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Thursday 28 February 2013

The Standard Now Understands Blacklisting

Last month I noted that the construction industry blacklist, which should have been closed down back in 2008, appeared to have been in use until much more recently. This was brought to light by the Liverpool Echo, which pointed out that 150 of those on the list were from Merseyside, and many had been unable to find work for many years as a result.

Heathrow Airport

As so often, though, those politicians and media outlets that shout loudest about personal liberty and freedom kept schtum about the whole business, the basic human rights concerned being those which should clearly not be extended to Trades Unionists or other rotten lefties. But one newspaper has seen the scales fall from its eyes with the news of John Stewart.

Stewart, not to be confused with the Daily Show host, is retired. He has no criminal convictions. He is not known to the Police. But he is a tireless environmental campaigner, and has protested against the potential expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport. And now it seems this has led to him, too, being added to the blacklist without his knowledge.

He had gone to the USA in late 2011 to travel across the country and meet other campaigners. After arrival, he was refused entry and escorted onto the next available flight back to London. At the time, the Evening Standard took the line that this was due to his being involved in campaigning, but now that the true reason has been revealed, the reaction has been rather more significant.

A troubling blacklist and our basic rights” was the headline yesterday. This time, the paper called the original blacklist, of construction industry workers, “disturbing in itself”, and the notification by the GMB Union that there may also be 200 environmental activists somewhere in there “very disquieting indeed”. It is a great relief to welcome the Standard on board.

As the paper puts it, “if it includes people whose only offence is to hold views or conduct campaigns that some companies or institutions find troublesome, it becomes downright frightening, particularly if it affects people’s basic rights, including freedom of movement ... Good citizens must be free to engage in public-spirited campaigns without fearing for their rights”.

With these sentiments, no libertarian can possibly disagree. So where is the support from those who proclaim their love of freedom? Where are the libertarian lobby groups and bloggers? Where are the libertarian MPs and peers? From all of them has come nothing more than the most deafening of silences. Clearly some are more entitled to freedom of movement than others.

That’s utter and rank hypocrisy. And it’s not good enough.

It’s The Tobes And Del Show!

Great comedy double acts sometimes happen by design. On occasion they come into being by accident. And the latest in the genre has evolved without the two people concerned even being aware that it is happening. The latest bringers of unintentional hilarity? I give you the Telegraph twosome, the loathsome Toby Young and his not very straight man James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole.

Not even a little fair and balanced

Del Boy kicks things off by feeding Tobes some seriously straight stuff, except that the effect is not quite as he intended. “Toby, mate, it’s not often these days we disagree, but ...” he begins, before selling the pass. Del does not like politics. A number of jaws can be heard striking the deck. No, seriously, he hates “the petty backbiting ... the jockeying for power”.

Yeah, dead right eh Del? There’s nothing petty about your backbiting, is there? No way José. Delingpole does proper backbiting: shouting “liar”, firing off a barrage of abuse at anyone of opposing view, routinely comparing them to paedophiles, laying every adverse effect suffered by mankind in the past century and a half at their door. Del does proper backbiting. No messing.

Keep those hands where we can see them

And Del Boy doesn’t really go with this democracy thing, either. Too much compromise for his liking. But he does give his adoring readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers) a tip on how to vote: UKIP. Yes, this stern critic of big Government recommends voting for a party that wants to spend more on whatever will get them votes, but not say how they’ll pay for it.

How the audience rolls in the aisles at that one! Woah! Time to hand over to Tobes and generate even more mirth! So what’s he up to? He’s working from home. That doesn’t sound too promising, though. But hang on, he’s taking a break! Nah, it’s only to watch the Daily Politics. People in an office might disapprove of this, you see. And he’s got a cracking reason to work from home.

It’s easier to get work done there because “Being a red-blooded, heterosexual male, I find it difficult to concentrate if there’s a halfway good-looking woman within a 25-yard radius of my desk”. What? Ho yus, and as the man said, there’s more: “I remember having the same problem as a student trying to write essays in the university library”. Dermot Murnaghan has nothing on Tobes!

And those up-themselves New Yorkers had a problem with this! They gave Tobes a bollocking for hiring a strippergram! I mean, he’s just as down with the yoof as anyone – he plays the Sex Pistols loudly! What a man! What a great example to, er, nobody at all. What a complete pillock.

Hate to have to tell you, Del and Tobes, but this is hilarious stuff. And that the audience is not laughing with you, but at you.

Gove, Recall, And Spin

[Update at end of post]

Nothing is straightforward in the saga of Michael “Oiky” Gove and his retinue of polecats at the Department for Education (DfE), and to illustrate this superbly has been a summons from the Education Select Committee for “Oiky” to present himself and be subjected to another gentle grilling in due course. Such matters should be straightforward, but not for Gove.

Even the manner in which the Committee decided to summon Gove was unusual: the chairman was absent and unwell, and the other four Tory MPs were, by the most remarkable of coincidences, late arriving. In the meantime, the five Labour members and one Lib Dem (David Ward, of recent “the Jews” infamy, in case you were wondering) voted unanimously to haul “Oiky” before them.

So it’s already smelling moderately ripe, even before the spin starts. And with Gove there has to be spin. This came from the supposedly non-partisan but Gove supporting rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, where it was conceded that SpAd Dominic Cummings was “bombastic”. Gove was asserted to be “calling their bluff”. Observer man Toby Helm was said to be “cock-a-hoop”.

These assertions can be readily tested, even with the bullshit detector emitting a distracting scream. And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. When Gove appears is not for him to dictate to the committee. And we can see exactly how “cock-a-hoop” Helm was by studying his Twitter feed. This reveals that he was not “cock-a-hoop” in the slightest. More lame Fawkes spin.

What is also not going to impress the Committee is “Oiky’s” decision to play smartarse: “I will, of course, be happy to appear in front of you at any time to discuss the issue. I am, in fact, free tomorrow to answer any question you might like to put. Then, perhaps, the Department for Education team can get on with improving children's lives and you can consider where your own energies might be directed”.

