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Friday 31 May 2013

Patrick Mercer – Where They Should Have Looked

Following the news that Patrick Mercer, no longer the Tory MP for Newark, and as I noted earlier, probably also persona non grata with local activists, had been the subject of an upcoming BBC Panorama edition on lobbying, everyone that didn’t see this story coming has, in a very short space of time, and to no surprise at all, become remarkably well-informed on the subject.
And leading the pack of the formerly clueless but now omnicogniscent is the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his odious gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, at the Guido Fawkes blog. Caught totally off guard this morning, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere have been Googling frantically to catch up. And they have come to an unequivocal conclusion.

A simple few clicks would have shown Mercer these were fake companies” asserts the Fawkes blog, having looked at the bona fides (or lack thereof) of two phony consultancies, one in Zürich and the other in Sydney, Australia. But that, for Mercer, is the whole problem: he is one of the least technologically literate MPs in the Commons. He has to get a chap to do that sort of thing for him.
Another fine technological mess ...

How can I be so sure? Well, unlike the less than dynamic duo at the Fawkes blog, I have referred to one person who knows the Mercer modus operandi all too well: step forward Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads fame, who discussed Mercer’s computer illiteracy back in September 2009: “Mercer’s refusal to use even a simple desktop computer is greatly hampering his work” he observed.

Well, now that lack of tech savvy has landed Mercer with a one-way ticket to the dump (geddit?!?) that is Nasty Smelling Brown Sticky Stuffsville. And another revelation that Tim Ireland made during a series of posts about Mercer means one of the MP’s past income streams is most unlikely to be reopened for his further benefit: his supposed expertise on terrorism and security matters.

Mercer made a most satisfying sum of money flogging this supposed expertise in the latter months of 2009 alone. Sadly, his “insider knowledge” depended at least partly on the joint and dubious talents of Glen Jenvey and Dominic Wightman, two individuals who cannot be trusted any further than they can be chucked. That association, as Ireland concluded, has probably cost Mercer his press credibility.

Wightman has also been in the vanguard of those trying to discredit Ireland by accusing him of stalking. Mercer could have intervened to stop that. He did not. Now he is on his way out. I should not have to remind The Great Guido and his increasingly rotund sidekick that Mercer is not the only Tory MP to favour this tactic as a means of avoiding inconvenient questions. Who else might that mean?

As the man said, you might wish to ask that. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Patrick Mercer – To Go

[Update at end of post]

Newark-on-Trent is geographically only a small part of the Newark constituency: much of the area is rural, with small villages and only Southwell and Bingham as its other urban areas. It is populated with the kind of people who readily identify as being “hard working taxpayers”. And what they have demonstrated they don’t like is politicians who appear to be on the make.
This matters in the immediate term, as Patrick Mercer, the seat’s Tory incumbent – until he resigned the party whip today – looks set to be exposed by a BBC Panorama edition dealing with lobbying. It’s all looking very Cash For Questions. And, having encountered some of the local Tory activists, I suspect they will not put up with Mercer refusing to budge until 2015. So we’re talking by-election here.

When Labour’s Fiona Jones was convicted of election fraud in 1999, even though this was overturned on appeal, the Newark electorate threw her out in 2001 in a larger than average swing against her party. Mercer might not stand again for the seat, but his remaining could taint the Tories, and that will only steel the local party to find a way to cause him to sling his hook.

So what are the prospects for a by-election outcome? Ah well. Normally, although Labour held Newark from 1950 to 1979, and from 1997 to 2001, the constituency should favour the Tories, especially after the town of Retford was moved to the adjacent seat of Bassetlaw for the 2010 General Election. But the two votes to watch will be that of the Lib Dems, and of course UKIP.

And, to get a clue as to how a by-election might go, we can look at this month’s County Council contest: Nottinghamshire is one of very few shire counties with a Labour majority administration. The area of the Newark constituency went mostly Tory, although Labour gained seats. There are no Lib Dem councillors in the Newark area, and no UKIP ones in the whole of Nottinghamshire.

This suggests neither party has much of an organisation or base in Newark. The Lib Dem 2010 vote of over 10,000 could well be “soft”: back in 2001 it was less than 6,000. UKIP would of course pour resources into a by-election contest, and they would take votes mainly from the Tories, but Labour has plenty of activists willing to have an away-day from Nottingham to support its campaign, too.

Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his pals lost their deposit last time. Mercer’s behaviour, and their ability to focus on a by-election, will help them do a lot better, but they won’t win. What they could do, given the recent local Election results, is to take enough of the Tory vote to let Labour in. That is the outside chance that local Tories will be fully aware of, but they won’t want Mercer to hang around.

Mercer says he’ll stand down in 2015. I doubt he’ll see this year out.

[UPDATE 4 June 1300 hours: as if to show that my doubt as to Mercer remaining MP for Newark is right, the Observer has reported that he may face a Police investigation under the 2010 Bribery Act.

That would be most unfortunate, as if this comes to pass, Mercer would have little alternative but to resign his seat. The electorate would not be at all amused if he were investigated, but decided to hang on. This is not the kind of news Young Dave will want to hear, because it would take the timing of the subsequent by-election out of the Tories' hands.

So all we're waiting for now is the MP mentioned by the Obs to make the complaint]

Gove In Draughty Glasshouse

You can tell when the politicians write their own copy without having someone from out there in The Real World (tm) look it over first: like Lyndon Johnson’s speech on economics, it feels real hot to them, but nobody else seems to notice. LBJ’s metaphor, of course was that it felt “like pissing down your leg”, and the latest clueless member of the wet leg club is Michael “Oiky” Gove.
Oiky” has selected Mil The Younger as his target, and having been given a platform by the Maily Telegraph, has proclaimed that the Labour leaderis a blancmange in a hurricane”. Gosh, how “Oiky” must have kersnicked and spabbed himself silly after penning that. Sadly, as few people nowadays have even seen a blancmange, let alone consumed one, he need not have bothered.

What is worse for Gove is that he then gives the game away before getting to the body of his article. “Labour’s leader is weak, indecisive, lacks clarity, and has turned his party into a vacuum” he bleats, no more than a fortnight after telling thatOne of the great things that Ed Miliband has done is he has welcomed genuine intellectual thought rather than arid exercises in political positioning as part of his policy review”.

