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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Newslog
In Newslog, Nick Robinson keeps a unique diary from the heart of the news. Add your comment too.

Thursday 24 April


Could it be...?
posted by Nick | 1801 BST | Add comment
Westminster's alive with competing theories about why Tony Blair promised to have got street crime under control by September.

That's the deadline, we are told, he set himself when he set up a government anti-street crime task force.

But somehow that isn't convincing. For what it's worth, I pass on a new theory.

The mobile phone companies are introducing new technology this summer to block the use of stolen phones. When the same technology was introduced in Holland, it produced a 42% fall in street crime in the capital in just six weeks.

On that timetable, we reach September. Could that be it?

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Swampy
posted by Nick | 1040 BST | Add comment
Told you so! David Blunkett had only to sniff the suggestion that he'd thrown in the towel - ie apologise for using the word "swamping" - and he was out of his corner, gloves raised, shouting "Come on if you think you're hard enough".

The home secretary does have a point when he mocks his "dear friend" (sic) Roy Hattersley, who has never forgiven Blunkett for letting grammar schools live when he was education secretary.

And "Diane Abbott condemns minister" is also, it's fair to say, a bit of a "dog bites man" story.

However, Blunkett cannot pretend that his only enemies are Hattersley and Abbott. He does have this endearing but enraging habit (depending on your point of view) of punching the nearest available nose.

That's why on the issue of crime the prime minister had to call him and the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police for a good talking-to, after they began rowing in public.

Now Blunkett is fighting on a whole series of fronts - not just asylum but police reform as well. If he wins all his battles, he may become the pin-up of Middle England, but I'm not sure the Labour Party will ever quite forgive him.
  More details

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An end to crime?
posted by Nick | 0950 BST | Add comment
The startling plan from the prime minister that street crime would be under control by September came as just as much of a shock to the spin doctors as it did to the journalists.

They had no idea what the prime minister was talking about. It turns out that he had heard the date mentioned in that morning's crime summit at Downing Street, and waved the date about without much thought of the political consequences.

It's good to see that not everything in politics is beautifully spun and carefully crafted.
  More details

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Wednesday 24 April


In the swamp
posted by Nick | 0935 BST | Add comment
Our home secretary is a member of that select club of politicians (founder members Denis Healey and Ken Clarke) who would cross the road to pick a fight.

But picking a fight on race relations the morning after Le Pen's night before? And on the even of the BNP's push for power in local elections? It's surely a bit too heavyweight, even for David Blunkett?

Well, no, actually. Over my cornflakes this morning, I heard him talk of the risk of schools being "swamped" by asylum seekers.

So what, you may say. Better to tell it like it is. Better to call "a spade a spade", as we used to say before political correctness or public sensitivity took hold.

This, though, wasn't mere plain speaking from a man who loves to be loathed by those he mocks as "the liberati".

He was echoing Margaret Thatcher, who used the word "swamped" in the lead-up to her 1979 election victory, to howls of protest that she was "playing the race card". So was it deliberate? A cunning though risky tactic, designed to pull the rug from extremists by showing that mainstream politicians take people's fears seriously?

Apparently not. The interview was recorded earlier this morning, I am told, "way before David makes those sorts of subtle calculations".

So will he apologise? No - this man, like The Lady, is not for turning.

On thing is plain, though. Blunkett has booked his place in another bruising bout. Time to book a ringside seat.

Incidentally, there are race relations revisionists who argue that far from fuelling racial hatred, Margaret Thatcher's use of the word "swamped" stopped the rise of the far right in its tracks. At the time there were widespread fears of the rise, not of the BNP, but of the National Front.
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Monday 22 April


Gordon Brown in denial
posted by Nick | 1143 BST | Add comment
Political journalism is - as my good friend Alastair Campbell always tells me - obsessed with gossip and intrigue.

So I just want to make absolutely clear that there is no - I repeat no - campaign to talk up Gordon Brown as the "real" leader of the Labour Party.

Those who point to the Daily Mirror's front page ("Brown set to lead backlash against Blair's Iraq stand") praising Mr Brown are simply making mischief.

Those who observe that the chancellor's supporters have contrasted his weighty Budget and recent 7,000 word speech on the NHS with another recent (and allegedly vacuous) speech by the prime minister are being equally malicious.

Nothing should be read into Gordon's total silence on the war against terrorism, nor reports that he's described Tony Blair as being "gung ho".

And what of both men's constant use of the first person pronoun - my Budget, I raised taxes, my government, I decided ...etc?

Quite - what of it! I pass this rumour and gossip on merely to keep you informed, dear reader, of what some people - with nothing better to do - will insist on talking about.

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