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Monday 30 April 2012

Crikey Readers, More Bozza F-Words!

[Update at end of post]

With opinion polls still showing the two main contenders for the London Mayoralty in a close race, the last thing needed by the campaign of occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson today was the kind of gaffe that would alienate those Daily Mail reading voters who inhabit the outer ring of the fabled London “doughnut”, from where much of Bozza’s 2008 edge came.

But all the hard work by the deeply unpleasant Lynton Crosby came to naught earlier today, as Bozza produced an act of voter alienation that could not have been better timed had it been done to order. The lead up to the candidate inadvertently melting down live on air is equally important, though: the BBC’s Tim Donovan, whose questioning had given Ken Livingstone such a hard time, had homed in on Bozza.

But Johnson kept avoiding any kind of inquisition from the Beeb man, even to the extent of sending his singularly unsavoury deputy Kit Malthouse to be his stand-in on the Sunday Politics London yesterday. The appalling Maltloaf spent much of Donovan’s interview veering from righteous indignation that he was being asked questions to smearing the Corporation to try and shut him up.

This morning, Donovan’s revelation that Johnson had been courting the Murdoch empire for sponsorship for his vanity Cable Car while dismissing Phonehackgate as “Codswallop” was gaining traction as Bozza was forced to say something on camera. He did not disappoint: as the sun shone and the breeze blew through his routinely disorderly mop, Johnson forcefully made his point.

I don't know of any discussions going on about that [Murdoch] but what I can tell you is that I think it's right to work with the private sector to get contributions that will be for the benefit of London. I'm very proud that over the last four years we've got more than £100m in sponsorship that I've raised for this city: £50m for the bikes, £36m for the cable car” which doesn’t add up, but that’s Bozza for you.

And then he lost it: “You've got to get this on the air! Come on, this is the most important thing. Stuff [Tim] Donovan and his f***ing bollocks”, this from a Mayor who said, only last October, that anyone caught swearing at Police should expect to be arrested, as part of a new zero-tolerance approach following the London riots. Clearly the Beeb are lesser beings than the Met’s finest.

The spin from the right, denouncing Donovan as a “leftist”, is now winding up to full speed, but the damage has been done. Having a wee swearie might be OK with your Jolly Good Chums from School, but the kind of voters that turned out last time and put Bozza in City Hall don’t look kindly on what the BBC Announcer calls “very strong language”.

[h/t to Political Scrapbook for grabbing the video]

[UPDATE 1 May 1030 hours: the potential negative effect for Bozza and his pals was always going to be minimised, providing his wee swearie could be kept out of the Daily Mail. But, sadly for the Tories, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has clearly decreed that anyone using the F-word in public, rather than at his paper's editorial conferences, should not get off without suitable admonishment.

So "Boris in foul-mouthed rant at TV interviewer" is the headline that all those good outer London Mail readers will read over their tea and toast today. The frankly Ron Hopeful angle, throwing in "'Every time Boris swears he gains three points in the poll' a No 10 source said" - probably contributed by a suitably grovelling Tory supporter like the odious Quentin Letts (let's not) - will not lighten their mood.

Those readers will know what Bozza said - the number of asterisks having been carefully and correctly chosen - and it could make a difference]

Ferrari On Rails? Not Just Yet

A number of overexcited hacks are getting themselves into a premature state of enthusiasm over a very new and very red train that has just taken to the rails in Italy. This may be because of their having been given a freebie by the operator, and that this new beast has yet to be tested in revenue earning service – which is the only proof of the pudding worth reporting on.

What has caused the outbreak of rail enthusiasm has been the entry into the Italian market of Nuovo Transporto Viaggiatori (NTV) and their all-red Italo branded train, which is actually French, being the first fleet order for the Alstom Automotrice À Grande Vitesse (AGV), a high speed trainset which combines the distributed traction of the Pendolino trains with articulation technology of the existing TGV.

Competition: a Trenitalia Frecciarossa high speed train

These trains will compete with national operator Trenitalia and its high speed Frecciarossa trains (more prosaically called ETR500s), mainly between Milan, Rome and Naples. But, in order to get the most out of its fleet, NTV will not serve principal stations such as Termini in Rome, calling instead at Tiburtina and Ostiense in the eastern suburbs, a detail lost on the hacks.

So the press reports have homed in on NTV being led by former Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo, with the new trains christened “Italy’s Ferrari of the railways”, another gushing report telling “Ferrari’s heritage evident in the Italo high-speed train”, with a third asserting “Italy’s New ‘Bullet Train’ Aims to Shake Up Euro Travel”. This is quite a reputation given to a train with no service record to its name.

And those expecting lots of daily trips on offer will have to wait a while: the current offer is just two trains each way per day between Milan’s Porta Garibaldi station, Roma Tiburtina, and Napoli Centrale. The Rome location is connected to the city’s Metro system, but all existing long distance trains go through Termini. Using the suburban Rogoredo station in Milan is also odd.

These details have not made their way into the publicity pieces, and neither has the thought that, although train and track should now be under separate management, the tendency of operators to favour Trenitalia when push comes to shove might not have been completely erased yet. That, in turn, could cause mounting delays on those long runs from Milan to Naples.

And, as for this kind of competition coming to the UK, the nearest we will get in the near future will be German operator DB running into London through the Channel Tunnel, as I previewed a while back. No new fleets of trains are about to be ordered by di Montezemolo, or anyone else, to run in this country. And nobody should get their hopes up until the new boys in Italy have made a success of Italo.

Or not – and that would be one expensive punt.

Dan Waves Goodbye To Labour

As the London Mayoral election draws near, the time has come for a final desperate attempt by now former Labour loyalist Dan Hodges, given a berth at Telegraph blogs for the sole reason that he would use it to damage the party, to pretend that he still supports the Red Team while putting the boot in on their candidate. To no surprise at all, he has today endorsed occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Just three days to go now ...

