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This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Thursday 31 October 2013

Google And Yahoo Cry Foul

While those credulous enough to trust any assertions made explicitly or otherwise by the security services of the UK and USA continue to nod obediently whenever the spooks kick the deeply subversive Guardian and its partners in the States and mainland Europe, not everyone is so happy about the behaviour of the NSA and GCHQ. In fact, Google and Yahoo are livid at their alleged treatment.
As the Washington Post revealed yesterday, “NSA apparently taps Google, Yahoo networks without companies’ knowledge”. To no surprise at all, the targets of this latest bombshell were not happy bunnies. “Google has expressed outrage following a report that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has hacked its data links ... An executive at Google said it was not aware of the alleged activity, adding there was an ‘urgent need for reform’”.

Yahoo weren’t exactly ecstatic, either: “Google and Yahoo, two of the world's biggest tech companies, reacted angrily to a report on Wednesday that the National Security Agency has secretly intercepted the main communication links that carry their users' data around the world”.

Google’s Chief Legal Officer noted “We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide ... We do not provide any government, including the US government, with access to our systems”. Well, now we can see how the NSA gets in anyway.

Yahoo also protested that they were not aware of the surveillance: “We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency”. As the Guardian put it, “Internet firms go to great lengths to protect their data. But the NSA documents published by the Post appear to boast about their ability to circumvent those protections”. And the more populist press is waking up to the NSA, too.

Did the NSA even spy on the POPE? U.S. spies accused of intercepting phone calls during conclave as he was elected head of Catholic church” howled the Mail today. The article went on “Archbishop Bergoglio had been a person of interest to the CIA since 2005” and that Pope Emeritus Benedict may have been another target.

If the Snowden revelations are garnering interest in the Mail, that suggests Paul Dacre deems the matter important enough for his readers to be told. That in turn means that waving the matter away with “you’ve nothing to fear”, “trust what the Government spokesman tells you” and “spies spy – who knew?” will no longer wash. We need to know about this kind of behaviour. And we need better oversight.

Hopefully some of our elected representatives will take that on board.

Gove Polecats’ Prime Time Stupidity

Labour’s shadow education spokesman Tristram Hunt has managed to energise the retinue of polecats willing to savage political opponents of Michael “Oiky” Gove to the extent that they spent yesterday making a spectacle of themselves, although one of them might have thought that he had got away with what is often known as “Doing a Joe Biden”. To no surprise, step forward the loathsome Toby Young.
Yes, "Oiky", your polecats

Tobes must have thought he was being terrible witty when he wroteJudging from his car crash interview on Newsnight, Tristram Hunt was born with a silver foot in his mouth”. Gosh, how his adoring readers (Damian and James Delingbonkers) must have guffawed at that one! But this is not an original put-down, as aficionados of US Presidential campaigns know all too well.
At least he didn't crib from Neil Kinnock

At the 1988 Democratic National Convention, Ann Richards, later Governor of Texas, said of George Bush (senior) “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth”. Tut tut, Tobes, cribbing your one-liners from a Democrat. But at least Young makes an effort, unlike head polecat Dominic Cummings, for whom the record was all too clearly stuck.
As Hunt faced his beloved boss in the Commons, Cummings – the main mover behind the @toryeducation Twitter feed – went on the attack: “One day @TristramHuntMP says he’s pro-Free Schools – then ‘dangerous experiment’. NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME, TRISTRAM”. We are not told what this “prime time” of which he talks is, but he talks about it rather a lot.
And just eight minutes later, he was off once more: “Has @TristramHuntMP checked his lawyers? Is he ready for the ECHR cases, judicial reviews? NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME, TRISTRAM”. As Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point. Another five minutes elapsed, and then ... you know the drill.
Tristram ‘you’re all obsessed with me’ Hunt shows a lot about own character but no detail on policy. He isn’t ready for prime time” was Cummings’ judgment, with no need for the caps lock key this time. Note that Laura McInerney, as she often does, registered a dissenting opinion, calling “Oiky’s” line of attack “disgustingly personal”. No wonder Gove so readily hired Cummings.
Then, after the debate finished, the caps lock was back: “VERDICT: @TristramHuntMP vain, overconfident, too partisan, too conventional/predictable, not on top of details. NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME”. As if Hunt, Mil The Younger, or anyone else in the Labour Party gives a stuff what one of Gove’s polecats thinks.

But good to see that Cummings is making so much effort to justify all that taxpayer dosh he’s being bunged. He and Tobes make a magnificent double act. Magnificently stupid, inept and pointless, that is. No change there, then.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, It’s Done

The last-minute pleading before the courts having been thrown out, the cross-party Royal Charter on press regulation was yesterday evening signed off by Her Maj, duly sealed, and delivered back to Parliament. The press’ attempt to secure judicial review was not just declined on a technicality, it was thrown out. So will the newspaper industry accept the new reality?
Might be moving on from blaming Brian

Not if they can help it: this morning, the Mail was merely grumbling, but no-one should imagine that the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre will take this attempt to create a press regulator that he cannot readily bend to his will lying down. The Vagina Monologue will right now be boiling with rage at the effrontery of a democratically elected House of Commons doing what it is there for.

And still the bleating at “political interference” continues, as witness today’s Maily Telegraph editorial, “The fight goes on for press freedom”. Tony Gallagher insists that we should all “look over there” at a potential for interference that does not exist, so that the more easily led do not see the real reason for the protests, which is that any recognised new regulator would be truly independent.