This is not even coded subtly: Gove is telling the Committee quite explicitly that he believes they are wasting his time and should shove off and do something else instead (as well as assuming that screwing with the education system equates to “improving children’s lives”). This should be compared with what Committee chair Graham Stuart has said.

The committee just wishes to examine these issues a little more carefully. I don't think anyone is suggesting that Michael Gove has been anything other than straightforward with us ... It will be up to members [of my committee] to decide which particular lines they wish to pursue” [my emphasis]. In other words, “Oikyshould stop spinning, turn up, and answer the questions.

Where’s the problem in that? Methinks someone doth protest too much.

[UPDATE 1605 hours: it has been confirmed that Gove will give evidence, along with Chris Wormald, his Permanent Secretary, at 0930 hours on March 13 (note also, as all who have ploughed through Shakespeare's Julius Caesar should already know, that the Ides of March falls on the fifteenth day of that month, not the thirteenth).

To no surprise at all, Gove's spin acolytes at the Guido Fawkes blog have not updated their post, and nor has @toryeducation mentioned this date, although, true to Dominic Cummings' high standards, the account has cited the Fawkes blog as its primary source.

@toryeducation has also managed not to notice that four Tory MPs all turned up late to the Education Select Committee - late enough to allow the Labour and Lib Dem members to vote unanimously to summon Gove. Some folks do have difficulty taking the hint]

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Judge Briscoe Paying the Pryce

So the trial of Chris Huhne’s former wife Vicky Pryce has resumed, following the inability of the first trial’s jury to correctly separate arse from elbow. But the second trial is already covering different ground, not least because it has been deemed fine to talk about the role of Constance Briscoe, and the revelations surrounding her may prove distinctly unhelpful to Ms Pryce’s chances.

We can, for instance, talk about why Ms Briscoe was arrested, and here the Fourth Estate displays its customary inability to use the word “alleged”, rather than make an unproven assertion and wrap it in inverted commas. The Independent at least makes an effort, telling that she was arrested – and dropped as a prosecution witness – for allegedly lying to Police about her role in the affair.

Actually, the Sun also manages to use the A-word too, and delivers the story in a straightforward manner: Ms Briscoe claimed not to have had any dealings with the press, but she and Ms Pryce apparently approached a freelance working for the Mail On Sunday back in 2010. That much is straightforward: what should also be noted is that the MoS decided not to run the story.

Er, hello? What was that claim of Paul Dacre’s from this morning’s Daily Mail? That the “free press” had got Huhne? Well, his part of that “free press” clearly wasn’t troubling the scorers on this occasion. The MoS’ managing editor passed up the chance to nail a senior member of its most hated political party. Proper courage from the Vagina Monologue.

Meanwhile, to underscore its no longer being fit to be called a paper of record, the Maily Telegraph just goes with “lied to police without resorting to the use of “allegedly”. So does the Mirror, but that’s only to be expected with a red top: the Tel really should do better. Even the Evening Standard (aka London Daily Bozza) can mamage “accused of lying to police”.

But, back at the Pryce trial, we should look at the potential effect of Ms Briscoe’s arrest – and the news that she and Ms Pryce appear to have been collaborating to make a very deliberate, and dishonest, pitch to the press (claiming an aide to Huhne took the points). This is not going to impress judge or jury when the defendant is claiming that her then husband forced her to take his speeding points.

The impression, rather, is given that Ms Pryce had decided to pursue a strategy of vengeance, and that in this she was firmly calculating and ruthless. On top of that, the bluster from Paul Dacre of a brave free press seeking out the facts comes across as utter claptrap: Ms Pryce looks to have been hawking her story around the papers, who could not have failed to pick up on it.

She comes out of it badly, and the Fourth Estate comes out a whole lot worse.

TPA – Missing The Real Beer Villains

The so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) has convinced itself that thousands of pub closures can be attributed to the level of beer duty. As I pointed out yesterday, this argument fails to explain why supermarkets and off-licence chains are doing a roaring trade in the stuff, despite having to pay that same duty. It also fails to explain the use of pub sites as property chips. I will explain.

This is the Cross Keys in Crewe. A large roadhouse pub at the west end of Remer Street, it was trading as usual when the manager was told it was to close. This was news to him: as far as he was concerned, it was a going concern and not in any difficulties. But the pub was owned by a PubCo, they had been made an offer for the site, this was accepted, so out he went and it closed.

The Cross Keys had the misfortune to be situated at the corner of an area of land which had housing at the periphery, but a large undeveloped space within. That undeveloped space had been purchased for new housing. The developers needed a way of getting an access road into the site. So they bought the Cross Keys: this gave them a way in. Stuff those pesky regulars.

Roadhouse pubs are particularly vulnerable to being picked off in this way: they are by definition stand-alone buildings with a large footprint, usually with a large car park (which makes the site yet more attractive to developers), and so, unlike pubs that are part of a terrace or parade of shops, there is little of that collateral damage when the wrecking ball fetches up and the fun starts.

And the PubCos, being remote from the communities concerned, don’t care about the site except inasmuch as it produces the best bang for their buck. So you should not be surprised that the Cross Keys is not the only roadhouse pub in Crewe to become a pawn in the chess game of redevelopment. There was also The Earl on Nantwich Road (note past tense).

The Earl was trading normally when the management discovered that it was earmarked for redevelopment as a supermarket. As with the Cross Keys, this was news to them (the regulars weren’t too taken with the idea, either). The pub was duly closed, and after an interval when it stood there and gently decomposed, the demolition teams moved in and converted it into a pile of scrap bricks in short order.

PubCos also subject their managers to a tie system, so they can’t sell what they want, being forced to buy from a set range at whatever price is demanded. So Crewe’s only microbrewery Offbeat has no regular outlet for its product in the town (except its own open evenings), despite being able to sell everything it brews. Why does the TPA ignore PubCos? Simples. They’re potential donors to the cause.