The apparent volte face is for one reason, and one alone: Gove is trying to get Labour to give him and his pals something to aim at. And Miliband is not going to oblige him. So there has to be screaming denunciation in a desperate attempt to force him to bend to the Tories’ will. But Miliband, as I’ve said before, is a calm and calculating individual, and “Oiky” won’t move him.

Gove reels off a list of all the allegedly wonderful things the Coalition has done: these include “repatriated European powers, freed millions from dictatorship, created a million new private sector jobs”. This is total crap: nobody has been freed from dictatorship, no powers have been repatriated, and Governments by definition do not create jobs in the private sector. He’s a mere flim-flam artist.

So why say so? Simples. This is following Andy Coulson’s intervention, urging the Tories to “push [Miliband] to take positions”. Gove follows Coulson right down to saying “look – Ed Balls! Scary or what!” as an attempt to get readers to “look over there”. But “Oiky” does manage to work the spirit of Margaret Thatcher into his copy, although, sadly, this too unravels in short order.

Just last month, Miliband presented himself as a disciple of Margaret Thatcher” he tells. This is not even partly true, and he manages to forget that Mrs T kept the policy stuff deliberately vague when in opposition. There was no need for her to give Jim Callaghan an opportunity to deflect from his own problems. Miliband is taking a similar path. Gove is unhappy about that. And that’s his problem.

The reality is that he and his party have nothing to say, except to kick others.

IDS – You’re A Hypocrite

There is no politician better at working themselves into a righteous froth of faux outrage than Iain Duncan Cough (for it is he). His carefully crafted explosion of rage at those who – rightly – doubt his protestations of past penury has now been repeated as he has joined all the other witless Tories and expropriated the language of UKIP to try and play victim while attacking the hated EU.
Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his pals love to tell anyone who will listen that the EU, which they assert is “unaccountable” and “undemocratic” (where did Nige get elected to in 2009? Best not ask, eh?), is wont to undertake “power grabs”. Yes, “Brussels” just comes along and grabs things. And the UK is “constantly being outvoted”, although the last time I challenged a UKIP supporter for evidence, it went all quiet.

So yesterday IDS went to outflank Farage and his pals, telling anyone who would listen that the EU was making a “land grab. It was? Whose land was it grabbing? Was an invasion force on the way? Were we about to be overrun by dastardly foreigners not speaking English and eating meals made with alien ingredients like fresh vegetables? Well, whatever it was, he was going to fight it.

Thus the supposedly Quiet Man was going to see off the dreaded Eurocrats, or maybe not: as with so much about the Tories and the EU, we are not being told the full story. As I pointed out yesterday, nobody is going to be stepping off the plane only to fetch up soon afterwards at the nearest payout window to fill their boots with benefits. IDS is not being totally honest (again).

UK citizens are free to live and work in any member state of the EU, and over two million of them do just that, with around 750,000 in Spain alone. IDS has not registered any objection to that, and neither have his pals in the press. The flip side is that citizens of other EU member states are free to live and work likewise, with many gravitating to Germany, France ... and the UK.

That’s part of the Single Market. We signed up to that – nobody forced us, and “Brussels” did not tell us to. And access to the benefits system – in every member state – is part of that. So UK citizens living abroad benefit again, but there’s no fanfare about that, either. We don’t take any notice of Johnny Foreigner complaining about Brits being allowed to undertake a “land grab” elsewhere.

And what IDS is not telling us is that Swanbourne Home Farms, part owned by his son and with his wife as a trustee, has over the past ten years trousered more than €1.5 million (over £1.25 million) in EU funds. What was that about land grabs? IDS is more than happy for his family to work the system for their benefit, but a Portuguese farm worker in the UK falling on hard times? Shove off back to the Alentejo, pal.

What you will not read in all those righteous editorials. No change there, then.

Thursday 30 May 2013

Andy Coulson’s Having A Laugh

There is a bizarre media fascination with some who have fallen from grace: despite his having been editor of the now-defunct Screws when it was happily listening in to voicemails on an industrial scale, and more recently charged with perjury in relation to the Tommy Sheridan trial at which he gave evidence, Andy Coulson retains an ability to fascinate those in the right-leaning commentariat.
So the news that the man who willingly did business with Jonathan Rees (among others) has given an interview to GQ magazine has caused some of the more easily persuaded to sit up and take notice. Perhaps they also believe that men used to buy Playboy magazine mainly for the articles.

Even the mainstream press – well, Mail Online, anyway – has been taken in by Coulson’s “advice” to Young Dave. “Can SamCam save Dave? Ex-Tory spin doctor Andy Coulson says the Prime Minister's wife must join election battle” readers are told. Whoopee-do. Party leader uses wife as electoral asset. Bet nobody ever thought of that one before Andy did.

But Will Heaven over at the Telegraph thinks Coulson’s intervention is the real deal. “Speak to Tories who worked with Andy Coulson and they tell you he's the sort of guy who ‘sees around corners’ – who's able to spot the brewing political story before it blows up”. Er, so? “So I've been reading his explosive article in GQ magazine, which made headlines yesterday”. Made headlines? I blinked and missed them.

And what’s “explosive” about such insights as Bozza wants Dave’s job? Has Will looked seriously at this article? Here’s what Coulson says about Mil The Younger: “The prime minister must push him to take positions ... challenge him to take a view on the tricky issues opposition politicians love to duck”. I may be wrong here, but I reckon Cameron can figure that one out without prompting.

What is also all too obvious is that Coulson is guessing when it comes to Miliband: “I'm struck by how detached the opposition front bench appears to be from their leader…I just don't think they rate him very much” means he’s guessing, and “Labour's Two Eds dislike each other and each thinks he is smarter than the other” means he is still guessing.

And anyone wanting Cameron to bring back Liam Fox, who is permanently damaged goods, is not dealing from a full deck (although in this case, Coulson would have all the opposition front bench agreeing with him). It’s all too clear that this is the work of someone who has been out of the loop for a long time, and hasn’t been kept up to date by any of the people who really matter.

But if those out there on the right want to believe this is winning advice, then I’m all in favour of them believing that. Meanwhile, Miliband is ordering yet more popcorn.

