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Wednesday 31 October 2012

But You’re Not A Conservative, Squire!

Back in 2008, on Nick Ferrari’s LBC Breakfast Show, there was a guest appearance from Susie Squire, then spinning for the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA). Also appearing was (then) Labour hopeful Chuka Umunna. Ms Squire moved to scotch suggestions of partiality: “I’d like to point out that we’re independent – we’re not for the Tories or for Labour or for anyone”.

Susie Squire responds cautiously to her new enhanced pay package

Umunna was unimpressed: “Let’s not beat around the bush here. The TPA is not an independent organisation in the way that the Institute for Fiscal Studies, for example, is. Its advisory council is a who’s who of discredited Thatcherite people. Margaret Thatcher’s former economic advisor, Sir Alan Walters, sits on their advisory panel ... all of the founders ... have a Conservative Party background”.

So Ferrari put the question. “Susie, are you secretly Conservative?” to which a faux-outraged Ms Squire retorted “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I can’t have that – that’s outrageous! That’s just absolutely outrageous! Because we’re totally independent, we talk to everyone ... We talk to everyone who wants to talk to us ... We don’t have a party preference”.

Maybe not. But the TPA is part of the wider Conservative Movement, which aims to pull the Tory Party to the right and bring the ideological, boorish and intolerant mood of the US right-wing to the UK. Only today, Zelo Street has filleted another blatantly dishonest “report from the TPA, which was in reality just another crude slice of union bashing. These are not disinterested political people.

And for someone who claims not to be a Conservative, Ms Squire is managing to move easily into Conservative circles and climb the Conservative greasy pole: after leaving the TPA in 2010, she passed through the revolving door and became Special Advisor (SpAd) to Iain Duncan Smith, as he was appointed Work and Pensions Secretary following that year’s General Election.

The amount of blatant misinformation coming out of the DWP was notable for its sheer volume in the two years following her arrival, but someone in the Tory Party must have been impressed, because she was made the party’s press chief at the end of May this year. And now Susie Squire has been appointed to the role of Young Dave’s press secretary. Not bad going for a non-Conservative.

This progress should surprise no-one: despite the protestations, Susie Squire has an impeccably right-wing CV: before the TPA she was employed by the Stockholm Network. Here is a triumph not only for her, but also that wider Conservative Movement. Expect more falsehood and misinformation to come out of 10 Downing Street in the coming weeks and months.

And expect an emboldened right-wing to try and repeat the ascent of Susie Squire

TPA – More Facility Time Dishonesty

Today has brought the news of “New Research” from the dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), although as any fule kno the TPA does not engage in anything that can credibly be called research. This is yet another Freedom of Information (FoI) fishing expedition, on the subject of Trade Union facility time, selectively spun to suit the TPA narrative.

More bore from the second floor

We can today reveal that trade unions received at least £113 million in subsidies from taxpayers in 2011-12” claims the report. So where does all of that come from? Well, £92 million is from facility time, so that’s the first act of blatant dishonesty, as these payments go to workplace representatives who are not union employees. There is no payment to unions here, nor any subsidy.

Of the remaining £20 million, £15.5 million is to the Union Learning Fund, which has been set up to enable workers to develop skills and thereby benefit their workplace, and is in any case ring fenced. There is not, and will not be, any benefit/cost analysis of this kind of intervention from the TPA, as their sole reason for including the payments is to drive their anti-union narrative.

So what’s left - £4.5 million? That appears to be accounted for by payments to the Skills Funding Agency, part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). And was it worth around three quarters of a million notes (1,296 FoI requests at an average of £600 a time) to “expose” this? Well, the TPA clearly believes it is, as one look at the rhetoric shows.

This part of the attack has been handled personally by chief non-job holder Matthew Sinclair, who asserts “It is simply wrong that taxpayers are seeing their money used to pay thousands of trade union activists who organise strikes”. No taxpayers’ money is used to pay trade union activists. No organisation of strikes is involved. So no taxpayer is seeing anything of the sort.

But he’s not finished: “Tens of millions of pounds are being wasted and supporting aggressive political campaigns”. Leaving aside the shoddy use of grammar, no waste has been demonstrated, and no political campaign, no matter what level of aggression is involved, is being funded. There is a short and signally pejorative word beginning with L that describes what Sinclair the shameless is doing here.

And when Sinclair refers to “this scandalous subsidy”, he is making a false assumption: facility time payments do not contribute to trade unions’ war chests, and nor do Union Learning Fund payments or those from the Skills Funding Agency. The TPA “report”, far from being “research”, is a slanted and ideologically motivated hatchet job which indulges in routine dishonesty to make a political point.

That would be a political point, as opposed to a factual one. No change there, then.

Delingpole – Corby Campaign That Never Was

[Update at end of post]

Much attention has been given during the run-up to next month’s Parliamentary by-election in the Corby and East Northamptonshire constituency to the candidacy of James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole. Del Boy was to stand as a single issue candidate, opposed to onshore wind farms. But the level of support he could expect would have been minimal at best.

Moreover, Del had recently moved from London to Northamptonshire, suggesting that he could no longer afford to live in the capital. So where was he going to find a spare £500 to spray up the wall? That is the current amount that must be deposited with a candidate’s nomination papers, and which is forfeited if they fail to secure at least 5% of the votes cast in a Parliamentary election.

Well, there was a solution to that one: don’t actually enter the race, but use it as a characteristically shameless way of garnering attention. Thus there would follow media opportunities for Del to inform broadcasters and hacks of his considerable wisdom, make suitably grand gestures, maybe plug his latest pisspoor book and persuade one or two editors to commission articles from him.

But here a problem entered: there would be a deadline by which those nomination papers would have to be submitted. If Del Boy were to pull off his exercise in self promotion, there would need to be some kind of event which he could latch on to, in order to claim some kind of victory. Then he and his supporters could spin the whole thing positively and hope no-one would notice it was a fraud from the start.

