Time for Hazel Blears to go


12:17 pm - May 11th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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This was reported in the Guardian today. I’m surprised not only at the sheer dishonesty, but that more isn’t being made about this.

Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, faced a fight for her political life after apparently making contradictory declarations about a publicly subsidised flat to avoid a £18,000 tax bill.

Blears appeared to have avoided paying capital gains tax when she sold a flat in Kennington, south London, in August 2004 for £200,000, making a profit of £45,000. To avoid paying tax of about £18,000 on the profit, she would have had to declare the flat to the Inland Revenue as her main residence. But in April 2004 she designated the Kennington flat as her second home to the Commons authorities. This allowed her to claim mortgage interest payments on it of £850 a month. Blears said yesterday she had done nothing wrong.

Unbelievable. And yet she keeps claiming she has done nothing wrong. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see how dishonest this is.

In an earlier thread commenter redpesto suggested we need an Italian style ‘clean hands’ campaign. I agree. And for a start we need heads to roll on all sides of the political spectrum to show that this behaviour cannot be batted away with ease. Starting with Hazel Blears and James Purnell – both of whom should be fully investigated by the HMRC for avoiding Capital Gains Tax. What other recommendations would you suggest for such a campaign?

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


The guillotine? Or the stocks, at the very least.

That’s I was saying here : never mind “..within the rules..”, tax evasion is against the law.

Excellent article. As the right wing press continues to attack the Labour Party good to see that the response of the left wing is to attack the Labour Party. Your honorary membership of the Tory Party is in the post.

Gary, the right-wing press are focussing on the Tories today.

Richard, 3 weeks attacking the Labour Party, 1 day covering their asses for accusations of bias. We don’t need to help them attack the Labour Party either way do we?

I commented on Redpesto’s idea for a UK-style ‘mani pulite’ (clean hands) campaign here:

http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2009/05/10/labour-plummets-polls-says-publish-all-expenses/#comment-45287

and here:

http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2009/05/10/labour-plummets-polls-says-publish-all-expenses/#comment-45288

I think the expenses scandal and the corruption of Blears points to a wider problem in our political culture: deference. Whether its deference to the police, to the armed forces or to politicians (in the sense that rather than address the failings of the political system ourselves we simply vote out the current lot then leave the next lot to get on with it), we need to find ways to get the public taking more responsibility for bringing about change ourselves. ‘Mani pulite’ was an example of civil society (led by magistrates) campaigning to pull down the whole system.

Gary, Richard,

Rather than “attack the Tories from the left and Labour from the right” shouldn’t you attack what you think is wrong?

It all puts those government tax-evasion and benefit-cheats posters into perspective, eh…

The Labour Party deserve attacking. There is nothing left-wing about being corrupt sons of bitches.

Constantly Furious, (Your name suggests you always find something to attack)

ONLY if we can expect the same from the right. They don’t do suicide in the same way the left does.

Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good. An massively imperfect Labour Government is infinitely better than any Tory Government (as I fear you will soon discover).

Rayyan,

You mean the Labour Party isn’t left wing enough for you. Let’s go back to the unelectable but perfectly left wing Micheal Foot shall we, Then we’ll get another 20 years of Tory Government and then you can be really angry.

“Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good. An massively imperfect Labour Government is infinitely better than any Tory Government (as I fear you will soon discover).”

Oh dear. Taxi for Gary!

No Gary, I mean that the left wing or whoever else is perfectly entitled to attack Labour as well as the Tories over this. Being left wing doesn’t stop anyone from criticising corruption: if anything, it necessitates it.

As for having another Tory government – well, Labour haven’t exactly been left-wing over the past 12 years, and yet it looks like there will be another Tory government next year. Is it because Labour have been too left-wing? No.

13. douglas clark

Gary @ 9,

That is so much shite. The point about this thread is greedy bastard MP’s. Which is what Rayyan addressed @ 7. Your post is completely tribal.

OK, giving you some slack here, do you agree that Hazel Blears should resign or not?

Another apsect of this campaign ‘Clean Hands’ is being open and honest about your expenses, by opening your bks at any time as an MP is publicly accountable…but Blears et al have conveniently forgotten that. Oh, and that other scrounger ….James Purnell… He has a bloody cheek regarding the Welfare Reform Bill and his own greedy snout in the trough.

