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Tuesday 30 April 2013

Leveson – No Stopping It Now

The rival Royal Charter put forward by the Murdoch, Barclay Brothers, Rothermere and Desmond press has now been submitted for consideration at the next meeting of the Privy Council. The Fourth Estate is clearly in Ron Hopeful mode as regards getting it signed off by Brenda. They’re having a laugh: it doesn’t stand a snowball in Hell’s chance of getting that far.

So why are the owners and editors so convinced? Well, according to the press, they’ve taken legal advice, and have been advised that any Royal Charter application “rendered controversial by a counter-petition is unlikely to succeed”. In other words, their counter to the 18 March Charter will somehow take it out of the game, like a take-out shot in bowls.

Added to this is the constantly repeated mantra that no title has yet agreed to sign up to the 18 March deal, which is held to therefore invalidate it. But it hasn’t yet been approved, and what the press do not seem to notice is that the incentives built in to the new system of self-regulation allow for the framework to be put in place and for the participants to come on board in their own time.

Robert Hazell of UCL has concluded that, unless the Government reconsiders, the press will be shown to have been given rather poor legal advice. As he points out, the Privy Council is just there to nod through what has already been agreed by Parliament. And Parliament has concluded that the Royal Charter agreed on March 18 is the one that will go forward for approval.

This has not stopped the last-minute protests, such as that made by Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford in the Staggers, who attempts to advance the idea that the differences between the two Royal Charters are slight, and that a deal can be done. But they aren’t, and it won’t be: as Evan Harris has pointed out to Ponsford, what the press is proposing is just a reheated PCC.

With Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s aides saying the Government will not be abandoning its plans, that means the rival Royal Charter is a dead duck. The 18 March Charter will be signed off and the framework for a new system of press self-regulation will be in place. The only reason there is less than wall to wall frothing about the affair right now is because of this week’s local Government elections.

Expect the usual suspects to return to their character assassination of anyone connected to the Leveson Inquiry, and any politician who does not support their attempt to reinvent the discredited PCC by the back door, as soon as those elections are over and the results have been declared. There will be one last orgy of kicking and screaming, but ultimately reform will come.

And they will, one by one, sign up to it in the months ahead. And that will be that.

Leveson – Littlejohn Shows His Support

Sometimes, as J K Galbraith observed when showing how those who ignored Keynes in the 1930s effectively made his case through the 1937 slump in the USA, the opposition rides to your rescue. So it is with Leveson and moves to achieve properly independent press regulation in the UK, as the Daily Mail’s unfunny and talentless churnalist Richard Littlejohn has galloped into view.

Facts, Guv? Better put traps down, innit?!?

As we know from what the PCC called “Stable versus Associated Newspapers”, this now discredited body ruled that is was fine for Dicky Windbag to peddle packs of lies because he was merely doing it for effect, and to make a point. This was OK because the column was clearly identified as opinion, rather than news. But having an opinion and being dishonest are two very different things.

So what if UKIP is a protest party? How else do we protest if not at the ballot box?” pondered the great man today. This is a perfectly reasonable topic for debate, and no-one should have any problem with him riffing on the subject. What is not reasonable is the welter of totally untrue statements and assumptions that neither he, nor his legendarily foul mouthed editor, can stand up.

Let’s count a few of them: “[Ken] Clarke ... believes Britain should be run by foreigners (1). He is in favour of our laws being made in Brussels (2) by people we didn’t elect (3). He is quite happy to surrender what remains of our national sovereignty (4) and open our borders to all-comers (5) ... Ken thinks our courts should be subordinate to foreign judges (6)”.

Clarke is “passionate ... about a European superstate (7) ... thinks turning Britain into a safe haven for international terrorists (8) is a price worth paying (9)”. And what about Labour? “bankrolled by a neanderthal trades union leader (10) who wants to take Britain back to the days of general strikes (11) and public ownership (12) and led by a weirdo (13) last seen playing footsie with George Galloway (14)”.

So what else doesn’t he like about the UK in 2013? “ [An] energy policy which includes automatically turning off our fridges by remote control (15) rather than building power stations (16) ... Democracy is Britain is in a perilous condition (17)”. “We’re governed by a Coalition nobody voted for (18) ... Ed Miliband is basing his entire strategy on gaining just 36 per cent of the total vote (19)”.

How can he do that? “Rigged constituency boundaries (20) ... Labour’s rotten boroughs (21).” So how’s Dicky windbag voting? “I won’t get the chance to vote UKIP on Thursday because there are no council elections in London (22)”. He won’t even be in the country. But, however unintentionally, he has shown why the PCC is currently powerless to stop acts of malicious and serial dishonesty.

Today, Richard Littlejohn made the case for Leveson. Well done that man.

TPA – Pub Policy Reality

[Update at end of post]

Last week, the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) took grave exception to efforts by Business Secretary Vince Cable to curb the exploitative tendencies of the PubCos, those groups who own thousands of public houses, and under whose less than benign stewardship, almost half the country’s landlords are having to get by on less than £15,000 a year.

The TPA consider anything that interferes with the relationship between the PubCos and their tenants to be A Bad Thing, so it has to be concluded that they are in favour of the way these groups go about their business, which, as I’ve pointed out previously, includes selling viable pub businesses and closing premises just so they can cash in on the property’s value.

Yes, the TPA has recently run a campaign claiming to be on the side of beer drinkers, but they have been silent over the case of the Caledonia, and will continue so to be. This traditional street corner pub in Liverpool was recently rescued by enterprising tenant Laura King, who turned the place into a thriving real ale outlet, offering live music and a safe place to enjoy a pint.

This was not sufficient for owners Admiral Taverns who, despite the Caledonia not having been offered for sale previously, received an offer they decided they could not refuse, agreed to sell without bothering to ask Ms King or her customers what they thought, and gave her not very much notice of forced closure. The Caledonia is set to shut its doors for the last time on May 26.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has mobilised in support of the Caledonia, but there is little it can do: this is a straightforward property transaction and I’ve no doubt that Admiral Taverns have acted within the terms of the lease that Ms King signed when she took the pub on, even though, only last November, they lauded the pub as “an integral part of the Liverpool music scene”.