And so it came to pass: energy minister John Hayes has, in the context of onshore wind power, said that “enough is enough. The comments were passed to the Maily Telegraph and Daily Mail, by the most fortunate of coincidences the two papers most likely to be receptive to such views, and although Hayes is not sufficiently senior to make a difference to Government policy, it’s enough for Delingpole.

So, via the obliging conduit provided by the rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, Del Boy has declared “Windmill Victory”, and withdrawn from the campaign, telling the Fawkes folks John Hayes has just gone and made my every dream come true. I’m overjoyed. In fact, I think I may well have run the most stunningly successful election campaign in the history of elections”. But one news item is missing.

And that is that Delingpole has withdrawn just before the deadline for submitting nomination papers, which is 1600 hours today. So he doesn’t have to stump up a £500 deposit, but gets his free publicity. The Fawkes blog item is spin of the most blatant kind: the real story is that James Delingpole never intended to submit himself to the electorate of Corby and East Northamptonshire.

His campaign has been one big, long premeditated fraud on public and press alike.

[UPDATE 1 November 1000 hours: to no surprise at all, Delingpole has penned a self-congratulatory comment piece for the Telegraph, asking a rhetorical question in the style of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). "Have I just broken the record for the shortest and most successful election campaign in the history of politics?" he crows, although as I've shown, the answer is no, he hasn't, and the only reason he pulled out was to save his having to open his wallet.

Once again, Del Boy claims his battle to "save the British countryside from one of the ugliest and most pointless outbreaks of vandalism in our history" justifies his "withdrawal", but fails to address the point that he did so just before the deadline for submitting nomination papers - ie actually show he was serious about submitting himself to the electorate.

And, as Alex Hern has pointed out at the Staggers, there are none of those wind farms that Delingpole is campaigning against in the Corby and East Northamptonshire constituency. An application has been made for one to be built, and this has proved controversial, but the status of that application has not changed. Del Boy's presence has made no difference whatever.

Moreover, all that he can muster in his defence is abuse towards Hern, whining that he is a "tosser". What Del is not doing is making any attempt to dispute the assertion that he was never intending to have his name on the ballot, and used the contest as a source of free publicity. That's not good enough]

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Rail Franchising - It's A Mess

Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin must be getting used to being hauled before the House of Commons to make statements telling his colleagues what a complete shambles the rail franchising process is. Yesterday he was there yet again, explaining why the process for InterCity West Coast (ICWC) had been such a mess, as incumbent Virgin Rail Group readied itself to carry on a little longer.

He told of “significant errors ... inadequate planning ... flawed process”, but there are more specific and telling revelations. Sam Laidlaw’s review also found that there had been “inconsistencies in the treatment of bidders”, which confirms a point I made when discussing the antipathy that had grown up within the Department for Transport (DfT) over a number of years towards VRG.

When VRG made their legal challenge, they did not touch on this issue – because clearly they were unaware of it – but it is not only material to the process, but also signally disturbing. What Laidlaw is merely hinting at – but, as Sir Sean almost said, I think we got the point – is that the DfT were prepared to favour one bidder, which turned out to be FirstGroup, in order to rid themselves of VRG.

Put directly, that is bang out of order, and it should therefore surprise nobody that three Civil Servants were suspended over the affair, once the errors in the calculations had been discovered and the re-franchising abandoned. It also makes the next stage in the affair that much more sensitive: the DfT really will have to show that there is no favour or disfavour being shown to any bidder.

And there is also a need to do something, and soon: there are other franchises, notably Great Western (the incumbent, also a sensitive point, is FirstGroup), and what is now called Essex Thamesside (formerly C2C, and before that LTS Rail), coming up for bidding. The current process must be sorted soon, or if not, a revised process set up – if there is to be franchising at all in future.

The reason for that last point is that there is now rather more talk of moving, for some of the passenger network at least, to a concession system, like those in operation at both Merseyrail Electrics and London Overground. Commentators such as Christian Wolmar, who has declared an early interest in being the Labour candidate for the next London Mayoral election, are supportive.

Arranged against them, as Wolmar has noted, is the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), for whom the idea of not being able to extract the maximum amount of gravy from one’s train is clearly anathema. But any Government should be able to see that the public purpose is the one that should take priority, rather than the profit maximising imperative of the few.

And that is the problem now facing Patrick McLaughlin. No pressure, then.

Leveson Is Served (23)


[Update at end of post]

Another day, another barrage of howling dissent from the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson which most of the Fourth Estate know about, even though they don’t. And the latest broadside against a regulation regime that presently exists only in strawman form has come once again from those who labour in the obedient service of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail.

Greece, guv? It's all Greek, innit?!?

The event put forward as the latest false equivalence by Dacre’s unfunny and tedious churnalist Richard Littlejohn is the arrest of journalist Kostas Vaxevanis in Athens recently. This is held by Dick – and his editor, with the occasion meriting a mention in Daily Mail Comment, the authentic voice of the Vagina Monologue – to be a warning of what will happen after Leveson reports.

Sadly, though, what Dick and his editor have not bothered to do is to research press regulation in Greece, which one might have expected them to do before shooting from the hip. And this is a singularly interesting field: the country has a free press, with no sanction allowed prior to publication (those in the UK please note). There is also a statutory right to reply to inaccurate or misleading stories.

That last point might be what has ticked off Littlejohn: there are plenty of less than totally accurate statements in his latest rant, such as “Brussels imposed a Government on Athens”, which is blatantly untrue, and “demands for statutory regulation of free speech” is the lamest of projection. And what got Vaxevanis arrested is not difficult to figure – and has nothing to do with press freedom.

Why so? Well, he was nicked, as Littlejohn admits, “during a live radio interview”. Greece has rather different regulations governing its broadcasters. Article 15 Paragraph 1 of the Constitution states “the protective provisions for the press are not applicable to films, sound recordings, radio, [and] television ... Radio and television shall be under the direct control of the State”.

