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Sunday 31 March 2013

Whose Forecast Is The Best?

Weather scientists have become the butt of many jokes, and however the wording, there is inevitably someone ready to select and spin in order to assert that they don’t really understand the business, and that they couldn’t predict an act of alcoholic derangement in an EU wine lake. On the other hand, forecasters in the climate change denial camp are positively lionised.

So let’s check out just who is talking turkey, by looking at this bout of unseasonal cold weather we’re having right now. Yes, it’s gloriously sunny, but the east wind is still going, and it’s frosty at night. And there was snow a week ago. Who predicted that, then? Well, had you been reading the deeply subversive Guardian, you’d have seen that prediction last September.

Arctic sea ice melt ‘may bring harsh winter to Europe’” was the headline of Stephen Leahy’s piece. And mainland Europe has certainly seen some harsh winter weather recently. The Guardian helpfully reminded readers last Monday, with environment editor John Vidal explaining “Melting sea ice, exposing huge parts of the ocean to the atmosphere, explains extreme weather both hot and cold”.

The results of the sea ice melt could, we were warned, slow down and/or move the trajectory of the Atlantic jet stream, something I noted some time ago. The weakening would in turn slow down the movement of weather systems, producing “blocking effects”. The Guardian mentioned the recent Russian heatwave; the December 2010 cold snap was another side-effect of this.

We also saw “blocking effects” last summer, as high pressure systems over the north Atlantic blocked out the usual south-westerly airflow, and weather systems dumping large amounts of rain therefore got stuck over the UK, hence the flooding. So what do the prophets of the denial lobby have to offer us? How about, for instance, Bozza’s favourite forecaster Piers Corbyn of Weather Action?

Well, last Monday, Piers made a very clear forecast for Easter weekend: “We confirm our warning that this (29 Mar – 1 Apr) will be (85% confidence) the worst Easter break for decades in Britain, Ireland and NW Europe in terms of travel disruption and general discomfort”. It would?

Strong biting wintry winds, snow and blizzards are expected to blast across the UK and Ireland in two waves during the 4 day Easter break with heavy rain or sleet in South and West parts at times”. And guess what? “These cold snowy events are further aspects of the predicted developing Mini Ice Age”. They sup some strong stuff down on Borough High Street.

That’s one seriously wrong forecast. So you’ll see none of this eagerly trumpeted by Corbyn’s pals in the climate change denial lobby. That pesky 15%, eh?

Disability Smear Day

The attack on disabled people shows no sign of letting up, and before April Fool’s Day has come one where a range of smears against the disabled have been deployed, with the assistance of the Tory Party on occasion explicitly present. The target, apart from the disabled, is the notion that, when faced with suitably rigorous examination, large numbers of supposed malingerers suddenly get better.

This reinterpretation of the Gospel of St John (Chapter 5, verse 8 in case you need to look it up) has been taken as his text by the Telegraph’s Patrick Hennessy, who has come down to be among his flock and spread the word of the allegedly saintly Iain Duncan Cough. “900,000 choose to come off sickness benefit ahead of tests” he proclaims, to the sound of no Hosannas at all.

This meme has been continued by Tory MP Esther McVey: “I will go after bogus disabled... some of them DO get better! Ex-TV host who is our new Work Minister on the UK's THREE MILLION claiming disability benefit” trumpets the Mail headline, going into Sun territory using CAPITALS to make sure READERS know to get VERY ANGRY about SOMETHING.

So what is authentic Merseysider Esther going to do? “She is to slash what Ministers say is the most abused benefit in Britain, the £13 billion a year Disability Living Allowance (DLA)”. Well, either things have changed dramatically in the past year, or “Ministers” are talking out of the backs of their necks. In 2010-11, DLA overpayment due to fraud was just 0.5% of the total.

Compare this with Council Tax Benefit at 1.3%, Housing Benefit at 1.4%, Pension Credit at 1.6%, Income Support at 2.8% and Jobseeker’s Allowance at 3.4%. If it’s the “most abused benefit”, it ain’t shown in the figures. And the assertion made by Hennessy did not get far before the Guardian’s Shiv Malik called bullshit on the Telegraph article. He had good cause to do so.

The idea that 900,000 out of a three million total coming off sickness benefit is either news, or confirmation of the success of Government policy, was shown to be a sham. As Malik pointed out, the average percentage of the total coming off that benefit per quarter during 2008-10 was 37.12%, which would make rather more than 900,000 in a total population of three million.

He then noted that in 2010-12 – as we move into the land of tougher and more rigorous scrutiny – the percentage actually fell slightly, to 36.5%. So more of that total population was staying on the benefit, not coming off it. Malik’s attempt to get an explanation out of the source of the “900,000” story, Tory Party chairman Grant “Spiv” Shapps, do not appear to have been successful.

And thus another lame slice of right-wing propaganda bit the dust.

Gilligan’s Hacked Off Goof

[Update at end of post]

Clearly not fully occupied by his Mayoral sinecure, Andrew “transcription error” Gilligan has turned his attention to the campaigning group Hacked Off, obediently penning a hatchet job for today’s Sunday Telegraph in defence of that free speech which does not extend to the Telegraph titles ever mentioning their owners David and Frederick Barclay (aka The Fabulous Bingo Brothers).

The truth about Hacked Off’s media coup” proclaims the headline, which, given Gilligan’s previously transient relationship with those pesky things called facts, should put anyone reading the article on their guard. A number of dubious assertions about the relationship between Hacked Off and the Leveson Inquiry follow, and then we get to the main Gilligan villain: the “authoritarian Left”.

Who they? Well, there are a number of academics, who as any fule kno are all rotten lefties, apart from Tim Luckhurst of course, because he says what Gilligan wants to hear. All other academics’ views and selective quotations are then projected on to Hacked Off. And, just to make sure, anyone speaking in favour of Hacked Off automatically becomes a “supporter” with their views also duly projected.