So what will the TPA do? The answer is, they will do nothing. This dubiously talented collection of non-job holders will keep their heads down and hope nobody notices that they advocate no curbs on the PubCos who, on a daily basis, are cashing in their property chips and selling profitable businesses from under their tenants. This is the reality of the TPA’s commitment to beer drinkers.

Before the doors close for the last time, I’ll be visiting the Caledonia. Many more from the north west will be doing the same. No doubt the media will descend briefly on the area. But the TPA will not be there, unable and unwilling to face the reality of their preferred solution to the problems of the licenced trade.

Because, as I’ve keep stressing, the TPA is not a grassroots organisation, but an Astroturf lobby group pushing an ideology. Ordinary people don’t matter to them.

[UPDATE 1650 hours: as the Echo has now reported, Liverpool Council bosses are looking at whether the Caledonia could be designated an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Local councillor Nick Small has lent his support to the idea. The City's mayor Joe Anderson has expressed his concern at the proposed closure.

But there has still been no comment from the TPA, on its website, from CEO Matthew Sinclair, or from so-called "grassroots co-ordinator" Andrew Allison. This closure proposal is a direct result of the PubCo behaviour that they do not want anyone to interfere with, but when push comes to shove, they are absent elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I'll be joining some of the folks from Chester at the Caledonia on Wednesday May 8 at 2000 hours, for a chat and a glass or two of beer. It would be good to see the TPA come along to tell Laura King and her customers why Admiral Taverns, or anyone else, should be able to sell profitable pubs from under their tenants in this way]

Monday 29 April 2013

UKIP – Self Inflicted Smear

The bear pit that is Telegraph blogs is alive with election fever, and more to the point with enthusiasm for UKIP, together with concern that someone is being terribly unfair to Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow pub bores. Editor Damian Thompson, fresh from attempting – and failing – to bring the “liberal cover-up” meme on the Kermit Gosnell saga to the UK, senses dark forces afoot.

The Tories' Nixon-style campaign against Ukip: something you should know” he warns, having read Adlai Stevenson’s speech of October 27, 1956 at Los Angeles’ Gilmore Stadium, the text of which was revisited many times during the Watergate crisis to show Stevenson’s prescience in judging the character of the man who became the 37th President of the United States.

Thompson indulges in nudge-nudgery in suggesting that the Tories are behind recent revelations about some of UKIP’s less than savoury candidates and their associations. He is not alone: James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole proclaims “The Tories are panicking about UKIP. Good!”, but then sprays any residual credibility up the wall agreeing with Bozza’s blathering this morning.

A not particularly august trio is completed by Tim Stanley, who you can tell as he’s a doctor, who asserts “Ukip might be bullies, but the establishment are a bunch of nerds who deserve a good wedgie”. Wedgie? As in Benn? Whatever. The electorate, he tells, are so fed up of the three established parties that they will even vote for Nige and his pals, even if they are a bit too close to the EDL.

But this is so much tosh: there is no need for any grand conspiracy to explain the recent attacks on UKIP. It is nothing more than a continuation of what has been going on for months: catching their MEPs dozing off in the European Parliament, A London Assembly candidate saying homosexuality is a “fashion choice”, and the idiot Godfrey Bloom not wanting to employ women of child bearing age.

That’s before the links to the EDL and BNP, leading even Farage himself to admit that there were some candidateswe’d rather not have”. No organised Tory campaign is needed to pick up on these stories: rather, what we’ve seen over the weekend is the result of an accumulation of revelations. UKIP is gradually becoming a comedy genre, and this status is richly deserved.

Still, it keeps Damian Thompson and his pals out of mischief. Mustn’t grumble.

Death On The Motorway

Britain’s motorways are the safest part of the road network on which to travel. But the sheer volume of traffic they process means that there will occasionally be accidents. These attract disproportionate press attention, probably because they are so exceptional. But all such accidents happen for a reason, and the damage they cause has basic and very obvious explanations.

Warning signs show lanes ending

A collision on the westbound carriageway of the M62 last Friday morning is typical. A minibus carrying a group of young women on their way to a hen party weekend in Liverpool had a coming together with the rather more substantial form of a FarmFoods lorry on the approach to Junction 32. One of the party died and others have sustained serious injuries.

Sadly, the first instinct of the press, typified by the Daily Mail, is to splash lots of photos of those involved, and especially 18 year old Beth Jones, who perished at the scene. Fortunately, among the photos are sufficient views of the location to get an idea of the exact location, how the collision most likely occurred, and what made the consequences so devastating for those involved.

I plead some knowledge of this part of the M62, having driven along it dozens of times. Recently, that westbound carriageway has seen changes, at the time the nearby A1 was upgraded to motorway status. New junctions were built just to the east of the accident scene, and in addition a fourth lane was added to the westbound M62 between the A1(M) junction and Junction 32.

The fourth lane ends at Junction 32. That may be important. Clearly both minibus and lorry were on the westbound carriageway immediately before the crash. Had the former started its journey from South Elmsall, it would have joined from the A1(M), where the driver would have encountered a four-lane carriageway. Overhead signs then warn that the fourth lane ends at Junction 32.

Now look at where the minibus was impacted: clearly on its right-hand rear. The lorry’s cab has been impacted on its left-hand front. This is consistent with the latter being in the second of four lanes, the driver having correctly read the warning signs and positioned accordingly. What appears to have then happened is that the minibus driver saw the lane ending very late, slowed, and moved without looking.

Of course, the best course of action would have just been to carry on down the slip road and go back onto the motorway after Junction 32. But folks do impulsive things on the spur of the moment. What also needs to be asked, in view of all the injuries, is whether all the occupants of the minibus were wearing seatbelts. Had they been so doing, one would not have expected such severe injuries to occur.