Moreover, this endorsement has come suitably hedged, as Hodges stresses he will also vote for his local Greater London Authority (GLA) candidate, and vote Labour in the top-up. He has even been slagging off Mil The Younger a little less of late, but in his case, “two out of three ain’t bad” might not be good enough, and his sloppy and spiteful attack on Ken Livingstone merely underscores this.

Hodges dismisses the Livingstone manifesto as a “myth”, and goes on to make this statement: “The mayor cannot set the price of the Oyster card independent of the train operators”. Very good, Dan. This is truly meaningless: the Mayor can sign off on fares set by Transport for London (TfL) and has done on several past occasions (The train operators also cannot set the price of the Oyster card!).

Maybe Hodges means “fares on National Rail services”. If he does, he should say so (both Livingstone and Johnson have indicated that they would explore bringing more of these services within TfL control, expanding the “Overground” network, and you can read my take on the possibilities HERE). And from there, Dan veers into forthright dishonesty in short order.

He will not convince David Cameron to hand him responsibility for the benefits system or London’s health service” asserts Hodges. But those two items are not in the Labour manifesto, so using that statement to then denounce that manifesto as a “false prospectus” is being more than a little economic with the facts. And on top of that, Dan occasionally comes over all selective.

This is shown magnificently as readers are told of Livingstone’s “assertion that the Jewish community would not support him because of their wealth”, although he did not say that, and met with the London Jewish Forum last week, the outcome being that several of those who had previously expressed reservations about Livingstone in a letter to Ed Miliband are now backing him for Mayor.

And Hodges’ support for Bozza? This, he tells, is because Johnson is “closest to being ... a unifying figure”. No mention of his faux pas over the Stephen Lawrence murder case, of “watermelon smiles”, of his accommodation of the odious anti-Semite Taki while editor of the Spectator, and of his courting of the Murdochs while dismissing Phonehackgate as “codswallop”.

Some might see Hodges as an embittered hypocrite. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Sunday 29 April 2012

Booker Gets Someone Else To Make It Up

There is clearly so little going on in the world of climate change that Christopher Booker has led his Telegraph column today with another of his pet hates, the European Union (EU). Thus he reveals that he once found a really, really damning document in the National Archives which proves, well, something about the UK’s membership which in turn means he was right.

The supposedly incriminating document, which is identified as one from Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) folder 30/1048, is titled Sovereignty and the European Communities, and the version cited by Booker has been extensively annotated by his pal Richard North. The North additions, in fact, provide as much content as the original paper, much of it judgmental and revisionist.

North agrees that the paper was a briefing note, but does not say for whom. He suggests that it should for some unspecified reason have been made public in the run-up to the UK’s entry into the then EEC, and that this would have stopped the accession in its tracks, such would have been the outrage from the public. But he makes one significant false assumption.

And that is that the public back in 1972 would have seen the paper the way he did 30 years later. Given the lack of a time machine, that public would not have had North’s insights to guide them, particularly his claim of FCO “duplicity”, the clear assertion that “sovereignty” is not being discussed in acceptable terms (acceptable to North, that is), and that “deceit” and an “outright lie” are being practiced.

North insists that terms such as “wide degree of cooperation” should be replaced by “subjugation”, dismisses some conclusions as mere “weasel words”, and manages to miss (Paragraph 12 (i)) the part where the limits to Community law are clearly laid out, while inferring that sovereignty will be totally lost, along with democracy (Booker claims the UK would ultimately “no longer be a democratic country”).

Let’s cut through the spin here: Booker is for the most part taking a post on North’s EU Referendum Blog and churning it over, right down to details such as denouncing elected mayors as “meaningless local figureheads”. But the two erstwhile collaborators cannot even agree on the paper’s authorship: North sees several hands at work, yet Booker ascribes it to a sole FCO author.

Both are viewing the paper selectively, and neither appears willing to concede that one other person viewing the original document without North’s annotations could come to a diametrically opposite reading of the text. It’s another case of saying “this document proves our case because we say so”, which the usual Telegraph readers will obediently take on trust.

Anyone else should tread warily and draw their own conclusions.

Chester’s Useful Tory Idiot

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

Those looking in on Zelo Street regularly will have seen two recent items on Chester’s Tory MP Stephen Mosley, who has managed to spend rather a lot of time campaigning not in his constituency, but in and around London in support of occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, while occasionally giving reassurance on law enforcement to people not resident in the UK.

And that’s not all: Mosley has managed to shamelessly claim credit for projects like the reinstatement of a second track on the rail link between Chester and Wrexham, even though this is being funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and he had nothing to do with it. But he does attend functions in the community, even if they are at hotels where 99% of his constituents wouldn’t get through the door.

But there is good news for those who wonder where their elected representative has been recently: he was out campaigning in Gresford yesterday afternoon. So that’s all right, isn’t it? Well, no it isn’t: Gresford is not only not part of the City of Chester consitiuency, but it is also not in the same country, being part of the administrative area of Wrexham – in Wales.

Chester’s citizenry must be starting to wonder if their MP has done anything of interest or use to them in the recent past. But he has made an intervention in the Commons recently, during the debate following the statement by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt last week (this was precipitated by the revelations in correspondence released when Murdoch Junior testified).

Sadly, the Mosley intervention was yet another act of basic idiocy: by his own account, he asked “why Gordon Brown’s Government refused to act on phone hacking”. Very good, Stephen. A little word in your shell-like, if I may: before you asked that question, could you not have done a teensy bit of research, like consulting a time-line for Phonehackgate?

The story – including the first sign that hacking went beyond the “one rogue reporter” defence offered by the Screws – was not broken until the Guardian published in July 2009, no more than ten months before Pa Broon left Downing Street. The Press Complaints Commission reported back the following November that hacking was no longer going on (which we now know was a sham).

The Commons, though, did investigate via the Culture Committee, which reported back in February 2010, although the Murdoch empire disputed its conclusions. Only after the New York Times story and Sean Hoare’s revelations the following September did momentum start to build, and by then Brown was out of office. So that, Stephen, is why his Government did not act: it wasn’t there any more.

