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Thursday 31 May 2012

Fox News Declares War On Obama

[Update at end of post]

The upcoming US Presidential election, we now know, will be between Democrat incumbent Barack Obama and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney. And almost at the moment the latter was confirmed as having won sufficient delegates to win him the GOP nomination, Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) effectively turned itself into a full-blown cheerleader for him.

On yesterday’s Fox and Friends, which as all Fox watchers know is part of the channel’s “Opinion” strand (as opposed to the “straight news” one), a four minute video was aired under the banner “Fox and Friends presents”. It was indistinguishable from a GOP attack advert, except of course it was rather longer than the average commercial.

Fox and Friends hosts: Steve Doocy ...

The usual Fox and Friends line-up of Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade – you can see my earlier assessment of this dubious trio HERE – then commended the video, Ms Carlson naming the producer and saying “good work”. So it clearly had the support of the presenters, so much so that they played it again later in the show. This was not well received elsewhere.

... Gretchen Carlson ...

David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun, who reminded his readers that he was in the vanguard of those criticising the Obama administration two years back when it tried to portray Fox as not being a legitimate news organisation, concluded that the video “resembled propaganda films from 1930's Europe more than it did responsible TV politics of today”. He was taken aback by the presenters’ attitude.

... and Brian Kilmeade

And over at Hot Air – founded, one might note, by none other than Michelle Malkin (note to the uninitiated: not easy to get much more Conservative than Ms M), Ed Morrissey, while saying he agreed with the thrust of the piece, worried “does this make anyone uncomfortable at all in regard to its source?”, arguing that there was a difference between airing others’ adverts and creating their own.

What Morrissey means is that, effectively, Fox is no longer in the stands cheering on its chosen team, but has come down on to the field of play – and that’s out of order. And, although Fox VP Bill Shine later claimed that the video had not beenauthorized at the senior executive level of the network”, it could still be accessed on line. And today? The same Fox and Friends hosts were keeping schtum.

The video is included so that anyone who wants to see what passes as “fair and balanced” in cable news Stateside can view it. That it was aired at all, despite the rowing back, tells you all you need to know about Roger Ailes and his propaganda machine. There will be more of this in the run up to the election. It might even get less subtle.

As I said, fair and balanced my arse.

[UPDATE 2 June 1620 hours: Chris White, the associate producer who worked on the four-minute film, and who was praised by name by the Fox and Friends hosts, was offered a job at rival cable news outfit CNN before it aired. Following the broadcast, CNN withdrew its offer to him.

Fox News has since confirmed that White, who has apparently worked for them "for several years", can keep his job there. The announcement was made by VP Bill Shine, yes, the same man who distanced Fox management from the affair. Isn't that interesting?

Also interesting is the characterisation of Fox and Friends by the New York Times: "The program is overtly hostile to Mr Obama and Democrats. But Fox executives have said they do not consider it to be - or to hold the same standards as - a news program". So my previous characterisation of FNC stands]

Hunt The Coulson

While many thousands are watching Robert Jay giving Jeremy Hunt (the Culture secretary) the mother of all skewerings at the Leveson Inquiry, and finding themselves coming up a long way short in the sympathy department, over the border and beyond the end of the M74 the real action has been unfolding, and this could be terminally damaging for Young Dave and his jolly good pals.

That cop's going to arrest who? ME? Er, oh ...

Because Hunt can be shunted off – he will no doubt be given the option of discovering a shortage of “time spent with family” rather than being unceremoniously pushed – and Cameron thus kept out of the way, with another equally clueless Tory apparatchik dropped in as replacement. What cannot be undone is the past presence of Andy Coulson inside 10 Downing Street.

Coulson, nicked once again yesterday Early Doors and taken by road to Glasgow – Govan, not part of town where any of his senior Tory former pals are likely to fetch up any time soon – has now been charged with perjury, specifically during his evidence at the Tommy Sheridan trial. Sheridan had been worked over by the Screws, and won his action against the title, only to get done over again.

Coulson’s evidence was key to Sheridan losing that one. But, so what, he’s left Number 10 now, hasn’t he? Well, yes he has, but at the time he gave that evidence he was Young Dave’s chief spinner. With the Prime Minister’s full confidence, too, despite Cameron having been warned about the appointment before he made it, and for reasons some of which could not be made public at the time.

That was because of the pending case involving Jonathan Rees and the small matter of his business partner being murdered (Rees’ business, Southern Investigations, was also involved in assisting the Screws with surveillance which may have been prejudicial to the trial). Coulson had also been central to the Matt Driscoll case where the former Screws hack won a record unfair dismissal payout.

Add to all of that the recent revelation by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger that the full story behind the Milly Dowler phone hacking affair is much, much worse that what is already known, and the impression is given that Cameron should never have gone near Coulson, whatever his undoubted talents in connecting the “two posh boys” in Downing Street to their subjects.

So why did Young Dave take him on, given he was warned and made aware of the back story? Was this part of the Quid Pro Quo around the Murdoch support for his party? And will there be yet more perjury arrests further down the road? Cameron can hang Hunt out to dry, but Coulson is an indelible part of the past that he cannot shake off, and cannot easily explain.

That’s why Leveson is the lesser of two evils for the Coalition right now.

