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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Michael Gove - EU Pants Are On Fire

Once again, the Murdoch Sun is the unofficial mouthpiece of the campaign to persuade voters that Britain should leave the EU. Thus it is that three prominent members of the Vote Leave campaign - Labour MP Gisela Stuart, former very occasional Mayor of London Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, and education secretary Micheal “Oiky” Gove, have penned an article telling Sun readers of their vision for Britain outside the EU.
Yes, "Oiky", the fire extinguisher is for you

This is all that the most discerning connoisseur of dishonesty could wish for: “The NHS will be stronger, class sizes smaller and taxes lower … We’ll have more money to spend on our priorities, wages will be higher and fuel bills will be lower … Leaving is good news for the next generation”. Yes, older voters, you can shit all over your kids without feeling any pangs of conscience over them having to clear up the mess.

The list of promises just keeps on growing: “Our children will find it easier to get a good school place, healthcare and a home”. How? The Tories have had six years to improve all of those, and the EU hasn’t stood in their way. Readers are asked plaintively “How many children will miss their first choice of school?” As many as the lack of planning allows - which also has bugger all to do with the EU.

But then it gets seriously dishonest, as Bozza and “Oiky” - who is supposed to be a member of the cabinet - “today promise to scrap VAT on household energy bills if Britain backs a Brexit … leaving the EU will allow ministers to bin the unfair and damaging’ £2 billion a year tax on gas and electricity prices … Writing exclusively for the Sun, the Tory ‘Out’ campaigners promise: ‘Fuel bills will be lower for everyone’”.

Why do I instantly conclude that Gove is in need of the nearest fire extinguisher? Simples. This is a politician who has previously voted to increase VAT. His maths are so shaky that he has actually suggested that it is possible for all schools to be above average (yes, someone put in charge of education thought that). He is part of a campaign that has been reduced to warning about smelly foreigners in the back of lorries.

Moreover, Gove’s main partner in crime Bozza has an abysmal record of breaking his promises, or, as many people like to call it, lying. A comprehensive list of those Mayoral failings can be seen at politics.co.uk - the only reason the whopper Bozza twice told about the Tramlink extension to Crystal Palace was omitted is that Adam Bienkov only had so much time and space to allocate to the former Mayor’s misdeeds.

On top of that, the money paid in EU contributions has been promised to several other good causes already (not least the NHS and farmers). And nobody seems to have noticed that all those people working on the new trade agreements that would be necessary if Britain left the EU are clearly expected to work for nothing.

Oiky” Gove and Bozza are a pair of unprincipled charlatans. Their combination of ineptitude and venality is the only thing that marks them out as exceptional. But they are both journalists by career choice, so the press gives them a free pass.

Guido Fawked - Tory Expenses Shame

The focus on expense returns for all those Tory MPs returned at last year’s General Election has not included one well-known group, that of the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog. Although Staines posted on the Tories’ troubles at the beginning, the Fawkes blog has of late been playing “look over there”, going after Lib Dem and Labour candidates, and saying that “they were all at it”.
And it is not only here on Zelo Street that Staines’ handbrake U-Turn has been detected: yesterday, he was challenged on his lack of coverage on the Tories’ problems - which have seen several Police forces investigate complaints. Presented with the Independent’s map showing all those investigations, Staines’ reply was “Am amused by people who  despite us being among the first to report Tory cases say that whilst ignoring other party's cases”.
What you will not see at the Fawkes blog

