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Monday 31 March 2014

Don’t Menshn The Beth Din

Another week has brought another attempt to have arbitration by Sharia or Beth Din tribunals made illegal on the grounds that these discriminate against women – and that religion should not have any place in law. It will fall flat on its face, just like last week’s attempt. This is directly attributable to its main proponent, former Tory MP Louise Mensch, not knowing what the hell she is talking about.
(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014

Ms Mensch used her column in the Murdoch Sun last weekend to claim that there had been “a huge online backlash from women and moderate Muslims” after her previous demonstration of mardy strop throwing at the Law Society for issuing guidelines on drawing up wills that follow Sharia custom. And one view of this piece makes dispiriting reading for lovers of half-decent English prose.
An Oxford graduate in English Language and Literature regales Sun readers with soundbites such as “Not bloody good enough” and “the square root of sod all”, thus setting an abysmal example to others. This continued on Twitter: “The Tory war on women via Sharia and Beth Din continues. Advisers didn’t even know they covered domestic violence cases when I called” she asserts.
This is a blatant attempt to suggest that Sharia arbitration is somehow replacing the criminal law, which it is not. And it isn’t a one-off: “The Tories will not end the scandal of domestic violence victims pressured into Sharia [and] Beth Din courts. Labour set them up. Lib Dems silent” she ranted, with no evidence at all of even one case of anyone “pressured” into anything – so the usual Mensch schtick.
Note also the flagrantly dishonest assertion that Labour “set up” any of these bodies: they set up none, and many Beth Din tribunals can be traced back into the 19th Century, or to put it directly, before the Labour Party existed. Then comes a real Walter Mitty moment: “Across party lines, the people are of one mind on Sharia and Beth Din courts. ALL three parties are of another mind”.
Did she set all the facts before the public and commission a poll? No she didn’t. But, as the man said, there’s more: “People asking me to make distinctions between Sharia binding tribunals and Beth Din binding tribunals. I won’t. All religious bias wrong” she exclaimed, demonstrating a total ignorance of what arbitration is all about. Then someone tried to hint that she might not be totally right.
Did she stop and think? You jest: “Sod off while we fight the legalised sexism of Sharia and Beth Din tribunals”. Louise Mensch thinks she knows her stuff and will prevail. But one Twitter exchange with my good friend John Band (HERE) showed that she has not got a clue. And, as the tribunals she so detests are legal in England and Wales, her ranting will get her precisely nowhere.

But there will be more of the same, so get the popcorn in and enjoy the show.

Come Out Gay Tories, Wherever You Are

While many happy couples were taking advantage of the change in the law on same-sex marriage, the Sunday Mirror was going back to the days of “Shagger” Major and Good Old Tory Sleaze, as it screamedTop Tory MP resigns as Ministerial aide following claims he paid male escort for sex and drugs”. Mark Menzies – not really a “Top Tory MPhad resigned as Alan Duncan’s PPS.
It was hardly in the “Nude Vicar And Teapot” category, but what the heck, Westminster sex scandals sell papers, so much so that the Murdoch Sun lifted the story for its later editions. But in the aftermath of Menzies’ embarrassment before those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet, there has come the suggestion that more may be on the way.

And the loathsome Toby Young had the answer to this problem: “Every gay Conservative MP should come out of the closet”. Do explain: “Not that many of them are ‘in the closet’ ... Most are bachelors who are neither in the closet nor out of it, but in a kind of antechamber where they don't pretend to be straight but, at the same time, don't draw attention to their homosexuality either”. Yeah, right.

However, and in these cases there is inevitable a however, Tobes was not the only one to comment. Alex Wickham, newly anointed teaboy to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, has used the platform of the batshit collective otherwise known as Breitbart London to proclaim “Open Season On Westminster Sex Scandals”. More outings are allegedly on the way!

Wickham starts by pretending the only reason for the interregnum in sex scandal splashing is down to “The climate of fear instilled in newspaper editors by the Leveson Inquiry”, something that does not exist, but by laboriously banging on about it, Wickham is saying to potential employers that he’s “one of us”. Then, in true tabloid style, there is a change from victimhood to the mildly threatening.

It would certainly come as no surprise if several other MPs were to be exposed for using rent-boys, and there are also stories doing the rounds of politicians using gay saunas and cheating on their civil partners with other men. Who will be the first gay married MP to get divorced from his husband after an extra-marital affair is exposed by a Sunday paper, I wonder?” he asks, to no wonder at all.