Olympic Torch Passes

Some were there out of curiosity, some no doubt because the roads were closed for more than three hours and little else was moving in the town, but most were there to see an event that would not come round again in their lifetimes. Although the Olympic Games brings an awful lot of surplus hoopla, seeing the Flame passing through your town is a special event.

So it was no surprise that the route was busy well before 0800 hours, when the torch relay was due to set off from the north east corner of Crewe, before passing through the town centre, then south along the straight and narrow of Edleston Road, before heading along Nantwich Road past the station and back out of town once more. And every Police motorcycle in Cheshire must have been there.

And first to arrive after yet another wave of Police bikes and cars was the hoopla. Here’s the custom Samsung (tm) vehicle, complete with big screen on its side, unfeasibly loud music, and over-enthusiastic young people pretending that, despite the leaden skies and intermittent rain, they’re having the Most Wonderful Time Of Their Entire Lives right now. Yeah, right.

Behind the Samsung (tm) hoopla wagon was an even more gross Coca-Cola (r) (tm) hoopla wagon, and there was even a Lloyds TSB (r) hoopla wagon behind that. And then there was nothing. Was that it? Where was the Olympic Flame? I dunno about the thousands of others lining Nantwich Road, but I hadn’t walked all this way just to see a line of sodding hoopla wagons.

And then, behind yet more Police motorcycles, there it was. One man in white and his Flame, with a number of support joggers in more discreet grey. Flags were waved one last time. Whistles were sounded (a lot). Many cheered. Far more scrambled to get a photo and a high percentage discovered they hadn’t turned off the default flash, so need not have bothered.

There it is, the Flame, its bearer slowing momentarily with arms raised, passing by. And yes, that takeaway in the background really is called Full Bellies. Subtlety with fast food in the Nantwich Road area is not set at a particularly high level. And that was that: Harvey’s sudden demand for take-out coffee ended, the flag sellers vanished, and it was back home for a late breakfast.

It wasn’t like London 1948? I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t around yet. And I won’t be there next time, if there is one. Whatever your view of the Olympics, it’s a once in a lifetime thing, and for my adopted town, it happened this morning. As you were on Nantwich Road – cue all-day traffic snarl.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Red Herring Air Express

Another day, another EU story from the dwindling band of hacks toiling under the gaze of the less than benevolent Richard “Dirty” Desmond at the Express, this time about something that they can use to properly frighten the readers – flying. We all do it, the one transport mode where all are prepared – car drivers included – to trust our safe passage to the two inhabitants of the flight deck.

Nothing to do with the EU this time

The story, attempting to suggest that the EU is about to introduce rules which will increase the potential for pilot fatigue, has also been picked up by the Mail, but it’s Des’ finest who have the extended edition, complete with an example that has nothing to do with the UK, or indeed the EU, and has rather more to do with the state of the airline industry across the north Atlantic.

Moreover, as with much of the EU bashing stuff, the discussions on flying hours are just that – there is a need for all member states to agree them, and even then there is the option of the UK continuing with its own rules if those exceed the minimum in whatever comes out of the European Parliament (EP) talking shop. It won’t affect day to day safety of your flight.

The example the Express cites in support of its claim on fatigue is the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 on approach to Buffalo, NY, in February 2009. Tiredness may have been a contributory factor, but the reasons are far more complex. The primary cause of the accident was that the aircraft entered a deep stall, going into a flat spin from which the pilot could not recover.

This was caused by falling airspeed: the aircraft stall warning – a “stick shaker” – deployed, followed by an automatic “stick pusher” to remind the Pilot Flying (PF) that the nose-up attitude was too high to prevent a stall. The PF should have increased power and not pulled the nose up, but he pulled up and did not advance the throttles sufficiently, as was the operator’s standard practice.

Moreover, the co-pilot retracted the flaps, making the stall more or less certain: the aircraft would not have been able to remain airborne at that speed with no flap deployment. She had done an “all nighter” to get a free seat on a transcontinental flight to get to work – and here, the dreadful pay regime for new pilots enters, as discovered by Michael Moore some years previously.

Moore found that rookie pilots were being paid less than $17k by “feeder” airlines, and that after repaying their training costs, some were looking at seeing only $9k of that. Although some UK fringe carriers are not the best of payers, they aren’t that bad. Moore concluded, in words he will not want to hear again, “be nice to people on welfare – they may be flying you to Buffalo”.

And the Express is bang out of order suggesting that is likely in the UK.

Standard Discovers Liberty Ships

Today, the Evening Standard, aka the London Daily Bozza, has shared with its long suffering readers the revelatory insight that something out in the Thames estuary may be standing in the way of the new airport project so enthusiastically backed by occasional mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Yes, hack Nicholas Cecil has discovered Wikipedia and thereby the SS Richard Montgomery.

Nowt gets past this lot

Fortunately for those readers, most of whom deposit their copy of the now freesheet paper on their Tube, train or bus before alighting, they aren’t having to pay for the privilege of reading decades-old news yet again. And, outside the capital, as Zelo Street regulars will know, we’ve looked at this problem more than once, and concluded that Boris Island (tm) won’t fly until the wreck is removed.

So that’s it, is it? Well, no it isn’t: the last time such a wreck was tackled, off the Channel coast near Folkestone, the object of attention was most uncooperative, and due to sympathetic detonation – that is, as Derek “Blaster” Bates memorably observed, sympathetic to itself and “not the silly bugger driving the van” – there was a local earthquake of over magnitude 4.