At one point, there is a jaw-dropping logic leap as Gilligan takes one supporter’s view that newspapers should reflect “a fair selection of the day’s events” and proclaims “a regulator, in other words, would decide what stories they covered”. It’s a cracker! Then readers are told of an event whose speakers – you guessed it – have their opinions duly selected and projected on to Hacked Off.

Most of the organisation’s staff and those credited on its website are firmly of the Left” says Gilligan of Hacked Off, before, er, finding one who is a Labour member. But not to worry, Brian Cathcart once expressed a pro-European viewpoint, so another leap of logic and he becomes a leftie too! And a firm supporting Hacked Off is run by someone who used to work for Tone, so, er, well, so what?

And then come the howlers. Gilligan claims that Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust (MST) is a director of Hacked Off (he isn’t), that the MST launched FullFact (it didn’t) and the MST “as early as 2009, long before the scandal broke, declared the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) unfit for purpose – claiming, without much evidence, that its ‘ineffectiveness’ had reduced trust in the media”.

A word in your shell-like, Gillers: 2009 was when the scandal broke. And the PCC was indeed ineffective – as well as absent – as Phonehackgate blew up in the face of the Fourth Estate. “This was a sort of coup, by people even more unaccountable and unrepresentative than the average newspaper owner” says Gilligan of Hacked Off. Like the owners you can’t mention? He does talk the most unmitigated crap.

So Gilligan’s still having problems, even with Google. No change there, then.

[UPDATE 1 April 1010 hours: just to give a more rounded picture of The Great Gilligan, I'd commend to anyone wanting to know the discovery made by the Guardian's Dave Hill a while back that the man from the Tel was sockpuppeting. Hill's discovery was of a sockpuppet called Kennite.

Gilligan's excuse was that Kennite was his partner. Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads has more detail on this aspect of Gilligan's less than stellar contribution to journalism, as well as the excellent Octopuppet video, which explains sockpuppeting and Gilligan's involvement in it. Enjoy!]

Top Six – March 31

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 recovering from losing an hour in bed. So there.

6 Littlejohn Victim’s Suicide Second week in the Top Six for this post. Transsexual schoolteacher Lucy Meadows, who had been monstered by the press and made the subject of a characteristically vicious attack by the Mail’s unfunny and talentless churnalist Richard Littlejohn, was found dead at her house.

5 Dacre And Goodhart – Bigot Dream Ticket Fetching up at the Daily Mail was David Goodhart, who proclaimed that he was of the left. But he also has views on immigration that are useful to the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre.

4 Boris Lover Brings Excuses Following Bozza’s less than comfortable grilling by Eddie Mair on The Andy Marr Show (tm), his cheerleader Dan Hodges told how it was all terribly unfair. Oh no it wasn’t.

3 Super Soaraway Disabled Deception The Sun found another benefit “scrounger”. But what they failed to tell their readers was that she was disabled.

2 Gove Polecats In Meltdown The @toryeducation Twitter feed lost it completely with the Guardian’s Suzanne Moore. And on top of the less than temperate language came the heavy hint that Dominic Cummings is behind it.

1 Guido Fawked – Kangaroo Not Tied Down This post from early January made a comeback after the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog sounded off about veteran entertainer Rolf Harris and his potential connection to Operation Yewtree. Here’s what they didn’t tell their readers. Another fine mess, once again.

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

Saturday 30 March 2013

Christianity Still Not Under Attack

Back in October 2011, the Mail found an ideal ally in their pretend “War on Christianity” in former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who would sign up to the least promising idea on the say-so of Mail hacks and pundits. So when the wholly untrue “BBC Turns Its Back On Year Of Our Lord” tale was spun, there was Carey to add his voice to the Why-Oh-Why brigade.

St Paul's Cathedral

Why are we letting the BBC abandon the Year of our Lord?” pleaded Carey, managing not to notice he was lining up with such paragons of probity as James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, who had previously contributed the magnificently batshit “How the BBC fell for a Marxist plot to destroy civilisation from within” to the same debate.

Thus assured of his loyalty to the cause even when the Mail was blatantly bearing false witness (still, what’s a mere commandment to a former ABC, eh?), Carey was back early last year with “As a judge bans prayers at council meetings, a former Archbishop of Canterbury warns that our faith is under siege”. This also has the advantage of assuming the Mail’s readership is uniformly Christian.

The idea that a religion that 33 million people in the UK identify with, and whose bishops sit in the legislature, and whose head of the church in England also happens to be the head of state, is “under siege” is so obviously outside the bounds of credibility that one wonders why the Mail bothers – until one understands that this is just another way of frightening the readers.

So Carey was wheeled out once more for the marriage equality debate, with the dubious support of Amanda Bloody Platell, who told how those standing up for the union of one man with one woman were the victims of hate campaigns, which of course are different from the hate campaigns started as a result of attacks by her fellow pundits at the Mail.

Thus we arrive at today’s thundering front page denunciation of Young Dave: “Cameron Accused Of Betraying Christians”. Carey’s message is that he likes Cameron, but – and it’s clearly a big but. “According to a new ComRes poll more than two-thirds of Christians feel that they are part of a ‘persecuted minority’”. Fortunately, Full Fact have got hold of the relevant question.

And that question was couched thus: “Do you agree or disagree with these statements? ... I sometimes or often feel a member of a persecuted minority because of the constraints on religious expression in this country?”. Loaded not much, then. When Christians really are being persecuted – no church burnings were reported today – Carey and his new pals in the Dacre empire might become credible.

Until then, they won’t. But it keeps the readers in line, so that’s all right, then.

Astroturf Rail Fail

The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), another Astroturf lobby group that can claim Margaret Thatcher among its founders, has waded into the rail transport debate, via its “Research Fellow” Tony Lodge, who wants there to be more competition for passenger traffic because, well, that’s what it says in his book of dogma. So he has set out to prove that he is right.