We have, Wickham asserts, “a resurgent tabloid press ... it is not the newspapers that are scared ... but politicians themselves ... It is now open season for these type of sex scandal stories. Mark Menzies will be the first of a few”. Yes, come on out while you can, or the tabs will do it for you. And dressed up as Our Great Free Press, so it can behave as it bloody well likes, because Leveson.

But good to see the self-appointed and judgmental are as unpleasant as before.

IPCC Reports – Deniers Rant

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has delivered its verdict, and as the BBC has reported, “The impacts of global warming are likely to be ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible’, a major report by the UN has warned”. Moreover, “Warming is leading to more volatile weather patterns that are already reducing crop yields”. So that means it’s serious.
Serious enough, in fact, for the denialist fringe to go into overdrive. One hates to go directly to the D-word, but here we have people who can no longer be called “sceptics”, as they are not in “show-me” mode, but already in “It’s not happening and anyone who says it is is a liar” mode. Typical is Anthony Watts, who tellsnow the screaming begins anew ... it’s alarmism on steroids”.

This is the usual denialist schtick: the other lot are the screaming extremists, and the poor sceptics are the voice of calm reason, being overwhelmed by the World Government Conspiracy. Sadly, this is disproved by the aggressive yet easily debunked Steven Goddard of the pretentiously titled Real Science blog. He takes the assertion that climate change is “already affecting the food supply”.

Food supplies have been steadily increasing. These people are being paid to spread bullshit, and it stinks” he tells, then shows a graph of world grain production. So let’s take this nice and slowly, just for Stephen. Grain is not the only foodstuff in the world. And many people live a subsistence existence, so it’s little use to them that there may be lots of grain somewhere a long way away.

In any case, depending on someone else to provide that supply is exactly what the IPCC is banging on about. But let us move on to another voice of calm, Marc Morano at Climate Depot: “UN’s Pre-Determined Political ‘Science’: ‘Government officials and scientists’ are ‘wrangling over every line’ of new UN IPCC report – This is supposed to be a science process?”. Yes, that’s real calm for you.

Lots of quotation marks to show that the science is, by inference, suspect. After all, it’s “pre-determined”. But good to see Morano toeing the line, which is that it isn’t happening, or if it is, there’s nothing to worry about. This brings us to today’s star turn, James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole: “Global warming will cause war, pestilence, famine and death, says new IPCC report inevitably”, he tells.

It’s the usual Del Boy style: say lots of outrageously wrong things that aren’t being said by the IPCC, then tell everyone to chill “the costs could be offset by just a month's global economic growth”. A meaningless concept. Growth of what, from where? If he means a month’s world GDP, how does that same world manage while all its resources are diverted elsewhere? What happens next time?

Behold the deniers’ best shot. And it’s a truly lame effort. No change there, then.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Free School £45 Million Bingo

Last April, the Daily Mail told readersOne of the country's top schools is planning to open a sixth-form academy which will aim to offer pupils from poor backgrounds a route to Oxford and Cambridge. Westminster School and the Harris Federation have joined forces to open the academy, which will give priority to teenagers entitled to free school meals and to children in care”.
Yes, "Oiky", you're wasting our money. Again

What they did not tell was where the school would be located, nor who was paying. And now that the answers to those questions are known, there has been blowback from the chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee and the teaching unions – because the Harris Westminster Sixth Form will be situated in a former Government building in central London, and we’re paying.

That is because this is a Free School. And setting up in Steel House on Tothill Street – that’s the one running from the south side of Methodist Westminster Hall into Broadway and on into Petty France – means the premises are going to come at a premium price. Westminster School is in the same area? That isn’t a problem – it’s a privately funded business. The new Sixth Form is not.

In fact, as the Independent revealed on Saturday, the setup cost will be an eye-watering £45 million for a school with 500 places, which works out at £90,000 per pupil. That is six times the average cost of setting up a Free School, and the overall cost of that programme, as I noted the other day, has overshot its initial budget by well over a billion notes. The new school will be a seriously expensive one.

And, when many local authority schools are having to accommodate pupils in temporary classrooms – along with the problem of keeping them warm in the winter months – and foregoing maintenance on permanent structures, taxpayers may be forgiven for asking why it is the Government’s business helping Westminster School establish a selective Sixth Form in central London.

The new school seeks to get as many of half its pupils into Russell Group Universities, which is a laudable objective, but one wonders, if the idea is so good and the demand is there, why the sponsors could not have undertaken the project themselves. Margaret Hodge summed it up: “If you really want to get people into Oxford and Cambridge you don't have to give Westminster School £45 million”.

The spokesman defending the new Free School told “It will give hundreds of children from low income families across London the kind of top quality sixth form previously reserved for the better off”. But the question remains: is the cost justified, given constraints on budgets elsewhere? Michael “Oiky” Gove approved the deal, but his usual array of cheerleaders has remained silent.

