Fallout Boy #1

Well it’s the morning afternoon after the night before and the Continuity IDS* spin operation was up bright and early today, so I guess we should get straight down to business and deliver a coup de grace** or two.

*Mike Smithson’s oh-so-beautifully-apt nickname for Conservative Home.

**Translation for members of the Quake/Doom generation… I’m going to gib a few Tories this morning.

Where else could we start that with Iain Dale who appears to the think, if ‘think’ is not too strong a word, that the ‘fallout’ from last night’s votes on the abortion amendments will be some absurd nonsense about ‘unofficial whipping operations’, which I’ve considered to be more of a Tory predilection and not something they prefer to discuss in public.

Sorry, Iain, but the real fallout from last night’s votes and, generally, from the two days of debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill Act 2008, is only just getting started, and I’m afraid that its going to hurt you much more than it hurts me.

You might well expect me to go straight for Nadine Dorries, who shipped up on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, while Edward Stourton was clearly still half asleep, and got away with barely a scratch despite peddling the same mawkish nonsense that bloggers have been eviscerating for weeks. Right?

Not yet. I’m saving Mad Nad for later, when I’ve built up a good head of steam.

No, I’m going to start with David Cameron, whose overall performance over the last couple of days suggests that someone may be been secretly experimenting with human-mollusc hybrids a good few years ago, just a bit under forty-three years ago to be precise.

It’s worth contrasting Cameron’s antics with the performance of Gordon Brown who, when he hit the TV news sofas over the weekend, took a simple, principled line on  the whole of the bill and argued that it is not only right that we should open up the possibility of research that may lead to treatments to serious degenerative genetic conditions, end discrimination in provision of IVF service and support women’s right to choice and sovereignty over their own bodies but that it is morally the right course for parliament to take.

By way of complete constrast, Cameron voted against one of the two amendments that attempted to prevent the use of admixed embryos on Monday evening and then hit the GMTV sofa on Tuesday morning to justify his decision by waving his family situation in from the cameras. He was, after all, only doing it for his disabled son, who had the misfortune to have been born with cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy.

Brown, its worth pointing out, could easily have deployed the same argument in an effort to garner a bit of public sympathy for his position on this portion of the bill; his youngest son has, after all, been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. But if his personal and family circumstances did play any part in shaping his personal position on this section of the Bill, well then Brown wasn’t saying and stuck firmly to presenting the case for enabling scientists to pursue this controversial stand of research as a matter of principle and of doing the right thing by others.

So who’s the better man here?

Who showed himself to a man of principle and of strong moral character?

Not Cameron, that’s for sure.

Cowering behind his disabled son as a means of staving off the wrath of the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail for breaking ranks on the admixed embryos vote was not, of course, the only flanker that Cameron tried to pull, although the action is just a little difficult to follow courtesy of the Daily Mail’s efforts to erase all mention of his GMTV appearance by stealthily ‘recycling’ the webpages on which these reports appeared.

And they would have got away with it too if it weren’t for us meddling bloggers – and Google’s cache, of course, so for the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, here is what Cameron actually had to say on GMTV, as reported by the Daily Mail, starting with his comments on voting against one of the two amendments that would have prevented the use of admixed embryos for stem cell research:

Altogether now… Awwwwwwwwwww! Pass me the bucket, quick…

And not to be outdone, here’s the Mail’s view of what Cameron had to say about his voting intentions in the abortion debate:

And its at this point that we start to get into some very interesting territory, territory from which a rather interesting picture of Cameron’s modus operandi as Leader of the Conservative Party begins to emerge.

We’ll start at the beginning, shall we, with a meeting with Nadine Dorries at the end of February, which Dorries reported as having gone as follows:

Last Monday I met with David Cameron to discuss lowering the limit at which abortion takes place from 24 to 20 weeks.

He couldn’t have been more supportive.

We discussed how tricky it was for someone like him – who is neither pro-choice or pro-life – to take the sensible position on the issue, which is why he would, on the basis of scientific evidence, support my 20 week amendment.

