Saturday, 8 September 2007

Truth at last?

The Madeleine McCann saga has dragged on for so long now, it
almost seems as though it can't last much longer. But as
every day of it drags out - we're almost 4 months in now,
don't forget - you surely can't help but think we're getting
closer to the truth. And, much as it stinks to say 'I told
you so', the truth is closer to what's previously been
written on this blog than many have ever liked to believe.

The McCanns (who, in a twisty-turny sort of way, have
insisted on staying in Portugal until Maddie is found, then
changed their mind and decided to return to the UK, then
have insisted they are not interested in revenge on
'smear-campaign' Portuguese newspapers, before choosing to
threaten legal action if said newspapers utter a word that
could be construed as questioning the McCann's version of
'what happened') are now suspects in the case of their own
daughter's disappearance.

Of course, the UK media would never dare to question Kate
and Gerry McCanns' undying innocence, would they? The Sun
today brands as 'sick' the police decision to name Kate as a
suspect - because, of course, a parent can never possibly
have any role in child abuse. Because, of course, we live in
a world where every parent is perfect at being just that - a
parent. Have we really become so infatuated with
middle-class yummy-mummy Kate, and husband Gerry, that we
are unable to accept the police's suspicion of them as
perputators, if there is evidence to support that? If we
were talking about anyone else as the suspect here, the
media response would be entirely different. But we have
become so overrun with sympathy for the McCanns, not for any
real reason other than that we think that's how we should
act, that we become unable to question anything they do.

Of course, we can seek solace in the fact that this is the
Sun's reporting that we're talking about here. The other
lead story on their web site, at the time of writing, reads
'Abbey Serves Up Treat In Saucy Undies: Picture Special'.
So, yes, they really do care about Madeleine - not an ounce
of sensationalism going on, you understand.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Code Madeleine

Madeleine McCann has frequently been the subject of posts on
this blog and, as we pass the milestone of 100 days since
she disappeared, it's only right that the issue should be
revisited. I've not always been the most sympathetic to the
McCann's cause and, while I continue to understand their
pain, that's not something that's about to change anytime
soon.

The News of the World's Code Madeleine - what to do if your
child is abducted - is, for a start, an enormous cause of
annoyance and disbelief for me. Again, it's something that's
been oft discussed before, but it surely needs revisiting if
things like this continue to appear in the press. You can
never prevent every abduction, I grant you. You can't watch
your children every second of the day; there's always the
chance that, just when you turn your back in their bedroom,
a twisted, evil psychopath will hatch up the window and
snatch them before you've noticed the slightest thing's
wrong. But there's a clear distinction to be made between
that and blatant neglect. This isn't something I'm going to
step down on, either - leaving your children unaccompanied
in a holiday apartment while you go out for a good time over
tapas with friends is, unequivocally, neglect. So you don't
need Code Madeleine, you don't need six steps to take in the
event that your child is abducted; at least not if this is
formed on the basis that you're not around at the time
anyway. Parents take on responsibilities at conception -
those responsibilities don't shrivel away because your child
is asleep, or doesn't need to be winded after a feed. If you
want to avoid an abduction (and again I stress avoid,
because you'll never eradicate every single one), there's a
simple answer - provide appropriate supervision, and don't
shirk your responsibilities as their only hope of being
safe.

Just a short note, too, on the presence of presumably
British tourists outside the church where the McCanns and
others said prayers for Madeleine on the 100th day of her
disappearance. I've heard condemnation of this by a certain
radio presenter and several call-in listeners and, to be
honest, I agree. Applauding and photographing Gerry and Kate
McCann as they leave church probably isn't the best way of
being sympathetic to their cause, if that's what you're
going to do. Though usually I'd seek to criticise
shaven-headed, tattoo-laden, beer-bellied chav-tastic
British tourists at every opportunity, here the issue lies
with the media - and the McCanns. It's entirely
understandable that they should want Madeleine's face on
every newspaper, TV station and web site in Europe as often
as possible (though why their faces need to accompany it is
beyond me), but the rough comes with the smooth. Public
interest isn't something you can switch on and off at whim -
if you're to manipulate (quite justly) the media in such a
way as the McCanns have, then you need to accept that
individuals and the press will want to keep themselves in on
developments all the time.