My own take on it here http://harpymarx.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/nl-mps-greedy-gaspers/

Hoon and Darling too please…Blears is too easy a target…and how convenient for Brown after her “youtube if you want to” jibe…

16. Common Place

What about Hoon and Darling?

According to the Today programme, there’s a suggestion in today’s Telegraph for a new collective noun for MPs: a ‘trough-jostling’

18. douglas clark

If I were to stand for a constituency right next door to Westminster, would it be reasonable for me to have another house? If, on the other hand I was the MP for Cornwall and the Scilliys, would it be unreasonable for me to have a house in London? I think they are two completely different cases, and ought to be separated out in the minds of commentators. I live in Glasgow, and it is a bit debateable.

There is a pretty clearly a need for MP’s from remote constituencies to have a second home in London. There is no such obvious need for people that could easily commute to do so.

I’d also quite like MP’s to pick up the day to day expenses of their chosen career as something they pay out of income. If I wanted to make a point about respecting the dead, then I’d expect to pay for it. Not be a pretendy patriot.

Abolish the food allowance. Get them to pay for food out of their own salaries: it might cause them to cook their own meals and lose weight.

Also, how about Jack Straw? He paid the council tax back, but that’s like stealing something then giving it back and arguing you shouldn’t be charged with theft.

Douglas, The point of the thread is greedy bastard Labour MPs. Can all you good Socialists actually find a bad word to say about Tory MPs?

Hazel Blears should resign IFF she has done something which is against the rules. It isn’t complicated.

Good point cjcjc: We aren’t directing this diatribe at enough Labour Party members we must include more of them and not mention any Tories.

Rayyan, You think that the party that massively increased NHS spending etc is a Tory government. Good golly, you are in for a shock.

21. Stuart White

Gary: I disagree with you that Hazel Blears – or any other MP – should resign if and only if they have violated ‘the rules’. In the case of MPs’ expenses, it seems perfectly possible to act immorally ‘within the rules’. So the judgment of whether an MP should resign needs to focus on the question of morality, not (just) legality.

As I have argued over at Next Left, those of us in the Labour party can reasonably expect that a Labour MP acts on a higher principle than being a selfish individualist seeking to maximize income and wealth at every opportunity. So where a Labour MP has acted in this way, they have acted immorally by the standards appropriate to a Labour MP, and it isn’t an adequate defence that they have acted ‘within the rules’.

I think the failure to distinguish legality from morality by some Labour MPs is precisely part of the moral failure here.

There’s an interesting post about this whole putrid affair by Richard Murphy of the Tax Justice Network here: http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2009/05/11/abusive-mps-and-tax-haven-accountants-any-difference/

He makes the point that the expense claims (as opposed to the capital gains tax two-step) is tax avoidance (legal), not tax evasion (illegal). (This is not to say that it doesn’t stink.) He says that MPs’ expense claims are ‘exempt income’, unlike almost everyone else’s – so maybe this is the first thing that should change?

He has a four-step solution:

‘The first is that the rule book has to be enforced. Second the system has to be open and accountable. That means everything is on public record and audited. Third, an expense should be allowed only if it actually relates to the additional costs an MP incurs in doing their work – and finally, if, even despite that, there still remains personal benefit within it, then that personal gain should be taxed as a benefit in kind, as it would be for all other employees in the UK.’

Simple.

23. douglas clark

Gary @ 19,

Eh!

I think you’d find the object of my wrath here, a certain Tory MP called James Gray apparently, who tried to reclaim the cost of wreathes he laid at Remembarance Days is not one of my lot. And just to upset you summore, I am SNP. So there!

And you are just so wrong about ‘the rules’. You are beginning to sound like Aleister Crowley, another fantasist that believed that “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”

It is a sad, sad day when our political elite thinks the same as him.

Stuart, The rules exist so that there is only one set of things to test against. With 60 million people you may 60 million differing views on what is moral. Therefore, morals cannot be used as a measure in anything not just MP expenses.

Rowan, That 4 step solution looks good and is, as you say, simple.