As I left I said that I was grateful for his support, it’s a free vote issue for Conservative MPs, but that what I really needed was for him to be able to get his position out into the public domain. As I left, he promised that he would do that, some time within the next two weeks.

Yesterday I got a call from the Daily Mail to say that Cameron had contacted them to make his 20 week position clear and could I comment?

It’s also in today’s Daily Telegraph and The Evening Standard.

I like a leader who delivers on a promise; I like a leader who gets things done; and I like even more a leader who can take the evidence, sift out what he knows to be relevant and what’s rubbish and take a strong position.

And Cameron does appear to have spoken to the Daily Mail, who reported his position as follows:

Cameron: Cut the abortion limit to 21 weeks

David Cameron today declares his support for plans to reduce the legal time limit for abortions to between 20 and 21 weeks.

The Conservative leader has decided to vote for the current 24-week deadline to be lowered in what is the first Parliamentary vote on the issue since 1990, the Daily Mail can reveal.

His decision follows advances in care for premature babies and widespread public interest after the release of 3D images showing foetuses apparently “walking in the womb” at 12 weeks.

That’s interesting isn’t it?

Despite Dorries’ confident assurances that Cameron is going to back her 20 week amendment because he’s convinced by the ‘scientific evidence’, the Mail are equivocating over his position. The headline says 21 weeks, the text ‘between 20 and 21 weeks’.

And Cameron himself, what did he actually say to the Mail?

Mr Cameron said: “I would like to see a reduction in the current limit, as it is clear that, due to medical advancement, many babies are surviving at 24 weeks.

“If there is an opportunity in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, I will be voting to bring this limit down from 24 weeks.

“This must, however, remain a conscience issue and a free vote.”

He didn’t actually commit himself to anything other than a unspecified reduction.

Not really that strong a position is it?

Dorries also mentions coverage in the Telegraph and Evening Standard, so lets see what they had to say…

As far the Evening Standard were concerned, Cameron hadn’t really committed himself firmly to anything but 20 weeks was a possibility:

The Conservative leader will vote to lower the deadline for terminations, possibly to as early as 20 weeks.

As for the Telegraph, its difficult to say quite what they originally reported as their article was quietly updated in mid-April, by which time they were sure that it was going to 20 weeks that Cameron would be voting for:

David Cameron is set to declare his support for the lowering of the time limit for abortions to 20 weeks.

So Cameron’s obviously backing a reduction in the time limit but also, quite obviously, procrastinating over whether to publicly come out in support of a cut to 20 weeks.

What these reports quite clearly show is that Cameron was doing everything possible to leave his options open and not take up a strong public position, one that clearly expressed his precise voting intentions.

Nevertheless, Dorries pressed on with her campaign, seemingly in the full belief and expectation that Cameron would back her amendment – she was even confident enough to namecheck Cameron on her list of ’20 reasons for 20 weeks’:

9. Leading public figures including Opposition leader David Cameron are calling for a cut to at least 20 weeks.

The apparent opinion of David Cameron, who read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, is hardly a solid basis on which to decide how to vote on a debate in which the central issues have been questions of science and scientific evidence, of course, but leaving that aside, what this does show is that on May 6th, when she launched her 20 weeks campaign, Dorries was still pretty much certain that Cameron was backing her 20 weeks amendment even if he hadn’t actually said so in public.

So it should has no great surprise at all to find that the late addition of a 22 week amendment on the order papers for last night debate, one that Iain Dale had no hesitation in identifying as having come from the Tory front bench, stirred up quite a bit of consternation amongst the fully-paid up members of Continuity IDS:

What I do not understand is that the Conservative front bench has now put down an amendment on 22 weeks, for reasons no one has quite been able to explain.

