Posts Tagged ‘Dan Hodges’

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent

25/08/2011, 01:30:24 PM

by Dan Hodges

Was Dominique Strauss-Kahn on trial for rape? Or was he on trial for being a banker?

I ask that question because on Tuesday he was declared innocent of all charges, and freed. At least, I thought he’d been declared innocent. That was the story I read in the news reports. But the commentary that followed told a different tale.

In a nutshell: he did it. Forget the evidence. Or lack of it. Forget the fact that the case was so flimsy it never even got within a hundred miles of a jury. Forget ludicrously outdated concepts like presumption of innocence until proof of guilt. The guy’s a rapist. And he got away scott-free.

“What occurred in room 2806 will never be known”, wrote Hadley Freeman in the Guardian, before adding, “What has been proved, on an international scale, is that only women who have led lives as sheltered as Rapunzel and have memory recall as robotic as computers are capable of being raped. The rest are money-grabbing sluts with vaginal bruising”. (more…)

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Which side are you on: us, or them?

16/08/2011, 09:11:52 AM

by Dan Hodges

And now we get the fight-back. The backlash against the backlash. The reaction to the reactionaries.

As ever, the left is in the vanguard. We need to pause. Avoid a knee-jerk response. Keep things in perspective.

When the riots first exploded across our communities the political class was united in its response. Shock. Horror. A desire for the perpetrators to be caught and punished.

But now that brief, intuitive, consensus is vanishing. The political battle lines are reforming.

The response of the right is emotional and authoritarian. Use Wembley stadium to incarcerate the rioters. Block social networking sites. Throw the miscreants onto the streets.

The response of the left is logical, and measured. We must not exacerbate the social problems that underpin the disturbances. We must avoid tactical ripostes like the military and water cannon that many experts say would only inflame the situation. We must ensure that our cherished civil liberties do not vanish amid the flames of Tottenham.

Both reactions have been instinctive. Both have broadly gone with the grain of prevailing sentiment within their respective political movements. And I suspect that both have proved instructive to the broader public.


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Can Labour’s Cooler King make it over the wire?

02/08/2011, 12:43:18 PM

by Dan Hodges

Every Christmas evening my family and I would settle down for the same ritual. Excitement, mixed with anticipation, blended with hope.

Could this, we wondered, be the year Steve  McQueen finally makes it over the wire?

In the days before satellite television lured us out of our cosy viewing habits with “Ice Road Truckers” and “Extreme Animal Attacks 2”, the film the Great Escape was a festive staple. Cruel Gestapo hoods. A brutal execution of heroic allied officers. The perfect accompaniment to the season of peace and goodwill.

Though it was on every year, familiarity did not breed contempt. Instead it produced intrigue. Would James Garner check the fuel gauge before shepherding Donald Pleasence on his doomed flight to safety? Might Gordon Jackson hold his tongue when the suspicious German ticket collector wishes him “good luck”?

But most tantalising of all, what fate would befall Captain Virgil Hilts, ‘The Cooler King’, McQueen’s perpetually incarcerated US fighter pilot?  Every year he would gun his stolen BMW motorbike towards the snow capped mountains of neutral Switzerland. And every year his heroic bid for freedom would fall agonisingly short.

For the first year of his leadership Ed Miliband has been the Labour party’s Cooler King. Trapped by an inconclusive mandate, imprisoned by his own insecurity, held hostage by a party unable to come to terms with electoral defeat and the reality and demands of opposition.

No longer. Labour’s leader has awoken to find the cell door ajar, the guard towers deserted and the searchlights extinguished. Suddenly he sees the prospect of making his own great escape. (more…)

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There is not a single place in the British isles that is more purely English than Lord’s cricket ground

28/07/2011, 12:00:21 PM

by Dan Hodges

On Monday I failed the cricket test. I fought it. Tried to wrap myself in a warm cloak of English patriotism, but I couldn’t. Sachin Tendulkar tore it from shoulders.

We are constantly lectured that we must make a stark choice. Cold, multicultural separatism. Or dull and oppressive social conformity.

But no one told the 28,000 people who crammed into Lord’s to watch the climax of the hundredth test match between England and India. Just getting into the ground produced a sense of elation. We 28,000 were the fortunate few. Outside, the queues that had begun forming at 2.00 am snaked for almost a mile. To be part of a cricket match. A supposedly dying pastime, a sport naïvely out of touch with the tensions and demands of modern society.

Some queued for their share of history; the Little Master’s last jog down the pavilion steps. Some in the hope of witnessing England reclaim ascendancy of the game they introduced  to the world, then relinquished. Others to see India, now the best team on the planet, turn back the would-be usurpers.