Surely all Hazel Blears did was lie to the commons authorities, which is apparently “within the rules” and therefore perfectly acceptable… at least according to the statements from the labour leadership aver the last few days.

Ah yes, Gary, that NHS money was so well spent, wasn’t it?

Gary, many of these claims weren’t within the rules. The rules say the expenses should be essential to an MP carrying out their work as an MP: do these look like that to you? The rules say that the designated second home should be the place where MP’s spend less nights in a year: nobody checks this so MP’s constantly break it.

The MP’s actual argument is “the fees office interpret the rules favourably to us and do no enforcement, so its all OK!”

This is obviously bollocks.

Douglas, Good work, naming a Tory, excellent. It seems to me that you are using “the rules” in the same way as I am. The only difference is that I am using one set of published rules and you are using the published rules and your own set of “if someone does something I don’t like then it is against my rules” set of rules.

29. douglas clark

Gary @ 23,

So bizzare, so bizzare…

You said this:

Therefore, morals cannot be used as a measure in anything not just MP expenses.

Why do you think I think otherwise? Is it just ’cause you have zero morality, or mine is turned up to eleven?

You do realise that you are denying any sort of moral structure here?

If so, I am cool with that, just admit you are an amoral person and be done with it…

For, frankly, that is what I have thought about you since you started contributing to this thread.

cjcjc, yes it was. Free health care in the UK is much better now than it was 20 years ago.

Douglas, Not denying moral structure (we use our morals to develop the rules) just denying morals as a useful measure.

Tinter, If they were not within the rules then they are wrong and the MPs involved deserve to suffer then appropriate penalty. No disagreement at all there.

It says a lot that Blair not only gets away with war crimes and breaches of human rights on a massive scale but looks likely to be declared Emperor of Europe, yet the kind of fiddling that would be minuscule compared to what happens in every major boardroom has the whole normally docile nation up in arms.
Not that it isn’t disgusting, just not at all surprising.

As Richard Murphy points out, part of the problem here is that the rules were simply not enforced; the committee that should have been examining the claims was so in thrall to the MPs that it failed to do its job properly.

It’s an interesting question: if an enforcing authority has made it clear, over a number of years, that it has no intention of enforcing the rules, how should the culpability for the ensuing rule-breaking be apportioned?

Technically speaking, there might not be a strong case for resignations (although the capital gains tax stuff looks pretty strong to me).

But if we’re talking about whether or not Labour wants to stand the tiniest, weediest chance of winning the next election, Labour ministers should be falling on their swords left, right and centre. If they do it, half the shadow cabinet will have to do it too.

35. douglas clark

Bloody Hell Gary @ 27,

I am not naming a Tory MP just because. I am naming a Tory MP because I think he is a complete utter tit. Would you try to claim back expenses on wreaths? It’d say an awful bad thing about you if you did. I have no dog in the fight here. I am just saying it as I see it.

Well, “the rules” is a complicated matter. The Rules as published contain paragraphs which have clearly been broken. On the other hand the fees office is useless so this is meaningless. When MP’s say “within the rules”, what is meant is “allowed by the Fees office”, and therefore approved as OK regardless. Thats why second homes can just be whereever- because thats what its been decided is OK regardless of rules as published.

Your position is a nonesense regardless. Do you think if an MP trys to keep expenses down and save the taxpayer money they have done no good? If they spend money lavishly with no view towards public good have they committed no waste? We don’t need to discuss morality, either wasting public money is fine (absurd) or it is not. Even if we had a fine expenses system that worked, MP’s who saved money would be good; therefore its reasonable to infer wasting it is bad.

If Morans Southhampton home, clearly of no benefit to anyone outside her family, is agreed to be “within the rules” is there then no reason to criticise her? Its no wonder your arguments have found no takers.

Also, on your point Gary the only people we would have cause to criticise would be Labour- the tories are all “within the rules” as you seem to be using it! Whereas at least a couple of labour MP’s appear to be tax-dodging and engaging in other shennanigans.

37. Stuart White

Gary@23 and elsewhere: your response overlooks the fact that political beliefs imply certain moral values. As members of political parties we can and should expect Mps in our party to behave in a way that is consistent with these moral values.