An explosive bang, chaps? Cripes! Oo-er!!

The explosion caused panic in the town, but fortunately no-one was killed or injured. The event did dig a significantly sized trench near the shore, though whether this was of any use to the cross-Channel ferry operation is not known. So what might happen if the Richard Montgomery went bang? Cecil uses the characterisation “the £1 billion timebomb”, but I can be more specific.

A detonation involving most or all of the ordnance on board – up to 1,400 tonnes of TNT – was estimated back in 1970 to have the power to hurl a column of water and debris some 3,000 metres into the air. Most, if not all, windows in the town of Sheerness would be taken out. There would be significant structural damage. The subsequent tidal wave could inundate low lying areas nearby.

Surviving Liberty Ship John W Brown

And, for those believing that the wreck can just be left there, well, it can’t – not for ever. The ship’s hull is gradually deteriorating, and a decision will have to be made to take action even if Bozza’s new jolly whizzo idea gets (deservedly) kicked into the long grass. Residents of Sheerness can look forward to the dubious pleasure of evacuation, maybe over an extended period.

So it’s good to see the Standard finally waking up to the presence of the Richard Montgomery. But Cecil does not adequately explain what “neutralising” the wreck would involve. It could be destructive and deadly, and that’s a heck of a price to pay just so Bozza can claim his legacy. But at least we have the prospect of London’s paper actually telling its readers the full story.

As opposed to telling them what Bozza & Co want them to. Crikey readers!

Guido Fawked – Expense Rail Ticket Fail

The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, who together form the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, have been using the Guido Fawkes blog to go after MPs and their expenses for some time now. And their latest target represents a constituency in the North-West England area served by Virgin Trains (VT). So who is in the frame?

Not reading where they should be

Is it any of these fine upstanding Tory members: Stephen Mosley (Chester), George Osborne (Tatton), Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), David Rutley (Macclesfield), Fiona Bruce (Congleton), or Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West)? Of course not, although the less than dynamic duo aren’t right-wing tribalists – perish the thought!

North West bound: Virgin Trains Pendolino passes Tamworth

So it’s entirely coincidental that Master Cole has gone after Lisa Nandy, who represents Wigan for Labour. This follows his masterminding the #Kerryout campaign against Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy, which was spectacularly unsuccessful. Ms Nandy has travelled First Class on occasion. So Cole thinks he’s on a winner by calling her out over it. And some have believed him.

The less than dynamic duo waste their time

Sadly, the flannelled fool failed to indulge in the mystical practice known as “five minutes’ Googling”, which, coupled to his well-known lack of knowledge about rail travel – he famously went to the wrong station in Edinburgh for his train back to London, even though he only had a choice of one – means this supposed scoop highlights only his crashing stupidity.

Some sad souls actually believe the story

Cole concedes “if a pre-booked First Class ticket is cheaper then that is fine”, but then goes off the rails with “but Nandy seems to have been buying the tickets at different rates. A pre-booked First Class can be got for £36, yet many of her claims are for £77”. Nowt gets past Master Cole. That’s because VT don’t have just one kind of First Class advance fare, but three.

Two Tweets to Ms Nandy? Not that it's stalking, of course

How so? Well, it’s all driven by demand management. Many trains have three quotes of First and Standard Class advance tickets available – some have less – and the cheapest sell out first. So Ms Nandy, or anyone else, booking close to departure time will not be able to get the cheapest deals. And all those First Class advance prices are cheaper than Standard Open (a single is £141).

But I was right, 'cos I'm on telly!

So not only is Lisa Nandy in the clear, but Henry Cole has wasted his time, and into the bargain paraded his ignorance of the subject, and inability to do the most basic of research, before leaping into print. Moreover, one has to ask why he went after a young woman who represents Labour, and not for the first time either. I do hope this area isn’t a problem for the poor soul.

Not that anything should be inferred from that conclusion, you understand. Another fine mess.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Boris Must Be Fancied – Or Else

Allegra Mostyn-Owen, whose sole claim to fame is that she was the first to marry London’s occasional Mayor (and regular collector of “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph) Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, let the cat out of the bag about her former husband in an otherwise unremarkable Standard interview: “He needs the adulation of others. He can’t thrive without that”.

Crikey chaps, more success! Yikes!! Down, Percy!!!

So when a new biography of Bozza came out earlier this year, and turned out not to paint him in a totally adulatory manner, the response was all too predictable. Author Sonia Purnell was discovered to have previously worked alongside Johnson during his time in Brussels, and so the spin went out: here was an act of spite from a woman scorned and therefore unreliable of mind.

Sonia Purnell not with a flea in her ear

The reasoning behind this was straightforward: Bozza does rather well with the gels, dontcha know, so must be some kind of magnetic presence before whom attractive women go suitably mushy before readily engaging in what Private Eye might have called “discussions of a Ugandan nature with a view to reaching Kampala”. Ms Purnell is an attractive woman, ergo she had the hots for Bozza.

This tactic was signally unsuccessful. The book came out, it sold well, and Ms Purnell was duly invited to appear on the BBC. Then she wasn’t. Then she really was, but afterwards, the Corporation got cold feet about her. Those “close to” Bozza were making unfavourable noises. It was “talk to her and lose access to Boris”. And she could forget turning the book into a stage play.