EU Benefits Row No Shock Horror

As if anyone needed to know how clueless the Tories are on the issue that is causing them to scrap like ferrets in a sack once again, along comes an argument over something EU related to put them straight – and remind them how most of the Fourth Estate is incapable of mentioning the subject without descending into a jibbering froth. What has caused the latest outrage is benefits.
There is supposed to be a standard EU-wide test for deciding whether nationals from other member states are entitled to claim benefits. The argument is over the allegation that the UK is imposing an additional test, and it is being suggested that this is denying benefits to many who are entitled to them – like child tax credit, which, hacks take note, is an in-work benefit.

The whole business could end up in the European Court of Justice (ECJ), but the European Commission (EC) ruling has not been made public, so that is all we know thus far. But the press cannot merely report what is known and exercise patience, when there is EU bashing to do, and neither can the more excitable elements in the Tory Party, which apparently now include Iain Duncan Cough.

Anyone who gets off a plane will be able to start claiming benefits immediatelya Government source has told the Mail (so remember, foreign speaking folks, don't use ferries or the tunnel if you want handouts), which, alongside a photo of Duncan Cough, who says “he will not 'cave in' to the European Commission”, gives readers a pretty obvious hint as to the source.

And the language is loaded: “claim benefits when they arrive ... people arriving in the UK to ‘rinse’ the benefits system ... will not be dictated to by Europe ... benefits tourism”. And the Mail signs off with the priceless “The meddling of unelected figures in UK immigration rules is also likely to provoke public fury”. Yeah, like Paul Bloody Dacre and his hacks. And their pals at the Express.

The news is sure to put additional pressure on the Prime Minister”, observes Dirty Des’ supposedly upmarket title. But what neither title is letting its readers know is that this whole business just underlines the mentality that takes all the upsides of the EU for granted and then carps about everything else. Indeed, while the outrage is being stoked up on benefits, one other story is going almost unreported.

Fortunately, the BBC has picked up on a dispute concerning Spanish health services not always honouring the EU “Health Card”. The EU stepping in to defend visitors from other member states – ten million a year from the UK alone – receives no shock horror treatment, and, it seems thus far, no newspaper coverage at all. No objection is raised to EU action when the boot is on the other foot.

What you will not read in most papers today. No change there, then.

Lucy Meadows – Shame Of The Local Press

Following the comments by coroner Michael Singleton at the inquest into transsexual schoolteacher Lucy Meadows, who took her own life in March, which excoriated the behaviour of the press, with the Daily Mail and their unfunny and talentless churnalist Richard Littlejohn attracting most of the opprobrium, the activity of the nationals has come under the spotlight once again.
And, while it is only right that the intrusive reporting, especially by the Mail, and also by the Murdoch Sun, receives severely adverse comment, one paper has thus far managed to get away with it. This is quite an achievement, given that the title concerned is the one that started the ball rolling in the first place: step forward the Accrington Observer, and reporter Stuart Pike.

One might have thought, reading the paper’s report of the coroner’s comments, that they were a disinterested third party, reporting the deeds of the national press while keeping well out of it. They were not: the Accrington Observer was the paper that broke the story, such as it was, in December. Pike’s article is dated December 19, the same as those in the Mail and Sun.

In it, he goes over the same ground which would be shamelessly mined by the nationals: the heading, “School's letter to parents tells them male teacher will return to class as a woman after Christmas”, says it all. Everything the tabloids needed – the location of the school, all the names, the outraged parent – was in that one article. Only then did this story take off.

The Mail time-stamps its online copy: their original article is timed at 1333 hours on the same day that the Accrington Observer ran Pike’s article. The Sun would have either taken its cue from the local title, or lifted the Mail’s effort, adding a number of flourishes to suit its own inimitable style. And during the afternoon, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre would send word to Littlejohn.

Only after that did the Sage Of Vero Beach take a break from lounging poolside at his gated compound to pen the column which the Mail has tried its damndest to erase from the narrative, but over which it spent over two months before offering to remove the online version. And it was the Accrington Observer’s coverage of Ms Meadows’ death that gave the nationals their cue.

The paper’s report was timed 1524 hours on March 21. The Mail’s online copy is timed 1933 hours. Only when the coroner criticised the press did the Accrington Observer follow the nationals. Yet we are repeatedly told that local titles do not indulge in the kind of bad behaviour that led to the Leveson Inquiry being set up, and that it would be unfair to include them in any new system of press regulation.

The Accrington Observer shows that, as ever, it’s not quite that simple.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Letts Skip To The Prune Course

Just occasionally, the Mail’s odious Parliamentary sketchwriter Quentin Letts (let’s not) tries to be a little too clever, and ends up painting a very different picture to the one he intended. Today’s example has come as he enthusiastically talks up the humble prune – yes, the fruit all too often served with custard which is purported to keep one regular – but also reveals his less than worldly side.
Harry Potter and the Gobshite of Arslikhan

Quent clearly understands that much of his audience does not like prunes. He therefore reels off a number of food and drink combinations where they can be of supposed benefit, as part of his sales drive. “You can have prunes with lamb, prunes with pork, prunes with pheasant — they make it less dry — and prunes with hare or rabbit” he gurgles enthusiastically.

He goes on (but you knew that anyway): “Pudding looms? Why not prune tart or prune crumble, or prunes stewed in Vouvray? Good drop of stuff, Vouvray”. Yes, Quent, most of us do know about Vouvray, especially the sparkling variety, which is a far safer bet than risking a budget Champagne for your celebration, with the possibility that it will, technically speaking, be crap.

But Vouvray is not the only alcoholic beverage on the Letts menu: “before bed there are worse fates than a tumbler of cheap ‘marc’ brandy with a prune floating to the bottom like a depth charge. The prune somehow civilises the fiery drink”. A “tumbler”? How large a “tumbler” would that be? A half pint one? Rather him than me. And marc is not brandy, as he ought to know.

I will explain. Brandy is produced from grape must, in other words, the juice that comes from inside the skin of the fruit. Marc (the French term: it’s Grappa in Italy, Tsikoudia in the Greek Islands and Bagaceira in Portugal) is distilled from the skin and other leftovers from the wine or brandy making process. It definitely isn’t brandy, and as for consuming it by the tumbler, well, I’ll pass on that one, thanks.

