Anyway - while I was away, a couple of things caught my eye. The main thing is that Phil Woolas has been retained as a Shadow Minister for the Home Office, which is just bizarre.
Of course, this is disgraceful, even if Miliband couldn't be arsed to make any changes for now and just sort of kept him in because he's already in the job. The massive twat is still awaiting the verdict on the first case of its kind in 99 years for allegedly making up stories about his opponent in the general election campaign - and even if he didn't lie, his nasty-arse BNP style leaflets should be enough for the chump to be expelled from the party, not to mention the front bench.
For me, the interesting thing about Woolas is that he seems to be the MP who is most directly influenced by the tabloid press. This sort of boneheadedness came to the fore in 2006, when as Minister for Local Government - with responsibility for race relations - called for a classroom assistant to be sacked for insisting on wearing her veil in class while her tribunal was still underway.
Naturally, with such a talent for dealing sensitively with race relations issues, he was later appointed Minister of State for Borders and Immigration. His tenure was dogged by the same sort of stupidity as he showed in the Azmi case. Whether he was genuinely calling for draconian measures against immigrants or fiddling things a little to make his policies look more anti-immigration than they actually were, Woolas was driven by the desire to please tabloid readers.
As he himself said:
"If you ignore the Sun reader in this debate [immigration] you are not going to move it forward,"And he never did ignore the Sun reader.
The thing Woolas was never clever enough to understand was that the right-wing tabloids will always paint a Labour politician as soft on immigration regardless of what they actually do. Razorwire and machine-gun turrets at Dover would be ignored in favour of exaggerated stories about free gold-plated plasma TVs, cigars rolled on the legs of Cuban virgins and diamond-tipped swagger sticks for immigrants.
His tough talk was often met with sneering contempt, and sometimes completely distorted to make him look like a liar. This article by James Slack that called Woolas' measures to limit immigration 'a con' because they didn't cut the numbers by the amount Slack pretended Woolas claimed they would is one of my favourite examples.
What did Woolas learn from this? To try to reach tabloid readers by copying dishonest tabloid rhetoric for his campaign. He even made one of his campaign leaflets look like a tabloid newspaper.
The 'Saddleworth and Oldham Examiner' includes a doctored photo of his opponent, photos of the Mohammed cartoon protests included to look as though they're a demo that took place in Oldham, a 'Targeted - Militant Extremists go for Phil Woolas' headline (an echo of the infamous 'Terror target Sugar' Sun headline) with Woolas in gunsights to give the impression of being targeted for assassination and a centre spread article that reveals in the closing paragraphs that Woolas has been targeted for tactical voting by Muslim extremists. Not shooting.
It's all quite familiar. Depressingly though, these leaflets were produced apparently to "galvanise the white Sun vote" and to "make the white folk angry". Classy.
Tabloids target readers because of their profile, which they can offer advertisers in order to make money. Instead of report the news accurately, they distort events to appeal to this imagined constituency in the hope that they won't stop buying the paper if real life doesn't conform with their prejudices. When Kelvin MacKenzie edited the Sun, he had this to say about his readers:
You just don't understand the readers, do you, eh? He's the bloke you see in the pub, a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he's afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and the weirdos and drug dealers. He doesn't want to hear about that stuff (serious news).These are the people that Woolas thought he too needed to target. Not actual people who read the Sun, but the imaginary version of their readers that editors - and Woolas - had.
It's bad enough for money-grubbing right-wing tabloid proprietors and Editors to invent an imaginary constituency, thinking, "You know who we need to target? Thick people and racists. That's what working and lower-middle class people are like," because they've abandoned the lofty idea that they should be about reporting events accurately as a historical record in favour of the aim to make as much money as possible.
It's quite another for a front bench or shadow front bench Minister to think that way. It's why New Labour lost my vote very quickly, and with decisions like the one to keep Woolas on the front bench, it'll be why they won't be getting it back any time soon. Even when the alternative is the Thunderdome.