Accidents don’t just happen. Nor do injuries and death. Lessons need to be learned.

Boris Film Review Fail

Ahead of local Government elections next Thursday, in which the Tories are expected to do badly, London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has used his Maily Telegraph column, for which he receives a trifling £5,000 of “chicken feed” each and every week, to proclaim to conservatives that Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his pals at UKIP are not such a bad thing after all.

It was Face/Off, wasn't it chaps? Oo-er! Cripes!!

Keep calm, everyone – now is not the time to do a Nicolas Cage” says Bozza, apropos of the idea that Tories are now in a state of loud panic. And why should they keep calm? “Far from being bad news, the rise of Ukip is actually a good sign for the Conservative Party”. Yes, a fringe party that abstracts votes from all parties, but mostly from the Tories, is supposedly a good thing for the Tories. Yeah, right.

Bozza is clearly not going to be diverted by mere reality, though, as he claims UKIP is the Tories doppelganger, then says this means the Tories are in reality actually very popular, because those voting UKIP are embracing Tory ideas. This is weapons grade bullshit: many of those attracted to the Farage fringe are projecting their own agenda onto a party that is currently offering very little real policy.

And what policy UKIP is offering makes little sense: spending more on defence while cutting tax means racking up eye-watering levels of debt and a currency going down the chute in short order, for starters. That’s before the finance houses decide Frankfurt am Main is not so bad after all, and the car plants see the merits of helping the Spanish and Portuguese with their unemployment problem.

See no cluelessness ...

How does Bozza propose getting to grips with the Tories’ UKIP problem, then? Ah well. Here he manages to bodyswerve the question, instead asserting that the Tories are the only mainstream party that is offering a referendum on EU membership, although they aren’t. He blusters about the Human Rights Act and political correctness. He accuses Labour of allowing mass illegal immigration.

... hear no cluelessness ...

The impression is given that Bozza has made a few selections from a menu of right-leaning bogeymen. But some of the routinely clueless have lapped it up: the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines proclaimed “BoJo nails it”. Tim Montgomerie agreed that Farage was a conservative. And currently not Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire (yes, it’s her again) Nadine Dorries applauded “Brilliance from Boris”.

... speak no cluelessness

None of them saw the schoolboy error: Bozza’s Nic Cage reference included this summary of Face/Offin which he somehow contrives to have his face surgically removed and swapped with that of one of the world’s nastiest super-criminals, played by John Travolta”. Except that Travolta was the good guy and Cage was the criminal. We should applaud someone who can’t bother to do two minutes’ research.

His column is in the same vein. And it makes no sense. No change there, then.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Press Regulation – Punditry Meets Reality

The Super Soaraway Currant Bun has a new hero: an MP who agrees with their less than benign owner’s stance on regulation of the press. The Murdoch hacks like John Whittingdale so much, in fact, that they have given him a column in today’s edition and made him their “Hero” of the past week. This, for them, is a leader they can rally behind in promoting their new reality.
Sadly, though, Whittingdale is in a minority of one, and the Royal Charter Flyer departed several weeks ago. Yet in its promotion of his alleged heroism, the Sun has trowelled it on: the press had “published their own proposals for tough new regulation but, crucially, without any political interference” and the party leaders “were left stunned”. Sounds better than “meh”, I suppose.

Whittingdale “has set an example for his colleagues to follow” concluded the fawning tribute, but all the time there is the false assumption in play – that the matter is still there for discussion. It is not. Parliament has signed off on the Royal Charter and a number of amendments, not least of which is that exempting bloggers who still have the choice of “opting in”. The train already left.

Exactly what prospect the brave new Royal Charter world of the Sun and its fellow titles has of ever seeing any effect on the statute books has been assessed by Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, whose conclusions have been published on the LSE Media Policy Project blog. It does not make happy reading for the Murdoch, Rothermere, Barclay Brothers or Desmond press.

The Royal Charter agreed on 18 March made two concessions to the press, unlike the 12 February original, for which Ms Enders identifies seven areas where ground has been ceded to the Fourth Estate. The 25 April Royal Charter yields to the press in a further twelve areas. It is nowhere near meeting the criteria proposed by Lord Justice Leveson (I’ve previously called it a reheating of the PCC).

But perhaps it will gain favour when put before the Privy Council? Don’t bet on it: Ms Enders’ assessment is that “we are sceptical that this Charter will get any real support in Parliament. It is further away from what Leveson recommended than anything that has gone before”. Labour and the Lib Dems, together with some Tories, will be able to see it off. It is therefore a non-starter.

Ms Enders concludes “We have yet to hear an official response from the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, but have seen indications that they will reject the industry proposal”. So the plea from Bozza’s sister Rachel in the Mail to let the press be (which means more and bigger paycheques for Herself Personally Now and tough tittie for whoever gets shafted) is likely to fall on stony ground.

It’s over, press people. Stop spinning. And consider joining the human race.

UKIP Predictably Under Fire

ITV News has reported a priceless howl of protest from Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers at UKIP: “Ukip has accused the Conservative party of running a ‘morally reprehensible’ smear campaign by trawling through potential councillors' Twitter and Facebook posts”. Or rather, as former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell put it this morning, “Welcome to Test Match Cricket”.

Perhaps someone at UKIP has not noticed that trawling the Facebook and Twitter history of their targets has become a staple for hard pressed hacks for some time now. Did Farage’s followers think that they were somehow immune to this kind of examination? Do UKIP believe that they somehow merit a free pass when they are pursuing the same public office as their opponents?

What may also have spooked Nige and his pals is the leaking of a number of email exchanges, which has found its way to the Observer. Policy editor Daniel Boffey has allowed himself to observe “Senior party figure says leading Ukip is like 'herding cats', as top MEP ponders 'buying' policies from right-leaning thinktanks”. The impression is given that this party is a total shambles.

But this should surprise no-one: many of UKIP’s leading lights are part of a squad too awkward for other parties, usually the Tories, although one former Labour MP, Robert Kilroy-Silk, was recruited to the cause, attempting to take control of the party after becoming an MEP on their ticket in 2004, thus allowing UKIP to flirt with both “sharing” and “shafting” at the same time.

