The government seems to have a political "reverse midas touch" at the moment. After his gaffe about David Davis and the director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, I was interested to read that by New Labour standards Burnham is regarded as a "nice guy."
The following piece by Marina Hyde in yesterday's Guardian demonstrates what damage New Labour's authoritarian streak and their penchant for going for nasty remarks about individuals rather than engaging with arguments is doing to their traditional support. Am I the only person who felt a chill run down my spine at the use of the words "the state has a right to know who you are" ?
The trouble is that just as legal power which were passed into law on the basis of fighting terrorists have been used against people suspected of trying to manipulate school admission rules, the more power we give the state the greater the risk that those powers will be abused. Anyway, here is Marina Hyde's article. In bed with the DUP? This is the really curious journey(Andy Burnham's remarks about Shami Chakrabarti and David Davis were those of a man with a very New Labour talent)Marina Hyde The Guardian, Saturday June 21, 2008
'The individual has no right to anonymity," Andy Burnham once explained during a robotic defence of identity cards. "The state has a right to know who you are." Yet despite his concerted efforts to draw attention to himself with dazzling feats of brown-nosery, the cloak of anonymity has hung heavy on the current culture secretary, with very few citizens of this state having the first clue who he is. Indeed, for most of the final years of Tony Blair's premiership, he was presumed to be lodged in the prime ministerial colon, only emerging blinking into the daylight the minute Gordon took over, whereupon he announced to the press: "I was a Blairite, and now I am a Brownite."
This week, however, Burnham gave people a better of idea of who he is, when he broke his silence on David Davis's endearingly misguided decision to trigger a byelection to campaign against the government's plan to detain terror suspects for up to 42 days without charge. Burnham found "something very curious", he told Progress magazine, in Davis's "late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls with Shami Chakrabarti".
Mmm ... Could you bring the sledgehammer down one more time, secretary of state? There's a chance that a couple of slightly backward 10-year-olds still haven't understood what you were on about. And yet Andy is now upset that his comments have been interpreted as anything other than the cogent engagement with the 42-days issue that they so obviously were, and cannot for the life of him work out why the Liberty director is taking offence - "if personal offence has been caused", as one of his flunkeys put it.
We shan't waste time deciding whether he is stupid or disingenuous, or both; nor indeed in answering a question put by the shadow justice minister, Eleanor Laing - "If the director of Liberty had been a man, would Andy Burnham have said this?" - which can be deemed rhetorical.
But we ought to note that this is not the first time he has been accused of slander. A couple of years ago, the London School of Economics published its Identity Project, a report on ID cards that was the collective work of 60 LSE academics and 40 external experts. Burnham was one of several ministers who repeatedly dismissed it as the work of one man - a man who was eventually forced to seek legal advice and write to Blair to stop what he called a "systematic and malicious deception".
This time round, however, Burnham is not casting aspersions on the little guy, but on a former shadow minister and a civil liberties campaigner who is widely respected and admired by people across the political spectrum. In his clumsy attempts to smear them, Burnham reveals both the size of his ambitions and the shortfall in his capabilities, and it is a classic piece of New Labour doublethink to defend his actions as "byelection knockabout". That byelection being the one at which Labour is not even fielding a candidate.
Until midweek, alas, it was all going so well for Andy, with his department trumpeting a "new Olympic legacy package" he had negotiated. (You'll be thrilled to know that after we've forked out £9.3bn and rising for the 2012 games, over-60s will be getting free entry to Walthamstow baths.) Yet the real legacy he seems to have shored up is New Labour's rich tradition of ad hominem attacks, embodied in Alastair Campbell's famous insistence on playing the man - and in this case the woman - not the ball.
When the history of this unedifying period comes to be written, it will be these vignettes of Campbellesque bullying that will crystallise the age, and speak of a ruling elite that never engaged in debate where character assassination would do. I suppose we should be grateful that they're currently limiting the personal attacks to public figures like Chakrabarti, who are practised enough to take it, as opposed to the likes of David Kelly, who patently wasn't.
Yet if it's public knockabout that gets Burnham's juices flowing, you'd think a "committed moderniser" such as himself would be rather more distressed at the type of people his party had to hop into bed with in order to scrape through on 42 days. Certain members of the DUP hold views that we must in turn hold with tongs. At arm's length, then, let's examine some comments made in the very week of the 42-days vote by the Ulster MP Iris Robinson, after a violent homophobic attack in the province. Having dismissed homosexuality as "an abomination", "vile" and "shamefully wicked", Robinson explained that she had "a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices, and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals trying to turn away from what they are engaged in". She went on to point out that "just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual".
How intriguing that Burnham should stand unquestioningly shoulder to shoulder with this creature, and instead choose to devote his valuable time to besmirching the reputation of Chakrabarti and Davis. If it's "curious journeys" that fascinate him, his own is becoming quite the one to watch.