Competing operators, that Tony Lodge says do not exist, at London Euston

Lodge correctly observes that competition has worked in the rail freight sector, but then, this was also the case in the USA. What he has not learnt from the States is that applying the same idea to passenger travel, in almost all cases outside the Northeast Corridor, meant ending up with no rail services at all. Amtrak did not come into being purely to satisfy political whim.

Yet Lodge looks at the East Coast Main Line (ECML) out of London’s King’s Cross terminus, sees that “open access” operators are present in the mix, and concludes that this is A Very Good Thing. That Hull Trains (HT) and Grand Central (GC) between them muster less than a fifth of East Coast’s (EC) service level is ignored, as he asserts that this should also happen on the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

He wants choice because it is claimed this means the availability of lower fares, but ignores the reality of the situation. HT started their operation with trains hired at “mates’ rates” from Anglia. Having established themselves, they replaced these twice, and now run 125mph trains made surplus elsewhere on the network. GC use similar trains, as well as surplus InterCity 125 (IC125) sets.

You can’t just turn up on the WCML with similar 125mph sets, of which there are none spare in any case. The nature of the line means having trains that conform to Enhanced Permissible Speed (EPS) rules, which in plain English means having tilt capability. There aren’t any outside those run by Virgin Trains (VT). And on top of that, there are no available paths on the WCML.

In any case, the WCML has cheaper alternatives to VT: London Midland (LM) offers a slower but less expensive service, and London to Birmingham can also be covered by Chiltern Railways (CR). There is already choice and competition: in fact, far more trains are offered by LM and CR than the ECML open access offering combined. And Lodge ignored the needs of that freight sector he just championed.

Parts of the ECML are now barred to some freight trains, such is the lack of capacity. As Tony Berkeley of the Rail Freight Group has pointed out, demand for freight paths on the WCML is already way ahead of supply, and the situation will only get worse until HS2 comes on stream. There’s no room for ideological tinkering with passenger traffic to satisfy the Astroturfers’ dogma.

The CPS’ “Research Fellow” would be well served actually doing some research.

Dacre Says Do Mention The War

The week the Fourth Reich began (without a shot being fired)” trumpets the appallingly pompous and puffed-up Simon Heffer in today’s Daily Mail, to which the response has to be that it’s been a while coming, since his paper proclaimed it as long ago as 2009, when the word was “Neo-Nazis plan to build Fourth Reich on back of economic crisis claims far-right defector”. It didn’t happen.

Paul Dacre’s unsettling obsession with digging up the past, and in particular the regime his paper was so keen to endorse in the 1930s, knows no bounds. Later in 2009, readers were told “Revealed: The secret report that shows how the Nazis planned a Fourth Reich ...in the EU”. This, too, was speculative drivel. But that has not deterred the Hefferlump, who is undoubtedly driving the exercise.

Rise of the Fourth Reich, how Germany is using the financial crisis to conquer Europe” shrieked another Heffer headline in 2011, as he proclaimed that France was somehow about to fall. Except it wasn’t. And it didn’t. Yet still the ranting went on: “Germany's economic colonisation of Europe” proclaimed Heffer in November 2011. And there was yet more “Fourth Reich” talk in that one.

Such was the obsession of the Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor that he ordered his talentless and unfunny churnalist Richard Littlejohn into action, with one of his less than mirth inducing “spoofs”. Readers were treated to “Springtime for Merkel. Oh, how they failed to laugh! But that contribution from late 2011 was as nothing to the onslaught the following year.

Andrew Alexander told readers “To be or not to be in Europe . . . it really is that simple”. Being in Europe, you guessed it, meant the Fourth Reich. The spectre of that supposedly collapsing Euro was brandished (still hasn’t happened). “As George Soros warns of a euro Reich, why Germany will do what's necessary to preserve the single currency” proclaimed Adrian Hilton. Yes, it was the Fourth Reich again.

Hilton did bring a mildly diverting discussion about Christianity in Europe, but then, this frankly batshit Europhobe is also the supposedly anonymous Archbishop Cranmer. Still, there was always room for another angle, and Alexander Boot was the one to deliver it: “Germany bought Europe on credit, and now it doesn't want to pay”, he asserted. And talked about the Fourth Reich.

Boot also brought us the not at all hilarious “EUSSR” meme, before handing back to Heffer for “Enough weasel words, Dave. The British people must be given a vote on Europe”. And now the new year has brought support from Dominic Sandbrook, with the oldest scare tactic of all: “Could Germany spark another war? I fear it's all too possible”. And more Fourth Reich rubbish. What a total meathead.

And it demonstrates that today’s rant is part of a long and disturbing obsession.

Friday 29 March 2013

Mail Peddles Beeching Misinformation

Newspapers lack specialist knowledge nowadays, to the extent that whoever is called upon to discuss rail (or air) travel is more than likely to be the same hack who road tests the latest cars. So historical knowledge is somewhere between patchy and zero, and so it has proved as the Dacre doggies have tacked the fiftieth anniversary of the Beeching Report.

The day we said goodbye to King's Nympton, Lady's Bridge and Midsomer Norton : How Beeching's Axe fell on the beautiful small stations of old England 50 years ago” proclaim Emily Davies and Steve Nolan. King’s Nympton is still open, so the axe did not fall on it, and neither did it fall on Aldermaston, which merits two photos and even the name of a porter who worked there.

Readers are treated to two photos featuring “The last train to depart from Nottingham on the Great Central route to [London] Marylebone” in 1966, although the run-down of this route was confirmed more than three years before Beeching’s report, when daytime express services between London and Sheffield were taken off in January 1960. The closure had been planned years before that.

Then we get “The Southbound Pine[s] Express from Bath Green Park ... was one of the services to be cut under Beeching’s Axe”. Rubbish. The Pines Express was not cut, but re-routed away from the Somerset and Dorset line – Bath Green Park, now a supermarket, was its northern terminus – after the 1962 summer season. So that’s the year before Beeching’s report.

