I see the Charles Clarke scandal is still rumbling on. Along with the Prescott thing it’s been a pretty bad week for the government.
All this puts me in mind of a pet theory of mine: you only get to hear of the scandals when the press is really pissed off.
Well, it was something I noticed in the dying days of the Conservative government. It was every week a new scandal - think: Archer, Aitken, Mellor, Yeo, Lamont’s basement - usually, though not always, a sex scandal. Actually, all this started more or less immediately after Black Wednesday and it never stopped. The point was that Black Wednesday had demonstrated in the clearest possible terms that the government was both dishonest (the ERM was not essential to our well being) and incompetent (they couldn’t keep us in it). My guess is that it was at that point that the scales fell from the eyes of the press and it was at then that they decided to publicise all the stories that they had long known about but hadn’t so far bothered to print as well as going after new ones.
But why don’t they print sleazy stories as soon as they get them?
Well, I think it’s a matter of timing. There have been plenty of sleazy stories flying about New Labour over the years - words and phrases like Powderject and the Queen Mother’s funeral spring to mind - but these have had little impact. Certainly not enough to force a resignation. My guess is that the reason is that there just hasn’t been the market for it. So long as the press and public are prepared to give the government the benefit of the doubt these stories don’t go anywhere - but when things change, things change…
Ah, but hang about. There have been scandals before like Mandelson and Parkinson.
Obviously, if you do something completely outrageous you are in a lot of trouble but I think with Mandelson and Parkinson it was more that the press were just out to get them. I am not quite sure about Parkinson but my understanding is that Mandelson was universally loathed by journalists. They only tolerated him for as long as they did because they wanted a Labour victory. As soon as that was achieved old scores could be settled.
So, what is the present government’s Black Wednesday?
Obviously, there hasn’t been anything nearly as spectacular. It’s more of a drip-drip effect. The realisation that the government isn’t going to sort out the health service or education or anything else for that matter.
Update. Since drafting this I have noticed that Brian Micklethwait is saying more or less the same thing. But with better words and more swearing.