Then, as Sonia Purnell put it, the “lost love” suggestion “was even put to me as virtual fact on air by a big-name Tory broadcaster on a leading independent radio station”. Did she mean Iain Dale on LBC? Hey, she did mean Iain Dale on LBC! And this can be confirmed following a decidedly testy Twitter exchange between Dale and Adam Bienkov earlier today.

Dale did not deny he had put the claim to her. The to-and-fro became difficult when Dale clearly thought he was being accused of being one of those briefed by Team Bozza. He wanted to let it be known that it was merely “what a lot of people were saying at the time”. Bienkov was not convinced, observing “it’s a pretty nasty smear when you have no actual evidence”.

Iain Dale can be appallingly thin skinned (which is almost certainly why Peter McKay, the World’s Worst Columnist (tm), had a go at him which was only mildly homophobic) but this is curious: a not particularly pleasant assertion is made, just as Team Bozza would have liked, but the perpetrator is then at pains to say he wasn’t part of any organised smear campaign, honest.

One thing is for sure: nobody disses Bozza and emerges unscathed. Oo-er chaps!

Not Worth Giving It Some Pasty

[Update at end of post]

The Coalition has decided, via the office of the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, to placate the populus, and more importantly the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate, by reversing its decision to slap the full 20% VAT rate on Cornish Pasties and sausage rolls served above ambient temperature, though those Asda cooked chickens are not reprieved.

Basically George, it's like this

Moreover, the attempt to apply the same VAT rate to static caravans will also be reversed, albeit not completely: these will still be subject to the lower 5% rate, and as Zelo Street regulars will know, countries around the EU have found additional tax revenue by moving items up the VAT scale. The thought has occurred, though, as to whether this move is going to do the Government any good.

The papers that shouted loudest will certainly benefit, if only in the short term, in moving a few more copies. And the reputation of the Super Soaraway Currant Bun as a title that has influence has been burnished openly today: while the Mail ran an extensive piece on this particular U-turn, the Sun made sure readers knew it was Them Wot Won It.

So what of the effect on the popularity of George’s jolly good neighbour Young Dave? Sadly, recent history suggests that the two of them might as well not have bothered, and to illustrate this we need go back no further than events in 2008 following the fallout from Pa Broon’s last budget and the lead-up to the Crewe and Nantwich by-election.

Realisation was gradually dawning that the reduction in the basic rate of Income Tax to 20%, along with the removal of the 10% rate, would produce losers as well as winners, and the former would include many workers who were among the least well off. This merely reinforced the falling popularity of the Brown Government and the prospects for Labour to retain the seat they had held since it was created.

So measures were taken to help those disadvantaged by the tax changes. Labour MPs, briefly uplifted by the news, declared that the Tory fox had been shot. It made no difference to the party’s popularity, and the by-election was lost. One might have thought that Osborne, who was even prepared to stand in the concourse of Crewe station handing out leaflets, would have taken this lesson on board.

Seemingly not. As Tone’s former spinmeister Alastair Campbell keeps telling – the number of blogposts where he reminds his readers is countless – the Government does not appear to have a strategic approach, and therefore stumbles from one shambles to another, with the shambolic events occasionally combining to produce a political car crash of humiliating proportions.

Can they carry on like this for three more years? Maybe not.

[UPDATE 1405 hours: it's been brought to my attention that Mark Samworth, a director of the firm that owns Ginster's - who have protested against the "pasty tax", and have been rolling out a hot pasty offer to over 200 outlets - donated £100,000 to the Tory Party some weeks after the Budget, but before Osborne performed his U-turn yesterday.

Naturally, the usual denials have been made: all in a personal capacity, Ginster's hasn't lobbied Government (although no word on whether its parent company Samworth Brothers has), and of course the Tory MP for South East Cornwall is standing by the Chancellor. Does it stink, or does it stink? Well, on balance, I have to conclude that it does in fact stink]

Dacre Takes Revenge On Blair

After examining the performance of the blessed Tone before the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, I concluded that the former PM had let Rupe and his troops off lightly, while – if only by inference – kicking the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his rabble of attack goons. And with perfect timing, the Mail has confirmed my conclusions today, with a number of pieces clearly written to order.

What if I did f***ing write it, c***?

Or perhaps that should be all except one written to order, because under the by-line of “Daily Mail Comment we have the thoughts of Oberscheissenfuehrer Dacre himself, contemptuous, dismissive, snarling, scattergunning, flagrantly dishonest (while, of course, accusing anyone not agreeing of dishonesty), and appallingly righteous, while all the time playing the wronged victim.

So it’s a truly vomit inducing exercise. But its vehemence merely underscores what I pointed out previously: Blair’s apparently innocent suggestion, that press regulation be independent of both Government and media, would remove the influence of Dacre and his like. That would be the big change – regulation at present is independent of Government, so that is no concession, a mere distraction.

This conclusion is further reinforced by the pundits piling in behind Dacre, most notably the obedient yet perpetually miserable Stephen Glover, who repeats the Dacre talk of the “News International/No 10 Axis” (a nod to the Mail’s love of the Third Reich there), which is held to be “still corrupting politics today” and is exclusively down to Tone and Big Al.