In other words, the protections that Vaxevanis enjoyed as a print journalist do not extend to his going on air and sounding off about tax evasion. Now, that sounds authoritarian compared to how broadcast media operates in the UK, but whatever your stance on that narrow issue, it’s clear that the press in Greece is not so constrained. So Littlejohn and his editor are putting up another false equivalence.

Vaxevanis is not “guilty of naming 2,000 members of his country’s political and business elite believed to be squirrelling away money in Swiss bank accounts” as Dick asserts. And the attempt to conflate press regulation with the libel law, after the Mail has happily libelled so many of the rich and famous recently, is another sign of desperation. Leveson will make recommendations, press people. Get over it.

[UPDATE 31 October 1630 hours: so desperate is the Sun's Trevor Kavanagh that he has recycled the Littlejohn column to make essentially the same point. He fails to give any background on the difference between press and broadcast freedom in Greece, and bangs on incessantly about a "privacy law" coming as part of the Leveson proposals. But independent regulation with a statutory underpinning is not a "privacy law".

He then warns "where you have laws, you have lawyers". Yes Trev, like all those lawyers that your paper and all the others would have used to bully the Information Commissioner off the Motorman ball. What this country's broadcasters have - independent regulation with statutory underpinning - is not some kind of descent into dictatorship, and anyone can see that Kavanagh and the rest are scaremongering if they are trying to suggest otherwise.

Then he sells the pass by saying "Spain and Portugal are famously crooked". Bullshit. If there was one good thing that the Franco and Salazar regimes did for their countries, it was to remove any tendency to graft and corruption on pain of the severest penalty. Not that historical fact has any place at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, of course]

Hello, I’m On The Boris Bus

You’ve seen the photos, and read all about it. But what about the travel experience provided by the New Bus For London (NB4L), aka the BozzaMaster, proud legacy of occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson? Is the hype justified? More importantly, was it worth expending all that time and, more importantly, money just for something a little bit different?

Attempting to answer all of these questions, and no doubt many more, I flagged down a Number 38 in Grosvenor Place, which for the uninitiated means a couple of stops after starting its journey from outside Victoria Station. I could have boarded at the much-trailed rear platform, but out of instinct used the front doors, as that has for many years been the new “normal” for bus travel.

Most other passengers did the same thing: only at one stop did a group board at the back and use the rear stairs to gain the upper deck. As most of the 62 seats in the BozzaMaster are upstairs (40 out of 62), I too used that upper deck. There is sufficient headroom to walk up and down the aisle without having to stoop, but less over the window seats, which makes for a slightly cramped feeling.

Why that should be, given the roof profile, may be down to there being electrical and heating equipment there. There is discreet lighting above all seats, and yet the impression is given of less than ideal brightness. I couldn’t make my mind up what contributed to this – maybe the lower roof level above the seats, together with the red decor and strange gold effect finish for grab handles.

Most other buses use a bright yellow for the latter. Anyway, what about the ride quality? Firm is the word that comes to mind most readily. And whenever the vehicle encounters an imperfection in the road surface, you realise it’s a big and heavy lump as the suspension sits down into every grating and break in the surface. It’s quieter than a conventional diesel bus, but then again, so are all hybrids.

Ditto on the passenger information system, although this has been integrated into the trim rather more than on the average London bus – remember, many of these vehicles will be going off for a few years’ service outside the capital before being retired. The BozzaMaster infamously will not, as no operator wants it, and it’s been imposed on Arriva, who run the 38.

I alighted via that rear staircase, the presence of which doesn’t brighten the rear area of the upstairs as one might expect, and at the foot of which stood the “conductor”, who, well, just stood there – making the economics of the BozzaMaster that much worse. Also making the numbers potentially worse are all those custom glass panels, like the upper and lower deck front screens, and the glazing by both stairs.

It’s different, and it looks unusual. But was it worth it? No, it wasn’t.

Monday 29 October 2012

Winterbourne – Where Was The Press?

Those responsible for a reign of terror at the Winterbourne View care home near Bristol have now faced justice, with some being jailed. It is a vindication of an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama strand, which started in earnest back at the end of May 2011 with the programme’s broadcast. The arrests began almost immediately. The home was soon closed down.

That Panorama became interested is not surprising when it is realised that concerns had already been raised about the centre: there had been nineteen times in a five year period where South Gloucestershire council had been notified. Council officials were told of concerns about the safeguarding of vulnerable adults five times in just two months beforehand. People were clearly concerned, and talking about it.

So what of the popular press as all of this was unfolding? Where were they directing the resources of that press that can only be free when they are judge and jury on whether they are behaving themselves correctly? Well, at first the Daily Mail relayed the facts as they were known, but this can never be enough for the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, and so a Government bashing angle was found.

This held that the failings to pick up on the abuse of those in care was all down to “box-ticking bureaucrats”, and in support of this the Mail had a “whistleblower” who dumped on the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for reducing the number of inspections made of the premises. As is usual, the CQC response only appeared at the very end, after all the dirt had stuck.

But what is clear from a read through the copy generated by the paper that is the BBC’s most vitriolic critic is that, despite all those concerns being raised and all those notifications being made, it was not the print media that took action, but the broadcast one. That is, it was the part of the media governed by Ofcom and underpinned by a statutory framework (Leveson bashers take note).

And what is also clear is that, as with so much else that appears in the tabloids and their websites, the BBC’s effort has been used as a way of generating cheap content. That’s as true of Panorama as it is of Strictly Come Dancing (the output of ITV is equally subject to journalistic “leverage”, of course, especially X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent). This leads to one inescapable conclusion.

The amount of available content, or content opportunities (like slagging off the Beeb for moving to Media City) that the broadcasters provide for the papers would not be available if those broadcasters were not there. And it’s there in the form that suits the papers very well, thank you, significantly because of how the broadcast model works in the UK – with, yes, the BBC funded by the license fee.

And that’s why the press needs the BBC to survive, but cannot admit it.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Phil Space Euro Language Confusion

Obediently serving up more of that diet of anti-EU propaganda that is de rigueur at the Telegraph, Ed “Case” West has decided to have a go at the business of languages. This is because he has decided that, because the then EEC was conceived by rotten foreigners not speaking English, it means that the UK can never really be a part of it. Or something like that.

