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Tuesday 31 December 2013

The Romanians Are Coming – Or Maybe Not

The obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre are well known for their ability to spew out fact-free copy to suit the Vagina Monologue’s agenda, and with citizens of Bulgaria and Romania able to live and work in the UK without restriction from tomorrow, word has clearly gone out to frighten the readers with tales of people talking foreign who are coming to get us.
What's wrong with frightening the f***ing readers, c***?!?

Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UKscreams the headline, as the Dacre doggies tellOne airline has even doubled number of flights to meet demand ... Some one-way tickets are selling for up to £3,000 each ... Buses leaving Bulgarian capital of Sofia until January 9 are fully booked”. Is your bullshit detector ringing? It bloody well should be.

Because, as the folks at the Mailwatch forum have discovered, the reality is rather different: flights could be booked from Sofia to Gatwick with EasyJet for €146, and from Bucharest to Luton with WizzAir for €161 – departing tomorrow. This is rather less than the “£3,000” headline figure, for which no citation is given. And it’s no better when the coach travel figures are examined.

Readers are told “Travel agencies in Sofia as well as the Romanian capital of Bucharest reported huge demand for tickets. At the Central Bus Station in Sofia, travel agent Svetlanka Beaucheva said: ‘Everything is booked until Thursday, January 9. There are no seats left’”. But how many seats are actually being offered? Well, the answer is, not a lot.

Sixteen coaches carrying more than 50 passengers each will make the 1,500-mile journey by road to London from Sofia next month”. Soil the bed, that’s only one coach every two days! And travel agent Balkan Horn is offering a 5% online booking discount – if there was no problem flogging tickets, they wouldn’t need to do that. Yes, flights at weekends are booked up, but they are across Europe!

Then there is the misleading captioning of posters: “A poster promoting discounted tickets to the UK displayed at the central bus station in Sofia, Bulgaria” also mentions Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg and Greece. The poster from the Balkan Horn agency also features Prague – Charles Bridge is visible in the middle distance – but the Mail manages not to tell its readers.

When you strip it down, this is a truly desperate article which has clearly had facts selected to fit the agenda laid down at editorial conference. Even the “all seats booked until January 9” is nothing more than you would get across Europe during and after the New Year. Ever tried to book a last minute rail or coach journey from the Algarve back to Lisbon just after January 1? You’ve no chance.

This is Daily Mail scaremongering at its worst. So no surprise there, then.

Brillo Misses His Troll Award

The deeply subversive Guardian yesterday featured those it considered to be the worst trolls of 2013. Some of the names will be familiar to Zelo Street regulars, like (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch, and the clear winner, professional motormouth Katie Hopkins. But one name is missing, and he’s clearly unhappy at the omission: step forward Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil.
Neil has carved out his own niche in the Twitter trolling stakes when it comes to climate change, a subject where he has previous on trying to redefine the scientific consensus to suit the sceptic side of the argument. So when a Russian icebreaker got stuck in Antarctic sea ice with a group of scientists and reporters in board, he was off and running, albeit not making total sense.
Not a reversal in reducing Antarctic ice that has stuck the ship. Sea ice extent growing for decades. Climate scientists on board know that?” he proferred, making the false assumption that those on board were prone to making the same kind of false assumption that he was – or that this was the purpose of their voyage. Still, it set the tone for the next bout of trolling.
Some seem to think the boat is trapped in Antarctic sea ice because weather abnormally bad. 1 It’s summer. 2 Sea ice growing for years” came next. This is classic trolling (who “seemed to think”? Heck, who cares, he’s just making it up) combined with misinformation: the minimum for Antarctic ice comes not in December, but in March.
Still, it served them all right, because “Looks like media team on ship stuck in Antarctic ice consists of one Guardian journalist, one BBC and one who works for both”. This is totally irrelevant, but serves to enable the myth to be pushed that the Beeb and Guardian are somehow joined at the hip.
Then comes a classic slice of trolling: “Given well documented growth in Antarctic sea ice extent why did climate scientists and science journos on board not anticipate problems?” to which the answer is that they did, otherwise no provision would have been made to take sufficient food and drink for exactly that eventuality. And of course it is the ship’s operator to which he should have addressed his question.

What Neil does not address – and nor do the rest of the sceptic lobby – is that the significant loss of Antarctic ice is from land and not sea, this diminishing at over 100 cubic kilometres a year from 2002 to 2009. It was land ice falling into the sea that trapped the icebreaker, not that Andrew Neil is about to let such inconvenient facts slip into his trolling. That makes things easier for him.

And it is facts that need to be deployed against that trolling (sorry, Graham Linehan) to demonstrate that this is all Neil is doing.

Still No Gong For Dacre

Too late for some first editions, but now being pored over in detail by newspaper websites, the New Year’s Honours List was released from embargo at 2230 hours last night. And over at Mail Online, they know not only who is on it, but who once again isn’t. As they also know which side their bread is buttered, that means one thing: rustle up some knocking copy.
Why shouldn't I get a f***ing gong, c***?!?

Why so? Because the one name missing is the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, hanging on there in the editor’s chair at the Daily Mail in the vain hope that he will be favoured as David English, his predecessor, was. But each successive Queen’s Birthday Honours and New Year Honours list comes and goes, and still there is no recognition for the Vagina Monologue.

So first to get the e-kicking is former Bank of England deputy governor Paul Tucker: “Bank of England chief who became embroiled in the Libor interest rate scandal is handed an honour”. Yeah, see, he was up to his neck in sleaze and he was just handed a gong. See how unfair it is? That nice Mr Dacre has worked hard for decades and he gets nothing. Booo! Not fair!!

Readers are told “Mr Tucker fiercely denied that he had sanctioned attempts by Barclays to manipulate its borrowing costs downwards in 2008 as the bank battled to stay afloat in the financial crisis” but then reminded “the decision to knight him in the New Year Honours List is likely to raise eyebrows in some quarters”. Like where, except at Northcliffe House?

