Friday, March 14, 2003

If you have a spare hour..

..and are interested in the History of the Labour party and its' attitude to war, why not read this article by Paul Corthorn, from 20th Century British History Vol 13. The article is 24 pages long and about the decision of the Labour party to support Collective security and by implication military action in 1935 (primarily over Mussolini and Abyssinia), So clearly of limited interest, but it's full of gold about the motivations of those who opposed re-armament in the face of fascism. Some interesting highlights and foreshadowings include The proposal for mass resistance in the event of War by the peace campaigners, the language of "Imperialism and Capitalism" used by the anti-war forces, the role of Soviet Sympathisers and fellow travellers, the combination of noble and ignoble motives that drove those who opposed re-armament, the brutality of Bevin's language. Well worth a read over the weekend.

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Of Robin Cook

As all the reports state today, Robin Cook appears to be staking out his line in the sand (well, if you're going to mix metaphors, use a blender). The line is the now familiar "If you go to war with Iraq without the UN, I quit", which one would expect from all the briefing that's been happening in recent weeks.

The current conventional wisdom is that Cook and Short will go (and probably on Monday). Three thoughts.

1. The Robin Cook strategy isn't new. I first wrote about it back in August (Have a read, I think it holds up pretty well), after being humiliated in 2001 Cook's been gradually staking out a position as a reforming centre-left winger, rebelling with increasing openness on Common's reform, Select Committee chairs, Lords reform (though of course, that's not actually a rebellion, as it was a free vote) and now Iraq. This has at the very least given him a constituency, but it's not made him unsackable- though I suspect that's what he first hoped. So the disloyalty means he suspects he'd be up against the wall come the reshuffle so, to avoid being sacked, and to establish his credibilty as a future leadership contender he has to go now. Especially because his radical credentials have been gazumped by Clare Short

2. Conspiracy time. Let's assume that Clare Short really is being operated by remote control from the Treasury (There's no proof, but hey, that's never stopped us before, right?). The theory here is that Mr Brown, fearing that Mr Cook is establishing a constituency on the left that might challenge him in any putative leadership election set out to spike Robin's guns. He did this by getting Clare Short to set off a timed explosion big enough to establish her as the biggest rebel on Iraq and make Robin look like a follower not a leader.

Robin responds by stressing how he's being all responsible and not going public with his concerns like that loose cannon Short. hahahahaha. Then yesterday Clare Short gives a really curious interview about how she just wants to make things work out for the best and has a special private meeting with the PM this morning. If you were really devious and ambitious and wanted to make Robin Cook look like an idiot, I'd consider asking Clare not to resign, and instead tour the TV studio's when Robin quits saying how she felt the same way, but that the Prime Minister's constant efforts in the UN have convinced her that he really meant it and that the french were being unreasonable. It would be an incredibly audacious move, but if anyone is capable of seeing far ahead like that Gordon is.

The reasonable objection to that is of course that if you were that ambitious to be PM, why would you not want to destabilise the scurrent occupant? well, Cook and Short aren't going to bring the PM down- GB knows that as well as I do (see below for why). The only plausible scenario is the Suez crisis all over again and a chancellor who know when to change tack is the natural successor to unite the divided party. So you wouldn't want a credible opponent to have a clear shot, so make him look like a follower not a leader, then make him look disloyal, lonely and irrelevant.

And you know, I can't help thinking, while all this is going on the PM actually is trying to make the UN work, rescue the trans-atlantic relationship and remove a dictator from power and it makes me more certain that he is the only person who should be leading the Labour party.

3. Politics as a futures market. This story is a masive axample of political discounting. A few months ago the resignation of 2 cabinet ministers would have been a devastating shock. Nthen it baecame a general expectation, and by monday the news story will be any difference to the expected (and hence discounted 2 resignations). For this story to be explosive now, there need to be more than 2 resignations, or less than 2 (hence my theory above). Right now we all know (we being political freaks) that 2 cabinet ministers will likely go and can pretty much live with that. It'll still be a big story of course, just not a thermonuclear 24 hour news special graphics CRISIS FOR BLAIR. To get that we need a change versus peoples expectations.