But, as I’ve already pointed out, that was then, and this is now, where it’s all very different. The Tweeter otherwise known as LoonyLefty was unimpressed: “Yeah I'm calling bullshit on that Guido, as your recent Twitter stats would indicate”. Quite. And Staines still wasn’t answering the question. “So why haven't you reported every time a new police force has been involved? That seems like BIG news to me”.
So would Sir care to take this issue seriously? Sadly, no he wouldn’t: “One of us runs the most successful political news site in the UK. The other describes himself as a loony. Who knows news best?” What “successful political news site” would that be? The BBC? Mail Online? The Guardian? ITV? Sky News? The Huffington Post? Perhaps we should look at just how much “political news” the Fawkes blog puts out.
And the answer is that there is precious little of that: last night, there was a late post effectively lauding the EU Leave campaign for trying to frighten voters over migration. This morning, there has been a snarky post about Piers Corbyn, in whom they had no interest at all until his brother became Labour leader, and then more EU Leave campaign propaganda in the shape of an attack on Alan Sugar. Political news my arse.
The claim clearly did not impress LoonyLefty, who pointed out “Given that 19 police forces are investigating 29 MPs, a resignation of a Tory Chairman and you report on Cat Smith? Laughable”. Staines and his rabble have actually accused Ms Smith directly of malpractice, even though they don’t have the evidence to back it up.
What did The Great Guido have to say to that? Only the lame “Everyone has biases. We do however go after all parties. Obviously it is business with the Tories and pleasure with Labour”, which is baloney. So is Staines’ claim to Martin Collinson that “They are all at it”. As Peter Jukes pointed out some time ago, Staines and his pals are effectively a disownable branch of CCHQ. They are doing nothing on Tory election expenses now.

That’s because they are far more useful to their preferred party pretending that everyone else is at it. Meanwhile, they cross their fingers and hope that, once again, their side gets away with it. Thus the shame of The Great Guido. Another fine mess, once again.

Tory Expenses - Mundell Miracle

Meet David Mundell. He represents the largely rural constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, and has done so since its creation at the 2005 General Election. His majority over the SNP last year was less than 800. Mundell is also Secretary of State for Scotland, not least because he is the only Tory MP who represents a Scottish seat. He now faces questions over his expense return.
That expense return is now available online (see HERE). It covers both the “Long Campaign” from November 2014 to March 2015, and the “Short Campaign” covering the last few weeks before polling day. This is a constituency that covers a large area of southern Scotland: it includes towns such as Annan, Langholm, Lockerbie and Gretna, all of which are a short journey from Carlisle, as well as Peebles, which is in the Edinburgh commuter belt. Covering it all means a lot of travel.
And that is where Mundell’s expense return shows nothing at all: a NIL entry for Transport, neither on Long, nor Short, Campaigns. He was within the spending limit by just over £3,000 for the Long Campaign, and £1,650 for the Short Campaign. It would not have taken much in the way of transport costs to use up all of that.
How might transport costs, other than those for Mundell himself, have been incurred? Well, there were all those activists who travelled from Glasgow - not much opportunity for the Tories to gain seats there - out to locations across Mundell’s turf. We know this thanks to some Tweets and Retweets from the @GlasgowTories account.
On April 10, there was MSP Annie Wells telling “Looking forward to @GlasgowTories road trip tomorrow to @DavidMundellDCT”, followed by confirmation the next day “@GlasgowTories on [sic] route to help David Mundell in the borders”. Borders? Where exactly? “Fifteen volunteers from Glasgow down in DCT today helping @DavidMundellDCT. Campaigning in Annan”. That’s most interesting.
Annan is the thick end of a hundred miles from Glasgow. Fifteen Standard Class day returns (or a minibus) not declared, yet lots of local campaigning, and no doubt canvassing, being done. There was even a group photo to accompany the message “The team on tour with @DavidMundellDCT helping our hardworking MP in Dumfriesshire”. And that was not the only visit Glasgow Tories made to help out Mundell.
They were back on the Monday before polling day, posting a photo (try to get the sun behind the camera next time, folks) telling “#TeamTory at DCT to help reelect our hardworking MP @DavidMundellDCT”. Wherever that was, it will have been a trek from Glasgow. Were they promised food and drink as well? Nothing on the expense return. And the SNP will be looking long and hard at Mundell’s slim majority.