Otherwise, it’s just another Free School overspend story. One of too many so far.

Mail Invents Beeb Crisis No Shock Horror

The BBC is facing a “furious backlash”. You didn’t know? Sure, it wasn’t on any TV channel, but the Mail On Sunday is clear: “Flowers' brazen TV lies, a simpering Paxman... and a shameful new low for the 'impartial' BBC: Furious backlash after BBC let Left-wing Methodist who ran Labour-supporting bank lie in 'soft' interview” thunders today’s headline.
But there has been no backlash: this is yet another example of those buried within the Northcliffe House bunker inventing their own news. What has set the MoS off is that Newsnight got exclusive access to former Co-Op Bank chairman Paul Flowers, and that The Inquisition Of Pax Jeremiah was not directed in the manner that the MoS believes it should have been.

So out come the inventions: “A BBC insider said of the interview: ‘It was soft, the treatment was very questionable. Flowers told the story he wanted to tell. It wasn’t the accountable interview style you expect from the programme’”. That would be a Corporation staffer? Well, no: that would be someone at the MoS who once got inside New Broadcasting House, probably to deliver something to reception.

Then comes another whopper: “The criticism of Newsnight follows weeks of controversy over newly installed editor [Ian] Katz who is accused of Left-wing bias in both his appointments and editorial line”. How many weeks of controversy have there been? None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bugger all. Well, among those in the real world outside the Kensington media bubble.

No matter, the MoS has secured the services of Tim Luckhurst to pen “How this cuddly interview with a pompous fraud shows a BBC that's not worth saving, by ex-Radio 4 editor”. Luckhurst is such a reasonable fellow that he accuses those disagreeing with his position on press regulation “Marxists”. He calls himself a democrat, yet disparages the democratically-agreed Royal Charter.

Then, to emphasise that this is an organised campaign, Mail On Sunday Comment weighs in withThe BBC’s bias is most clearly shown by its frequent failures to pursue and interrogate those with whom it secretly sympathises ... The BBC simply does not deserve the great privilege of the licence fee if it cannot try harder than this to be fair”. Mail calls out someone for bias. Irony klaxon sounds. Film at 11.

In other words, the BBC demonstrated that it is independent and not open to being leant on by those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet. There is no new crisis there, Newsnight is doing some half-decent journalism, and the MoS is, as usual, happy to play both sides of the field, kicking the Corporation while sourcing loads of free copy on the back of its output.

Meanwhile, the MoS has to rely on others to do real investigative journalism. Sad.

Margaret Thatcher Brown Nose Special

Since Mrs T departed this world last year, many of those out there on the right have laid claim to her memory. Maggie would have loved this idea, hated that: she would have approved of some behaviours and abhorred others. Never mind “Shagger” Major or any of the others, time and again it came back to what the country’s only woman Prime Minister would have wanted.
Then there have been suggested Thatcher tributes, and here the opportunity to secure what Private Eye calls the “Order of the Brown Nose”, or OBN, has tempted some pundits into the most toe-curlingly embarrassing punts, the latest of which has come from Ed “Case” West at the Spectator. “Surely we should have called our new flagship HMS Margaret Thatcher?” he asks, rather than HMS Queen Elizabeth.

To which the answer has to be that no we shouldn’t, and don’t call me Shirley. But let West have his say on the new aircraft carrier: “This beast will be carrying Merlins, Chinooks, Apache and 250 troops, and also features a ‘Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System’, which I don’t quite understand the meaning of but definitely makes me aroused”. Er, yes ... maybe you should see a doctor about that, Ed.

Anyhow, back to the naming business: “But couldn’t the Powers That Be have come up with a more original name? I love the royal family and everything, but how many things do we have to name after them? Aren’t there other people we can commemorate? The French tend to honour great people instead”. Ah, we should be more like the French when it suits the argument.

Then he makes his pitch: on the idea of naming after Royalty, “I imagine this is part of a British tendency to avoid controversy, as the obvious choice for this new ship would be the HMS Margaret Thatcher (which admittedly might not be hugely popular on Clydeside). I imagine the Americans will have named one of their ships after her before we have”. Fair play to the USA if they want to do that.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Royal Navy does not generally name after politicians. It does, however, name ships after Royals, former naval commanders, towns, cities, and counties of the UK, and in the past, outposts of Empire. I suspect that West knows this: it makes for safe speculation, while going for the OBN for all he is worth. Thus he can demonstrate his loyalty to Mrs T’s memory.