Then the Government gets it in the neck: “The 'cronies' honours list: Controversy over knighthood for PR man who holidayed with Cameron and awards to Tory and LibDem donors” announces Tim Shipman, shipping as much bull as ever and also knowing which way to jump when Dacre passes by on another of his drive-by shoutings. And, as the man said, there’s more.

At least two Tory donors have been honoured and four Lib Dem donors ... Mr Cameron has been accused of running a Government of cronies”. By whom?  Er, Lib Dem peer Matthew Oakeshott. Representing the party that the Mail routinely slags off for, oh I dunno, any excuse Dacre and his attack doggies can dredge up. But now their spokesmen is the fount of all reliable knowledge.

There is even a snark at Alan Parker, head man at PR outfit Brunswick, who got a knighthood. Why? “The son of former British Rail chief Sir Peter Parker, the PR man once employed Gordon Brown's wife Sarah and Mr Brown is godfather to his son William”. There’s a string of hanging offences for you.

But this is just more mean-spirited pettiness cobbled together to order. Dacre will rail at the honours system until he gets his gong. No change there, then.

Monday 30 December 2013

Schumacher’s Blow To The Head

As Formula 1 fans wait and hope that seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher pulls through after suffering severe head trauma while ski-ing off piste above the French resort of Meribel yesterday, those of us with long memories of F1 may recall what happens when the emergency responders and medical teams don’t recognise this kind of injury, and act quickly enough to make a difference.
Michael Schumacher was diagnosed and treated quickly ...

Schumacher was able, it seems, to walk away after hitting his head on a rock after falling. He was wearing a protective helmet. It may have been something and nothing. But he was airlifted to hospital in Moutiers, which was shown to be the right course of action as his condition deteriorated rapidly. He was later moved to a larger hospital in Grenoble, where surgeons operated to relieve pressure on his brain.

Back in 1973, in the infinitely more dangerous days of F1, two equally famous and well-regarded drivers decided to retire, relieved that they had survived as long as they had. In the UK, three-time F1 world champion Jackie Stewart left at the end of the season and was never persuaded to return. His Tyrrell team-mate François Cevert had been killed in practice for the last round in the USA.
... while Mark Donohue (seen after his Indy 500 win) wasn't

Over in the USA, Mark Donohue, 1972 Indianapolis 500 winner and driver of the awesomely powerful long-tail Porsche 917/30 that laid waste to the rest of the field in the 1973 Can-Am series, also retired. His friend Swede Savage had died in that year’s Indy 500. But Donohue was persuaded by his former mentor Roger Penske to come back later the following year for a crack at F1.

Formula 1 was not such a straightforward proposition for Penske and Donohue, and in the middle of the 1975 season their own car was sidelined in favour of a bought-in March 751, which immediately rewarded its owners with a points finish at the British GP. But in practice at the Austrian race some weeks later, Donohue suffered a burst tyre and crashed the car at the fastest part of the circuit.

The March left the track and fatally injured a marshal. Donohue hit his head on what was thought to have been either a fence post or advertising hoarding. Like Schumacher, he initially walked away. He, too, was wearing a helmet. But he later complained of headaches. Only the next day was he airlifted to hospital in the nearest city, Graz. And there he died.

Like Schumacher, Donohue had suffered serious head trauma. Like Schumacher, he had then suffered a haemorrhage. But unlike Schumacher, the diagnosis and response was not fast enough. And, of course, the sport lost drivers to accidents every year in those days. Fortunately for Schumacher, sports medicine has advanced way beyond where it was in the mid-70s.

So, unlike poor Mark Donohue, at least he has a fighting chance.

Failure Of The Young TURCs

The subject of Facility Time for representatives of Trades Unions has come back into view this morning, with reports from both the Maily Telegraph and Daily Mail suggesting that, far from its cost reducing, as was the intention of Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and his cheerleaders at the so-called Trade Union Reform Campaign (TURC), the amount spent within the Civil Service has actually risen.
The offices of Government, seen from Horse Guards Parade

But from TURC the silence thus far has been total: the Twitter feed has seen no action for three months, and its website appears dead. No comment has been made by supporters Aidan Burley MP (of Nazi-themed après ski infamy), former City Councilman Mark Clarke, disgraced former local Government officer Andre Walker, or the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole.

To compensate for this silence, there has been plenty of hot air from Dominic Raab, the Tory MP whose Freedom Of Information request revealed the figures: “With so many facing the disruption of strikes led by militant union leaders, taxpayers will be alarmed to learn their subsidy to the unions has shot up by almost a third in two years” he frothed in suitably dishonest terms.

And, as the man said, there’s more: “Having pledged to cut the millions of pounds of public money siphoned off for union business, it is vital that the Government delivers on its promise”. As Jon Stewart may have said, two things here: facility time is not union business, and payments for it do not subsidise unions. It has nothing to do with industrial action, or any other form of activism.

All that facility time entails is to do with duties within the workplace, for which employers make use of the skills and training of union representatives, who are paid while carrying out those duties. This should not be too difficult for Raab or any of his like-minded colleagues to take on board, and yet ministers like Maude, and his rabidly populist pal Eric Pickles, keep on misinforming about it.

Nor should it be too hard to understand that having representatives working on those duties full-time, rather than having two or more sharing them with other work, is likely to be more cost-effective, as the reps are going to be up to speed on their casework. But the Government has tried to ban full-time reps, and by doing so, has most likely been the sole source of the increased costs revealed today.

None of this should be beyond Dominic Raab or his cheerleaders in the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate, nor the ministers who have been taken in by TURC and its supporters, who are today so conspicuous by their absence. Because when the Mail says “Crackdown on using public money to fund work by civil servants exposed as failure”, they are on this occasion dead right.

Follow right-wing ideologues in haste, repent at leisure. It was ever thus.

UKIP’s Unswerving Bigotry

Nigel “Thirsty” Farage has now found out what it’s like to go from hero to zero within the space of a week. One day he’s taking the moral high ground after Anna Soubry makes her finger-up-the-arse remark live on The Andy Marr Show (tm), and then he’s being ritually slagged off by his own supporters for having the effrontery to suggest the UK honours its obligations on taking in refugees.
And in doing so, he has discovered that UKIP has not merely attracted those who want to be outside the EU, but a following that is bigoted and xenophobic in the extreme. All that Farage did was to say that Britain should accept a small number of those displaced by the continuing conflict in Syria. He wasn’t suggesting we take them all – just a few thousand people.

