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Simon Jenkins

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Everything posted by Simon Jenkins

  1. After a month of partying on deck, British politics is back in the engine room. It's the economy, stupid, again. But what a difference a good party makes. Yesterday's pre-budget statement by Alistair Darling was in truth George Osborne's first budget. All its most sensational proposals were headlined in Osborne's speech last week, including taxes on non-domiciled residents, taxes on aircraft, and relief of inheritance tax. Not since Labour adopted Thatcherism in 1997 has a new administration relied so shamelessly on its opponent for inspiration. Darling was clearly in a bind. He had prepared
  2. Alastair Campbell's confessions of a Svengali at the court of King Blair are mind-bogglingly tedious. A great diary should be true to its moment in time. Censor it into a work of political propaganda and it ceases to be a first rough draft of history, just a first rough distortion. As for the "Blair years", it is hard to believe that they were one long jeer against the media. Blair's Cheshire cat has clearly eaten a rotten mouse. The Blairs never did dignity. We have had Cherie's abusive "We won't miss you" shouted at the press. Now we have Campbell's macho obscenities and complaints of "a cu
  3. Remember, any government scandal always turns out worse than first it seems. Remember too that if it involves an assertion by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, race to the kitchen and count your spoons. I thought that little more could be squeezed from the Guardian's BAE/Saudi corruption story until the BBC's revelation on Monday that long-denied bribes had actually been countersigned by the Ministry of Defence. Those who jeer at the ethical standards of foreign governments should understand that these officials, were they in Washington, would now be in handcuffs. Even the French, since
  4. Remember, any government scandal always turns out worse than first it seems. Remember too that if it involves an assertion by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, race to the kitchen and count your spoons. I thought that little more could be squeezed from the Guardian's BAE/Saudi corruption story until the BBC's revelation on Monday that long-denied bribes had actually been countersigned by the Ministry of Defence. Those who jeer at the ethical standards of foreign governments should understand that these officials, were they in Washington, would now be in handcuffs. Even the French, since
  5. The more I read about the peerages game, the more I want to shout: "Why not just sell the bloody things on the open market and give the cash to the poor?" Cash for honours under all three main parties has reduced from absurdity to obscenity the way Britain chooses at least some of its parliamentarians. Emerging states used to wonder at the "mother of parliaments", much as they marvelled at the NHS. Now they fall about laughing. Parliament has long been run as a fiefdom of the executive but only now has the corruption of the upper house become so blatant as to attract the attention of the poli
  6. Gambling proliferates in Britain, from bingo to betting on horses and dogs, scratchcards, raffles, lotteries, fruit machines and poker clubs. There are casinos aplenty already. Anyone wanting to pull a one-armed bandit or dabble in roulette, blackjack and poker can find somewhere to do so. As a result, the stake value of gambling under Labour has soared from £7bn in 1997 to £48bn in 2005, plus a further £5bn on the lottery. This is hardly an industry that seems in chronic need of government support. Most countries are paranoid about supercasinos, treating them like gargantuan opium dens. Acro
  7. Gambling proliferates in Britain, from bingo to betting on horses and dogs, scratchcards, raffles, lotteries, fruit machines and poker clubs. There are casinos aplenty already. Anyone wanting to pull a one-armed bandit or dabble in roulette, blackjack and poker can find somewhere to do so. As a result, the stake value of gambling under Labour has soared from £7bn in 1997 to £48bn in 2005, plus a further £5bn on the lottery. This is hardly an industry that seems in chronic need of government support. Most countries are paranoid about supercasinos, treating them like gargantuan opium dens. Acro
  8. I rise each morning, shave with soap and razor, don clothes of cotton and wool, read a paper, drink a coffee heated by gas or electricity and go to work with the aid of petrol and an internal combustion engine. At a centrally heated office I type on a Qwerty keyboard; I might later visit a pub or theatre. Most people I know do likewise. Not one of these activities has altered qualitatively over the past century, while in the previous hundred years they altered beyond recognition. We do not live in the age of technological revolution. We live in the age of technological stasis, but do not real