Is there a more clueless, shameless and wilfully stupid MP than this?

[UPDATE1 30 April 1150 hours: while Stephen Mosley is slavishly spending time in London campaigning for Bozza, his Conservative colleague Edward Timpson in Crewe and Nantwich has been working in his constituency. On Thursday next, for instance, he has organised a jobs fair at the Alex Stadium.

Commenting on the event in his latest email bulletin, Timpson observes: "That's the same day as Boris Johnson's election in London, and I'm in trouble for not helping out, but I'm Crewe and Nantwich's representative to Westminster - not the other way round!"

If only all Tory MPs were so minded. We're watching, Mr Mosley]

[UPDATE2 1 May 1115 hours: a new item on Stephen Mosley's website (which proudly proclaims "Member of Parliament for The City of Chester") tells his constituents "Lacrosse World Cup Launch Draws Ministerial and MP Support". Mosley is supporting the bid to host the 2017 Lacrosse World Cup.

He is quoted as asserting "This bid gets my support as I know the value it will bring to the sport across the country. England will do an excellent job hosting this tournament and I wish the English Lacrosse Association every success in this venture".

So where would the tournament be held in the event that the bid succeeds? Er, Surrey Sports Park, which is in Guildford. That's around 200 miles away from Chester. As Littlejohn would have said, you couldn't make it up]

Top Six – April 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, this is now established practice. Sort of. So there.

6 EU Whopping Budget Whoppers Here, we put the why-oh-why merchants straight on the budget numbers, staff cuts, and how the UK Government demands more from the EU while simultaneously complaining when the bills come in.

5 Super Soaraway Maddie Moment The Murdoch Sun was first out of the blocks when the authorities in Portugal declined to reopen the case of abducted toddler Madeleine McCann, but Rupe’s downmarket troops were not minded to offer to foot the bill for an operation which would severely stretch law enforcement resources in a country whose public sector is going through a severe austerity programme.

4 Mail Breast Hypocrites The obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre came over all righteous about the latest TV advert from insurance comparison site confused.com. But at the same time as it was grumbling about cartoon breasts and underwear before the watershed, Mail Online was showing the real thing, 24 hours a day.

3 Leveson Is Served (15) aka Hunt Is Shunted The Culture Secretary appeared bang to rights after a release of correspondence following the appearance before the Leveson Inquiry of Murdoch Junior. But then the spin machine and excuse generator were fired up, and are still working overtime.

2 Come In Nadine, Your Time Is Up While the Mail applauded the attack on Young Dave by (yes, it’s her again) Mid Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries, Bryony Gordon broke the bad news to her, and the readers of the Maily Telegraph. And what Ms Gordon was doing was explaining why Ms Dorries can’t find anyone willing to offer her a remotely safe seat at the next General Election. Time to go.

1 Guido Fawked – Silent On UKIP Expense Fiddle The Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere have been talking up Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his motley band while turning a blind eye to their improper diversion of £37,000 in expense payments. Compare and contrast with the Fawkes blog kicking other politicians on expense irregularities. Not that they’re selective or biased, of course.

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

Saturday 28 April 2012

Dorries And DVT

The suggestion has been made that 13 year olds should have access to the contraceptive pill. While many have decided to think this over and have a rational debate over the issue, one MP vehemently opposed to the idea has decided to deploy a little scaremongering, and Zelo Street regulars will not be at all surprised to find that this person is (yes, it’s her again) Nadine Dorries.

She wants another weeerd with yew!

The member for Mid-Narnia, who claims not to be anti-abortion but wants to reduce the time limit for such procedures drastically, has hit on the idea of taking a known but very occasionally occurring side effect of taking some types of pill, and inflating the risk of occurrence. The intention is clearly to frighten both teenagers and parents away from any thought of using this treatment.

More or less any form of medicine carries potential side effects. For some contraceptive pills, these include an increased risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), but only in some of the population, generally those who already have a heightened risk of DVT due to (for example) being overweight, or smoking. Treatments that contain oestrogen may cause the blood to clot slightly more easily.

However, and in these cases there is inevitably a however, pregnancy also carries an increased risk of DVT. So some women are more at risk either way on this one. And a recent report by the Royal College of General Practitioners has brought positive news for users of the pill: a 12 per cent reduction in the risk of contracting one or more types of cancer.

Moreover, this was a long term study with a large sample size: 46,000 women took part over a 40 year period. There was also a lower risk of death through heart disease or stroke, and no increased risk of breast cancer. This suggests that, on balance, there is nothing for young women to be frightened of when it comes to making a decision on using the contraceptive pill.

This, of course, does not deter Dorries. So when LBC decide to debate whether 13 year olds should be able to access the pill directly, she tells that “deep vein thrombosis is a complication”, which it is not. It is merely an occasionally heightened risk factor. At least when she has another stab, she makes that “A side effect ... can be DVT”, which is unarguably accurate.

But the thrust of Dorries’ argument is that parents have to know, the excuses even extending to “What 13 year old remembers to take a pill at exactly the same time every single day?” which drew a selection of mainly derisory responses. She is opposed to the idea. As Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point. But it’s good to see Nadine Dorries developing this campaigning skill.

That’ll come in very useful when she’s no longer an MP, so quite soon, then.

Leveson Is Served (16)


While football fans pore over the final Saturday of the Championship, those at the top of Government are locked into another game, where they are right now losing control and find themselves in a very tight corner. Welcome to the sport of Ministerial Code Judgment Passing: Leveson has rightly told Young Dave that his Inquiry isn’t there to pronounce on Jeremy Hunt, so Cameron is back to square one.

After Murdoch Junior appeared before Leveson this week, the release of correspondence gave every impression that Hunt had favoured Rupe and his takeover troops in their bid to take over that part of BSkyB that they did not already own. Hunt then decided an early appearance before the Inquiry was necessary to enable him to show that this was not the case.