So Farage should not be phased at the revelation that many of his party’s representatives and backers are not prepared to play as a team: that’s why they’ve fetched up in UKIP. What should worry him, however, is the suggestion that the party overcome the bickering by adopting policy positions “off the shelf” from right-leaning lobby groups. This might look an attractive solution, but it’s pure poison.

One key area where UKIP can lose themselves a whole load of support is adopting economic proposals that look superficially attractive – flat taxes, for instance – but which mean more tax breaks for the rich and the dismantling of the NHS in favour of everyone having to buy their own health cover through insurance. This might buy a few well-heeled supporters. But everyone else will walk away.

In any case, if we’re being asked to consider UKIP as serious contenders for elective office, why should their social media pronouncements not be fair game? Voters should be told if they are being asked to vote for “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. If Nigel Farage wants to be handed the levers of power, the electorate should be allowed to see if his team is up to the job.

And, right now, he gives the impression that his team is anything but up to that job.

Fridge Big Brother Phony Scare

[Update at end of post]

Fresh from obsessively poring over a 16 year old’s Twitter feed so that he could enjoy the fruits of trashing her hopes and dreams using the front page of the Mail On Sunday, hack Russell Myers has been rewarded with co-authoring a scoop of dubious veracity as the MoS has attempted to frighten readers with visions of sinister outside forces taking over their kitchens.
Big Brother To Switch Off Your Fridge” thunders the headline as Myers and co-author Martin Beckford warn “Power giants to make millions - but you must pay for 'sinister' technology”. Terrible, eh? And of course the EU is involved, well, it might be. But a quick look at the arguments advanced shows that this story is total crap. Nobody is going to switch off anyone’s fridge, for a start.

Mains electricity is supposed to be supplied at a voltage of between 220 and 250 volts AC, with the current alternating at 50 cycles. That variability is because, even when the National Grid is supplying power to tens of millions of homes and businesses, achieving perfect balance just isn’t going to happen. On top of that, there are occasional spikes in demand.

So the grid wants to help take the “sting” out of those spikes. This could be achieved by appliances not taking power for short periods, maybe a few seconds at a time. It would additionally be good for the appliances, as subjecting them to power spikes could induce component failure, and we’d rather not have to replace them if there was a way of keeping potentially damaging power fluctuations out.

This is not “sinister”. It is good for all concerned. Instead, the MoS tries to whip up fear and loathing in its readers by suggesting that energy suppliers will make millions in extra profits, but this too is drivel: you pay for the electricity you use whether they have to fire up reserve capacity or not. What is being suggested is going to save not just the appliances, but your energy bills.

Then readers are told that green energy, particularly wind power, is “unreliable”. This is also crap: “variable” does not mean “unreliable”, not with today’s technology. It’s not about wind power. Nor is it about EU targets. The MoS is underpinning its lead story with a blatantly false association, reinforced by its why-oh-why editorial “Green zealots and a sinister power grab”. No zealotry or grab is involved.

But because the agenda has to be peddled, readers hear from Big Brother Watch (another manifestation of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance) and rent-a-quote Tory MPs. The former Soviet Union is invoked. This is so like the kind of invented horror story that regularly crops up in the Express – especially when the subject is the EU – that it looks as if the MoS is also headed into cheap and nasty territory.

Meanwhile, nobody’s freezer is in meltdown. Time to change the record.

[UPDATE 2030 hours: I'm indebted to Dominic Zapaman for demonstrating that the MoS has not even bothered to get its basic facts right on the electricity supply. The article talks about the frequency of the supply falling "to 47Hz" and then heading "towards 52Hz". This is complete rubbish, as the frequency does not very to the same extent as the voltage.
As Dominic points out, the variation in frequency is from 49.9Hz to 50.1Hz. The numbers the MoS talks about do not happen. Given that they can't get such basic facts right, one has to wonder what else has been wrongly assumed - or just invented to fit the headline. Not that Russell Myers will be telling, you understand]

Top Six – April 28

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

6 Conspiracy? Nah, Diamond Geezer! Sun Royal Editor Duncan Larcombe was charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office after more than £23,000 was alleged to have been paid for information. So several other hacks took to Twitter to say what a great journalist he was.

5 Rolf Harris – Now The Excuses After a five month delay in naming the veteran entertainer came the spin explaining why the press had not done so earlier. This generally involved blaming Lord Justice Leveson for some unspecified “chilling effect”, but it was just drivel. They could have done it had they wanted.

4 All Aboard The Wrong Photo Express The supposed flagship of the Desmond press wanted to illustrate a story about disruption faced by commuters as a result of a fire alarm at a signalling centre on the National Rail network, in Sussex. So they used a photo of no disruption, not on the National Rail network, and not in Sussex.

3 TPA – Beer And Pub Hypocrisy The so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance laid into Vince Cable because he was sticking up for pub tenants who routinely get screwed over by the PubCos. They want lower beer prices, but not at the expense of rich owners foregoing their ability not to, er, lower their beer prices.

2 Rival Royal Charter Rumbled The newspaper owners’ counter to the Royal Charter agreed by all major parties started to unravel as it was seen to be nothing more than a reheating of the old PCC – just a fancy con trick.

1 Sun Thatcher Funeral Hypocrisy The Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton-Dunn proclaimed that Margaret Thatcher’s funeral had cost a mere £3.6 million (doubtful), and then went after all the supposedly “left wing” papers that had put a figure of £10 million out there. Like, er, the Sun.

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

Saturday 27 April 2013

Abortion – Right Blames Left

Right-leaning pundits and commentators love to politicise issues: climate change, press regulation, high speed rail, all are wilfully refashioned as right versus left issues, whatever the reality. Religion, too, is thus interpreted: the right are the righteous, and the left a bunch of Godless heathens. And then there is the issue of abortion, and especially abortion viewed through the prism of religion.