  9. What is the matter with the Conservative party? It once claimed a nodding acquaintance with the cause of liberty. Now it runs with the corporatist pack. If there is anything to be banned, regulated or computerised, it howls from the dispatch box for "something to be done". Be it prostitutes, drugs, prisons, NHS computers, data protection or civil rights, the Tories are desperate not to be seen as out of the action. Libertarians in Britain are a disenfranchised class. The Ipswich murders will be a textbook case of modern British government, reform only in response to headlines. They have revea
  10. What is it about a desert that drives men mad? On Monday morning the prime minister stood on the Afghan sand and said: "Here in this extraordinary piece of desert is where the fate of world security in the early 21st century is going to be decided." Tony Blair was talking to soldiers he had sent to fight the toughest guerrillas on earth for control of southern Afghanistan. He told them: "Your defeat [of the Taliban] is not just on behalf of the people of Afghanistan but the people of Britain ... We have got to stay for as long as it takes." The prime minister's brain has clearly lost touch w
  11. The ugly American mark two is dead. Overnight six years of glib European identification of "American" with rightwing fantasism is over. The gun-toting, pre-Darwinian Buxxxxe, the tomahawk-wielding, Halliburton-loving, Beltway neocon calling abortion murder and torturing Arabs as "Islamofascists" has been laid to rest, and by a decision of the American people. Another McCarthy raised its head over the western horizon and has been slapped down. It is a good day for level-headed Americans. Yesterday's result could hardly have been more emphatic. George Bush's election wizard, Karl Rove, said he
  12. The ugly American mark two is dead. Overnight six years of glib European identification of "American" with rightwing fantasism is over. The gun-toting, pre-Darwinian Buxxxxe, the tomahawk-wielding, Halliburton-loving, Beltway neocon calling abortion murder and torturing Arabs as "Islamofascists" has been laid to rest, and by a decision of the American people. Another McCarthy raised its head over the western horizon and has been slapped down. It is a good day for level-headed Americans. Yesterday's result could hardly have been more emphatic. George Bush's election wizard, Karl Rove, said he
  13. This is no longer news that I can use. At present rates of depletion “scientists say” all the fish in the sea will disappear within the next 42 years. “Ministers say” this is the biggest threat to the planet after climate change. Both climate and fish have thus leapfrogged last month’s biggest threat, according to Tony Blair, which was the war on terror. John Reid, the home secretary, thinks terror is a bigger threat than anything since Hitler, which puts fish in the shade. In the dumb world of modern politics all threats must be superlative. I am less interested in the potency of these thre
  14. In David Hare's National Theatre play Galileo the actor Simon Russell Beale rants and shouts for three hours at an exasperated pope about the importance of science. I do not normally cheer the papacy, but by the end of the play I was on its side. The pope had been happy to debate his ideas, but the man simply would not shut up. Last week a new GCSE syllabus, titled Twenty First Century Science, came into use in a third of schools and was greeted with a similar rant from self-serving scientists. It moves away from test tubes and bunsen burners, towards an understanding of such topics as global
  15. He is right or he is wrong. Which? "The war on terror is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," said George Bush on Monday. "It is a struggle for civilisation ... The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle on the streets of Baghdad." It is as Manichean as that. Bush is wrong. My parents endured one life-or-death struggle, against Hitler's fascism, and I grew up during another, against Soviet communism. Both were real threats. When Bush was dodging war service in Vietnam and Tony Blair was a supporter of CND, I had no qualms about backing nuclear deterrence. Fo
  16. He is right or he is wrong. Which? "The war on terror is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," said George Bush on Monday. "It is a struggle for civilisation ... The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle on the streets of Baghdad." It is as Manichean as that. Bush is wrong. My parents endured one life-or-death struggle, against Hitler's fascism, and I grew up during another, against Soviet communism. Both were real threats. When Bush was dodging war service in Vietnam and Tony Blair was a supporter of CND, I had no qualms about backing nuclear deterrence. Fo
  17. At last the Conservative party has admitted that its railway privatisation was a mistake. The sinner has repented, albeit 15 years too late. The cost in underperformance, delay, waste and subsidy has been incalculable and unaccountable. In Britain, when you commit a fraud costing thousands you go to prison. When you bring a great industry to its knees, costing billions through incompetence, you get a job in a City bank. That is where those responsible for rail privatisation were ensconced: Lord Lamont (Rothschild), Lord Macgregor (Hill Samuel) and the scheme's architect, the Treasury's Sir Ste