Camp for Climate Change

I've always trusted the BBC as a source of impartiality or,
if not impartial, then somewhat biased in favour of views
that I, as a left-wing liberal softie, might sympathise
with. But any impartiality is something I doubt more and
more, and a shocking report about the Camp for Climate
Change near Heathrow (shown on last night's ten o'clock
edition of BBC London News) serves to highlight that more
than anything. If the BBC isn't becoming a spout for
government propaganda then I'll be blown. Here's my
complaint to the BBC Trust, submitted this morning, which
goes into a little more detail:

"I was disgusted by Guy Smith's report, shown on the BBC
London News broadcast shortly after 10pm on 13th August, on
protests at the camp for climate change near Heathrow.

The report was anything but impartial, in fact the
antithesis of what should be rightly expected from the BBC's
correspondents. Mr Smith clearly had a chip on his shoulder
from the start of his report, in which he took a clear
stance against the protestors and became increasingly
aggressive as the report went on. He barged into the camp,
citing his right to be on what he termed private land,
whilst using the same argument (private land) to describe
the protestors' lack of right to be there. He also appeared
incredibly sexist, turning to speak to a male protestor over
two female protestors, as though he would be able to engage
more easily and get more sense from the man.

There was no balance to the report - whilst I accept that
the protestors were difficult to speak to, it was certainly
not beyond Mr Smith's reach to himself describe the
arguments, intentions and viewpoints of the protestors, to
balance the weight given to the arguments of BAA and to
balance, in addition, the arguments of local residents (who,
while opposed to the expansion of Heathrow airport, are so
opposed on different grounds to those of the camp
protestors). Local residents' views were given an
extraordinary presence within the report; considerably
greater than those of camp protestors. Further, if Mr Smith
had followed the guidelines set out by the protestors (shown
in notices at the border of the camp) he would have made
attempts to speak to the designated media team, and may have
had more luck this way, instead of simply barging through
and diminishing his integrity as a journalist in the
atrocious way that he did.

I was also enraged by Mr Smith's use of the term 'private
property' to describe a BBC camera when one of the
protestors put something over the camera, to obscure
filming, and was then accused of touching it. The BBC is a
public body, funded by licence fee-paying members of the
public. As such, Mr Smith has no right to claim that the
camera is public property - it is the property of every
licence fee-payer in the land. This includes, in all
likelihood, the protestor who allegedly touched the camera
during filming of the report.

This protest concerns far more than climate change - this is
a test of the right to protest in our ever-weakened
democracy. And the results are striking. The use of
stop-and-search powers entrusted in the police for the
prevention of acts of terror, is simply not acceptable in
these circumstances where there is no realistic threat of
such an act being committed. Every effort has been made by
the authorities to prevent this protest, and the seeming
compliance of media outlets, including the BBC, to broadcast
what appears to be an officially-sanctioned view of events,
wreaks of censorship and must be condemned at every level."

Breaking the Silence

Holidays are wonderful things, and in case you hadn't
noticed I've been on a somewhat extended one, but it's time
to start putting the world to rights again. So here goes.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Spice Fever

So, the Spice Girls are to reform for a 25-date international tour that will hit London on December 15th. While certain journalists turn conspiracy theorists to shakily conclude that the announcement was designed by the so-called 'Tory scum' Spice Girls to upstage Gordon Brown on his first day as PM, the girls themselves have insisted that they're only regrouping for the experience and 'for the fans'. Nothing to do with the £10 million they'll each pocket from it, then!