The UK has been doing this for decades: when Idi Amin foolishly threw out the Ugandan Asians in 1972 (because God apparently told him to), Britain took the largest number. Many of those displaced had UK passports. The influx of highly motivated and talented individuals did the economy no harm at all. The effect on all those businesses left behind in Uganda was not so fortunate.

But the beneficial effects of migration are lost on many UKIP supporters, and the party’s Facebook page was flooded with negative feedback. “I don't think Nigel has won many votes with that statement ... No sorry we are full. I feel for these people. But it's not our problem ... No, Italy, Turkey, Spain, France, Russia have room. We're at breaking point here. Roma in a few weeks and then Syrian refugees?

The intolerance of anyone talking foreign knew no bounds: “once here they will get access to benefits along with housing, NHS treatment and eventually our jobs ... No Nigel, we have enough ... it’s time we shut the immigration door and looked after the white indigenous people of the UK ... tell them to sort out their own shite ... We are completely full to brim we have no space for anyone else”.

One does not have to look far down the list of over a thousand comments on the post concerned to find those quoted. The conclusion has to be that UKIP has attracted not merely those who are anti-EU (but, one suspects, do not object to the right to buy property and live in Spain, Portugal or Italy), but the kind of voters who would have previously coalesced around the BNP.

Small wonder the BNP has all but collapsed: UKIP has brought its former supporters on board, as they have seen Farage and his pals as similarly intolerant of anyone who is not white and English speaking. “Thirsty” can protest all he likes that he and his party are not racists, but the Syrian refugee crisis shows that much of UKIP’s support certainly is. And that may only serve to drive others away.

Does Farage still think his party is “The Real Opposition”? Because it isn’t.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Hannan Loses It With British Influence

Someone over at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs has not had a very happy festive season: step forward Dan, Dan The Oratory Man, who has lost his rag big time with British Influence, a group which has had the audacity to adopt a position in favour of the UK remaining a member state of the EU. Hannan is particularly incensed that they have commissioned a poll in support of this idea.
One careful owner, now how much am I bid?

Dan says it’s a fiddle: he asserts the poll is confined “to quangocrats, charity heads, civil servants, CEOs of multi-national corporations and the like”, except he can’t be sure (hence “and the like”). So he dismisses the result: after all, this is just “700 bien pensant metropolitans of whom, sure enough, 69 per cent want to stay in the EU”. And then he makes his first mistake.

Indeed, the only surprise is that, of a demographic specifically selected for pro-Brussels bias, 31 per cent don't agree” he continues, but had he actually read the results he would have seen that this figure was just 23%. The remaining 8% did not express an opinion one way or the other. But Hannan does know that he is right and they are wrong, and reminds them of the kind of poll of which he approves.

When every poll of the general population shows an anti-EU majority, you have to clutch at whatever support you can find” he sneers, continuing “Nor am I saying that all, or even most, of the people surveyed are beneficiaries of the Brussels racket. They don’t have to be. When enough NGOs get money from the Commission, even those that don’t tend to be inflected by the Euro-enthusiasm of their peers”.

And they have been wrong before: “Let’s run over some of the other things that all these “leading figures” have favoured over the years, shall we? State planning, prices and incomes policies, the SDP, the ERM. Almost without exception, the ‘leading figures’ trotted out by British Influence to argue for the EU were, a decade ago, making precisely the same arguments about joining the euro”.

They were? Did British Influence manage a matching sample? But he’s still right: “The Chartists and the Suffragettes were attacked by their opponents in exactly the same terms as Ukip today: as a bunch of mavericks and obsessives. When the vote was extended to all adults, the moderate men, the sensible men, the men of bottom and judgment, suddenly remembered that they had favoured the idea all along. The same will happen with Brexit. Just watch”.

Obsessives” is right. Daniel Hannan is not advancing any rational argument here, save for the belief that his way is the only true way. In this, he is at home at the Telegraph, where right-wing belief in opposing climate change policy and independent press regulation is joined by that on Europe.

That belief extends to losing it with those of opposing view. No surprise there, then.

Gilligan Health Tourism Scare Isn’t

The 300 ‘maternity tourists’announced the Sunday Telegraph today, in an effort to conflate use of the NHS by those not entitled to free healthcare, and potential immigration from Romania and Bulgaria. That two rather different cases have been lumped together will come as no surprise when readers see the name on the by-line, that being Andrew “transcription error” Gilligan.
On top of that is the all-too-common use of quotation marks because the phrase being pitched cannot be stood up. So where does Gilligan get it? “A government report found that immigration officials at one airport stopped more than 300 such mothers-to-be over two years”. And they were all headed for an NHS hospital to get treatment for free? But then, that is what cannot be stood up.

But off he goes anyway: “The problem of ‘maternity tourism’ has become so acute that staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust, in London, refer to the flow of West African women flying in to give birth as the ‘Lagos Shuttle’”. Really? Who calls it that? Er, the Telegraph does, egged on by one J Meirion Thomas, who will tell anyone prepared to listen about health tourism.

Anyhow, what sums of money are involved? “The Government says health tourism costs the NHS as much as £80 million a year — enough to pay for about 2,000 nurses ... However, estimates seen by The Telegraph suggest the true figure may be far higher”. When Andrew Gilligan mentions “estimates” that “suggest” something, without the source being cited, that’s an avoid.

So we’re left with “as much as £80 million a year”, and for the sake of argument, let’s take £80 million as the actual figure. How does this compare, say, to the total NHS budget? Well, the 2013/4 figure for the latter is £95.6 billion, which makes the shock horror health tourism figure of £80 million less than one-tenth of one per cent of it. Whoever is coming here for NHS treatment isn’t exactly breaking the bank.