True, there are very good examples of this spirit (let’s hear it for the excellent Bagaceira São Domingos), but a lot of it is wince-inducing, even when diluted with a mixer (says someone who’s been to both Crete and Santorini). One hates to think that Quent might have a problem with the falling-over water, but, it seems, all roads on the Letts prune patrol come back to the subject of drinksh.

Hungover? You stagger into the kitchen first thing in the morning, peer into your fridge, and find yourself being twinkled at by a big bowl of these desiccated dollops of deliciousness” he enthuses. The thought enters that someone has developed a habit for this mildly laxative fruit as a result of some other habit. As to the identity of the latter, you might wish to speculate, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Bit of a giveaway there, Quent. Some hacks still spell Lunchtime with a capital, eh?

The Shaky Spectator

Those of a right-leaning persuasion are nowadays adept in their ability to contrast the relative fortunes of the Spectator and Staggers: the latter is instantly held to be an economic basket case, kept afloat only by generous external intervention, while the former, true to free market orthodoxy, is profitable even in these straitened times, thus demonstrating the superiority of the right.
Fraser Nelson

If only it were so straightforward: as the latest foray of the increasingly right-wandering and over-provocative Rod Liddle has showed, there is something that Fraser Nelson and his band of contributors are not being totally transparent about, and that is the corner-cutting that seems to have been done in order to lower the magazine’s cost base. I will explain.

Liddle, whose most notable recent achievement was the glorious failure of his attempt to become editor of the Independent, felt the need to comment on the killing of an off-duty soldier in Woolwich last week. The world had to hear the wise words of the great Rod. So he opined that the alleged attackers wereblack savages”, before concluding that Islam was not a religion of peace.

Evan Harris has today noted that there were clear breaches of the PCC code here – that being the kind of voluntary self-regulation that Nelson, as well as many mainstream editors, favours – and that this should have been obvious to writer, sub-editor and editor. He is being too generous to the Speccy: my reading is that Liddle was allowed to publish this without anyone else intervening.

And that makes the whole process so much more cost-effective (I’m quite willing to accept the counter-argument, that there were sub-editor and editor present, but then, Nelson would have to explain how both came to be so inept as to let Liddle’s rant through). Liddle has, after experiencing severely adverse reaction to his description, removed the word “black” and apologised.

Zelo Street regulars may by this point experience a sense of déjà vu: this incident follows that “Andrew Marr’s Mystery Lady” quiz, which was aborted by another Speccy regular, “Mr Steerpike”, an alias of the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole, who Nelson has made a “contributing editor”. That suggests that Cole is also allowed to publish his dubiously sourced copy directly.

The dangers inherent in allowing pretend journalists that level of privilege should be screamingly obvious – well, to anyone except Fraser Nelson. If properly trained hacks like Rod Liddle can foul up, just think of the potential damage that a combination of ignorance and overconfidence could achieve. But I have no problem with what the Speccy is apparently doing.

After all, the prospects for more Spectator sport are indeed excellent.

The Mail And Lucy Meadows – As Predicted

Very few media outlets have reported the remarks by coroner Michael Singleton at the inquest into the death of transgender teacher Lucy Meadows: apart from the deeply subversive Guardian, just the HuffPost UK and the BBC have articles on yesterday’s events. And then there has been a piece in the Mail, alone among the mass-market tabloids. Oh what a giveaway!
What's f***ing wrong with being selective, c***?!?

And as I predicted yesterday, the principal thrust of the Mail copy is to excuse its previous behaviour. After starting with “A coroner yesterday criticised Press coverage of how primary school children were told their male teacher was returning to school as a woman”, the defensive mood soon enters, using Ms Meadows’ suicide note, which does not specifically name any paper, as a get-out clause.

There is also deflection, by citing one parent at the school where Ms Meadows taught “saying his three sons at the school were ‘too young to be dealing with that’”. The parent concerned should know that, when the press turn up to quiz him, the Mail will claim it’s nothing to do with them. The legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre is only interested in selling his vision. Collateral damage is someone else’s problem.
What editor and pundit will never live down

The Mail article does mention the hatchet job executed by Richard Littlejohn, and that Ms Meadows complained to the PCC about it, but, as ever, the recollection of Dacre’s obedient hacks is partial in the extreme. That there was a resolution to the complaint is not the point: it took the Mail well over two months just to offer to remove the online version of the offending column.

Whether the Littlejohn article was actually removed before Ms Meadows was found dead is unclear: it would have been a mightily close-run thing. And the idea that the Mail bears no responsibility for what happened to Lucy Meadows is not shared by the coroner – not that the Mail is telling its readers anything about that. Michael Singleton has written what is called a Rule 43 letter to the Culture Secretary.

What that? Here’s the wording: “Where ... a coroner is holding an inquest into a person’s death ... the evidence gives rise to a concern that circumstances creating a risk of other deaths will occur, or will continue to exist, in the future; and ... in the coroner’s opinion, action should be taken to prevent the occurrence or continuation of such circumstances, or to eliminate or reduce the risk of death created by such circumstances ... the coroner may report the circumstances to a person who the coroner believes may have power to take such action”.

Singleton has obviously concluded that the actions of the press could result in a repeat of the Lucy Meadows tragedy further down the line, and considers the matter to be serious enough to notify the relevant Government minister.

He means you, Paul Dacre. What you will not read in the Daily Mail any time soon.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Lucy Meadows – Mail Get-Out Clause

Regular Zelo Street readers will need no introduction to the tragic story of Lucy Meadows, the transgender teacher monstered by the press following the leaking of a letter from her school telling parents that one of their staff would be transitioning to live as a woman. Ms Meadows was then subjected to a characteristically crude hatchet job by Richard Littlejohn.
What's f***ing wrong with monstering a few oddballs, c***?!?

Dicky Windbag would not be my first port of call when it came to expertise on such matters, but then, actually knowing your subject is not the name of the game when it comes to the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his motley collection of attack doggies. What matters is to have that all-important conversation with his readers, and that conversation means telling that trans equals not normal.

Since Ms Meadows took her own life, Dacre has been gradually rowing back on the hostility towards trans people, notably publishing an article by trans author Jane Fae about her experiences, which was at least a step in the right direction. And Littlejohn has been silent on the whole business, which is a further bonus. But, as ever with the Mail, no heads rolled after Lucy Meadows died.