It gets worse: the list of towns said to have had their stations closed includes Yeovil, which has two stations (Yeovil Junction and Yeovil Pen Mill) that are very much open. Also listed is Dudley in the West Midlands, which has a station at Dudley Port. The re-openings list also manages to miss both Hednesford in Staffordshire, and the Scottish town of Alloa.

The Mail’s former industrial Editor Keith McDowall, who knew Beeching, fares little better. He tells “Two-thirds of the rolling stock was not used all the year round. One extreme example of this under-use highlighted by Beeching was in Norfolk, where the line between Thetford and Swaffham carried an average of only nine passengers on five trains a day”. That’s an example of the one-third, Keith.

He claims “Beeching created new freightliner rolling stock”, which he did not, although he did advocate trainload freight. Then it’s “the National Union of Railwaymen undermined the effectiveness of the new freightliners by insisting ... that there must be a guard at the rear of every train”. Sat on the end flat wagon, did they? You mean in the rear cab of the train locomotive.

I organised his farewell lunch” he recalls. The Mail needs its copy organising, too.

Plebgate Rides Again

It happened more than six months ago, but still the saga of what happened one evening when then Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell failed to get the Downing Street gates opened for him has not only not gone away, but has now been sparked back into life with the news that Mitchell has issued proceedings for libel against Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun.

Moreover, Mitchell has not ruled out hitting other media sources with a good legalling, and there is, as I’ll show, at least one deserving candidate. Meanwhile, the Sun is telling anyone minded to listen – an audience that may not be very large – that it will defend the action. “We stand by our story and will defend this claim vigorously” was the defiant comment last night.

So what can be gleaned from the Sun’s coverage? Well, the original article, backing up the front page splash “Cabinet Minister: Police Are Plebs”, from September 20, appears to have gone AWOL. But an extensive piece from two days later, “Top cop calls for Tory Chief Whip to quit over pleb rant” is still available, telling readers “the millionaire minister launched an f-word rant at armed police”.

Worse for the Sun, when a Police officer was arrested in connection with the affair in December, the line taken was superbly defensive: “THE arrest of a cop over Plebgate was condemned as ‘chilling’ last night as politicians, free speech campaigners and police representatives voiced their dismay at the move”. Britain was branded “an oppressive country”.

Mitchell, in the meantime, had sought release of the CCTV footage from the end of Downing Street, only to find obstruction and the insistence that it was a “non-story” (a phrase familiar to Murdoch watchers). When he did get the video, it showed that the Police log – mysteriously echoed in a supposedly impartial witness account – was very obviously flawed.

All of this was brought to light in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme – note that the broadcasters, regulated by Ofcom, were the only ones to do the investigative journalism here – and a total of three Police officers and one other person have now been arrested. One of those officers appears to have been behind the “impartial” witness account. The Sun might not be calling them as witnesses.

So who else could be on the receiving end of proceedings? Right behind the Sun was the Daily Mail, alleging that Mitchell had shouted “I’ll have your job for this at the Police guarding the Downing Street gates. Anyone wondering about the veracity of that one should view the CCTV footage. And, as to the “defend this claim vigorously”, Chapter 10 of Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News is required reading.

The thought occurs that more than one paper may be having to pay up. A lot.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Murdoch Is Served (93)


And so Operation Elveden has reached the stage where sentences have been handed down, with former prison officer Richard Trunkfield getting 16 months for selling information about James Bulger’s killer Jon Venables. Former Police officer Alan Tierney got ten months for selling details of “two high profile people”. And another former Police officer got two years for misconduct.

That the news has been reported by the BBC, and also by the Guardian and Independent, is not news: these sources have relayed information on press wrongdoing right from the moment that Nick Davies’ investigations first went mainstream back in 2009, despite the howls of “non story” from the Murdoch supporters and other fellow travellers.

What is good to see is that the rest of the Fourth Estate is also reporting the sentences, notably the Maily Telegraph, which told additionally that Tierney sold details of footballer John Terry’s mother and Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. The Tel also revealed that one of Tierney’s offences, and that of Trunkfield, took place after the hacking revelations had started.

Even Sky News (“first for breaking wind”), clearly showing some independent spirit, has reported the convictions, as has the Mail, although the item also contained a suitable counterweight of why-oh-why copy focusing on the early morning arrests of journalists including former Mirror editor Tina Weaver. Normally the Dacre attack doggies wouldn’t care about her, but she’s pregnant.

But there was no sign of any comment from the Murdoch empire. Nothing from the supposedly upmarket Times, and nothing either from the Super Soaraway Currant Bun. In fact, the Sun appears not to have as much as mentioned Operation Elveden since its inception, something that cannot possibly be down to mere chance. So which paper paid for that information?

Trunkfield and Tierney sold their information to the Sun. As Private Eye might have asked, I wonder if the two are related? I think we should be told.

Guido Fawked – No Joy With Joyce

For someone with a less than exemplary past record for alcohol related mishaps, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines has a strange fascination with other people’s excursions into the land of the overtired. This manifested itself earlier this month when news reached the rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog that Falkirk MP Eric Joyce had been arrested outside the Commons Sports and Social Club.

Joyce had been involved in a brawl just over a year previously in the Strangers’ Bar, which had resulted in his being given a 12 month community order and a three month pub ban, and The Great Guido lost no time in telling that Joyce “had already been involved in some argie-bargie in the Sports and Social earlier that night” before being arrested and taken away in a Police van.

There was also great fascination with the news that a young woman had been knocked over in an incident prior to Joyce’s arrest (though it was not his doing). Compare and contrast with Staines’ threats of legal action against those who mention the young woman who got knocked over as a result of his rabble barging into a Ken Livingstone photo-op at London Bridge Station last year.

