Philip Hensher: It's high time we had a new government

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The Independent Online

When Damian Green, the shadow Immigration minister, was apprehended by police and questioned about the leak of government documents, attention was focused on him. The constitutional outrage of the police entering the Palace of Westminster and trying to arrest an opposition spokesman for efficiently doing his job appeared the most important aspect of the case.

But there was another victim of the police operation. Christopher Galley, a junior civil servant in the Home Office, was arrested for allegedly leaking confidential documents to Mr Green. He was sacked from his job after a disciplinary hearing.

Now the Conservative party activist has resurfaced to claim that Mr Green has reneged on promises and commitments to look after his career in this eventuality. Mr Galley says: "Green and his team said that if something did go wrong they would look after me. Green said basically, 'You're OK' and it seemed to me that would mean he would get me a job, hopefully in a thinktank." The Conservative party strongly deny that any such commitment, however vague, was ever made, and have no intention of supplying Galley with a new career of any sort.

On the other side of the Commons, the Government seems set on tearing itself to pieces in a fit of personal greed. Ministers claim up to the absolute limit of allowable expenses, year after year; household and personal expenses of the utmost triviality are put down to taxpayers.

Perceived cases of personal corruption did for John Major's government. The present climate is widely perceived as being a culture of corruption. And it will do for this government, too.

Christopher Galley's complaints that he has been let down seem particularly naïve. It would be difficult to believe that any politician would seriously suggest to a disaffected public servant that if they betrayed the trust of their office, they would be rewarded with a political job. That is incredible. Mr Galley will just have to be satisfied with the honour of whatever part he played in exposing some shabby truth; he says he leaked only four documents, the authorities say 20. I don't suppose anyone would admire him much if it came out that he did that for ultimate gain.

But this is a sideshow to what may prove a bigger story, the determination of the opposition to behave with propriety, and to be seen to behave with propriety. One of the biggest failures of the Blair government was its inability to check the behaviour of MPs.

In opposition before 1997, the Labour party was happy to make hay with the eccentric brown-envelope habits of junior ministers. They did not, apparently, perceive the depth of the revulsion which the public had for any suggestion of corruption, and it was only a matter of months in office before stories of undeclared loans, Hinduja passports, and frank expenses-grubbing started to come to light.

If the brush-off of Christopher Galley demonstrates that some politicians are determined to avoid any suggestion whatsoever of favours offered and accepted, we would welcome it. If this small signal reflects the idea of a larger culture in which politicians would not do their jobs in a world of incentives and favours, then I think the time may have come for a change of government.

A government in terminal collapse offers an unusual opportunity to its successor, to make essential reforms in areas where the problems have become glaring. In 1997, Tony Blair had a clear opportunity, and muffed it. Next year, reform will look less like an opportunity, and more like an inescapable duty.

If Nefertiti bust is a fake, future generations will howl at us

A Swiss art historian has caused a stir by claiming that the famous bust of Nefertiti in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin is in fact a fake, less than 100 years old. Henri Stierlin says the bust was made by German archaeologists in 1912 to test the effect of ancient pigments.

A visiting Prussian prince, according to this theory, admired the bust so extravagantly that the archaeology team was too embarrassed to explain the object's true origins, and into the Berlin collection it went. Adolf Hitler, incidentally, called it "a unique masterpiece".

The Berlin authorities say that the stone has been dated to more than 3,000 years old but, frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if it was a fake. It just looks too good, too modish, as unmistakably jazz age as an illustration by Erté.

Actually, it looks very much like the contemporary reconstructions of the frescoes at Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans, which Evelyn Waugh said, accurately, looked like illustrations for Vogue. If the Nefertiti bust does, as I suspect, turn out to be a fake, how future generations will howl at our idea of ancient Egyptian art.

£3 for coffee leaves a bitter taste

Another scene overheard during the credit crunch...

"Mate, you been over there? That new place on the corner?"

"No, man, I'm loyal. I don't get my coffee from no new place over there. I get it from the place I always get it from, the staff room."

"Yeah, mate, and I'm not saying it's not good; man, that coffee, it's good, right? They pour it for you, make it all foamy, and they put a little bit of chocolate on top, sprinkle it, then it's more than two quid, man."

"Yeah, I know, it's two quid, three; they're having a laugh. I reckon that once you get above two quid, you're out of coffee territory. You're well out of coffee territory. You're into chicken and chips territory. And they're asking that for coffee. No way, man."

"Chicken and chips, man? Where'd you get your chicken and chips, man? That's rank."

"Two quid, no way I'm paying that for a coffee."

"It's three quid mostly. What was it before?"

"Furniture shop, innit? What happened to that then?"

"Closed down, went. Same as everything else."