A Close Shave

Today's close shave with a car bomb in central London serves to remind us just how we continue to be under threat from terrorism. Blame Iraq if you will, but the police deserve a pat on the back for their swift work in reducing the impact of today's discovery. If the reports are true about the police officer who ran away with the mobile phone detonator to stop it working, he deserves a medal.

62p? Not from my money!

62p - that's the amount, according to the official reports at least, that the Royal Family costs each UK taxpayer in a year. Oh good, that might make you think. They're not as pricey as I thought...I don't mind keeping them around if they're that cheap to put up.

You wouldn't be alone if that's what you did think. A quick look at the message boards attached to the BBC's news story on the Royals shows many people seemingly convinced that the Queen et al are suddenly good value for money. Together they cost the UK public £37.3m last year, according to the Queen's public accounts.

If you look more closely, you'll find that the cost is closer to £150m. Graham Smith, the campaign manager for Republic, an organisation which I support and which shouts a lot for an elected head of state, has pointed out that the Royal Family's costings take no account of the tax breaks they enjoy or the cost of providing their security. Putting it rather nicely, he suggested that "this blatant spin would put Alastair Campbell to shame." Not that criticism of ten years of Tony Blair's Labour government is something I'd endorse, you understand.

But the problem with the Royal Family goes beyond their cost - it just happens to be the quickest and easiest way of showing our growing distaste for them. A monarchy - constitutional or otherwise, let's be clear - shows the UK as being stuck in the past, still obsessed with the idea that some of us are born above everyone else at birth, entitled to privileges and benefits while others suffer in poverty.

Republic's arguments for an elected head of state are certainly convincing, and are head and shoulders above the counter arguments that come back in favour of maintaining the status quo. An elected president would just as well maintain the standing 'above party politics' that the Queen is so often credited with doing. And to compare the prospect of a president with George Bush's standing just isn't fair - no-one knows we'll get someone like him, and I'm not sure the current situation over here is any better anyway.

The trouble at the moment is that, while she's not the favourite person of most Republic supporters, the Queen is in the country as a whole fairly popular. Queenie and her abstinence from meddling in politics, not the overall idea of the monarchy, is what keeps her and her parasitical relatives in the public light and living at the public expense. Charles, I suspect, won't be so safe. With him will come our time.

UPDATE: Peter Tatchell's barking up the right tree in his fantastic comment for the Guardian here.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

TWAGs?

I can't be the only one who's already had enough of hearing about Wimbledon? Maybe some strawberries and cream will make it better but, before that, get a load of this - there's a new word on the street. TWAGs are the Coleen McLoughlin of the tennis world, the likes of Lucy Henman. Apparently, unlike the chavtastic fashionistas of football pitches and shopping centres, this lot are more likely to be seen in 'a crisp white shirt, v-neck sweater and a pair of jeans, with a nice pair of sunglasses'. So you've got your orders, that's what you need to be wearing to SW19 this summer. How middle class, darling.

Bugger off - unless you're playing Whitney

Why did they have to do it? What on earth went through the minds of mobile phone manufactutrers when they decided to put loudspeakers into them? Now every bus on London's streets seems to be plagued by annoying little brats spurting out whatever sort of annoying rap they're into - as loud as possible. Like anyone else wants to listen to it!!

So I'd normally call for the annoying gits to be strangled and thrown head first off the buses, but one of them for the first time yesterday was playing something decent; a bit of Whitney Houston. It made for a better bus journey, I'd say, so I think we need to amend the rules: you can play music out loud, so long as it sounds good. Sounds good to me.

London's a Dictatorship, is it?

The recent row over London Mayor Ken Livingstone's blocking of appointments to the London fire authority was just plain ridiculous. Not because of what Ken did, you understand - I didn't agree entirely with his positive discrimination (he claimed that the councillors put forward by the Tories and Lib Dems weren't representative of London's ethnic diversity), but the real problem came with the Tory responses.