It is about ensuring that responsible newspapers have the freedom to publish what they wish and that the public have the freedom to read what we publish” protests the Tel, but that is not under threat. The “two-thirds of Parliament” applies to both Lords and Commons, and in any case, any future Government could interfere merely by pushing through legislation with a simple majority. This is a smokescreen.
And who is this perpetrator of thuggery?

And so is the continuing talk of “chilling effects”, typified by yet another tedious rant in freesheet City AM, this time from Mick Hume of Spiked, which, if its content is of the same level, certainly should be. Meanwhile, the loathsome Toby Young is pretending it doesn’t matter: “Privy Council's approval of the press Royal Charter is a meaningless political gesture”. That’s not what his editor thinks.
That's who. And he even names the target

Tony Gallagher has today let slip what the next press campaign will be: they’re going to go after the Culture Secretary. “324: the number of days since the Parliamentary sleaze watchdog started its glacially slow investigation of charter architect Maria Miller” he Tweeted this morning. So Tobes is talking out of the back of his neck – there is nothing meaningless about the Charter being sealed.

If the event really had been meaningless, Gallagher would not be signalling a fresh campaign of vindictiveness, to go with all the others, mainly, it must be said, by his pals at the Mail, against any and every public figure that has dared to speak out in favour of properly independent press regulation. And it shows just how low the Fourth Estate is prepared to sink to keep marking its own homework.

That is why those wanting change will not go away, whatever the level of abuse.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

HS2 – Squeaky Bum Time

And so the latest revision of the business case for the HS2 project has been published, with the benefit/cost ratio for the “Y Network” revised down, but still showing a more than respectable figure of 2.3, despite all predictions and assertions otherwise. And the question of time spent working during train journeys has also been covered, so that’s one less objection to deal with.
Maybe less than 20 years behind Spain

Moreover, it is now looking not that the project will go ahead, but that Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin meant it when he talked about getting the work done in a much shorter overall timescale. There is also talk of building the northern section – Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, with spur lines to Wigan and Church Fenton (just south of York), before Birmingham to London.

On top of that, it is becoming clear that Labour is not wavering in its support for the project, and to underscore this point, Mil The Younger has brought Andrew Adonis in to advise him. Adonis earlier this year said that cancelling HS2 would be “an act of national mutilation”. So we can forget the impression given by “Auguste” Balls that his party was going cool on the whole deal.

So the window of opportunity for those opposed to the project is closing rapidly, and once Parliament has passed the necessary bills and construction gets under way, it will be Game Over. HS2 Limited has recently acquired a new chairman, David Higgins, former CEO of Network Rail, in a move seen as signalling that the project is ready to roll. So what of the opposition?

At this point we may usefully inspect the site of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which has been opposed to HS2 from the start, if for no reason other than it is a public sector undertaking, and so deeply offends the ideological stance of the dubiously talented array of non-job holders. But where is main man Matthew Sinclair? The rebuttal has been left to former ConHome man Jonathan Isaby.

And Isaby merely goes through the motions: “Government ... found wanting ... overestimated the benefits ... underestimated the burgeoning bill ... the case for HS2 is now flimsier than ever ... spin ... HS2 would be a huge white elephant costing every family in the UK a fortune and failing to deliver ... investment”. In the world of the TPA, an investment of £42 billion equals a failure to deliver investment.

Moreover, as soon as you accept a Benefit/Cost ratio greater than zero, the argument that HS2 costs “X per family” based on dividing up the project cost falls flat. But what stands out about Isaby’s statement is not only that the TPA is out of ideas, but its response is so feeble. It is as if they, too, have conceded defeat. In any case, there are plenty of bin collection regimes to whine about instead.

It looks like HS2 is finally going ahead. And it may open sooner rather than later.

Dan, Dan The Unrepentant Man

The disagreement between Jonathan Portes of NIESR and MEP and occasional Tory Dan, Dan the Oratory Man shows no sign of resolution. As I noted the other day, Hannan had written a petulant and lamentably badly researched piece smearing Portes, who at first had the post taken down. The bear pit that is Telegraph blogs soon put it back, and Portes has now complained to the PCC.
What am I bid for this fact? One careful owner ...

Hannan has two closely linked objectives here: kicking the BBC by implying it is biased (no surprise for anyone at the Tel), and try to promote the meme that NIESR is in the EU’s pocket because some of its grant comes from there. To his clear irritation, Portes has merely maintained his composure and set out why Hannan is wrong, an action which has clearly mystified the MEP.

Dan Hannan doesn't like admitting error. This would be less of a problem if he didn't get so many things wrong. The original version of [his] Telegraph blog, on welfare, contained no fewer than five factual mistakes” Portes observed. And he is right about Hannan getting things wrong, often deliberately and knowingly so. Moreover, he can also point up examples where he has been critical of the EU and EC.

The European Commission is doing its best to drive Spain to disaster” was the title of a post from last year, with Portes’ photo prominently displayed at the top. That’s the kind of headline Hannan and his pal Douglas “Kamikaze” Carswell would usually applaud. Portes is not taking a side in the playground of politics: he is engaging in straight economic analysis and then drawing conclusions.
This is difficult for Hannan and his editor at Telegraph blogs, Damian Thompson, clueless pundit of no fixed hair appointment, to take on board, so the latter has merely resorted to shameless promotion, telling “In case you missed it, @DanHannanMEP magnificent on Jonathan Portes”. That’s magnificent as in magnificently dishonest and magnificently badly researched.
Hannan does no better, asserting “You’ve got to hand it to the NIESR’s tiny band of Europhile Twitter cheerleaders: what they lack in numbers, they make up for in rudeness”, thus demonstrating the accuracy of Olbermann’s Dictum: “The right exists in a perpetual state of victimhood”. What neither Thompson nor Hannan can bring themselves to address is that they are wrong, and Portes is right.

