Opinions about whether the changes in Tony Blair's Cabinet signal a new direction for his government
THE TRADITIONAL ritual of post-reshuffle analysis dwells, inevitably, on winners and losers. Tony Blair is the clearest winner of all, succeeding in the primary goal of any prime minister re-sorting his ministerial pack for the first time - namely imposing his own stamp on his cabinet. By the same token, Gordon Brown has lost out quite badly - watching as key allies have been removed and unfriendly newcomers moved in. But the Government itself could also suffer: its election-winning commitment to "reform welfare as we know it" has suffered a substantial blow.
MANY COMMENTATORS have acclaimed this week's reshuffle as a move by Mr Blair to impose a tighter grip on his own cabinet. His spokesmen themselves seem happy enough with this interpretation. And yet there is surely something peculiar about it. More than a year into his administration, the Prime Minister is still hugely popular in the country. He has a vast majority in Parliament. He faces no conceivable challenge to his leadership, and he presides over no great ideological rifts in his Cabinet. He has had the power, in other words, to do more or less whatever he wants to do. So why present the reshuffle as a reassertion of his authority? The short answer is that Mr Blair has allowed a damaging personal split to open up inside the Cabinet. It has coloured the reshuffle. He will not say so, but Mr Blair seems content to let the reshuffle be seen as a clipping of his chancellor's wings.
WHAT DOES the Cabinet reshuffle tell us about the Government? Surprise, surprise, it says Tony Blair is in charge. But then HE is the Prime Minister, not Gordon Brown or any of his sidekicks. Blair has strengthened his team with the men and women he wants, not those imposed on him by his party before the election. And not those favoured by loose talk in the Treasury staff's favourite Red Lion pub. Blair now has around him the team he believes will carry him to a second election victory. There is no time to waste if reforms on child benefit, single mums and welfare fiddlers are to bite before the election. Every day that passes will make the Government more reluctant to take unpopular, possibly vote-losing, decisions.
TONY BLAIR has shaped his government. The Prime Minister's first reshuffle adds a New Labour feel to the team he inherited in opposition. And while the promotions and demotions generally reflect the competence or otherwise of the relevant players, he has tightened his personal grip. Loyalty to Mr Blair, we now know, carries its rewards.
IN A GOVERNMENT carrying "light ideological baggage", competence and experience have been rewarded. But it is Blair himself, rather than his new team, who will determine the course of events. How radical does he really want to be on reform? What is he going to do with the Lords and electoral reform? How is he going to handle the single-currency issue? I believe that he will be cautious on welfare, back electoral reform and that he will take Britain into EMU soon after the election, but nobody knows for sure. (Steve Richards)
IN PROMOTING favourites Mr Blair has done nothing that many of his predecessors have not done: prime ministers have a natural urge to have those they know and trust about them. Indeed, this can make for effective government. But if pursued too relentlessly, cronyism can cocoon a leader from political reality and rob the government of talent. Mr Blair may not have crossed this line with his changes. Nonetheless, he has strayed close to it.
Monica agrees to talk freely
THIS TIME the American president is in real difficulty. Monica Lewinsky has finally decided she is coming to the party. Even if she does not openly declare that she was pressurised by the President or his entourage to lie, Kenneth Starr can probably put together enough circumstantial evidence. It looks now as if he will be able to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that Bill Clinton not only lied, but that he encouraged his young helper to conceal the truth.
EACH NEW speculation regarding what Clinton may say in front of the Grand Jury is wilder than the last. If he persists in repeating his words of January it will be Bill's word against Monica's. If he tries to fend off the questioning with dodges similar to the one about fellatio and penetration, he will founder in the ridicule. If he admits to having lied, he will be found guilty of perjury. Whatever happens, we cannot actually be sure that Congress will even find in this farcical situation, aggravated by a lie of Pinocchian proportions, enough concrete evidence to even bring an accusation of impeachment to trial.
SINCE THE president's steely-eyed pledge to the nation on 26 January that "I did not have sexual relations with that woman. I never told anybody to lie", the unfolding Lewinsky revelations have left the public looking at him as a wife looks at her husband when she hears a rumor that he is cheating. First, she hopes it is not true. When he denies it, she wants to believe him. But if, finally, she is convinced that he has lied, the betrayal becomes too real and deep to ignore.
CLINTON STILL has strong public support for the job he is doing as president, but no matter how the Lewinsky case is resolved, it will remain a cloud over his presidency. It must be perfectly clear at the White House: Clinton needs to be candid with the grand jury and open and frank with the American public, as he promised last January. Perhaps then he can re-energize his administration for his final two years in office. There are times when it is critical that a president be able to maintain confidences, whether negotiating with a foreign power, making national security decisions or dealing with a host of other matters. The Lewinsky investigation tattered the curtain of presumed confidentiality in the areas of the president's relationships with the Secret Service and White House lawyers. And now we face a court precedent that the president may face civil litigation while in office. Our presidents are not above the law. They must be accountable to the people. But that does not justify creating a permanent institution steeped in politics that makes it possible to hound presidents of either party out of office.