Cameron, moreover, declined to refer the matter of whether or not Hunt had broken the rules to a separate inquiry, so now that Leveson has passed this particular hot potato back, the PM has nowhere else to go. And there seems little chance of getting Leveson to reconsider: he has said, quite rightly, that he cannot be the arbiter of the ministerial code. So what happens next?

Hunt won’t appear before Leveson until well into next month, and in any case, that Inquiry will not report until October at the earliest. But the pressure is building on Young Dave, not least from his Coalition partners, to have Hunt’s conduct referred to an inquiry, possibly by Alex Allan, the independent advisor on the ministerial code. That pressure could only be relieved in one way.

And that is by Hunt resigning, with Cameron accepting the resignation and reshuffling his cabinet accordingly. The only problem with that, though, is it will leave Cameron exposed when the next Leveson revelation is made, and no-one right now is betting against such an event. Like the matter of the ministerial code, that should have been considered before setting up that Inquiry.

Because right now, the terms of reference given to Leveson do not allow his Inquiry to make judgments on the ministerial code, but do allow a succession of witnesses to appear, some of whom now have an axe to grind, and who are more than ready to hand over correspondence and emails for publication, with all the potential that has to embarrass ministers – maybe even the Prime Minister.

Cameron cannot be seen to be trying to get those terms of reference changed on the fly, and after the event, merely for his own convenience. But he must sort out the matter of his Culture Secretary before the chorus of “cover-up” drowns out any effort coming out of 10 Downing Street to wrest control of the narrative. If he doesn’t, next week’s election results could look very bad indeed.

Friday 27 April 2012

Mail Breast Hypocrites

What can one say about the latest advert from insurance comparison site confused.com? Mildly irritating, a little cheap and nasty, brash, and unsubtle, but not when the Mail gets hold of it. “TV viewers complain about ‘overly sexual’ cartoon ad of women with large breasts on prime time” screams the headline. Someone at Dacre Towers is having a laugh.

You calling me a f***ing hypocrite, c***?!?

It’s a cartoon, for goodness’ sake. They aren’t really grumbling, are they? Well, sadly they are: it’s another case of You Betcha, says Sarah. “TV viewers have got their knickers in a twist over the sight of women dancing in bikinis and a large woman flashing her underwear in a cartoon advert” says Phil Vinter’s piece. So there have been hundreds of complaints, then?

Er, no there haven’t. Just 37 have been registered so far, but then, there had been very few complaints to the BBC about Sachsgate before the Mail cranked up the why-oh-why machine and heaped as much bovine by-product as it could muster over the heads of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. But not only is this a feeble attempt to stir up complaints, it’s also grotesquely hypocritical.

Because on Mail Online right now – and as I type this we’re in Childrens’ TV time, so there should be none of this available for impressionable young minds to be polluted by – there is a variety of naked flesh, and real flesh at that. For starters, there is the obligatory Kim Bloody Kardashian piece, including – guess what – a bikini photo! And very tight trousers, a Martin Clarke favourite.

And if that isn’t enough arse for readers, there is another obligatory feature, that of Pippa Middleton, with lots of photos, especially of her backside, and wherever she shows off plenty of leg. Then, for bikini and flesh fans, there is a whole feature on Imogen Thomas, famous for being involved with famous people. And having large breasts. And splashing on a load of sun slap.

On top of all that, and available 24 hours a day, watershed or no, there is a report on Alexandra Burke (who she? – Ed) who “wore a tiny pair of shorts as she danced on stage”, and showed off her arse for good measure. One could go on, and Mail Online does, with yet more arse, more bikini, more leg, more everything, while its hacks stand in their very draughty glasshouse.

Heck, they’ve even done a feature on the last photoshoot of Marilyn Monroe (with a still from The Seven Year Itch thrown in to provide the obligatory leg shot). And yet this rabble of hacks can call out a cartoon advert for being risqué. Come off it, Messrs Clarke and Dacre, you’re a pair of shameless hypocrites. If anyone should cut down on the pre-watershed flesh, it’s you two.

So that’s another case of Situation Normal At The Mail. No change there, then.

Another Ultimate Anorak Experience

Last year, Zelo Street regulars may remember a post about the Railway Touring Company’s marathon Great Britain tour, which had stopped off at Crewe en route from a night stop at Preston to the next evening’s destination, Bristol. Spending nine consecutive days on board a train making its way around the UK behind a variety of heritage steam traction is still popular, as it’s on again this year.

In fact, this is the fifth year of the tour, which at an individual cost as much as £2,800 is definitely a non-trivial expense, but the punters have arrived from across mainland Europe and north America to ensure the train was well filled as it arrived at Crewe late this morning. There was no hostess photo opportunity this time – so no interest for Mail Online – but hundreds braved the rain just to see the train pass.

None of that kind of thing this year

So was it any different this year? Ah well. Those of an anorak persuasion would easily identify the difference in locomotive type for this leg of the tour, with last year’s Castle class loco replaced by Britannia class “PacificOliver Cromwell, part of the National Collection as it was one of the last locos to work a passenger train for BR back in 1968 at the end of steam traction.

The return of Oliver Cromwell

Passengers could stretch their legs and appreciate just how enchanting Crewe station is when the rain combines with a northerly wind, while the support crew wheeled out the hoses and used the Platform 12 hydrant to water the loco (typically, large steam locos go through 40 to 50 gallons of water per mile). The stop, together with pathing the tour, meant a delay of half an hour or so.

Water stop and pundit photo-op

Then, a few minutes after the whistle sounded to tell anyone who was travelling to get back aboard, the signal cleared and Oliver Cromwell blasted out of Crewe with her 420 tonne trailing load, taking the road towards Shrewsbury, Hereford, the Severn Tunnel and then Bristol.


The tour goes from Bristol to Penzance and back tomorrow, and then returns to London on Sunday via Gloucester, Stroud and Swindon. The enthusiastic and the merely curious can see details of the route and the schedule for tomorrow HERE and Sunday HERE. Don’t forget that more or less any vantage point will be occupied with snappers well beforehand.