And who else was ferried into the constituency to help Mundell’s campaign? Those costs would soon mount up. No doubt there’s a perfectly good explanation.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Tory Expenses - The Keen Activist

Meet Fiona Keen. She’s a loyal and enthusiastic Tory activist. And she was a full participant in Road Trip 2015 during the run-up to last year’s General Election. We know this because she has left a comprehensive record on Facebook, letting us know which constituencies she visited, some idea of the activities she got up to while there, and therefore the mismatch between that and those MPs’ expense returns.
Ms Keen was out there campaigning even before the “Short Campaign” period began, notably in Dover for Charlie Elphicke, where she announced on 15 March “had a fab day in Dover with Roadtrip 2015 including lunch and dinner at the Royal Yacht Club”. Elphicke’s expense return will make interesting reading. It’s still outstanding.
Once the “Short Campaign” began, she was on a weekend Road Trip excursion: “had a fab evening in Downtown Great Yarmouth last night with Roadtrip 2015!” That’s another expense return we need to see. Then, after showing her true colours and telling “apparently 15 million people haven't registered to vote - let's hope they are Red Ed's votes”, she confirmed “fab sunny day in South Thanet arriving by #battlebus with Sol Campbell and Team2015 - we managed to deliver 45,000 leaflets”.
Paid for that in any way? Could prove difficult. Not covered by Craig Mackinlay’s expense return, but then, nor is that Battle Bus. Meanwhile, Ms Keen took part in what appears to be telecanvassing, telling the world “Curry thanks to Conservative Friends of India & Cavass with Boris at CCHQ this evening - calls to Twickenham constituents produced much support for Conservative Candidate, Tania Mathias”. Crikey chaps! Oo-er!!
Then there was more Battle Bus activity in South Thanet: “Stunning sunset in Margate reflected in our fab Battle Bus”. Still no transport costs on Craig Mackinlay’s return. Nor were there any on Anna Soubry’s further north in Broxtowe, and Ms Keen was there the following weekend for a group photo. And guess what? Team 2015 were not finished with helping out Ms Soubry - they went back again.
Ms Keen was, er, keen to let everyone know that she “is off to Broxtowe again with #team2015 on Saturday to support Anna Soubry”. Still no transport costs on that expense return. So was it another Battle Bus journey? Not this time: when Ms Keen told “on the way to Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire with #team2015”, it was accompanied by her sneaking into the First Class seats on a train heading north from St Pancras.
And Anna Soubry’s expense return doesn’t have any train fares on it, either. Then it was on to polling day, as Ms Keen let the world know “is delighted that #battlebus2015's visit to Twickenham, Kingston & Surbiton and Sutton and Cheam yesterday helped to secure a Conservative victory for Dr Tania Mathias, James Berry and Paul Scully helping to secure an overall majority for the Conservative Party”.

Both the Kingston and Surbiton, and Sutton and Cheam, constituency returns have a NIL entry against transport costs. Many thanks to Fiona Keen for shedding a little more light on the Tories’ election operation. It will be interesting to hear the explanations.

EU - Tory Bloodbath Looms

Many pundits like to point to the Labour Party, where the blessed Tone has fallen out of favour with so many members, telling that under his leadership The Red Team won three General Elections and scored majorities that eclipsed even that achieved by Clement Attlee in 1945. Why, the question is asked time and again, would they turn their backs on their most successful leader? But the malaise is also afflicting the Tories.
Young Dave, the self-proclaimed “heir to Blair”, got The Blue Team its first taste of Government for 13 years. He then got them their first General Election majority for almost a quarter of a century. But his party is, if anything, more divided on the EU than it was under “Shagger” Major, so when Cameron declared that he would campaign for Britain to remain an EU member state in the upcoming referendum, the gloves came off.

Yes, with more than three weeks before the referendum vote, the Tories are indulging in a bout of self-serving infighting that makes Major’s time in 10 Downing Street look positively benign. The Murdoch Sunday Times quoted an unnamed Tory MP (understandable, given what was said) telling “I don’t want to stab the Prime Minister in the back - I want to stab him in the front so I can see the expression on his face”.
There was more: “You’d have to twist the knife, though, because we want it back for [George] Osborne”. Then he went totally OTT: “All we have to do is to catch the Prime Minister with a live boy and a dead girl and we are away”. Away with the fairies, more like.
Even Iain Dale, who is someone generally sympathetic to the Tories, and is leaning towards voting Leave, is clearly exasperated by the behaviour of some back benchers: “MPs Andrew Bridgen and Nadine Dorries have called for David Cameron to be overthrown whatever the result of the referendum. Yes, you read that right. The political titans Andrew Bridgen and Nadine Dorries think they know better than the people who voted for David Cameron last May”. This is important.
Dale and Ms Dorries have previously been on good terms: this shows the irritation with some of the more outlandish backbench behaviour. He also points out that Ms Dorries voted for Cameron as leader back in 2005 over David Davis. He adds, with some prescience, “They’ve given every media outlet an excuse to ignore the issue of the day for the Leave campaign and instead indulge in leadership speculation”. Correctamundo.
So it has come to pass: i has gone with “Tory plot to topple Cameron”, while the Guardian has “Tories’ Brexit rift widens as rebels call for Cameron exit” and the Times goes with “I dare you to depose me, Cameron tells rebels”. He does have a point: Dave polls well ahead of his party, and if the Government were destabilised to the extent that an early General Election was called, the electorate might not be as kind to The Blue Team as they were in May last year, especially given additional scrutiny of their spending habits.