The EU was dreamed up in French and German. That's why the British have never fitted in” reads the headline, and it is here, as I’ll explain, that West sells the pass, and not even in style. He is clearly angry that, when a native Flemish speaker turns up at Westminster, Corporal Clegg is able to engage that person in his own language. For deploying this ability, West demands Clegg be sacked.

So the usual level of tolerance in the Tel to those not speaking English, then. And West is equally intolerant of the Deputy PM’s background: “Clegg is half-Dutch, a quarter Russian and married to a Spaniard”. Oh, high tirrible! And he speaks five languages, which was OK for Enoch Powell, but not for a Lib Dem who has committed the unforgiveable sin of working in Brussels for five years.

This must mean that speaking lots of languages is bad for modern politicians, but West then goes after Tone and Pa Broon for supposedly not getting more students to take them, so speaking lots of languages then becomes A Good Thing. Confused? He certainly is. And it gets worse, as West cites Powell making speeches against the EEC in French, German and Italian as a major event.

Except, of course, that the people voting days after those speeches were not the French, Germans and Italians, but the British, so Powell was wasting his breath, although probably not the arrogant majesty of his ego. Meanwhile, West berates the EU for spending money on translators, which must mean knowing lots of languages is finally A Good Thing once again.

And within this musing comes his undoing: “the obvious solution is to make one language official” he says apropos of the EU. But, Ed, one language is already the first one of the EU, and that, as I keep having to point out, is English. West actually cites one important reason for that: 41% of the EU’s population speaks English. That is partly down to it being the official first language of the EU.

West, meanwhile, ends his incoherent ramble by suggesting that Jeremy Hunt, the former Culture Secretary, is the future because he is apparently having lessons in Mandarin. Yes Ed, and so are tens of thousands across the EU. Plus he manages not to tell his readers that his other hero Dan, Dan the Oratory Man has a linguistic reach that does not reach beyond the tongues of Old Europe.

Still, it keeps the readers snarling at the pet bogeyman, so that’s all right, then.

Media City – Why You Should Visit

The London press, and especially the Daily Mail, has gone to town over the decision by the BBC to relocate many programmes and their staff to Media City UK in Salford – note to those in the South East, Salford is a city and it is not Manchester – by whining incessantly about the area and how it is supposedly a hotbed of crime. But none of those complaining ever go and see for themselves.

Your transport right to the front door

So, for the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, and all the others down there in London who think that Salford is a suburb of Manchester and that anyone visiting has to have an armed escort in tow when they visit, here is a short guide to the destination that is Media City. Yes, I have visited this place, no I didn’t need armed backup, and no I didn’t encounter any trouble.

Media City: south view and footbridge

Nor do the folks from Peel Holdings’ security team give the punters any trouble: their presence is noticeable if you look for them, but otherwise all outdoor areas are openly accessible. Getting there is not a problem, either: the Metrolink light rail system goes almost to the front door of the studio complex, and runs frequently, even at weekends.

Now the North West HQ of the BBC

The whole area is clean and litter-free, and you can see in to the BBC buildings, where presenters and production staff can be seen coming and going. That this is the Corporation’s home in the North West can, moreover, not be in any further doubt as the former BBC HQ on Manchester’s Oxford Road has just been demolished. By yesterday there was rubble and little else left.

Impressive: Imperial War Museum North

The Ship Canal is bridged by two footbridges at this point, and on the south side is the imposing and distinctive shape of the Imperial War Museum North, designed by Daniel Libeskind and opened in 2002. Access to the permanent exhibition space is free and visitor numbers have consistently been ahead of initial projections. This building never makes it into the Mail’s Salford Quays horror stories.

Media City also hosts ITV's Coronation Street

There is also the Lowry Centre (also free) and an outlet mall to tempt folks to stop by. All are contained within an area that is easily walkable and has step free access. As can be seen, the architects’ attention to detail has extended even to the bridges across the Ship Canal, and the area around the Metrolink terminus. And there were no crims to be seen. Perhaps they have weekends off.

Perhaps Paul Revoir (crazy name, crazy guy?!?!?) and his pals will one day get out of their cosy Kensington offices, demean themselves to travel by Tube to Euston, and thus journey north to actually experience the area they have devoted so many column inches to demonising. They may be pleasantly surprised by what they encounter. They may even spend their own money doing so.

OK, they’re career hacks and I made the last bit up. Mailno change there, then.

Flannelled Fool – Hillsborough Smear Out Of Order

For many politicians in and around the city of Liverpool, working to right the injustices done to the memory of the 96 football supporters who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster is a lifetime’s hard work, a necessary obligation to their community. For some of the less principled, though, the campaign is an opportunity to indulge in point-scoring and smearing.

Hillsborough memorial at Anfield

One such unprincipled individual is the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole, tame gofer to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, who has decided for little reason, other than the thought that he may be a soft target, to use the occasion of the release of a single to raise money for the victims’ families’ legal costs to put the boot in on Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram.

Smear lined up ...

Cole needed merely to observe Rotheram smiling for the camera to start his gratuitous smear: “Grinning just a little too much there Steve, you’re giving the game away” he sneered. And why should he not smile for the shot? “Maybe because [he] is seemingly using death of innocent people to further his career” was the flannelled fool’s snarky and just plain nasty conclusion.

... smear executed ...

And, just to show he really could sink that bit lower, Cole then latched on to a Twitter comment that one fan had actually carried his dead brother on the Hillsborough pitch (the single is He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother of Hollies’ fame), to double down “If so ... it makes the grin all the worse. Thanks for confirming my worst fears”. So the accusation he was levelling at the MP was crystal clear.