Corriere della Serra
AS IN a tragedy by Sophocles, it is the president's weaknesses, and not his enemies, which have been his undoing. Starr has not succeeded in proving anything, despite years of inquests, thousands of statements, witnesses, money, and a hate campaign reminiscent of the Fifties witch- hunts. Even where Monica is concerned, it will be a classic case of him against her. Cases in which the "men" have been acquitted, inside and outside of the courtroom. The word of a mixed-up intern weighs little against the that of the Leader of the Free World. Houdini-Clinton has been wiggling out of things for eight years and many people are still waiting for his next brilliant move. But the chains he has to wiggle out of this time are heavy, and on each link is written "Made in Clinton".
PRESIDENT CLINTON is being pressed to cut short the agony - and the political damage - by making a direct appeal to the American people, confessing if necessary that he lied about what happened between himself and Miss Lewinsky, and putting himself at the people's mercy. It worked once for Richard Nixon, so why not Bill Clinton?
CLINTON'S BEHAVIOR has permanently tarnished the integrity of politics, which already was in a precarious state. As the Chief Executive Officer of the nation, he has made a mockery of sexual-harassment standards in our country. As governor of Arkansas, and apparently as president of the United States, he has failed to abide by the laws that his government - and his rhetoric - applies to his countrymen.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Reviews of Camille Paglia's book on Alfred Hitchcock's `The Birds', published by the British Film Institute
MAGNIFICENTLY cantankerous, and writing in a vivid and high-pitched prose that at times takes on a sibylline authority, Paglia mixes allusions to Greek myth, Coleridge (adored for his hotline to the unconscious) and Wordsworth (too often wishy-washy and sentimental), with references to contemporary techno-epics such as the Terminator films. Given Paglia's basilisk stare and edgy temper, Hitchcock is fortunate that she is his greatest admirer. (J G Ballard)
THIS IS so batty it is endearing - and Paglia is no fool, she knows precisely the effect her prose has; there are a few such shameless plays to the gallery in the book, but not too many. She has done her research, she can transmit great enthusiasm, a yea- rather than a nay-sayer, and her forced correspondences are outnumbered about three to one by inspired ones - one result being that she places The Birds as one of Surrealism's last great cinematic works, which goes some way to explaining the film's charge and effect. (Nicholas Lezard)
The Evening Standard
THIS IS a study in which it is impossible to separate the erudition from the eroticism. Nothing is allowed to just "be": pencils are phallic, telephone cords are "umbilical", balloons at a kiddies' party are "mammary" and - the blood is really pumping now - the simple act of tying up a boat becomes "a hangman's noose lassoing a penis". Paglia's range of cultural reference is encyclopedic. The sudden spurts of personal emotion are enlivening, and she has done her homework. (Mark Sanderson)
Comments on the victory of Hun Sun in last Sunday's elections in Cambodia
Phonm Penh Post
HUN SEN "the statesman" will provide adequate leadership to keep Cambodia's recovery on track, or whether unruly elements within his party and the fractious nature of Cambodian politics is too big a job for any one individual. Both his detractors and his supporters will hold him to this standard. There has never been one time when Cambodia has been part of the United Nations, Asean, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asia Development Bank, the World Trade Organisation and other groups, and a recipient of aid, trade and recognition from every other country in the world. That is the heady mix at Hun Sen's fingertips today. The international community, in its mixed-up way, has given the green light for all this to Hun Sen. He is not likely to let internal nuisances such as vote counting and coalition-forming hold back such rich prizes for long. Khmers have voted in the hope that a new government will lead Cambodia into peace. That is their most cherished prize. The common question from the streets and on the motos in the last few days has been: "Does this mean there'll be no more problems?" There is relief and hopeful smiles at the equally hopeful answer: "No more problems."
Hong Kong Standard
IT WAS bound to happen in Cambodia. Somebody was going to cry foul after last Sunday's election. What was not actually anticipated was that the entire opposition would join in chorus, accusing strongman Hun Sen of somehow fixing the election despite the presence of many international observers. Even the observers, who have basically termed the election fair and free, did say that there had been some irregularities. But they did not add up to a major fraud.
TOUR DE FRANCE
French views of the repeated drug scandals that have accompanied and nearly stopped their country's great cycling race this year
THE FUNDAMENTAL aspect of the problem is the respect of human dignity. It was here that the Tour was scuppered. Of course junkies should not be pitied, but it was possibly taking things a little far to organise a night raid of the hotels - where our great champions were resting after three hellish days in the Alps - and set loose the "cowboys" who opened doors with their fists. Perhaps all of the competitors are taking drugs. But surely we cannot, in a state of law, treat such champions in the manner in which we would not even treat bank robbers or the rapist of a young girl. The other day, millions of Frenchmen were devastated. Along the Albertville to Aix-les-Bains route or in front of their televisions, they were miserable because it was possible that the most stunning spectacle of the summer holidays had been killed off forever. The crowd has always preferred the gladiators to the lions.
