Today's comment: Demolishing the Nuremberg Defence
Last summer, during the period that was until recently considered Gordon Brown’s nadir, Fleet Street was astonished as two of the PM's biggest press supporters, the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee and Jackie Ashley, called for him to be replaced.
Both subsequently rescinded their demand as Brown eased himself into his new role as Chancellor to the world. But today there are signs that this story might have come full circle.
Writing on the expenses scandal, Ashley warns that: “This is the worst … It's almost certainly the end for New Labour, and it's a terrible moment for politics in general.”
And most crucially, predicting attempts at a summer putsch, she suggests that Brown may have to be removed. “Maybe all that adds up to a risk worth taking, to get Ed Miliband or Alan Johnson – in my view the party's best bets – into No 10. Either of these would have some moral authority when it comes to reforming the system,” she writes.
Ashley concedes that Brown has a record “for fighting on even when things look very black” but concludes that “This is his last chance, and he's in a very grim place.”
Meanwhile, the Times’s chief political columnist Peter Riddell, devotes his column to demolishing what some have sardonically described as the “Nuremberg Defence”-the claim by embarrassed MPs that they acted “within the rules”.
“The real test for anyone in public life — journalists as well as politicians — is not merely whether their actions are legal, but whether they can be publicly defended,” he writes.
He warns that MPs caught out will suffer the same consequences as the worst offenders during the dying days of the Major government.
“Those MPs revealed as being greedy may suffer the same fate in the coming general election as those tainted with sleaze did in 1997 when they had above-average swings against them,” he writes.
The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh prefers to launch a series of staccato blasts against MPs, declaring that Westminster has been turned into “a rats’ nest of skulduggery, deception and petty larceny.”
Elsewhere, perhaps the newly apologetic David Cameron and Gordon Brown took their cue from today’s Telegraph leader which laments that “in recent days it seems not to have occurred to a single MP involved to even consider using the S-word: sorry.”
The paper, which continues the series of revelations begun last Friday, has been accused by Labour MPs of exploiting the scandal for political purposes but it refuses to handle the Tories with kid gloves.
“Any illusion that Tory values would have restrained Conservatives from playing the same game as their Labour opponents has been banished by today's revelations,” the leader observes.
Away from the furore over expenses, columnists are thankfully prepared to explore the major constitutional and foreign policy questions that the political class largely neglects.
Following a close reading of Philip Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent, the Independent’s Andreas Whittam Smith, one of the founders of the paper, writes that the phrase “war on terror” has acquired a hitherto non-existent relevance for him.
Previously sceptical of the notion that any sort of “war” could be fought against a non-state actor, he notes that Bobbitt neatly evades this obstacle by redefining al-Qaeda as a pseudo-state.
“For al-Qaeda has a standing army. It has a treasury and consistent sources of finance. It has an intelligence collection and analysis cadre. It runs a rudimentary welfare programme for its fighters, their relatives and their associates. It promulgates a recognisable system of laws, the sharia. And it declares wars,” Whittam Smith writes.
On the subject of the battleground itself, Max Hastings, writing in the Financial Times, identifies a coherent strategy towards Pakistan as the lacuna in western policy. The irony of the continued military presence in Afghanistan is that it masks the growing presence of al-Qaeda in Pakistan, he says.
He identifies a settlement over Kashmir as the necessary preliminary to a successful Pakistani counter-insurgency but concedes “it is much easier to identify this reality than to change it.”
While at the Times, ten years on from the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, Magnus Linklater examines the balance sheet of devolution. He rejects the claims that devolution would either rouse or destroy nationalism as equally hyperbolic. Instead nothing the irony of a nationalist government in power while “support for independence is down to one of the lowest levels on record.”
Linklater offers a refreshing reminder of the benefits of devolution-it “overturned a democratic deficit that had become destabilizing.”-but fears that increasing support for an English Parliament may yet upset the new constitutional balance.