The week in politics: Man's inhumanity to man

Bashar al-Assad - the biggest villain this week of them all
Bashar al-Assad - the biggest villain this week of them all

Politics is always about enemies. This week the villains of the piece seemed to assume a central role, as MPs faced sinister adversaries both within and without government.

By Alex Stevenson

That all sounds a bit dramatic, doesn't it? But drama is the stuff of life, and the centrepiece of life in Westminster. Take Andrew Lansley's ailing NHS reforms. The health and social care bill was defeated in the Lords. Ed Miliband delivered a sustained theatrical denunciation of the changes in PMQs. Behind the scenes, Conservative Cabinet ministers manoeuvred against Andrew Lansley's ailing NHS reforms. And best of all, it briefly appeared as if some in No 10 thought it might be best if the health secretary was taken outside and shot. "Will no one rid me of this insufferable minister?" Dramatic, indeed.

On health and welfare, the other major embattled piece of legislation currently struggling its way through parliament, it is the grimly determined ministers who are filling their usual roles of villains-in-chief. But this week saw a continuation of the broader search currently underway in Britain for bullies, money-grabbers and opportunists outside politics. The runaway train of outrage over executive pay is now unstoppable, crushing all those bosses who find themselves in its path. Network Rail's boss David Higgins gave up his £340k payout on Monday; by the end of the week it was Barclays facing scrutiny. There is much more to come.


As the ongoing Leveson inquiry demonstrated, the more unpleasant side of what is supposed to be a very noble trade continued to shock this week. The Times' editor James Harding repeatedly apologised after one of their reports hacked someone's email - and found himself rather awkwardly claiming he had only heard about the wrongdoing once it had been unearthed by the courts. The Mail's editor Paul Dacre faced searing questions about his paper's approach to - well, everything. Sun editor Dominic Mohan delivered a passionate defence of page 3 girls.

And then there was the police, who came up with excuses after the courts found their failure to notify phone-hacking victims in the first place had been unlawful. Even those who uphold the law are now among those dragged into the 'villains' category. There must be some good people left in Britain. Presumably they're all beavering away building Cameron's 'big society'.

It is of course in the field of foreign affairs where the real villains can be found, though. Radical cleric Abu Qatada, who would be in a Jordanian court were it not for the pesky European court of human rights insisting on his - who would have thought - human rights; the Argentinean government, with its undimmed desires to take over the Falklands; or the arch-villain of them all, the disgusting Bashar al-Assad, whose brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests is sending the country into civil war.

The latter is the subject of our podcast this week, which looks at the options Britain and the international community has. They are, it is fair to say, distinctly limited. As in the issues bedevilling British domestic politics this week, the prospects for quick progress are dim at best.

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