Perhaps Dacre thought that if he threw a few scraps to the trans community and otherwise got his hacks to keep their heads down, all would be well and the protestors would melt away. But he reckoned without Michael Singleton, the coroner who has been charged with investigating Lucy Meadows’ death, whose message to the press was as unequivocal as it was hostile.

To the members of the press, I say shame. Shame on all of you” he began, and went on “Lucy Meadows was not somebody who had thrust herself into the public limelight. She was not a celebrity. She had done nothing wrong. Her only crime was to be different. Not by choice but by some trick of nature. And yet the press saw fit to treat her in the way that they did”.

He was particularly harsh on the Mail, concluding the paper had “sought to humiliate and ridicule” Ms Meadows. “It seems to be that nothing has been learned from the Leveson inquiry”, he went on, adding that he would write to the Culture Secretary urging implementation of the Leveson recommendations (the Mail only removed the Littlejohn column from its website after Ms Meadows’ death had been announced).

But the Mail has a get-out clause: the teacher “had made no reference to the media intrusion in one of the suicide notes she left in her house”. So Dacre and his doggies will be able to claim victim status once more, sickening though that might be. That, though, is how the tabloid mindset works. There will also be talk of the Mail only repeating what had already been published locally.

And so the whole nasty business will go on to the next victim. No change there, then.

Help For Heroes Bans Racist Morons

The remaining hacks at the appallingly downmarket Daily Star must have been collectively gutted last night: the English Defence League (EDL), that bastion of collective and apparently terminal stupidity which they had championed for so long, was at last called out, by the charity Help For Heroes, which declared it would not accept money raised by EDL Obergruppenführer Tommy Robinson.
Someone's brain hurts. If it's plugged in

Robinson appears to have been genuinely taken aback by the rejection, the decision having been made on the grounds that the EDL was judged to be a political organisation. He has blamed the news on “political correctness”, but it was not so long ago that he was openly talking up fielding candidates at elections and challenging the major parties.

Indeed, the Daily Star ran an all too sympathetic articleEDL To Go Political” in February 2011, where its leader said of its party political ambitions “We aren’t ruling it out. I think this country needs a party that’s not afraid to say things some would consider unpopular”. His party would outlaw the Qur’an: “They have got a responsibility to sort out their religion. They have to reform their religion so it fits in”.

The article then riffed on the idea that Robinson should participate in a future broadcast of BBC Question Time, which, it was suggested, would enjoy popular support. The piece signed off with the now infamous line “In the Daily Star phone poll yesterday, 98% of readers said they agreed with the EDL’s policies”, whatever those were. Robinson has no room for protest at his exclusion.

And if anyone needs to “reform” so they “fit in”, it is not followers of The Prophet, but the EDL: the organisation has been caught in the past week attempting entryism and indulging in neo-Nazi behaviour, and both are bang out of order. What was billed as a walk through Bristol in aid of Help For Heroes was apparently hijacked by the organisation and later stopped by riot Police on Saturday.

Then a so-called “demonstration” in London featured a number of EDL supporters giving unambiguous straight-arm salutes, this following a gathering in Newcastle-on-Tyne where Robinson welcomed on stage a speaker who opined that someone should “send the black c***s home”, which was enthusiastically applauded. The “non-racist” veneer has well and truly peeled off.

That Help For Heroes has whipped the rug from under the EDL is welcome, but it is disturbing that it took so long for someone to call them out. Worse, this convocation of intolerance, racism and idiocy has been indulged by too many at the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate in their desperate scrabbling for sales. Richard “Dirty” Desmond, for one, should hang his head in shame.
Because what the Daily Star did was certainly not a Benchmark Of Excellence.

Mail Ramps Up Cam Attack

As if the purely coincidental (and not coordinated at all, oh no) attacks on Young Dave in the Mail and Sun yesterday were not enough, the attack on Cameron for having the audacity to take a bank holiday break with his family has continued today with an assault from the Mail’s tedious and unfunny churnalist Richard Littlejohn, whose memory is clearly not as long as mine.
Muslims, Guv? Issa crisis, innit?!?

So Dicky Windbag, rather than recalling the grievous error of Alf Robens, who went to be installed as a University chancellor the afternoon after a spoil tip filled with waste from the industry he was supposed to be running buried the village of Aberfan and killed 144, most of them children, has homed in on then Labour PM Jim Callaghan and his trip abroad during the so-called Winter of Discontent.

This requires the story of early 1979 to be creatively retold to make Callaghan’s error look really bad, so readers are told that petrol pumps ran dry, which they did not. And Cameron has not gone off to the Caribbean, but Ibiza, which is little more than two hours away by air, or rather closer to the corridors of power than had he piled off to the Hay Festival, held just over the Welsh border right now.

Nevertheless, Dicky Windbag is sure that Cameron and family should not have gone off to Ibiza, because there is outrage at last week’s killing: “That outrage ... is not confined just to the perpetrators. It is also directed at a complacent political class which not only allowed but encouraged Islamist extremism to flourish in Britain”. And there he slips another whopper into his copy.

And, as the man said, there’s more: “the police and the Funny People do have questions to answer. So this isn’t a time when the Prime Minister should be seen to go missing”. He ain’t missing, Dicky boy. But do go on. “The Bomber Command memorial has been desecrated. Mosques are being attacked. This is getting uglier by the day” pleads The Sage Of Vero Beach.

Is the Bomber Command memorial sacred ground? If it isn’t, then a graffiti attack, which has probably been cleaned off by now, cannot be called “desecration”. That’s just hyperbolic nonsense. And Littlejohn couldn’t give a fig if mosques get trashed. Plus how is Cameron being in Downing Street going to make a jot of difference? Is he going to personally guard all these places?

Dicky Windbag’s blether is no better than the Sun’s claim that last week’s killing isthe biggest terror crisis since 7/7”. But he confirms, together with the Mail’s coverage of comments from the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq in 2004, that the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has spoken, and found Cameron’s behaviour does not meet the criteria laid down by Himself Personally Now.

So that’s another lame hate campaign that’s bound to fail. No change there, then.

Monday 27 May 2013

Mad Mel Meets Moderation

Since the Woolwich killing, it has taken a while for the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre to call on Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, but today the silence was broken, with another pointless and intemperate rant that concludes with the usual call to circumscribe civil liberties, although probably not for Herself Personally Now.
Not at all fair or balanced

And this isn’t her first utterance on the matter: last week she told anyone who would listen that the phrase “allahu akbar” was “a barbaric hallmark of Islamic terror”, rather than an integral part of prayer. In any case, one of the killers also freely quoted the words of Exodus and Leviticus, and as these books are part of the Old Testament, they are also present in the Torah.

