Scepticism, not cynicism..

..was the response from the satirical impressionist Rory Bremner to Secretary of State for Wales, etc, Peter Hain’s accusation that he was “spreading cynicism and embitterment about politicians”. Both were appearing on the BBC’s Sunday AM politics show with Andrew Marr – clip here [Realplayer file] – when the discussion, on Bremner’s slightly dodgy phone-calls to certain ministers of state, got a little heated – one was promoting a new TV series, the other continuing his campaign to be deputy leader of the Labour Party.. another candidate, Hazel Blears, was on The Politics Show later in the day. The apparent trigger for the row was Bremner’s question – “I want to know who’s impersonating Peter Hain? Because I remember you as a leftwing, ideological figure.”.. btw here’s the Guardian’s Michael White with a reasonable take on the row. Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph’s David Gordon picks up the sceptical baton, and points to the Secretary of State for Wales, etc, praising the advantages of a city-centre based stadium over a suburban one… Of course, Peter Hain made these comments whilst wearing his Welsh hat..

From the Belfast Telegraph

Mr Hain’s direct rule team has repeatedly dismissed calls for a new sports stadium for Northern Ireland to be located in Belfast rather than the former Maze Prison site near Lisburn.

But, comparing the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to the new Wembley Stadium in London at the weekend, Mr Hain said that holding events in a city centre rather than the suburbs created a “wonderful atmosphere”.

Mr Hain told BBC Radio Five Live the Millennium Stadium was “probably one of the best in the world”.

He emphasised the advantage of it being “right in the centre of Cardiff” , and continued: “there’s a wonderful atmosphere of people milling around the streets, which become pedestrianised, coming in and out of pubs and restaurants and cafes and flooding into the ground.

“And it’s a great sense of occasion, much more so, I think, than it will be when the … new Wembley Stadium opens, because Wembley is in a suburb rather than a city centre.” [added emphasis]

The comments have met with approval from many of those opposed to the siting of the stadium at the former prison, who claim it will be hard for supporters to reach.

“This obviously vindicates what we and others have been saying in that a stadium in a city centre is what would be best for Northern Ireland, and even the Secretary of State knows that’s the case,” said Gary McAllister, a spokesman for the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs.

But, it could also be said that the Secretary of State for Wales etc isn’t slow in encouraging cynicism about other politicians when he sees fit.. nor is the NIO come to that..

Remember. Not cynical.. just sceptical.

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  • It’s a little off-topic, but can anyone please help me out on this. Is it not a little bit absurd to have a campaign for the position of deputy leader? Is there a separate election for the post?

    Back on topic, I wonder how Hain caught him so quickly? Maybe it’s because neither Brown nor Blair would have called him Peter πŸ™‚

  • Pete Baker

    AnthonyB

    on-topic.

    I believe it was a by-election.. but Bremner [as Brown] asked Hain how many seats he thought they would lose.

  • Ah, that’s a pity. Sounds like a stupid mistake to make though. I wonder whether it’s a real invasion of privacy as Beckett claimed? It’s certainly underhand and deceitful by definition…but on the other hand, it gets to the root of peoples opinions, or at least a representation of those opinions that are less publicly held, perhaps.

    Journalists tend to know what’s going on, who likes who, who hates who, and so forth, and tend to guard it. There is something of an arrangement about it, leaking and sourcing material that can influence or shape stories, but not directly contribute to those stories. In that way the media can be used to further political careers and the media can maintain relationships and trust on a personal basis with politicians. Like the relationship between McDowell and Sam Smyth. (Although the Frank Connolly thing was treasonous, but let’s not go there – waaaay off topic πŸ™‚ ).

    Then – the role of the media is questioned. Are there rules by which information should be gleaned? Above and beyond the criminal law? The publication of information is of course covered by the libel laws, but the sourcing of information – that is solely covered by criminal law, and one suspects that Bremner’s actions were not wrong by that standard – I think! Impersonating a police officer is presumably an offence, is it an offence to impersonate a politician?

    Hmmmm.

  • Pete Baker

    Well.. the Beeb asked a lawyer..

    Is it legal to impersonate a minister?

  • Rory

    The question to the Beeb’s lawyer “Is it legal to impersonate a minister?” isn’t actually pertinent here as Bremner never claimed to be either “Gordon Brown” or “the Chancellor” in his call to Beckett. He carefully introduced himself as “Hello, Margaret, Gordon here…” and let her draw her own assumptions. Even had he claimed to be “Gordon Brown” there would not be a problem as there are undoubtedly lots more Gordon Browns than the Chancellor and in any case one may call oneself what one likes within reason.

    All in all I thought Michael White got it about right – Beckett handled herself very cooly and cannily and managed a bonus point for displaying no sign of ambition exceeding responsibility – a rare bird indeed.

  • Pete Baker

    That would be a very strict reading of the available transcript, Rory. But it’s clear that’s who he intended to present himself as.

    Anyway.. clearly Channel4 thought there was a risk of repercussions, although possibly not criminal ones, if the tapes were broadcast.

  • John Farrell

    Much more “illegal” would be the comment in todays Independents Q&A session with Vice Roy Peter Hain.
    Most of it good knockabout stuff about how he got that skin colour in NI.
    But asked how he got on with Rev Paisley he actually said
    “if as I hope the DUP finally enters power sharing government with Ian Paisley as First Minister and Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister”

    Hmmm run that by me again…..”IF AS I HOPE” sounds to me like a departure from NIO neutrality in self imposed Purdah during an election campaign.
    I bet the SDLP and UUP and AP (sadly no longer NIOs political wing) loved having the extremes promoted.

  • Nevin

    I suppose in the next few days we’ll have a few folks here – in NI, of course – impersonating early, impersonating often :<)

  • Have to agree with Pete, Rory – the reasonableness test no doubt applies. (Donning wig, clearing throat) If it can be reasonably assumed what inference the called party will draw from the tone, accent and mannerisms of impersonation, then it can be similarly reasonably inferred that the intention of the calling party was that such an inference be so drawn. And, therefore, guilty, m’lud…

  • Rory

    You make a good argument for the reasonability test, AnthonyB, andI am moved to accept it. So guilty then, but guilty of what? Deceiving a politician. What’s the penalty? Three rousing cheers seems appropriate.

  • Nevin

    Politics & the Art of Deception – the black art of government.

  • Ah, Rory, we return to the titular cynicism! I believe one can be incarcerated for impersonating a police officer, and therefore should a similar proscription apply in the case of impersonating a politician, a similar penalty would apply? However, it would appear that no law was broken. While there may be a specific offence of impersonating a police officer (and using that to gain power over someone, say, in instructing bank guards to stand down and then letting one’s mates rob the place) there is none for politicians, unless some other law is broken:

    (from the BBC piece)

    “I can’t see a criminal offence in it. If he had been trying to get her to pay money or something of that sort, then that is a criminal offence under the new Fraud Act. It’s just one of those things that politicians have to put up with and comedians love as part of their stock in trade.”

    However, didn’t Naomi Campbell win a case recently about the right to privacy? Certainly the ECHR affords such a right, and the Human Rights Act 1999 has similar provisions if I’m not mistaken. But I also believe that the courts have ruled repeatedly that the opinions of public persons and public representatives in particular are relevant, both on subjects of morality and law.