Friday, 28 November 2014

Flip-Flopping Labour

The Times quotes an anonymous member of Labour's shadow cabinet who seems to be very upset at the latest developments in devolving more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

I don't blame the chap, I has to say, because it only a few months ago that Labour MPs at Westminster forced Johann Lamont (then Labour's Scottish leader) to drop her support for the full devolution of income tax.

And it's only days since Gordon Brown (once King of all he surveyed in Scotland) was warning that full devolution of income tax was a 'trap' that would damage the union and Labour's interests both at Holyrood an Westminster.

But with its back against the wall Labour has done a complete about turn by standing its previous tax a devolution policies on their head which goes to show, if you ask me, that the intellectual 'glue' that once held Labour together is now coming apart at the seams.

The prospect of losing a swathe of Scottish seats at the forthcoming general election is what made the Labour leadership shift its position, so just imagine the result if a large number of these deadwood MPs really are swept away in May 2015. 

Miliband faces party’s fury on greater powers for Edinburgh

Jim Murphy backs the full devolution of income tax - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

By Sam Coates - The Times

Ed Miliband will welcome the cross-party report into further powers for Holyrood today, but he faces an uphill battle convincing English members of his party to agree.

With one senior Labour figure predicting “fury”, the Labour leader will have to explain why their party has committed to transferring billions of pounds in revenue-raising powers north of the border, while nothing is planned to help England.

“We knew this was coming, but where was the plan for us?” one English Labour MP asked.

The package could harm Labour in the north of England, reinforcing the electorally damaging perception that the party is taking its northern heartlands for granted.

While David Cameron has pledged to make English laws the preserve of English MPs after the election, a move that would have changed the course of only four votes in the past decade, Mr Miliband has deferred the entire question to a constitutional convention at some point in the future. This is unlikely to be easy to sell on the doorstep during the election campaign.

“MPs in England will wake up to the fact that the world has changed — and not for the better. They will be furious. They assumed that Gordon Brown’s intervention would be the end of it, today they will find out it goes much further,” one senior Labour figure said.

A member of the shadow cabinet told Channel 4: “If the Tories win next year, that’s it now, it’s [Scotland’s] gone . . . It is very frightening.” Another said: “We had no choice, we were boxed in . . . but yeah, it could be the end.”

Another Labour MP said: “We walked straight into the trap.”

A northern Labour MP expressed disbelief at the decision to devolve air passenger duty, which could damage growth in the north of England by making northern airports uncompetitive. “This is what happened in Ireland and the UK government had to bail out Belfast airport by letting them do the same, yet what happens for us?” MPs asked.

Labour is likely to engage in an aggressive spin battle today to try to suggest that the picture is not as bad as presented, and stress that the deal contains the “pooling and sharing” of resources championed by Gordon Brown because it keeps pensions reserved under Westminster.

They will also be championing the preservation of the Barnett formula, as they had insisted that any deal could not leave Scotland worse off. They will also emphasise that the Smith Commission on the future of Scotland has agreed that all MPs will continue to vote on budgets, rather than excluding the Scots.

Whatever the detail, the decision to hand Scotland control of income tax while Scottish MPs continue to help to determine what the rest of the UK should pay, will be seen by many Conservatives as unsustainable.

Graham Allen, the Labour MP who chairs the political and constitutional reform select committee, calls today for a major offer for devolution in England in a letter to The Times.

“If Smith can go away and report in eight weeks and come back with plans to devolve 100 per cent of income tax, then why on Earth can’t we have similar negotiations with similar bodies to do a comparable deal for the rest of England?” he asked.

A number of Scottish MPs appear to be reluctantly backing Labour’s position in the hope of clawing back votes from the SNP. Tom Harris, a former minister, wrote a blog urging his colleagues to rally round regardless.

“Whatever the views of nationalist activists, the majority of those who voted ‘yes’ are democrats who, however reluctantly, accept the will of the Scottish people,” he wrote. “It is now incumbent on those who supported the No campaign to acknowledge that position and, perhaps, to reciprocate by moving to a position [that] a majority of Scots can live with.”

Bail Conditions

I don't know what 'bail conditions' courts in the UK lay down these days, but whatever they are they ought to be toughened up considerably when it comes to dealing with suspected Jihadis who want to join up with the murderers in the so-called Islamic State.