Campbell, in particular, is a problem for the Mail, and of course the dislike was mutual, as the former spinmeister called the paper “The Dacre Lie Machine”. Both Glover and Dacre attribute the death of David Kelly to him – either explicitly or by nudge-nudgery – which will cause Andrew Gilligan further relief that he continues to get away with cornering the MoD man by his antics.

Clearly, both pieces show the visceral dislike of the Mail not only for Blair’s actions, but also that he effectively froze out the Dacre press and thereby diminished its influence. That is neatly avoided by the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not), who attempts to bring his Parliamentary sketch spinning skills to analyse the Inquiry, but, there being no Tories present to paint as victorious, he falls flat.

But Letts does confirm the mutual dislike between Blair and the Mail. What will be yet more interesting, of course, is when Pa Broon makes his appearance before Leveson. Brown very openly fell out with the Murdoch press, but remains a good friend of Paul Dacre. So look for him to kick Rupe and somehow suggest that allowing Dacre near the levers of regulation would be A Very Good Thing.

Politics, and the Fourth Estate, are never such a black and white business.

Monday 28 May 2012

Leveson Is Served (17)


He was right, except, of course, for the occasions where he was right: no-one was going to lay a glove on Tony Blair when he appeared before the Leveson Inquiry today. And that included David Wakelin, who somehow managed to gain access to the courtroom for long enough to denounce the former PM as a war criminal. If only he had been a decade or so sooner with his initiative.

Questions? You want to ask questions?

And there was nothing for Rupe and his troops to fear in the Blair testimony: Tone asserted that Murdoch “did not lobby him directly over media policy when he was Prime Minister”, which sounds like a get-out until you realise that it does not exempt any indirect pressure, especially from Rupe’s variety of underlings, nor any influence that may have been wielded over other ministers.

But the former PM confirmed that there was a concerted effort to try and avert the welter of adverse press coverage that had dogged Neil Kinnock in 1992. In pursuit of this, much more effort went into the Labour media operation, with news management prioritised far higher than previously, via the unique insights of Big Al and Baron Mandelson of Indeterminate Guacamole.

Moreover, the papers that Blair deemed problematic were not the Murdoch ones, but those under the less than benevolent control of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, with the revelation that what Tone called a “personal vendetta” against Cherie Blair (which is still going on, as I found recently) resulted in more than thirty legal warnings about the Mail’s coverage over the years.

Blair concluded that attacks on his family – which would have included the Carole Caplin stories and the Mail using her relationship with convicted con artist Peter Foster to get at Cherie – were “unnecessary and wrong”. After considering the attempt to attack his wife by trashing the memory of Pat Phoenix by the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not), one can sympathise with that point of view.

And it may well have been after considering Dacre’s central role in the now discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC) that led Tone to his apparently fair and even handed conclusion on any new media regulator “The absolutely key thing is that it is seen as, and is, genuinely independent of the media and of the government”. So no place for the Vagina Monologue, then.

Blair may also have had the Mail in mind when he said of attacks by the press on his ministers “I felt some of the stuff crossed the line, completely ... if they were doing something a particular media group didn't like … it was really hard for them”. So if Murdoch was no big problem, the most likely target, once more, is Dacre and his attack goons. And he clearly wants their influence taken out of the regulator.

Express EU Fuel Price Fib

[Update at end of post]

The dwindling band of hacks at the Desmond press continues to work tirelessly in churning out front page stories that cost next to nothing, involve no investigative journalism, and yet still frighten the target demographic into buying otherwise worthless rags like the Express. And, as the weather is the same as yesterday across much of the UK, today has seen a return to EU bashing.

EU Force (sic) New Rise In Price Of Petrol” is the screaming (and ungrammatical) headline. So will the cost at the pump be rising on account of anything EU related any time soon? Regrettably for Des’ finest, the answer is an unequivocal no. Macer Hall’s piece is about a move to obtain 10% of the transport sector’s fuel (my emphasis) from other than fossil fuel sources by 2020.

So no “Anger erupted last night”, as this is not new news, and nor is there any evidence that the cost of motoring would be increased as a result (although it may well rise due to other factors). And, as with all EU directives, the 10% figure has been agreed by all member states – including the UK. But the Express has its anti-EU agenda to promote, so out comes the full range of frighteners.

These include the blatantly made up “The Prime Minister was understood to be ‘acutely aware’ of the worrying implications of the EU hiking the cost of fuel” and “Senior Tory ministers fear the move may trigger an angry backlash from motorists and could even lead to fuel protests bringing the country to a halt”, which are also predicated on the story being true, which it is not.

Yes, what the Express isn’t telling its readers is that the 10% target does not just include road transport, and it’s about much more than biofuels. More energy for rail travel – including freight – will come from renewable sources, and that isn’t going to move petrol prices anywhere. Trams and electrically powered buses will also contribute. We’re already exceeding the earlier target of just under 6%.

Sadly, though, the pundits who have given this rubbish the sheen of credibility – Tory MP Robert Halfon and Robert Oxley of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance – haven’t bothered to engage brain before trotting out the usual formulaic response, and have therefore given the Express story a credibility it does not deserve.

That, though, will not trouble Des’ hacks. After all, they’ve sold a few more copies, and we know what that means: another Benchmark Of Excellence.

[UPDATE 29 May 1855 hours: having indulged in publishing a totally fictitious story, the Express has followed it with an equally fictitious editorial. "For Brussels to dictate quotas for the sort of petrol sold across 27 EU member states is a clear example of the arrogance of Eurocrats and their disconnection from popular concerns" fumes the piece.