It gets worse: the reports that inform Gilligan’s article appear to consist of one study from 2010 – so hardly up to date – and another which has canvassed views of staff, rather than factual information. To this he adds “Later this week, restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians working in Britain will be lifted, amid concerns that tens of thousands could arrive and be entitled to benefits”.

But residents of other EU member states are entitled to access the NHS under reciprocal arrangements with those states. So Gilligan is adding a rank non sequitur to outdated and unpublished information, then selectively quoting from it, along with re-hashing a previous piece from his own paper. It is no doubt what his editor demanded, but at the expense of any credibility he had left.

Andrew Gilligan is once again a disgrace to his profession. No change there, then.

UK Power Networks – The Facts

[Update at end of post]

Towns and cities across Britain at risk of flooding AGAIN as new 80mph gale sweeps in from Atlantic (and thousands are still without power)announced the Mail On Sunday today, and there in the article we learn “But in an exclusive interview, Basil Scarsella, the boss of UK Power Networks, which supplies eight million homes in the South East, admitted: ‘We could and should have done more’”.
Yalding, Kent three days ago (Photo (c) BBC)

UK Power Networks manages electricity distribution networks in London and the South East and East of England, those formerly run by the London Electricity Board, Eastern Electricity, and SEEBOARD. These networks were brought together under the Aegis of EDF, who sold them to the Cheung Kong Group in October 2010, for a sum thought to be around £5.5 billion.

It did not take long for the new owners to make economies: less than a year after the takeover, UK Power Networks announced 400 job losses, with another 200 to follow in 2012 and 2013. The company confirmed “it is currently in the process of consultation with its recognised trade unions and staff representatives on proposals to improve its operational efficiency and reduce costs”.

It was claimed that “Staff who work directly on the electricity network will not be impacted”, but that was not the end of the cuts. “UK Power Networks chops tree cutting spend by 28 per centwas the proud announcement in February last year. “Combining power line maintenance and tree cutting into one contract reduced costs by more than a quarter and lessened UK Power Networks' need to halt operations”.

That sounds, on the face of it, impressive. But a closer look reveals that the company was “in the middle of a programme to cut costs by 20 per cent”. And if that contract quoted “now gets both services for 36 per cent below the industry benchmark”, how is that achieved? How come the rest of the industry isn’t seeing the same improvement? We may now be seeing the answers.

Mr Scarsella also conceded that householders were cut off for long periods because too many of his staff were off over Christmas. He said his company was considering restricting employees’ holidays in the future” tells the MoS. But no competent business allows too many of its workforce to be away at any one time – unless, of course, there was so little cover that the situation was inevitable.

Axing hundreds of jobs, reducing maintenance costs and then cutting costs by a full 20% on top of all that has one clear corollary, and we have seen that in Kent this past week, with some residents still without power six days after the storm hit. Cheung Kong – withdrawn five years ago from the Hang Seng index – may be getting an improved return on its investment. But this has come at a price.

Their unfortunate punters appear to be the ones paying it. That’s not good enough.

[UPDATE 31 December 1915 hours: the Independent has picked up on this story, noting that UK Power Networks, while cutting staff, made an annual profit of almost £1 billion according to its latest accounts, and managed to give its owners a £135 million dividend.

The Indy also noted that the company was "substantially funded by debt", but easily able to manage the interest payments - while also making a handsome profit, sending that bonus back to Hong Kong, and paying rather less than the headline rate of Corporation Tax. We haven't heard the last of this one]

Saturday 28 December 2013

EU Haters In A Cinnamon Whirl

For once, Nigel “Thirsty” Farage has taken an interest in an EU member state that is not the UK. And his thoughts are with Denmark right now, as his latest propaganda screed for the Daily Express (aka Daily UKIP) showed. “Might I suggest that if you have room you squeeze in a cinnamon danish before the EU bans them?” he asked, because nobody is banning cinnamon any time soon.
So, if cinnamon is not being banned, what is? After all, the Daily Mail also has this story, offering “Is this the end of the cinnamon roll? Traditional Danish pastries under threat after EU threatens ban on the spice”, which is also wrong (see above). Even the Mirror hasA proposed European Union limit on the amount of cinnamon used in baked goods could see the end of Denmark's traditional festive pastries”.

And from the start, the Mail presents this as an open-and-shut case: “Brussels has sparked outrage in Denmark by proposing to outlaw their traditional pastries. Christmas festivities have been dampened in Copenhagen by the prospect that this could be the last year its citizens will be able to eat their kanelsnegler or cinnamon rolls”. This, however, is bullshit.

We know this as Danish journalist Ole Ryborg has set out the facts in an article for DR which you can read right HERE. There are two types of cinnamon involved: real or Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum Verum), on which there is no restriction, and certainly no ban, and Chinese or Cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum Cassia), quantities of which are to be restricted in foodstuffs on sale throughout the EU.

The restriction on Cassia cinnamon is because it contains coumarin, which has the potential to cause liver damage. Some hacks and politicians say that consumers would have to take in such large quantities that this would not be possible, but that assumes that the only exposure to coumarin and other liver-damaging substances are through eating Kanelsneglen, or Cinnamon Snails.

Those are the “traditional pastries” the Mail is banging on about. Many bakeries in Denmark are using Cassia cinnamon in those pastries as it is cheaper, but they have a straightforward alternative: use the real stuff and pay the higher cost, which, spread over the number of pastries involved, would hardly be onerous. On top of all that, Danish politicians have voted overwhelmingly for the new rules.

So “Brussels” is not banning anything, showing that Farage is as honest as the day is long, providing that day is December 21st. All that is happening is that bakers have to reduce levels of the more harmful Cassia cinnamon, or use the real thing. Those lower levels were agreed between member states a full five years ago. Only now, in a slow news period, has the UK press woken up and taken advantage.

And the only reason for that is to frighten the readers. No change there, then.

Who Sent Cameron To Kent?