The Telegraph’s Damian Thompson has seized on the case of Kermit Gosnell, who ran an illegal clinic in Philadelphia where late-term abortions were carried out. Conditions at the clinic were allegedly appalling, and what went on there has resulted in Gosnell being charged with two counts of adult murder and several more of infanticide. The accusation is that the left somehow covered it all up.

Gosnell the baby-killer and the liberals who shielded him” proclaimed Thompson, as he points the finger of blame at a variety of players, including Planned Parenthood, any media outlet not conforming to his political outlook, and Barack Obama. And Thompson is talking prejudicial, misinformed, selective and malicious crap. Because nobody has tried to cover anything up, and certainly not liberals.

As Irin Carmon pointed out in a piece for Salon, what the screaming tirade from the right manages to ignore is that, when the Gosnell story broke back in 2011, liberal and pro-choice campaigners and reporters tried hard to get the story out there. Moreover, pro-choice groups had repeatedly reported Gosnell’s clinic to the authorities, but complaints were either ignored or not accepted.

This might not be unrelated to the fact that Gosnell catered to the needs of the poor and marginalised, including illegal immigrants. And Philadelphia’s primary vehicle for regulating abortion is part of its criminal code, so it is not seen as health care. The state’s Public Health Department was warned of the clinic’s dire conditions, and yet it took no action. It was, after all, an illegal operation.

None of this has been allowed to enter as the right-leaning punditry Stateside has piled in – two years late – and used this case to blame opponents, many of whom tried to report it in the first place but were ignored. The range of usual suspects includes Michelle Malkin, Breitbart.com, several Republican politicians, and of course Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

Damian Thompson has, to be fair, added a grain of originality to his piece: just to demonstrate his brass neck, he calls Gosnell, an African-American, a “racist”. Yeah, the rotten lefties kill babies and they’re racist too! But Thompson knows the reality of this affair. He merely chooses not to report it all. That is the sad reality of the twisted and malicious world of the religious and righteous right.

And they’re bringing their sick little show to the UK. Thought you’d like to know.

Rival Royal Charter Rumbled

Hardly had the rival Royal Charter, proposed by the Murdoch, Rothermere, Barclay Brothers and Desmond press among others, been launched and duly lauded by the usual suspects in the Fourth Estate, than its shortcomings caused the whole exercise to unravel, as I suggested the other day. Now, despite valiant editorial spinning, the wheels have come off the wagon.
New regulator as seen by Steve Bell

That spin was maintained yesterday by the two papers doing the most vocal cheerleading, the Sun and Daily Mail, with the former once again depending on non-bullying political editor Tom Newton-Dunn telling “British press unveil rival to non-starter charter”. Yes, “It agrees to a tough new Press watchdog, but one free from Ministry of Truth-style political interference”.

Meanwhile, Daily Mail Comment, the authentic voice of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, loftily proclaimed “A truly independent regulator of the Press”. Here, again, were such fraudulent ideas as Great Britain having had 300 years of democracy, when the first General Election fought under a universal franchise was actually just 84 years ago – in 1929.

Sadly, both Mail and Sun pronouncements are weapons grade bullshit, as a cursory examination of the rival Royal Charter shows. Political interference is rife, with the ability for party-adherent peers to run the new regulator, just as they did to such lamentable effect with the now discredited PCC. The new regulator could pick and choose which complaints it deals with – just like the PCC.

Third party complaints would be barred – just like the PCC. The press would have a veto on appointments to the board of the new regulator – just like the PCC. Corrections would be kept off the front page and buried wherever editors felt like putting them – just like the PCC. There would (probably) be no low cost arbitration service – just like the PCC.

It is not just the Hacked Off campaign that has called this exercise out as effectively being a con trick. The Media Standards Trust (MST) has noted that the rival Royal Charter “differs substantially from recent public opinion on press regulation”. The public has little confidence in the press setting up and running its own regulator – maybe because they did that with the PCC, and it failed. Miserably.

But the final nail in the coffin of this latest industry attempt to deal off the bottom of the deck has come, with characteristic eloquence, from Christopher Jefferies, who notes that the proposed system wouldperpetuate the very abuses and corruption that made the Leveson inquiry necessary” and “that walking away from Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations in this way and at this stage is simply not acceptable”.

The press cannot return to marking its own homework. That’s not good enough.

Friday 26 April 2013

Guido Fawked – Tax Credit Fail

Another day brings another opportunity for the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog to parade their ignorance before a grateful readership. Today’s masterfully executed foot-in-mouth moment comes as the Fawkes folks discover some figures on the cost of Tax Credits, and as a result draw a conclusion rather different to reality.

"Evidence Based Blogging"? Yeah, right

How Tax Credits Are Set to Rocket” is the headline, and at the outset the standard of routine misinformation is clear, with a graph presented which, not for the first time with the Fawkes blog, cuts off the Y-Axis well short of zero. This makes the rise in Tax Credits look far greater than it really is. And that the first year for which figures are shown is 2008-9 does also not appear to tell them anything.

At this point, it may prove instructive to mention that, according to HMRC, Tax Credits are paid to those without children if their annual income is below approximately £13,000 for a single person and £18,000 for a couple (Child Tax Credits are given in addition). So those in receipt are always going to be the least well off in society.

Now consider the start date for that graph: 2008 was when the global financial crisis hit, and the UK’s recession began. Hence the amounts of Tax Credits being paid going up, as this shows there are more people out there on lower incomes. As the recession has bottomed out, so the amounts of Tax Credits paid have more or less stabilised. This, too, is not too hard to understand.

That the numbers are predicted to get worse from 2014-5 means, therefore, that either the Tax Credit regime is becoming more generous (doubtful), or that there will be more people on low earnings. This suggests that economic growth in the UK will be weak, as will overall economic conditions. It is these factors that are behind the 35% projected rise in Tax Credits over nine years.