Not, of course, that Mel will be accepting the barbaric hallmarks of both Judaism and Christianity. Instead, she waves away such thoughts by telling readers that the latter was subject to the Reformation, which made things better. What she doesn’t tell is that what followed the beginning of the Reformation was a series of routinely lethal conflicts that went on for around 130 years.

It’s the usual diet of initially reasoned discussion that progressively ratchets up to a stream of frothing hatred, accusing many Muslims of bigotry and intolerance while Mel dispenses her usual brand of, er, bigotry and intolerance. Where this kind of exercising power without responsibility ends up is not hard to deduce: for instance, a mosque in Grimsby was bricked and petrol-bombed over the weekend.

Fortunately, despite Mel’s incoherent and shaky reworking of history, and the predictable reaction from the likes of the EDL (another of their supposedly peaceful marches today has been punctuated by routinely heavy drinking, aggressive behaviour, and Nazi-style salutes), others have reached out across the cultural divide to bring moderation and calm to the situation.

When the EDL threatened to stage another of their demonstrations outside York Mosque, they were invited in for a cup of tea and a chat. Many locals turned up and were welcomed by members of the Mosque. A small number of EDL supporters remained outside and made their protest. Cups of tea were sent out to them. Some then ventured inside to talk. Raised voices were lowered.

This is not a difficult concept to grasp, and is vastly preferable to the aggressive and dishonest ranting from pundits who ought to be old and wise enough to know better. While the genuinely wise urge calm reconciliation, the likes of Mad Mel scream for hard-won human rights to be summarily removed, claiming knowledge of Islam which she clearly does not possess.

What was that about persuading hate preachers to stop their shouting? Just asking.

Mail Hack Demands Something For Nothing

Had Daily Mail hack Mark Palmer had a hassle-free journey from London’s King’s Cross terminus to the border town of Berwick-on-Tweed last Friday, nobody would have been any the wiser. Train operator East Coast would not have received so much as a note of thanks, let alone a feature in the paper. But because Palmer was delayed en route, all hell has broken loose.
Passengers packed into sweltering carriages, overflowing toilets, clueless staff and police called to quell a mutiny: My Bank Holiday nightmare on Britain's Third World railways which cost £125 a ticket for a 10-hour journey” whines the headline. Palmer had chosen to travel on the Friday evening of a bank holiday weekend. So the train would inevitably be rammed solid.

He complains that it took 40 minutes to find his reserved seat, but that is not the fault of East Coast: if he chose to board at the back of the train and then attempt to walk through, given the inevitable crush, that’s his lookout. But what of those delays? First, there was a problem requiring single line working – using the other track for a short distance. Yes, this occasionally happens.

Then there was another problem with a failed train. This also occasionally happens, and the delay could be reduced if more emergency locomotives (and crews) were in place en route. This would mean having to pay more for his ticket, as would putting on more trains to deal with the kind of crush that happens once or twice a week, being occasionally exacerbated by holiday weekends.

But Palmer is already whingeing about the cost of his ticket, as well as his piece dredging up photos that have nothing to do with his journey: the Virgin Trains’ Voyager set captioned “Every inch of space was occupied” does not run out of King’s Cross, and nor does the South West Trains Desiro set captioned “passengers are treated like fodder”. So the usual lazy photo editing once more.

We could do away with the crush, of course, and run Inter-City trains as they are run in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal: the maximum number of tickets sold is limited to the seating capacity of the train. So if there isn’t a seat, you don’t get on. But that would spark an outcry from those who demand trains offer carriage to those who turn up on spec. The Mail needs to make its mind up.

And HS2 – which Palmer mentions in an aside – will provide more track capacity not just to those going to Manchester, but also along the East Coast route that he travelled. In the meantime, if he and his editor want the railways to provide more staff, more backup, more coaches and more on-board facilities, then they should state the obvious: it will make rail travel yet more expensive.

Otherwise this is yet more pointless whingeing. No change there, then.

Super Soaraway Shame Campaign

Contrasting the behaviour of those in authority with the suffering of ordinary people is nothing new, the most memorable example perhaps being when the then head of the National Coal Board, Alf Robens, was snapped in his robes being installed as chancellor of the University of Surrey, just after a spoil tip had buried the village of Aberfan, killing 116 children and 28 adults. He never lived it down.
Contrast cheap attempt to stoke resentment ...

That kind of faux pas became something that politicians and business leaders sought to avoid, if only because it was bad for the image of those wanting to continue climbing the greasy pole. The Fourth Estate, on the other hand, is all in favour of catching those same people in any situation that suggests insensitivity, especially if they are trying to push the “weak leadership” meme.

So it is that the Murdoch Sun, which has been cooling towards Young Dave of late, plastering Cameron and wife Sam all over today’s front page, and deliberately contrasting their holiday in Ibiza with the suffering of the family of Lee Rigby, the soldier killed in Woolwich last week. The suggestion is clearly that the Prime Minister should still be hard at work in 10 Downing Street.
... with a genuine slice of shameful stupidity

But hang on a minute: while Cameron deserves all the stick he gets about “chillaxing”, there are limits to the amount of use any leader can be to the situation. He already rushed back from Paris last week, and in the process was then slagged off by those who played the other side of the field and therefore asserted that the PM couldn’t do any good by such gestures, so must be cynically exploiting the situation.

He visited Woolwich, meeting soldiers at the barracks where the victim was stationed, and also met with the local MP. He was supported in this by London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who made himself useful by urging calm. So both these pillars of the Tory firmament gave the matter their urgent and immediate attention – what Alf Robens failed to do.

What else can he do? The proliferation of digital camera technology means that his every move is going to be within range, with papers – like the Sun – more than willing to open their wallets, or even better, raid social media sites and get the images for nothing. Not all our leaders are as obsessed with work as Margaret Thatcher was, and nor should they be.

Even the Mail, among its trawling Twitter feeds and digging up archive photos of Ibiza, concedes that public opinion supports Cameron’s handling of the Woolwich killing. So it’s a bank holiday? So perhaps some of those hacks could get out from behind their screens and do some proper journalism for once. Busy CEO takes family holiday is not a shock horror story.

