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Thursday, December 17, 2015 

That all new, all improved Westminster Christmas tradition.

Don't you just love Christmas traditions?  Kisses under the mistletoe, roasting chestnuts in the microwave, the EastEnders Queen Vic fight, the Boxing Day ripping apart of defenceless animals by braying hoorays, the opening up of wrists by people with no one to share all these magic moments with?  To which we have a relatively new innovation to add: the annual mass dumping of ministerial statements and other government business on the very last day of parliament before the Christmas recess.  Think of it as the polar opposite of spending the last day of school before the holidays playing games or watching Cool Runnings.

The aim fairly transparently is to bury any unpleasantness contained therein, leaving already put upon hacks with an impossible choice as to what to feature and what to leave out.  Add in how newspaper sales always plummet in December, when concerns are traditionally far from the news, especially at this point in month, and the chances of getting away with putting out a release authorising the slaughter of the first born increases exponentially.  They couldn't have counted on our tame Russian asset stripper deciding to get rid of Maureen today, but it could have hardly worked out better with Cameron also off at his latest EU masochism summit.

Almost certainly best or rather, worst or the bunch is an official DWP study into the bedroom tax, or as only the government calls it, the spare room subsidy.  The study finds that it works, as long as by works you mean impoverishes those subject to it to the point where they either go hungry or take out loans, therefore robbing Peter to pay Paul, and has also failed in regard to incentivising those penalised to move to smaller properties.  Seeing as punishing moochers for daring to claim anything seemed to be pretty much the point from the outset, Iain Duncan Smith must be delighted.

Coming in a very close second must be publication of the list of ministerial special advisers in post as of today (PDF).  This reveals David Cameron has a quite astonishing 32 SpAds, 31 of whom dish out their advice (call leader of opposition terrorist sympathiser, start war with Russia, don't fuck that pig) on a full time basis.  As the government doesn't need to make clear how much any SpAd paid under £63,000 is earning, we can only be certain that of those whose salaries have been disclosed, the total cost to the taxpayer for telling Dave to do his flies up is a mere £2,164,000 a year.  George Osborne by contrast gets by with just the 6 SpAds, with James Chapman, Thea Rogers and Sue Beeby sharing £296,000 a year between the three of them.  They'll presumably get by on such a pittance, unlike say those who were due to be getting the letters right about now telling them how much they would be getting cut from their tax credits, a wheeze that his 6 advisers presumably also thought was a terrific plan.

Which brings us neatly onto the Lord Strathclyde "rapid" review into what to do about the Lords daring to vote down the statutory instrument needed to push through the cuts to tax credits.  That the Lords' refusal to countenance the slashing of the benefit that helps make work pay was subsequently accepted as unnecessary by the err, chancellor himself, albeit with the cuts instead worked into the universal credit system makes no odds.  Strathclyde's recommendation is that the Lords still be allowed to reject a statutory instrument, but only the once.  If the Commons then overturns that vote, its decision would be final.  Whether this would amount to the effective curtailment of the Lords' ability to block secondary legislation obviously depends on the government of the day's majority: probably not in the case of the Tories now, as theirs is so slight, with the Lords' veto likely to make MPs think again and increase the determination of the opposition.  If there was to be a return to the days of the majority of the coalition or the 2005 Labour government though, let alone the 1997/2001 varieties, it would clearly amount to a power grab by the Commons, something there is not the slightest evidence it needs.  As plenty of others have pointed out, this is a mess of Cameron's own making: he had the opportunity to reform the Lords, and he declined to go along with it.  The government also has a majority of only 12 for a reason: the electorate declined to endorse the Conservatives more fully.  They should act like it and listen accordingly, not attempt to govern as though they have a majority of 100.  A bit like telling a toddler it has to share, I realise.

Lastly, and most amusingly, there's the long-awaited, much delayed report into how the Muslim Brotherhood are a bunch of extremist bastards.  Or at least that's what the likes of the Saudis and the Emirate states demanded of the government in one of their periodical hissy fits after being called out for being extremist bastards themselves.  Not that we still have the report itself, as that's for Dave's eyes only, us proles only being provided with the main findings (PDF) .  Suffice it to say, the Muslim Brotherhood is amazingly, a religious organisation that has at times not always been down with democracy, and has also never fully renounced the teachings of either its founder, Hassan el Banna, or most (in)famous ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, he of inspiring various jihadists groups and helping to popularise takfirism, i.e. the practice of declaring anyone who doesn't share your exact same brand of Islamism to be an infidel notoriety.  It also, shock, has at times defended Hamas, unsurprisingly considering Hamas is its sister organisation.

The report doesn't tell anyone a single damn thing they didn't already know, and while Dave in his usual authoritarian style declares that membership or association with the Brotherhood should be considered as a Possible Indicator of Extremism, the ban our allies in the Middle East so wanted does not seem to be on the cards.  Bearing in mind Cameron has repeatedly stated his wish to ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and still hasn't managed it despite now being PM for coming up on 6 years, the chance of the MB being subject to such treatment was laughable in the first place.

As is the bulk of the report itself.  Leaving aside the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia's criticisms of the MB's brief period in power in Egypt, brought to an end in a military coup, with al-Sisi recently invited to Downing Street for tea and cakes despite his overall responsibility for massacres of MB supporters and other protesters, not a mention of Syria is made.  If the MB is such a vile organisation, why then are we working with its Syrian branch?  Why if the Muslim Brotherhood is so terrible are we in effect allying with al-Qaida, as the Saudis and Qataris have done?  If the MB is bad, then surely Ahrar al-Sham, the biggest opposition group/militia invited to the Saudi talks, with its determination to create an Islamic state in Syria, is doubly so?  At least the MB has attempted to present a veneer of respect for democracy; the Saudis, Qataris and Emirate nations have no intention of allowing their people to vote for them in anything other than sham elections.

Our government doesn't have quite as much contempt for us as that, it must be said.  Nor though are they going to chance us properly holding them to account either, as days like today demonstrate.

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