How someone who is subject to a travel ban can be allowed to leave the country with his wife and four children is a mystery to me although I suppose the silver lining in this particular cloud is that it will focus attention even more sharply on the fellow Islamists this Jiohadi has left behind.

War against Isis: British radical Abu Rumaysah taunts police and heralds new 'generation' of terrorist as he parades 'newborn son' in Syria

The 31-year-old taunted police after he managed to skip bail to escape Britain

By LIZZIE DEARDEN - The Independent

A British jihadist who skipped bail to join Isis in Syria has taunted police by posing on Twitter with his newborn son hailing a new “generation” of Islamists.

Abu Rumaysah, who defied authorities to leave the UK earlier this year, posted the photograph with the hashtag #GenerationKhilafah, meaning those who live under the self-declared caliphate.

He wrote: "Alhamdulillah (all praise be to Allah) Allah (God) blessed me with a healthy baby boy in the Islamic State.

"He is another great addition to the Islamic State. And he's definitely not British."

Also known as Siddhartha Dhar, he was well-known in Britain for frequent television appearances declaring his wish to live under the so-called Islamic State that militants are fighting to establish in Iraq and Syria.

Despite being subject to a travel ban, Rumaysah left London on a coach bound for Paris and travelled on to an unknown Isis stronghold to live with his wife and four children.

The 31-year-old had been arrested on suspicion of encouraging terrorism on 25 September, along with eight other men, as part of an investigation into the banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun, headed by radical preacher Anjem Choudhary.

Abu Rumaysah appears as a talking head throughout a 20-minute programme for Aljazeera - at one point being identified simply as 'a British Muslim'After his arrival, Rumaysah posted on Twitter: “Alhamdulillah (all praise be to Allah), that He (and only He) facilitated a path for me and my family to live in the Islamic State.

“Inshaa'Allah (God willing) we will defeat the final Crusade. USA and her allies are on their last legs. The Islamic State is here to stay.”

Mocking British intelligence and surveillance systems as “shoddy” for allowing his escape, Rumaysah dubbed Theresa May the “wicked witch of the West” and claimed another British extremist has also managed to travel to Syria.

“Hopefully soon we can join forces to crush the global Crusade against Islam and Muslims in the East and West,” he wrote.

In an interview on Channel 4 News earlier this year, Rumaysah said he would happily denounce his British citizenship in order to go out to Syria and live in what he called “the Islamic State”, under “the Shariah”.
Abu Rumaysah tells Channel 4 News he 'hopes to live under the Islamic State'“I hope that one day Britain gets to live under the Shariah as well,” he added.

Up to 500 British citizens are believed to have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join Isis’ bloody battle to establish a hardline caliphate but Charlie Winter, from the counter-extremism thinktank Quilliam, said not all may intend to fight.

He said the fact Rumaysah reportedly took his family suggested it was unlikely he would take up arms and could simply be going out to live there as a way of “contributing” to life under Isis.

“Isis are calling for people who aren’t necessarily soldiers to go there and populate the area, to make it into a society,” Mr Winter added. “There are more and more accounts of people going out and taking their family.”

The Metropolitan Police confirmed officers were “working to establish” where Rumaysah had gone.

A spokesperson said: “He was bailed to a date in January next year with bail conditions. Police are now working to establish his whereabouts.”

Ghastly Woman

A bereavement can often bring out the worst in people as in the case of Winnie Mandela who is challenging Nelson Mandela's last wishes in a squalid attempt to claim part of his estate and the right to speak in the Mandela family name.

I hope the ghastly woman fails to get her way. 

Winnie disputes divorce in bid for Mandela money

RW Johnson - The Sunday Times
Winnie Mandela’s action is in effect an attempt to claim rights to the family name (ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty )

WINNIE MANDELA has gone to court to prove that her divorce from Nelson Mandela was not legally valid in an attempt to claim ownership of the late South African president’s country house.

Court papers demanding “customary rights” to the property at Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where Mandela was laid to rest after his state funeral last year, were filed last week in her full name of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Mandela, who was president in 1994-9 after the end of white rule, loved spending time at the village of his birth, where traditional African life has not greatly changed since his boyhood.

The house, which has since become a museum and place of pilgrimage, was left in trust to all his descendants. Winnie, who did not attend the reading of his will, received nothing.

The couple separated in 1992 after Mandela learnt that his wife had been unfaithful during the 27 years he spent in jail for opposing the apartheid regime. They did not divorce until 1996. Two years later he married Graça Machel, the widow of the Mozambican president Samora Machel.

