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In British politics, intrigue emerges as king

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Sometimes it feels as though British politics is in a time warp. We might ostensibly be a liberal democracy, but our political landscape is starting to resemble the court life of kingly eras.

In those dark days, as so eloquently evoked in many of Shakespeare's plays, leaders tended to be toppled through gossip, intrigue, and backstabbing. In the absence of mass democracy, the preferred method of deposing one's opponents was through rumormongering in the backrooms and corridors of the court.

Now, in the 21st century, such scandal-mongering seems to be making a comeback. Barely a week passes without whispers that a British minister or official has done something dodgy and thus must be deposed.

Over the past month, Tessa Jowell, the secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, and a staunch ally of Prime Minister Tony Blair, has been accused of knowing that her husband accepted loans from Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. She denied it. She managed to keep her job, but has since split from her husband.

Now Mr. Blair himself is feeling the heat of the "peerages for loans" scandal, where it is claimed that various wealthy individuals who made large donations to Mr. Blair's Labour Party were rewarded with titles such as "Sir," "Lord," and "Lady" and, in some instances, with a seat in the House of Lords.

Some of Blair's opponents seem to hope that this will be the scandal that - finally, after eight long years - breaks the prime minister's hold on power. It's certainly getting ugly: Now the police are investigating whether certain politicians have broken any laws in the "peerages for loans" debacle.

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