First, Nick Ferrari on LBC radio decided that Ken's move was equivalent to claiming that Ken should himself be representative of all of London. Obviously a sarcastic comment but, while I don't think positive discrimination is the way to go, to claim that a single elected politician should himself be representative is out and out ludicrous. The Tory argument goes that the councillors and London Assembly members who were put forward for the seats on the authority have, too, been elected - but it's different. There are a good number of them and they should, if possible, be representative of London as a whole. They were elected to their local councils, and then indirectly chosen to sit on the fire authority. Ken, on the other hand, was directly elected by Londonders - on more than one occasion - to be Mayor. By rights, he therefore has no need to be representative, so long as he serves all the electorate.

Then, another woman's Ann Widdicombe-esque voice on the radio scared me enough, before she went on to claim that London is fast becoming a 'dictatorship'. Quite how do you justify that, when he's won the only ever two terms of the Mayorship, and still shows popularity? Answers on a postcard to your nearest Tory tosser, please.

Positive discrimination doesn't work it's true. Simply because it doesn't make a blind bit of difference whether these people are white, black, brown, blue or yellow, provided they can do the job and have got it fairly. But now Ken's also brought the fairness of the Tory and Lib Dem selection process into question. He's approved the appointments for now - because he has to by law - but is said to be considering legal action on the grounds that the selection process might not have been as transparent as one would hope. We'll have to wait and see.

PS: By coincedence, there seems to be a plot to oust Ken, with Tories trying to put a two-term cap on any single Mayor's time in office, US-President style. Why? If he's still got the support of the people which, despite hysterical Evening Standard ranting about congestion charging, I think you'll find he has, who are posh toffs in Parliament to kick him out? The fact is they're just trying to cover their own backs, having failed miserable twice on the trot to pick a candidate for London Mayor who's got any chance at all of winning.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Truth at Last

The Mail's Richard Littlejohn has finally owned up to his Nazi roots - you'll see what I mean here. Trouble is, he's closer to the truth about himself than he wants to believe.

UPDATE (in response to comments): For a start, let's be clear - Richard Littlejohn writes in the Daily Mail and has extreme right-wing views. He is all but a Nazi sympathiser, I have no qualms in declaring that that's my belief. If you've seen him on telly before you'll also know that he's a complete arsehole who refuses to listen to anyone's views and who, based on one interview I saw, clearly believes women should stay at home and do the washing rather than being allowed to present serious political programming.

Having had that bit of lefty rantage, I find it quite strange that my first point against you involves me leaping to Littlejohn's defence. Even he hasn't said in that article that 'people in Britain should be able to speak English'. Not that I doubt he'd say that. But the bigger point is that people in Britain *can* speak English. You and I speak English every day - the arrival of new and exciting languages doesn't place English under any threat; maybe it allows it to diversify by taking on new words from cultures we've never before experienced, but that should be something to proud of surely, rather than being petrified of and cowering away from?

You've also clearly misunderstood his basically racist point about workers. Nowhere does he mention legal and illegal workers - no one doubts that legal workers (of any nationality or colour) should be given preference over illegal workers, but his point is that someone should earn brownie points in a job selection process purely on the basis that they are white British. This isn't just his point of course - he overplays this, but it is a suggestion that's been made by Labour MPs and indeed ministers, and that fact in itself concerns me. I'm certainly not about to start agreeing with them just because they're Labour party members.

Pretty much the same point stands as regards the social housing issue. Council houses are at present - and very much should - be issued on the basis of need, entirely independent of any factor like race, colour, nationality, or indeed gender, religion or sexual orientation. Why having lived in an area all their life gives someone more right to a council house than a newly-arrived immigrant is beyond me. Does it mean that the wealthiest white British bloke in a borough takes precedence over a Pakistani man who's been in the country for a week? Absolute lunacy - if that too has been spouted by Labour MPs (and I think Margaret Hodge is the one responsible, rather ironically given her outcry that the BNP are gaining ground in her constituency) then I condemn them fully, and certainly I don't want anyone with those views in our new leadership team. But to deny that Littlejohn is a bigot is just foolish.