And on to Bristol ...

But go and have a look anyway if you’re in the area. You will not be alone.

Super Soaraway Maddie Moment

Back on to the front pages at the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate has come the still unsolved case of Madeleine McCann, abducted from an apartment at a holiday complex at the western Algarve resort of Praia da Luz five years ago. And for once the lead has not been taken by the Express – perhaps the lawsuits have something to do with that – but by the Murdoch Sun.

Lagos, western Algarve

Rupe’s downmarket troops have observed that the Met’s finest have pored over the case, at the personal urging of Young Dave, and concluded that there are 195 “investigative opportunities”. Moreover, they believe there may be new evidence. So when the authorities in Portugal – both the Attorney General’s office and the Policia Judiciaria (PJ) – declined to reopen the case, there was outrage at Wapping.

Maddie insultthundered the editorial headline. Readers are told “ARROGANCE is piled on incompetence as Portuguese police snub pleas to reopen the Madeleine McCann enquiry” (one should note that, at the Sun, some words are in CAPITALS because the hacks want readers to KNOW that this part of the HEADLINE is very very IMPORTANT and they should not MISS it).

Those “investigative opportunities” are transformed into “new leads”, because, as any fule kno, a “new lead” is much more likely to mean a case being solved. So if there are 195 “new leads”, that makes it certain that doing what the hacks demand will produce a live Maddie and a happy ending, with refusal being beyond the pale and deserving only contempt and condemnation.

Isn’t it more likely that Portugal is deeply embarrassed by the unprofessional way it bungled the search for Madeleine when she vanished five years ago?” shrieks the editorial, trying to heap blame on an entire country for what may or may not have gone on in one corner of it. And there’s more: “In their eagerness to blame Kate and Gerry, local cops missed crucial clues”. Really? Like what clues?

And here we encounter the inability to translate from one language – and law enforcement culture – to another. The term “Arguido” means “person of interest” (and anyone so identified has certain rights under Portuguese law), yet the Sun, as with the rest of the tabloid press, translated it as “suspect”, which is at the least unhelpful, and at worst prejudicial.

The reality of the Madeleine McCann case is that yes, it is being reported locally (you can see the latest item in the Público HERE), but this is a country with eleven million of its own citizens to protect, in the midst of an austerity drive that is putting pressure on the whole of its public sector, and reopening a case because Rupe’s troops say so is not going to get the McCanns, or anyone else, very far.

Maybe the Sun hacks would like to pay the police bill themselves? No, thought not.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Come In Nadine, Your Time Is Up

There have been many column inches devoted recently to the attacks on Young Dave and the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, by (yes, it’s her again) Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire Nadine Dorries. The characterisation of the PM and Chancellor as “arrogant posh boys”, with the debate even covering the cost of a pint of milk, has got pundits interested.

I want a weeerd with yew!

And the interest level has been high among the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, where Ms Dorries has enjoyed significant approval. Sonia Poulton has enthusiastically agreed “It's true, Ms Dorries: Cameron and Osborne are out of touch. When will they also be out of office?” as she pretends to have been won round by the former nurse (and soon to be former MP).

Ms Poulton is clearly unhappy that the PM and his sidekick appear out of touch, although her grasp of detail is imperfect – no good calling Osborne “Dave’s Bullingdon chum” when they weren’t at Oxford at the same time – and they aren’t the only two MPs out of the 650 or so in the Commons who have little or no work experience elsewhere (or appreciate what “doing without” means).

Elsewhere, Janice Atkinson Small has joined in, telling “Nadine Dorries has put her finger on the reason Brits no longer feel like part of a great nation”, although that may be news to the MP. This piece of punditry rambles on about a supposed sense of national decline, quotes Margaret Thatcher (at length), rails against the EU (obligatory at the Mail), and says Dave isn’t a real Conservative.

But the overall tone is very pro-Dorries, which is not the case over at the Maily Telegraph. Now we know there is previous between the paper – not least its owners, the Barclay twins aka The Fabulous Bingo Brothers – and the Mid Bedfordshire MP, but the latest criticism has come from Bryony Gordon, not one of the management and not known for participating in attack hackery.

Moreover, Ms Gordon is close to the Telegraph’s political editor Benedict Brogan (how close? Read your Private Eye), and her opinion may be considered to reflect the more thoughtful point of view at the paper. And that point of view is that “I’ve really tried to like Nadine Dorries, in much the same way that I have really tried to like green tea and lentils”, to which I say Mee-oww!!

Ms Gordon continues “She is the queen of self-promotion” (true) and notes that Mid Bedfordshire is set to disappear, suggesting “all this rather smacks of a disgruntled politician whose ambitions have been thwarted” (also true), and noting how Ms Dorries demeaned the military service of her Labour opponent at the last election. And by the end of the piece, there is a very clear message.

That message is that Nadine Dorries is out of favour and out of time with her party.

TPA – The List’s Still A Bit Rich

Not content with getting their latest “report” into the more gullible part of the Fourth Estate yesterday, the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) has gone into rebuttal mode against anyone having the temerity to challenge the veracity of its “2012 Town Hall Rich List”. And on duty to repel attacks on its dubiously reasoned “research” is the smug but now harder looking Chris Daniel.

More guff from Tufton Street

The atmosphere of sheer fantasy is set at the outset, as the post is categorised “Better Government”. The TPA doesn’t want Government to be “Better”, but to progressively weaken it through slanted reporting, name calling, and enlisting a range of useful idiots – from MPs and MEPs through to Councillors and local and national Government workers – in its support.

This can be shown by looking through Daniel’s post. He tells that “It has been proven repeatedly that public sector workers receive substantially larger remuneration packages than their private sector counterparts”. It has not. Then comes “town hall pay has risen dramatically and uncontrollably without translating into better services for residents” for which he offers no evidence, as there is none.

