). Stretch Mr Cameron out alongside Mr Miliband, however, and these advantages disappear. Mr Miliband is the same age as the Tory leader. He, too, has an independent wife and a young child. And he is undogmatic: witness his desire to tackle climate change by extending markets.
Any chance that leader came from the fine italic hand of "associate editor" S. Heffer?

After that, today's Times seems tamer stuff...

Crampton, for no obvious reason, retreads old territory: Tackle a hoody—like Dave doesn't.

Crampton's point is the difference between what Cameron has said about interacting with hoodys/hoodies (choose your own variation) and what he does:
He has not, I think, personally confronted anyone over their bad behaviour, because bluntly he is too frightened.
Although Crampton keeps the tone light, the implication is heavy:
No doubt there are many things to be done at the national, local and neighbourhood level (although Blair has given many of them a go already) but in terms of individuals acting rather than not acting, which is what Cameron is exhorting us to do, then, unless it’s just more hot air, ultimately he, me and lots of chaps like us have to get better at fighting. Home-Office-funded sparring sessions? Tax relief on protein shakes? Subsidised dumbbells? Come on, Dave, you need a few policies.
... or is it?

Then it all becomes more complex when Sieghart attempts a double-bluff:
opponents of David Cameron have become so obsessed with his upbringing.
OK, we got that: so the way to ignore we ignore what Sieghart deems "inverted snobbery" is to write about it? And who is responsible for this "class hatred" (Sieghart's own term in her opening sentence):
The Daily Mirror uses the words “Tory toff” as a prefix almost every time the Conservative leader’s name appears.
Gosh, that really must hurt. And?
... now the attacks on Cameron are coming from the Tory Right, too. This week, Peter Hitchens, a fanatically conservative columnist, presented a Channel 4 programme that even called itself Cameron: Toff at the Top. Hitchens is miserable because Cameron has embraced social liberalism, which he despises. Now he has no one to vote for. Poor chap.
Then comes a warm defence of Cameron because:
When his first son was small, he brought him along to meetings in a Moses basket and bottle-fed him. This wasn’t ostentatious New Mannery but what you do when you are having to share the care of a fragile child with a wife who also has a demanding job. Where Cameron went to school has no relevance to the family pressures he faces now.
Well, actually, Mary Ann, being grandson of an American grain-magnate, from a line of stockbrokers, related to royalty and the Duff-Coopers, married to an heiress who (by mummy's remarriage) is linked to the Astors, suggests one might afford the daycare, rather than, like us peasants, being:
so brutally acquainted with Britain’s public services.
This is not particularly convincing stuff. Sieghart is a bright lady, despite Private Eye's mockery. Here she manages no real defence of a Cameron who can bestride the world like a Colossus. This stuff is not going to play with the readers of the Sun.

So what's her game?

Public Information Research shows Sieghard's personal network:
There's the band of obvious suspects from the BBC (Evan Davis, Margaret Hill, Naughtie and Paxo) and the girls-together-in-journalism support group (Bronwen Maddox, Anne McElvoy). And Julia Hobsbawm was Sarah Macauley's (i.e. Mrs Gordon Brown's) PR partner. [And if anything thinks all this evidences Malcolm's perennial persecution-complex, Cristina Odone got there first.]

Then we notice former Ministers (Robertson and Mandelson) and tentacles into the bowels of Downing Street (Alastair Campbell, David Hill, Jonathan Powell, Allie Saunders).

Robertson ran NATO. Michael Maclay was briefing for IFOR in Bosnia; Bob Stewart was British General in Bosnia, and Matthew Rycroft is HM Ambassador in Bosnia. James Sherr is big in the UK Defence Academy (well known institution, that).

Down and dirty

Malcolm's nostrils are perceptibly twitching. Christopher Meyer ran the political section of the Embassy in Moscow in the early '80s, long before he was Blair's Ambassador at the court of Bill Clinton and Dubya. Phil Bassett's name came up as an active e-mailer in the Hutton Enquiry. James Eberle is a colourful addition: formerly Admiral and royal briefer during the Falklands campaign, later head of Chatham House (and forced to deny being a Stasi mole, but admitting providing a Chatham House laptop to a prostitute of his acquaintance).

Malcolm is naturally suspicious, particularly so when he suspects spookery and skull-duggery.

But just look at who is at the end of the alphabet! None other than Alan Lee Williams and Paul D. Wolfowitz. The former was once Labour MP for Hornchurch, but best known (alleged as the CIA's man) policing the Young Socialists: fierily pro-Europe from the start, and an "Atlanticist" at the time of Vietnam and subsequently. Needless to say, he defected to the SDP in 1980. And, the pearl in the oyster: Paul Dundes Wolfowitz, President of the World Bank, but also chief architect of the Bush Doctrine which gave us the invasion of Iraq.

Being paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you

But, today, Malcolm's focus is on Cameron.

Cameron seems to be a plasticine figure, moulded by whoever comes by: that he bears the imprint of the last arse to sit on him. The "old right" of the UKIPites and old fogeys of the Mail and the Telegraph are out to nail him, presumably because they can't get gluteal traction on him. They want rid of him, in the short or long term, and in the Tory Party that usually means something to do with Britain-in-Europe. Cameron's one real move on Europe (to pull out of the European Peoples Party) was a sop to the right in his campaign for the leadership, but has proved to be farcical (a liaison with Czech rightists and a single Bulgar). And, in that context, consider again the opinions of Mary Ann's dinner guests: does that help?

The Tory ultras are adding to the noises in the jungle that Miliband is the one to see Cameron off, that Gordon isn't up to it. Those critics are not doing it to create mischief in the Labour Party (Mandelson is up for that on his weekend trips to London): they seem genuinely set on securing a trouncing for Cameron in 2009.

So what's with the Miliband thing? Well, apart from the obvious, he has cred with the cousins: a Kennedy Scholar at MIT (and an American-born son), no less. He is "sound" on the environment: presumably that means not bashing the oil companies until they've had time to ramp up on biofuels, not penalising the airlines, not flip-flopping on wind power and nukes. That's ticked two key boxes: the CIA and Big Business. More, much more on this as events transpire.

Or is it because Gordon is not quite so America-friendly, that after the take-over the relationship with Washington may not be so cosy? Where's George Smiley when he's needed?

Hitchens had the story that Cameron only got the job at Central Office because of a 'phone call from Buck House. Perhaps that call was re-routed from Langley.

"And now back to our feature film"

In the last reel, rifle-in-crook-of-arm, white-hunter Stewart Granger gets the girl; the revolting natives are grateful to have been put in their place and so sporran away their blow-pipes till the sequel; evil is driven from the land, and all the wrongs are righted. The python, alas, bought it twenty minutes back.

The plot of this one may not be so predictable.

No reptiles were hurt in the making of this blog.

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