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Last Updated: Friday, 2 November 2007, 12:12 GMT
Pienaar's view: Labour's mixed-up week
By John Pienaar
BBC Radio 5 live chief political correspondent

Psychedelic image
The view from inside the government's brain?

Did you know scientists have found a way to take photographs inside the head of a mouse?

Clever stuff.

Apparently, the number of colours - and how they are joined up - show which parts are working and which are not.

They even trace the progress of thought. Well, if the government was a mouse this week, the psychedelic view inside its head might resemble that of a little hippy, addicted to LSD.

To be more serious, take immigration.

Official figures, for the number of foreigners working in Britain, started looking unreliable, and ended up looking like a mess.

At one point, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told us more Britons had taken new jobs since Labour came to power than foreigners.

Wrong. More jobs had actually been filled by overseas nationals.

Low-paid jobs

There had been 1.1million - or 1.5 million if you believe the Conservative figures - and that had been raised by 300,000 after an earlier figure had also turned out to be wrong.

Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg
Whoever wins, the Lib Dems will end up with a leader who is quite prepared to get banged-up - is that a sensible way for a law-maker, and a party leader, to behave?

Now, it is worth pointing out that there is plenty of evidence a lot of these foreigners are hard workers, making a positive contribution the economy.

In many cases they create new jobs, as well as filling them.

In other words, they are doing jobs Brits simply do not want to do.

Not that many British natives, for example, want low paid jobs waiting tables in Chinese restaurants.

But, arguably, it did not look good after Gordon Brown's talk at Labour's annual conference just a few weeks ago of "British jobs for British workers".

Pay-as-you-throw

Ministers announced they were continuing restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers - which was obviously a coincidence.

Anyway, by now the mouse's brain was starting to look very colourful.

About the same time, it seemed the plan to get more people to recycle their rubbish had not been binned after all.

You would never have guessed Downing Street had stepped in at the last moment, and got the potentially unpopular plan for pay-as-you-throw watered down.

Suddenly, what looked like a national system had become a pilot scheme.

And, I am told, it will be more about discounts for good recyclers than penalties if you put out too many bin-bags.

Maybe it was all a sensible way of avoiding trouble.

Coherent vision?

But some inside the Department for the Environment were miffed.

And did it all have to be so last minute?

Put it all together, and throw in the expected u-turn on capital gains tax for business, and maybe - just for the sake of argument - the left-leaning think tank Compass had a point when it called on Gordon Brown and his government to "to make sense of their actions, and provide an intellectually and morally coherent vision for his premiership".

What do you think?

Talking of making sense, or perhaps not, it was interesting to see the field for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats come down to two; and then hear Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne both promise to lead a campaign of civil disobedience against ID cards, and refuse to register when and if the cards become compulsory.

A Lib Dem leader in jail? I can not imagine Ming Campbell doing that.

Liberal principle

At Chris Huhne's campaign launch, he said he agreed with his opponent.

I asked him if he was also willing to break the law. Or was he simply saying Nick Clegg should go to jail?

The answer was the former.

So whoever wins, the Lib Dems will end up with a leader who is quite prepared to get banged-up.

Is that a sensible way for a law-maker, and a party leader, to behave?

Well it may go down well with the radicals in their party - and both contenders want their votes. Though clearly this is all about a point of liberal principle.


The following comments reflect a balance of views received.

I think the comparison of the government being like a mouse's brain on acid is deeply disparaging to the mouse.
Tony Willis, Towcester/England

Gordon Brown excuse to delay the election was so that we could see his vision for running the country. We have seen his vision now, can we PLEASE have the election, before we have to suffer any more of it?
Ken Hall, Barrow in Furness, UK

John, Is this a sensible way for a law maker and party leader to behave. Dare I suggest - yes it is. There are some issues that require a radical stance. Bowing to the inevitability of a government majority pushing through laws that affect fundamental freedoms without taking all available action to oppose them is what renders politicians irrelevant today. If they won't fight for this, what will they fight for? Perhaps Gandhi was wrong then?
Ben (never voted liberal in my life) Rickards, Norwich

Is it sensible for a lawmaker to be prepared to go to prison? I wonder what Nelson Mandela would say to that. Huhne and Clegg are no Nelson Mandela (and neither is Brown or Cameron), but I'd be very worried if a potential leader of the country really wasn't prepared to go to prison over something they fundamentally disagreed with. Or do we want politicians with such weak moral fibre that they'll just roll over and meekly accept any level of injustice as long as MPs have been whipped into voting for it?
Iain, Manchester