There is no credible evidence that Portes favours the EU or EC, except Hannan’s assertion. The paper he cites in support of his attack was written seven years before Portes joined NIESR. It would be illegal for the EU to award funding on the basis of partisan support, so Hannan should put up the evidence. But he hasn’t got any, so he won’t: this is just a crass and obvious smear, which is going nowhere.

And Hannan won’t apologise, because he doesn’t have the cojones to do so.

Don’t Menshn Contempt Of Court

With the trial of Rebekah Brooks, husband Charlie, Andy Coulson and the rest completing jury selection yesterday, Mr Justice Saunders issued a particularly strong and detailed preamble on the potential for contempt of court. He singled out the front cover of the latest issue of Private Eye magazine, but former Tory MP Louise Mensch, who knows everything about everything, was not listening.
Who's that sitting to your right, Louise?

Private Eye has seen fit today to put out their November edition... it bears a picture of Rebekah Brooks on the cover ... It is meant to be satire. You ignore it; it has no serious input and it is not relevant to your considerations. It is one of those things that you will have to ignore, a joke that in the circumstances of today is a joke in exceptionally bad taste” the jury was told.
That was it concerning the Eye, but Ms Mensch, who, it should be remembered, had no problem with not only appearing on Have I Got News For You recently, but also being seated next to Eye editor Ian Hislop, went on the attack, using the weapon she knows best, ignorance. “Why should Private Eye be allowed to prejudice somebody’s criminal trial? Where is the contempt ruling?” she demanded.
Why would there be a contempt ruling against the Eye, when the Judge had done no more than advise the jury to ignore the front cover of the latest issue? Ms Mensch’s ridiculous intervention was then made to look worse as her former colleague Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, ruled that the Eye would not be pursued for contempt. This did not dissuade the former MP for Corby one bit.
Faced with the Attorney General’s decision, she changed tack: “the Judge warned of the dangers of contempt for the jury saying they would be jailed if they read Private Eye”. But Mr Justice Saunders cannot say that someone will face a particular sanction, and so he did not, although a custodial sentence for contempt is available if the offence is judged suitably deserving.
His instructions ... included not reading Private Eye” (they didn’t), “I am exactly right” (no you’re not), “if they fail to ignore Private Eye, contempt” (wrong again, it’s just the cover and there is no inside story), “if they read blogs by ‘actors’, contempt” (that would depend on the subject of the blog) produced a hail of ridicule mixed with unintentional hilarity, as Ms Mensch clearly began to lose it.
And she wasn’t done yet: “Gratifying to see the Judge order the jury to ignore Private Eye and blogs by ‘actors’ or face contempt” was another mirth-inducing howler. The sucking up to Murdoch is so bad that anyone else would be embarrassed at such behaviour. But this English Language and Literature graduate turned self-appointed legal expert is too shameless and desperate for attention.

All of which means there will be more to come. No surprise there, then.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Guido Fawked – Private Eye Cover Spin

As the Old Bailey trial of seven former faithful Murdoch retainers, along with Rebekah Brooks’ husband Charlie, goes through the legal arguments and jury selection is completed, reporting restrictions mean that what can be said about the case – without prejudicing the right of the defendants to a fair trial – is limited. So some are looking for other ways to get attention out of the proceedings.
Another edition of Let's Blame Brian

Most inventive of today’s efforts, and singularly dishonest, is that from the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his obedient rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, who have cobbled together a story titled “Cops Trying to Remove Private Eye From Shops”, which they are not. This is then associated with the Hacked Off campaign group, demonstrating the creative fraudulence of the Fawkes folks.

So what is actually happening? Well, the Police, seeing that the latest issue of the Eye features a photo of Rebekah Brooks, who after all is one of the defendants, have approached a vendor at the kiosk outside Farringdon Station – close to the Old Bailey – and asked him to take down (note form of words) the several copies of the Eye he had on display.

So the Fawkes rabble has one shop, and an attempt not to remove the magazine, but not to display its cover to passers-by. That is not the same thing. But it is interesting that Staines and his gofers are happy to garner interest by discussing a publication whose very existence induces such anguish in them. Then, in closing, they ask “Anyone a little hacked off by all this?

It clearly still rankles with them that their effort to gatecrash the Hacked Off party at Steve Coogan’s house near Brighton – which took place on the Monday of the Labour Party conference – was such a spectacular flop, and that they were therefore unable to find out just who had turned up. So there were no names for them to report back to their new bosses in the press.
Hacked Off had nothing to do with what happened at the news kiosk outside Farringdon Station. That has not stopped Staines’ tame gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, from taking to Twitter to assert “Journos in bail limbo, state smashing up laptops, plain clothes coppers saying you can’t sell mags. Welcome to Cathcart’s brave new world”. Hacked Off had nothing to do with any of that, either.

What Hacked Off does have something to do with is representing the victims of press misbehaviour. Staines and Cole know this. So it’s good of them to confirm that they are all in favour of the cruel and vicious treatment of the McCanns, the Dowlers, Christopher Jefferies and all the others. Seeing a campaign group battling against such callous cruelty must cause the Fawkes folks intense discomfort.

About time The Great Guido felt a little discomfort. Another fine mess, once more.

Brillo In Trouble?

Despite the frequent attempts by the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate to suggest otherwise, the BBC is not staffed entirely by those of a left-leaning and Guardian reading persuasion, as witness Daily and Sunday Politics frontman Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil, formerly faithful retainer of Rupert Murdoch, and now also employed by the Barclay Brothers, overseeing the Spectator.
Neil is clearly valued by the Beeb for his interviewing and chairing ability, and with good reason: ministers and their opposition counterparts always need to look sharp when appearing before his inquisition. But here a problem enters: Neil has allowed his views on subjects like climate change to influence the way he approaches interviewees, and his subsequent explanations.