Then, the other day, the Fawkes blog noted that an appeal for witnesses was still present on the door of the Sports and Social club bar. Those said to have had some kind of video recording of events were urged to get in touch with the Commons authorities. But those who had been keeping tabs on this event already knew that the The Great Guido’s account was in trouble.

The clue to this came from Joyce himself, who had noted “The reason for the original arrest at the Sports and Social Bar was dropped within hours when it became clear I was uninvolved in an incident the police had assumed I had been involved in”. So the rozzers had assumed Joyce to have been involved in that ‘argie-bargie’ when he had not. And then came today’s news.

This was that Joyce will not face any charge as a result of events at the Sports and Social Club bar. A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman told thatAlthough there appears to have been an incident on the evening in question, evidence obtained from witnesses contained multiple inconsistencies and there is insufficient evidence that Mr Joyce committed any offence”.

This, though, was insufficient to cause The Great Guido to amend or retract the initial post: all that has happened is that Joyce’s Tweet about the lack of further action has been posted, with the headline “No Charges for Eric Joyce This Time”. No mention that the Fawkes blog jumped the gun and called it wrong again – and without waiting for due process to be completed.

Another glorious failure for the Fawkes rabble. And another fine mess, once again.

Franchise Gravy Train Restarts – Possibly

Earlier this month, legal action was begun by four transport companies – Arriva, FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach – over the aborted bidding exercise for the Great Western rail franchise. These players sought to have their estimated £40 million bill refunded, given the Government pulled the exercise without apparent cause. But now the case is being dropped.

No change until 2016 at the earliest

This is despite all concerned believing there was a good case for reimbursement. So why should that be? Ah well. All four are also involved in existing rail franchises, and stand to gain considerably from the Government’s “Fresh start for franchising” announced earlier this week. Because franchising is not having a fresh, or any other kind of start, just yet. I will explain.

After the Department for Transport (DfT) collected the Team Shambles award for messing up their figures on the award of the InterCity West Coast (ICWC) franchise last year, Virgin Trains (VT) were given an extension to their tenure while the whole process was re-thought. Great Western was pulled as well, in an effective admission that the DfT was not fit for this particular purpose.

But several other franchises were approaching renewal date. What to do? Simples. Almost all of them are being extended, so that renewals form an orderly queue, starting next year. That means more and bigger paycheques for Existing Operators Personally Now. Arriva don’t get any longer on their Wales operation, but this is compensated by three and a half years extra on Cross Country.

National Express, despite having previously handed back the keys for East Coast, gets another year on Essex Thameside (aka c2c). Abellio gets more than two years on Greater Anglia. FirstGroup gets another year on Thameslink and almost three years more on Great Western. And Stagecoach gets two more years on South West Trains and two and a half years on East Midlands Trains.

It gets worse – or, for the operators, potentially more lucrative – when the revised franchising schedule is studied. Starting in 2016 – that this is after the next General Election is not a coincidence – three franchise renewals a year are scheduled for two years, then two for each of the two years after that. With Whitehall cutbacks, and last year’s shambles, the prospects for further extensions are looking good.

After all, the DfT has to keep tabs on the InterCity Express Programme new train fleet and all the stock movements as new trains are delivered and electrification proceeds. This is bad news for anyone hoping to enter the franchise market, but the makings of a very cosy stitch-up for the New Railway Establishment, with the added pretence that the private sector is somehow driving the process.

As Private Eye might have put it, trebles all round!

Miliband Saga – The Value Of Insider Speak

The Fourth Estate’s lame attempt to characterise the departure from the political scene of Mil The Elder as some kind of mortal blow to his brother having failed, and seen to have failed, today has brought a change of tack. In have come “insiders”, on occasion accompanied by “friends”. All are anonymous. But their story, by the most fortunate of coincidences, fits the press’ line.

Interestingly, the Murdoch Sun has enlisted the services of only oneclose friend” to prop up the narrative pushed by political editor Tom Newton Dunn. Neither does the article say whose “close friend” this is – so it could be one of Newton Dunn’s pals in the Sun newsroom. That’s how the tabloids operate when they can’t get a real “close friend” to speak to them.

The Sun reinforces its supposed revelation with another turgid diatribe from Trevor Kavanagh, wheeling out the approved line, which is that Labour has lurched further to the left, even though the elder Miliband was on the back benches. Readers are treated to the spectre of union leaders, talk of “Red Ed”, and attempts to show Labour infighting which is not actually happening.

But the serious business of source invention has been taking place over at Dacre Towers, where Richard Pendlebury tells Mail readers to forget what they’ve heard already, especially from the hated BBC, because he knows better. This is propped up by two “Westminster sources”, which will be his fellow Mail hacks, unless he’s splashed out and roped in someone from another paper.

They are backed up by “several Westminster insiders”, for which read more hacks and maybe the odd Tory MP who has been stood a decent meal in return. And then we come to the piece de resistance, “an associate of David’s”. So this is a genuine inside source, is it? You jest. It means someone who has in the past associated with the elder Miliband. So that’ll be another hack, then.

The rest is in the same vein: another “source”, and another “insider”, who claims without any evidence that Mil The Elder had his new job fixed for him by the Clintons. I kid you not: “Everyone thinks the Clintons sorted his new job for him, and you would think David will be heavily involved in Hillary’s presidential election campaign in 2016”. They sup some strong stuff at the Mail.

That’s not to say the Mail and Sun couldn’t stand up their stories in court: they could. All those “friends”, “sources” and “insiders” will exist – but they’re just fellow hacks and minor politicians whose connection to the Milibands will turn out to be at best tangential and at worst non-existent. The lesson to learn from this kind of story is that it has been put together to fit the headline, with sources selected to suit.

As such, it’s utterly worthless, but convinces today’s readers. No change there, then.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Dacre And Goodhart – Bigot Dream Ticket

Some observers of the punditry recruited by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre have noticed the appearance at Mail Online of one David Goodhart, who claims loudly to be of the left. There is no doubt as to why Dacre has secured his services, though: he talks immigration, and in such as way that chimes perfectly with the agenda of the Vagina Monologue.