But it didn’t really matter. No passports were required. No one here would be asked to pledge allegiance to faith, or flag.

There is not a single place in the British isles that is more purely English than Lord’s cricket ground. In fact it is not a place, but an ethos. Fair play. Grace under pressure. Healthy competition. Individual  excellence. Collective brilliance. Those politicians who seek to define Englishness would do well to put down their speeches about “British jobs for British workers” and “muscular liberalism” and take a quiet stroll through the Long Room.

Not that Lords has always been welcoming. Far from being a level playing field, the pitch slopes alarmingly from left to right. The members who sit on the old pavilion, and have finally deigned to admit women to their ranks, have been known to obscure the ball as it leaves the bowlers hand, making it difficult for a new or inexperienced  batsman to defend himself.


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The week Uncut

23/07/2011, 10:00:51 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Michael Dugher takes us behind the scenes of PMQs prep

Dan Hodges Commons sketch: Cameron’s escape

Tom Harris stands up for the off the record whisperers and backroom briefings

Kevin Meagher says Cameron is on the ropes, but he’ll last the distance

Matt Cavanagh reports on Cameron’s broken policing promises

Peter Watt offers a very personal account of the need for a work/life balance

Atul Hatwal asks you to pick your hacking heroes

…and a letter from Tom Watson to David Cameron from last year over Mr Coulson

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Commons Sketch: Cameron’s escape

20/07/2011, 06:23:38 PM

by Dan Hodges

And with a single bound, he was free. Well, at least that was the plan.

David Cameron had been cornered. After a week on the run he had finally been tracked down to the Southern-most tip of the Dark Continent.

“The world has changed”, we are told. Well it may have, or it may not. But when a Conservative prime minister runs half way round the globe to find political solace in the arms of the ANC, you know something is up.

Yet while he could run, he could not hide. And hounded by a vengeful head of the metropolitan police, a rejuvenated Labour leader, and an increasingly worried and fractious Tory party, he was forced to turn and face his pursuers.

They met at the despatch box of the house of commons. There is a myth that our prime minister is a natural performer in the chamber. In reality he often appears poorly briefed, distracted and easily provoked.

But credit where credit is due. Where many men would have been cowed, David Cameron came out fighting. “A torrent”, of allegations had burst forth, he said. He would confront them all. He apologised to the speaker, but his response would be lengthy and fulsome. It was what the country demanded, and deserved.

He announced a panel of inquiry to look into the allegations that brought the British establishment to its knees. The greatest political scandal for a generation would be investigated by Shami Chakrabarti, Elinor Goodman and George Jones. A grateful nation let out an audible sigh. Shami, Elinor and George. There would be no whitewash in Whitehall.

Then it was time to deal with the personal allegations that had been made against him. Or rather those made against his chief of staff. Ed Llewellyn had been asked by the metropolitan police whether the prime minister wanted a briefing on possible corruption and law breaking that penetrated to the heart of Downing Street. Not on your nellie, Ed had replied. Quite right too, said the PM. There would have been “justifiable outrage” had he attempted to investigate this cancer at the heart of his government.

There had also been allegations made against a man called Neil Wallis, a former police officer who had done a brief stint of consultancy as deputy editor of the News of the World. Somewhere in between his busy schedule he’d managed to slip in the odd bit of work for the Tory party. “To the best of my knowledge”, said the prime minister, “I did not know anything about this until Sunday night”. The fact that the leader of the Conservative party hadn’t a clue who’d been working for him had the Tory back benches roaring in delight.

There was one final point he needed to address. Andy Coulson. Serious allegations had been made against him, said the prime minister. If they were proven he would be arrested, charged, incarcerated, hung, drawn and quartered and have his entrails scattered to the winds. It would be fitting. He would have lied to him, the police, a select committee and court of law. It was a terrible mistake to have ever employed this cad. With hindsight, he should never have touched him with a barge pole. “But”, he said, “I have an old fashioned belief that you are innocent until proven guilty”. Andy Coulson would no doubt have been delighted to hear it.

Ed Miliband rose. You can always tell if Ed is going to be a little off his game. He starts to speak with an exaggerated precision. So when his first words sounded like the leader of the Labour party had been kidnapped and replaced by a slightly nasal speak your weight machine, we feared the worst. In fairness, there were a couple of moments when it looked like he was starting to pin Cameron down. But just as he did, smack, he’d run right into an answer the prime minister had just given.

“He’s clearly written his questions before listening to my answers”, taunted Cameron. You could see the relief flowing from him. Behind him it was cascading down the government benches like a wave.

He’d done it. He was free.

