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Blows up junior transport minister

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Comment A Libertarian celebration of Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night has put junior transport minister Tom Harris in trouble - and yet again, it is his shoot-from-the-hip style of blogging that is the cause of his discomfort.

Back in June, he delighted hard-pressed families in his Glasgow constituency struggling with the credit crunch by advising them to cheer up and stop being so "bloody miserable".

This time, it's his reaction to a stunt by the Libertarian Party that has visitors to his blog up in arms. As Mr Harris started to explain: "an odd thing arrived today at the office: an Amazon package containing a brand new copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell".

However, it is not the book that he finds peculiar, so much as the accompanying message, which reads: "Young man, This is a reminder that this book, contrary to what your leader might think, is NOT an instruction manual, but a warning. REMEMBER - WE are YOUR masters."

The gift comes courtesy of the UK Libertarian Party, who decided to mark their objection to what they see as the Labour drift toward a surveillance society, by getting supporters to sponsor the purchase of 646 copies of the offending text – one for every Member of Parliament.

To underline the message, they planned to coordinate the delivery of the books to take place on 5 November, the anniversary of an attempt to deliver an altogether more explosive package to Parliament.

Perhaps it was the optimism of a bunch of Libertarians attempting coordinated action. Perhaps it was simple over-efficiency on the part of booksellers Amazon. But Tom Harris received his copy a week early, and proceeded to blog about it.

His style is robust, in the sense that Boris Johnson is robust. Writing on 30 October, he took exception to comparisons with the death of Democracy outlined by George Orwell. Most of all, he took exception to the phantom book-donor referring to themselves as his "master".

"How about the arrogance of anyone referring to anyone else as anyone’s 'masters'?" he opined, before proceeding to demolish all in his path.

As one response to his blog suggests, this might just have been an ironic reference to triumphalist observations by post-war Labour Minister, Hartley Shawcross, which have ever since been misreported as "we are the masters now".

(In the interests of accuracy, we must add that the respondent actually thought the words might be those of Shawcross’ political rival, Herbert Morrison.)

There followed nearly 200 responses, with the vast majority criticising Mr Harris either for his naivety in supporting his party’s gradual stripping away of our freedoms, or taking issue with his refusal to acknowledge that us ordinary voters are, indeed, his masters.

Sensing a bit of a PR disaster, he squawked later in the day: "It seems my objection to the term 'masters' is causing some annoyance. For the avoidance of doubt, I regard my constituents as 'employers' rather than 'masters', fellow citizens to whom I am accountable. But 'masters' is so 18th century, don’t you think?"

Two days later, he appears to have thrown in the towel. In a rather shorter comment titled 1984: My Last Word, he merely adds: "I think we’re all going to have to agree to disagree on this one, don’t you think?"

Rather than silencing dissent, this provoked a further 71 comments ranging from the ironic: "Well worth the wait. I see you addressed all the salient points raised and showed us we have nothing to worry about." to the rather more pointed: "Fail". ®

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