It was not just me that noted the way in which Neil constructed his defence to make his sources – almost universally taken from the ranks of climate sceptics – look like the scientific mainstream, while claiming not to take sides: Andrew Miller, chair of the Commons science and technology committee, was unimpressed with what he saw as too much weight being given to the opinions of sceptics.

Miller told the GuardianAt a time when poor editorial decisions have dented trust in the BBC, the organisation should be taking much greater care over the accuracy of its reporting – especially in the area of science where misreporting can cause disastrous results, as the MMR media scare has shown”. This comes after John Ashton, formerly a senior official at the Foreign Office, also weighed in.

Ashton called the Beeb’s coverage of the latest IPCC report “a betrayal of the editorial professionalism on which the BBC's reputation has been built over generations”. The corporation, he asserted, had given “the appearance of scientific authority to those with no supporting credentials”. So who did Andrew Miller single out for criticism? Yes, it was Neil.

Miller specifically cited the Ed Davey interview which I had commented on, saying “Given that the BBC's avowed mission is still to inform and educate, as well as entertain, it is remarkable that it allows presenters, like Andrew Neil, to repeat misinformed scientific arguments on climate change as though they were fact”. Miller may represent Labour, but he is also speaking as chair of an all-party committee.

He also dismissed the Beeb’s suggestion that Neil was merely playing Devil’s Advocate: “It is right that BBC presenters occasionally act as devil's advocates, but as a public broadcaster and the most trusted media organisation in the UK its viewers need to be explicitly aware when presenters are doing so”. And, as I noted previously, Neil’s explanation, though expertly crafted, was easily picked apart.

It is fine for the Spectator to indulge in open scepticism, but not the BBC.

First They Came For The Guardian

From the point that Lord Justice Leveson delivered the report that followed from the Inquiry he chaired, much of the Fourth Estate has maintained the pretence that adhering to his recommendations would mean an end to press freedom as we know it, raising the spectre of interfering politicians telling them what they could, and could not, write about, despite nothing of the sort being suggested.
Typical of the scare stories was a Daily Mail Comment titled “Press freedom and a life and death matter”, assuring readers that the cross-party Royal Charter would lead to the use of prior restraint, with the Mail’s ability to run public interest stories so constrained that there would be a risk to peoples’ wellbeing. That means, one might conclude, that politicians sticking their bugle in is A Very Bad Thing.

But anyone concluding thus would be wrong, as yesterday’s events have proved: Young Dave has made veiled threats against the deeply subversive Guardian over its revelations of the scale of the surveillance undertaken by the NSA in the United States, and GCHQ in the UK. “Prime Minister threatens Guardian with legal action over 'damaging' spy leaks” reported the Mail yesterday.

So the Mail calls the Royal Charter “chilling”, but is comfortable with a Government defining what is “damaging” and then wading in and dictating what a newspaper can and cannot publish. That’s the most blatantly stinking hypocrisy going, but the Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor has no problem with it – because it’s the hated Guardian, and they rumbled his pals over phone hacking.

And what is worse, so many of those who have been quick to subscribe to the “Leveson equals prior restraint therefore bad” meme have been even quicker to applaud Cameron, with an honourable mention for Nick Cohen, who has called the PM’s threat for what it is, even though he wrongly calls the Royal Charter “state regulation” and claims politicians want “state licensing”.

But the likes of Tim Luckhurst, who claims to be a “democrat”, while opposing measures agreed by all parties in a democratically elected Government, is not concerned. Former Tory MP Louise Mensch, who has championed a free press, has gone further, and supported Cameron’s threat. Neil “Wolfman” Wallis is blaming those campaigning for a reform of press regulation.

The Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn has swallowed the PM’s line, duly cheered on by stupid Tory MP Julian Smith. Others are silent. The stench of double standards is truly rank, even by the routinely low standards of the more opportunistic politicians and those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet. And the shallowness of the “press freedom” cry is laid bare.

First they came for the Guardian” ... does that ring a bell? Wake up, press people.

Monday 28 October 2013

Dan, Dan The Deleted Man

[Update at end of post]

Despite the propensity for so many in and around the debate on Britain and the EU to resort to sloppy research and occasional dishonesty, there are some who consider a factual approach to be A Good Thing. One such is Jonathan Portes, who recently took issue with the loathsome Toby Young and his Telegraph blogs pal Daniel Hannan, the latter much loved by Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).
Fine, upstanding, and flagrantly dishonest