  18. I confess to a near-faith experience in the foyer of my local Odeon this week. As the crowd streamed from The Da Vinci Code, the muttered comments did not query the plot, the acting or the narrative. They asked about the facts. Which bits were really true? The foreword of Dan Brown's book, on which the film is based, hits the reader straight between the eyes. It states, "Fact: the Priory of Sion - a European secret society founded in 1099 - is a real organisation." Its members allegedly included Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo and our old friend Leonardo da Vinci. Members of the society
  19. Don't give them an inch. Not one inch. They are a bunch of knaves. They have taken your power, abused it, and now they are after your money. Don't let them. I refer of course to Britain's political parties. They have been caught with their fingers in the till. They have broken the law on the sale of peerages and refuse to admit it or take the consequences. Government ministers have spent two weeks telling lies. The Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 could not be clearer. The penalty for accepting "any gift" for even "assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a title" is two years
  20. What can he say when the Conservative party has been seized by Blairite airheads and Labour battles to re-enact a Tory education bill? David Cameron returned from paternity leave this week like a Beatle from an ashram. He brought a mission statement spun as casting caution to the winds. He daringly espouses truth, beauty, compassion, motherhood and fatherhood. When it comes to rough stuff, Cameron clearly means to take no hostages. Tony Blair's case is more puzzling. The education bill published by Ruth Kelly yesterday is a straight copy of Kenneth Baker's 1988 Education Act as amended by Joh
  21. What can he say when the Conservative party has been seized by Blairite airheads and Labour battles to re-enact a Tory education bill? David Cameron returned from paternity leave this week like a Beatle from an ashram. He brought a mission statement spun as casting caution to the winds. He daringly espouses truth, beauty, compassion, motherhood and fatherhood. When it comes to rough stuff, Cameron clearly means to take no hostages. Tony Blair's case is more puzzling. The education bill published by Ruth Kelly yesterday is a straight copy of Kenneth Baker's 1988 Education Act as amended by Joh
  22. Death to all modifiers, cried Yossarian in Catch-22. Quite right too. Modifiers are a politician's let-out. They bridge the gap between the promise and the lie. When Labour came to power David Blunkett said, "Read my lips, no more selection". Tony Blair repeated the pledge: "No return to academic selection." Ruth Kelly chimed in: "It will be illegal to select by academic ability." The Tories' David Cameron agreed: "No going back to 11-plus selection." A normal person might take that as final. But we are dealing with politicians. The devil is in the modifiers. The spin on Blunkett's pledge t
  23. If the Tories blow their fifth leader inside a decade, they deserve no mercy. David Cameron is the best bet since Margaret Thatcher walked into a Commons committee room 30 years ago and moved Geoffrey Howe to tears. She was then an unknown quantity. So is David Cameron. She had to find a new language in which to address the public. So does he. She faced a Labour party that had lost its way under a tired prime minister. So does he. Cameron may have had a silver spoon in his mouth, but he has a golden chance in his hands. The new Tory leader measured his sprint to the finish superbly. Two month
  24. Question. How can one institution, the BBC, make something as good as Bleak House and as bad as Rome? How can the panjandrums who order these things preview their best-ever Dickens and their worst-ever toga saga and cry "Darlings ... wonderful!" at both? The place must be out of control. Rome is a mystery. A rambling plot, weighed down by Troy-like dialogue and devoid of suspense, is interrupted - as if for commercial breaks - by inserts of copulation and throat-slitting. The director of the first parts, Michael Apted, has disowned the editing, said to have shortened what was merely bad to wh
  25. Question. How can one institution, the BBC, make something as good as Bleak House and as bad as Rome? How can the panjandrums who order these things preview their best-ever Dickens and their worst-ever toga saga and cry "Darlings ... wonderful!" at both? The place must be out of control. Rome is a mystery. A rambling plot, weighed down by Troy-like dialogue and devoid of suspense, is interrupted - as if for commercial breaks - by inserts of copulation and throat-slitting. The director of the first parts, Michael Apted, has disowned the editing, said to have shortened what was merely bad to wh
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