This morning, Young Dave will not be a totally happy chappie. Nor, one suspects, will he have been backward in coming forward to issue an Olympic sized bollocking to whoever thought it would be a jolly good wheeze to mosey over to Kent on a tour of villages worst affected by the recent severe weather. Because that visit ended up making Cameron look weak and ineffective.
For some, these visits are risk-free: had the Prince of Wales been visiting, he could have deployed a suitably furrowed brow, listened intently to residents, those from the emergency services, and others working to clear floodwater and restore power, told how terribly ghastly the weather had been, assured all present that something would be done, and piled off back to Kensington Palace, happy at a job well done.

But then, he isn’t in Government, and nor are opposition politicians, who can also make hay at the Coalition’s expense with flying visits and sympathetic ears. It is very different for Cameron. There is no higher elective office. The buck cannot be passed any higher. The public assume, rightly or otherwise, that he is the one person who can pull the levers and make things happen.

So, when the PM arrived in the Kent village of Yalding with the broadcasters in tow, he should have known what would happen. And it did happen: one resident told him “We were literally abandoned. We had no rescuers, no nothing for the whole day ... we’ve had no support. We’ve had no electricity and we’ve still got no electricity ... the council – we’ve been trying to contact them since Monday, and nothing”.

It will not have helped the Cameron mood that the council concerned is controlled by his party. Another resident concluded “My frustration is that until Cameron came we had been left abandoned ... When we knew he was coming this morning the police showed up, the council turned up but until then the only people helping us were volunteers. It was just a publicity stunt”. Oh dear.

Cameron’s protestation that resources were being put into flood defences was utterly false: soon after the Coalition came to power in 2010, that budget was cut by £170 million as the department concerned looked to deliver cuts of 29%. Many schemes did not go ahead. Maintenance of existing defences was cut back. The Guardian reported that scores of schemes had not been progressed as a result.

All of this information was bound to be sought out as soon as Cameron opened his mouth. Thus another good reason for him not to have made that visit: there are plenty of more junior ministers who could have done the job, and taken the flak without attracting so much media attention. Whoever thought it was a good idea to expose Young Dave to all of that will be in the doghouse today.

But good of them to show where this Government’s priorities lie. Well done that man!

Friday 27 December 2013

Now That’s What I Call UN Meddling 94

Advice from citizens of one country directed at another country is one of those concepts that is only acceptable to the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre providing that it is Brits telling foreigners what to do. Thus it is fine for us to tell leaders of any Middle Eastern country – but not Israel – how to sort themselves out, and likewise any African or South American country.
What's f***ing wrong with kicking foreigners, c***?!?

It’s even OK for us to tell other EU member states where they’re going wrong. But woe betide anyone from another country – except perhaps the USA – telling us that something in the UK is not right. That’s our job, or, rather, it’s the job of the Fourth Estate to sell more papers by kicking politicians. And all those who talk foreign can butt out, on pain of being hatcheted by the Daily Mail.

This one-way relationship has not been sufficiently appreciated by those at the United Nations (UN). First came Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik, whose criticism of Government policy on housing brought forth a barrage of insults: “loopy”, “trougher”, “hypocrite”, a “dabbler in witchcraft”. There was even in intervention from Grant “Spiv” Shapps, just to give everyone a good laugh.

So when the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) was less than complimentary recently, the Mail was indignant: “Now U.N. meddlers lecture Britain on migrants: Millions in peril in Syria, yet refugee chief finds time to condemn Cameron's reforms”. Yeah, shove off and visit Syria and Southern Sudan and don’t stick your bugle in on our patch!

The Mail’s indignation was heightened by the UNHCR being someone who talks foreign, and so António Guterres has been denounced by Priti Patel, Douglas “Kamikaze” Carswell, Peter Bone, and probably Mrs Bone as well. Such was the heinous crime that had been perpetrated that there had to be a Daily Mail Comment item in support, and this was particularly nasty.

Guterres is dismissed as “an obscure Portuguese politician and academic”. He was Prime Minister for six and a half years, and had been active in the country’s politics since the 1974 Revolution. Yes, he had been a university professor at a young age – but then, so had one John Enoch Powell, and in his case that was not something to sniff at, but for Simon Heffer to admire.

Isn’t it about time these people focused firmly on their day jobs and stopped meddling in matters where they have absolutely no remit?” thunders the Mail. But Guterres’ business is refugees, he was talking about asylum seekers, and they are refugees. So this is his day job, his remit does run to these matters, and so it is not medding, however much Paul Dacre fumes about it.

But there are papers to sell and MPs’ careers to promote, so that’s all right, then.

Fraser Nelson’s Strange Priorities

[Update at end of post]

Some interviews are interesting not just for what the subject did or did not tell their inquisitor, but also for what got left out of the finished article. This latter informs anyone interested of the priorities of the publication concerned. And, in the case of the Spectator, when interviewer and editor are one and the same, we can be doubly sure whose priorities are on view.
So it was with Fraser Nelson’s chat with Young Dave en route from Downing Street to Beaconsfield services on the M40. This wide-ranging interview – just how wide-ranging we are only just finding out, rather later than the publication date – covered both the Nigella and Saatchi ruckus, and press regulation, but only one of those subjects was heavily trailed and included in the final cut.

Yes, it was only yesterday that Nelson came clean: “In my interview with David Cameron in the current Christmas edition of The Spectator, there wasn’t enough space for everything – including his thoughts on press regulation”. You’re the editor, and you couldn’t find room in your own magazine. Just how credible does that sound? Not very. And nor does his reasoning.

The press refused to sign ... and instead moved to send up a new, independent regulator which would do almost everything Lord Leveson wanted but just not at the behest of politicians. That’s how I see it, anyway”. Well, you see it wrong, then. Ipso, the press’ self-regulator, met only 12 of the 38 Leveson recommendations. And it would be open to political interference in the same way as the PCC.

Nelson cannot complain about those recommendations after he claimed that Ipso met themto the millimetre”. That means he supports those recommendations. And they include the recognition criteria he now says he opposes. But on he goes, talking of “the politicians’ charter” while conveniently forgetting that the press also supported that idea – until they failed to get their way.

Readers are told that the cross-party Royal Charter would be illegal in the USA and Sweden, although why this would be, and the fact that the UK does not have a written constitution, are not told. He is convinced that the Charter would somehow “set the parameters under which the press operates”. This is totally untrue. It is worrying how such an intelligent man can be so staggeringly wilful.