And don’t think it would be better with Bozza: the realisation of his disastrous tenure as Mayor of London is only now starting to hit home. The clown act the public might like, but they aren’t keen on the serial dishonesty - or the yet worse catalogue of ineptitude.

Top Gear - Vorderman Speaks

As the first show in the new series of BBC Top Gear was broadcast yesterday evening, some viewers were merely curious, some happy to see a new team in charge. But the most vocal were the obedient servants of the Murdoch mafiosi and their hangers-on, still sore at the removal of their man Jeremy Clarkson for an act of gross misconduct, and the installation in his place of Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc.
Don't call us, we won't ... er, that's it

And there was no more ardent supporter of Jezza and his memory than former Countdown numbers person (but now reduced to self-promotion specialist) Carol Vorderman, who has clearly not been invited to be a guest star on the new Top Gear, probably because she is not only not a star, but arguably never was in the first place.
She took to Twitter to voice her displeasure before the end of the show: “Sorry #TopGear ... switching off ... looking forward to the proper boys on @amazonprimenow soon  ... night all xxx”. “Proper boys”? Like the one who racially abused and then physically assaulted a producer because he couldn’t get a hot meal? This aspect of Jezza’s behaviour was pointed out to Ms Vorderman by several other Tweeters.
So it's Fine For Clarkson to Assault People” mused one. A fuller reply suggested “I really don't want to watch someone who thinks he solves problems thru violence. Boys they are not. Learn to accept change”. Indeed. And one punter who was clearly unimpressed added “Clearly you think assaulting people who help put you on tv is ok then? Where do you stand on wifebeating?” Ouch!
Moreover, it did not go unnoticed that Ms Vorderman had previously been on good personal terms with Jezza and his crew, having appeared on Top Gear in the past: “because you're mates with them” was one reply. But she wasn’t getting much TV exposure nowadays, with one reply concluding “I don't think they'll be to worried Carol. You're no longer relevant”. Ouch again!
Indeed, her less than stellar televisual past and present was never going to be far away, from a reminder of her current circumstances - “To be fair I do the same when I see you endorsing debt consolidation loan companies when I know you'd never use one if in debt” - to one of the last serious programmes she did, all of six years ago: “Can't be as bad as your appearance on Question Time”. And another Ouch!
The adverse comments came despite Ms Vorderman’s penchant for blocking anyone doing so. And there had to be a Countdown reminder: “Awk, give it a chance Carol. Look how well Rachel Riley did on Countdown!” That Tweet earned got its author blocked. Then came the final, cruel twist, with “‘Bonkers granny with bad face lift and too much plastic surgery scuppers #TopGear comeback’ … Said no one”.

Carol Vorderman was never really a star, and now she’s just scratching around for attention. Sad, really.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Tory Expenses - Long Distance Activism

Meet Christine Mary Forrest-Ottewill. She’s a Tory activist, and she lives in Scotland. But during the 2015 General Election campaign, she was south of the border, part of the Team 2015 effort, travelling up and down the country on those Battle Buses, visiting marginal constituencies, canvassing, cheering on candidates and party leadership … and all the while, not featuring on their local expense returns.
Ms Forrest-Ottewill helped out with the campaign in South Thanet, telling her Facebook friends “leafletting & canvassing for Craig Macinlay for South Thanet in Broardstairs.
Farage clearly dejected by this w/end's massive Conservative support from locals & from ourselves … Telecanvassing on the coach en route on Sat., & joined by Grant Shapps we worked yesterday & today for the critical seat & staying overnight at Margate”.