This is a non-story and it’s going nowhere. Keeps someone busy, though.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Delingpole Demands Pay Cut

Everyone involved with publicly funded organisations needs to do their bit to reduce costs in these straitened times, and James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole has bravely volunteered to do his bit, although perhaps without engaging brain before engaging Auto-Sneer and visiting the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs to complain that someone may be doing better than Himself Personally Now.

Not getting any more fair or balanced

Del Boy’s target is the hated BBC, and more specifically the scrapping of a project called the Digital Media Initiative, which was launched with the intention of making the Corporation videotape free, transferring all that content to an online archive from which staff could then download, access and edit as they wished. The project has spent £98 million with little return.

This appears to be a serious failure of both project management and overall management oversight, and incoming Director General (DG) Tony “Head Prefect” Hall, finding it in his In Tray, had little hesitation in pulling the plug. But because the BBC is funded mainly from the licence fee, the usual Beeb hating suspects have used the news to kick the Corporation.

These have, to no surprise at all, included Del Boy, who asserts that this “could only possibly happen in the fantastical parallel universe inhabited by public-sector institutions”. Many IT watchers and project managers will read that and slowly shake their heads: project overruns, re-scopings, and yes, failures are not limited to Government or other publicly funded bodies.

Moreover, before proclaiming that the licence fee must be scrapped, Del has not stopped to think which media organisation provides him with a significant amount of his income. That would be the one that regularly has him on The Big Questions, The Daily Politics, “Any Questions?”, and most recently Question Time, as well as a number of other money-generating cameos.

And that organisation just happens to be the BBC, without which Del Boy and all his fellow pundits would be left to scrabble around rather less of those musical chairs. If he thinks that replacement work would magically appear if the Beeb wasn’t there to do all the politics and punditry shows, he’s got another think coming. He would be better off putting more effort into his research instead.

Like what? Well, saying “that the man in charge of the NHS at the time of the Mid Staffs deaths is to retire”, for starters. David Nicholson was head of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority, not the NHS, and as has been pointed out, the number of deaths has been extrapolated from badly coded patient information. That standard of homework won’t get him a chair when the BBC music stops.

But it gives him a transient feeling of superiority, so that’s all right, then.

French Soldier Attacked – Let’s Jump To Conclusions!

As if all the masses of copy generated over the brutal killing of an off-duty soldier in Woolwich last Wednesday were not enough product for those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet, now has come another attack on a member of the military, this time in Paris. While it is too early to draw conclusions or parallels, this has not stopped the punditerati from piling in once more.

Grand Arche De La Défense, Paris

What is known is that the soldier was on patrol at the Grand Arche De La Défense station, an interchange between the Métro and suburban RER networks which also serves the nearby business district. He was with a number of colleagues: the circumstances were rather different to the Woolwich attack, where a lone soldier was apparently picked out, then run down and repeatedly knifed.

The group were approached from behind by one man who stabbed one of them with a short-bladed knife. The assailant was “said to be a bearded man of North African origin”. The blow apparently struck the target in the neck, with the attacker then running off into the nearest crowd before the other soldiers could react. It looks very much like an impulsive, opportunist attack.

Indeed, the French Interior Minister, asked to comment, observed “There are elements - the sudden violence of the attack - that could lead one to believe there might be a comparison with what happened in London. But at this point, honestly, let us be prudent”. Prudence? This is not what the Mail wants to hear, and so it has immediately declared it a “Woolwich copy-cat attack.

Moreover, the URL contains the phrase “jihab wearing maniac” (there’s no such thing as a “jihab”, and “hijab”, which the Mail may have been intending, is something worn by Muslim women, not men). The Mail also insists on asserting that the soldier had his throat “slashed” (the garment the attacker was wearing is more correctly described as a djellaba).

The Mail is not alone in ratcheting up the drama: the Telegraph also describes the incident as a “Woolwich copycat attack”, before telling readers that “France is considered a hotbed of radical Islamists”, so don’t bother doing that Paris city break this summer, folks. And it’s the same story in the Express, which also makes the “hijab” mistake when describing a male attacker.

All of which shows not only that there is some abysmal journalism out there (in the case of the Express coupled to the lack of sub-editors), but also the insistence in coupling an opportunist attack in Paris to a clearly pre-planned one in London. And for what? More cheap attempts to frighten readers and push the “scary Muslims” agenda. It must be a bank holiday weekend in England.

That’s when slow news days and slow hacks come together, folks.

Top Six – May 26

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

6 Tories Press Self Destruct Leadership rumours, splits, policy grumbles, having to depend on the opposition to get legislation through the Commons – and meanwhile, Labour can just order more popcorn.

5 Flight Emergency – Keep Up MSM By the time the papers and broadcasters had noticed the diversion of PIA Flight PK709 from Manchester to Stansted, and its escort by the RAF, some of the more nerdy types already had it figured out.

4 Guido Fawked – Bozier Not Charged The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog had been on the case of Luke Bozier, who had been arrested on suspicion of looking for sex with underage girls. But all that happened was that Bozier got a caution, so the Fawkes folks’ sniggering into their screens had got them nowhere. Another fine mess.

3 Woolwich – Flannelled Fool Speaks The odious Henry Cole, chief gofer to Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, took grave exception to the brutal killing of an off-duty soldier on the streets of Woolwich – initially because it rudely interrupted his siesta. What a selfish clown.

2 Woolwich – Let’s Jump To Conclusions After an off-duty soldier was run down and then killed, the press could have just printed what it knew. But there were so many gaps in the story. So in they all jumped. No surprise there.

1 Platell In Trouble? The Daily Mail’s appalling Glenda Amanda Platell went looking at child pornography as research for an article telling readers how terrible it was. But looking at that kind of thing is illegal, and the Met has since been in touch with the people at Northcliffe House.

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

Saturday 25 May 2013

Platell In Trouble?