Course they're his own f***ing words, c***

That means telling readers that there are lots of immigrants coming here, turning neighbourhoods from white majority to non-white majority in Not Very Many Years. Goodhart’s latest effort was so shoddy that it incurred the displeasure of The Rant Mistress, who has sufficient local knowledge to be able to call out Goodhart for trying to pull a number of particularly blatant whoppers.

But the mystery of Goodhart’s appearance among the array of dubiously talented rantmeisters of the Mail is not that it happened, but that it took so long. After all, he’s been peddling similar stuff – back in 2004 he musedTo put it bluntly, most of us prefer our own kind” – for long enough. He’s even managed to get his viewpoint aired on a BBC Radio 4 Analysis programme.

David Goodhart

In an accompanying article titled “Did immigration transform Britain by accident?” he asserts that immigration is “pretty unpopular”. And immigration is what Goodhart has been talking over at Labour Uncut, telling in the wake of the 2010 General Election that “Labour must become the anti-immigration party”. His concluding remark was unequivocal: “Labour must close the door”.

And in November 2011, Operation Black Vote (OBV) had harsh words for him. “David Goodhart: More dangerous than Nick Griffin?” was the question raised. The piece cites Trevor Phillips, who observed of Goodhart’s writing “Is this the wit and wisdom of Enoch Powell? Jottings from the BNP leader's weblog? The xenophobes should come clean. Their argument is not about immigration at all. They are liberal Powellites: what really bothers them is race and culture”.

So when you see Mail headlines like “Why we on the Left made an epic mistake on immigration” followed by remarks like “Among Left-leaning ‘Hampstead’ liberals like me”, you should beware. Because right behind is “I am now convinced that public opinion is right and Britain has had too much immigration too quickly”.

See that? The line pushed by Dacre and his obedient punditry has miraculously been transformed into “public opinion”. And, as the man said, there’s more: “By the time of the next census in 2021, the non-white minority population will have risen to around 20 per cent, a trebling in just 25 years. By 2066, according to one demographer, white Britons will be in a minority”.

Yes, just another hire to frighten the readers. No change there, then.

Telegraph Expat Hypocrisy

Following the Cyprus bailout, the spectre of unfortunate expats having their bank accounts raided has proved a fruitful patch for editors looking to put on a few more sales by frightening the readers. And the Maily Telegraph has been no exception, with Brussels point man Bruno Waterfield – a worthy successor to Boris Johnson when it comes to stories of dubious veracity – in a starring role.

All British expats face Eurozone raids on their savings” he proclaimed, which would be difficult for all those expats who have not settled in the Eurozone. So clearly anyone daft enough to up sticks and move to Cyprus, or Spain, or Italy, or Portugal, has not been listening to the munificent expertise of the Telegraph, or they would have become wise to the point of going elsewhere.

Or maybe they wouldn’t: “Sun, sea and sand – and low tax for pensioners” proclaimed Harriet Meyer back in 2008, in the, er, Telegraph. “A stable currency and no inheritance tax makes Cyprus a popular place for Britons to retire”, she went on, telling how better off retirees could take advantage of a flat rate of tax set at just 5%. So that daft advice came from the same paper now doing the frightening.

And what was that Bruno Waterfield was saying about Portugal’s banks being “in trouble”? So his paper wouldn’t be trying to tempt its readers into investing in them, would it? Er, yes it would: “Portugal relaxes tax rules for expats” proclaimed Justin Harper only last August. “Portugal has relaxed its tax rules for affluent expats to encourage more of them to park funds in the country”. Oh dear.

Well, OK, but that’s an exception, surely? No it isn’t: last June, Suzi Dixon told readers “Still ‘plenty of incentives’ to move to Spain”, talking of property prices which have fallen even further since that was written. And only this January, Peter Pallot calmed reader nerves over health insurance: “Don’t let health worries cloud the Spanish sunshine”. Or worries over that Euro bank account with the savings in it.

Dare one ask about Italy or France , then? Ooh, go on: Max Davidson brought Telegraph readers the “Top 10 places to retire overseas”. At number one was south-west France, and third in the list, the Italian Adriatic region of Le Marche (the top ten also featured the Canary Islands – ie Spain – and Cyprus). So lots more temptation to go and open an account where you now shouldn’t.

And don’t forget, Telegraph readers, that whatever Waterfield is telling you, “There’s never been a better time to move abroad”, as Alison Steed told only last November, together with a photo of a beach on Spain’s Costa del Sol, the land of all those dodgy banks that you should actually be avoiding. There’s clearly nothing quite like facing both ways on an issue if you want to sell newspapers.

After all, as long as the readers buy, the Telegraph doesn’t care about them.

Miliband Departure Spin

[Update at end of post]

The decision by Mil The Elder to leave the political stage and head off to New York to head up the International Rescue Committee (IRC) at first took the punditerati by surprise. But they soon regained their composure, and by the most remarkable of coincidences those leaning to the right decided that the departure was A Very Bad Thing for Labour.

Doesn't exactly look doomed, does he?

Forget the difficulty posed by the elder Miliband being ever-present on the back benches, with any intervention or speech pored over for signs which could be interpreted as a difference of opinion or even tone with his brother. Forget also the equally present threat of having a leader in waiting who kept declining shadow cabinet jobs. Just paint the outcome as bad for Labour.

That’s a difficult one to stand up: for starters, the Labour leadership now knows there isn’t going to be a challenge, or even threat. The upcoming by-election in South Shields should not be a problem, with Labour taking over 50% of the vote last time (and the prospect of a local candidate maybe bettering that – after all, they took over 70% in 1997). It’s hardly putting the party in jeopardy.

Whatever, there are agendas to push, and for the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, that means today’s headline is “Humiliation for Ed as David Miliband quits politics for 'dream' charity job in U.S.”, which has set the scene for the rest. Never mind that this is as opportune as Roy Jenkins going off to Brussels and taking the heat off Jim Callaghan (1976, by the way).