Portes, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), had critiqued Tobes and Dan in a post titled “Lazy Brits 2: Attack of the Zombies”. Here, he applied a straightforward veracity test to their ramblings, and concluded that they had their facts wrong. And facts were all that it was about. Portes had no problem with their stance, but merely pointed out where they went wrong.
Hannan could have owned up to his errors, but that is not the way with the righteous right nowadays. Instead, he launched an attack on Portes in Telegraph blogs titled “The almost unbelievable pomposity of BBC favourite Jonathan Portes” (note that no opportunity to kick the hated Beeb is left unused – it’s almost as if Tony Gallagher has put out a three-line whip on the subject).
The assault may have been prompted by the loathsome Tobes, who had previously inferred that Portes was somehow in the EU’s pocket because of how NIESR is funded, although the latter does not take a pro- or anti-EU stance. In any case, in the world of Daniel Hannan, not taking a screamingly anti-EU stance makes the person concerned a rotten Europhile who is therefore fair game for attack.
After Hannan published his blogpost, Tobes then praised it as a work of the highest import: “Brilliant takedown of the unbelievably pompous @jdportes by @DanHannanMEP” he gurgled enthusiastically. Also joining in was Dan’s other pal Douglas “Kamikaze” Carswell, telling “Today’s must read is this corking piece by @DanHannanMEP on pro-EU bias ‘think’ tanks”.
Regular watchers of Tel blogs flocked to view the magnificent missive, only to see that the post was no longer there. There was a good reason for this: it had been taken down after Portes complained about a significant number of falsehoods within it, or, as those of less subtle approach might have put it, it was a pack of lies. Those of us who know Hannan of old will not be surprised.
This is, after all, the man who went on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show and trotted out three rank whoppers (“Government takeover of health care”, “Death Panels” and the one about buying your own medication meant the NHS stopped all access to prescription meds as some kind of punishment) in less than five minutes. His reaction to factual analysis is abuse within an incendiary trouser scenario.

You may wonder what that makes Tobes and Carswell. I couldn’t possibly comment.

[UPDATE 1745 hours: Hannan's post has now been put back up at Telegraph blogs, with the content allegedly exactly the same as before. However, for some reason, the title has been changed to "Is there a creature in discovered space more closed-minded than a self-conscious liberal?" for which no reason has yet been advanced.

Jonathan Portes confirms that he has made a complaint to the PCC. It will be interesting to see whether he achieves anything by going down that road, but he should not be too hopeful, given the PCC is the embodiment of the press marking its own homework. And what of Hannan's post? To no surprise, it is the usual petulant resort to abuse, backed up with appalling research - for instance, one NIESR paper he cites in his attack on Portes was written seven years before the latter joined the organisation.

Still, it would probably pass muster at Fox News, so that's all right, then]

HS2 – Another Silly Alternative

As a report is released laying out the disruption that would be caused to the rail network by not going ahead with the HS2 project, but instead upgrading the West Coast Main Line (WCML), Midland Main Line (MML) and East Coast Main Line (ECML), the desperation of opponents has brought forth another alternative scheme that is not going anywhere, and has no chance of being built.
A southbound coal train on the Great Central south of Rugby. Photo taken in 1958

Railway line shut by Beeching 'can save us £36bn': Critics put forward alternative route using track closed in the 1960s” proclaims the Mail, going wrong from the start as Richard Beeching did not shut any rail lines. He merely made recommendations, and left the Government of the day to make the decisions. So what of this alternative – the long closed Great Central (GC) line?

Mail hack Arthur Martin gets the GC closure totally wrong: for starters, it had nothing to do with Beeching, whose report was published in 1963. Run-down of the GC started in 1958. By the time of Beeching’s report, its through daytime express services had been taken off (1960), Sunday services had ended (1962) and local services were withdrawn the following year.

The Mail also erroneously claims that the GC offered a London to Leeds service, which it did not: the line served Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester. And something else the Mail doesn’t tell its readers is that the GC was designed for a top speed of just 75mph, although in practice, speeds of 90mph were regularly achieved. Not much of an alternative to HS2.

It gets worse: much of the line has, in the intervening 47 years, been built over or used for other purposes: for instance, an extension to the Nottingham tram system will use the formation south of the city. The line beyond Sheffield, through the Woodhead tunnel, was closed more than 30 years ago and, again, much of it has been built over (the tunnel is now used to carry high frequency power cables).

The site of Nottingham’s Victoria station had a shopping centre built on it. Viaducts and bridges have fallen into serious disrepair or have been demolished. Tunnels would need rebuilding. Any budget for re-using the alignment would have to treat it as a new build, not a reopening. And the opponents to HS2 in the Chilterns would be simply replaced by those in towns like Brackley.

All of this would mean that the supposed £6bn price tag can be taken with a very large piece of salt. Moreover, the lines into which the GC formerly fed – those leading into London’s Marylebone terminus – are now close to capacity, especially at peak periods (unless some capacity enhancing demolition along the route is proposed). The exercise has not been thought through. It’s a dead duck.

And, as Andrew Gilligan is also involved in its promotion, that is no surprise.

Murdoch Is Served (100)


Yes, this is the hundredth post in the series I began back in July 2009. While most of the press ignored the Guardian’s revelations, and their right-leaning supporters in the blogosphere sneered and called it a “non-story”, it was screamingly obvious that the Murdoch empire was in potentially serious trouble. You can read the first posts in the series, laying out the background, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.
Rebekah Brooks. What a happy soul

So now many of the those familiar faces face trial, a trial that begins today at Court 12 of the Old Bailey. As Press Gazette has noted, “There will be 17 press places in Court 12 of the Old Bailey, London's main criminal court, with a further 53 journalists from around the world following proceedings in an annexe. All the press places have been allocated”. Nobody’s calling it a “non-story” now.

For starters, check out the defendants: Rebekah Brooks, former News International (NI) CEO, heads a cast that also includes husband Charlie, Stuart Kuttner, former managing editor of the now-defunct Screws, Ian Edmondson, former head of news, Brooks’ former secretary Cheryl Carter, Mark Hanna, NI head of security, Clive Goodman, former Screws royal reporter, and Andy Coulson.

This cross-section of recent Murdoch retainers has been charged with a variety of potentially serious offences, including conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. As befits such a grand occasion, 25 barristers will be present to represent the Crown and the defendants. The trial is expected to last well into next year.

