Labour WAGs arrow in on `Sebastian'

AS he crossed the Atlantic for his brief encounter with Barack Obama, Gordon Brown could be forgiven if he likened himself to Saint Sebastian, who survived execution by arrow firing squad only to be beaten to death and his body flung into a privy.

Graham Dines

AS he crossed the Atlantic for his brief encounter with Barack Obama, Gordon Brown could be forgiven if he likened himself to Saint Sebastian, who survived execution by arrow firing squad only to be beaten to death and his body flung into a privy.

The Prime Minister has been severely bruised this week - not just from the latest set of opinion polls which make horrendous reading for Labour, but from Chancellor Alastair Darling and deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman.

Brown has been caught in a cross-fire. From front and back, the arrows have rained down on him.

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The Chancellor's intervention is puzzling. Time after time, Brown has refused to apologise for, and continues to deny that, his policies have played any part in the economic meltdown.

But he is looking exposed following his Chancellor's totally frank interview over the weekend. “If there is a fault, it is our collective responsibility. All of us have to have the humility to accept that over the last few years, things got out of alignment. There are some very hard questions to be asked about the regulatory model we have operated for the last few years.”

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In other words, ministers cocked up. Nothing could be clearer than that. And it forced the obviously irritated Brown onto the back foot in Washington when the media corps travelling with him repeatedly asked him why he wouldn't say sorry.

If that wasn't bad enough, Ms Harman seems to have come to the conclusion that Labour will lose the next election and is preparing a challenge in the likely event that he would step down as leader.

It must be stressed unequivocally that Ms Harman is not trying to remove Brown before the next election. But she has become the leading force in Labour's WAGs - no, not the wives and girlfriends as in the trophies of premiership footballers, but the increasing number of MPs who are Women Against Gordon.

She is popping up here, there and everywhere with an opinion on each and every subject in the news, taking a line which increasingly appeals to Old Labour as opposed to Gordon Brown's pragmatic right-of-centre populism.

Her attack on Sir Fred Goodwin, the nation's favourite bette noir, got her into deep trouble. She hinted that legislation might be sought to strip the former boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland of what ministers regard as his ill-gotten gains.

Come off it Hattie: a law to retrospectively deprive someone of their pension? This is not communist East Germany.

I agree that Sir Fred's pension is obscene, but much of what he has accrued he transferred with him from previous jobs. Yes, he led the RBS to the brink of collapse which should affect his payoff from the bank, but it cannot be legal to confiscate accrued cash from his portable pension.

Worse was to follow, Standing in for the Prime Minister at Questiontime on Wednesday, Ms Harman told MPs that Sir Fred had received his knighthood for services to the Prince's Trust. Plain wrong - he was knighted in 2004 for services to banking.

Within minutes of leaving the Commons chamber, she was forced to issue a statement correcting her error. Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Elfyn LLwyd mused: “Either it's gross incompetence or it was some sort of wide-eyed idea of misleading quietly. But clearly she got it completely wrong and that is not a very good quality for someone who hopes one day to lead the Labour Party.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Vince Cable believes the Government should use existing legislation to strip Sir Fred of his pension. Taunting Ms Harman, Cable pointed out: “You are a former pensions minister and law officer and, I believe, a trained solicitor You are exceptionally well-placed to understand pensions law.

“Instead of this rather eccentric proposal for a 'Harriet's Law' to stop Sir Fred Goodwin's pension, would it not be more sensible for the Government to use existing legislation under which pensions can be forfeited in cases of employee negligence - which is surely the case with Sir Fred Goodwin, Adam Applegarth of Northern Rock and the others who bankrupted their banks?”

Don't they wish Cable was Labour!


A PILOT scheme of mobile prisons in crime hotspots - where police could process, fingerprint and fine criminals without needing to leave their beat and return to a faraway police station - is the headline proposal in the Conservative Party's plans to allow the police to concentrate on policing.

It is included in a new paper, Back on the Beat, published this week by David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds and shadow police reform minister.

The main proposals included in the document are:

Piloting new specially-designed mobile urban gaols - or MUGs - to go into crime hotspots that are afflicted by, for instance, knife crime and antisocial disorder. Police will be able to deal with more offenders more quickly without having to go all the way back to the police station. MUGs will also mean a more visible police presence for the public.

Reforming of incident report writing, including the lengthy MG6 disclosure forms for lawyers in the Crown Prosecution Service.

Abolishing statutory charging for a large number of offences - this means giving back powers to custody sergeants to charge offenders without having to fill in forms for the CPS and then spend further time waiting for those lawyers to make a charging decision.

Scrapping the current rules that make a policeman fill in multiple forms every time he wants to stakeout a known burglar's house or carry out plain clothed surveillance.

Cutting the paperwork of stop and search recording.

Mr Ruffley said: “Twelve years of Labour red tape and bureaucracy have wasted police time, keeping them away from front line crime-fighting. Labour have a criminal record - antisocial disorder, gun crime, violence, robbery, knife crime and stabbings are all up on their watch.

“We need to take the handcuffs off the police and put them on the criminals. The public want the police back on the beat which is where the police also want to be and these proposals are a start in achieving just that.”

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