And, as the Mail leads, others obediently follow: the Murdoch Sun leads with “Ed Miliband blow as his bro says: It’s time to go”, co-authored by not at all assertive Political Editor Tom Newton Dunn, who tells readers “DAVID Miliband will quit as an MP today in a huge blow to brother Ed”. Some of those not picking up the paper for their diet of slebs’n’sport may even believe him.

Even the Daily UKIP (aka the Express) puts the same spin on the news: “Now even big brother David gives up on Ed Miliband as he quits British politics”, although Alison Little’s article was too late for the print edition, which concentrated on frightening readers about migrants. Because there are a lot of them, and they’re all coming here (they talk foreign, as well).

And, to put the icing on the cake, there are the pundits who knew all along that he’d be off: “David Miliband has confirmed what we all knew: he could never be Labour leader” tells Benedict “famous last words” Brogan in the Telegraph. Except he just forgot to tell his readers. So that’s hindsight to add to the blatant right-wing spin. And these are supposed to be credible political commentators.

Still, they’re only obeying orders and it pays the bills, so that’s all right, then.

[UPDATE 1645 hours: it only takes one pundit to burst the balloon of the right-wing spinners, and today that pundit is Dan Hodges, no fan of the current Labour leader. Hodges does not subscribe to the frankly daft idea that the elder Miliband departing harms the current leadership, and his words bear quoting.

"He has made the right decision for everyone. His younger brother's position as leader is secure until the next election. His presence, on either the front or back benches, would indeed have been a distraction"

When someone who has been severely critical of both the Labour leadership, and their London Mayoral candidate - to the extent that he backed Boris Johnson - puts it that clearly, it merely underscores that the meme being peddled by the Sun, Mail and Express (but, note, not the Telegraph) is total drivel]

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Super Soaraway Disabled Deception

The Sun has recent form when it comes to selective disclosure on its benefits exposes, and Zelo Street featured two examples back in January, that of Natalija Belova – and all the unanswered questions surrounding her past and her photo portfolio – and then a young couple whose benefit payments were substantially exaggerated (they would have received some of that if in work).

Today, readers have been treated to the story of divorced mother of three Sharon Minkin, under the headline “I earned £120k in the City ... now I’m paid £70k in benefits”. And it’s another “exclusive”. So, folks, is Ms Minkin paid £70k in benefits? You know the answer already, and no she isn’t. The actual amount, which includes student grants and housing benefit, is actually just under £47k.

And, to no surprise at all, Ms Minkin has not said she is paid £70k in benefits, either. So why put it in the headline? Ah well. This is because, to get that £47k, you would have to earn a gross salary, if in employment, of around £70k. Added to this, many of the payments she doesn’t see: the housing benefit is paid to her landlord. So what does she actually receive?

Not a great deal, it seems. Tax credits of £403 a month, plus Employment and Support Allowance of £394. That’s £797 to pay the bills and feed everyone. That equates to an annual amount of less than £10k, never mind £70k. And something else is not quite as it seems with those benefit payments. Notice anything ususual? There’s a hint in the Sun article.

Following an accident a few years ago I’m visually impaired in my left eye” says Ms Minkin. Now look again: she gets Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). That means she’s disabled. The Government’s website is quite clear on eligibility: “You may get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if your illness or disability affects your ability to work”.

Ms Minkin probably could work, but those kinds of work would be limited by that disability that the Sun has somehow managed to edit out of its report. So she’s most likely in the Work Support Group for ESA. The hack who filed this piece must have known of her disability, too, but we’re talking agendas to be pushed, and Ms Minkin is being presented to Sun readers as a scrounger in a “plush” house.

She might have thought the publicity would help her making a pitch for her as-yet unpublished novels, but once again, the real moral of this story is that you should never go to the papers. What she thought her story would look like, and what’s in the Sun, will be two very different things. And the Murdoch press doesn’t give a damn about minor stuff like disabilities.

Still, it gets the readers suitably annoyed, so that’s all right, then.

Gove Polecats In Meltdown

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

These are trying times for Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove and his retinue of polecats, the latter masquerading as Special Advisors (SpAds), following yet more adverse comment and publicity. This in turn comes in the wake of Gove’s paranoid weekend rant, where he talked of “Enemies of Promise” and called his opponents “Marxists” who were part of “The Blob”.

The reaction was immediate: yesterday Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) denounced “Oiky” for hisshameful neglect” of pupils, and “undermining and harming our pupils’ education”, before going on to talk of “the dirty tricks of Gove's gang of arm-twisters who are travelling the country using threats and blandishments to get primary schools to convert”.

Convert to academies, that is. And she was no kinder when it came to the raft of changes coming out of Gove’s department, calling changes to GCSE and “A” level exams “botched” and warning “The lack of due process and proper regard for evidence is now undermining and harming our pupils' education”. In case “Oiky” and his pals didn’t get that one, she spelled it out.

When the changes come so thick and fast, without time for consultation or even consideration, when the changes are so wrong-headed, so damaging to children's education, then the morale of the profession plummets”. As Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point. And the confrontational Gove “us and them” attitude did not impress Jonn Elledge at the Staggers, either.

Elledge concludes that Gove’s articleis hysterical and combative and assumes that anyone who doesn't agree with him is a subversive element that needs to be utterly crushed. In the Gove-ite view of the universe, you're either with him or against him. It's the sort of education policy document one might get from Pope Urban II”. Then when Suzanne Moore also criticised Gove, something snapped.

Ms Moore commented “Michael Gove’s education policy is the real enemy of promise” and suggested that new kinds of jobs “will need a mixture of good science teaching and critical thinking – knowing what Churchill stood for will be only part of that”. Nothing too controversial there. But when she talked of “a core curriculum that does not bother with coding”, all hell broke loose.