... smear doubled down

In the world of the flannelled fool, he sees a tireless campaigner to see justice for the Hillsborough families, someone born in the Anfield district of Liverpool (which, for the uninitiated in these matters, has some significance), and who opened the October 2011 debate in the Commons which contributed to the recent admissions of wrongdoing and apologies, as someone who is in it only for his own career.

I don't have to say sorry, cos I'm on telly!

And that totally misunderstands Steve Rotheram, who has majored on the Hillsborough campaign, but is a back-bencher and I suspect would not mind remaining one. Not for him the constant eyeing of the greasy pole like some on both sides of the Commons. Moreover, it has been no surprise to see Rotheram taking great exception to this vicious and premeditated smear.

It's not fair! I'm a victim!!

So how has Cole taken the news that Rotheram is considering action over the remarks (one can only imagine how angry he will be)? “They are ... going to court to silence me” he blubs, thus confirming Olbermann’s dictum that “The right exists in a perpetual state of victimhood”. It’s everyone else’s fault bar his. It’s only free speech. He’s only saying what everyone else is thinking – except of course they aren’t.

Cole is bang out of order. But shits like him don’t do apology unless forced into it.

Top Six – October 28

So what’s hot, and what’s not, in the past week’s blogging? Here are the six most popular posts on Zelo Street for the past seven days, counting down in reverse order, because, well, I’m catching up after a day out yesterday. So there.

6 Guido Fawked – Wrong On Rail Travel Again The rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog went after Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski for travelling First Class on the train. But all his claims were for less than standard class Anytime fares, so he’s doing nothing wrong. Another fine mess.

5 Leveson Is Served (22) The latest attempt to discredit the still unknown conclusions from the Leveson Inquiry was a character assassination of singer Charlotte Church. But what the Mail called the “devastating letter” was nothing more than an attempt from Ms Church’s former agent to curry favour with the press, and especially the Murdochs.

4 Guido Fawked – Tom Watson Howler The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble went after Labour MP Tom Watson, who had asserted that there was a paedophile close to a former Prime Minister. The Fawkes folks said Watson was just recycling stuff from the previous issue of the Sunday Times. But he wasn’t. Another fine mess, once again.

3 Careful With That Axe, Nadine The Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire – yes, it’s her again – Nadine Dorries was observed merrily blocking any Twitter user who even criticised her. That’s not the best course of action for someone who is paid out of the public purse.

2 Donald Trump – Bald Reality The clown prince of Stateside business was called out by film maker Anthony Baxter after his new golf course in Scotland was shown to despoil the environment and trample over unfortunate locals and their livelihoods. The king of the combover did not come out at all well from You’ve Been Trumped.

1 Osborne – Travel Expenses Revealed Following his exposure as a potential serial blagger of First Class travel on standard class tickets, the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet was shown not to have claimed for a single First Class ticket in two years. Enquiries are continuing.

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

Saturday 27 October 2012

Right Winger Says OK To Call Opponents Retards

You read that title right: across the North Atlantic, where political discourse can become yet more polarised than in the UK, one well known right-wing pundit has said, more or less, that it’s OK to call those she (yes, she) considers her opponents retards. That is, of course, provided that they aren’t actually retards. Welcome to world of the increasingly scary looking Ann Coulter.

Ann Coulter

Annie has once again got herself some attention – and the thought does occasionally occur that this is the only reason she makes her, shall we say, more controversial remarks – for Tweeting after the third and final Presidential debate that “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard”, thus calling the President of the USA a retard.

A member of the US Paralympic team, John Franklin Stephens, who has Down’s Syndrome, responded with an open letter to Ms Coulter, which started “Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow.  So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?”. To date, she has not directly replied, and nor has she shown any sign of backing down or promising not to repeat the slur.

In fact, Ms Coulter went on Alan Colmes’ radio show (brought to you by Fox News (fair and balanced my arse)), and explained herself thus: “Look, no one would refer to a Down Syndrome child, someone with an actual mental handicap, by saying ‘retard.’ Where do you think the words ‘imbecile,’ ‘idiot,’ ‘moron,’ ‘cretin’ come from? These were all technical terms at one time. ‘Retard’ had been used colloquially to just mean ‘loser’ for 30 years”.

While you’re mulling that one over, here’s how she responded to Stephens: “It would be one thing if I said in my tweet a joke about Special Olympics, a joke about Down Syndrome ... No one would call someone with Down Syndrome ‘retard.’ I call you a ‘retard'”. Colmes then pressed her further.

He put it to her that some consider “retard” as bad as the N-word, but Annie was having none of it: such people were just “word police”, for whom she had a special message. “Oh, screw them ... That’s what they feel I do? I feel they’re being authoritarian bullying victims”. So remember, folks, you can’t call a right winger out for calling someone a “retard”, because that makes you a “bullying victim”.

Yes, Ann Coulter is a blowhard, an unrepentant right-leaning rabble-rouser, and an appalling attention seeker. But she is also one of the darlings of the New Conservatism which is crossing the ocean and worming its way into the Tory Party. What Annie spouts today is highly likely to find its way into the vocabulary of the otherwise vacant and clueless tomorrow.

So watch out for right-wingers pretending that it’s OK to call opponents “retards”.

Friday 26 October 2012

Self Imposed Full Nelson

There’s no faulting Spectator editor Fraser Nelson for being an ostensibly agreeable bloke, nor for his unshakeable belief that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, or that man made climate change is not happening. He even occasionally makes sound decisions, as when he dispensed with the services of Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, after she landed the Speccy with a five-figure legal bill.

But all this pales into insignificance when put alongside his apparent descent into rank paranoia with a piece in the Maily Telegraph titled “Gordon Brown’s secret army could defeat the Coalition’s welfare and education reforms”. Who they? Well, Nelson claims that dastardly Pa Broon stuffed quangos, charities and the Civil Service with his placemen so that his work would carry on.

This argument is then undermined as he quotes the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) and the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), not exactly the most neutral observers of the body politic, and then inserts a photo of Iain Duncan Smith, whose DWP Special Advisor (SpAd) is Susie Squire, who certainly isn’t a Labour plant but came from ... the TPA!