South Thanet has no locally billed transport costs, and the amount of overnight accommodation required would have bust Craig Mackinlay’s return wide open. And by her own account, Ms Forrest-Ottewill was canvassing, so at least some of the expense of transporting, accommodating and feeding her should be billed to the local campaign. But the most revealing part of her campaign was a five day tour just before polling day.
This set out from London to cover a whole swath of Midlands constituencies, with activists based in Tamworth for five nights. You guessed it, Team 2015 and their accommodation feature on hardly any of those local expense returns. So where did they start? “Monday am 27th. we went to Cannock Chase for Amanda Milling for door to door surveys, joined by Patrick McLoughlan & Stephen Hammond the Wimbledon candidate”.

Ms Milling’s expense return (see HERE) does have an entry for Transport, but it’s for renting a van. Nothing for the Battle Bus or Team 2015. Nothing for their food and drink. From there, it was on to Northampton: “Tuesday 28th. to Northampton North for Michael Ellis with Chris Grayling, joined for dinner by Conservative Chairmen Grant Shapps & Lord Andrew Feldman”. Anything on Northampton North’s expense return?
Michael Ellis shows a NIL return for Transport, and nothing for Team 2015’s food, drink or overnight stays. Still, there was always Tamworth itself: “We had a special celebratory Indian meal in Tamworth with special guest Tamworth candidate Kevin Anderson in which we all gave 30sec. explanations of why we wanted to go on Battlebus2015”. But there was nothing on Chris Pincher’s return either (not Kevin Anderson).

Still, the day after the “special celebratory Indian meal” they went to Broxtowe, where Anna Soubry did put an item for Team 2015 on her expense return. Which means that all the rest of those expenses should have featured as well. For the ten days before the General Election, there were Battle Buses crossing the country, racking up thousands of pounds in costs that mainly failed to be accounted for by winning candidates.

Thanks to Christine Mary Forrest-Ottewill, we now know the scale of the Tories’ deception.

Tory Bullying And Expenses Collide

As Zelo Street regulars will already know, the election expenses row occupying the Tory Party right now is inexorably linked to the bullying scandal behind the death of young activist Elliott Johnson last year, the presence common to both being disgraced activist and campaigner Mark Clarke, who was expelled from the party after the circumstances of Johnson’s death, and the events leading up to it, had been examined.
At the same time that Clarke was thrown out by the Tories, a number of other activists were suspended. One of those, AndrĂ© Walker, is a well-known participant in the Johnson affair, and was told he would be persona non grata at last year’s party conference. Clarke’s mistress India Brummitt did go to conference, but her presence was not well received by some delegates. And then there was Sam Armstrong.

Armstrong was also suspended and told not to bother turning up at conference. But he is still on the scene, and several potentially difficult episodes have come together to make him, like Clarke, a figure that links both bullying and expenses. The inquest into Elliott Johnson’s death will be held this week - on Tuesday. So it is no coincidence that Simon Walters of the Mail On Sunday has returned to the case.

Armstrong has been working as an aide to Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, who represents South Thanet. His continued presence has not gone down well with Harlow MP Rob Halfon, primarily as Armstrong was part of a plot to blackmail him. As Walters has told, Halfon “confessed to an affair after informing No 10 he had been told that Mr Armstrong, acting on Mr Clarke's behalf, intended to film him and his lover, a prominent female Tory activist, leaving the East India Club, in London, where they met for trysts”.

The “prominent female Tory activist” was Conservative Future chair Alexandra Paterson, who had also had an affair with Clarke, and was good friends with Johnson. Halfon is now annoyed that not only is Armstrong still around, but that, as the party does not employ him, they are not in a position to get rid of him. Which brings us to Craig Mackinlay.

South Thanet was a crucial battleground for the Tories: this was the seat that UKIP leader Nigel “Thirsty” Farage hoped to win, to demonstrate that his party was more than just a by-election flash in the pan. As a result, both Tories and Kippers threw an awful lot of resources at the local campaign, with very little of the Tory effort showing up on Mackinlay’s expense return (see it HERE).