A Sickening Stunt?

Just another short post about the German journalist who dared to ask the McCanns a question which I'm sure has passed most of our lips at least once. I know I've frequently questioned the authenticity of the whole scenario, and in particular the fact that just one of their three children was snatched while the other two were left to lie sleeping, completely unaware of what had happened.

I'll be the first to put my hands up and say that I don't know the exact ins and outs of this specific story - partly because I have an 24 hour news appetite for new stories, not the same recycled articles that newspapers have been churning out for 6 weeks in a (perfectly well-intentioned) attempt to keep the issue current. But my gut instinct is to challenge why it's so sickening that the journalist should ask if the McCanns had anything to do with their daughter's disappearance. Another example of the mass media's willingness to pander to emotion.

Incidentally, there is (again in the G2) an interesting take on the suitability of the Madeleine appeal for being featured on Crimewatch - you'll find it here. The BBC's Editors blog, too, has an interesting take on the issue and finally at least acknowledges that the tide of public opinion is turning against Gerry and Kate McCann.

The Fight To Be Brown's No 2

An interesting (if now a few days old) article in the Guardian's G2 supplement on all six of the Labour deputy leadership contenders is here. It tries to get a little past their obvious politics and into their heads and backgrounds. Alan Johnson's got my first vote, and Hazel Blears is tickling my fancy too.

NHS Wonders

Sometimes it takes something awful to happen before you truly realise just how fantastically lucky and privileged you are. Take my example: four weeks ago this coming Friday, a close relative was taken very ill and rushed by ambulance to Intensive Care. It emerged after emergency surgery that the stomach ache she'd been complaining of for weeks had been a tumour in her bowel. Its sheer size ultimately had caused her bowel to perforate and encouraged the contents to swim around her body like mad, resulting in a severe case of sepsis.

Her quick recovery can be described as far as I'm concerned as nothing short of miraculous, and yesterday the improvement in her condition was underlined by a move from the Intensive Care Unit through to the High Dependency Unit, but that's not the point. The point is that the whole time she's been in hospital, she's been under 24 hour watch by a nurse dedicated just to her. Yes, one to one care. And these are nurses who are amazingly on-the-ball and brimming with such intricate knowledge that I mistook the nurse on the first day to be a doctor. In short she's been on the receiving end of care which must have cost thousands and thousands of pounds to deliver, but which has undoubtedly saved her life.

What I am witnessing may indeed be the very top end of medical care, in that this was about as serious a case as it could have got. And a five-bed ICU is indeed only a very minute part of a rather large NHS trust. But to slag off an NHS that provides this amazing level of care for its patients is unbelievably slanderous.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Dilemma Over

Seems I now don't need to worry about who to vote for in the
Labour leadership election after all. John McDonnell has
tonight conceded defeat in the nominations process - he was
16 nominations short of the required 44, while Gordon Brown
has eceived the backing of 308 Labour MPs, a figure which
makes it impossible for anyone to stand against him and
means he will now become Labour leader and enter Number 10
unopposed. That was a bit of an anti-climax, wasn't it?

Monday, 14 May 2007

Contest for Labour

The latest on the Labour leadership contest is in - there will be a contest. John McDonnell claims he now has the necessary 44 Labour MPs supporting his nomnation, Michael Meacher having 'graciously' stepped aside to allow McDonnell to go ahead. I've not yet reached a firm decision as to who'll get my vote, but I happen to agree that it's in the spirit of a democratic socialist party to have an election rather than a coronation (that's the Tory's territory). May the best man win!

PS: I wonder if, should the unlikely happen and McDonnell is elected, he and Meacher will have a Blair-Brown style relationship, and whether we might see history repeat itself in 10 years' time? What momentous political times we live in =)

Taking the rough with the smooth

Last week I commented on what I saw as neglect on the part of Madeleine McCann's parents. It's not something that's gone down well, but it's reassuring to know I'm not the only cold-hearted monster who's dared to speak out on the issue.