Winnie originally wrote to the will’s executors, the judges Dikgang Moseneke and Themba Sangoni, and the lawyer George Bizos, asking them to give her the house.

Nelson Mandela’s house in Qunu, claimed by Winnie (RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty )

They refused, prompting her to take them to court. Winnie claims her divorce was fraudulently obtained, that she was not in South Africa when it was finalised and that no settlement was reached. As a result, she alleges that all Mandela’s property remained hers and that he had no right to dispose of it in his will.

Mandela was a member of the abaThembu clan, in whose territory the house stands.

Winnie has accompanied her claim with a letter from King Dalindyebo, the Thembu leader, saying he had granted Mandela the land for the Qunu house on the assumption that, following the tribal custom, it would go to Winnie.

She has been described as “greedy and opportunistic” by Daludumo Mtirara, another senior member of the Thembu royal family, who has said her claim will be resisted.

“She is hell-bent on denting [Mandela’s] good name and his legacy. We will not allow that to happen,” he said.

What is at stake is the Mandela legacy: not just a house producing a steady stream of tourist income, but also the right to speak in the Mandela name.

Winnie’s daughters, Zindzi and Zenani, as well as their children, are certain to support her claim, but all eyes will now turn to Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, who is a Thembu chief and African National Congress MP and is widely seen as the head of the Mandela clan.

Mandla has already angered some family members with attempts to capitalise on the Mandela legacy that included exhuming the bodies of three of Nelson Mandela’s children from their Qunu graves for reburial on his own land nearby.

He has also figured in several court cases, including allegations of violence, and disputes with his three former wives.

Betraying Mandela (5 January 2014)

Here's an intriguing, if sad, insight into the life of Nelson Mandela on his release from prison and on his way to becoming President of a new South Africa - free from the scourge of apartheid.

I've read Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, but I think I'll buy John Carlin's book because this extract published in the Sunday Times has certainly whetted my appetite - here is a man who literally gave his life for a cause and to his people.

Here are The Specials celebrating Nelson Mandela and his long fight for freedom.

Betraying Mandela

As the ailing Nelson Mandela is cared for at home, John Carlin reveals why he has never forgiven the former wife who has visited his bedside

By John Carlin

Mandela with Winnie as he leaves prison after 27 years (Ulli Michel )

Two weeks before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in February 1990 I went to see his wife, Winnie, at her home in Diepkloof Extension, the posh neighbourhood of Soweto where the handful of black people who had contrived to make a little money resided. It was known as Beverly Hills to Soweto’s other residents.

Winnie’s home, funded by foreign benefactors, was a two-floor, three-bedroom house with a garden and a small swimming pool. The height of extravagance by black standards, it would have more or less met the aspirations of the average white, middle-class South African.

Zindzi, Winnie’s slim and attractive second daughter, was 29 but looked younger in a yellow T-shirt and denim dungarees. It was 9.30am and she was in the kitchen frying eggs. She invited me in and started chatting as if we were old friends. The truth was that I had not scheduled an interview with Winnie. I had just dropped in to try my luck. But Zindzi saw nothing wrong in me giving it a shot.

Mum, she said, was still upstairs and would probably be a while. As I hovered about waiting (and, as it turned out, waiting, and waiting), friends of Zindzi wandered in for coffee and a chat. Completing the South African middle-class picture, a small, wizened maid in blue overalls padded inscrutably around.

Finally, Winnie made her entrance. Taller than I had expected, very much the grande dame, she displayed neither surprise nor irritation at my presence in her home. When I said I would like to interview her, she responded with a sigh, a knowing smile and a glance at her watch. I said all I would need was half an hour. She thought a moment, shrugged her shoulders and said: “OK. But you will have to give me a little time.” She still had to put the finishing touches to her morning toilette.

The picture presented to me by mother, daughter, friends and cleaning lady was of a domesticity so stable and relaxed that, had I not been better informed, I would never have imagined the depths of trauma that lurked beneath.

Winnie had been continually persecuted by agents of the apartheid state during the 1970s and 1980s; she had borne the anguish of hearing her two small daughters screaming as the police broke into her home and carted her off to jail; she had spent more than a year in solitary confinement, trusting that her confused and stricken children would be cared for by friends; she had been banished and placed under house arrest far away. But she was back, her circumstances altered dramatically for the better now that Mandela’s release was imminent.