Moreover, Nelson keeps on quoting appointments that have been made since May 2010, but how Pa Broon can have continued to influence matters even after his departure from Downing Street is a mystifying one. Perhaps he has a white cat to sit on his lap while his all-powerful organisation bends the mind of the legislature to his iron will. But, on second thoughts, maybe he doesn’t.

What Nelson does do is assume the ideas put forward by fringe groups devoid of expertise are somehow right, and that to oppose them makes whoever does so a rotten leftie. This covers the shale gas issue, which has now become a touchstone for whether a chap is sufficiently conservative. Economics and environmental concerns need not enter.

He singles out Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove for having “spent three years building a list of outside allies”, but all that Gove has done is to butter up the Murdoch press and those who are of a mind to make a fast buck out of education. The rest has been accomplished by dog-whistling that part of the Fourth Estate who never went near a state school, but know everything about them.

What Nelson cannot bring himself to do is admit that the right-leaning part of the Coalition is all too easily persuaded by the ideologically driven, whose ideas fail when held up to the real world. He talks of a “battle of ideas”, but this isn’t about ideas, it’s about fringe lobby groups being the tail that wags the Tory dog. Young Dave isn’t being scuppered by a secret army of lefties, but by hard reality.

Blaming someone who’s been out of power for two and a half years is just daft.

Guido Fawked – Wrong On Rail Travel Again

One should not expect too much in the way of expertise when it comes to the convocation of rail travel and the rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog. After all, Zelo Street regulars will recall the magnificent idiocy of the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole, who, when faced with a choice of one station to catch his train from Edinburgh to London, went to the wrong one. It cost him an extra £130. Good.

Trains - difficult for some to understand

And the previous excursion of the Fawkes folks, Cole going after Labour MP Lisa Nandy, was equally unsuccessful, serving only to show that he doesn’t understand just how complex the system of advance fares can be – in Ms Nandy’s case, for journeys between her Wigan constituency and London. And today has brought another howler on rail expenses, this time for a Tory MP.

More brass than sense

This time, the role of Ron Hopeful is played by newly appointed teaboy Alex Wickham, who has been commanded to look though the IPSA database and find some dirt on MPs who are not the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet and suspected serial First Class seat blagger extraordinaire. He has turned up Shrewsbury and Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski.

The MP who only travels First Class” is the accusatory headline, followed by the assertion that all Kawczynski’s journeys claimed for under IPSA rules have been for First Class travel. And, a fact that may surprise seasoned watchers of the Fawkes blog well used to its routine dishonesty, this is correct. However – and there has to be a however for this rabble – Wickham has missed one very important caveat.

All of Kawczynski’s claims – like those of Lisa Nandy – have been allowed. So they must have fallen within the rules on rail travel, which are that the maximum allowable is the standard class open, or “Anytime” fare. Kawczynski travels from Euston to either Wolverhampton or Shrewsbury. The relevant single Anytime fare to the former is £83, and to the latter £98. Returns cost twice those amounts.

He's well under the Anytine fare throughout

So if Kawczynski’s claims are below those amounts, he is allowed to claim them. The closest he gets is one single from Euston to Wolverhampton which cost £75. Kawczynski is the tallest MP in Parliament, and the extra room in First Class is surely one reason he takes advantage of book ahead deals to travel in that part of the train. But the Fawkes blog is a long standing animus of his.

And that means putting the boot in whenever the opportunity presents itself, even if it merely shows what a bunch of amateurs the Fawkes rabble are. Meanwhile, Wickham shills for Osborne by pretending that he has said he travels in standard class, and that he “pays his own way”. Not if he blags a First Class seat without paying for it, he doesn’t – and that’s what he’s been caught trying to do.

So that’s another failed attempt at saying “look over there”. Another fine mess.

Donald Trump – Ridicule Not Rapture

It did not take long for Donald Trump’s “October Surprise to go from what was supposed to be an event to change the course of the US Presidential Election to the butt of rather a lot of jokes. Even the deeply subversive Guardian got in on the act. But the king of the combover got precisely nowhere with his urging of Barack Obama to “do as I say or the kids suffering from cancer get it”.
Donald, where's yer hairspray?

Among Trump’s long time – and clearly long suffering – friends there was just a feeling that The Donald is making himself look silly. This was underscored by Barbara Walters on The View, who briefly interrupted yesterday’s show to give Trump her personal and very direct message.

Ms Walters looked straight at the camera and told Trump “Donald, you and I have known each other for many years and you know that I am your friend and I think you are a brilliant businessman and you are great on television and you have a fascinating personality. Donald, you're making a fool of yourself. You're not hurting Obama, you're hurting Donald and that hurts me because you're a decent man. Stop it. Get off it, Donald”.

Meanwhile, Adam Gabbatt of the Guardian contacted Trump’s HQ and suggested that The Donald make his own college records and passport application available. He offered to make his own available in return. Michael Cohen, special counsel to The Great Man, at first seemed amenable to the offer, but when it became clear that Gabbett was serious, the mood changed.

I think what you're doing is you're, whether you're trying to be funny, intentionally or not, actually it's a stupid request on your behalf ... It's trying to poke fun at the fact that the president of the United States is the least transparent president that we've ever had. He may be the least transparent politician we've ever come across” Cohen snapped at Gabbett. Transparency, people. Not a cheap shot at the black guy.

But the best of the bunch came from Stephen Colbert in Wednesday’s Colbert Report, who had a message for Trump. “I will write you a cheque for one million dollars from Colbert SuperPAC – you know I’ve got it – to the charity of your choice. Anything – Save The Children, Feed The Children, Put The Children On Child Apprentice, whatever. One million actual dollars”.

And then came the condition: “If you will let me dip my balls in your mouth ... but this dipping, and I hope you’re listening very carefully, Mr Trump, has to be to my, and more importantly, my balls’ satisfaction”. And that just about sums up the credibility of Donald Trump and his witless intervention. It’s worthy only of ridicule, and the exasperation of his friends. So, once again, it has to be said.