While the mainstream media stay quiet and focus instead on the ongoing investigation into Madeleine's disappearance, the BBC's editors blog carries a few comments from disgruntled readers who, like me, can't understand the reluctance in the press to report what is on most people's minds. It's all very well arguing that to do would be an intrusion into the lives of the McCann family, or that it would be detrimental to the progress of the police's work, but that hasn't stopped the media - BBC included - from creating a media circus around the situation.

The same BBC blog reports that they've resisted the temptation to which other news organisations have succumbed, in broadcasting 'news' which turns out to be nothing more than rumours. To do that is without a doubt irresponsible journalism and wholly unhelpful in finding Madeleine. But both here and in Portugal there exists a free press. The McCanns rightly appreciate that they need media publicity as the search for Madeleine goes on, but they have to accept too that they're going to come in for some flak, and will need to learn to take the rough with the smooth.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Blair and Brown to 'share' power

As if the past ten years haven't seemed like enough of a
co-premiership, Labour's choice of dates for the leadership
timetable (released this evening) reveal that for a three
day period between 24 and 27 June, Tony Blair will still be
Prime Minister, but Gordon Brown (or one of his rivals, if
the unlikely happens) will be Labour leader. Should make for
interesting stuff...

Brown v Cameron: Round 1

Okay, I admit it. Unable to sleep, I caught the start of Sunday AM on BBC1 this morning. This is an unusual occurrence for me - political TV programmes aren't usually my thing, though a bit of Jeremy Paxman's grilling around election time is never a bad thing - but it gave me the chance to see Gordon Brown in action.
So what is there to report? Not a lot really, except that he sounded dangerously Thatcher-like as he talked about what was effectively stakeholder democracy - that view that says possession of property guarantees a desire to work for society's good.
He certainly didn't impress on me anything that might have me change my view; that he's as worthy as any politician and likely to continue the Blair legacy, but still lacks the charisma that his soon-to-be-predecessor has by the bucketload. But that doesn't seem to have affected public opinion much so far - Brown's imminent takeover has pushed Labour's up hold on the polls by 3%, meaning the party is now only trailing Cameron's Tories by four points. Will Brown prove popular enough to regain the lead? We can only wait and see.

Eurovision Shame

So, the UK's Eurovision entry has come joint second-last, narrowly only avoiding a re-run of Gemini's 'nil points'. I didn't see any of the contest bar a strange woman carrying a suitcase as part of her performance, but I'm told that by about half ten we still hadn't earned a single vote. In any case, we only managed two votes, from Malta and Ireland.

I do have the slightest claim to fame, though - I once interviewed Scooch, as founding editor of my primary school magazine. Oh, the horror of it.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Maddy's parents aren't without blame

The situation in the Algarve with missing three year old Madeleine McCann remains horrific. It's now been eight days since she disappeared, and no-one can truly begin to understand the pain her parents must be going through. But to leave them completely blameless for her disappearance would be incredibly naïve.
Who, after all, leaves a child of that age alone in a hotel room, sleeping or otherwise? Perhaps it might be easier to accept if we were talking about relatively uneducated people here, but we're not. Mr and Mrs McCann, both medical professionals, are presumably well-educated. They should have the common sense to appreciate that as parents they have a responsibility to care for their children, and that that means either paying a babysitter (they were available at the hotel and, let's face it, the McCann's aren't short of a few bob) or foregoing their meal if that's the only other option.
Of course I have sympathy for the family - no decent person wouldn't. And maybe what I'm about to say is slightly harsh. But I'm firmly of the view that if this had happened in the UK, the parents would be guilty of neglect and ought to be prosecuted accordingly.
Perhaps we're wrong to talk about this while the search for Madeleine is ongoing. Perhaps the media's attention should focus on helping the police investigation rather than making criticisms. Perhaps that's the case. But this needs to be said.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

The end of an era..and the start of another

Today seems, with Tony Blair having announced his 27 June departure from Downing Street, an apt day to begin my new blog. His announcement is of course one which has been long coming, but it's still enough to sadden Blairites like myself. Everyone knows he doesn't want to go yet, and the biggest mistake he made was to announce his intention not to seek a fourth term of office - that's where all the problems of the past couple of years stem from.