THE CYCLISTS' protestation barely conceals their nostalgia for the omerta which has permitted the taking of drugs to become part of professional cycling culture and to be tacitly accepted among the participants of the Tour. Admittedly, though, the cyclists are the first victims of this situation. Struggling, head down, against the disagreeable constraints to which they will have to submit now that their conspiracy of silence has been broken, they may realise they are in the wrong race.
SO EVERYONE is taking drugs? Well, let them just say it! The only way of saving the Tour from the moral abyss it has fallen into would be that: a collective confession, a letter signed by all the riders admitting that EPO is a daily reality for the high-level cyclist. It would be a gesture of loyalty toward their colleagues expelled from the race, and a gesture of truth to the public. For the riders themselves, it would be a gesture of courage. It would be the end of this Tour, no doubt, but the sport would be better for it.
THESE MEN accept what every other man refuses: losing, being classified, cycling up hills in the sun, feeling pain, ageing in front of their own eyes, living with abstinence and excess, forcing themselves to train in all conditions, engulfing themselves in transient glory, forgetting themselves. This is their choice and this choice scares them. And so, in an attempt to rid themselves of that fear, they take the drugs. Whether the Tour stops here or continues is not of any real importance at the moment: it is ruined this year and the public are rallying to the side of the cyclists.
BURMA'S TREATMENT OF AUNG SUN SUU KYI
Comment about obstruction of the opposition leader in Burma
FOR THE third time in as many weeks, the Rangoon junta has prevented Aung Sun Suu Kyi from meeting opposition colleagues outside the capital. The policy of constructive-engagement is being shown to be as wobbly as the junta's hold on power and appreciation of reality. The Philippines and Thailand must press on with their efforts to induce Asean to understand that it makes more sense to engage with the democratically-elected representatives of the Burmese people than to expect reason from a paranoid regime on the verge of dribbling senility. Deluded though the junta may be, it is clear by its actions and statements that it knows that the forces of democracy will one day prevail. When that day comes, it will be stuck for excuses, and so will Asean for its support over the years of a shabby policy and a shabbier regime.
Free Burma Coalition Newsletter
THE BURMA we love is nearing total collapse, economically and politically, as US Secretary of State Ms Albright correctly observed. The international community, including even Asean members (such as the Philippines and Thailand), have publicly, if diplomatically, expressed their growing impatience with the junta's thuggish, desperate hold on power. Having felt increased economic hardships and increasing political oppression since 1988, people inside seem ready to do anything to get rid of the regime.
South China Morning Post
THE VIVID mental picture of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's long nights in her white sedan has brought angry denunciation from the West - something the regime has long learned to tolerate. But the criticism from even "friends" in Asean will have rattled the generals. This might be a dictatorship on steroids - the military has doubled the number of men under arms in a decade - but by adopting a position of fixed menace the generals have made themselves vulnerable to a determined, light-footed opponent.
Stories from around the world
Times of India
THE WORLD Health Organisation will be thrilled and amused to know about the imaginative move of the Delhi administration to combat malaria by requiring schoolgirls not to wear skirts lest they be bitten by mosquitoes. Boys can continue to wear shorts because mosquitoes apparently dare not touch them. A classic case of gender discrimination. When we are plagued with strikes and general unrest can we not dispense with such hilarity? Or perhaps we need it as a relief.
CRIMES THAT go unreported in most big cities are big news in small towns. Urbanites have come to expect and live with a certain level of crime, while their rural cousins resist the urge to tolerate it - any of it. Take the Ontario Provincial Police in Picton, for example. This week, they discovered that a $100 area rug had been stolen from a private home. The provincial police were also forced to deal with a cushion theft. The local constabulary is investigating the disappearance of cushions that were used to adorn outdoor wicker furniture. So, the police are busy looking for a hood with bad taste. It is hardly the stuff that makes Unsolved Mysteries worth watching, but it keeps the police hopping in Picton.
ST KITTS has restored the death penalty, much to the indignation of assorted Bleeding Hearts, and has shown a greater resolve in this direction than Jamaica. Both the Prime Minister and the President of the Court of Appeal, have already expressed their opposition to capital punishment. But I am not so sure that in their public capacity they are entitled to the foot-dragging that has done so much to delay the resumption of hanging. (Morris Cargill)
Quotes of the Week
"When you are a glamour model you have to pretend to be stupid. Men want this little-girl image, so you look dumb and pretty."
Helen Whiskin, former Page-Three Girl
"Although the level of expenditure is an issue, the main concern is the cancerous impact that much of welfare has on people's motivations, their actions and thus their character."
Frank Field, in his ministerial resignation speech
"The bishops have a responsibility to be in touch with young people, however difficult and embarrassing that might be."
The Rt Rev Rowan Williams, Bishop of Monmouth
"Far too many children have reading difficulties or, as I would prefer to put it, learning difficulties, induced by the fact that their teachers have teaching difficulties."
Keith Waterhouse, playwright and commentator
"She [Aung San Suu Kyi] may not like what we did to her now, but she will be grateful in future."
Spokesman for the Burmese military juntaReuse content