One hour after her first entrance, she majestically reappeared, Cleopatra in a satin African robe. But Cleopatra still needed her morning coffee, and motioned me to wait in her study while she withdrew into the kitchen. I had five minutes to take in the surroundings.

On a bookshelf there was a row of framed family portraits, a Christmas card and a birthday card. Only a month had passed since Christmas, but nearly four since Winnie had turned 53. I could not resist taking a closer look.

I opened the Christmas card, which was enormous, and immediately recognised Nelson Mandela’s large, spidery handwriting. “Darling, I love you. Madiba,” it said. Madiba was the tribal name by which he liked to be known to those close to him. On the birthday card he had written the same words.

If I had not known better I might have imagined the cards had been sent by an infatuated teenager. Once we began our interview, Winnie took on just such a role, playing the tremulous bride-to-be, convincing me she was in a state of nervous excitement at the prospect of rekindling her life’s great love.

Close up she had, like her husband, the charisma of the vastly self-confident, and there was a coquettish, eye-fluttering sensuality about her. It was not hard to imagine how the young woman who met Mandela one rainy evening in 1957 had struck him, as he would later confess, like a thunderbolt.

The Mandela the world saw wore a mask that disguised his private feelings, presenting himself as a fearless hero, immune to ordinary human weakness. His effectiveness as a leader hung, he believed, on keeping that public mask from cracking. Winnie offered the greatest test to his resolve. During the following years the mask cracked only twice. She was the cause both times.

The first was in May 1991. She had just been convicted at Johannesburg’s Rand Supreme Court of assault and accessory to kidnapping a 14-year-old black boy called Stompie Moeketsi, whom her driver had subsequently murdered. Winnie had been led to believe, falsely as it turned out, that the boy had been working as a spy for the apartheid state.

Winnie and Mandela walked together down the steps of the grand court building. Once again the actress, she swaggered to the street, right fist raised in triumph. It was not clear what she could possibly have been celebrating, except perhaps the perplexing fact that she had not been whisked straight off to jail and would remain free pending an appeal.

Mandela had a different grasp of the situation. His face was grey, his eyes were downcast.

The second and last time was nearly a year later. The setting was an evening press conference hastily summoned at the drab headquarters of the ANC. He shuffled into the room, sat down at a table and read from a piece of paper, beginning by paying tribute to his wife.

“During the two decades I spent on Robben Island she was an indispensable pillar of support and comfort . . . My love for her remains undiminished.” There was a general intake of breath. Then he continued: “We have mutually agreed that a separation would be the best for each of us . . . I part from my wife with no recriminations. I embrace her with all the love and affection I have nursed for her inside and outside prison from the moment I first met her.”

He rose to his feet. “Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’ll appreciate the pain I have gone through and I now end this interview.”

He exited the room, head bowed, amid total silence.

Mandela’s love for Winnie had been, like many great loves, a kind of madness, all the more so in his case as it was founded more on a fantasy that he had kept alive for 27 years in prison than on the brief time they had actually spent together. The demands of his political life before he was imprisoned were such that they had next to no experience of married life, as Winnie herself would confess to me that morning.

“I have never lived with Mandela,” she said. “I have never known what it was to have a close family where you sat around the table with husband and children. I have no such dear memories. When I gave birth to my children he was never there, even though he was not in jail at the time.”

It seemed that Winnie, who was 22 to his 38 when they met, had cast a spell on him. Or maybe he cast a spell on himself, needing to reconstruct those fleeting memories of her into a fantasy of tranquillity where he sought refuge from the loneliness of prison life.

His letters to her from Robben Island revealed a romantic, sensual side to his nature that no one but Winnie then knew. He recalled “the electric current” that “flushed” through his blood as he looked at her photograph and imagined their caresses.

The truth was that Winnie had had several lovers during Mandela’s long absence. In the months before his release, she had been having an affair with Dali Mpofu, a lawyer 30 years her junior and a member of her defence team. She carried on with the affair after Mandela left prison. ANC members close to Mandela knew what was going on, as they did about her frequent bouts of drunkenness. I tried asking them why they did not talk to Mandela about her waywardness, but I was always met by frosty stares. Winnie became a taboo subject within the ANC during the two years after Mandela left prison. Confronting him with the truth was a step too far for the freedom fighters of the ANC.