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A phenomenon...

There is no exact translation of styles from US to UK politics. There's nothing comparable to the primary system in the UK, and obviously, no Presidency. However, I've been struck recently by the possible impact the internet is having on the early stages of the Democratic primary.

I'd read sites like Daily Kos and MyDD, but it was only when I read this New York Times account of the Howard Dean meet up, that it struck me that the internet could really have a powerful impact on Presidential politics in the US. (There's also been speculation about the impact of the internet on the recent South Korean elections, given the 70% Broadband penetration there, but I don't think the UK is anywhere close to that).

Look at it this way, the biggest Dean blog gets about 1000 readers a day. Not many. MyDD gets about 3000. Small beer (but still 30 times more than me). I would lay money however, that every one of those people is a politics addict, and the primaries (at this stage) are all about getting the early adopters (to a ridiculous extent cf. the Bob Shrum Primary).

However, 20 months out from the election any tool that has the power of gathering together up to a 1000 people in New York for a long shot candidate has to be a significant factor. In a Primary, converting those people into activity could really make a big difference (and just their existence has an impact on candidate credibility- ever tried getting a 1000 people to campaign for you on a weeknight? ).

You can even sign up to back Howard Dean in London- which I'm considering doing having read his position statements.

How could this work in the UK? Well, it's possible that it might make a difference in a general election, but realistically, the closest you can see it working is in a party leadership election. Some some smart boy or girl should be registering letwin, davis, brown, clarke, portillo and right now. Believe me, whoever writes the blogs for the next set of political leadership races will find their ideas being stolen by political journalists looking for the inside yap quicker than you can say "shit i've got a deadline in half an hour and nothing to file, lets google".

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Thursday, March 13, 2003

A humourous observation

A bit ago, Peter Cuthbertson had to explain that when he linked to people on the left as "the enemy within", he did so as a kindly joke. I thought it was quite funny (If left wingers on a Tory's webite aren't an enemy within, who are?), and was surpised at some vitriolic comments he received. I mention it today because he made me smile in my comments section when he picked up on my tendency to make a higher proportion of typos than most bloggers and compaared me to the impeccably liberal Grauniad. (I regard typo's as a price worth paying), anyway, I've realised how much more tolerant I am of those writers who are willing to laugh at themselves and at others rather than those who get all mad and angry when attacked. None of us are perfect at it, but I like people more when they can take a gentle dig and respond in kind. You could never appreciate that about a normal writer- whether they could take a barb in good spirit or get all sulky (or even deign to care). I guess if I was a techie person I'd understand that this was all a factor of the webs interconnectivedity or some such, but all I really think is how much I wish Robert Benchley or SJ Perelman were writing weblogs today.

Maybe their equivilents are. Would love to link to one.

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George Galloway in the Spectator

Read this, and then try and think that he's not motivated by anti-Americanism.

I leave it to others to tear apart, though it hardly needs it. A few highlights though.

The comparison of George Bush senior with Hitler in the first paragpraph.

The odd linkage of Iraq with every American policy failure for 30 years. (Kissinger? I stand no man in my loathing of him, but he's struck me as rather equivocal on this, voicing, and then retracting, Brent Scowcroft style doubts).

The refusal to engage with any argument about weapons of mass Destruction, repression and proliferation.

The near total absence of Saddam Hussein (Apparently millions hate him, but millions don't, and then he dissapears from the narrative).

The painfully laboured adaptation of Neil Kinnock's anti-Militant speech.

Just the sheer unrelenting bile. This article is spite, abuse and bitterness. It contains only the flimsiest logic. As far as I can tell the argument goes, America is bad, Bush is worse, Blair shouldn't be helping him, if we go in it'll be horrible and lots of us will die, the Americans will be defeated in an expolsion of outrage and British business will suffer. September the 11th is just the beginning- and by implication, quite justifiably.