What Matthew Sinclair will not tell you. Because he’s a stinking hypocrite.

Paul Dacre – Pants On Fire

The Daily Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor Paul Dacre, when not engaged in ranting his way around the paper’s Kensington headquarters (an act now known – revealed by Private Eye – as a “drive-by shouting”), is the driving force behind the forthright opinions expressed in Daily Mail Comment. And today he has once again gone after Corporal Clegg in his usual righteous style.

Why should I need a f***ing fire extinguisher, c***?!?

Sadly for the Vagina Monologue, he has also stretched the facts to fit his rant over the Rennard affair to breaking point. The pretence is made that newspaper journalists exposed the Rennard allegations. They did not. Once again, as with Jimmy Savile and Plebgate, the story was brought to public attention via broadcast media. The Mail was too busy leering at slebs.

It was ... a free press which revealed the criminal abuse of expenses by MPs” he thunders. That would be the Maily Telegraph bunging someone for the CD-ROM that was being openly hawked around the dunghill that is Grubstreet. Some journalism, eh? But, as the man said, there’s more: “It was a free press which exposed Chris Huhne’s lies, Cyril Smith’s sex abuse and ... Mark Oaten’s rent boys”.

Huhne? You mean someone at the Sunday Times heard a rumour, took advantage of Vicky Pryce’s anger at being dumped and conned her into thinking she’d not get into any bother over taking her husband’s speeding points? Oaten? That would be the Screws who sat on the story for three years, right? Cyril Smith? The story that Private Eye broke nationally and the Mail ignored for decades?

Christ on a bike, Mr D, you’re not exactly showing your profession’s best side, are you? Especially given that the Clegg bashing includes this gem: “the only concern of this ‘liberal’ appears to be ... to keep the allegations against Lord Rennard hidden”. Yeah, right. That would explain why, as I type, he’s on a live LBC97.3 phone-in taking a series of calls about, er, Lord Rennard.

And save us the hobby-horse dishonesty about “statutory control of the press”, because nobody has even suggested such a move, not Clegg, not Leveson, not anyone in the Labour Party, not Hacked Off, nobody. Zilch. Nada. None. Zero. The thing that’s frightening you shitless isn’t “state control”. It’s independent regulation. The kind that you can’t control.

If you’re such a defender of free speech, Paul Dacre, why did you keep schtum for years about Phonehackgate? If you have such high principles, how come Steve Whittamore had almost a thousand items of overwhelmingly illegally obtained information down to your account? If you’re so keen on media plurality, why the barrage of malicious and often untrue attacks on the BBC and Channel 4?

Better hope Boris’ fire service cuts haven’t bitten yet. Your pants are alight.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Beer Duty Campaign – Why You Should Not Sign

This blog yields to no one in its advocacy of an occasional visit to the pub for a jar of decent quality beer. Not for nothing did I trek round every pub in Crewe last summer to compile the Crewe Beer Blog survey (still occasionally updated, folks, and correct as far as is known). But a new campaign targeting beer duty will not be getting my signature, nor my endorsement.

The reason for this is straightforward: Zelo Street also casts a sceptical eye over the dubiously crafted output of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), that Astroturf lobby group which fraudulently claims to represent this country’s taxpayers, which it does not (the TPA actually represents less than one tenth of one per cent of them). And the TPA is behind the beer duty campaign.

So who else is on board? Some kudos is due to the TPA for getting the Super Soaraway Currant Bun to join the exercise, with Rupe’s downmarket troops doing a photo shoot at the Westminster Arms, though I doubt the Page 3 models sampled the Master Brew Bitter or Spitfire. Anyhow, discreet MPs and hacks go to the Buckingham Arms on Petty France (the beer’s better, too).

But, as Full Fact has pointed out – and they’ve cast a sceptical eye over a previous Sun beer duty campaign – the evidence behind the claim that taxation levels are at fault for the number of pub closures is not persuasive, and far less conclusive. If there was a connection, supermarkets would not have shelf upon shelf dedicated to the stuff (which they do).

What is rather more likely is that less folks are drinking beer, and especially the mass-produced brewery conditioned variety (ie canned, keg and nitro-keg). Sales of cask conditioned beer are either holding up or increasing slightly. The cheapest watering holes in Crewe are not necessarily the most popular. They’re not the best places to have a scoop, either.

What is worse, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has joined the campaign: perhaps its executive does not know where the TPA is coming from. Here I can be of assistance: they’re into abolishing the minimum wage, lowering the poverty line, abolishing the NHS and the BBC, trashing local bus services, and demonising the disabled, while wanting tax cuts for their rich backers.

Whereas having a pint or two down the pub is something undertaken by ordinary working people, many of whom will be in receipt of the minimum wage and tax credits, both of which the TPA is against. The overwhelming majority will use NHS services. They may watch a variety of broadcast media, but will watch and trust the BBC the most. And they are more likely to use public transport.

So they would be best advised leaving this campaign well alone.

The Eight Billion Pound Miss

The economy is flat-lining, unemployment is still bad, growth is non-existent. And the press is full of bad news. So a success story should be right up their street, a slice of good news to lift the spirits on another grey February day. And if the story was of a British company generating a whopping eight billion pounds’ worth of business, well, the hacks would be on to it like a shot.

Media City Studios, Salford Quays

Well, last year there was such a success story. So where was the Fourth Estate? Perhaps there was some greater news story for them to cover. Maybe they just missed it. Surely no news outlet would pass it up, knowing the story was out there? Ah well. That very much depends on the name of the organisation making the money. Because that organisation was the BBC.

And most of the press is screamingly hostile not just to the BBC, but also to Channel 4, and to a lesser extent any other broadcaster (bar the Murdoch press giving Sky a free pass, and Richard “Dirty” Desmond’s papers telling their dwindling band of readers that Channel 5 is Really Very Wonderful, Honestly). So the UK press, by complete coincidence you understand, ignored the news.