Now, as we all know, much of Dales status, position and reputation in the blogosphere, and amongst the massed hacks of Westminster Village, rests on his having created the impression that he’s the man in the know, first with the gossip and the blogger with his finger on the pulse of what going on inside the Tory Party, and yet both he and Dorries do appear to have genuinely mystified by this amendment. Dorries was, herself, quoted by the Daily Mail as having responded to the amendment by stating that:

‘Twenty-two weeks is meaningless.

‘Large numbers of babies will still be aborted in a barbaric manner, they will still feel pain, and although it will be a victory in as much as the tide will have turned, it will mean that the 20-week campaign will carry on until we meet 20 weeks.

‘The public want 20 weeks, doctors want 20 weeks, MPs should vote for 20 weeks.’

And, equally, no soon as the 22 week amendment was tabled, she high-tailed it over to Conservative Home where her rumoured squeeze, Tim Mongomerie, gave her carte blanché to explain why the amendment was, in her opinion, a bad idea…

BTW, ignore everything she says about science/evidence in that post, it’s complete and utter rubbish, as you’ll know if you’ve been following this debate here, at Lib Con, or just about anywhere else in the blogosphere where there’s a blogger with a modicum of intelligence.

Dale’s brief commentary on the amendment was, shall we say, somewhat more temperate in tone but no less damning in its assessment of the amendment:

Frankly, it’s a fudge. Either you believe in the status quo, or you think the limit should be much lower. This amendment smacks too much of the lowest common denominator.

Lowest common denominator is not such a bad way of putting it, as both Dale and Dorries might have realised had they paid just a little more attention to what went on at the Daily Mail’s website and its reporting of the launch of Dorries’ campaign back on May 6th.

Again, we have the Mail rewriting history, although this time its a bit more difficult to demonstrate as all the action took place before Google could get around to caching the relevant pages, but to start with version 1.0 of the Mail coverage, the paper opened up its online coverage with the headline ‘New abortion campaign to cut limit to 20 weeks: Fight to save 2500 lives a year’, mirroring the paper’s front page for the day:

(hat-tip to Mailwatch/Big Daddy Merk for the image… Don’t s’pose you got a grab of page six of the same issue? Anyone grab the 20 reasons graphic? If so, post a URL in the comments, please…)

As for content of the Mail’s article, it was a combination of the front page content and part of the feature content which appeared on page six of the print edition, which included on the Mail’s usual graphical tables listing all of Dorrie’s ’20 Reasons for 20 weeks’, including reason 9 which lays claim to Cameron’s backing for a 20 week amendment – and taking all the content put out by the Mail as version 1.0 of the story together, some, if not many, of the Mail’s readers would naturally assume that D-Cam was not just backing a 20 week amendment but explicitly backing Dorries’ actual campaign.

So that’s the Mail’s opening salvo, and it didn’t take long for a number of bloggers to get stuck into the business of pulling Nad’s campaign, and particularly her 20 stated reasons for a 20 week limit, into tiny little pieces – after all, its not like we hadn’t already had plenty of practice over the period between the deliberations of the Science and Technology Committee and the publication of its excellent report and the official launch of Nad’s campaign.

And then something a little strange started to happen because version 1.0 unexpectedly morphed into version 1.1 – same text but the graphic listing Dorries’s 20 reasons had inexplicable vanished to be replaced with a full length photo of Nad looking not unlike Corries’ deeply irritating social climber. Sally Webster.

Mmm… how do we explain that?

If this was one of the red-tops then maybe someone had simply decided that Nad was still, at 51, presentable enough to pass for a bit of totty for the hard of thinking and decided to liven up the the page at bit.

The Sally Webster thing? Nah – this is the Mail which does neither irony, subtlety or social commentary unless the latter comes with 2 inch high lettering and the word ‘migrants’ prominently displayed in the text.