That is not dispelled by his “look over there” final paragraph: “If it makes people happy we can name the sister ship the HMS Tony Benn, although I’m not sure he would have appreciated it. As it is, it will be called HMS Prince of Wales, which is just boring snoring.  I’d rather they named it HMS Mary Seacole or HMS Equality and Diversity”. Like he cares, or anyone else does.

Expect more Thatcher grovelfests in the near future. And equally bad ones.

Top Six – March 30

So what’s hot, and what’s not, in the past week’s blogging? Here are the six most popular posts on Zelo Street for the past seven days, counting down in reverse order, because, well, I have clearup duties to do later. So there.
6 MH370 – The Dead Don’t Sue Almost as soon as it was confirmed that all aboard the missing Boeing 777 were dead, the press ratcheted up the most outrageous claims about what may have happened, safe in the knowledge that nobody would take them to the cleaners for it.

5 Guido Fawked – Osborne Beer Hypocrisy The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble were all to ready to kick Mil The Younger over his reaction to drinking beer, but totally ignored George Osborne not letting his pint settle and managing no more than a little sip.

4 Dan Hodges – Not Waving But Drowning The depths to which Hodges will sink in order to garner attention by kicking whatever the Labour leadership does knows no bounds. But it’s having very little effect.

3 BBC – Dorries’ Delusional Dreamland The fragrant Nadine took to her not-really-a-blog to make a number of allegations about the Beeb which were flagrantly untrue. So no surprise there, then.

2 Don’t Menshn Sharia Law When the Law Society advice to its members on making wills in accordance with Sharia custom was widely publicised, Louise Mensch threw a mardy strop and declared that social media would have the advice withdrawn. This was bullshit – as has been shown.

1 Gove And A Tale Of Two Ofsteds While last week brought news of an “outstanding” verdict on one local authority primary in west London, across the city, a Free School was judged “inadequate”. There is an awful lot of bad news for Michael “Oiky” Gove’s flagship policy right now.

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

Saturday 29 March 2014

Gay Marriage And The Mail

From today, same-sex marriage is legal in England and Wales. Some happy couples tied the knot almost as soon as midnight had passed, and fair play to them. But this has incurred the displeasure of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, and so the Daily Mail has come out – against gay marriage. And who are they blaming for the change? Yes, the BBC did it, all by itself!
I'm not f***ing supporting gay marriage, c***

You think I jest? Cue Amanda Bloody Platell: the Beeb was “our self-appointed Ministry for Political Correctness”. It was? Yes, “you only had to watch BBC Question Time on Thursday”. Right. So who was that Daily Mail pundit who fetched up last weekend on The Andy Marr Show (tm) doing the paper review? That would have been you, Ms Platell. What a steaming hypocrite.

And, as the man said, there’s more: “the gay marriage legislation has been forced through by our political masters. Anyone brave enough to voice unease has been branded a bigot whose views were so beneath contempt they didn’t even deserve to be heard ... the chattering-class thought-police have decreed that their liberal value system is morally superior to the traditional beliefs of millions of ordinary Britons”.

Yet she concedes that two-thirds of Brits agree with the idea of same-sex marriage, a number which will probably rise as the practice becomes accepted and, well, part of everyday life. That means it’s yet another of those things that the Mail rails against and then later claims it supported all along. That, however, is in the future: right now, Dacre has a Real Gay Man to voice his opposition.

To no surprise at all, Andrew Pierce (wearing a pink shirt so you know he’s gay) first blames the right-on politicians: “you can be certain that David Cameron will be posting gushing messages on Twitter. No doubt Nick Clegg, who came up with the idea, and Ed Miliband, who supports it, will also try to steal some of the limelight with their own self-serving tweets”. Is Pierce not on Twitter? Er, yes he is.

What had these party leaders done wrong? “They not only offended millions of people by arrogantly redefining the meaning of the relationship between a man and a woman that has been the bedrock of society for thousands of years. They also placed the Church in an invidious position by suggesting it had a moral duty to perform gay marriage ceremonies”. They did?

Er, no they didn’t. This is a rant even more tiresome than the usual Pierce drivel. Is there a point in here somewhere? “In fact, the introduction of gay marriage was, politically, a disastrous miscalculation. The effect on the recruitment and retention of Tory Party members has been calamitous. It has cost the party thousands of votes and gained none”. Yes, getting him a ready excuse if Labour win next year.

Platell and Pierce: serving up a double portion of lame P. No change there, then.