So, let’s take a Labour MP. Assuming a Labour MP is a socialist or social democrat – even a very moderate social democrat – there is one claim about human behaviour that, as a metter of consistency with their political outlook, they have to reject. This is the claim, put forward by some on the right, that we are all essentially selfish individualists who are driven by a concern to line our own pockets, and will therefore never pass up an opportunity to do so. Unless you think that it is both possible and desirable for people to transcend that kind of motivation, then there’s no way one can be a social democrat – social democracy then looks too much at war with basic ‘human nature’.

We can, then, reasonably insist that any Labour MP act in a way that does not conform to the right-wing claim about unqualified selfish individualism. Otherwise, they are acting on a different basis to the one they prescribe for society as a whole.

Deliberately maxing out how much one claims on expenses looks to me like behaviour that conforms to the right-wing claim about selfish individualism. Therefore, it cannot be viewed as moral behaviour for a Labour MP. Rather, it looks distinctly immoral.

Note also that you’re view that there is no morality outside the rules rather begs the question of how we decide what the ‘right’ rules are. To determine that, we have to draw on some prior, independent idea of what is moral. A laerge part of the problem right now is that the rules clearly aren’t ‘right’ by any reasonable, independent test of what is moral.

An Italian-style Clean Hands campaign!? Let’s hope not….. or do you seriously want a clone of Silvio Berlusconi running the country in ten years time? Clean up by all means but unless certain political values can be either restored where they have been lost or preserved where they are in danger of extinction, there is a risk of creating a political vacuum which could easily result in a populist politician or party rushing in to fill the empty space.
The problem with all forms of corruption and sleaze is that it discourages people from engaging in the political process and when this happens the consequences are often dire – as in present-day Italy.

Douglas, My point is just because you think he is a tit doesn’t mean that he has done anything wrong. I think people that watch Eastenders or Coronation Street are tits but they’ve done nothing wrong either.

Stuart White@36, what conforms even further to right wing claims about the character of hiuman nature is the way Labour constantly reiterate that it is a question of the system, of the rules. As though people can be expected to do no other than maximise their self interest as far as the system permits, regardless of the moral implications of their decisions.

There’s far too much apologising for MPs in this thread for my liking, Gary. This notion that you can’t measure the behaviour here against some kind of general ethical principles (not spending money on your own benefit outside of your work, while trying to tell others and businesses to tighten their practises, for one large example) is absurd. It’s less about morals and more about simple common sense and hypocrisy.

42. douglas clark

Gary @ 38,

Och, stop being so bloody ridiculous!

If an MP can’t buy a wreath out of sympathy for the dead, then what is the point of him being an MP? I’d suggest he is a callous self serving bastard. What say you?

To all those who go on about the trite “…yeah but they didn’t breach the rules…” so here’s an example:

A man of 72 having sex with or perving on or whatever with a 16 year old girl, Berlusconi-style.
Illegal? No. Wrong? Maybe. Reckless behaviour for a preaching politician? Absolutely yes.

The fact that Blear & co like robots repeat that they done nothing wrong, even though 99% of the UK population think otherwise, shows the widening, enormous gap between the current political class and the British people.

44. the a&e charge nurse
45. douglas clark

Claude,

Thanks.

That is the point.

99% of us do think politicians are at it. The danger here is that it does allows fascist idiots to try to fill the vacuum.

Which is why, rather than apologising for each other, our political classes ought to be cleaning out the stables. Which they are not doing.

A&E – hohoho – I remember that scandal.

But this is a “europhile” site so don’t mention it again please…

No organistion is moral, only people are moral. What may happen happen over the next few weeks is that the MPs own sense of decency will be revealed . As Wilde said ” I can resist everything apart from temptation”. Those without a sense of decency will be revealed as money grabbers , those with one, will have exense claims which actually reflect their expenditure as a MP. Hopefully, this will force local partieds to think far more carefull about the people they select to be their MP.

I remember once listening to a conservative councillor who resigned over the granting of plannng permission which he said had not appear proper and above board. There was no allegation aginst him but he resigned because he refused to be associated with people who lacked sufficient moral rectitude, his words to me were ” I did not fight the war for this “. A pilot from 1939 he ended up in the hands of SS/Gestapo.