Perhaps the Mail had simply spotted the monstering that Nad’s campaign was starting to get from bloggers and decided that discretion was, for a change, the better part of valour. Again, no – getting any kind of amendment of the Mail usually requires the use of a bunch of very expensive libel lawyer or a full-on PCC ruling and not only had their not been time for either but there wasn’t anything in Nad’s stream of nonsense that looked remotely actionable. Dumb, ignorant and mendacious? Yep, no shortage of that – and when has that ever worried the Mail anyway – but nothing you could set the ambulance chasers on with any confidence.

So now we have a bit of conundrum on our hands, and all the more so, not long afterwards, as the plot thickened and version 1.1 got an unexpected ‘upgrade’ to version 2.0, which kept the ‘Sally Webster’ photo but ditched everything else in favour of

Britain is ‘becoming the abortion capital of the world’ claims Tory MP fighting to lower legal limit

Britain will become the “abortion capital of the world” in the next decade, according to prolife campaigners.

They say our termination rate is already higher than any other western European country.

If the current trend continues, Britain is on course to overtake the U.S. and Australia as the place where the greatest proportion of pregnancies are terminated.

Nadine Dorries MP is leading calls for a cut in the upper time limit for so-called “social” abortions from 24 weeks to 20.

Credit where credit’s due – the Mail was at least honest enough to refer openly to ‘prolife campaigners’ and the 2,500 motels babies claim is still there, if somewhat downgraded in importance. There’s even a brand new graphic showing how the UK Britain compares to a clutch of other countries.

*Can’t actually say the UK until the Northern Ireland thing is sorted out and abortion legalised there.

But what there isn’t in that replacement article is any mention, whatsoever, of David Cameron and his alleged backing for a 20 week amendment.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

That one of the very few plausible explanations for this rather odd sequence of events could well be that the Mail got leant on by someone in the Tory Party, someone whose enthusiasm for seeing D-Cam’s name linked to Dorries’ campaign one of the busiest newspaper websites in the UK might just have waned a little – particularly in view of the speed with which some the best investigative bloggers that the British scene has to offer got to work on Dorries’s campaign.

Who can say for sure exactly what part bloggers might have played in cooling Cameron’s enthusiasm for being seen to be publicly supporting Dorries’20 week amendment as distinct from any expectations that his media handlers might have had of a backlash from the liberal press; the Guardian and Independent or any foreknowledge that they may have had of the content of Monday’s Dispatches documentary and the extent to which this would expose the fact that Dorries and Tory MPs would be going into bat for restrictions on legal access to abortion armed only with cribsheets provided by Christian fundamentalists and a bunch of tawdry ‘ain’t abortion yucky’ anecdotes, all buoyed up by Ann Widdecombe shrieking like one of the Pepperpots, as usual…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPk8-3ojTyo

Whatever – the exact thinking behind Cameron’s actions are of little consequence.

What matters is that on the morning of the abortion debate, he shipped up on GMTV and made absolutely sure that for the rest of the day what appeared in the press and on the TV was him publicly backing the 22 week amendment, creating the clear impression that was clear water between him and Dorries, her campaign and every last little piece of adverse reaction and publicity that she’d attracted from bloggers, the press and the documentary shown on Channel 4…

…and then on the night, when few but the hacks and the battle-hardened political bloggers were paying attention, he quietly insinuated himself into the Aye lobby during the vote on Dorries’ 20 weeks amendment just to reassure Continuity IDs that he’d secretly been onside all along.

If this was World War I it would be called cowardice in the face of the enemy and they’d have taken him out and had him shot but as it stands, with the Tory press throwing him softballs from every direction possible they’ll be telling the world that he’s a stand-up kind of guy, just like they said all along and hoping that no one’s smart enough to cotton on to the bait and switch he pulled out yesterday.

Forgetting, of course, that the bloggers who’ve been on top of this issue from the outset are still watching and wise enough in the devious ways of the professional politician to see right through a stunt like that.