Don’t Menshn The Gove Rap

Politicians trying to prove that they are down with the yoof, when they very obviously are not, are a bad enough advert to the undecided voter. But this clearly did not occur to Michael “Oiky” Gove, when he took the bait and demonstrated his skills, or lack of them, in the art of rapping. It was toe-curlingly embarrassing – unless, of course, you were an unthinking Tory Party supporter.
(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014

Putting aside the inconvenient fact that Gove’s fortunately brief exposition, notable only for its unintentional hilarity, was played out in front of a group of young people who would not be old enough to make a difference next year in any case, it was the kind of stunt that was not only not at all cunning, but was also best forgotten. Unless, of course, you were in Manhattan and had time on your hands.
Yes, former Tory MP Louise Mensch saw Gove’s exhibition and decided that not only was this A Very Wonderful Thing, but also that she now knew everything there was to know about rap. “I love LOVE that Gove had the guts to start rapping badly in front of a group of schoolkids rather than ducking it. Brilliant” she gushed. But one Tweet is never enough, and soon she was away with the fairies.
You think I jest? Here it comes: “Michael Gove REPRESENT Boyeeeee” she trilled, with the hashtag #VoteConservative for good measure, as if this combination of ranting and wibbling would move anyone to put their cross by the Blue Team.
Was that the lot? But you know the answer: “No coincidence that Gove chooses to rap a song about life on the dole #WelfareReform #HeyJerkYouWork” was next, a little rich from someone not going out to work early doors every weekday any time soon.
To prompting from someone who may not have been on her political wavelength, she gushed “Snoop Govey-Go-oh-oh-oh-ove”, by now really getting in to her latest study in stupidity demonstration.
‘I’m a soul boy/I’m a dole boy/I take pleasure in leisure I believe in JOY’ #WhamRap #SnoopGove #represent” was her final offering, having converted nobody at all to her cause, and having made herself look even sillier than “Oiky” Gove.

And remember folks, this is someone who was selected as a Tory Parliamentary candidate and won an election. That is the frightening thing about Ms Mensch. And what’s more frightening is that she isn’t the only one.

Represent”? Louise Mensch couldn’t represent a fart in a trance.

Friday 28 March 2014

Toby Young’s Woman Problem

The loathsome Toby Young does enjoy sneering at women who have made it in the media: I’ve often told of his entrance – more than fashionably late – to the auditorium during the debate at the launch of the Huffington Post UK, to a chorus of booing, that Arianna Huffington clocked him immediately, and asked if he’d like to come up on stage, only for Tobes to slink off and sit down.
The reason Ms Huffington recognised Tobes so readily is that he has, in the past, written a copious amount of knocking copy about her. He has continued this genre with an attack on Tina Brown, who has also been far more famous than he is ever going to be, at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs. “Tina Brown: a quarter of a billion dollars down the drain, and she still thinks she's a success” he told.

There was much carping about losses at Tatler, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, amid linking to the rather fuller article penned for the Spectator by Himself Personally Now. We hear about the Daily Beast, Talk magazine, there is the obligatory reference to the late L’Wren Scott, and the inference that Ms Brown’s latest venture, the Women In The World summit, will go the same way.

And all this might be entertaining to those who pay good money for the Speccy, but one has to wonder quite why Tobes is so fascinated with women losing money: I don’t recall him saying boo about the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and his ability to obtain funding and then give every appearance of spraying it up the wall. But then, there is a good reason he is targeting Ms Brown.

Tina Brown is married to Harry Evans, former Times editor who has recently been heavily critical of much of the adverse reaction to the Leveson Inquiry and the idea that there should be properly independent press regulation. And we know what the stance of Speccy editor Fraser Nelson is on that one. So Tobes’ further knocking copy is just another attack on Leveson support, by proxy.

And if we’re going to talk about folks wasting hundreds of millions of their chosen currency units, then perhaps Tobes would like to consider the Free Schools programme of which he has been such a vocal supporter. While Government departments have generally had to make do with less money of late, Free Schools are awash with an increasing amount of cash.

In fact, the original budget of £450 million has now overshot by more than a billion quid, or in US Dollars, more than one and a half billion. The average cost per school, at £6.6 million, is twice the Treasury’s estimate. The number of failed Free Schools keeps on growing. So before Tobes shoots his mouth off at Tina Brown, he would do well to look first at his own back yard.

And think himself lucky Arianna Huffington didn’t have him thrown out.

BBC – Dorries’ Delusional Dreamland

The occasionally tenuous relationship between Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire (yes, it’s her again) Nadine Dorries and reality has come back into focus as she has taken to her not-really-a-blog to berate the BBC in support of what she callsReform of the License [sic] Fee”. “In this day and age, a tax on the ownership of a television is a completely outdated concept” she tells anyone not yet asleep.
And, as any fule kno, the Licence Fee is not levied per television, or I would need more than one of them for my house, which I do not. But this is par for the course for an MP who told Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who ought to have checked his facts, that “When she was growing up in Liverpool ... the city had eight Tory MPs and an all-Tory council”. As I pointed out, it had neither of these.

