The vice of secrecy at No 10

Related Topics
FRIENDS can be a problem for politicians, as Tony Blair's advisors have reason to reflect this weekend. Ever since the Monica Lewinsky affair became public in January, the Prime Minister has stood loyally by President Clinton, emphasising the warm relationship between the two couples. Last week, sources close to Mr Blair were still insisting that Mr Clinton was a "good president" and a "steadfast friend to Britain" - although it's hard to believe that, somewhere in Downing Street, a damage limitation exercise isn't already taking place in case he is impeached or forced to resign.

What we will get, if Mr Clinton goes, is Pious Tony at his worst, uttering platitudes about the faults which bring about the downfall even of great men. Mr Clinton is not, by any standards, a great man but he is an example of the difficulties politicians can be placed in by their closest allies. So it seems odd, not to say tactless, that Mr Blair's government chose last week to announce what looks like the most blatant example so far of New Labour cronyism: shelving plans to turn the House of Lords into an elected chamber, while pressing ahead with legislation to remove voting rights from hereditary peers.

The decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday when it was agreed that a Bill to strip peers of their rights will be included in the Queen's Speech. A far more significant reform, replacing the House of Lords with an elected body, will have to wait until after the next general election. You would think, to judge by the spin from Downing Street, that the question of how to set up an elected revising chamber is so thorny that the Government's best minds have recoiled from it. In the meantime, an unsatisfactory hybrid with an in-built Conservative majority is to be replaced by another, dominated by life peers who support New Labour.

Mr Blair's excuse is that he wants to spare us "constitutional overload", as though it would bother our little heads too much if we had to think about electing two sets of legislators. (They manage in the United Stales, voting for the Senate and the House of Representatives without being carted off to hospital in droves, suffering from a bout of electoral fatigue.)

Mr Blair also believes we can get along perfectly well without a Freedom of Information Act, a manifesto commitment which has been dropped from the Queen's Speech for the second year running. This is because Mr Blair does not want to get "bogged down" with changing the way Britain is governed, which I uncharitably interpret to mean that New Labour, now it is in office, does not see why it should give up the habit of secrecy which served its predecessors so well. Politicians proceed on the assumption that there is only so much truth the voters can stand, and they like to be the arbiters of it.

But Mr Blair cannot prevent us seeing for ourselves the authoritarian social and political agenda which lies beneath his administration's benign facade, nor its reluctance to enact measures which involve a transfer of power from government to the people. Nor is it surprising that the Prime Minister's personal popularity is falling, as revealed in an opinion poll last week, when he plans to stuff the House of Lords with a motley collection of tycoons, lawyers and media executives, whose chief claim to fame is that they are Tony's Friends.

HILLARY CLINTON has the misfortune to be not just a member of that rapidly dwindling band, the Friends of Bill, but his wife. Whether she will remain so, after he ceases to be President, is another question. It is impossible to know whether her tardy endorsement of her husband last week was prompted by residual affection or an attempt to rescue something from the ruins of their joint political project: the almost forgotten Clinton co-presidency in 1993, whose showpiece was to be Mrs Clinton's reform of health care.

Its failure, and Mrs Clinton's retreat into the role of traditional First Lady, is one of many puzzling episodes in the career of this clever, enigmatic woman. Why, when her own political ambitions were so highly developed, did she settle for being the President's wife instead of running for office herself? Why has she defended him so many times, beginning with her TV appearance in 1992 at the height of the Gennifer Flowers allegations? On that occasion she employed an angry mixed metaphor to explain her marriage: "I am not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette."

Her remark drew a furious response from Ms Wynette herself, as well as perplexing viewers who thought the song title entirely appropriate. Monica Lewinsky, moreover, was reported last week to be blaming herself for Mr Clinton's problems, telling friends: "I've destroyed the man I loved." Her remorse has to be seen in the context of a rumoured multi-million- dollar book deal, but the loyalty of the two women closest to Mr Clinton is the most bewildering aspect of the melodrama still unfolding in Washington.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas