Yet more Labour crises
Hurrah for John McDonnell, who seems to be about to set himself up as a stalking horse candidate for the inevitable post-Blair leadership election. Precisely what he's intending will remain unclear until the official announcement tomorrow, and it sadly looks like there's a good chance he's not actually trying to provoke an election at the next party conference, merely to ensure that Gordon Brown's succession isn't uncontested.
Still, a quick glance at his voting record shows he could be quite an appealing figure for the few old Labour types who haven't deserted the party in the last few years: he's one of the most rebellious Labour MPs going, firmly against Iraq, tuition fees, foundation hospitals, the curtailment of civil liberties, ID cards, etc. etc. etc. - in the absence of any more feasible traditionally Labour candidates to take on the Chancellor, could he be worth a flutter?
(Oh, and though his surname might sound Scottish, he's a London MP, so the Tories couldn't attack him for being a tartan-clad, ginger-haired, woad-covered, haggis-eating, caber-tossing Pictish savage, as they seem intent on doing with Brown...)
Meanwhile, yet another part of the government's ill-conceived anti-terrorism laws could receive a hearty blow as the Independent Police Complaints Commission apparently recommends that the officers involved in the repeated shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes a year ago should be charged with manslaughter.
(Minister appearing on the TV to complain about how this will undermine the government's ability to prevent further atrocities, and how the blood will be on the prosecutors' hands in 5... 4... 3...)
Boring hidden news
As chaos continues all around, spare a thought for less glamourous scandals than ID cards, police mergers and the arrest of the government's Middle East Envoy (at a time when a fresh war is breaking out between Israel and Lebanon).
Pensions are boring, no one understands the things and we all ignore them. They are, however, rather important. This, therefore, is somewhat interesting - especially following the recent proposals to raise the age of retirement:
"Trusting in the Pensions Promise (March 2006), related to the official information produced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about the security of occupational pension schemes. The Ombudsman found that the information was inaccurate, incomplete, unclear and inconsistent and that having relied on this information, some people in schemes that had wound up with insufficient assets to meet their obligations were experiencing hardship and distress. In a move without precedent the DWP has not accepted the Ombudsman's findings or recommendations, and its response continues to be negative."
So, while Lord Levy was prancing round tennis courts begging for cash, while Prescott was off playing cowboy with gambling magnates, and while billions of pounds were being set aside for a pointless ID scheme, bad government advice has screwed a bunch of pensioners - at precisely the time our dear overlords started making noises about how we all need to save more for our old age as we can no longer rely on the state. And, of course, the official response is - as usual - denial. Charming.
Is the Labour project in total freefall? As it emerges that Lord Levy, the party's chief fundraiser and chap in the ermine robe at the heart of the loans scandal, has been arrested, could we also have a new Hutton on our hands as the body of a former colleague of one of the "Natwest Three", due to be extradited to the US thanks to a bad treaty constantly again defended by Blair, is discovered? And all this on the back of months of consistent reports of failures and dodgy dealings, from Tessa Jowell's hubby (soon to appear before an Italian judge) to Prescott's penis. What else can go wrong for them?
Ukraine update - it's chaos
For those who haven't been keeping up, Ukraine's Orange Revolution of November 2004 - optimistically and wildly inaccurately lauded at the time as a triumph of democracy over the forces of post-Soviet repression - has had rather a rocky time of it over the last year and a half. It was all so easy to see the scenes in Kiev all those months ago as a repeat of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But, as with so many popular uprisings throughout the former Soviet bloc in the last few years, once the images of jubilant protestors had left our screens, so the little progress that appeared to have been made seemed to evaporate.
Now it appears finally to have stuttered and died as the Revolution's main opponent, Viktor Yanukovych (often described as "pro-Russian", but that's hardly accurate either), looks set to be made Prime Minister, the old Orange coalition of Viktor Yuschenko (grey-haired and haggard through poison) and Yulia Tymoshenko (glamorous and sexy, in a Swiss milkmaid kind of a way) has once again failed to overcome the massive egos and financial interests that always seem to have lain behind the political machinations of the country.
The events in Ukraine were never - really - about democracy, though many of the people donning their Orange gear may sincerely have believed and hoped that it was. They were all about the ongoing power struggles of a small political elite. Once the west's eyes were once again averted, the internal squabbles once again rose to dominate in a country that, though it may be split right down the middle on political lines, is unlikely to see any real stability for a long time yet. Fifty years after Hungary made the first moves to shake off the Soviet system, its after-effects still dominate. Ukraine showed signs of hope, and there is still hope there - but it could all too easily go the route of Belarus and slide slowly towards dictatorship.
As ever, Neeka has the background/summary, and Foreign Notes all you need to get up to speed.
It's well worth paying attention to, this one. After the spats over gas pipelines and elections, Ukraine could end up being the testing ground for the future evolution of the relationship between Russian and the EU. And as the EU gradually absorbs more and more former Soviet states into its sphere of influence, some kind of confrontation is long overdue - and instability on the eastern frontiers of Europe could spell disaster for those of us safely tucked away on the Atlantic fringe.
As the all-powerful ID card scheme faces possible delays, would you look at that? "News" emerges that "Organised fraudsters tried to steal more than half a billion pounds from the government's tax credit system in 2005/06". So as doubts about the desirability of a government scheme touted to tackle fraud begin to become widespread and public, the government releases alarmist figures to support the need for a government scheme to tackle fraud? Well blow me - you could knock me down with a particularly fragile feather...
Home Office policymaking 101
1) Find out problem via leak to national newspaper
2) Issue denial
3) Have former Home Secretary who everyone hates slag the decision off
4) Face media storm
5) Wait a few months, then capitualte once everyone's started looking the other way.
(Cf. tuition fees, top-up fees, on the spot fines, prison overcrowding, Blunkett leaving office, Clarke leaving office, ID cards, police force mergers, etc. etc. etc.)
Today's colour-coded "Labour idiocy threat level" stands at Puce (middling to high idiocy), a slight decline from last week's Prescott-inspired Vermillion and the weekend's ID-card and Super Happy Fun Public Terror Threat Indicator prompted Burundy alerts.