BBC managers deliberately concealed the antics of a paedophile and sex offender, practice blatant political bias and I have lost count of the number of times their journalists have misrepresented events”. Where do we start? If she means Jimmy Savile, he never got convicted, so he can’t be called a “sex offender”. The political bias is in her mind. And so is the misrepresentation.

But do dig yourself in deeper. “BBC executives conspire to cover up a culture of sexual abuse”. That’s the fragrant Nadine at her nastiest: a blatant and defamatory smear which is actually opinion, but dressed up as fact. Then there is calm, as she tells “I do enjoy a great deal of their output and I know the same is true for almost all my constituents”. That must have been a pretty extensive polling exercise, then.

The model of the BBC, which is in effect state run television, is outdated in this modern world of media and communication. Such a structure of payment and aggressive persecution would be more in keeping in a soviet style country”. It isn’t part of the state, the pursuit of non-payment of the licence fee she’s making up, and she knows sweet jack about the former Soviet Union.

It would appear that there is no politician in any party brave enough to take on the BBC for fear of retribution and punishment via its political reporting - in the same way as is practiced by newspapers against individual politicians who dare to challenge or criticise them”. Bullshit. It the Beeb were to exclude its critics and then go after them, they wouldn’t give airtime to those like Herself Personally Now.

Nor would they entertain Amanda Bloody Platell, Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, Dan, Dan The Oratory Man, Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, Quentin Letts (let’s not), Dominic Sandbrook, James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, or the loathsome Toby Young. “It is time for people to take power where politicians have consistently failed” says Ms Dorries in conclusion.

She’ll be waiting a long time for that bus to arrive. No change there, then.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Nigel, Nick And The Spin Machine

Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and Corporal Clegg debated one another on the subject of the EU yesterday evening. Hosted by Nick Ferrari of LBC, there was also a video feed. And the result was that listeners, and viewers, were treated to much heat, and very little light, and the certainty that very few voters would be persuaded to move their vote from UKIP to Lib Dems or vice versa.
Squeaky finger up the bum time once again

While Clegg kept positive about the benefits of being in the EU, Farage paraded the usual UKIP line-up of shameless whoppers, claiming that 75% of our laws are made in Brussels, which he was then asked to stand up with evidence. To no surprise at all, none was forthcoming. There were the usual frighteners about migrants coming over here to drive down wages and take our jobs.

But enough of what you knew already: what did the punditerati think? And, perhaps more importantly, what did real voters think? To gauge the reaction of the latter, YouGov polled a thousand voters after the debate for the Sun, and overall Farage was considered the winner by 57% to 36%. Notably, Clegg was considered the winner not just by Lib Dem voters, but also Labour supporters.
Punditry? Look at me!

Voters, though – what do they know compared to the self-appointed? The loathsome Toby Young decided the public needed to know the opinion of Himself Personally Now, and so took to the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs to declareWell-briefed Nick Clegg wins on points as Nigel Farage plays to the gallery”. See, Tobes has the real story – you proles don’t know what you’re talking about!

True, “Thirsty” did have a tendency to bark his lines out, and those getting the video would have seen him exhibit a Nixonian tendency to perspire visibly under pressure, but the people decided, and they said he won. Also at Tel blogs, Peter Oborne said Clegg certainly didn’t win, and noted the tendency of the Lobby to get the public mood wrong. It wasn’t just the Lobby.
No, look at me!

So that was that, was it? You jest: when there’s an opportunity to do some serious trolling, and a Tory Party point of view to pitch, that means there is (thankfully former) MP Louise Mensch somewhere around the Twittersphere. And the increasingly out-there Ms Mensch did not care for real voters, redefining reality with “So I got my wish! They both lost”.
Yes, look at me, me, me!!!

But there had been a poll, conducted by a reputable polling organisation. This cut no ice: “Any ‘poll’ on [the LBC debate] is worthless unless it includes ‘none of the above’ option” she trilled. The YouGov poll had a category for those who did not consider that either of the participants had won it. That, folks, is the state of the punditry and, more worryingly, the kind of people who get to be MPs, in a nutshell.

Meanwhile, the public remains sceptical about both. No change there, then.