Oh, and I just loved the appropriation of Orwell for the tolerance of a Stalinist dictator. This from a man who has said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst event in his life. I wonder Orwell would have said about that.

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Will Tony Blair survive?

Yes. Next question?

How can you be so certain?

The only way a Labour leader can be desposed is through a) The calling of a special conference of the labour Party, b) the passing of a motion at that confernce asking for a leadership election c) The holding of the election.

a) Won't happen as only the National Executive of the Labour Party can call the conference. The usual vote on the NEC is something like 30-4 in favour of the leadership. Even if 13 members of the NEC were to defect (which would be almost all bar the Ministers and utter loyalists), it still would not be enough. In addition, the signatures of 80 MPs would be needed.
That's not going to happen- Look , the Tories can't get 20 signatures to depose IDS. Imagine how brave (stupid) an MP would have to be so sign a motion to depose the PM? Indeed the backlash against the rebels has already begun, as this report from the Times shows.

b) Motion would not pass conference. Your a Trade Union or constituency delegate to a Labour Party conference called to decide the fate of the leader. Every Minister, the majority of MP's, Most Trade union leaders are desperate to keep the leader ,all warning of a Tory government should the motion pass. How would you vote?

c) Even if it did pass, the general membership of the party is more moderate than the activist base. A high proportion are members because of Tony Blair, many have known no ther leader. In a competition between Blair and A N other, Blair would win. The only possible opponent with credibility is Browm and he can't oppose Blair on this.

I've not even bothered to talk about how the election would not be held until well after any war had finished.

So not going to happen. Forget it., Pay no attention to the occassional profusion of Campaign group MP's. The rest of the party hate that kind of disloyalty. They're over-reaching.

So Blair's safe?

Well, he's extended. If the war were to go horribly wrong, it's conceivable that he might be put under the same pressures as say, LBJ over the Tet offensive. Speaking personally, though, that's an if too far. I know about politics. I leave Military scenario's to those who, you know, know what they're talking about.

So what's your thinking about it all?

Sometimes, especially in today's 24 hour news media world, events, themes and memes spiral out of the control of bewildered politicians. You vote against the government one week, and the next, that's a tacit sign you want to overthrow the leadership. Speculation piles up speculation and suddenly, you find yourself looking into the abyss. So ou snap back, hard and fast to a mre loyal stance.

That's whats happened here. A bunch of relatively centrist MP's backed a rebellion, the hard left leaders of which then decided to expand into the leadership. After a day of speculation about Blair's future, the bulk of the PLP thought to themselves, hold on, We're in power and I'm an MP because of Tony. We were out of office for 18 years the last time we did this and look and the mess the Tories are in. Time to row back a little bit.

So what's the moral of the story?

Labour doesn't have an alternative leader who can get more votes than Tony Blair, So in the end most rebels will shut up. Oh, and disloyalty has unexpected and unwelcome consequences.

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The end of the world as we know it.

Mr Happy explains how the end of the world might happen, which is nice. It's all to do about whether the value of the cosmological parameter W (which represents the presure and density levels of dark energy) is -1 or more.

I shall merely comment that it seems somehow appropriate that the end of the world is dependent on the values of W.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

A very British coup

In these times of crisis when we all feel a little like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis (yes, I too, am a fan of Tom Lehrer) it is always a pleasure to watch good television. Which is why the political drama season on UK Drama has been a delight. The programmes they're running are all quality; The line up includes The way we live now, The politician's wife and House of cards. The stand out drama however has to be A Very British Coup. For someone of my age and political leaning, A Very British Coup was one of the highlight televisual events of the 1980's. To watch it again, in the light of recent events is both enlightening and grimly amusing.

The plot is that a left wing Labour Prime Minister is elected on a platform of withdrawal from Nato, Nuclear Disarmament and a new settlement with the Unions. This naturally arouses some resentment amongst Americans and the establishment, and as a result, The Prime Minister has to face down Americans, strikes in vital services (where despite provocation he refuses to use the military) and disloyal right-wing cabinet colleagues. All of this chimes perfectly with the suspicion of sell out and betrayal which has haunted the Labour Party since Ramsey MacDonald.