Sadly, as I've already shown, it isn't about "petrol" (or influencing the price thereof), but the amount of fuel used by the transport sector, which means lots, lots more. And, as we're already exceeding the earlier 6% target, the idea that we'll have a problem passing 10% by 2020, with more renewables coming on stream all the time, is complete crap]

Boris Right Royal Propaganda Fail

No-one, especially those living in the capital, will have missed the upcoming Olympic Games – and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The latter is certainly not lost on London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as he produces a whole cloud of weapons grade guff in his more than adequately remunerated Maily Telegraph column today.

Jubilee? Patriotism, chaps! Get the proles in line, what?!?

For his latest £5,000 payday, Bozza has gone on ad infinitum – and arguably ad nauseam – about the glories of the planned pageant on the River Thames, where an array of variously sized craft will be “all drawn up in a parping bunting-strewn Dunkirk – except considerably more jolly, obviously”. Well, indeed: it just would not do to have a flight of Stukas interrupt proceedings.

But there is some reason in this piece, isn’t there? Well, up to a point. Bozza wants to remind his readers that, to borrow from a populist Tory of the old school, they’ve never had it so good. “The crowds on the banks this Sunday will have the best teeth of any generation of Britons” he enthuses. Yes, Johnny Foreigner will never prevail against the brilliant sheen of polish and implants.

DLR: not "proceeding without a driver"

And he eventually gets to the point. Having softened up the audience, Bozza must have thought he’d get the whoppers past them, but then, here on Zelo Street we know the Johnson schtick of old.  “And then there is the last great field of endeavour for which we venerate the Victorians – engineering, and transport infrastructure. Again and again we are taking them on and beating them”. We are? Pray tell.

In the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth we are seeing an extraordinary surge of new stations”. Ho yus. And how many new stations have opened in this “60th year of Queen Elizabeth”? That would be none. But, as the man said, there’s more: “new river crossings”. The cable car? That would be river crossing singular. And it hasn’t opened for business yet.

Tube: not "proceeding without a driver" either

And here’s a nice sleight of hand: “new air-conditioned Tube lines”. Very good Bozza, but as any fule kno there are no new Tube lines – not until Crossrail comes on stream, anyway – although the new trains for the Sub-Surface Lines (SSLs), all of which date from Victorian Times, have air conditioning. Tube trains and air con is a non starter, as is the next Bozza whopper.

Yes, you guessed it: “trains that proceed without the need of a driver”. There will be no Tube trains without a Train Operator in the front cab this year, next year or the year after that. And the DLR will still need its Train Captains. So is that it? Just the usual fibs and exaggerations? More or less, except for the inevitable sign-off: yet another plea for Boris Island (tm) to be built more or less straight away.

After all, it’s a snip at forty billion notes. Chicken feed, or what? Yikes readers!

Sunday 27 May 2012

Railwaymen Steam Ahead

It’s been quiet this afternoon in Crewe. Roads were free of traffic, pavements saw hardly any shoe leather being exercised, not many dogs were being walked, but pubs were well filled, many with curtains drawn as those inside fixed their gaze on the TV screens. Thousands more had left for the day, to be at Wembley in person. Because today was the League 2 play-off final.

At 1500 hours, as the referee got the tie with Cheltenham under way, it must have seemed a long, long time since that point earlier in the season when, with the Alex a lowly eighteenth in the league, Dario Gradi, without whom there might not be a Crewe Alex today, left the manager’s job for the very last time. Two previous successors had failed. It did not look good for the club.

Oh ye of little faith! Since Steve Davis succeeded Gradi, the club has steadily moved up the table, the team’s improvement in form culminating in an 18-match unbeaten run and victory against Southend in the first stage of the play-offs. And today theAlex were unbeaten yet again as they saw off Cheltenham 2-0 to secure promotion to League 1 once more.

Built in Crewe

Moreover, this is not a team built from the largesse of wealthy owners or worldwide marketing operations: there is a limited transfer budget, with most of the players coming off the conveyor belt of youth talent that has become a club hallmark. Many of those youngsters are bought by larger clubs, and this helps the club balance the books. It’s hoped they also stay around long enough to move the Alex forward.

With so many football clubs facing financial upheaval as the largest outfits pull in the best players and drive up wages, very few can say they are well enough run to ride out any potential storm. Crewe Alexandra is one of that few. It also means that, even in League 1, the team will have to punch above its weight to be able to progress. But that will be the expectation, come next season.

Market Hall

After all, the Alex were in the Championship for many seasons under Dario, including the time after Man City were relegated from the Premiership and went through to the third tier the very next year. During that season, Crewe beat the Blues of Manchester both home and away. It was bad enough having to go and play at Crewe, but to play at Crewe and lose was the end of the world. Well, for them, anyway.

Queen's Park

And that there may be more seasons like those is what so many fans now hope. Thus today brought good news to a town that hasn’t had too much to cheer about of late. With fire in the grate, and steam in the boiler, the Railwaymen roll on. Well done the team. Well done Steve Davis. But thank you Dario Gradi. And, business folks, don’t expect everyone in before 0900 tomorrow.

In Crewe, today has been a very, very good day.