To no surprise at all, the Fawkes rabble has drawn the entirely opposite conclusion, signing off “Austerity, what austerity?” when it should be clear to anyone paying attention that the graph they have just presented demonstrates not only the onset of that same austerity, but that it will continue for several more years to come, except perhaps in the world of The Great Guido.

This is, after all, a land inhabited by well-funded lobby groups and their hangers-on, along with the full range of overmonied hacks and pundits, those representatives of the MSM that was previously hated but to which Staines and his pals have now so shamelessly sold out. The less well off are something they do not have to consider: after all, they can always find a chap to do that sort of thing for them.

It’s just a pity they can’t be bothered to get their facts right. Another fine mess.

All Aboard The Wrong Photo Express

[Update at end of post]

The cheap and nasty approach of the once-great Daily Express has been shown up yet again this morning as the paper’s website has attempted to illustrate a story about travel disruption between London and Brighton on the National Rail network and in its desperation selected a photo that has nothing to do with the line, the trains, or indeed the network.
Where on the Brighton Line is this scene?

Rush-hour rail chaos after fire alert at signalling centre” read the headline, and thus far Charlotte Meredith was factually correct. There had been a fire alert at Three Bridges, which controls the Brighton Line south of East Croydon, along with much else. As with any building, those inside had to evacuate the premises until firefighters had attended and given the all clear.

So there had to be a photo showing some of those commuters. In the old days, a photographer might have moseyed over to Victoria, along with a junior hack, and some quick interviews, along with a couple of photos, would have been done. But under the less than benign leadership of Richard “Dirty” Desmond, proper reporting such as this is no longer permitted.

Problem is, as there is also no specialist knowledge, unless someone involved in putting the article together can tell one train type, or station, or indeed part of the country from another, then the results can be, shall we say, unpredictable. So it should surprise no-one that the photo used is not London’s Victoria terminus, or indeed any station between there and Brighton.
It isn't: it's the adjacent platform to this one

Moreover, it shows a train that could not run on the National Rail network, and would not be permitted to do so. The immediate clue is the sign reading “Piccadilly Line”. The photo was taken on the London Underground network. Where is the station? Well, the train at the right is the type currently in service on the District Line. And the distinctive overall roof is that at Earl’s Court.
Meanwhile, this really is on the Brighton Line

Had the photographer pointed the lens a little higher, it would have revealed the station’s distinctive train indicators – I’ve shown the ones at the adjacent platform. And just to help Des’ finest, I’ve also included a photo of a station on the Brighton Line (Clapham Junction) with the kind of train that will be familiar to all those hard pressed commuters on Southern.

So the Express has shown a photo not of commuters heading into London, but those who are already there. And on the wrong network. And, as the signal indicators in the background show, not being inconvenienced by signalling problems. But what the heck, it’s a photo of a train with lots of people on it, and it’s cheap and available.
Which, at the Express, can mean only one thing: it’s part of another Benchmark Of Excellence!

[UPDATE 1550 hours: as has been pointed out (see comment #1), the Express is no stranger to getting its rail stories horribly wrong. Back in February, Frederick Forsyth, supposedly the ultimately forensic researcher where his novels were concerned, scribbled a rant about the HS2 project in which he suggested that trains on the East Coast Main Line ran only a third full.

This would have come as news to those punters, shown most recently on one of the BBC2 documentaries on the rail network, who routinely have to stand between London's King's Cross terminus and somewhere north of Doncaster. Then Freddie pulled a whopper about the Nerherlands' high speed line. But he saved his biggest howler for somewhere closer to the capital.

HS2, he asserted, was "planned to destroy great swathes of the beautiful Cotswolds". That would be news to those involved with HS2, which will go nowhere near the Cotswolds. It is, however, intended to pass through the Chilterns. Forsyth needs to remember that Dirty Des sent most of his sub-editors down the road, and that there is therefore nobody to correct his howlers]

Sun Thatcher Funeral Hypocrisy

The spinning of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral just keeps on going: after the revelation of the desperate efforts to fill St Paul’s Cathedral, and the right-leaning press assuring its readers of the supposedly huge numbers that had journeyed to London to line the route of the ceremonial procession, has now come the suggestion that the whole exercise cost a lot less than the £10 million figure previously pitched.

Obligingly trotting out the story, and claiming an exclusive, was the Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton-Dunn, proclaiming “Thatcher funeral cost just £3.6m – a THIRD of reported figure”. Yes, “The actual price of the Iron Lady’s ceremonial send-off has come in at a THIRD of the £10million figure bandied around by her left wing enemies” [my emphasis].

He goes on “Several left leaning national newspapers plastered the erroneous £10m sum over their front pages 48 hours after Lady T’s death on April 8”. And how many “left leaning national newspapers” are there? Just because the Guardian and Independent don’t subscribe to the Sun’s rabid right agenda does not make them “left leaning”. Fact is, there is only one such title – the Mirror.

And the Mirror did indeed put the £10 million figure on its front page. But Newton-Dunn and his political soulmates are being disingenuous here: what about the multiple gun salute? What about the whole area being swept by the security forces before the big day? What about Young Dave’s premature recall of Parliament? And did any of those attending have any travel and hotel costs paid?

There are other costs associated with the funeral, too, such as all the road closures and barriers, as well as the ceremony the previous evening in Parliament. So, although it suits the Sun to get in first with its £3.6m figure, this will not be the final cost. But what of these “left-wing enemies” who have been putting the £10 million figure out there?

Well, one article told that it would be “extraordinary” not to spend that amount, and cited 10 Downing Street as a source. This was in the well-known hotbed of socialist realism called the Telegraph. Maybe this is an isolated occurrence? Maybe not: “a reported figure of £10 million” was bandied about by another less than obviously leftist media outlet, the Daily Mail, not once but twice.

And the paper going for “the reported £10 million cost of the ceremonial funeral” and then quoting someone saying “David Cameron has decided to spend £10 million on a funeral” without countering either assertion is none other than, er, the Sun. Yes, Newton-Dunn’s own paper allied itself with Mrs T’s “left wing enemies”. That’s one clueless political editor standing in a very draughty glasshouse.