If you want to understand the cultural currents that drive many of those who oppose the PM today within the Labour Party, A Very British Coup is a good fictional guide. Today you can't be anything but struck that in this moment a Labour Prime Minister is being assailed by a mirror image set of problems, accused of being too close to American policy, facing down the Unions and dealing with disloyalty from the left. Personally, watching again, I'm saddened by how ridiculous the Policies espoused then were and yet a little depressed that I feel that way about characters and people who I want to admire so much.

A small foot note. AVBC was written by Chris Mullin, a former editor of Tribune, former acolyte of Tony Benn, MP for Sunderland South and by all accounts genuinely nice man. Intriguingly, Chris Mullin was a Minister up until 2001 (wasn't sacked, felt he wasn;t suited to being a Minister) and supported the government in the recent rebellion on Iraq by 122 Labour MP's.

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How cool is this?

In a time of despondancy, mayhem and tension, a lone blogger seeks distraction and finds the action film trailer generator.

I got: In a barbaric kingdom, a swordswoman and a xenobiologist oppose an army of aliens intent on on summoning an evil god

(Go on, say it in a throaty, husky voice.)

or these: On an ominous planet of murder, a mobster hopes to find the cure for a deadly disease. or
In a terrifying empire of agony, seven spies try to find the truth

(via Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

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Clare Short.. more on why..

Airstrip one has an interesting post on Clare Short's volte face on the importance of UN approval for military action in Kosovo and Iraq respectively. For my tuppe'nworth, I agree with reasons 1 and 2, reason 3 is one I'd never thought of and is an interesting psychological point, and I think Reason 4 stretchs credibility a bit- I mean it wasn't just the left who were cheerleaders for Arab secularism vs Islamissts. You know, there was a fairly strong Superpower who supported both the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein on that basis. (Though I could just be reacting to the lines opposing atheism- I always hate to be compared to a Crack dealer!). Well worth a read though.

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Very kind of you to say so....

Harry Steele, (who I was slighly worried had disappeared for good, thus giving arise to all sorts of conspiracy theories about there really being only one pseudonymous Labour party member and blogger around!) is very kind to me today, and I am more than pleased to return the compliment. Anyone who reads me and even slightly agrees should definitely read Harry. (you should also read all the Tories and libertarians as well, but I won't force you). Of course, he goes on the Blogroll.

PS. Are thee any people who you think I should be reading, or linking to? I've noticed that my blog readership has become rather settled in the rime of not been writing my own , and as a consequence I've not picked up many new people recently. Who should I be paying attention to?

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Donald, where's your manners?

So Donald Rumsfeld has caused a rumpus.

This has caused me to engage in what Brad DeLong calls "banging your head against the wall."

My first thought was to look for a secret plan, some clever, smart way in which what Rumsfeld said was useful, positive, some hidden code, or use of language that hints at insider levels of knowledge that mere mortals like myself could never hope to attain. I could find no evidence that this was true.

Then slumped to the same conclusion as Stephen Pollard, that this was Mr Rumsfeld being nice.

To which one can only say that a period of silence from Mr Rumsfeld would be welcome. (Spot the quote reference you political animals)

Why? What for? What possible good could come from this? It makes Blair look like he's thinking of gimping out, It puts wind in the sails of the anti-war people, makes Blair look irrelevant and in effect it hangs out the US's closest ally out to dry.

What Rumsfeld said might be true (though I think it is not), but even so, do the US really need the officials of their closest ally tearing their hair out about America, rather than trying to get a good UN vote? Do they really need to destabilise their closest ally? Do they really want to make the government look like they're about to fold their cards in the face of the toughest political challenge they've faced? Do they really need to make, me, personally look like an idiot when I argue with my fellow Labour party members about how much we need to take action in Iraq? "But the Americans don't even care if we're there, so why bother spending all that money and risking our soldiers if they'll do it for us?" I got asked last night, and I tell you, it's a tough one to answer. Would any US Hawks like to help a British hawk answer that one (and believe me, the moral arguments don't work when the assumption is that the US is prepared to do it for us, so our boys don't die in the desert.