Perhaps the figures were unreliable? Maybe not: although the Beeb commissioned the report, the numbers were crunched by Deloitte. The brief was “to quantify the BBC’s economic impact on the UK economy”. This would be “based on standard multiplier analysis”. The result would show whether the licence fee disappeared into some kind of mythical black hole, or brought positive benefits.

The problem for much of the Fourth Estate is that they hold tenaciously to the mythical black hole concept: nothing, but nothing of any benefit can be admitted to come out of the hated BBC. So unless Deloitte came up with a conclusion that matched their prejudice, they weren’t about to splash it all over the front page and thereby admit to having sold their readers another pup.

So what was the Deloitte conclusion? Put directly, in 2011/12, the Corporation’s total UK operating expenditure was £4,341 million, and the Gross Value Added (GVA) of £8,323 million. That means the BBC generated £2 of economic value for each £1 of the licence fee. The analysis can be seen in detail HERE [.pdf]. There were significant regional variations, with London’s share declining.

Where, then, was the joyful reporting? It wasn’t: apart from Digital Spy and Movie Scope, you’ll be hard pressed to find even a mention (the Hollywood Reporter also covered the story). A more blatant example of selective amnesia from the Fourth Estate would be hard to find. But rest assured that if the Beeb spends the odd 5p that the press finds suspicious, they’ll be there in double quick time.

It’s called hypocrisy, and it’s a UK newspaper speciality. No change there, then.

Lib Dems Get Bad And Good News

As the allegations of sexual harassment are inevitably christened Rennardgate, the Lib Dems have been looking anxiously at the polls, and especially for any indication that the news may have affected their chances of retaining the seat of Eastleigh next Thursday. The Tories have been looking too, to see if the barrage of vitriol from the part of the press that favours them has done the trick.

Well, yes it has, but then again, no it hasn’t: the Independent has a national poll that makes grim reading for Corporal Clegg and his motley platoon, with the party scoring a paltry 8%, which puts it in fourth place behind UKIP (who themselves have dropped out of double figures to rest on 9%). However, and there is inevitably a however, that is not where this week’s contest is happening.

To get some idea of what is happening in Eastleigh, we have to turn to another of the Ashcroft opinion surveys, and this gives a very different picture. While this latest Populus poll has the Lib Dems on just 33%, this is 5% ahead of the Tories. UKIP are still third with 21%, but there does not appear to be any further momentum in their campaign. Labour are fourth with just 12%.

And, while the betting has the percentage chance of a Lib Dem victory slipping back to less than 70%, the Tory figure is no better than 22%, with UKIP at just 9%. So expectations are that Mike Thornton, the straightforward and ordinary candidate whose daughter went to a local state school and is now studying medicine at Imperial College in London, will win.

But, the press will ask, when was the all-important fieldwork done for this poll? Sadly for the attack dogs who have been writing wall to wall knocking copy since the weekend, that work was done after the Rennard allegations were first aired (on Friday, Saturday and Sunday last). The clear inference is that voters have, in the main, made their minds up.

Of course, all may be different come Thursday: the UKIP vote could fracture, with sufficient going to the Tories to propel Maria Hutchings over the win line. But that assumes the Lib Dems will not benefit too. On top of that, some Labour voters may see Mike Thornton as the lesser of two evils, especially after some of Ms Hutchings’ recent utterances.

And if the Lib Dems do retain Eastleigh, there will be much ranting and swearing somewhere in Kensington, and a newspaper management thinking more and more that this is the year when the Robert Mugabe of Fleet Street is finally ushered through the exit door.

Yes, some real good could come out of this contest. Stay tuned.

Monday 25 February 2013

Press Sits There And Does Nothing – Again

Once again, they all knew years ago. If only it hadn’t been for those pesky lawyers – the ones that managed not to get in the way of the assault on the McCann family, Christopher Jefferies, the Dowler family and the Soham families – they would all have nailed Chris Rennard. They knew he done it. Yet they all flunked the exam, handing the scoop to the broadcasters once more.

Yes, while the free and fearless press said and did not a jot, along came Channel 4 News – that’s the channel that unscrambled the mystery of Plebgate that those same papers couldn’t be arsed doing – and aired the allegations. And the hated BBC was not far behind them. Then, those hacks and pundits who had kept schtum suddenly gained great courage and said they knew all along.

See no evil ...

So who dutifully sat on their knowledge of what Rennard was allegedly up to, until the party they despised looked like it might win a by-election? Well, there’s Patrick “Lunchtime” O’Flynn of the Express, for starters, castigating the Lib Dems “for being so sly and slow on this issue”. The Express, as usual, has been last out of the traps, so has no room to call out anyone for being slow.

... speak no evil ...

Maybe the more heavyweight press got closer? Here, we find Tony Gallagher, editor of the Maily Telegraph, asserting “Quite hard to see how Clegg did not know. We have proof his chief of staff knew in April 2010”. So the Tel’s editor is proud that his paper has had this “proof” for almost three years and done sweet jack with it. And this is the man being touted to replace Paul Dacre at the Mail.

... hear no evil ...

Talking of the Mail, deputy political editor Tim Shipman has also been the bearer of significant hindsight, declaring “Cable says he ‘absolutely’ did not know of Rennard rumours. In which case he knows less about the Lib Dems than every hack in Wesminster”. So Shipman also knew. Presumably his legendarily foul mouthed editor also knew. But they, too, did nothing.

... not even a little evil

And most jaw-dropping of all in this field of rank cowardice is the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who has asserted that “Guido has been on his case for years”, and then claimed that the Screws had been about to get Rennard – see, Guardian types, you should never have made it close down – before conceding that neither he nor Rupe’s downmarket troops could get anyone to go on the record.