His impeccably courteous public persona acted as a coat of armour protecting the sorrowing man within. But there came a point when Mandela could deceive himself, or the public, no longer. Details of the affair with Mpofu were made luridly public in a newspaper report two weeks before the separation announcement.

The article was a devastating, irrefutable exposé of Winnie’s affair. It was based on a letter she had written to Mpofu that revealed he had recently had a child with a woman whom she referred to as “a white hag”. Winnie accused Mpofu of “running around f****** at the slightest emotional excuse . . . Before I am through with you, you are going to learn a bit of honesty and sincerity and know what betrayal of one’s love means to a woman . . . Remember always how much you have hurt and humiliated me . . . I keep telling you the situation is deteriorating at home, you are not bothered because you are satisfying yourself every night with a woman. I won’t be your bloody fool, Dali.”

In private, Mandela had already endured quite enough conjugal torture. I learnt of one especially hurtful episode from a friend of Mandela some years later. Not long after the end of her trial, Winnie was due to fly to America on ANC-related business. She wanted to take Mpofu with her, and Mandela said she should not. Winnie agreed not to, but went with him anyway. Mandela phoned her at her hotel room in New York, and Mpofu answered the phone.

On the face of it, Mandela was a man more sinned against than sinning, but he did not see it that way. It was his belief that the original sin was to have put his political cause before his family.

Despite everything, Mandela believed when he left prison that he would find a way to reconcile political and family life. Some years after his separation from Winnie, I interviewed his close friend Amina Cachalia, who had known him since before he met Winnie.“His one great wish,” she told me, “was that he would come out of prison, and have a family life again with his wife and the children. Because he’s a great family man and I think he really wanted that more than anything else and he couldn’t have it.”

His fallout with Winnie only deepened the catastrophe, contaminating his relationships with other family members, among them his daughter Zindzi. She was a far more complicated character than I had imagined when I chatted with her cheerfully in her mother’s kitchen over fried eggs. At that very moment, in late January 1990, her current lover, the father of her third child, was in a prison cell. Five days later he hanged himself.

Zindzi was very much her mother’s daughter, inheriting her capacity to dissemble as well as her strength of personality. The unhappiness and sheer chaos that she would endure in her own private life, a mirror of her mother’s, found expression in a succession of tense episodes with her father after he was set free.

One of them took place before friends and family on the day of her marriage to the father of her fourth child, six months after her parents’ separation. It was a glittering occasion at Johannesburg’s swankiest hotel, with Zindzi radiant in a magnificent pearl and sequin bridal dress. It seemed to be a joyous celebration; in truth, it provided further evidence of the Mandela family’s dysfunction.

One of the guests seated near the top table was Helen Suzman, the white liberal politician and good friend of Mandela. She told me that he went through the ceremonial motions with all the propriety one would have expected. He joined in the cutting of the wedding cake and played his part when the time came to give his speech, declaring, “She’s not mine now”, as fathers are supposed to do. He did not, however, mention Winnie in the speech. When he sat down, he looked silent and cheerless.

Mandela and Winnie had spent only a brief time together before he was sent to Robben Island (CAMERA PRESS)Maybe he had had time to reflect in the intervening six months on the depth of Winnie’s betrayal. For more details had emerged of her love affairs and of the crimes of the gang of young men — “Winnie’s boys”, as they were known in Soweto — who played the role of both bodyguards and courtly retinue. They had killed at least three young black men, beaten up Winnie’s perceived enemies and raped young girls.

Whether Mandela chose to realise it at the time, he was the reason that Winnie never ended up going to jail. Some years later, the minister of justice and the chief of national intelligence admitted to me that they had conveyed a message to the relevant members of the judiciary to show Winnie leniency.

Mandela’s mental and emotional wellbeing were essential to the success of the negotiations between the government and the ANC; for him to bow out of the process could have had catastrophic consequences for the country as a whole. Jailing Winnie would be too grave a risk.

Bizarrely, one of the guests at Zindzi’s wedding, prominently positioned near the top table, was the “white hag” Winnie had derided in her letter to Mpofu, and she was sitting next to a man I knew to be another former lover of Winnie’s.

It also would have been difficult for Mandela to miss the menacing glances Winnie cast towards the “hag” — although I hope he missed the moment when Winnie brushed past her and hissed at her former lover: “Go on! Take her! Take her!”

