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Sunday 1 October 2006

The ABGs owe Abu and Cherie

THE tenner that I splurged a few months ago on Alan Johnson at 16-1 to succeed Tony Blair no longer

seems so brilliant an investment. When Johnson, the charming, witty Secretary of State for Education, soared to 5-1, I bragged. Now I'm humbled - for a while at least - for last week John Reid, the Home Secretary, shot out of the traps and replaced Johnson as the most likely challenger to Gordon Brown, whose odds continue to worsen.

In self-defence, I point out that no one could have bargained on Abu Izzadeen and Cherie Blair becoming the kingmakers of the Labour conference.

Born in London in 1976 to a Christian Jamaican family, Trevor Brooks converted to Islam and renamed himself at 17. Brooks/Izzadeen adores the limelight and has vigorously courted it by - for instance - applauding the 7/7 bombers as "completely praiseworthy".

Recently, Izzadeen achieved the dizzying status of becoming Loonie British Islamist of the Month by screaming at Reid at a meeting in East London - where he was asking Muslims to do something if their children show signs of turning extremist - that he had no right to enter a Muslim area. He followed this up with a 12-minute BBC interview where he explained that Reid was a tyrant, democracy was anti-Islamic and that he was working to have the UK brought under Sharia law.

It has since emerged that although Izzadeen is an electrician, he prefers to live on state benefits. What's more, unsatisfied by one wife and three children, he has advertised on www.muslimintro.com for three more wives to bring him six more children: he described himself as "the life of the party".

Well, in a subtle way, Izzadeen was indeed the life of the Labour Party conference, for your average Joe has had it with parasitical, abusive, threatening Islamists and is four-square with the Home Secretary in standing up to them.

Alan Johnson, Tony Blair, John Reid
CAMERA OBSCURA? Response to John Reid's speech eclipsed that of Alan Johnson, top, and he pulls ahead as Gordon Brown's greatest rival to follow Tony Blair.

In a political world where David Cameron tries to outdo Tony Blair in the 'man you would most like to bring home to your mother' stakes, where Gordon Brown sheds a tear on television over his dead daughter (Brown and his advisors know how the public longs for raw emotion), where a little-known Cabinet minister called John Hutton signals he's a contender by talking about being abandoned as a child by his father, there's an increasing hunger for a macho leader who will shut up about his feelings and concentrate on stopping madmen from blowing up any more of us.

John Reid, an ex-communist and reformed belligerent drunk, has always been known as a bit of a thug (not least when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), but he seems in tune with the prevailing mood.

"When the terrorists or their loud-mouthed sympathisers tell me that we won't be allowed to raise our arguments in this or that part of our community, my answer is simple," he said.

"Yes, we will. This is Britain. There are and there will be no no-go areas in our country for any of our people, whatever our background, colour or creed."

There was rapturous applause for that, as there was for his promises of uncompromising opposition to terrorism, tighter immigration controls and toughness on crime. Even his big joke was macho. Referring to an idiotic comment by the has-been Lord Hattersley, Reid remarked: "Roy has managed to produce the ingenuity to combine an appeal to us to abandon divisive personal comments with the declaration that he will shoot himself if I become leader of the party. Until Roy said that I hadn't been able to see any advantages in standing."

The response to Reid's speech totally eclipsed that won by Johnson's sensible, thoughtful, humane and good-humoured musings about education and unity. Reid owes Izzadeen a pint of orange juice.

Cherie Blair's achievement at the conference was to weaken Brown. When she allegedly denounced as a lie the statement in his lacklustre speech that he considered it a privilege to work for Tony Blair, she hit the target. Everyone expects Tony Blair to lie, but hitherto there was a sense that - with all his personal failings - Brown was a man of integrity. Cherie drew attention to what everyone knows: that in his desperation to become Prime Minister, Brown will now say anything.

She denied it later, but her husband, by later laughing about knowing she'd never run off with the bloke next door, in effect confirmed she'd said it. The Blairites are very happy for now. Their leader made a mendacious but fabulous speech, left on a high and may be able to cling on until next summer, thus giving the ABGs (Anyone But Gordons) time to plan their campaign.

Johnson is a loyal Blairite, who was probably the Prime Minister's favourite until now. But Reid hates Brown too, so if he seems like the most promising contender, he will do nicely. He's at 5-1, if you're asking.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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