Tuesday, January 27, 2004

BBC NEWS - Leading fee rebel to back Blair

BBC NEWS | Politics | Leading fee rebel to back Blair

Damn. Didn't see that one coming - Nick Brown, their leader has changed sides at not quite the last minute. Apparently the offer of a "review" of the top-up fees' effects convinced him. It doesn't convince me - since when would any action that shuffles cash off the official tax numbers be reversed by any "review"? God knows what the whips dug up on him.

Speaking of whips, as we hurtle into the Crisis of '04 all the oldest and worst parliamentary traditions have switched right back on. Sick MPs being driven hundreds of miles by the whips' office to make the vote (whilst ensuring they vote the right way..), rumours of the weather taking a hand (talk of Northern Irish MPs being grounded by snowstorms in Belfast. Why didn't they go earlier? The snow has only been forecast for a week.) - it's all there, and I'm sure that the participants will carry it away with them in their personal mythology. We will read newspaper articles in the future in which old hacks and politicos will pontificate about things not being as bad as back then in '04, just as we hear about the repeated vote crises of the Callaghan government now. Oh yes, back then the Labour whips used to fetch MPs in ambulances to the Commons and once they wiggled a drip to show the Tories that he was still alive (or was it an oxygen pipe? or was it in fact Julian Critchley years later? the story moves under pressure). Yah yah yah.

I wonder whether all this is not just the sport of politics, though, more tiresome posturing and party machine bullying. For that reason the government deserves to lose - in the last weeks it has shown all the dirtiest, smallest, weakest traits of John Major's at its worst. Just as the Tories did with the Scott Report in 1996, they have done their best to gerrymander the publication of the Hutton Report by giving themselves a day's start, and by allowing the opposition a minimum of time to read it under pathetic conditions (locked in the Cabinet Office). At least they have been slightly less blatant - back then the Conservatives quietly permitted themselves a week's uninterrupted study of the papers before grudgingly permitting Robin Cook four hours to examine the 800-odd pages prior to debate. But the principle holds - if they are going to lock the Liberals and Tories in to prevent leaks, why not start at the same time as No. 10 gets the report? At the absolute least, what I hoped for from Labour was an end to this kind of bare-faced fraud.

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