He goes on “Residents want people running councils who have the right priorities, who will provide services of a good quality while keeping costs down and not expect the taxpayer to pay more to fund high spending”, but the TPA has never done a credible survey of what council tax payers want or think. They merely appoint themselves to the status of spokesmen.

But this does not deter Daniel, who continues “In publishing the most comprehensive survey of council senior pay we enable local taxpayers to judge for themselves if they think their council bosses are worth their six-figure packages against the standard of their local services and their levels of Council Tax”, which is flagrantly dishonest. So I’ll put Chris Daniel and his pals straight.

At no point has the TPA ever done any value for money test on any local authority anywhere in the UK. They cannot, as they do not engage with these organisations, but instead rely on Freedom of Information fishing expeditions. So they have no performance metrics to hand, despite bodies like the Audit Commission having carried them out for decades (I first saw them demonstrated in 1984).

Saying “but someone at your Council has a remuneration package of over £100k” is not a value for money test. Saying “Council Tax is higher at Council A than at Council B” is not a value for money test. Saying “fat cats” while pointing at the local Town Hall is not a value for money test. Chris Daniel and the rest of the non-job holders at the TPA should stop trying to con the public.

Because that’s exactly what the “Town Hall Rich List” is. And that’s not good enough.

EU Whopping Budget Whoppers

EU cannot be serious!shrieks the Super Soaraway Currant Bun today as it tells readers that “Brussels sparked outrage yesterday by demanding a 6.8 per cent rise in the EU budget”. The editorial, such as it is for Rupe’s downmarket troops, thunders “the corrupt Brussels empire demands we put another £925 million in its trough ... how about we put nothing in”.

There were the usual signs of the intellectual rigour that one expects from the Sun, as terms such as “blasted”, “slash”, “rocket” and “soar” were deployed. This spirit of creativity was shared at the Express, as Dirty Des’ finest warned thatRefusing to pay the bills would mean the EU, and its member states, would be taken to the European Court of Justice and forced to pay up”.

Thus the Desmond press was caught making it up again. But even at the supposedly upmarket Maily Telegraph, in a piece with no name on the by-line, there is the sneering comment “Our new man in Brussels understands economics, which will put him ahead of the other Eurocrats”. New man? What happened to Bruno Waterfield? And the budget numbers have been exaggerated.

Idiot Mail hack gets his numbers seriously wrong

Although, it has to be said, not by anything like the extent to which the Daily Mail’s James Slack – who is allowed to write leaders for the paper – has done. He calls the draft EU budget (that’s all of it) of €138 billion “an increase”, and goes on to tell that the UK’s contribution would rise by £15 billion. Yes, a Mail leader writer can’t distinguish between total contributions and increases in them.

But what is actually behind this budget increase, and what about all those “Eurocrats” in Brussels? This exchange yesterday between EC President Barroso and an enquiring British hack is revealing:

Q: How do you explain to taxpayers in a country like Britain that, because of this budget increase, the British treasury will have to find over a billion euros extra next year to give to you what it is cutting back on public services in Britain?

A: First of all, I cannot agree with the assumption in your question. You say "given to us", "given to me". It is not to me. It is to Europe, to the regions of Europe, to the workers of Europe, to the United Kingdom.

The example that President Schulz brought today about ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is quite impressive. Do you know who is asking the increase of expenditure in ITER? Namely the net contributors, namely the United Kingdom. The question I put to you, if I may, is does the public in the UK know that the British government is arguing for the increase in expenditure like ITER? Do you believe this project is the first priority for the poorest regions of Europe? So, the point is very important to make, because there is sometimes a complete contradiction between the positions that the governments take publicly, some governments saying "we want to reduce the budget", and afterwards they are the first to ask for increase of the budget in the projects that are of course for their direct interest.

That pretty much sums up the problem that many in the UK, and especially the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate, have with the EU. Any budget contribution is characterised as being for “Eurocrats”, while overwhelmingly the money goes on projects previously agreed by all member states (including the UK). Then when the bills come in, the why-oh-why merchants kick off.

And, on the subject of those “Eurocrats”, this information provided by the EC representation in the UK is, to no surprise at all, not in any of the papers running their screaming denunciation of the EU: “The draft budget for 2013 also freezes the Commission's administrative budget at well below inflation level, while cutting its staff by 1%, the first step towards the goal of a 5% reduction of staff in 5 years”.

What you will not see in most papers in the UK today. No change there, then.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Super Soaraway Muslim Scare

Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Sun have fixed on a story coming out of the town of Luton, which is interesting in several respects. There is an alleged terror connection, other papers don’t appear to be covering it, and despite no names being issued by the Police, the hacks have already decided that al-Qaeda is involved, and that this means only one thing – Muslims.

So there has to be a screaming headline: “Five held in Luton ‘terror cell’ raids” satisfies this criterion, backed up by the sub-heading “Cops and MI5 swoop to thwart feared attacks”, although the MI5 presence is not backed up by any of those pesky facts, and neither is the assertion that Luton is an “al-Qaeda ‘hotbed’”. All that is known is that there have been five arrests.

But there has to be some substance to this, so we hear from “An intelligence source”, which is roughly equivalent to telling that someone in the newsroom once appeared on Mastermind. Or Countdown. Or did a Rubik’s Cube very very quickly. It’s a cheap cop-out. And the “intelligence source” can only reveal that there is nothing much to reveal.

The only nugget of information is that there is supposed to have been “chatter about intentions”, whatever that means. But if there was some kind of terror act in the planning, it wasn’t going to be targeting the Olympic Games. Then we get the speculation over identities: one “of Somali origin”, one with a “Bangladeshi background” and one “Briton of Pakistani origin”.

Eagle eyed observers will note that this only adds up to three, which merely reinforces the thought that Simon Hughes and Nick Parker – the names on the by-line – might just be winging this one in the spirit of Phil Space. “Some are feared to have either travelled abroad for terror training — or had been planning to do so” they tell. So they might not have, and just went to the park instead.