Donald Trump, wannabe champion Credibility Apprentice – you’re fired.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Luton Airport, Innit?!?

Yes, the first holiday charter flight I ever took was – this despite living around 150 miles away at the time – from Luton Airport. It was the original gateway to the world of package holidays, even when the plane was a Monarch Airlines Bristol Britannia which took three and a half hours to reach Palma de Mallorca. But now, someone has had the whizzo idea of making it the latest New London Mega Airport.

Bit like this, only inland

Indeed, the ostensibly reasonable idea has been trailed in the Standard, under the headline “Heathrow battle: how Luton could be ‘England’s airport’”, which will have come as a surprise not only to the town’s residents, but also everyone involved with the current airport operation. The latter will be especially surprised, as they may have been involved with the Masterplan for its development.

And that Masterplan, although it envisages some development of the airport to make more use of the runway and build up the capacity of the site to a potential for handling around 18 million passengers per annum, categorically excludes any new runways – the artist’s impression in the Standard piece shows four, three more than at present – and even rules out lengthening the one they already have.

Why this might be can be explained by looking at the ownership and management structure of Luton Airport: although it is run by a private consortium, ultimately the buck stops with the owners, the local council. Thus the sensitivity to any over-development and associated increase in aircraft activity, together with the attendant noise and particle emissions that would result.

This, though, does not appear to have troubled the Standard, which talks of Crossrail 2 somehow appearing at the airport, although it is currently slated to come no nearer than Epping (this is a long way from Luton). London First is seeking to modify the nature of the Crossrail 2 project in advance of a review of the currently protected route, but again, this is no guarantee of it happening.

And whoever dreamt up the Luton mega-expansion idea may not have visited the place: the airport is perched on top of a hill to the south of the town, with any significant extension of the runway meaning several millions of cubic metres of infill to enable it to happen. The scale would dwarf that needed for the second runway at Manchester Airport. Put directly, it isn’t going to happen.

Whatever the solution to London’s air transport needs, it will require a little more than an architect from the Ron Hopeful school, an identikit futuristic four runway mock-up (this one does look more than a little like the Boris Island impression), and stories of new road and rail links. For starters, it might just involve a little consultation with the people who actually own the place before sounding off.

So that’s another pipe dream for the bin. No change there, then.

Leveson Is Served (22)


The recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson following his Inquiry into the Fourth Estate are still unknown, yet the attacks keep on coming: the Maily Telegraph has today given Tim Luckhurst the oxygen of publicity so that he may yet again freely quote Winshton and claim erroneously that regulation independent of the press and backed by statute puts us on the road to dictatorship.

Meanwhile, there has been a concerted effort, via the Mail and Telegraph, to discredit the evidence given to Leveson by singer Charlotte Church, although the attack is laughable in its amateurishness. What makes it worse is that the whole exercise depends on taking Ms Church’s former manager Jonathan Shalit, who was dismissed by the singer’s mother in acrimonious circumstances, at his word.

Much of the argument centres around Ms Church’s assertion that she had the choice, as a reward for singing at the wedding of Rupe and Wendy Deng, of “favourable publicity” or £100,000. Shalit disputes this at length in a written submission to Leveson which he has made well after the final deadline, but which has by miraculous coincidence found its way to the Mail.

Shalit asserts that Ms Church would not have been there when the offer from Rupe was discussed with her mother, and suggests she therefore got the information second hand and that her recollection of even this was wrong. But Ms Church stands by what she said, and it is therefore a difference of opinion. But this would not be a sufficiently damning conclusion for the Vagina Monologue.

So the text of what Shalit sent to Leveson is headed, dramatically if not particularly subtly, “The Devastating Letter”. And as Brenda might have said, We Are Not Devastated. Shalit is rather obviously seeking to preserve his own reputation, while keeping open a channel to Rupe in anticipation of future deals that might come his way, given the Murdoch presence in the Stateside film and TV field.

And what makes it worse is that the Mail admits it approached him – or, putting it more directly, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has ordered his obedient hackery to dig around and find some dirt on anyone whose evidence to Leveson makes the press look like, well, look like they actually look. This is a crude and deliberate attempt to smear Leveson before he reports.

This has been reinforced by an equally crude smear attempt by Telegraph leader writer David Hughes, which also features Charlotte Church and is headed by a rhetorical question in the style of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). “Has Lord Leveson been fed dodgy evidence?” it declares, sorry, asks. Thus the Tel once again demonstrates it is no longer fit to be called a paper of record.

Trump’s October Hoax

It was built up to be a major announcement. Some broadcasters were actually taken in, especially Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). It would take out the re-election campaign of Barack Obama at a stroke. But when Donald John Trump, pantomime businessman and king of the combover, made his pitch at 1200 hours ET yesterday, it turned out to be a characteristically cheap hoax.
Donald, where's yer hairspray?

The Donald (for it was he), who had expended so much energy trying to prove his assertion that the Prez was not born in the USA, had failed when Obama had released the long form version of his birth certificate. The request by Trump and those of like mind, of course, wasn’t anything to do with Obama being an African-American, oh no. Perish the thought.

And yesterday’s announcement wasn’t, either: this was now all about transparency. Yes, despite every last scrap of information about Obama’s life having been dug up, pored over and otherwise analysed, Trump was now insisting that he was “not transparent and moreover that he was the “least transparent” President of all time. And he wanted to see Obama’s college records and passport applications.

Er, what? Just what would that demonstrate? Perhaps Trump imagined that Obama would have his place of birth shown as Hawaii on his long form certificate, only to say on his passport application that he was really from somewhere else? No matter: the self-made convocation of bad taste and conspicuous consumption was offering $5 million to the charity of Obama’s choice if he complied.

That’s rather like saying “Do as I say or the children suffering from cancer get it”, so rather more subtle than Dr Evil, then, if only marginally. The media was generally unimpressed, with Jason Linkins at the HuffPo conjuring up the Fox-style rhetorical question “Was Donald Trump's Announcement A Gigantic, Pointless Waste Of Time Promulgated By A Venal Con Artist?”, thereby getting it in one.