No entry is shown against Transport - but activists were bussed out, or went by train, on a more or less daily basis. Mackinlay’s accommodation costs would not have covered all those activists stopping over during the campaign. The targeted mail shots may not be covered in his “Unsolicited Material” cost. And Mackinlay is employing one of the bullying scandal players at public expense. Thus it all comes together.

But not in the kind of way the Tories will find useful. More on this one later.

Toby Young Euro Lecture Hypocrisy

Every member of the Pundit Establishment seems to not only have an opinion on the upcoming EU referendum, but also has no problem with letting us all know what it is, whether we want to hear it or not. And someone who is never backwards in coming forwards on the subject is the loathsome Toby Young, who wants everyone to know he is so important that he went to debate the subject in Paris recently.
More less than grown up debate from Tobes

Tobes begins with his customary dishonesty, telling of “My day as the only Eurosceptic at the finishing school for Europe’s elite”. A word in your shell-like, Tobes: “Eurosceptic” suggests scepticism, that one’s mind is not yet made up, someone who is in “show me” mode. But Tobes’ mind is already made up, and he is not even slightly sceptical. He is a full-on, unvarnished, unflinching Europhobe.

The substance of his argument was patronising, in addition to the dishonesty: “When I pointed out EU deficiencies such as its lack of transparency, the fact that laws can be introduced only by unelected European Commissioners and the widespread corruption that has confounded its auditors for 21 years”. Laws get through only when the European Parliament votes them through. It is a democratically elected body.

And the “widespread corruption” he talks of does not exist: this is the old and tired claim that the EU’s auditors have not signed off the accounts, but they have, and every year too. What they won’t sign off is the way that spending EU funds in some member states doesn’t meet the same accounting standards as the EU has centrally. And I have another problem with taking Tobes as a credible lecturer on laws and lawmaking.

As we were reminded recently, Toby Young has no room to lecture anyone about probity, and certainly none about our obligations under the law. This is, after all, someone who confessed to having his membership of the Groucho Club terminated for his use of currently illegal drugs, something to which he ‘fessed up readily in the pages of the Guardian, which at the time was useful to him and not yet beyond the pale.

My crime was to write about a cocaine-taking incident that occurred during a photo shoot for Vanity Fair's 'Cool Britannia' issue at the club. I was the editor in charge and in my recently published book I reveal that Damien Hirst and Keith Allen, the photo's two subjects, demanded I supply them with alcohol and cocaine as a condition of posing for the camera” he explained, confirming he both supplied and used cocaine.

Needless to say, things soon got out of hand and I felt like a supply teacher presiding over a group of naughty schoolchildren. I didn't help matters by dipping into the Bolivian marching powder myself”. He did Charlie as well as supplying it. Then he shot his mouth off about it. Then, after all of that, he demanded that the taxpayer allow him to blow an eight-figure sum setting up his own school. And now we should trust him on the EU.

Nobody should trust Toby Young any further than they could chuck him. End of story.

Top Six - May 29

So what’s hot, and what’s not, in the past week’s blogging? Here are the six most popular posts on Zelo Street for the past seven days, counting down in reverse order, because, well, I have to make use of an excellent fine day later. So there.
6 Top Gear - Murdoch Wants It Pulled The objective of all the knocking copy coming from the Murdoch Sun aimed at new Top Gear co-hosts Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc was let slip by (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch.

5 Tory Expenses - The Activist’s Tale One keen Tory activist left a trail of all those free trips, the free food and drink, and those targeted personal leaflets - none of it declared locally.

4 Tory Expenses - Battle Bus Claim Fails The claim that all those Battle Buses were a “national expense”, and did not need to be charged locally, was busted when the expense return for the Gower constituency was made available.

3 Guido Fawked - Don’t Drink And Tweet The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines found that his “They all look alike” snark came back to bite him as he mistook a novelist for a Labour MP - but not because they were both black, you understand.

2 Tory Expenses - The US Contingent A group of Young Republicans was brought over to help out during last year’s General Election campaign. And their cost didn’t get declared locally, either.

1 Tory Expenses - The Letter Bombs All those individually addressed letters, customised, mentioning only the constituency targeted, and absent from local expense returns.

And that’s the end of another blogtastic week, blog pickers. Not ‘arf!