Nelson also remains convinced that “You guys got together one night and cooked it up”. The larger part of the Fourth Estate invented this story, and now at least one of their number believes it. And he believes that press freedom would be ended, or at least curtailed, by signing up to a recognised self-regulator. It’s rather like religion: the followers can only use belief to justify their stance.

It’s not hard to see why Nigella got into the Speccy, and this bit didn’t. Sad.

[UPDATE 1620 hours: the Mail has now picked up on Cameron's remarks, which have changed in the retelling from advice to something rather more sinister. "Cameron threatens press over tougher regulation" howls the headline. There is talk of a "crackdown".

Ipso is described as "a tough new regulator, independent of politicians", which it isn't. But the Dacre doggies do get Douglas "Kamikaze" Carswell to pass adverse comment on the cross-party Royal Charter and talk of forcing the press "to publish under licence", which, like most of what Fraser Nelson talks about, would not happen to any publication signed up to a recognised self-regulator.

But good of the Mail to let everyone know that the slightest suggestion that going along with the cross-party Charter is not opinion, but a threat. By tomorrow's print edition, it may also have become an end to press freedom as we know it, and is highly likely to have also become "chilling". No change there, then]

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Season’s Greetings

It is Christmas Eve, the presents are wrapped, the cards written, and the preparations made. Yes, it’s that time of the year when Zelo Street takes a break, merited or otherwise, over the festive period.
Whaddya mean, would I like seconds?!?

There may be eating, drinking and making merry. There may even be the occasional instance of overindulgence. But what there definitely will be is a gap in blogging until December 27 at the earliest.

The compliments of the season to you all. And, as Arnie once said, I’ll be back.

Brillo Redefines Reality

The climate change stance taken by the BBC’s Daily and Sunday Politics frontman Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil is well known: his expertly crafted apologia for taking a glaringly sceptical view in an interview recently with Ed Davey has passed before my inspection already. But now, it seems, The Great Man has decided that it is time to redefine the scientific mainstream to suit Himself Personally Now.
This endeavour kicked off yesterday afternoon as Neil asked his Twitter followers “Has 2013 been [the] worst year ever for the global warming lobby? Or are setbacks only minor?”, as if there had been any kind of “setback” to the scientific consensus, after the latest IPCC report turned out to have no howlers in it, reducing the convocation of naysayers to hurling abuse as their best shot.
One respondent pointed out to Neil that he should be looking at global average temperatures, to which he responded “They haven’t risen for 17 years”. Yes, first it was 1998 that was the starting point for the so-called “pause”, but now Brillo has shifted it back two more years so he can use a bigger number. And, as I’ve pointed out before, you can fiddle the data to play that game very easily.
Problem is, it doesn’t invalidate the ever-rising longer term trend. And another respondent brought bad news for Neil. “Here is the actual temperature data. Still rising (unfortunately)” was the message, with a link to the RealClimate blog. This is a mainstream source which uses real-world data. So it might be thought that Neil would at least accept it as such.
But that thought would have been misplaced: “I’ve read that post. Much of it tendentious and way outside the scientific consensus” was his reply. His informant put him straight: “the data (the two graphs) are from IPCC 2013, ie as near to the scientific consensus as exists”. This is a factual statement. So what possessed Neil to take such a stance?
RealClimate is arguably the most mainstream climate blog known. Its regular contributors, such as Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann, are mainstream climate scientists with hundreds of peer-reviewed publications to their names. Yet Andrew Neil is asserting that they are “outside the scientific consensus”. Perhaps this is, in fact, another attempt at redefinition.

After all, in that apologia following the Davey interview, he attempted to discredit one mainstream scientist before putting forward his own sources, all of whom were firmly in the sceptic camp. This is just another example of the genre: paint the mainstream as somehow controversial and extreme, and substitute what he would prefer the mainstream to look like.

Rupert Murdoch would be proud of him. But it isn’t going to work.

Monday 23 December 2013

Boris EU Homework Fail

Today, as is customary at the Maily Telegraph, London’s occasional Mayor and regular collector of “chicken feed” at a rate of £5,000 a column, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, regales the readers with another stream-of-consciousness essay cobbled together while its author was awaiting Sunday luncheon at the house of whoever had the thankless task of hosting him this time round.
And today’s subject, at which he arrives after droning on about wine in screw-top bottles being so much more jolly whizzo wonderful than the rotten old corked variety and why leaving your phone switched on while the aircraft takes off is perfectly safe, is the EU, about which he used to write in the most creative terms (but not dishonestly, honest) when he was the Tel’s point man in Brussels.

In the next couple of years we are entitled to pose the question: what is the POINT of the EU?” demands Bozza. Rather than, for instance, the point of that pointless cable car or those vanity buses that keep breaking down, of course. But do go on. “I want to hear the positive arguments FOR the EU ... Maybe there is a positive vision to be set out – I am just not hearing it yet”.

Providing 57% of our trade; structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline; clean beaches and rivers; cleaner air; lead free petrol; restrictions on landfill dumping; a recycling culture; cheaper mobile charges; cheaper air travel; improved consumer protection and food labelling; a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives; better product safety; single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance; break up of monopolies; Europe-wide patent and copyright protection; no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market; price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone; freedom to travel, live and work across Europe; funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad; access to European health services; labour protection and enhanced social welfare; smoke-free workplaces; equal pay legislation; holiday entitlement; the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime; strongest wildlife protection in the world; improved animal welfare in food production; EU-funded research and industrial collaboration; EU representation in international forums; bloc EEA negotiation at the WTO; EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; European arrest warrant; cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling; counter terrorism intelligence; European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa; support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond; investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital”.

And that’s before you even start on the peace that has held between member states since the signing of the Treaty of Rome.

So when Bozza opines that “I am not sure: but at the moment it feels as if the EU is the Bakelite handset of 21st-century geopolitics”, you know he is once again failing to do his homework and talking claptrap at the same time.

What was it that LBJ said about farting and chewing gum? No change there, then.