So nobody should expect a quick outcome. There will be little to report for much of this week, as the jury is selected and sworn in, and a variety of legal arguments are settled. And we should all exercise care over what is said about this trial, bearing in mind the contempt laws and the necessity that the defendants get a fair hearing. That last is the most important point.

This is why “Mr Justice Saunders, who is presiding over the case, and the attorney general have already issued warnings to the media reminding them not to stray from the strict Contempt of Court Act reporting rules in the UK, which require fair and accurate reporting of trials as they happen. There are particular concerns that MPs will comment on the trial because of Coulson's former role in Downing Street”.

We must all exercise tact, discretion and patience. If something is revealed during the trial, fine, we can say so. But any speculation and rumour should be put aside. You can also follow events with the excellent Brown Moses Hackgate Files blog, the #Pressreform blog (updated regularly), and of course Hacked Off will cover the trial. But give them a fair one – something the press hasn’t always given its victims.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Beeb Bashing Enters New Phase

We know that kicking the hated BBC is de rigueur for papers like the Mail and Telegraph. But, with Grant “Spiv” Shapps opening up on the Corporation this weekend with an attack quite clearly designed to intimidate in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, the knocking copy takes on an additional significance. And it has also taken on a new level of hectoring and pettiness.
A prime example of this is last week’s edition of Have I Got News For You, where Jo Brand hosted in her usual inimitable style – which means there was humour of an occasionally adult nature, but nobody would take any of the remarks seriously. That is, of course, unless they were paid by the Mail or Telegraph to sit there monitoring the show in order to report back to their respective editors.

Ms Brand said of the christening of Prince George of Cambridge “George’s godparents include Hugh van Cutsem... I presume that’s a nickname as in Hugh van cuts 'em and Harry then snorts 'em”. Prince Harry probably fell off his chair at that point, but the Tel was in stern mood. When Ian Hislop said – not totally seriously – “Have we lost the lawyers?”, the paper was deeply affronted.

Hislop’s acknowledgement on air that Brand’s comment was defamatory suggests that the BBC was aware of the allegations it was broadcasting” it stormed. The Mail followed up: “The blunder is the latest in a series of slurs this week about the young royals during the BBC's coverage of Prince George's christening. Last night, Jeremy Paxman forgot Kate Middleton's title as he announced her return to public life on Newsnight”. The Mail forgot that she ain’t called Kate Middleton any more. Idiots.

On top of this, there have been attacks on the Corporation’s news coverage, including one attempt to equate criticism from Iain Duncan Cough to proof of bias. The author of the piece, David Barrett, will be familiar to Zelo Street readers: he did the attack on the Guardian’s NSA coverage that had been fed him by the spooks.

It gets more desperate: the Mail has run a story tellingAdult actor Mark Sloan was cast as Matthew Oldfield, one of the 'Tapas Seven', who were eating at a restaurant with Gerry and Kate McCann the night Maddie disappeared. The actor has reportedly starred in previous Crimewatch reconstructions as well as X rated films Tight Rider, Sherlock Bones and From Dusk Till Porn”. Er, so what?

And the icing on the cake? Yes, it’s the deeply subversive Guardian’s fault: “Russell Brand and how Newsnight's become the Guardian's TV lapdog”. And how many Mail readers give a flying foxtrot about Newsnight? But put it all together, and you have what looks more and more like an orchestrated attempt to support Shapps in his dubious endeavour. The temptation to finally get the BBC is clearly overwhelming.

So expect more of this for at least the next 18 months. No change there, then.

Grant Shapps Is Still A Spiv

Today has brought the news of an intervention by Sebastian Fox. Now, you may not have heard of him, but he’s a really important figure in the Tory Party. Still not ringing any bells? Perhaps you know him as Michael Green. He, too, is a pivotal figure in today’s Tory Party. Come on, someone out there must know Michael? After all, he’s a published and successful author.
Genuine bargain, one careful lady owner, low mileage, you can drive it away today. Er, I think

OK, let’s cut to the real name – we think – which is Grant Shapps. And, whether we like it or not, we’ve all heard of him. Shapps may by Tory Party chairman, but he has also, in the past, assumed at least two alter egos for the purpose of making a bit of folding stuff on the side. Because Grant Shapps, in the tradition embodied by George Cole’s Flash Harry and Arthur Daley, is a spiv.

This propensity to appear to be flogging a series of dodgy motahs remains with Shapps, despite his attempts to be a serious politician. So many observers will find it hard to take his attack on the BBC today seriously, which may be A Very Good Thing for the Corporation. But the Telegraph is according Shapps the privilege of being classed as Proper Serious News.

In fact, the Tel shoots itself in the foot by according Shapps a little too much seriousness: “The BBC could lose its exclusive right to the licence fee if it does not tackle a ‘culture’ of secrecy, waste and unbalanced reporting, a senior Cabinet minister warns”. Senior? Cabinet minister? Someone at the Tel is having a laugh. And, sadly for Shapps and his party, so are many others.

The body of the copy is no better: “a major intervention understood to have been made with the knowledge of Downing Street”. So “knowledge”, rather than “approval”, then. “The threat comes amid mounting concern inside the Government, and particularly the Conservatives, over bias in the BBC’s news programmes”. As spun in the Tel, with no substance to back it up.

This is, as former DG Greg Dyke pointed out this morning on The Andy Marr Show (tm), just another attempt at intimidation in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, and after that, the next review of the BBC’s charter status. And what he didn’t point out is that Shapps is the last minister who should be making it, if the Tories want to actually get the Beeb to be nice to their re-election effort.

As Zelo Street regulars will recall, Shapps has been called out not only for his use of alter egos to promote his money-making wheezes, but also for his inventive way of garnering more Twitter followers (see previous posts HERE and HERE). All he needs to complete the image is a sheepskin coat and a back-street car sales outlet, and the impression of forthright spivvery will be complete.