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

One of my contacts emailed earlier today to alert me to a particularly cheap and sensationalist article being carried by Mail Online under the by-line of Amanda Platell, another of Dacre’s bevy of dubiously talented Glendas. I wouldn’t normally make a bee-line for Mandy’s routinely appalling copy, but was warned that she could have broken the law, had she done what she claims.
Another offensive image gets downloaded (sorry)

I will explain: the article, titled “My journey into the hell that is internet child porn: We asked AMANDA PLATELL to view the websites that twisted the mind of little Tia's killer”, follows the conviction of Stuart Hazell for the murder of 12-year-old Tia Sharp. The Mail not only campaigns against internet porn, which Hazell apparently viewed regularly, but also displays a strange fascination with it.

So Ms Platell has apparently been tasked with looking at some of this material. What qualifies her to perform the exercise is not told, and nor is the identity of the executive carrying the can for the whole business. This last is particularly important, as she has described in some detail how she viewed a 25 minute long video in which, so she says, a young girl was repeatedly sexually abused.

Indeed, she then describes “a tsunami of images of young girls and boys, being sadistically, repeatedly raped and forced to perform sex acts on men, all captured in sickening close-up”, so one has to assume she accessed a number of still photos, as well as at least one video, in the course of her “research”. And my contact was quite certain as to the consequences of such actions.

Put directly, this appears to satisfy the requirements of an offence called “Making child pornography”, the “Making” occurring when each image is downloaded onto the device from where it is then viewed. The only get-out would appear to be when a Police officer is present, and has instructed the user to carry out the downloading. But Platell’s article makes no mention of this.

Nor does she tell of any notice being given to the Police beforehand. So it appears that she has done sufficient to get herself on to the Sex Offenders’ Register. Think I’m jesting here? Well, there have been a number of complaints to the Police, and as the HuffPost UK has noted, the Met has advised that “Officers from the Specialist Crime and Operational Command unit are in liaison with the Daily Mail”.

That is the part of the force that deals with child pornography. And a complaint is a complaint is a complaint, not something which Dacre and his minions can shrug off by dismissing it as a mere Twitter campaign, as he did in his testimony to the Leveson Inquiry. This attempt to garner cheap publicity could backfire badly. But there is one piece of good news for Ms Platell.

Holloway prison has had a refurbishment recently. So that’s all right, then.

[UPDATE1 1935 hours: the Mail has now appended the following statement to the end of the Platell article: "The Daily Mail, which carried out its investigations in the public interest, is reporting these websites to the Police. Readers must not access these websites as it is against the law".

And, as Jon Stewart might have noted, two things here. One, telling readers that accessing this material was against the law should have been there at the outset, not added on after the Met took an interest. And two, whether in the public interest or not, my reading is that this not in itself sufficient justification. The Mail appears just to have decided of its own accord to search for material.

More on the potential justification can be seen at Mark Williams Thomas' Twitter feed, HERE. As he says, the major problem for the Mail is how they went about this exercise. No doubt there will be more tomorrow]

[UPDATE2 29 May 1605 hours: further research by Unity at Ministry Of Truth has revealed that the Mail may be in trouble, not with the Police, but with its fellow papers. The description of the 24 minute video that Amanda Platell claimed to have watched apparently bears a striking similarity to one where the "victim" dresses as a schoolgirl, but is in fact over 18 and states this before any of the supposed abuse takes place.

Oh dear! So either the film Ms Platell saw was something different to that noted by Unity - in which case she and whoever put her up to it are likely to be in trouble with the rozzers - or she has indeed viewed a film that is actually legal, in which case the Dacre attack doggies have just sprayed their credibility up the wall for a bit of cheap publicity that will rebound on them.

The trick is going to be picking up on the grovelling apology when the Mail attempts to sneak it out without anyone seeing it. No change there, then]

[UPDATE3 30 May 1225 hours: Unity at Ministry Of Truth has been digging a little further, and has now come up with a stage name for the "victim", together with the approximate date the video was recorded, plus the DVD on which it was released, which shows her age to have been at least 18, and probably 19, at the time.

There is also an Internet Adult Film Database review of the scene corresponding to Amanda Platell's supposed shock horror exclusive, just to underscore that this is what the Mail's fearless pundit actually saw. Yet no word has come from Northcliffe House.

Perhaps the Dacre doggies are hoping everyone will forget this episode. Don't bet on it]

Express Launches Crusade Against Itself

There is nothing more irritating than bad servicedeclares a Daily Express headline today. Quite so. I’m glad to see Richard “Dirty” Desmond’s dwindling band of hacks getting stuck in to some proper investigative journalism for a change. So who’s hot on the tail of this practice? Their “Consumer Affairs Editor”, that’s who. Perhaps there are some examples to stand up the headline?

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

Sadly not: after telling “Poor quality goods, gadgets that don’t work, things that don’t do what they said they would - I am not alone in saying these things drive me mad. Then there are the staff who are responsible for delivering these sub-standard products”, readers get a list of imagined examples, before finally, they are told that this is not actually a news piece.

Yes, in the thirteenth paragraph (you read that correctly) comes “The Daily Express has joined forces with price comparison site uSwitch.com to test the feeling of the nation when it comes to the art of complaining”. So this is an advertorial intended to promote a price comparison site, except that this should be clearly signposted at the start of the article, but it is not.

But there is a poll of 2,000 people – oh, hang on, make that a uSwitch poll. So Des’ finest haven’t stumped up for it, then. All that has happened is that the hack concerned has gone for a chat with Ann Robinson (no relation), who is the uSwitch director of customer policy. This is then spun out into several more paragraphs about how we should complain, if only because they do in the USA.

And that hack has a very familiar name – Nathan Rao. Now where have I heard that being pitched? Ah yes, another look at his by-line gives the game away: “Consumer Affairs Editor who loves the weather”. That would be the weather that Rao is always forecasting wrongly, like, oh I dunno, this post from January last year summarising several of Nathan’s wrong calls over that winter.

Perhaps that was a one-off? Sadly not: Rao was back with the misleading frighteners less than a fortnight later. And his abysmally bad forecasting was at work last winter, telling of a big freeze when wind and rain was on the way. On it went: the ever vigilant Tabloid Watch caught Rao facing both ways over his forecast for the May Day bank holiday weekend just gone.

There’s a concise description for that kind of thing: bad service. And, as the very same paper asserts, “There is nothing more irritating than bad service”. So it’s good to see Nathan Rao so selflessly campaigning against Himself Personally Now. It certainly saves the readers from complaining.

So that must make it, once more, Another Benchmark Of Excellence.