Don’t Menshn The Christmas Turkey

The festive season is once more upon us, but while many of us enjoy a Christmas of eating, drinking and being merry, it is also the time of year to spare a thought for those in need. Some are in need of food and shelter; others of someone to talk to in the dark days of winter. And some are merely in need of even more attention than their antics are currently able to provide for them.
Has she got news for us? Not yet

Particularly in need of more attention for Herself Personally Now this Christmas is former Tory MP Louise Mensch, now representing the distant constituency of Manhattan Upmarket, and to this end she has engaged in a series of seasonal stampy tantrums in an effort to turn all that ridicule into perhaps a little sympathy and admiration. Sadly, this has been an abject failure.
The latest push for credibility came with a leap onto the Team Nigella bandwagon: “Great scoop from the Sunday Times. Liar and pig, domestic abuser Charles Saatchi planned the Nigella drug allegations with them” she trilled. With whom? And that scoop was the Sunday People’s, thanks. On top of that, she’s only five and a half months late arriving at the party. But do go on.
What is so surprising is that Saatchi once had pretentions to being a gentleman. Hilarious”. Which is meaningless drivel, but good plugging for Uncle Rupe. And Ms Mensch is straight on to the hated BBC, which also matches the Murdoch agenda. “As Patten rejects any accountability for the fiefdom Parliament gave him, the only option is radical reform of the charter”, so more meaninglessness, then.
And, as the man said, there’s more: “Cameron should not wait for the Charter. He should seek cross party support to legislate now and force BBC accountability”. Like his opponents would listen. Then a real beauty: “Patten should without doubt be sacked. He is the most arrogant mandarin of all time, which is quite the achievement”. Yes folks, Louise Mensch just called someone else arrogant.
What else might please the Dirty Digger? Ah yes, kicking the Lib Dems. So Vince Cable’s appearance on The Andy Marr Show (tm) yesterday is dredged up. “Shorter Vince Cable: ‘Look at meeeee. Look at meeeeee. The Holocaust was exaggerated. Vote Lib Dem (meeeeeeee)’” she froths. Cable, to no surprise, said nothing of the sort, but hey ho, nor did Piers Morgan claim to have hacked phones.
But she does try to stand up the accusation: “he compares Bulgarian/Romanian economic migration to Jews fleeing for their lives”. He made no comparison, but that isn’t the point: Louise Mensch is not interested in facts, but in sucking up to her new paymaster while screaming at everyone to Look At Her. And the good news is that she will provide more of the same comedy gold in the New Year.

So a toast to the steaming turkey she has given us is well deserved. Cheers!

Tory NHS Bashing No Shock Horror

At first sight, it looked like the Tory cheerleaders at the Maily Telegraph and those of a more liberal stance at the deeply subversive Guardian were tailoring their reporting of the NHS to suit their readership. But the appointment of David Prior as the head of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has turned out to give every appearance of deliberate party political partisanship.
So while the Observer carries an interview with the bloke who actually runs the NHS in England, telling readers “Sir Malcolm Grant, chairman of NHS England, has revealed his frustration at attempts by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to micro-manage Britain's health service”, and his view that “I think the way we design the structure to incentivise people is right”, the Tel is focusing elsewhere.

Hack Laura Donnelly is instead talking up Prior, whom she headlines not as leading the CQC, but in turn calls him “Head of health and social care regulator David Prior” and “The man in charge of the NHS watchdog”. This enables the Telegraph to recycle Prior’s views, which are reliably in tune with its own NHS-bashing agenda, as if they are the One True Way Forward.

So readers are told that Prior wants to “put patients first”, which gives the impression that this is somehow not done at present. And he’s right, as he has “to oversee 250 hospitals, 8,000 GP practices and 23,000 care homes”. What Malcolm Grant makes of that suggestion – that former MP Prior, whose greatest distinction was to lose his seat to Norman Lamb, is actually his boss – would be interesting to hear.

The former Tory MP and deputy party chairman fears that A&E departments are ‘out of control’ - with the system on the brink of collapse” warns the Tel. So what does Grant think of that? “[he] also claimed to be ‘quietly confident’ that the service would cope with what is expected to be its busiest winter”. Are we talking about the same NHS here? And, as the man said, there’s more.

There are a lot of A&E departments now that are already on black alert a lot of the time; in the end a huge amount of this will depend on the weather. All we know is that it is going to be very tight” says Prior of this Winter. Grant was more upbeat: “The ‘big uncertainty’ would arise if there was a major change in the weather, but he said the system ‘will cope’”. And he is the one in charge.

There is a good reason the Telegraph has focused on David Prior: he makes the right noises (“When you are compared to a national religion, that is the problem”), accusing the NHS of being “placed on a pedestal, beyond reproach”, and that debate over failings “was simply not tolerated”. Then Ms Donnelly calls his parliamentary seat “North Norwich”. A little too eager to write to agenda there, methinks.

Still, it’s reassuring to see NHS bashing is alive and well. No change there, then.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Liz Jones – Scrooge In The Kitchen

Of all the Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday Glendas, none gives quite as much scope for having the piss taken out of them as Liz Jones. Catty, miserable, stuck-up and selfish, she might as well display a sign on her house saying “abandon hope all ye who enter here”. Christmas chez Liz must be one of the most deeply dispiriting experiences known to humankind.
What do you think of it so far?

Ms Jones is clearly going to have a very singular festive season. So she is sharpening her claws to attack anyone who is looking Happy With Malice Aforethought on the TV right now. This means Kirstie Allsopp gets it in the neck for making suggestions for decorations. “The festive season reached its nadir last week when Kirstie Allsopp told us all how we can make our own tree decoration”.

What is the problem here? Kirstie is a bit bossy, but she does fun TV. It’s not something to take too seriously. Or is it that Liz isn’t getting any invites from the broadcasters right now? It’s those who are getting the telly exposure that are the ones on the receiving end of the Jones bile, including the Dimbleby family (because they’re one of those dynasty thingies, which is A Very Bad Thing Indeed).