Then a figure in a dirty raincoat rose from the Labour benches. “Er…prime minister. Before you go. I forgot. Just one more thing”. It was Tom Watson. The prime minister claimed he hadn’t been warned about Coulson. But that wasn’t true. And he, Tom Watson, had the letter to prove it.

Cameron attempted to brush him aside.

“Not so fast”. It was Dennis Skinner. The prime minister has been asked twice if he had discussed the BSKyB merger. He hadn’t answered the question. So had he discussed it? Or hadn’t he?

The prime minister again tried to dodge his inquisitor. But the spring had gone from his step.

David Cameron had escaped. But he was still not free.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Commons sketch: PMQs

13/07/2011, 01:53:18 PM

by Dan Hodges

Westminster. Noon. Prime minister’s questions.

Or was it? The Commons was agog with anticipation. Would he show or wouldn’t he?

David Cameron once bestrode the chamber like a colossus. Back when the News of the World was Britain’s best selling newspaper, the Metropolitan Police was still renowned for its tenacious and fearless pursuit of criminals, and Kay Burley and Adam Boulton were united in mutual professional respect.

Not any more. Over the past week there’s been more chance of spotting a unicorn standing at the House of Commons dispatch box than the prime minister.

Some wild rumours were flying.  David Cameron would be unable to attend because of a pressing prior engagement; like a speech on the big society, or washing his hair. William Hague would be standing in. Or poor Jeremy Hunt.

Personally, I was hoping he’d send Andy Hayman. “Nah, nah. I’m not ‘aving it. I’m not letting the right honourable gentleman get away with that”.

Sadly it wasn’t to be. Just before twelve a familiar figure appeared and took his seat on the government benches.

At least, it appeared it be a familiar figure. It looked like David Cameron.  Spoke like David Cameron. Went pink in the face like David Cameron.

But could it really be him? Only the week before the old prime minister had accused Ed Miliband of opportunism for attempting to link phone-hacking to Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB bid. Yet according to the new guy “It has become increasingly clear that while everybody to start with wanted in some way to separate what was happening at News International and what was happening at BSkyB that is simply not possible. What has happened at this company is disgraceful, it should be stopped at every level, and they should stop thinking about mergers and sort out the mess they’ve created”.

Old Dave had refused to call for Rebekah Brooks to resign. The new fella seemed to think she’d already done so, and what’s more, he welcomed it; “She was right to resign. That resignation should have been accepted”.

If Ed Miliband was fazed by the appearance of this prime ministerial doppelganger he didn’t show it. Then again, he’s undergone a bit of transformation himself. This time last week many in his own party were accusing him of being the new Ramsay McDonald for his betrayal of striking public sector workers. Today the public sector workers could go hang. The only pensions the Labour party was interested in were those of Murdoch and Brooks. And it wanted them drawing them in double quick time; “It would be quite wrong for them to expand their stake in the British media”, Miliband said, “Rupert Murdoch should drop his bid for BSkyB, should recognise the world has changed, and he should listen to this House of Commons”.

New Cameron agreed. He welcomed the cross-party approach being adopted by the leader of the opposition.

Ed Miliband rose again. This time he was wearing an expression of almost pained sincerity that left no one in any doubt that the time for cross party consensus  was over. Could the prime minister clear up one specific issue. Why was his former press secretary Andy Coulson a liar, a cheat, a blagger, a bounder, a baby snatcher, a forger, a cattle rustler, a grave robber and a teller of tall tales. Oh, and why had the prime minister been so unbelievably stupid in employing him?

Last week this sudden switch from civility to attack had thrown David Cameron. But that was a lifetime ago. And New Cameron was ready.

When Coulson had been employed he’d given him assurances. Not only that, he’d given those same assurances to the police, a select committee and under oath to a court of law; “if it turns out he lied it wont just be that he shouldn’t have been in government, it would be that he should be prosecuted. But Mr Speaker, we must stick to the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty”.

It may be that Ed Miliband was expecting a more evasive response. Or that in the excitement of the last week, he’s begun to believe Cameron was a broken opponent. For whatever reason, the confidence visibly began to drip away from him; “Mr Speaker, he just doesn’t get it”, he said, falling back on that well worn phrase he uses when he can’t think of a more spontaneous riposte. The Tory back-benches, sensing it, bayed in relief.

“I’m afraid, Mr Speaker, the person who is not getting it is the leader of the opposition”, responded New Cam. “What the public want us to do is address this firestorm. They want us to sort out bad practices at the media. They want us to fix the corruption in the police. They want a proper public enquiry”.