When the band struck up and the newly married couple got up to dance, Mandela, who had been standing up, turned his back on Winnie and returned stiffly to the top table. Grim-faced for the rest of the night, he treated Winnie as if she did not exist. At one point, Suzman passed him a note. “Smile, Nelson,” it said.

In October 1994, five months after Mandela had become president, I spoke to a friend of his, one of the few people in whom he confided the details of his marital difficulties. The friend leant over to me and said: “It’s amazing. He has forgiven all his political enemies, but he cannot forgive her.”

During their divorce proceedings a year and a half later, he made his feelings towards Winnie public at the Rand Supreme Court, where he had accompanied and supported Winnie during her trial in 1991.

As his lawyer would tell me later, he was arbitrarily generous about sharing his estate, giving Winnie what was more than fair. But he made his feelings bluntly known in the divorce hearing. Standing a few feet away from her, he addressed the judge, saying: “Can I put it simply, my lord? If the entire universe tried to persuade me to reconcile with the defendant, I would not . . . I am determined to get rid of this marriage.”

He did not shirk from describing before the court the disappointment and misery of married life after he returned from prison. Winnie, he explained, did not share his bed once in the two years after their reunion. “I was the loneliest man,” he said.

The Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough wrote about the “terrible notions of duty” that boost the public figure but can stunt the private man. It is impossible to avoid concluding that Mandela was far less at ease in private than in public life. In the harsh world of South African politics he had his bearing; in the family sphere he often seemed baffled and lost.

Happily for his country, one did not drain energy from the other. Thanks to a kind of self-imposed apartheid of the mind, personal anguish and the political drive inhabited separate compartments and ran along parallel lines.

As out of control as she could be in her personal affairs, she possessed a lucid political intelligence and a mature understanding of where her husband’s priorities lay, even if she was deluded in attributing some of his qualities to herself.

“When you lead the kind of life we lead, if you are involved in a revolutionary situation, you cease to think in terms of self,” she said. “The question of personal feelings and reactions does not even arise, because you are in a position where you think solely in terms of the nation, the people who have come first all your life.”

Extracted from Knowing Mandela by John Carlin, to be published on Thursday by Atlantic Books at £14.99. Copies can be ordered for £11.99, including postage, fromThe Sunday Times Bookshop on 0845 271 2135

Under the Bus

Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, joins in the fun about Emily Thornberry's sacking as Labour's justice chief by suggesting, mischievously of course, that Ed Miliband deserves a Darwin Award. 

As Boris says the original incident was really a case of 'so far, so dull' until the Labour leader stepped in and decided to throw rule on the fire in the most spectacular way imaginable, by throwing his close political ally (Emily) right under the bus. 

Give Ed Miliband a Darwin Award for his Emily Thornberry decision

The Labour leader’s overreaction to the flag tweet has revealed an uncomfortable truth

By Boris Johnson - The Telegrpah

You know what I mean by the Darwin Awards, those satirical celebrations of the people who manage each year to die in the most idiotic possible way – so boosting the quality of the human gene pool. We are talking about the vandals who manage to urinate on power lines; the metal thieves who brilliantly attempt to steal live copper cables. I think it is time we had some political Darwin Awards, to mark our appreciation of the greatest self‑immolators of our time.

This year’s winner would surely be Ed Miliband. He approached the humdrum matter of a tweet by Emily Thornberry in rather the same flamboyant style as the chap in America who won the 2012 Darwin Award.

This intrepid fellow defeated his many rivals by his remarkable handling of an otherwise average suburban barbecue in North Carolina. Noticing a bottle of salsa sauce that contained a yellowish fluid, he guessed it must be alcohol. He took a long and refreshing draught. It was petrol. He spat it out all over his clothes, and then – relieved at his narrow squeak – he decided to relax. He lit a cigarette. I am afraid to say the poor fellow died the following day, in the burns unit of the local hospital.

It was exactly this flair for catastrophe that Miliband has brought to the Thornberry business. He took an everyday occurrence and turned it into something absolutely spectacular. One of his closest Labour friends had been out campaigning in Rochester, and she took a photo on her mobile of a house. The house had some England flags on it, and a white Ford Transit van parked in front of it. She then “tweeted” this photo, and captioned it, “Image of Rochester”. So far, so dull, eh?

It was an entirely run-of-the-mill English townscape, with some straightforward words to go with it. There was no obvious insult, no abuse, no overt sneering. She might have got away with it entirely, had some alert blogger not spotted it. He instantly detected the coded message that Emily Thornberry was sending to all her right-on, bien-pensant, Labour-luvvie friends in Islington, or wherever else it is that they follow her on Twitter.