Booker Lashes Out At EU

Another week, another slice of anti-EU paranoia from Christopher Booker, who continues to use his pulpit at the Telegraph to perpetuate the myth that “Brussels” is governing us, and that our Government in Westminster is therefore powerless. In support of his argument, The Great Man cites two directives and peddles a scary phrase to frighten his more gullible readers.

And that new phrase is “occupied field”. Yes, “Brussels” has an “occupied field”. This is also warned against by a number of anti-EU groups, and of course has already attracted adverse comment from Dan, Dan the Oratory Man, occasional Tory and MEP. The meaning of this phrase is meant to convey to all subjugated citizens of the supposed centralised state an area where their Governments have surrendered.

The area in question is employment law: Booker asserts that the reason Adrian Beecroft’s frankly batshit proposals were dropped was all down to the rotten Eurocrats. But a look at the two pieces of legislation he specifically mentions does not stand up his assertion. For instance, there is Directive 94/33/EC on the subject of young workers (Beecroft talked of more easily employing children).

The Directive, it must be stressed, does not forbid the employment of anyone over the age of 12. Yes, that’s right, there are provisions for 13- and 14-year-olds to do “light work”, which in the time-honoured tradition of Euro-Speak, is not defined with any strictness. So there is nothing in that Directive preventing the employment of quite young folks – well under the ages of voting, or even consent.

If Beecroft, or his champion Booker, are suggesting that preventing those under the age of 13 from being employed in a workplace is A Bad Thing, then perhaps they should speak up and have the debate. I somehow doubt they would get very far. Ah, but there is also parental leave and flexible working hours, and here Booker quotes Directive 2010/18/EU.

Sadly, one thing is clear when inspecting this text: it has nothing to do with flexible working hours, and therefore has no impact on them. But it does address the right to parental leave – and the “right” to that leave is all it addresses. My reading of the directive is that it provides for four months of leave, taken up to the eighth birthday of the child. Four months shared between partners over eight years.

And that is going to hamper the operation of businesses how, exactly? In any case, neither of these directives was imposed on the UK: they were agreed by all member states including us. Yes, we agreed to them, and what any businessman, Adrian Beecroft included, finds unacceptable in either I would be fascinated to know. A very small concession in exchange for free movement of labour – in and out of the UK.

This is more scaremongering just for the sake of it. And that’s not good enough.

Top Six – May 27

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, it’s warm and sunny this morning and I’ve got to get out later and do some photo stuff. So there.

6 Adrian Beecroft And His Report The Maily Telegraph has been blatantly going into bat for the right wing of the Tory Party, culminating in “leaking” Beecroft’s frankly barking report, followed by interviewing him and revealing a petulant and insulting streak. Another less than auspicious move by the Tel which got them nowhere.

5 TPA – Media Nodding Donkeys Speak Following the report from the 2020 Tax Commission, a joint venture of the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), a number of fawning pundits declared this to be A Very Good Thing, because, well, it was. Actually, no it wasn’t (see below).

4 Make My Day, Squire! The Tory Party awarded its head of press job to former TPA spinner, and current SpAd to Iain Duncan Smith, Susie Squire. This was heralded by those who should have known better to be A Very Wonderful Thing. Here’s why this could be a good time to get the popcorn in.

3 Guido Fawked – No Research, No result (2) After the Testimony Of Pax Jeremiah before the Leveson Inquiry, there was much finger pointing at the appalling Piers “Morgan” Moron, especially by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes. Here’s what you should read before taking him on trust.

2 TPA – 2020 Tax Commission Speaks (4) The TPA and their pals at the IoD released their report on taxation, citing “fairness” while not telling how they would cut the public sector down to a size last seen before World War 2, when there was no NHS. Here’s why you should be even more suspicious than usual about them.

1 The Puerile Smearing Of Mehdi Hasan Following Hasan’s move from the Staggers to the Huffington Post UK, the Usual Suspects emerged from the woodwork to invent stories that he had been sacked (he hadn’t) and attempting to portray him as some kind of intolerant Islamist (he isn’t). It was out of order, but typical of the level to which some on the right regularly sink.

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

Saturday 26 May 2012

Summer Saturday Steamer

We rail enthusiasts sometimes have little to get enthused over nowadays. It’s hard to get into a deliriously happy state over the fares structure, and the minutiae of splitting tickets to bring the cost of a trip from Crewe to Reading down from over £73 to under £50, although the saving is worth having. But one can get enthused about the sight of steam traction on a summer day – like today.

Click for larger image

The morning began with a charter from Lincoln to Carlisle, which was taken over at Crewe by Pacific loco Duchess of Sutherland, now in BR green following its recent overhaul. This included the boiler – without a “ticket” for the boiler there can be no clearance to work over the network – as well as all those moving parts, many of which are out of sight between the frames.

Right on time, Duchess of Sutherland restarted its train – just the 420 tonnes on the back today – and another load of happy punters was on its way. There was a pause for enthusiasts to swap a little chat and pass the odd nugget of information, before positions were taken up to photo another special, this time coming from Tyseley, home of the Birmingham Railway Museum.

Earlier than scheduled, an immaculate “Castle” class loco, Earl Of Mount Edgcumbe, arrived for its water stop. The green livery is a little darker for Great Western locos, because as any fule kno, for the Great Western, there was their way, and there was the wrong way. And their way was to retain their darker green livery, copper caps for chimneys, and none of those silly Pacific locos, whatever BR said.