It's enough to make you believe Josh Marshall's theory that the US government is not only pursuing bad policy, it is doing so incompetently too.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Dead tree equivilents

After coming back, I've managed to attact an average of about a hundred visitors a day (which is quite gratifying, as it's more than I had before I left). However, I know that this puts me very much in the Ryman's league of hits. (For foreign readers, the Ryman's league is a lowly semi-professional football league in the UK, roughly equivilent to the lowest level of Baseball minor league).

But wat what level is it that one can say that an online columnist has reached a level of influence similar to a recognised commentator? or, to put in another way, when can you say you have reached a dead tree equivilency?. It's safe to say that in the US, several commentators have attained that staus (as opposed to Sullivan, Kinsley and Kaus who had it before), but Josh Marshall, Jonah Goldberg, Brad deLong and others have all reached dominant market share in my mind through the web, and I suspect will gain hugely in career and visibility terms.

As ever, The UK lags behind the US on this, and the only evidence I've seen so far for dead tree equivilency is Iain Murray in the Spectator. (articles about blogging for or against surely shouldn't count). But lets say that every week, a UK based Blogger gets a couple of thousand readers. Well, on that basis, theyre already probably being read as much as a pamphletter for a think tank, or possibly a writer in a magazine like Tribune. At 3 or 4 thousand, they're probably getting as much actual readership as a New Statesman or Spectator columnist (NS has ABC of just over 20,000.week, Spectator 60,000, prospect 15,000), at 10,000 probably a national broadsheet specialised writer. (Come on, do you read eery column in a broadsheet or magazine?), and what levels wuld they need to reach for a grade A political writer, an Aaronvich, Platell. Johnson, Gove or Cohen, or even a Top class ratings draw, like Lee-Potter?

My point is, that sometime soon, some UK bloggers are easily going to reach a dead tree equivilency of at least a Spectator or New Statesman writer. Of course, they won't get the lobby passes, the pay or the access, but they will have the influence. I wonder how long it will be before Bloggers are getting interviews with politicians?

More mischeviously, who do we think will get there first? (Stephen Pollard doesn't count. He's our mini-me Sullivan!)

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What's wrong with this picture?

Today the papers hae been full of stories about the "End of Blair". I hope to do something more substantial about this later today.

But to be going on with, Here's Tam Dalyell on the Today programme, saying he wants to get rid of Tony Blair as leader of the Labour party.

"BBC person: How serious is this threat to Tony Blair?

Tam: (some blather about reconstruction contracts) As soon as it becomes clear that the United Nations is disregarded,
yes certainly a letter will go out to our colleagues asking for a special conference of the Labour Party."

OK, so pretty clear the authority of the UN is the issue, You can't disregard the UN. (coughkosovo, coughvietnam, coughpanama). Fair enough, it's a clear position.

(later on)

"Tam: Well there are many constituency Labour parties who like the Linlithgow constituency party, who put forward a resolution that if there is no UN mandate, and if there is not a vote in the House of Commons before a commitment of British troops, then we ask the Prime Minister to consider his position as leader of the party.

SM: What happens if there is a second resolution?

TD: If there’s a second resolution I have to say that in the view of many of my colleagues, not mine, it will be different."

eh? so Tam is saying that even if the UN supports action against Iraq, Tam would still like to see him deposed as leader. What happened to the sancity of the UN? So if the vote is Yes, the UN must be disregarded but If the vote is no, the UN is sanctified?

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Donald Macintyre looks into the abyss

In an interesting article in the Independent, Donald Macintyre imagines that Tony Blair might resign. Personally I think it's highly unlikely, but the political machinations he describes are no doubt being thought through in No 10, No 11 and Carlton Gardens (which is the official residence of Jack Straw, but the actual residence of Robin Cook).