Still, we have reason to celebrate and to be proud. I remember very little about the day of the first of three successive Labour election victories - for me, renditions of 'Things Can Only Get Better' are just a combination of tiny snippets of my memory as a nine year old and ideas I guess I've put together since, based on what I've watched and read of late. But the past ten years have without doubt been a huge success for this Labour government and, by default, the Labour movement as a whole. We now have Bank of England independence, to avoid a repeat of Black Wednesday's sky-rocketing interest rates suited to the political climate. We at last have peace in Northern Ireland, for which few people can take credit but Tony Blair himself. We have a national minimum wage, ensuring that everyone is paid a decent salary (16 and 17 year olds might only have a guaranteed £3.30 hourly wage now, but let's not forget that before 1997 that itself didn't exist).

We have greater equality in all walks of life; between the genders and irrespective of race, origin, sexuality...the list goes on. And however much people cry about ever-easier exams and excessive levels of testing, we undeniably have a better school system than we've seen before. Of course there is still loads more to do - Tony Blair admitted himself today that expectations were set too high in Labour's first election campaign under his watch - but nobody ever said that ten years of Labour would resolve the wreckage inflicted by 18 years of ineffective Tory rule and economic mismanagement.

Tony Blair has, of course, made mistakes; that much there's little doubt about. The Iraq war has undoubtedly been the biggest and clearly the most controversial of those errors of judgement, and it's been one of the few major issues over which I've had reason to disagree with the government during the past decade. The fact that Tony Blair had experienced such a long honeymoon period until the eve of and follow-up to Iraq makes the whole escapade, for me as a Blair supporter, even worse. It's impossible to know how his premiership might have panned out differently if it hadn't been for the whole WMD shenanigans, but different it almost certainly would have been.

The difficulty now seems to lie in knowing where the Labour Party goes next. Gordon Brown of course looks set to be our next leader and Prime Minister, and whether that happens by coronation or an election battle against a more extreme left winger seems a pretty moot point. I've no doubt that Gordon Brown makes a sound cabinet-level politician policy wise, and I have next to no qualms with his work so far at the Treasury, but few doubt that he lacks the charisma that Tony Blair himself personifies. As a party we face an ever greater challenge from the Tories and, when David Cameron has himself caught on quite well to the battle for public appeal, it's something that definitely needs due care and attention.

What's important to remember is that David Cameron's Tories are just that - they are Tories. They are not compassionate, liberal, modern or social conservatives; as Just-call-me-Dave said himself, he is 'conservative to the core of my being'. This is not just Labour spin; this is the truth. Cameron may have made an attempt to re-style the Tory party as a friendly, approachable bunch who care about Britain's welfare more than they do about filling their own pockets. Arguably he may even have done a pretty good job. But those looking just that little bit further can see that the raw, angry Thatcherism beneath has not disappeared. Cameron is still a man of no policy, and that's precisely where the problem lies for him at the moment; he's trying to be Monsieur Tout-le-Monde and that just won't hold once he starts detailing policy. In fact it makes you wonder if Tony Blair's comments today (about how easy it is to please everyone while you're in opposition, compared with having to make actual decisions one way or another once you're in office) weren't directed as a jibe at David Cameron.

The next seven weeks will certainly be interesting - as well as being our final chance to devour some true Blairism (and John Prescott's going, too, in a double blow!), it's his final chance to secure his legacy. And if we're being truthful with ourselves, he's got plenty to boast about.