Monday, March 06, 2006


Tell you what, I'm not really that concerned as to whether Tessa Jowell broke the ministerial code, or whether her partner is a crook (which he clearly is). What concerns me more than that is the fact that a Labour minister is living the kind of life that Jowell clearly lives and, moreover, appears to think that this is perfectly OK. Will Self was spot on, it seemed to me in his comments about the matter on Question Time (echoed by Deborah Orr in the Indie a couple of days ago) - no matter what the truth of the matter was, before New Labour times it was popularly assumed that Labour politicians represented and fought for the poor, the disadvantaged and the exploited. Even if they did not actually do this very effectively, or indeed do it at all, in practice, Labour politicians would, at least, have to put some effort into giving the impression that they did in fact speak for the less well off - that they did not identify with the super-rich and social elites, much less that they did not absolutely and openly inhabit this milieu.

Jowell appears to think that there is no problem here. It is for her, it seems, perfectly acceptable that a Labour Minister should live the high life with a corporate lawyer for a partner - a corporate lawyer who 'earns' a tidy living by finding tax loop-holes for the super-rich, who receives £350,000 as a 'gift' for his sevices (from an ultra right-wing capitalist politician no less), a man who has a spare £400,000 to invest in a hedge fund (to make money out of money in the la-la land of high finance). This is all perfectly normal, no? Everyone nowadays dabbles in hedge funds, accepts huge sums of money as 'gifts' from our friends and colleagues (A box of 'After Eight' mints, or a Hallmark card, after all, is just so 20th Century), drives top of the range luxury cars, and hob nobs with Italian neo-fascists. Martin Kettle certainly thinks so:

"Jowell is considered a good minister and a popular one. She is also, to an extent, the victim of a sometimes hypocritical puritanism from people who have more in common with her than they care to admit: people who themselves own more than one property; who remortgage their homes to pay for their outgoings or to get a better repayment rate; and who themselves employ accountants and investment advisers to ensure that their tax liabilities are minimised. If Jowell lives some parts of her life in a moral maze, then she is not the only one. "

There is no need to say very much about this other than to remark that this paragraph rather sums up the breathtakingly smug, blinkered, insular, cloud-cuckoo-land thinking of the New Labour social set. I can't help picturing this arsewipe of a journalist, Kettle, in full Marie Antoinette costume.

The real Jowell scandal, it seems to me, is the scandal of New Labour, boiled down, concentrated and focused on this one individual. Jowell symbolises everything that is reprehensible, repulsive and downright grubby about Blairism. Do Jowell, Blair and Kettle really think that there is nothing untoward about a fat cat Labour politician? Is there nothing jarring about a Labour minister who is happy to live off large funds secured through the business of legally fiddling the taxes of the enormously wealthy - those who can afford the services of toady, money grubbing corporate lawyers who'll find ways to greatly reduce, even eliminate, their tax bills (incidentally, forcing more of the 'tax burden' on to the shoulders of the poor). Of course, if the less well off try to find ingenious ways of reducing the amount they pay in tax the likelihood is that sooner or later, they'll find themselves up in court (more money for the lawyers - they've really got it stitched up).

I find it difficult to believe that large numbers of people agree with the Martin Kettles of this world. The distance between New Labour and ordinary working people has never been so obvious. New Labour still don't get it. In fact, it really comes to something when a Conservative politician (Matthew Paris, on Straight Talk) criticises a Labour minister for her relaxed attitude towards wealth - it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth, Paris said, to see a Labour politician deeply mixed up in the world of hedge funds, tax avoidance schemes and financial 'gifts'. When the Tories* can justifiably lecture New Labour about social conscience and financial ethics we've really come to a pretty pass.

* To be fair, I should point out that I'm not using Paris here as some example of a 'bad Tory' who draws the line at the extent of New Labour's Mammon worship. I've always liked Paris, and he is, after all a relatively leftish Conservative. However, the point I'm making still stands I think.

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