The Super Soaraway Currant Bun, where hypocrisy comes as standard.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Rival Royal Charter Rat Smell No Shock Horror

Whenever there is a run of bad news, the Fourth Estate and its obedient supporters can be relied upon to bring a little unintended hilarity to proceedings. So forget for a moment the miserable GDP figures as we laugh along to the Rival Royal Charter. This will be superior to the already agreed Royal Charter, because the papers have had it written and their pundits bloody well say so.

So that’s it, is it? Ah well. What all those crowing that the Hacked Off campaign has been sidelined have not realised is that the Royal Charter they don’t like has been agreed by all political parties and is well on its way to getting Brenda’s signature. The rival Royal Charter, devised on behalf of the Murdoch, Rothermere and Barclay Brothers’ titles, has yet to be taken forward.

Moreover, the press setting up the system of self-regulation, far from being a snub to Lord Justice Leveson, is exactly what he envisaged. But let’s look at what is proposed. Proof against political interference? Er, that’s what happened with the now discredited PCC. The recognition panel looks similar to the original. But then comes the Board, and here is the blatant stitch-up.

There will be a “press guarantee” on appointments to the board. This sounds suitably grand. But what it means is that the likes of Paul Dacre can veto anyone they don’t want, for instance, oh I dunno, Brian Cathcart, Evan Harris, Hugh Grant, and anyone else who has expressed any sympathy for the Hacked Off campaign. This is just a souped-up PCC, and the press is having a laugh.

And, as the man said, there’s more: it seems no third party complaints will be accepted. Put directly, that means Jan Moir can get away with another hatchet job like the one she did on Stephen Gately, while the Mail can continue to manufacture complaints against broadcasters. Corrections will apparently be given “due prominence”, which means Dacre and his pals can keep them off the front page.

As for the low-cost arbitration service provided by the new regulator, to no surprise this is being downgraded to “optional”, with the distinct possibility that it will be quietly dropped. So it’s back to papers dishing out routine defamation, only backing down to those who have the means to sue them, and even then only yielding at the door of the court – which is what happened with the PCC.
Not surprisingly, the obedient attack doggies of the Fourth Estate, and those who have sold out to it, think this is A Very Good Thing. Tim Luckhurst has gone further: “the press fights back ... democracy protected” he Tweeted. Yes, refusing to accept the will of our democratically elected Parliament is, in his mind, a protection of democracy. And he wonders why some think he’s a clueless meathead.

This is a sham. It’s a thinly veiled reheating of the PCC. And it’s not good enough.

Cameron’s Peevish Tanni Howler

Young Dave has a habit of indulging in a little payback, and sometimes the public aren’t fussed enough to find adversely on this behaviour, such as when he and the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, vetoed the prospect of Pa Broon getting the IMF berth that eventually went to Christine Lagarde. But Cameron’s peevish behaviour got the better of him last week.

The top job at Sport England was up for grabs, and one of the candidates was Tanni Grey-Thompson, former Paralympic multiple gold medal winner and for so many years a familiar face at the London Marathon. She sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. Her appointment would have sent out a very positive message regarding the Government’s stance on disability.

But she had also passed severely adverse comment on that same Government’s moves to reform disability benefits, and so, when the decision came to be confirmed by Cameron, he vetoed any prospect of her being appointed. This has not gone down well, even with a usually supportive press. Nor has Young Dave’s attempt at bodyswerving. And nor should the spin.

The way the appointment of Nick Bitel, rather than Tanni Grey-Thompson, is being spun is to suggest that he, as CEO of the London Marathon, had proved that he was capable of running a significantly sized business. Therefore there was nothing to read into his selection, nothing to see, and all concerned should duly move right along. And this is what is now unravelling.

We can see just how consistent this approach is when compared to previous sports personalities who have gone on to take charge of major organisations and projects, such as, oh I dunno, Seb Coe, who became chairman of the London Olympic bid more or less by accident – and without anyone claiming he did not possess the requisite commercial acumen.

Nor has his previous lack of management experience stopped Coe from gaining further employment from FIFA and the British Olympic Association (BOA), and fair play to him. But his CV before 2004, when put alongside Tanni Grey-Thompson’s, differs in terms of his five years as an MP, and that he got his big break when Tone was at 10 Downing Street.

Blair was not put off by Coe having been a Tory. But Cameron has clearly jibbed at giving the nod to someone who has criticised his Government, to the extent that he twice evaded direct questions in the Commons on the issue this week, and has attempted lame spin rather than coming clean. His peevish and petty behaviour has already been rumbled, and it is a move he will come to regret.

Disabled voters are one group that the Tories just lost. Until their next leader.

Conspiracy? Nah, Diamond Geezer!

Those who think that excusing those charged with criminal offences is the stuff of 60s films (one of the crims in The Italian Job being described as “he’s just done four years in Parkhurst and you can trust him”) or satire (the Pythons’ Dinsdale Piranha, who nailed people’s heads to coffee tables but “was a lovely man ... he bought his mother flowers and that”) may have to think again after yesterday’s events.

Royal Editor for the Super Soaraway Currant Bun Duncan Larcombe has been charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, along with a Sandhurst colour sergeant and his wife. It is alleged that payments totalling £23,000 were made by the Sun for Royal or Sandhurst related stories over a three year period. But Larcombe’s fellow hacks are not in the least ashamed at the news.

After the Guardian’s Lisa O’Carroll had Tweeted news of the charges, out came Larcombe’s fellow hacks not to suggest there had been any wrongdoing, but to praise him unequivocally. Neil Chandler of the Daily Star was typical, telling that “As I’ve said before, Duncan Larcombe is a top bloke”. Perhaps he was equally gushing about Larcombe’s former Screws contemporary Clive Goodman.