But “a computer was taken” by Police, so it must be moderately serious. Serious enough for the Sun hacks to describe a suspect whose identity they don’t know as “the Muslim”, whose neighbour is claimed to have said “I can’t recall him ever having a beard or wearing traditional clothes”. Excuse me, but this is not only utter drivel, but also very obviously made up.

As is the observation at the end, “A local said ‘it’s scary’”. Yeah, right: so the Sun has someone working at the office who lives in Luton, and can therefore be fed a line and called “a local”. This is an utterly shameless inflation of a story from next to nothing, with one objective, and that is to continue the demonisation of Muslims. It’s so bad that not even the Daily Star is running it.

But it sells more papers, and for Rupe and his troops, that’s all right, then.

TPA – Another List That’s A Bit Rich

The amount of by-product emanating from the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) had dropped recently, which usually means that there is another of their “reports” on the way, and so it has proved: today has brought the “Town Hall Rich List” for 2012, pretentiously categorised as “new research”, which of course it is not. It is the result of yet another Freedom of Information (FoI) fishing expedition.

More from the Comfortable of Tufton Street

And the misinformation starts at the very beginning, as readers are told “3,097 council staff earning over £100k”. Really? Not really: this is a record of “all those whose remuneration exceeds £100,000”. That’s not the same thing. The TPA gets its figures by including pension contributions and expenses, the latter being reimbursement for costs incurred in doing the job.

Moreover, the TPA is trying to play the pension game both ways: if this is down to what the individual earns, they shouldn’t be simultaneously telling that pension costs are something separate – but of course they are, as I noted recently. And one number is missing from the “report”: the proportion of employees on higher salary levels. So what might that be?

Well, there are over two million local Government employees in the UK. So the TPA’s figure of just over 3,000 is just 0.15% of the total. But the TPA are wise to the art of selective reporting, and that with so many employed overall, even a number between one-tenth and one-fifth of one per cent can look big. And making numbers look big is what secures the press coverage.

Additionally, to make the big numbers look yet bigger, redundancy payments are added in, making it look as if there are even more employees earning over £100k. Then, to round it all off, all those identified are smeared as “fat cats”, as opposed to the banking sector – massively state subsidised of late – where those on obscenely high deals are lauded as “wealth creators.

And the press coverage is suitably generous: at the Maily Telegraph, Christopher Hope – who should hang his head in shame for the cheap false equivalence – tells of “council workers receiving more than the Prime Minister”. Young Dave’s total remuneration – that’s the TPA rubric – is over £500k. The Express goes with “How Pay Is Booming For Town Hall Fat Cats”.

The Mail’s Steve Doughty – the same hack we saw talking guff about the BBC recently – merely trots out the TPA line unquestioningly, while Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun pull the “Prime Minister’s salary” one, as well as a wave of pejorative language: “coining it ... surging salaries ... raking in ... trousering”. Thus the TPA’s work of demonising Government is done for them.

But as journalism, this copy doesn’t cut it. And that’s not good enough.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Leveson Is Served (15)


[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

So Murdoch Junior has completed his appearance before the Leveson Inquiry, and appears to have not found the ordeal too taxing. If only the same could be said for culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who, following release of a series of emails, now appears to be on his way out. The impression that Hunt was acting partially in the BSkyB negotiations is inescapable.

Why there are a growing number of calls for Hunt to resign – or be sacked – is that it looks very much as if he was part of a back channel between the Government and News International (NI) bypassing Vince Cable, who was the senior minister and before the Telegraph’s sting on him, the one who had to make the decision on whether to refer the BSkyB sale.

You told WHO about WHAT?!?

Most damningly, the emails suggest that some of the information received by Junior’s advisor should not have been handed over. That could mean that NI was in possession of market sensitive detail, and illegally so. And on top of all that, it also appears that Hunt passed details of a discussion on the takeover with Paul Dacre to Junior, and this has predictably caused the Daily Mail to erupt.

Tory minister on the brink after emails reveal Murdoch was given 'absolutely illegal' tip-off over £8bn BSkyB deal” screamed the headline, as Hunt’s career was asserted to be “hanging in the balance”. Even the call for Hunt’s resignation by Harriet Harman is given prominence, a rarity indeed (her usual role is being abused by the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not)).

If this piece is the start of a series – and the Mail doesn’t tend to do things by halves – then Hunt is going to find himself shunted not just by the Leveson revelations, but also by a chorus from the Dacre press. Leaking details of what the Vagina Monologue told him in confidence means Hunt has broken Dacre’s trust and that is not something the Mail’s editor will readily forgive.

And while Hunt is considering his position, Young Dave may be wondering how much closer the tide of implication will get to him. Does he sack Hunt, and thereby distance himself from any impropriety that may have taken place, or does he wait and hope that it blows over? One coming event that could force his hand is that Rupe himself appears before Leveson tomorrow.

What Murdoch senior tells the Inquiry could quite literally bring down the Government. Cameron may now be wishing he had not started this process running, but it is too late to stop the juggernaut. If Rupe drops a big enough turd on to Cameron, from a suitably high altitude, then the mess may be beyond clearing up. Sleepless times in Downing Street tonight, then.

[UPDATE1 25 April 1345 hours: while Jeremy Hunt is trying gamely to bat away criticism in the Commons, the Mail has continued to go after him. Despite throwing special advisor Adam Smith under the bus, Dacre's hacks are not impressed, asking "will it be enough to save [the] Minister?". This, a rhetorical question in the style of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) in reality means the Mail believes that Hunt is still well and truly shunted.