If this were just a one-off thing, a bit of panic under fire, then maybe Cameron might get off fairly lightly,but if you look past the press coverage and butter-would-melt-up-his-arse grovelling of the Tory press then it quickly becomes apparent that this is no mere temporary aberration but part of a consistent pattern of behaviour on Cameron’s part, one in which on any remotely contentious issue, especially one that might require him to make a commitment and demonstrate a bit of leadership and backbone, what he does is sidle up to the issue in question, make a few inconsequential and open-ended remarks and then announce that he can’t commit himself to anything at the moment and will have to go away and think about it.

That’s exactly how he’s handled the series of policy reviews he instituted on becoming Tory leader, nowhere more so than in the case of John Redwood’s spectacularly ill-timed review of business regulation and efficiency, which succeeded in recommending wholesale deregulation of the mortgage market and the repeal of most, if not all, of the Data Protection Act, right before Northern Rock and the farrago of the missing Child Benefit data disks.

On Northern Rock, itself, the Tory position shifted so many times that the press gave up bothering to ask Osborne where he stood that 15 minutes week and turned to Vince Cable as the go-to-guy whenever an non-governmental comment was required.

On Europe… Did anything actually change or is Cammie still doing the hokey-cokey over whether to ditch the Centre-Right group or not. You see, even I’d have to look it up to find out which way he’s currently procrastinating.

And what about D-Cam appearance on the stump up in Crewe and Nantwich, the one that everyone seems to have missed where he turned in Arkwright when one of the locals pulled him up on 10 tax band and asked him whether he was going to give them the money back…

‘I-I-I c-c-can’t promise that…’

Too right he can’t, that would mean making a commitment, a practice for which he appears to show all the sign of possessing a pathological phobia.

Forget the Tory Toff stuff up there, if the campaign organisers had half a brain they’d have got hold of that footage, which ran on the news, erected a few big screens round the area – there must be a couple that didn’t get trashed by Rangers fans – and put that bit of video footage on 24 hour rotation where voters could see just exactly what a Cameron government would mean – a forced smile, a stutter and a whole bunch of empty promises.

And, of course, if you watch Cameron giving a speech, then not only has he picked up Blair’s ‘karate-chop’ hand gestures – and Blair nicked that from Bob Monkhouse – but he’s also taken up where Blair left off in the wars against verbs, knocking out speeches full of..

… short statements,

… lots of pauses,

… nouns and adjectives

… choppy hands

… but no verbs.

Personally I think this is the product of deliberate coaching and that somewhere in the background he’s been advised to steer clear of verbs at all costs by the Salieri of spin doctors

“Well, David, it’s not a bad speech by any means but it does need a bit of work…

What’s wrong with it? Well, nothing really…

…except that are just too many verbs and we can’t have that.

No, nasty little blighters are verbs… dooo-ing words… best avoided at all costs…

What? Why? I’d have thought that was obvious, dear boy…

Verbs are all about actions… doing things… start using those all willy nilly and people we start expecting you to actually do something, and we couldn’t have that could we?

It is, perhaps, precisely because Cameron has picked up so many of Blair’s mannerisms that those of us who always looked on the Maximum Tone as a bit of Tory cuckoo in the party’s nest, find it so easy to see right through Cameron. Or maybe its just the aftershave…

Mendacity… the new fragrance for aspirant Prime Ministers by the House of Tony.

Either way, there’s two years to go to the next general election – time enough to put a few dents in D-Cam’s painstakingly polished halo before the country gets to decide whether it really fancies a five year diet of Chicken Cameron.

This, let me assure, has only just begun…

[That’s part one – in part two we’ll get around to the content of abortion debate and gib a few more MPs]

  • I note Phil Cowley’s latest post on http://www.revolts.co.uk pours scorn on the suggestion that Labour MPs foiled Nadine Dorries’ evil plan for world domination voted to defend abortion rights because of an unofficial whip.

  • Norman Lamont

    Cameron appears to be the sort of politician who is quite happy to plumb any depths if he feels it will give him A) publicity B) Any political advantage. Amazingly the mainstream media seem not to notice or care….

  • John

    That photo of Cameron holding his son is an old one: it was before he started dying his hair.