You say that there is "plenty of evidence" that migrants are hard workers making a contribution to the British economy - I hope this 'evidence' isn't based on Labour Government statistics because if it is, you couldn't trust a word of it.
Andrew Sim, London

A nationwide campaign of civil disobedience is called for on ID cards, they are nothing more than a lame knee jerk reaction that will do nothing to solve the terrorist problem nor will it solve illegal immigration. There will be so many people who cannot pay the 100 the jails will burst. It needs scrapping right now and not a penny more wasted on this white elephant.
Rob Colton, Reading

Can't wait until the government tries to cure the bacon problem.
Bob Higson, Andover,UK

"In other words, they are doing jobs Brits simply do not want to do. Not that many British natives, for example, want low paid jobs waiting tables in Chinese restaurants." Hmmm, let me see, my bank teller is Polish, My postman is Polish, My local supermarkets are full of Polish people and I have been refused jobs in these places because if it. Oh yeah my IT call centre is manned by many Poles. I am currently unemployed. Chinese tables ? Ha!
Alan, Inverness / Scotland

If the pay-as-you-throw recycling scheme is to be a success it will need a pilot. I'm sure the 20 or so members of the cabinet would welcome the chance for the Local Authorities within their constituencies to pilot the schemes?
Richard Cosgrave, Tavistock, Devon

The Lib Dem leadership candidates, as I recall, didn't say they were prepared to go to prison - they said they were prepared to go to court, which is entirely different.
Louise Jones, London

Well of course its sensible for a party leader to be prepared to go to jail. And what a silly comment to suggest otherwise. Unless, for a BBC journalist, it is now incomprehensible that a politician might have some principles they believe worth fighting for. It also answers the other question. After Iraq, where is the Lib Dems big issue? Well, roll forward two years to ID cards being the main topic, Conservatives trimming, and Lib Dems scooping up all those who believe in civil liberties. I think the Lib Dems just discovered their future.
John O, Market Deeping, Lincolnshire

John, I'm not sure if the analogy of this government as being that of a little hippy, addicted to LSD, should somehow reflect Gordon Browns youth or his addiction to the Labour Social Democrats, but the colour analysis on the picture is spot on - a few Red cells jostling with their close neighbours the Yellows and then surrounded by the Blues with just a hint of Greenery. Heartening is that if you invert the colours (using any freely elected software tool) you end up with a much larger core of Blue than there was of Red. The Yellows have all but disappeared. Truly a valuable experiment, though I hope the mice are now receiving full compensation and rehabilitation and will not be released into the community until they have fully recovered
Andy, Wellingborough

Something tells me we won't see Clegg and Huhne in orange jumpsuits! They're quite right, though. Because of our voting system, opposition to the governing party in the Commons, although noisy, is ineffective; and we have no elected review chamber. So we don't elect a parliament. We elect an all-powerful executive, sometimes with the support of less than a quarter of the electorate. We're marginal for being called a democracy, at least in England. So this may be the only way of opposing a bad law. Yes, it's a sensible -- and honourable -- way to behave. I haven't voted Liberal since 1979 but that could be about to change.
Mike Robbins, Norwich

Sod the mouse give us the LSD. That'll make everything much better!
Graeme Longstaff, Birmingham

LSD is not addictive - unlike power, and that's all the Labour government seems to care about. They back-off at the first sign of a fight and are so desperate to please any and everyone they have taken political correctness to new levels of inanity.
Charles, London

"The best-laid plans of mice and men etc..." The great Eddie Izzard was constrained to ask his audience what a mouse-plan looks like? Well now we know. There must have been somebody from a New Labour think-tank in that night, taking notes and texting the Guardian with a full-page job ad for public sector mouse-jobs on a nationwide scale. Mr Pienaar has now uncovered the truth, and the mouse-plans he refers to in his article are far more bizarre than anything emanating from Eddie Izzard's lively imagination, and certainly have gone awry in a more spectacular (and LSD driven?) fashion Pull your fingers out mice, you have competition!
Robin Priest, Cambridge



SEE ALSO
Pienaar's view: Brown's constitution
25 Oct 07 |  UK Politics
Mouse brain simulated on computer
27 Apr 07 |  Technology

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