This is substantially down to the one item I mentioned previously: that Hunt broke Paul Dacre's confidence by relaying - or causing to be relayed - part of a conversation he had had with the Mail's editor, and to a representative of a rival media player. Thus Hunt has not only to convince Parliament, but he has also to pass muster with the Daily Mail. And he will only accomplish that task by doing the decent thing and resigning. Dacre won't accept less]

[UPDATE2 29 April 1745 hours: the Mail has gone to the trouble of running - prominently - a comment piece by Ed Miliband, more usually the butt of ridicule by Dacre's attack poodles, where the Leveson revelations are featured prominently. The Mail's editor, as I already pointed out, takes a dim view of those who betray his trust, and that is what Hunt appears to have done.

Meanwhile, the Independent has detailed three occasions where Hunt has potentially misled Parliament. In March last year, he said all correspondence between his department and News Corp was being published, but it was not: the email exchanges between his advisor Adam Smith and the Murdoch team were not included and only came to light when Murdoch Junior testified before Leveson last week.

And in his statement before the Commons last Wednesday, Hunt claimed that his permanent secretary had "authorised" and "approved" Smith as a point of contact with News Corp., although the official concerned, Jonathan Stephens, merely agreed that he was "content and aware", which is not the same thing. Moreover, Hunt may have misled Parliament about his meetings with one of the Murdoch team.

Misleading Parliament, according to the Ministerial Code which Young Dave has brought in, means instant resignation, and also says that Hunt was responsible for his special advisor, who has now resigned. Cameron appeared on The Andy Marr Show (tm) this morning and asserted that he was "straining every sinew", but he'll have to do a little more than that to make this one go away]

Guido Fawked – Jumping Aboard The Bandwagon

Today has been the turn of Murdoch Junior to be subjected to a light roasting before the Leveson Inquiry. Inevitably, the question of News Corp trying to get its hands on the part of BSkyB that it did not already own was raised, and here Junior has dropped Jeremy Hunt the Culture Secretary in the mire by telling that Hunt spoke to him while Vince Cable, the senior minister, would not.

Any news we can claim for ourselves?

This was compounded by Junior also pitching Young Dave into the freshly filled vat of poo by revealing that the BSkyB bid was also discussed at the Christmas dinner attended by the PM and hosted by the twinkle-toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks, when the latter was CEO of News International (NI). Cameron has previously been tight-lipped about what might have been said on that occasion.

These two revelations may well lead to Hunt walking the plank and Cameron having to eat humble pie – not the kind of thing a Buller Man likes to have to do, especially when he has lackeys to do that sort of thing – so they are doubly significant. This realisation has caused the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, to wake up and retell recent history.

Thus the Guido Fawkes blog has hurriedly jumped aboard the bandwagon that it for so long told its readers did not exist. So in an item this morning, a reference was made to another post from January last year, showing the faithful that The Great Guido was on the ball all along, being first about the Christmas meeting between Cameron and Brooks.

Sadly, one non-trivial detail seems to have escaped the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere: on January 19, they are still talking of “the Guardian waging war on NI and Downing Street’s spin chief Andy Coulson” (as well as playing down the meeting because Cameron and Brooks living ten miles apart means “in truth they are near neighbours”). All those “co-conspirators” and they didn’t pick up what was brewing.

Because what was brewing was that Coulson departed two days later. The clueless pair at the Fawkes blog hadn’t had a sniff. Yet now, a post that was clearly slanted to rubbish the Guardian is held up as a shining example of prescience. And it gets worse, with the pretentious “Rumour reaches Guido that correspondence ... will be published by the inquiry later”. Like with all other attendees, then.

And the less than dynamic duo have now put the lid on their own can of utter cluelessness: while they are busy kicking Ken Livingstone (again) in the service of their beloved Bozza, at the main event, news has emerged that Hunt’s advisor illegally gave Junior access to market sensitive information. If the culture secretary hasn’t yet resigned, he needs to get his skates on sharpish.

Another fine mess, once again.

Gilligan Calls Electoral Fraud

As the latest opinion poll shows that all the mud slung at Ken Livingstone has caused Bozza’s lead over him to, er, shrink to just two percentage points, those hacks who have been slavishly promoting London’s occasional Mayor have begun to unearth their contingency plans, in case the result does not meet with their approval. And in the vanguard of this movement is Andrew Gilligan.

Less than ten days to go

The Maily Telegraph’s so-called “London Editor”, for which read “peddling his unique brand of terminally dodgy journalism but only on subjects that affect the capital”, has returned to one of his favourite subjects, the borough of Tower Hamlets. Here, as I observed previously, Tories and their supporters have decided that significant electoral fraud is under way and have set out to prove their case.

His latest report from the borough appears promising at the start, as he tells that the returning officer is making enquiries, and then makes the unequivocal statement “Mr Livingstone’s supporters have been ‘harvesting’ ballot papers”. He identifies three individuals whose testimony gives some support to his allegation. But further down the piece he has to row back.

There is no suggestion that [Livingstone’s] campaign or the Labour Party knew of the apparent [my emphasis] vote-harvesting” he cautions. Putting the H-word in quotes the first time, together with stressing the lack of proven knowledge, is what the Telegraph’s legal team will have demanded from Gilligan before his copy was allowed into print.

But it hasn’t stopped Gilligan from returning to the subject in a blog post yesterday, where he alleges that someone who voted recently didn’t, and that someone else who voted may have been dead, although he can’t be certain (Gilligan watchers will by now have noted a similarity between this line of attack and the one that got him binned from the BBC for good).

While Telegraph readers and those who drift around the comments sewer at Telegraph Blogs may lap this up, others may note that the population of Tower Hamlets is around 220,000, and that, even if all of Gilligan’s allegations can be stood up, the supposed fraud won’t cover one hundredth of one per cent of that, or perhaps one fiftieth of one per cent of the electorate.

And that’s a pretty big “if”. Returning officers make enquiries about elections that happen on their watch on a regular basis, and there is a world of difference between that and proven fraud. But just in case Bozza fails to get re-elected, it’s good to see that his cheerleaders are getting their retaliation in first, so they can explain why they couldn’t persuade Londoners to back their chosen candidate.

But as an exercise in journalism, Gilligan doesn’t cut it. No change there, then.