Gove And A Tale Of Two Ofsteds

Rarely can a point have been better made than when two London schools were visited by Ofsted inspectors recently. While Grove Park Primary School in west London – a Local Education Authority (LEA) school – was scoring “Outstanding” across the board, the Hartsbrook E-ACT Free School in Tottenham merited “Inadequate” in all areas. It was not the only E-ACT failure.
Yes, "Oiky", your Free Schools are failing. Again

Tottenham’s first ‘free school’ has been put into special measures by Ofsted and will be surrendered by its sponsor after receiving a damning inspection report just 18 months after openingtold the Tottenham Journal, adding “The inspection was one of a wave of visits to 16 primary and secondary schools run by the E-ACT chain across the country after concerns were raised about their performance”.

Those inspections did not make for good reading at the Gove bunker: “Of the 16 schools inspected, five failed outright, including Hartsbrook E-ACT free school. A further six ‘required improvement’ and were failing to provide a ‘good’ education for children, four were rated ‘good’ and one was judged ‘outstanding’told the Independent. One “outstanding” out of sixteen? Ye Gods.

It got worse, as the Indy noted: “Of the 18 other schools run by the chain, which had already been inspected, 11 were judged to be less than good in the standards they reached”. On my maths, that makes 22 out of 34 E-ACT schools that are either “inadequate” or requiring improvement. And Ofsted, at present, “is forbidden by law from inspecting academy chains”. Maybe not for long.

The Hartsbrook Ofsted report would have had the book thrown at an LEA which allowed schools to get into the state where: “teaching has been inadequate in all classes ... The majority of children fail to reach expected standards by the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage ... The needs of pupils who speak English as an additional language are inadequately met”.

Now look at the Grove Park report: “All groups of pupils ... make rapid and sustained progress and there is no gap in attainment between them and their peers”, although “Two thirds of the pupils are from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds other than White British. Half of these are learning English as an additional language”. Cue large flashing neon sign ... IT’S NOT BLOODY ROCKET SCIENCE.

Then, just to round things off, Ofsted revealed that “E-ACT had deducted a proportion of the pupil premium – given to schools to improve the performance of disadvantaged pupils – before it had reached the schools”. It seems that there is another horror story coming out of Michael “Oiky” Gove’s education revolution every week. One wonders just how much of this success can be tolerated.

Meanwhile, pupils’ education is being damaged. And that’s not good enough.

MH370 – The Dead Don’t Sue

When the Malaysian Government examined the evidence before it and bowed to the inevitable, concluding that Flight MH370 had “ended” in the southern Indian Ocean, and that there had been no survivors, some in the media acknowledged the outpouring of grief from relatives of those on board, and stuck to reporting on the continuing search for debris.
Meanwhile, at the cheaper end of the spectrum, the knowledge that all who had boarded the Boeing 777 almost three weeks ago were certainly dead, together with the thought that shock horror sells papers, meant that there was a scramble to invent the most outlandish stories about the plane’s last hours, safe in the knowledge that nobody would be hitting them with a lawsuit.

And the cheaper and nastier the paper, the more desperate the story, which brings us to the Daily Express, supposed flagship title of Richard “Dirty” Desmond’s media empire. “‘Deliberate act’ Jet passengers were 'knocked out at 45,000ft in pilot's suicide plunge' ... THE pilot of the doomed Malaysian jet may have sacrificed all 238 other people on board to commit suicidescreamed the headline.

We hear from “an expert” and “a source close to the investigation” (that means the hack who wrote this rubbish making his quotes up to suit). “It was flying at this altitude [45,000 feet] for 23 minutes before descending. ­Oxygen would have run out in 12 minutes, ­rendering passengers unconscious”. Only if the hull was depressurised. It’s just speculative guff.

Things were little better over at the Daily Mail, with “'It was his last joyride': MH370 pilot was upset over wife moving out and in 'no state of mind to be flying', reveals his long-time friend”. This was then accompanied with the same theory the Express had run. For good measure, the latter title has this morning also gone with the “joyride” angle. And the speculation is not confined to the tabloid titles.

The Maily Telegraph toldMalaysia Airlines: MH370's black box may have wiped out crucial moments of doomed flight”. How so? “The 'black box’ which records details of the flight may have over written key data”. Do go on: “the black box records cockpit communication on a two hour loop and deletes all but the final two hours”. Then it concedes “the flight data will have survived”.

Confused? Many readers will be at this point. What the Tel appears to miss is that there are two “black boxes”, the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). That’s not the kind of wild speculation that the Express and Mail have indulged in – just shoddy journalism, the result of not having anyone in the building who knows their subject.