Getting complainants to go on the record is the only way that any progress was going to be made. All the hacks who claimed to know didn’t bother, so were left with the occasional mutual bout of nudge-nudgery, with their readership effectively told “we don’t care”, thus demonstrating that they are, as Terry-Thomas might have put it, an absolute shower.

And, once again, they show themselves incapable of doing investigative jounnalism.

Priests Behaving Badly

While many of those of a more secular persuasion were looking elsewhere, at matters party political and economic, the Roman Catholic Church has had its own little local difficulty. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the church’s most senior representative in the UK and its head in Scotland, was accused of “inappropriate behaviour” towards a number of other priests.
St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

But, unlike some party politicians, there was no messing about: Cardinal O’Brien tendered his resignation, to take effect next month when he turns 75. And even this was not good enough for the Holy See, as Pope Benedict XVI decided that the Cardinal would retire immediately. So O’Brien will not be off to Rome presently to join the Conclave of Cardinals electing Benedict’s successor.

This news has been received badly by the Maily Telegraph’s religious guru Damian Thompson, who has declared that “This is a shocking crisis for the Church”, which is bullpucky of the highest order. The allegations concerning O’Brien’s behaviour would have provoked a real and shocking crisis only if the Church had somehow evaded the issue, but it has not.

What does Thompson think might be a superior strategy in the circumstances? The kind of stuff that has been known to happen in a branch of Christianity with an all-male priesthood has apparently happened. It cannot be un-happened. There is a need for swift and decisive action. It has been taken, very publicly, by the leader of the Church. What crisis?

True, there is certain to be fallout as the inevitable questions are asked as to why O’Brien was kept in place for so long. But from where we are now, there is no strategy that enables these to be headed off. Roman Catholicism has learned, as a body, and from a number of instances of rather more significantly “inappropriate behaviour”, that prevarication is not an option.

The Church of Rome could not have come out of this affair in any better shape. I am not a fan of organised religion, and find much about the Catholic Church to be downright strange, but here it has learned crisis management rather better than many party politicians.

Let us hope that the same Church continues to take a similarly firm line with any and every instance of “inappropriate behaviour” unearthed in the future.

Mail Harassment Hypocrisy

Sexual harassment is A Very Bad Thing. Even the Daily Mail says so. Well, today it does, when the subject of Chris Rennard’s conduct presents an opportunity to put the boot in on the Lib Dems for daring to support the proposals put forward by Lord Justice Leveson. Because when it isn’t the Lib Dems, or when it’s the Mail itself, harassment somehow merits a rather lower priority.

Who're you calling a f***ing bully, c***?!?

The obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre have today drenched Nick Clegg in hostility and ridicule, telling readers that he is finished as leader and that his statement yesterday was mere “weasel words”. In support has been Stephen “Miserable Git” Glover, telling anyone still awake that the Lib Dems are the real “nasty party” (which means “Vote Tory in Eastleigh on Thursday”).

Even Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips has been roped in to regale the punters with “torrid claims of sexual impropriety”. And just in case any reader had not been convinced of the Mail’s righteousness, there is also a piece kicking the BBC because, well, there has to be a side order of BBC bashing, ‘cos it’s written. As Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point.

Harassment and cover-up is bad, and whistle blowing is good. That’s the message. Or maybe it isn’t: when London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was alerted to allegations against his policing deputy Stephen Greenhalgh, the Mail ignored the story. They still ignored it when Bozza let Greenhalgh off. So when it’s Bozza, harassment may not be so bad.

Maybe this was a one-off, and the Mail still takes a robust view on such matters? Well, not if their tedious and unfunny churnalist Richard Littlejohn is anything to go by, it doesn’t: writing about a woman who took her secret service boss to tribunal for sexual harassment, it was “this dopey bird couldn’t cope with unwanted sexual advances from her boss”.

And then there is Dacre himself: as one woman employee recalled to Nick Davies in Flat Earth NewsI went for my interview with him, and the champagne came out and he was gently flirtatious. He is also an extraordinary bully. It is terrifying if you go in to see him with your page. He keeps you waiting and then goes ‘rubbish, rubbish’. It’s like going to see the headmaster”.

Davies gave examples of Dacre reducing staff to tears, former employees being verbally threatened, one trainee thrown out of the building because he had worked at Private Eye, staff having their by-line added to copy against their wishes, and of a culture of aggression which “creates a kind of moral cowardice in the office as a whole”. Whistle blowing was then A Bad Thing, and harassment routine.

No politician should take lectures from Paul Dacre, the harassing hypocrite.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Super Soaraway Polish Hate Campaign

The shock troops of the Murdoch press on occasion rely on a very basic assumption: that their readers are too stupid to stop and think before accepting the premise of whatever Sun hacks put before them. Today has brought a superb example, with an article titled “Polish mums having Polish babies in a Polish hospital ... and YOU PAY”. I do? Let’s have a look at some facts.

Moving right along past the usual Sun habit of using CAPITALS to make sure the READERS know exactly why they should get very ANNOYED at the EUROCRATS, we arrive at the supposed shock horror news that someone working in the UK is getting his wife treated in another EU member state. Another EU member state where pay levels are comparatively lower than the UK.

Moreover, that member state is having to treat members of families who are not resident there. So that member state bills another member state – the one where the family is resident and paying taxes – for the treatment. Er, hello? Can someone tell me why this is such A Bad Thing? Oh, hang on, look who’s involved – there’s the chief non-job holder of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Matthew Sinclair (for it is he), who gives every appearance of having had his sense of humour surgically and irreversibly removed, is telling Rupe’s downmarket troops “It’s vital if this scheme is to be fair on taxpayers that it is a two-way street”. A word in your shell-like, Mr S: if UK residents are getting their healthcare needs satisfied in a country that charges less than the UK, of course it’s bloody fair on taxpayers.

In any case, if there are any EU member states who should be kicking off about foreigners getting treated in their countries, then it should be the ones that have to put up with an elderly and therefore more needy expat British population, most of whom can’t be arsed learning the local language and therefore imposing an additional burden on local health services.