A furious twitstorm blew up, as it does so often these days – like some summer squall in the Mediterranean: quick to rise, quick to die. Some people denounced her, some defended her. And yet still Emily might have survived; she might today be luxuriating in her position as shadow attorney general; she might never have been chased down her street by photographers; the name Emily Thornberry would still be relatively unknown, and not – as it is today - on the lips of every newspaper columnist, every broadcaster and everyone in the entire country who drives a white van or flies the England flag.

But then Ed Miliband stepped in. He ingeniously doused himself with petrol; he lit the match – and ka-boom: there he is, with staring panda eyes and frazzled hair, and the entire Labour Party looking on in amazement at the destruction. He fired Emily; indeed he is said to have lost his cool altogether and actually shouted at the woman.

This tells us several important things about his leadership, and about the Labour Party under Miliband. The first is that he is prone to panic under pressure – and that is in itself a reason why he should not be prime minister. The second is that he clearly can’t think straight. By sacking Emily Thornberry so violently, he has emphatically and publicly endorsed the real meaning of her tweet.

Rachel Reeves and other ministers have been lining up to support this interpretation – that Thornberry was being snooty about that home in Rochester, and of course they are right. She was indeed being snobbish and condescending. She was showing her Twitter followers that house in order to belittle it and make fun of it.

When Emily Thornberry looks at a white van, she ought to see the people who make this economy go, the grafters and the entrepreneurs who comprise a huge proportion of the GDP of the South East. These are the people any government should want to help and support – by cutting their taxes, for instance, or helping them with a diesel scrappage scheme so that they can buy less polluting vehicles. 

If you own a white van, you have worked to buy a vital asset; you are more likely to be helping others into employment; and yet Thornberry looks at a white van and sees only an enemy – a cultural enemy.

She doesn’t care much about small businesses and their problems, and in her experience too many white van men have unacceptably Right-wing views. And what does she see in those England flags? She should see an innocent symbol of patriotism, and love of our country – its language and history and institutions, its Royal family and its countryside, pubs, Shakespeare, football, fish and chips, you name it.

But that is not what Emily sees. She sees the dreaded flag of pot-belled, immigrant-bashing lager louts. She sees the kind of flag that Labour councils have tried in the past to ban from public buildings; she sees a symbol of deplorable nationalism and jingo.

As for the house itself – what does Emily see? She should see a tribute to the efforts of the homeowner, someone who has worked not just to own the place but also to ensure that its architectural features somehow reflect his or her personality. Of course she sees no such thing – only a reminder of the achievement of her bête noire, Mrs Thatcher, who mobilised people to buy their own home.

Mrs Thornberry’s tweet was superbly eloquent of everything that is wrong with the modern Labour Party – a party that is all too obviously full of middle-class lawyers like her, who secretly disdain hard‑working, George Cross-waving white van men. But she might have got away with it; she might have been able to fudge it and keep her head down until the twitstorm passed, and then claim that it had all been grievously misunderstood.

Well done Ed, for so brutally confirming the truth about what Labour really thinks. Give that man a Darwin Award.

Criminal Justice

What I can't understand about this report in The Independent is how a convicted rapist serve only half of his 5 year sentence and be let out of prison early, only to run a high profile, public campaign protesting his innocence.

Now I concede this man's right to seek a review of his conviction, but until that process runs its course he remains a convicted rapist and the circumstances of his crime were terrible indeed.

So there is something wrong with the criminal justice system that allows a young woman to be mistreated in this way because she is being made into a victim all over again. 

Ched Evans' pleas of innocence are 'destroying' victim, says raped woman's father

The ex-Sheffield United football player asserts that the sex was consensual

By LAMIAT SABIN - The Independent

The father of a woman raped by footballer Ched Evans has asked him to stop protesting his innocence because it is "destroying her".

The victim's father, who remains anonymous to protect her lifelong anonymity, told the former Sheffield United player that his public pleas are fuelling online bullies sending death threats and abuse.

Evans served half of a five-year prison sentence on 17 October after being found guilty of rape as the woman, who was then 19, was found to be too drunk to consent.

"Evans needs to apologise to my daughter rather than his girlfriend," his victim's father told The Mail on Sunday

"He's shown no remorse and every time he makes some fresh appeal or comment, he draws attention to my daughter and risks her being identified."