The world had indeed changed. But maybe not quite as much as we thought.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Phone-hacking is not the magic bullet

12/07/2011, 07:00:49 AM

by Dan Hodges

It was the Sunny ‘wot won it. “We killed the News of the World!”, screamed Liberal Conspiracy on Thursday afternoon, via a headline, replete with slammer, of which Rebekah Brooks would be proud. “Vindicated – a win for Labour MPs and the left online”, gushed the slightly more restrained Labour List; “Uncovering the catalogue of misdeeds by the paper, and the work in recent days to encourage advertisers to distance themselves from the News of the World, has been nothing short of inspirational”.

Thanks. I’ll find my inspiration elsewhere.

Now that the dust is beginning to settle over the ruins of what, in my unfashionable view, was a once great British newspaper, perhaps it would be a good idea to step back. Actually, screw it, let’s not. Let’s have a quick dance on the rubble before we get another News International title in our sights.

We may not be any good at winning general elections, but boy, are we good at shutting newspapers. Not that we actually wanted to. When we called on advertisers to boycott the paper, and then threatened those that wouldn’t, we didn’t want anyone to lose their jobs. They’re unfairly paying the price for the greed and excess of others, you see. It was Murdoch that closed the News of the World, not us. What do you mean we said we killed it?

Enjoyable though the spectacle of the British establishment eating itself alive may be to some, we are heading in to dangerous waters. And by ‘we’, I mean the Labour party. (more…)

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The week Uncut

09/07/2011, 02:00:20 PM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Atul Hatwal on the Lib Dem reaction to the NoTW revelations

Anthony Painter says News International needs to be broken up

Dan Hodges on the kaleidoscope of renewal

Michael Dugher says the govt must swallow its pride and adapt to the Arab spring

Jonathan Todd says as Huhne divides, Labour must conquer

Peter Watt asks; can trees really be more “sexy” than people?

…and this weeks PMQs sketch

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Commons sketch: PMQs

06/07/2011, 01:33:42 PM

by Dan Hodges

It must have been a bit like this in Paris in 1793. The cruel expectation. Morbid anticipation. Come, witness the brutal righteousness of the mob.

For years MPs had lived in fear. Of the late night phone call, or knock on the door. “I’m calling from the News of the World. We’re running a story about you tomorrow, and I wondered whether you’d care to respond”.

Not today. The chamber was packed as MPs fought for the best position to view the spectacle. On the Labour front bench Harriet Harman took out her knitting. On the other side Ken Clarke was handing out souvenir postcards.

Then in walked David Cameron. Head of the Committee on Public Safety. Directly opposite sat Ed Miliband, his deputy. It’s an open secret the two men are bitter political rivals. But the Head of the Committee was confident that for now they would unite in the interest of the people against the common foe.

The prime minister pulled himself up to his full height. He looked sober and statesmanlike. Just as his former advisor, ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson, had taught him.  Phone hacking was ‘absolutely disgusting’, he said. Everyone in the House and in the country would have been ‘revolted’ by what they’d seen and heard on the television screens.

It was a strong sound-bite, and Cameron sat back down confidently. His attack on the newspapers would read well in tomorrow’s newspapers.

Ed Miliband rose. The actions of the NOTW were, ‘immoral and a disgrace’. His delivery was strong and measured. His own senior media advisor, former News International journalist Tom Baldwin, had also prepared him well.

The prime minister’s assurances on a public and independent enquiry into the actions of the media were welcome. But what about other issues? Such as the impending BSkyB bid? He had argued it should be dealt with by the competition commission, not the new revolutionary council. It was what the people were demanding.

Cameron looked uneasy. It wasn’t supposed to be him on trial. As the crowd began to bay his face reddened. There were laws. They had to be followed. His rival was opportunistically playing to the gallery, ‘I note that the leader of the Labour party said yesterday that the issue of competition and plurality is a separate issue’.

Ed Miliband shook his head slowly. Weak. Very weak. The people do not like weakness. ‘The public see a major news organisation in this country where no-one appears prepared to take responsibility for what happened’, he said. There was no denial that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked. ‘Nobody is denying it happened on the watch of the current chief executive of News International, who was editor of the newspaper at the time. Will the prime minister, if he believes in people taking responsibility, join me in saying she should take responsibility and consider her position?’.

There was now fear in the prime minister’s eyes. What about due process. It had to be followed. We should let the police do their work.

It was useless. By now the mob was in full cry. And the mob belonged to Ed Miliband.

‘These events show a systematic set of abuses that demonstrate the use of power without responsibility in our country’, he said. It was in the interests of the public and democracy that these issues were sorted out. The Head of the Committee on Public Safety, ‘hasn’t shown the leadership necessary today. He hasn’t shown the leadership necessary on BSkyB. He hasn’t shown the leadership necessary on News International’.

David Cameron sat silently. Behind him, sunlight glinted upon cold steel.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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