Which countries might I be hinting at here? Oh, I dunno, how about Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece, for starters? There are over 1.5 million Brits living elsewhere in the EU, with around three quarters of a million in Spain alone. And most don’t come back to the UK for their healthcare. They dump on the locals. So where is the Sun in asking for fairness there?

The answer is that the Sun will have very soon moved on to the next pretend EU horror story, because it doesn’t give a stuff. For much of the Fourth Estate, it’s fine when we benefit from the EU, and the full why-oh-why treatment if it looks like Johnny Foreigner is getting some sort of advantage. UK citizens do very well out of our EU membership, and we should not lose sight of that.

What you will not read in the Sun, or many other papers. No change there, then.

AAA Credit Rating – 1937 And All That

The UK finally lost its AAA, or Triple A, credit rating at the end of last week. Some have – genuinely, it seems – wondered why this should be. Others knew it was coming, an inevitability given what had already happened to the USA and France, the state of the economy, and the approach of the Coalition. To illustrate why the last-named matters, we need to go back over 75 years.

Here I am indebted to the considerable wisdom of economist and commentator J K Galbraith, and his recollection of the Depression years in the USA (the wording is from The Age Of Uncertainty, page 218 in my version). He noted:

In 1937, recovery from the Great Depression was slowly under way; production and prices were rising, although unemployment was still appalling. The men of sound judgment now asserted themselves. They moved to cut spending, raise taxes and bring the federal budget into balance. The few Keynesians protested; our voices were drowned out in the roars of orthodox applause. As the budget moved toward balance, the recovery came to a halt. Presently, there was a new and ghastly slump, a recession within the Depression. It was entirely as Keynes predicted. The men of sound judgment had made our case”.

The lesson that Galbraith had observed being finally learned by those who had previously claimed to know better was that, whatever their adversity to running a deficit, withdrawing support for the economy while it had not yet recovered had one all too predictable result: it induced a slump.

Many pundits, especially those of that same orthodox persuasion that wreaked such havoc with the US economy in 1937, continue to tell us not to look at our own flatlining economy but to “look over there” at the deficit. But cutting spending – removing capacity from that economy – will no more benefit the out of work than bleeding a patient will boost his own recovery.

Those same pundits tell that there should be tax cuts to kick-start recovery, but the USA has had those in place from the Bush era, to little effect: there had to be a stimulus program to do that job. We were previously told that to keep running a deficit would risk our credit rating, but we’ve had the rating downgraded anyway, despite moves to close the deficit.

Today, we may not have Keynes to guide us, but we do have the advocacy of Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who has noted that “weakness of the economy has led to lower revenues” (he meant the USA but could have been talking about the UK), and of “leaving the deficit alone for now” [my emphasis]. Krugman presses home the same point as Galbraith: balancing the budget too soon does not work.

What is worse, we know this, and yet our Government keeps blindly to its course.

Mail On Sunday – Pants On Fire

Any claim that the Mail On Sunday, as it has a different editor and title to its weekday counterpart, is of independent mind were today shown to be complete bunk as the paper followed yesterday’s lead, dictated by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, of creatively reinterpreting the allegations against Chris Rennard in order to inflict maximum damage on the Lib Dems.

The headline is unequivocal: “Bombshell Email: Clegg Knew About Sex Scandal”. We should not be surprised: this is, after all, the newspaper group that sank to alleging that the Lib Dem leader had indulged in a “Nazi Slur” at the time of the last General Election. Note also that “He ‘was told of groping claims four years ago’” has had the tell-tale quotation marks applied.

So let’s see just whether the MoS tale stacks up. First off, that “Bombshell Email”. So there’s an email, is there? But you know the answer: no there isn’t. We’re talking about a comment made in an exchange on Facebook. The MoS describes the comment as being “sent via the social networking site’s private messaging service”. Either it wasn’t private or someone has been hacking, unless it was volunteered.

What does the comment tell us? Well, here it is: “I just don’t know how Nick can know and not do anything... :-(  makes me very sad”. So someone is assuming that Clegg knew something about something. And that, folks, is all that the MoS has. The rest of today’s story recycles previously published material, together with a new angle which involves kicking the BBC (no surprise there, then).

This is backed up with Mail On Sunday Comment demanding “So what DID you know, Mr Clegg?”, which contradicts the paper’s own headline, as this asserts that there is no doubt what he knew. There is also a side-splitting comment piece by Mark Littlewood declaring “We Lib Dems need honesty - most obviously from Nick Clegg himself”. Very good, Mark, we certainly do need honesty.

And that honesty could include telling the MoS’ readers that you have a berth at Conservative Home, that your day job is at the right-wing Astroturf lobby group the Institute of Economic Affairs, that your definition of liberalism is not the same as the Lib Dems’, and that you’re an embittered floor-crosser (Vince Cable’s term was “right wing ideologue”). Quit wasting everyone’s time and shove off.

Meanwhile, a look at the Indy On Sunday shows a more accurate account of the Rennard saga: “Clegg faces claims of cover-up over party ‘sex pest’” is the headline, with the telling sub-heading “Lib Dem officials suspect claims are timed to cause maximum harm”. Got it in one: Paul Dacre is telling Clegg that if he makes any more fuss about press regulation, he’ll make sure he loses a few by-elections.

He’ll do that whatever it takes, and honesty be damned. No change there, then.

Top Six – February 24

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’ve got shopping to do later. So there.

6 Littlejohn And Toilet Paranoia The Mail’s tedious and unfunny churnalist tackled his own burning question about transsexuals: how did they take a pee? He gets around a million quid a year for this stuff. Nice work if you can get it.

5 The Telegraph’s Racist Underbelly An apparently innocuous story accompanying Young Dave’s visit to India, asking whether a future Prime Minister could have their roots in the sub-continent, provoked a particularly nasty response from the comments sewer.