This charter was destined for Edinburgh, a long pull for one steam loco in one day (a “Castle” would, in the 1950s, do no more than London to Newton Abbot as its longest run, or perhaps London to Shrewsbury and Chester). So the crew were keen to make sure they went round and lubricated all the oiling points during the stop at Crewe, before getting the fire ready for the off.

And then Earl Of Mount Edgcumbe was steadily away, with 370 tonnes or so, to ultimately deposit its punters in Edinburgh this evening. The loco has a trip out and back from Edinburgh tomorrow, and returns south on Monday. There are more steam charters over the summer holidays: the current programme can be seen HERE and there are links to promoters for every tour.

TPA – The Estonian Comparison

As all the hard work by the luminaries of the 2020 Tax Commission fades out of view – despite all the column inches and variously lame punditry dedicated to it – the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) continues to push the idea that a smaller state – and by the happiest of coincidences the size that the Commission recommended – is the ideal size, and moreover the size that means more growth.

More guff recommended by the Comfortable of Tufton Street

To this end, non-job holder Rory Meakin has commended a “Research Paper” from the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), yet another in the seemingly never ending array of Astroturf lobby groups out there on the right. The CPS’ paper is titled “Small Is Best”, and by an equally happy coincidence, this matches more or less what they have been arguing for a number of years.

So what is the basis for this statement? Well, there are lots of regression analyses, which as Zelo Street regulars will know, were used by the TPA to promote the truly fraudulent assertion that speed cameras cause more accidents. So we should immediately be on guard. But, the CPS blurb tells, “advanced small Government economies” have been studied. What would these be?

The TPA lets that one slip: the CPS study includes “new countries such as Estonia”. Estonia? Yes, Estonia. And the figures then spat out by the regression analysis are then applied to produce a “potential GDP” starting back in 1965. Is there anyone out there who is not experiencing a loud noise emanating from their bullshit detector on hearing this? Mine was working overtime.

Let me put Rory Meakin, the TPA, the CPS, the IoD, and their cheerleaders straight. In 1965, the UK and the rest of Western Europe had seen two decades’ more or less uninterrupted growth following the end of the war. All had market economies with – Greece, Spain and Portugal excepted – democratically elected Governments (and despite the dictatorships, the latter two also posted good growth over this period).

Estonia had been assimilated into the USSR – a small measure of autonomy excepted – and was otherwise a closed society. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s it, and the other Baltic republics, had to start more or less from scratch. The idea of comparing Estonia after the end of the USSR to anywhere in Western Europe in 1965 is breathtakingly false.

But that is the depths to which the CPS is prepared to sink in order to prop up their assertion that it would be otherwise beneficial to cut the size of the public sector to the kind of level it was before the NHS came into being. That the TPA unquestioningly endorse work based on a false premise is typical of these lobby groups: it’s in their end of the field, therefore it must be right.

And it gives the TPA and their followers a nice warm feeling, so that’s all right, then.

Del Boy Misses The Shale Gas Boat

Sadly, when James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole departed for his triumphal tour of the Dominions recently, he figured out how to book a return flight, and is now back among his adoring fans (Sid and Doris Bonkers), expounding the usual litany of unresearched nonsense, backed up with sneering, abuse and phrases enclosed in his patented Air Quotes (tm).

Del Boy attempts to wow Gretchen Carlson

And, such is the paucity of invention chez Del Boy, this means returning for the umpteenth time to the subject of energy policy, the current state of which displeases The Great Man deeply. Nobody in charge has sufficient brain power to see the light as Del has done, or their appearance does not meet with his approval, and he has concluded that the UK is therefore doomed.

Moreover, he says “Global warming” (note Air Quotes (tm)) is over, and that Barack Obama says so. He does? Well, no he doesn’t: Del Boy has taken a climate sceptic blog that says what he wants to hear and declared it to be The Whole Unvarnished Truth. The Prez is not supporting his cause, and neither is anyone else outside the usual circle of flat earth ranters and frothers.

That Delingpole listens only to those within that circle means he missed the news last March: far from there being a looming shortage of generating capacity, the need for gas generation, estimated at around 5GW, will be dwarfed by the combination of that “under construction” (3.3 GW) and that “approved and seemingly going ahead” (9.7GW). That’s a surplus of 8GW in capacity.

On top of that, the clamour by Del Boy and his pals for more effort to be piled into shale gas exploration and production may not be based on such a sound economic basis after all: the lower gas prices seen across the USA are down more to oversupply and companies desperately trying to hold on to the land where they’re drilling for fear of losing their rights to it.

So forget all those puff pieces in The Register. Gas producers across the USA are finding themselves making very little – not enough to pay down their debts – and smaller operators are selling out. In some parts of the country, gas production has actually declined recently. It is that kind of reality that Government – what Del calls “lame-brained, out of touch, know nothing politicians” – has to confront.

When James Delingpole says that his answer “is obvious to anyone with half a brain or the merest smattering of knowledge about Britain's approaching energy gap”, and that whatever Ed Davey says on the subject “is either wrong, stupid, fatuous, economically suicidal, a total misrepresentation of the truth – or all five put together”, you can see he’s talking out of the back of his neck.

Still, it keeps the Bonkers family feeling happy, so that’s all right, then.