According to research carried out by the London Institute for Political Affairs, Thursday 26 January was statistically the most depressing day to be a Liberal Democrat. That was the day the Sun published the interview with Simon Hughes where he spoke of his homosexual relationships. Leadership elections seem to be second only to the Big Brother house for finding out the truth about the contestants. It doesn't bother me at all that Simon is or isn't gay, bisexual, or even for that matter a Liberal Democrat, but it dismays me that he felt the need to lie about it. Then again, a glimpse at the Sun's lewd front-page headlines ("Limp Dem", "Another one bites the pillow") reveals the climate of casual homophobia which may well lead gay men and women, in public life or out of it, to conceal their sexuality.
At last we discover that the Ministry of Defence does have an exit strategy from Iraq. It involves going back into Afghanistan. This, of course, is where we should have remained in the first place. Destroying al-Qaeda's (CIA-built) training bases and toppling the Taliban were about the closest the "war on terror" got to hitting the right target. A programme of investment, reconstruction and education could have gone some way to winning hearts and minds in a volatile and impoverished region.
Four years ago the air was thick with reassurances. From Tony Blair ("we will not walk away [from Afghanistan], as the outside world has done so many times before") and from George Bush ("we will work to help Afghanistan to develop an economy that can feed its people . . . in the best traditions of George Marshall"). The re-emergence of the Taliban, the insurgency in the south and the increase in opium production - banned by the Taliban in their final year - suggest that Iraq took everyone's eye off the ball. But then, rebuilding was never the Pentagon's strong suit. As a Brookings Institution analyst once remarked of the US approach, "we do the fighting; other people do the peacekeeping".
Despite the trumpeted achievement of elections in Afghanistan, the country's fortunes remind me of the encounter John Major once had with Boris Yeltsin. "How are things in Russia, Boris?" the PM inquired. "In a word, good," said the president. "Come, come, Boris," jollied Major. "You can do better than that. How about two words?" "Not good," said Boris.
Another prime ministerial appearance on Richard and Judy, this time to talk about, among other things, hospital reforms. Coincidentally in the news was the proposal from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to allow people to refuse treatment that would prolong their lives in the event of their becoming incapacitated. This would be done by signing a legal power of attorney, passing the decision over to a friend or family member. I wonder if the "new understanding" between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown referred to by David ("I'm in the know, you know") Blunkett extends to Tony ticking the box stating "I wish to give my Chancellor authority to give or refuse consent to life-sustaining treatment on my behalf". That would make the debate on the forthcoming Education Bill more interesting. Picture the Chancellor poised at Blair's bedside, agonising over whether or not to prolong his life by delivering the backbench support he desperately needs. To what purpose? Has he not reached the end of his useful days? What quality of life does he have to look forward to? "Nurse! The screens!"
Tebbit's out of his box again. If I were David Cameron, I'd be delighted. To continue the mirror image of the Blair Project, any attack from the dinosaurs of the old right can only help Cameron's cause. The more he alienates the Tebbits and the Redwoods, the more support he'll gather from the centre, where, as he knows, elections are won. Unless Tebbit is in on the plan, in which case he's playing a very clever game. But he isn't that clever, is he? Is he?
The case is currently being reviewed of a policeman prosecuted for doing 159mph in his new squad car, but cleared after a judge accepted that he had been going that fast because he wanted to test his capabilities to the limit. I wonder if Mark Oaten could try that one on his wife.