Basically, too many MPS lack a sense of decency and moral rectitude.

#36 & #39:

“So, let’s take a Labour MP. Assuming a Labour MP is a socialist or social democrat – even a very moderate social democrat – there is one claim about human behaviour that, as a metter of consistency with their political outlook, they have to reject. This is the claim, put forward by some on the right, that we are all essentially selfish individualists who are driven by a concern to line our own pockets, and will therefore never pass up an opportunity to do so. Unless you think that it is both possible and desirable for people to transcend that kind of motivation, then there’s no way one can be a social democrat – social democracy then looks too much at war with basic ‘human nature’.”

Not sure that follows. You could also be a social democrat because you believed we are in the main essentially selfish individuals driven by a concern to line our own pockets, and that creates human misery which needs to be mitigated by putting a system in place which limits the ability of selfish individuals to line their own pockets at the expense of others.

I disagree completely with people trying to establish new rules. Its far too early.

Its not about rules yet, that will come later – after the next election.

Right now its about exposing all we can about the political classes. From lobbying networks, think tanks to expenses and everything inbetween.

Discussing and trying to define new rules, at this stage, for the MPs is to play their game. Let them stew. Only when they understand common morality will they be ready for rules. It seems they are already working on stitching up the public – by privatising the fees office so that freedom of information need not apply.

As for Hazel Blears I propose we give her the maximum media space possible to explain herself. Again and again and again.

50. redpesto

Nino:

An Italian-style Clean Hands campaign!? Let’s hope not….. or do you seriously want a clone of Silvio Berlusconi running the country in ten years time?

No, I wouldn’t want that either, but without some kind of reckoning, the likes of Gray and Blears will be relying on the security of their majorities (and the tribalism of voters such as Gary) to protect them at the next election – just as Blair did in 2005.

51. douglas clark

Refresh @ 49,

I largely agree with that. Though the comeuppance could be a bit quicker, hopefully.

52. redpesto

Jonathan Freedland over at the Guardian is suggesting deselection – but will constituency parties be brave enough (or allowed) to do it?

53. Stuart White

tim f@48: Even if the distributive objective is the one you propose – relief/prevention of misery – it is unclear that the ‘system’ designed to prevent/relieve misery will be stable over time if citizens are strongly selfish individualists. For example, if a majority feel they are fairly secure against the threat of absolute impoverishment, they might well vote to dismantle the ‘system’ in order to maximize their post-tax earnings.

Moreover, the distributive goal you propose here – prevention/relief of misery – is a very weak one by social democratic standards (which is not to say it isn’t important). Hardly any conservative would object to it. Distinctively social democratic objectives are going to have to include some serious idea of equality of opportunity and some concern for inequalities in income and wealth that goes beyond putting a basic resource floor in place. (There are, of course, more radical and more moderate ways of fleshing out these objectives.)

So we have to consider what kind of citizen motivation is consistent with achieving these objectives. A motivation of the kind that some on the right suppose – strong selfish individualism – is very unlikely to sustain the institutions required to meet these objectives. People will vote them out as too restrictive on their own earnings aspirations. Or they might respond to high taxes in Laffer-curve ways that puts pressure on government to reverse policy.

So I do think that if one is politically a social democrat, one does have to reject the claim that individuals are, as a matter of basic human nature, selfish individualists seeking always to maximise their own income and wealth. People, on the whole, just have to be more solidaristic than that. And then it becomes reasonable to judge the behaviour of social democratic politicians on the basis of whether their own behaviour is consistent with rejecting a behavioural assumption they must, in all consistency, reject for society as a whole.

Douglas, yes it could.

I have a cunning plan to accelerate it beyond the electorate’s wildest dreams. Its in phases.

Phase 1: Let them unravel.
Phase 2: Watch them turn on each other. This will be in the form of reshuffles, and deselections.
Phase 3: Individual MPs issuing apologies.
Phase 4: A people’s truth and reconciliation commission dealing with expense claims, and list of lobby groups and think tanks they work for. This will also include outing of MPs responsible for the pressuring of the civil servants in the Fees Office.
Phase 5: MPs pay back excessive claims.

From start to finish, I estimate 6 months.