Another glasshouse becomes instantly draughty. No change there, then.

Is Melissa Kite In The House?

Anyone who thought that Charles Saatchi had learnt useful lessons from his all too public split from Nigella Lawson has today been proved wrong, as this supposed recluse has once again broken cover to protest that there was more to it than him publicly throttling the country’s favourite Domestic Goddess (tm) outside a reassuringly expensive Mayfair restaurant.
Steady on Nigella, I've only just finished the fourth course

And, just to make sure everyone knows he’s as fleet of foot as before (or maybe not), it’s all going to get heavily legal from the word go, as the Mirror has reported. “Charles Saatchi threatens Nigella Lawson with legal action in bid to reveal ‘truth’ behind bust-up” reads the headline, showing that Charlie boy may not realise his version of the “truth” might not be universally accepted.

Whatever nut of factual evidence Saatchi considers so serious that it requires the sledgehammer of legal action to crack it is not known. But it will have to be a mightily significant one to dislodge the narrative. This holds, more or less, that Saatchi was caught by a snapper bang to rights holding the unfortunate Nigella warmly by the throat outside Scott’s restaurant.

She subsequently left the matrimonial home, he went of his own volition to Charing Cross Police station and accepted a caution for assault, and now he has taken up with Trinny Woodall, who is famous for, er, no longer being famous. Saatchi is making ominous suggestions about Nigella’s behaviour, but at the end of the proverbial day he still grabbed her by the throat.

That’s a difficult one to defend against, whichever way you slice it. And it will be even more difficult to defend when the pundits bite back against him, as they will do with the certainty of night following day. After all, remember, we’re talking Domestic Goddess (tm) here. We all like Nigella. She’s smart, intelligent, mildly flirtatious, and can rustle up a cracking feed at the same time.
Cydney the cocker spaniel. And someone who may be getting a call from the Daily Mail

So who should we be looking out for? Step forward Spectator columnist and occasional writer for both the Guardian and Daily Mail, Melissa Kite, who knows all about domestic violence. What’s worse for Saatchi, Ms Kite knows how to write, which is why Speccy editor Fraser Nelson moved her column from fortnightly to weekly. And I suspect the Mail will already have been in touch.

Ms Kite spoke out last June when Saatchi had gone to the Police and ‘fessed up. Her story talks of bullying, assault, threats, pleading and the way in which some men use any or all of those to control their partners. If Saatchi wants to up the ante, he will find Ms Kite weighing in once more, and probably in the Mail. That means a lot of people will read it. And that will not advance his cause one millimetre.

His action looks like another form of bullying. Let it go, Charlie. You lost this one.

Top Six – October 27

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, the washing machine needs emptying. So there.
6 Harry Evans Prediction Immediately Comes True The doyen of editors described the way the press has been making regulation into an issue when it isn’t. Then the Mail did exactly that. Well done Paul Dacre.

5 Don’t Menshn The Debate Flop Egged on by Louise Mensch, Tory MP Julian Smith secured a debate over the deeply subversive Guardian and its revelations about the behaviour of GCHQ and the NSA. It descended into farce as Smith and his colleague James Brokenshire used almost all the time not to debate, but to read their speeches.

4 The Sickness That Is Foreigner Bashing The hysteria being whipped up over any kind of “tourism” that the press could invent showed signs of turning nasty. And that wasn’t good enough.

3 Bad News For Chief Gove Polecat Dominic Cummings was named as the hand behind funding being pulled from the DfE’s Computing Expert Group. Why? They had criticised Cummings’ boss Michael “Oiky” Gove. Stalinist, much?

2 Platell Bullying Hypocrisy: the latest offering from Amanda Bloody Platell started off by saying that online bullying was A Very Bad Thing. Then it wasn’t really, and the target was a cry baby, because she didn’t like them.

1 So Farewell Then Liberal Conspiracy after eight years – and that’s A Very Long Time in blogging terms – Sunny Hundal is bringing the curtain down on Liberal Conspiracy. He deserves our thanks for a job well done.

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

Saturday 26 October 2013

Platell Bullying Hypocrisy

Sometimes I wonder if Paul Dacre’s sub-editors read through his pundits’ copy to take out their occasionally glaring ability to face both ways at once. If they do, then someone may be in hot water after the latest effort from Amanda Bloody Platell, another of his unappealing bevy of Glendas, managed the feat today when riffing on the subject of online bullying.
The stuff of nightmares

The headline is routine enough: “Being anonymously cruel online is the ultimate act of the coward” leads into the story of 14-year-old Izzy Dix, who took her own life. Ms Platell knows who was responsible: “No one will ever know what drove the sweet-smiling Izzy to take her own life, but we know for certain that she had endured months of bullying from fellow pupils and internet trolls”.

See? It wasn’t fellow pupils, because it’s all about anonymous online abuse. So it must have been “internet trolls”, because they fit the agenda. And where might they be lurking? “One of the social media sites on which Izzy was taunted was the notorious Ask.fm, which has been linked to several teenage suicides. The Latvian-based site allows users to post anonymous, vile comments”.

That’s as opposed to the vile comments that Ms Platell and her fellow pundits make about anyone not conforming to the world view of her legendarily foul mouthed editor, of course. But, as Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point. The 14-year-old was the victim of anonymous bullying, this takes place in a world where people do not read the Daily Mail, and this is therefore a doubly bad thing.