On Gordon Brown's view of what Ms Short has done:

"You don't have to subscribe to some fanciful conspiracy theory that he had the remotest idea she was going to do what she did to realise that, like Chancellor Macmillan after Suez in 1956, he could yet accede to the top job if a dangerous military adventure unravelled."

On Robin Cook, who must be seething that his moral high ground has been ripped from under him, we hear the following Cookite spin:

"The pointed contrast with Robin Cook is more than mere spin. For Cook is another potential resigner if British troops are committed to war without a second UN resolution – and as a former Foreign Secretary at least as dangerous. But he has chosen not to voice his anxieties in public, let alone to attack Mr Blair personally.

Instead he discussed them privately, and by all accounts, straightforwardly with Mr Blair last week."

Wonder whose account that was, 'cause unless Donald got time with Tony yesterday, I can only think of Robin (OK, maybe Campbell or Powell or Morgan but can't imagine they wanted to talk much about Robin Cook's unhappiness with the Gorvernment.)

Finally, Donald came up with a very good line for this site, which I am thinking of adapting. How about this as a site mission statement? "Piling hypothesis on hypothesis, it ignores both the seriousness of international issues and of domestic ones in order to engage in the murky world of low politics".

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Monday, March 10, 2003

Sometimes, Hawks just scare the living sh*t out of me

I think there's a strong case for invading Iraq. I'm probably the most hawkish person I know on the subject. I've had long involved arguments with friends and family about the level of danger to us represented by the Iraqi dictator, have passionately denouced fellow left wingers for their failure to recognise the tragedy and misery of repressive regimes and tendency to blame America for everything. In return I've been called (politely, because my friends and family are wonderful people) a imperialist, a warmonger, a xenophobe et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

In short, I have supped from the bitter cup, and not unaturally, I have occassionally wondered whether they are right, that perhaps I have slipped from progresive internationalist fervour to conservative reactionary zeal.

So I go and read real conservatives, and I begin to feel re-assured that I am a fully paid up member of the sane. Today I find John Derbyshire in the National Review, saying that the solution to the crisis in North Korea is to drop nuclear bombs over the DMZ.

"The logic all points one way: to nuclear weapons. The only way to put North Korea out of business without South Korea's cooperation is by attacking their emplacements along the DMZ with neutron bombs ("enhanced radiation weapons"). Nothing else does the job without precipitating an invasion of South Korea. We have to take out the Yong-byon reactor, too, and since doing that would probably trigger the aforementioned invasion, and since nuclear weapons are the only sure way to thwart that invasion, we might have to go nuclear on Yong-byon too."

So we've gone to pre-emption to arguing for the first use of nuclear weapons? My God. Even MacArthur and Westmoreland had the decency to wait until the North Koreans and Vietnamese actually invaded before arguing for dropping nuclear bombs on them.

I fail to see how anyone can think that this is a good idea. Even in the most brutal Geo-political terms it's crazy, since it pushes insane regimes into believing that they might need to pre-empt a US attack with their own first strike- in this case a massive land and artillery attack on South Korea.

I believe that Mr Derbyshire was originally British, but is now proud citizen of the United States (and good luck to him, He's right to be proud of citizenry of a fine country), which puts the kibosh on any slack jawed bomb happy yokel stereo-types I might have had to hand. Which is good, because it focuses attention far more clearly on a political ideology which regards it as moral to drop nuclear bombs on people because you might have nuclear mombs dropped on you. When did no No First Use become a pathetic dovish stance against a country that could jst about lob a nuclear weapon on hawaii if it was really lucky and was prepared to be immediately oblterated. For Christ's sake, even Stalin didn't try it, and he might have won.

I dunno, I hope it's one of those Conservative jokes I fail to get.

UPDATE: Peter Cutherbertson agrees that dropping nukes on North Korea might be taking things a tad to far. Considering that he seems about as right wing as mainstream British conservatives get (as opposed to UKIP, Libertarians or Monday club types) I think I should find this reassuring.