But Chandler’s comments were mild when compared to those of John Troup, who thundered “Thinking of my buddy Duncan Larcombe, thrown to the wolves by Murdoch’s lickspittles and now in the hands of Inspector Knacker’s Wehrmacht”. Yes, it’s always wrong for a hack to get charged, but not for all those unfortunate souls who over the years have been found guilty by the tabloids beforehand.
And note the hyperbolic Third Reich reference, just for good measure. Troup was not the only one thinking “wolves”, though, as Matthew Bell demonstrated: “Duncan Larcombe is an excellent journalist who should not be thrown to the wolves. I hope he gets the support he deserves”. That would be the kind of support that no hack on any paper wished Christopher Jefferies to have.

None of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet gave any sign that their sympathy for Larcombe was so at odds with the attitude that they and their fellow hacks had previously displayed to any of their targets. Larcombe being arrested and bailed well before being charged was A Very Bad Thing, but the McCanns being in limbo somewhere near Portimão was not.

And if you look at Bell’s Tweet, it has clearly been retweeted by none other than Russell Myers, the Mail On Sunday hack who obsessively pored over teenager Paris Brown’s Twitter feed just to dig up some dirt, before misleading her about his paper’s interest and then dumping on her via a front page splash. No doubt that kind of behaviour is also, to some, “excellent” journalism by a “top bloke”.

There are so many hacks who still don’t get it. No change there, then.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

TPA – Beer And Pub Hypocrisy

Rarely does even the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) manage the perfect storm of backing the rich against the poor, flagrant hypocrisy, and letting slip their alliances, but in their rush to put the boot in on Vince Cable over moves to bring in a code of practice for the pub trade they have scored a veritable triple crown, as well as demonstrating a total lack of understanding of the issues involved.

Most public houses in the UK are owned by either PubCos or brewers: these are commonly referred to as tied houses. Time was when the biggest brewers owned thousands of pubs, but under previous legislation they divested themselves of their holdings, and this, together with subsequent consolidation in the sector, has brought us to where we are today with the PubCos.

PubCos are effectively property companies, and they have little interest in the product, other than imposing a set range of beers on their tenants. Under their less than benign stewardship, we now have a situation where almost half of all tied houses make less than £15,000 a year. Thus more tenants are giving up, and along with PubCos treating pubs only as property assets, this means more closures.

Cable has said “The government is committed to building a thriving pub sector”. He intends to accomplish this by curbing exploitative rents and beer prices. The TPA, which has just campaigned for a lowering of beer tax, and therefore lower beer prices, has now about-turned so it can kick the Government. Non-job holder Rory Meakin has reached for the hyperbole handbook and is talking of quangos.

Moreover, in backing the PubCos, the TPA is siding with rich corporates against those scraping a living and working long hours to do so. Having surveyed every pub in Crewe recently (the blog can be read HERE) I can tell the TPA that the town’s worst pubs are all under the thumb of the PubCo – and Meakin siding with Punch Taverns, the worst of the lot, is not A Very Clever Thing to do.

Echoing the TPA is Allister Heath, supposedly independent and editor of free sheet City AM, but in reality a TPA stooge, as he lets slip in an editorial. Heath wants to preserve every aspect of the PubCos’ exploitative behaviour, and then, like the TPA, asserts that pubs are “over-taxed”. So, like his pal Meakin, he wants to lower costs, but on the other hand, he, er, isn’t bothered about lowering costs.

And both Heath and his TPA pals fail to see that there is more than one kind of tied pub: some are still tied to brewers (such as Robinsons and Lees in the North West) and here the owner has an interest in retaining the property as an outlet for their products. The PubCos, on the other hand, have shown themselves to be malign bodies willing to cash in their assets rather than bother about serving communities.

Remember that the next time the TPA pretend to be on the side of beer drinkers.

Leveson – Attacks Continue

Last weekend’s attack on the integrity of the Leveson Inquiry by a tabloid press that has demonstrated very little of its own integrity of late was answered in part by Leveson himself, as I noted yesterday. This would never satisfy the hacks, because they are not interested in mere replies. They will not leave off until and unless they have at least one scalp.

The two papers that went after Leveson with such vigour, the Sun and Mail, have once again been in the vanguard, as the story of the relationship between David Sherborne and Carine Patry Hoskins has once again been held to mean that anything coming out of the Inquiry is now discredited. The Sun was first out of the blocks, claiming Leveson has “dismissed calls for a probe”.

He hasn’t, of course, but instead has replied to Tory MP Rob Wilson, who is apparently unaware that a collapse in the Lib Dem vote alone would see him on his way out of Reading East come 2015. Rupe’s downmarket troops call this “a surprise move”. So the Murdoch press is surprised when someone receives a letter making a request, and then gives the writer the courtesy of a reply. No surprise there.

Wilson was, in any case, not happy, because although Leveson had addressed the questions he put, he had thought up some more in the meantime. This was reinforced by a quote from Douglas “Kamikaze” Carswell, who condemned the judiciary for being “out of touch”. Carswell encourages parents to home school their children, not that it might mean they end up “out of touch”, of course.

But pride of place has to go to the Mail, where the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has no intention of letting go, especially as Sherborne made him look shifty and evasive under cross-examination (the Mail’s coverage is first and foremost an act of petty and vindictive retribution). So Dacre’s hacks have dreamed up “Twelve key questions Leveson lawyer lovers must answer.

The Mail’s editor shows by pursuing this matter that he has delusions of grandeur. Leveson and his senior counsel Robert Jay are accountable to the law of the land, not that laid down by the Vagina Monologue. And the Mail does its credibility no good at all as it over-eggs its pudding by describing Rob Wilson as a “senior MP. Wilson a “senior MP”? Don’t make me laugh.

It may also surprise Dacre to learn that he has no jurisdiction over the Bar Standards Board (BSB), although this body is also instructed to investigate Sherborne and Ms Patry Hoskins. Dacre urges this action not only because of his boiling resentment at Sherborne, but also because the latter represented Hugh Grant, whose suggestion that the Mail indulged in phone hacking so unsettled him.

Pursuit of vendettas is unlikely to impress the BSB. So there’ll be more attacks later.