So, moving right along, we see that the Platell column this week has a whole host of smaller items, among which is one on a show aired by the hated BBC. “Cry-baby Ruby’s foot in mouth” declares the title, as Mandy passes adverse comment on Great British Bake-Off finalist Ruby Tandoh, who “says she was deeply upset by personal criticism while appearing on the BBC2 show”.

Ms Platell brushes away such excuses. “But the attacks were perfectly justified. We viewers knew she was a pretty poor cook who was kept in the competition only because her cry-baby antics made compelling telly. One of her cakes was so awful it looked like Dawn French had sat on it”. Meow! I’d hate to think that that was a “vile comment”. But let’s cut to the main event.

Ms Tandoh’s criticism came mainly from Twitter users, many of whom were anonymous. We know this as the “Twitter snipingwas described in a piece in the Metro, which is published by, er, the same people who publish the Daily Mail! So anonymous bullying is bad when Ms Platell says so, and then it is ignored, because the target is a “cry-baby”, as Mandy also says so.

Can anyone spare a hypocrisy-conscious sub-editor? Apply to the Daily Mail.

Telegraph Duped By GCHQ

Being used as a conduit for the security services carries two very obvious risks for papers and their journalists: one, that their copy can appear so slanted as to make the hand behind it all too obvious, and two, the potential for embarrassment should they be found out. Both have now befallen the Maily Telegraph, and hapless home affairs correspondent David Barrett.
Questions to answer: Tony Gallagher

Publishing Edward Snowden security secrets a ‘criminal’ act, says former terrorism watchdog” proclaimed the headline, followed by the explanation “Publication of stolen state secrets by the Guardian newspaper was a ‘criminal act’ and it is wrong to paint the newspaper’s journalists as ‘virtuous whistleblowers’, the former terrorism watchdog has said”.

On the face of it, this looks like a damning indictment of the deeply subversive Guardian, and enjoys the clear endorsement of Alex Carlile, a Lib Dem peer “who is also a leading QC” as Barrett reminds his readers. But a scan of the copy shows that this is merely rehashing disproven arguments and inventing “facts” to suit the narrative, as with all too much Telegraph content.

David Miranda “was found carrying 58,000 highly-classified British documents through at Heathrow airport in August” asserted Barrett. We don’t know: this is the official estimate by those still trying to crack the encryption on the electronic devices confiscated from Miranda. The Police “should have arrested him and launched a full investigation” according to Carlile. On what grounds?

We then read that “Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, warned the Guardian had handed a ‘gift’ to terrorists and a ‘guide book’ on the best way to avoid detection when plotting mass murder”. Whatever “Nosey” Parker did or did not say, the Guardian was not mentioned. And Carlile went way beyond merely observing and commenting on the affair.

Mr Snowden has provided and the Guardian has published material that allegedly shows where and how the UK is functioning against terrorism”. No location previously unknown has been identified by the paper, and nor has anything relating specifically to terrorist surveillance. One might form the impression that Carlile was speaking for the spooks – and one would be dead right to do so.

Because it has now been revealed that “GCHQ assisted the Home Office in lining up sympathetic people to help with ‘press handling’, including the Liberal Democrat peer and former intelligence services commissioner Lord Carlile”. The Telegraph has used a GCHQ cheerleader as its main source. The copy was probably approved by the spooks as well. The Tel has been used, and I suspect they know it.

That’s another reason it’s no longer a paper of record. And that’s not good enough.

Guardian Trashes Mensch And Smith

The campaign by former Tory MP Louise Mensch, recently joined by serving MP Julian Smith, to have the deeply subversive Guardian hit with terrorism charges, the Official Secrets Act, or anything else they can think of, yesterday fell apart in the face of reality. For Smith, there was added humiliation as the paper exposed his own potential breach of that “National Security” he loves to talk of.
The accusation made by both Ms Mensch and Smith can be stated plainly: they have convinced themselves that the Guardian has not only made the material from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden available to other media outlets, but that they have also copied and distributed (or, as Ms Mensch likes to put it for dramatic effect, “trafficked”) information identifying members of the security services.

Smith went as far as to secure a debate in Westminster Hall, where he trotted out the accusation again, before making a complaint to the Metropolitan Police, and including it one more time for good measure. Statements by minister James Brokenshire to his debate, and Young Dave later in the week, reassured Smith. He clearly thought he was on a winning streak.

And then came the Guardian’s expose yesterday of Smith’s own potential security lapse: the MP had entertained a group of staff from RAF Menwith Hill at the Commons. This base, despite the name, is, as the Guardian has reminded readers, “the NSA’s chief eavesdropping hub in Europe”. Hence the headline “Did Conservative MP Julian Smith endanger national security?

After all, these are people working for the security services, and Smith has identified them – hence the pixelated faces – rather as he has accused the Guardian of doing, although with no evidence to back up his accusation. Ms Mensch immediately leapt to Smith’s defence, but his excuse, “The people that came on that trip would have given me full permission to use any photograph” is less than convincing.
Not waving but drowning

So when Ms Mensch says “he had permission to post it”, she may be wrong. And where she most certainly is wrong is in accusing the Guardian of identifying security personnel: in the same article, the paper responds to Smith. “He wrongly claimed it had distributed information about British intelligence agents”. That means they didn’t. The accusation, as I’ve said previously, was wild and unfounded.

What, then, of Louise Mensch’s campaign? Will she now withdraw gracefully, with whatever remains of her credibility that can be salvaged? Not a bit of it: she’s just carrying on as before, re-heating an accusation that has just been shown to be dishonest, and probably malicious. In the meantime, Julian Smith ought to think himself lucky if the Met don’t charge him with wasting Police time.

These two clowns should now leave the stage, but won’t. No change there, then.