4 Gove Polecats – The Net Closes In The Information Commissioner brought bad news for Michael “Oiky” Gove, that he would have to release information about the Free Schools programme. “Oiky’s” excuses were jaw-dropping. And he was on a collision course with 10 Downing Street over the conduct of his advisors.

3 Eastleigh – Tory Campaign Cracking Up As news emerged suggesting that the Tory campaign was faltering, the “unrelentingly positive” campaign was ditched and their candidate became rather less visible.

2 Iain Duncan Smith – Dishonesty In Action The minister who, time and again, has been discovered lying, went to Eastleigh and told Tory activists that they should call their opponents liars. Stay classy, IDS.

1 Gove Polecats – Pants On Fire The Department for Education’s SpAds were caught using the @toryeducation Twitter feed to tell a particularly nasty whopper about children’s author Michael Rosen. Then the account tried to pretend it hadn’t done it. Oh yes it had.

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

Saturday 23 February 2013

Iain Duncan Smith – Dishonesty In Action

People are increasingly loath to trust politicians any further than they can chuck them. This should not be a source of surprise: even those who pretend they are honest and trustworthy have been shown to be nothing of the sort. One such is Iain Duncan Smith, portrayed as truthful and straight talking by the obedient Maily Telegraph, while in reality he is anything but.

Anyone needing to have IDS’ ability to indulge in flagrant dishonesty confirmed need look no further than the Diary Of A Benefit Scrounger blog authored by Sue Marsh, and especially a post from New Year’s Day titled “Welfare Whoppers”. Sue had picked up on a Tel article by IDS claiming “we’ve brought back fairness to welfare”, this F-word a favourite of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA).

That was the same TPA that advocated cutting welfare payments by forcibly lowering the poverty line, which was then asserted to be “fair”. Anyone on benefits having access to a television and a refrigerator gave deep offence to the TPA, and such ownership was held to mean that they were not really poor. This is where IDS is coming from when he talks welfare reform “fairness”.

Sue called IDS out for claiming that Tax Credits rose under Labour by 58%. The actual figure was 8%. Damn that pesky marauding 5! He had also claimed that the annual cost of so-called “Benefit tourism” would be £2 billion. The figure turned out to be £158 million, which was 8% of the original claimed figure. IDS has a way with those 8% numbers. Sometimes he has away with them completely!

The upshot of Sue’s constant IDS vigilance is that it is now increasingly well known that this is yet another politician who you trust at your peril. But Duncan Smith is also utterly shameless, as he demonstrated yesterday when joining Eastleigh hopeful Maria Hutchings on the campaign trail, and dispensing advice as to how local Tories could counter the threat from those dastardly Lib Dems.

So what has IDS advised Eastleigh Tories to do? But you saw this one coming: he’s told them they should tell voters “Your last MP was a liar”. Yes, a proven liar who has been caught basing his pronouncements on deeply dodgy figures, and who takes his cue from an Astroturf lobby group renowned for its serial dishonesty, wants his party to tell the electorate to “look over there”.

As Littlejohn is so fond of saying, you couldn’t make it up. And Young Dave wonders why his party is so utterly loathed by so many people.

Rennard Ruckus Reinvented Already

Chris Rennard was a full-time campaigner for the Liberal Party, and later the Liberal Democrats, for around 30 years. He effectively taught the Lib Dems the art of winning by-elections and targeting seats in General Elections: under his auspices, the party went from 18 seats before the 1997 election to 62 after the contest in 2005. He left his role in 2009.

Proportionality be buggered, in other words

During the past week, Channel 4 News – note that the investigative journalism is once more being performed not by the papers, but the broadcast media – has aired allegations that Rennard was, to put it directly, an unreconstructed sex pest. He has strenuously denied those allegations. This has made not one jot of difference: the Fourth Estate has already found him guilty.

This should be contrasted with the pleas from former Screws executive Neil “Wolfman” Wallis, which I covered yesterday, that those arrested should not be immediately considered to be guilty, and that there should be a sense of proportionality. None has been shown by the press towards Rennard, despite no arrest or formal charge being laid against him.

Indeed, such has been the stampede of hacks, pundits and political opponents – Tories and Labour alike detest the Lib Dems – that the Rennard affair has moved swiftly beyond instant guilt to its exploitation as a means of furthering the agendas of editors and parties. For the Daily Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor, the goal is to smear Corporal Clegg as punishment for backing Leveson.

So today’s Mail thunders “Sex Scandal Engulfs Clegg”. See, Neil Wallis? Not much proportionality there. Allegations have been transformed into certainty, as have suggestions of Clegg’s knowledge. The Lib Dem leader, it is said, “wants to impose statutory regulation on a British press that has been free for 300 years”. And he must have known, because, well, he must have known.

The Mail’s screaming denunciation of the Lib Dems has been joined by the Tories, but here a different agenda is at work, to get back some of the ground lost in the Eastleigh by-election. So Michael Fabricant feigns disgust, and tells anyone who will listen that it is “Not a laughing matter at all”. Excellent projection there, Mike: if only you hadn’t sent your cred down the chute on that blowjob joke.

Fabricant is backed up by Tim Montgomerie at ConHome, and note that the LibDems – the Tories’ coalition partners – are consigned to “Left Watch”. Monty, like the Mail, has gone beyond calling Rennard as guilty in his attempt to exploit the story to the Blue Team’s advantage. Meanwhile, that Rennard’s party has set up an investigation hardly gets a mention.

Isn’t it strange how the rules change when the boot is on the other foot, Neil?

All Aboard Except The Sun Reporter

The introduction of the New Bus For London (NB4L), more usually known as the Boris Bus, BorisMaster or BozzaMaster, is set to continue with a production run of hundreds of vehicles, despite passengers being distinctly lukewarm towards the concept, and in the teeth of opposition from operators who would rather it be someone else having to run and maintain the things.