Redpesto,

‘but will constituency parties be brave enough (or allowed) to do it?’

They will have to. I believe this whole affair will reignite public interest in politics in a way the politicians could never do. Its a call on the sleeping membership or those that have been sidelined over the last decade to take up the fight.

YES to redpesto’s suggestion for a “clean hands” campaign.

Peter Oborne – who is way ahead of the Ashleys and Rawnsleys on all this – had some good proposals in Saturday’s Mail:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1179595/PETER-OBORNE-Make-pay-money-sack-spivs-let-away–thieves-trial.html

“Make them pay the money back, sack the spivs who let them get away with it – and put the thieves on trial”

That sounds about right.

refresh@49 “Right now its about exposing all we can about the political classes. From lobbying networks, think tanks to expenses and everything inbetween.”

Agree with you there, it is time.

Time for Hazel Blears to go

Yes – and Purnell.

Agreed.

It’s far past time for Blears to go. For corruption and for terminal stupidity. Christ, I’m so sick of the sight of this government.

As for Hazel Blears, its time for the long anticipated ducking stool.

So the PM apologies?

I’m sorry, but… I’m not interested in politicians cleaning up their act.

I want them to be held accountable – as criminals, where necessary. If the general public dodge tax, or try to fiddle benefits, they get hammered (this government even screened ads demanding we turn each other in, if we suspect wrongdoing).

And please, don’t allow them to hide behind technicalities. These are our elected leaders. They, supposedly, serve at our pleasure.

Why should politicians be allowed to say sorry, promise to do better, and keep their ill-gotten loot? If they do, why shouldn’t future politicians not be allowed to wet their beak? No, no, NO! Every claim that can’t be justified as wholly legitimate should be paid back. I don’t give a runny shit whether it costs £10m to investigate and claim back £500,000 – I WANT IT BACK.

Why are they so special, and why are their proposals so clearly designed to allow much of this to continue?

It’s not just Labour. Our politics – all of it – is broken.

“Make them pay the money back, sack the spivs who let them get away with it – and put the thieves on trial”

I endorse this message.

Gary,

if Labour were to very publicly excommunicate those who have been abusing the expenses system, if we were to deselect the corrupt bastards, and the Tories were not to do this, were to keep their corrupt bastards in place, who do you think would win the next election? Seriously, if we has a complete clean sweep of PLP, led by the NEC, we’d fucking walk it. It would be the only issue in the campaign.

Of course, there’s a very serious danger that we’d end up with a Labour government that implements socialism and actually improves things for everyone, rather than trying to be a compassionate version of the Conservative Party. And we could well be stuck with that government for ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty years, and perhaps see an entire generation of Britons living genuinely prosperous and contented lives for the first time since the seventies. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Dammit Kelly, that’s dangerous talk!

66. Charlieman

There has been something significant missing from news reports, which is the local constituency chairman or woman demanding a satisfactory explanation from an MP, and if that cannot be provided, requesting resignation as candidate at the next election. The absence of such reports can’t be ascribed to non-reporting — such a story would be a good result for any journalist.

We thus have to assume that local parties are apathetic, spineless or disconnected, none of which attributes encourage faith in the system by which candidates will be promoted at the next general election. So far, it looks as if a lot of local parties will need a lot of reconstruction when their MPs get the well deserved boot by the electorate.

67. charlieman. Good good point about local parties.

And what of the peers?

Story in today’s Guardian about smart meters:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/may/11/smart-meters-energy-efficiency?commentpage=1

It seems the Bill to force all households to accept a new utilities meter was a part of another scandal:

‘Whispered over tea and cake: price for a peer to fix the law’

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5581570.ece

So who are they really working for?

Credit for the linkup goer to commenter 1nn1t on the Guardian story.

I will readily admit I was wrong – I didn’t think Expensesgate was a scandal on the level of Tangentopoli in early 90s Italy, and as such wouldn’t require as huge a campaign as Mani Pulite (clean hands) to combat it. But it’s massive. Last night’s Question Time – the people were out for revenge! Even today, new revelations about Clare Short and Shahid Malik. It’s all getting out of hand. I think UK politics is fucked for the time being.


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    no ifs no buts? http://bit.ly/ruajL

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