Also getting whinged at was Gordon Expletive Deleteding Ramsay. “If I had a husband who was as hyperactive and fidgety, I’d stab him” says Liz, seemingly forgetting that she doesn’t have a husband, as she loused that chapter up in some style – and then span it out into so many self-pitying columns that one half expected her to be paid to stop it and go away.

But the piece de resistance is yet another snark at Jack Monroe, who has had the effrontery to complain to Geordie Greig himself about Ms Jones’ whingeing. Liz is most unhappy about this example of readers doing exactly what they are entitled to, and as a result has launched into a self-justifying tirade, telling of all those things that she has written about, and therefore knows more about than everyone else.

Basically, Ms Monroe is in a no-win situation here: she objected to Liz Jones implying that her recipes used bargain basement meat when they’re priced for free range, but Ms Jones then moved the goalposts and made all meat Streng Verboten. The Jones household is vegan, and so Christmas there will mean nut roast, which readers are assured is “delicious”.

I’ll take her word for it, thanks. Christmas Day with Liz Jones sounds as appealing as a wet night at Liversedge Tram Sheds. It wouldn’t surprise me if there wasn’t even a decent glass of beer available, on the grounds that something got inhumanely treated during the mash process. But then, that’s why she’s so up herself about all the slebs she slags off. Because they will have lots of folk around at Christmas.

And Liz Jones won’t. Bah humbug!

Farage And A Lady’s Finger

You know the kind of approach that Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar proper-uppers at UKIP take when they get called out for unfortunate use of language when mentioning women, the disabled, ethnic minorities, non-Christian religions, and those of minority sexual orientation: it’s only a bit of banter. What’s their problem, these politically correct do-gooders?
Mmmmm yes, just a quick swivel

Yes, Nige and his pals are only saying what that great Silent Majority (tm) of the population would say if only they were not constrained by right-on rotten lefties, all those European Directives, the dastardly BBC, and the deeply subversive conspiracy that is the Guardian. At least that was what happened until the boot was on the other foot, and it was Farage on the receiving end.

Tory minister Anna Soubry, sitting in on The Andy Marr Show (tm) today, responded to a Farage impression from Rory Bremner by observing “I always think he looks like somebody has put their finger up his bottom and he really rather likes it”. Well, what’s the problem there, Nige? It’s only a piece of girly banter, isn’t it? You straight talking UKIP chaps won’t be offended, will you?
Actually, “Thirstywas deeply offended at the thought that he might derive some kind of satisfaction from having the odd digit up his jacksy. Following a prod from the Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn, Farage opined “perhaps @anna_soubrymp should spend less time investigating digital rectal insertion and more on her brief”. What a big girly wuss.

Nige even told the Express (aka the Daily Ukip) “This latest, remarkable foul mouthed attack is utterly incredulous. Soubry has stooped to the levels of crudity that any politician would spend a life time apologising for.This is supposed to be a professional woman representing her political party on a national television programme on a Sunday morning”. Awww diddums!

Foul mouthed”? Oh f*** right off, “Thirsty”. In any case, Ms Soubry has said sorry to Nige, although her point will have been made (fnarr, fnarr). And Farage will come to regret getting radged about the remark: already, writer Caitlin Moran has said “Please let Nigel Farage refute Anna Soubry's accusation with a press conference where he holds up his finger, as proof

But then, it might not be his finger we’re talking about. And the cartoonists and sketchwriters will already be sharpening their pens: whether it’s Steve Bell or Martin Rowson, expect “Finger Farage” to make his debut in the Guardian soon. The finger jokes will continue. And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving chap. After all, it’s only what the Silent Majority (tm) are thinking.

Where’s your sense of humour, Nige? It’s only a bit of banter!

The Twat In The Hat

Smear campaigns are nothing new. So the discovery by the Sunday People that such a device had been employed against Nigella Lawson will have surprised very few. But the revelation that the same PR consultant shilled for both Charles Saatchi and the Grillo sisters may just raise a few eyebrows. And the further news that he crossed the line from spin to forthright dishonesty won’t help his cause.
Richard Hillgrove - not selling any motahs any time soon

Acting for both now-former husband and personal assistants was one Richard Hillgrove. Who he? Well, he runs Hillgrove PR, who claim to be “specialists in both corporate and individual brand management and public relations”. And in his time, Hillgrove has met a number of well-known people, with whom he gives the impression of enjoying having his photo taken.

Another “feature” of the carefully crafted Hillgrove persona is an oversize hat. Perhaps he runs a JR fan club, or has an affinity with the Lone Star State. More likely is that he has a receding hairline and has overcompensated by cultivating a beard and teaming it with that silly headgear. Don’t do it Dick: get yourself a hair transplant, an Irish Jig, or own up to the fact that it’s falling out.

Whatever his own image problem, it is as nothing to the potential embarrassment that his still-extant blogpost on Nigella could pose for the future of his business. Titled “Nigella Lawson and her publicist Mark Hutchinson have committed a massive fraud on the British Public”, there is little subtlety in the accusations made. “Drug dealers even used to visit the Saatchi household” is how he gently kicks it off.

And then comes “Knowing that a paparazzi on the street was capturing the embarrassing scenes at an outside table at Scotts where the couple sat for a cigarette, Nigella Lawson feigned distress for the camera so it might look like an attack rather than a drug melt down. She is even seen in several pictures looking straight into the camera, fully aware of how the pictures might and need to look”.

Nice, eh? Then he ventures into the realms of true fantasy: “Charles Saatchi ... was protecting Nigella Lawson and shielding her by accepting a Police caution so the scrutiny would quickly go away about what really lay behind the pictures at Scotts ... At that point, Mr. Saatchi thought they were still happily married and he was doing what any husband would do”. Bullshit. The marriage was finished.

One of those who Hillgrove has been snapped with is Tone’s former chief spinmeister Alastair Campbell. Hillgrove may recall what Big Al said about becoming the story – well, Dick, you have now become the story. And it’s no use deleting that post, when so many people have screenshotted it. Nigella has come out of this stronger than ever, your man lost, and now your business may go the same way.

And all that will then remain will be you. The twat in the hat.