The 25-year-old has since appeared in a video statement with his beautician girlfriend Natasha Massey to say that it was "an act of infidelity" rather than rape.

Ched Evans, who served two-and-a-half years in prison, and his girlfriend Natasha MasseyHe claimed that sex with the woman in a hotel in Rhyl, Wales, was consensual although the victim said that she has no memory of the incident after drinking two glasses of wine, four double vodkas and lemonade and a sambuca shot.

His footballer friend, Clayton McDonald, who also claimed he had consensual sex with the woman that night in May 2011, was cleared of the same charge at Caernarfon Crown Court in 2012.

Despite support from his girlfriend, who said she is "convinced" of his innocence, Evans has reportedly been criticised by his auntfor showing a lack of regret.

Nina Evans, 56, was quoted by The Sun as saying: “Ched won’t grasp or listen. He won’t admit he’s done wrong. He’ll never show remorse.”

Up to 10 people were prosecuted for illegally naming the victim, and the posts were retweeted around 6,000 times on Twitter, which forced her to move away from friends and family and take on a new identity.

Since his release, Evans had submitted an appeal for the Criminal Cases Review Commission and hopes to play professional football again.

More than 156,000 people have signed a petition to lobby against Evans being reinstated as a Sheffield United striker.

Labour's Berlin Wall

The Independent reports that Labour continues to tear itself apart over the Emily Thornberry affair as backbench MPs queue up to denounce the leadership of being out of touch with the party's grassroots.

Frank Field and David Lammy come from very different backgrounds and are not signed-up members of the awkward squad who regularly attack the party's leaders for political reasons.

So if I were in Ed Miliband's shoes, I would listen to what Frank Field and David Lammy have to say although it may already be too late.  

Ed Miliband's 'north London set' must be demolished to save Labour, say critics

Former minister Frank Field said the flag incident was 'the most serious thing that has happened' to the party

By NIGEL MORRIS - The Independent

Labour is dominated by a “north London set” who must be “demolished” if the party is to reconnect with its core support, a senior backbencher warned today.

The recriminations follow the furore over the sacking of Emily Thornberry as a shadow minister after she tweeted a picture of a house draped in three England flags. It was widely interpreted as evidence of a patronising view of working-class voters.

The former minister Frank Field said the flag incident was “the most serious thing that has happened” to the party.

He added: “It’s the north London set we’ve got to control. They are a Berlin Wall trying to prevent us reaching out to our voters, and like the Berlin Wall they’ve got to be demolished. Ed’s trying to move us on immigration and welfare and with one blast of a tweet she wrecks that and puts us back to square one.”

Another former minister, David Lammy, said the party was “culturally adrift” from its traditional supporters. He said politicians from “liberal, professional backgrounds” found it hard to identify with ordinary working people.

FOI and Equal Pay

I submitted an FoI request to North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) on 5 November 2014 which means that the Council has 28 days (i.e. until 3 December) to respond and say whether or not it will release details of NLC's controversial 'performance management scheme' for chief officials.

I wonder what the Council will do, will it pull down the shutters again as it has done in response to other recent FoI requests or will North Lanarkshire finally see the light and accept that such information ought to be freely available and that it belongs in the public domain? 

After all what my FoI request comes down to is the use of public money to fund a highly unusual 'bonus' scheme for rewarding the Council's most senior and highly paid officials.  

While the rest of the Council's workforce has been putting up with a policy of public sector pay restraint, of course. 

I am counting the days and can hardly contain my excitement and at this stage I should emend readers that North Lanarkshire is a Labour-run (yes a Labour-run)  Council - and has been since NLC was created as a new single-tier council in 1996.

5 November 2014

Gavin Whitefield
Chief Executive
North Lanarkshire Council

Dear Mr Whitefield

FOISA Request 

I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.

Please provide me with details of the Council's performance management scheme for chief officials which has resulted in substantial 'bonuses' being paid to the Council's highest paid staff in recent years.

2 Please include details of the decision making process by which these payments are made and the criteria used to measure and assess performance.

Please include any documents which explain the background to the scheme and the alleged justification for paying performance bonuses to the Council's most senior officials while the rest of the workforce has faced a policy of public sector pay restraint. 

Please include a breakdown of all payments made under the scheme to date. 

I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail to:
Kind regards

Mark Irvine