The @toryeducation Twitter feed, long believed to be under the control of Gove SpAds Dominic Cummings and Henry de Zoete, screamed “You’ve committed Hack F***up 101 and asserted that coding was indeed now part of the curriculum. Actually, though, that change “Is in [the] public domain and is being consulted on” (so says, er, @toryeducation). So Ms Moore is not the one fouling things up.

Those polecats need to go and have a good long rest. Hopefully a permanent one.

[UPDATE1 1650 hours: the @toryeducation Twitter feed has now turned its fire on former children's minister Tim Loughton, who in return has suggested that he is about to shed rather more light on who is operating the account.
Following this exchange, @toryeducation cited an article in the Spectator last January, which gave every indication of resulting from an Education Department leak.

That might not be a very good move by @toryeducation - Gove polecat Dominic Cummings is married to Mary Wakefield, who just happens to be ... deputy editor of the Spectator.

Oh what a giveaway!]

[UPDATE2 27 March 1355 hours: the Independent has helpfully clarified Tim Loughton's assertion that "there were only 5 people in [the] room privy to me being blocked from publicising SCR [Serious Case Review]".

The five were two Education department officials, Gove, Loughton himself, and Dominic Cummings. Given the speed with which the rebuttal came to Loughton's first Tweet yesterday, it is clear that Cummings is not only directing @toryeducation, he is also apparently doing the typing.

Loughton does, though, talk of "both of you", so who is the other culprit? Were I a betting man, my money would be on Henry de Zoete being the name in the frame. But for Cummings, it's gone beyond guesswork, and if Gove had an ounce of principle he would sack him.

But he hasn't, and so we'll have to wait. For now]

Snow Excuse For Dishonesty

Temperatures across the UK dropped last Thursday night, and with the fall came a biting easterly wind and, for some, the snow (ours in Crewe lasted until Saturday morning). But, for the Fourth Estate, it takes a while for the penny to drop and the opportunity to occur, so it’s only today that the climate change denial lobby has made a concerted effort to assert itself.

Science, Guv? Nah, too difficult, innit?!?

And this has been done via the newly formed alliance between the Mail’s tedious and unfunny churnalist Richard Littlejohn, and James “saviour of Western civlilisation” Delingpole, both of whom work from the false premise that lying snow on high ground in March means that there isn’t really climate change at all, that it was all a con, and, well, wind turbines!

Still not fair and balanced

Littlejohn kicks off with a slice of straightforward dishonesty: “Thirteen years ago, the global warming gravy train was only just getting into gear. Since then we’ve lived through a decade of global cooling”. Moving right along from the inconvenient fact that 13 years and a decade are two different time periods, as can be seen from the chart below, we haven’t been living through a cooling period.

Spot the cooling

This has been the coldest winter in 30 years”. No it hasn’t. Try again. “At the weekend we came dangerously close to running out of gas”. No we didn’t. “We are closing perfectly good power stations”. Ooh, Didcot A anyone? It was more than 40 years old and a serious polluter – so a new station has been built next door. Yes, we’ve been opening power stations, too.

Isn’t it, Del? You must have been too young to remember 1979, when we had snow showers – and heavy some of them were, too, thanks – in May. That was in addition to the heavy snowfall in late March and the snow showers on April Fool’s Day (someone with a sense of humour up there). And once again we get the fallacy that your weather equals global climate.

Otherwise, all Delingpole manages is to cite Anthony Watts and David Rose, and bang on about David Viner’s comments to the Independent, while ignoring this: “Heavy snow will return occasionally, says Dr Viner, but when it does we will be unprepared. ‘We're really going to get caught out. Snow will probably cause chaos in 20 years time’”. Still, agendas to push and all that, eh?

If they were right, the lies and abuse wouldn’t be needed. No change there, then.

Monday 25 March 2013

The Opinion Poll Nobody’s Reporting

The Fourth Estate has today found itself in a state of total agreement over one subject, and that is the lack of inclination to report the latest Sunday Times YouGov poll, which in addition to the usual popularity questions also asks about last week’s Budget. But no paper is talking about this particular poll, perhaps because it also asked about press regulation (see it HERE [.pdf]).

And the responses obtained showed that the public were not just supportive of the moves last week to establish a new independent regulator underpinned by statute, but were supportive by a larger margin than previously. That suggests all the abuse and other personal attacks by those same papers has not turned their beloved readership against the new regime the editors don’t want.

So they just decide not to report it – not even the paper that commissioned it. And when you look at the numbers, that is no surprise. Here’s the first four questions.

Do you support or oppose the proposed new press regulation system? Support 52%, Oppose 23%. By a 5 to 2 majority.
Do you think the proposed new regulation system is or is not a threat to press freedom? Is a threat 27%, is not a threat 53%. By a 2 to 1 majority.
Do you think it is right or wrong that newspapers who choose not to join the new regulator should face larger damages if they are taken to court over libel, privacy or other civil matters? Right 55%, wrong 23%. By a 5 to 2 majority.
Do you think the new system will or will not give politicians too much influence in what news the papers report? Will give too much 31%, will not 41%. By a 4 to 3 majority.

One group which has reported the poll results, is Hacked Off, carrying analysis from the Media Standards Trust's Gordon Ramsay, who has wasted no time in pointing out that support for the new system of regulation has increased over the past week from 43% to 52%, and that the percentage responding that the new setup would not threaten press freedom had gone from 38 to 53 – both now commanding a majority.

Yet still the ranting continues, with swivel-eyed ranter in chief Peter Hitchens going off the end of the pier in style in the Mail On Sunday yesterday, followed by the lame blethering of Trevor Kavanagh in today’s Sun. Both keep pushing the meme that press freedom is being either threatened, or that its termination is imminent. But it’s not having the desired effect.

The public is probably getting less reliable information on this subject than any other being reported right now. But it can clearly see through the fog of falsehood and misinformation, which would suggest, once more, that the game may be up.