And this next phase of BozzaMaster operation will feature an entire route given over to the new wonder buses, but here a problem enters: the 38, where the NB4L made its debut, has a requirement so large that it would be some time before deliveries could cover it. So Transport for London (TfL) has decided to select the 24 as the first all-BozzaMaster route.

This will be a real test for the NB4L: the 24, which has run to the same route (Hampstead Heath to Pimlico) for over 100 years, runs a 24 hour a day service. There will be no nights or weekends off for the vehicles. It is estimated that conversion to the NB4L will be complete by August this year (the route has a peak requirement for 26 buses).

So why the 24, apart from it needing less buses than the 38 (where the prototypes will continue to run)? It is no coincidence that the route passes through Parliament Square, and past the end of Downing Street, the target of Bozza’s next stage in his journey of blond ambition. This is also a high risk strategy: a failed bus having to be towed away in full view of MPs and journalists will not go down well.

And talking of journalists, where are they when the Mayor has this good news to tell them? Perhaps they will toddle along later, although one paper may remember that the last time it covered events on route 24, it proved an expensive business. This was the route on which new driver (and practising Muslim) Arunas Raulynaitis was working when he chose to have an on-board pray during a rest break.

The Murdoch Sun then added a pack of lies to this event, asserting that he had ordered passengers off the bus, that he had a rucksack (meaning he was a terrorist), that passengers were therefore wary of boarding the bus, and that he was generally contemptuous of those passengers. Raulynaitis engaged the services of Carter-Ruck, who proceeded to take Rupe’s downmarket troops to the cleaners.

So this time perhaps the Sun hacks will stick to factual reporting, although this is on the face of it a contradiction in terms. It would be nice if someone would take the opportunity to look objectively at the BozzaMaster, given the amount of money being sprayed up the wall on it. But don’t hold your breath.

Friday 22 February 2013

Anger Of The Wolfman

The aftermath of Phonehackgate rumbles on with the news that former Screws executive Neil “Wolfman” Wallis, who was arrested around 21 months ago and bailed since then, will not be charged. This was one of two decisions revealed this morning. Wallis, to no surprise, has been relieved, and wants anyone who is listening to know that he is angry.

Well, Wallis will know what he needs to do, and who to see about it, when it comes to seeking redress, and that is his business and no-one else’s. On that I make no further comment. Where I certainly do make further comment is on the assumption made – not by Wallis, I should add – that his case automatically undermines the actions against others previously arrested.

That’s one very significant logic leap, particularly as Wallis was never charged with any specific offence. Moreover, out of the thirteen arrested “in relation to allegations of conspiracy to intercept voicemail communication”, eight have already been charged. Wallis and his former colleague Dan Evans both being acquitted leaves three still officially in limbo.

Nor does any of this help the case of the twinkle toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks, who in any case has already been committed for trial on hacking and a further offence, that of attempting to pervert the course of justice, which, as those following the Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce case will know, is likely on conviction to lead to a custodial sentence.

What Wallis’ acquittal really means is that the authorities will no longer be distracted by whether to wait for charging decisions, and can press on with the cases where charges have already been laid. So for a majority of those nicked, it’s not likely to be good news at all – unless they’re looking forward to being put on trial and have access to a crystal ball that says they’ll get off.

But coming back to Neil Wallis, one further point has to be addressed, that which he made most forcefully in a post for the HuffPost UK last August. He asked “what about "innocent until proven guilty"? What about those who turn out to be completely innocent? What about proportionality?”, and I agree with him. All who are arrested should not instantly be assumed to be guilty.

The problem which then enters, of course, is that the reason sympathy for the arrested journalists has been in such short supply is the impression constantly given by the Fourth Estate that those about whom they write are indeed guilty before coming to trial: Colin Stagg, Winston Silcott, any number of those being Irish, Catholic and of republican sympathy, and most recently Christopher Jefferies.

If only the hacks had asked Wallis’ questions themselves. But they never did.

Gove Polecats Caught Cherrypicking

Still the @toryeducation Twitter feed rambles on, today jumping on a study from the Institute of Education (IoE) in London as proof that It Was All Labour’s Fault. Needless to say, things are not as cut and dried as the people who are not Dominic Cummings and Henry de Zoete (honestly) would like their audience to believe, not least because the IoE has said so.

So what’s in the IoE report? The headline, “Brightest English pupils fall two years behind Far Eastern peers between ages 10 and 16” is where @toryeducation is getting his cue. What the study has found is that, while the brightest pupils are doing almost as well as those from the Far East at age 10, they are falling back by the time they take their GCSEs.

The research also observes “The top 10 per cent of English children also appear to be losing ground to the most able pupils in other English-speaking and European countries between the ages of 10 and 16”. That is a less certain conclusion, and one look at the sources used for the study goes some way to explaining this: there is a mix of other research used for reference.

And, given that average scores for pupils between the ages of 10 and 16 are “broadly comparable” when looking at England versus the Far East, the blanket denunciation of Labour by @toryeducation is shown to be misplaced. In some Far Eastern countries, parents invest heavily in private tutoring and education is valued more highly. No Government is preventing parents here from doing the same.

So England “could perhaps do better for the top 10% of pupils” is the conclusion, and appropriate recommendations are made. Clearly, that is not what “Oiky” Gove and his retinue of polecats want to hear, and neither is a previous IoE headline, “No hard evidence that England has slid down international performance tables, study says”, from November 2011.

Moreover, that research was performed by John Jerrim, co-author of the paper that the @toryeducation account is lauding today. His past findings (see HERE [.pdf]) include (also from late 2011) that “One cannot firmly conclude that English secondary school children’s performance has improved or declined relative to that of its international competitors over the past decade”.

Dr Jerrim also observed “The decline seen by England in the PISA international rankings is not, in my opinion, statistically robust enough to base public policy upon”. As ever, this is not a subject where there are quick and easy answers, and once again one has to remind @toryeducation and his minders that they are playing with the future wellbeing of rather a lot of pupils.

So perhaps they could quit points scoring and messing around, just for once.