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et tu, Clare...

Am I the only person who wonders why Labour MP's who protested against the (non-UN mandated) Serbia campaign to remove Milosevic were an "absolute disgrace" according to Clare Short, whereas supporting action to overthrow Saddam Hussein is "utterly reckless"?

Apart from anything else, Clare Short's threat to resign is rather ungrateful. Clare Short was expected by many to be dropped by Tony Blair in the manner of Gavin Strang, David Clark and sundry other denizens of the cabinet table in Labour's first year, people there because of Labour's rather unusual rule stating that all members of the Shadow cabinet must be given cabinet places when labour form a government (A rule intended to prevent the always expected betrayal of the Labour party by its leadership).

Instead, rather like Micheal Meacher, Clare Short has had a quite unusual life in government, allowed to stay at her post, given a pretty free hand and able to build up a level of expertise in her subject that is, I'm sure, formidable. This is not unusual behaviour by the Prime Minister. He has, unlike his stereotype, been very prepared to give left wingers the chance to serve in government (I for one, never expected to see Chris Mullin in a ministerial car). He's also been extremely tolerant of the occassional outbursts by such people. This is not mere weakness- As LBJ said, better to 'em inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in. The presence of known left wingers in goverment pleases a large section of the Labour party (and some are very good ministers).

Ministers are expected to brief against their Prime Minister on occassion, (This is politics, not harmony singing) but to go on the record and call your leader reckless? Well, Jesus, at least Geoffrey Howe waited until after he resigned to push in the knife.

But does Clare Short become a disloyal minister who, having been given authority, ofice and power by a Prime Minister who has consistently shown her regard and tolerance when she screwed up (remember the golden elephants?) should have resigned long ago if she thinks her Prime Minister is reckless? No, she becomes the conscience of New Labour.

But why now? After all, why not wait until after the UN vote- if it goes the UK's way, no problem. If it doesn't, quit. Conspiracy theories might suggest that it has to do with the competition between Robin Cook and Clare Short to be the voice of the soft left. (or, as it is known in the party, to don the mantle of Nye). Speculation has been going for ages the Robin is biding his time to quit, and Clare announcing now makes him look like a lily livered careerist by comparison to her bluntly spoken honesty. I think Stephen Pollard's right, Robin Cook is he one to watch, but if he quit now, he'd be seen to be following clare Short, not leading, and to the most devious of minds, that is important, not least to the resident of 11 Downing Street, who is an enemy of Robin's but an ally of Clare's

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The pleasures of disengagement...

No particular reason to blog this, but I quite deliberately spent today not thinking about work, politics, foriegn affairs or the like. Instead I went to see the Aztecs exhibition at the Royal Academy, watched an arthouse film, and read a book about Cambodia under Pol Pot (well, I suppose, that's kind of Foriegn affairs, but I was thinking more history).

It reminded me of the pleasures of the intellectual life (or at least the semblence of one). As someone who does not work in that sphere, I sometimes wonder if those who have the abilty to spend much of their days writing, reading. thinking or listening are aware of what an immense privilege they have. When I read the many blogs written by academics, researchers, policy makers and even semi independent journailasts, I see so much there that is admirable- the in depth knowledge of a subject, the wide intellectual interests, the tolerance for and appreciation of literate, engaged debate, and I wonder if they see what a delight it is to be able to have the enlargement of knowledge as part of their professional requirements.

i imagine probably they don't, not through any malice, (or pointy headed liberal cheese eating tendency- or whatever the anti-intellectual insult du jour is) but because the daily frustrations of that life must accumulate in that field as they do in any other. So my message for today is simple. If you are an academic or otherwise engaged in the pusuit of minerva, please, occassionally, feel grateful that you are able to read, write, learn, teach and debate. It is a pleasure that most of us only get to engage in fitfully, and it places you on a different plane to the rest of us. Mind you, on the other hand, the rest of us get to wear much nicer clothes.

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