Politico tried to play the news straight, but had to mention that Trump had been “mocked” on Twitter, which is the epitome of understatement. And Trump is in no position to lecture anyone on probity: his career has been littered with financial difficulties and bankruptcies, and his idea of adhering to the sanctity of marriage is to routinely trade up to a newer and more biologically accommodating model.

Indeed, Donald Trump’s idea of accomplishment can be seen in this video tour of his latest executive aircraft, a Boeing 757 which is claimed to be just five years old, but actually first flew in 1991. Yes, the seat belts have 24 carat gold plated mechanisms. It is a temple of tackiness. But, like Trump and his ideas, it is mutton dressed as lamb, something pretending to be more important than it really is.

Because what Donald Trump really is, is a bigoted, racist con artist. And a clown.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Guido Fawked – Tom Watson Howler

[Update at end of post]

A particularly crass howler has been committed this afternoon by the rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, so eager have they been to lay into Labour MP for West Bromwich East Tom Watson. Watson has committed the heinous sin of going after their beloved Rupe and his less than principled troops over Phonehackgate, and so every opportunity is taken to kick him.

Alex wrote it cos I was in the pub, oh shit no, the toilet. Yeah, the pub toilet, no, sod it, the office toilet. Pissing out all that beer, oh bollocks no, wine, shit, no, tea. Yeah, tea. And vodka. Oh sod it

Watson intervened at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) today on the subject of alleged paedophile activity. His point was that, on the fringes of a known paedophile ring which involved a man called Peter Righton, there was another child abuser who “boasted of a key aide to a former Prime Minister who could help get hold of indecent images of children”. He did not name the aide today.

The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, always on the lookout for anything that might enable him to put one over on Watson, got his newly appointed teaboy Alex Wickham to cobble together a post alleging that Watson’s news was not new, and had been (a) already covered in the Murdoch Sunday Times last weekend, and had (b) been exposed by a former Tory MP, Edwina Currie.

This showed that the Tories, Staines’ favoured political player from the major parties, were the good guys as they had beaten the rotten lefties to it. Moreover, the story had come out in the part of the press that those rotten lefties are trying to do down via the Leveson Inquiry, although how this can happen, when that Inquiry was set up by Young Dave, is not told.

But, to quote Blackadder Goes Forth, there was only one problem with this: it was bollocks. Watson was way ahead of the Fawkes folks, which nowadays does not seem to take much doing. The Sunday Times story was about Peter Morrison, who was briefly Parliamentary Private Secretary to Margaret Thatcher, and who allegedly went cruising regularly around the Sussex Gardens area.

However, and this is the critical however in the story, Watson has stated firmly “I am not naming the person for obvious reasons but for clarity it is not former MP, Peter Morrison. This afternoon my office has been bombarded with calls regarding Morrison, I think because he was named by Edwina Currie at the weekend as having inappropriate sexual relations with teenage boys”.

So not only is the Fawkes blog wrong (again), they don’t even get a name check from Tom Watson, although they are more than likely the source of at least some of those calls his office has been getting. And Watson hasn’t alleged a “Westminster Paedophile Ring” – he’s talking about one individual. Never mind though, it no doubt kept Staines’ latest gofer occupied for half an hour. Better than making a brew.

But as I keep saying, no research, no result. Another fine mess, once again.

[UPDATE 25 October 1140 hours: the Fawkes blog later added an update to its post, admitting that Tom Watson had not been referring to Peter Morrison, and quoting his blog. By sheer coincidence, the quote that they give is exactly the same one given above, not that the Fawkes rabble ever look in on Zelo Street, you understand. Not much]

Nadine Orders More Bitter

The Huffington Post UK has, via its much maligned Political Editor Mehdi Hasan, secured an in-depth interview with (yes, it’s her again) Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire Nadine Dorries. From what has already appeared of the encounter, it is clear that not only was the meeting more beneficial for the HuffPo than its interviewee, but also that the fragrant Nadine may not be entirely in sync with reality.

Don't youse diss me, aright?!?

The comment that jumps straight off the page is this “Nobody wrongs me and doesn’t pay for it”. There, in a nutshell, is the central problem confronting both Ms Dorries and those who seek to report on her activities. Criticism – inevitable for an elected representative paid out of the public purse – very quickly becomes “wrongs” in Nadine World (tm). And that can lead to most inadvisable behaviour.

Particularly when the company kept by Ms Dorries includes the rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, and especially her little helper, the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole. Here is her passport to arranging payback for all those around the blogosphere who dared to do other than praise her, and a group – which extends well beyond the Fawkes blog – who are prepared to spin for her.

Mehdi Hasan kits himself out for a friendly chat with Nadine

However – and there has to be a significant however where the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his pals are concerned – to enlist their help is to join with those trusted by a mere 4% of the population, and a group of those of particularly low standards and absent principles. Put more directly, an MP hitching her wagon to The Great Guido is asking for trouble, and may in due course find some.

And that is before those occasionally strange views: Ms Dorries effectively admits she was one of 14 MPs who wrote to the chairman of the 1922 Committee calling for Young Dave to go. Her preferred replacement, London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, is not even an MP. She would replace the current Chancellor of the Exchequer with Michael “Oiky” Gove.

Why this last is because one of her flights of vindictiveness is directed at the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, master of internal Tory Party machinations and suspected serial ticket blagger extraordinaire. Osborne, she declares, “is a pernicious influence on the economy, on our political strategy, on our campaigning, on David Cameron personally and on the Number 10 operation”.

Cameron would be so different without that influence, she argues, although she has already made her mind up that he has to go. There will be, in her world, a leadership contest before 2015. But she appears not to be aware that Bozza is unlikely to garner any more votes outside the South East, and in some parts of the country – like the one where she grew up – he is most likely to lose them.

But that’s the reality according to Nadine Dorries. No change there, then.