But what the heck, they’re all dead and there’s papers to sell. Same old press.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Russia – No Longer A Gas

When Russia got involved in the Ukraine crisis and later annexed Crimea, the question asked when EU sanctions were mooted was, as ever, over the effect that dependence on Russian gas might have on the process. Those opposing mere economic responses told that EU member states would harm themselves by upsetting Moscow, and none moreso than Christopher Booker.
But after well-known serial fraud Booker told last weekend thatThe EU’s leaders can scarcely afford to be too aggressive when it imports from Russia 30 per cent of its natural gas. They prattle instead about having to replace it with imports from the US”, it quickly became clear that he was plain flat wrong. Worse, his own colleagues at the Telegraph showed that he was.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, on this occasion quite rightly, toldEurope will seek to liberate itself from Russian oil and gas supplies as fast as possible. Fresh investment in Russia will collapse. Putin has grossly misjudged how vulnerable Russia really is to an economic showdownfollowed byEuropean leaders have rushed through plans aimed at breaking the Kremlin’s grip on gas and energy supplies”.

Deutsche Welle, under the headlineEurope has little reason to fear Russian gas cut-off”, observed that “Vladimir Putin has often used the energy giant [Gazprom] to serve his own geopolitical goals. If European countries cut imports of Russian energy, it would negatively impact Gazprom as 60 percent of its revenue comes from the European market”.

And, although there has been some sign of panic – the Lithuanian energy minister called for the USA to speed up gas exports to Europe – it seems there will be no need for EU member states to trouble producers Stateside. For starters, there is enough gas stored around the EU, after a mild winter, to last four months, which gives time to make alternative arrangements.

And, as the Bruegel blog has estimated, alternative sources for gas can be found in Norway, North Africa and the Netherlands, along with liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the world market. That could be sourced anywhere, and right now there is a world oversupply of gas. It is the oversupply that is driving prices down in the USA, not the use of fracking to extract the stuff.

So the EU, it seems, can afford to be as economically aggressive as it likes with Russia, and does not have to “prattle” about anything. The Bruegel estimates of comparative costs shows Russia would suffer $14 billion in foregoing revenues, while EU member states would have to pay an extra $400 million for moving suppliers. This is why capital is fleeing Moscow right now.

Booker cannot admit that the EU has leverage. But that is today’s economic reality.

PMQs – Itch-A-Sketch 10

What, perhaps, lies in store for us politics watchers today when Young Dave faces those rotten lefties, the nationalists, and a barrage of grovelling softball from his own side? There’s the flogging off of more Lloyd’s Bank shares, as well as the suggestion that the Co-Op Bank was leaned on by his mate next door. The teachers’ strike will give Cameron ammunition. And there is the Budget aftermath to digest.
Who will kick off the session? Rosie Cooper isn’t happy about hazardous waste dumping. Cameron deflects. Justin Tomlinson is worried about job losses at Honda, as well he might. Dave is ressuring. But what will Mil The Younger chuck at him?

SSE is what, that’s what! Scottish and Southern Energy is freezing energy prices, so is it now a Communist plot? Dave welcomes price cuts and freezes, because He Done It Personally, and the other lot are rubbish.

Miliband isn’t put off so easily, and back it comes. Ed Davey has called on other suppliers to freeze prices, so is it policy now? Cameron says his reduction of all that Green Crap did it, and reels off other suppliers cutting bills. No, that doesn’t work. The PM denounced price freezes but now supports one. Dave is getting testy, which you can tell as he is going “weak, weak, weak”.

Miliband accuses him of being the PR man for the energy companies! Cost of living has fallen over this Parliament for the first time since the war! The OBR says so! So will Dave admit living standards are now falling? Of course not, we get more and more stats and “they voted against our jolly wonderful budget”. Recession? Yeah, that was the rotten lefties’ fault too!

In among this, Cameron works in the pre-scripted lines about Labour supposedly briefing against Miliband. He successfully uses a question from Stephen Pound, designed to get him to denounce Grant “Spiv” Shapps, to say that Ed likes bingo as it’s the only way he’s going to get anywhere near number 10! Hear hear! What a jolly good jape! Get those order papers waving!

And that is more or less that. Even stevens today, methinks. Despite the “he’s being briefed against”, Miliband could have come off worse, but managed a decent fist of it. Cameron has honed the art of not answering the question, allied to which he can bat out time by reeling off lots of stats and telling the other lot that they’re rubbish.

But anyone looking to learn anything new was to be disappointed, except for one thing: there has not been cross party agreement on amendments to the hunting legislation, so it looks like there won’t be any amendment. Country people may not be so happy.

Spiked? It Certainly Should Have Been

As the debate over press regulation rumbles on, last week’s “Leveson Declaration” signed by scores of public figures continues to generate knocking copy from those looking to score brownie points with those opposed to such horrid prospects as a regulator totally independent of politicians or proprietors. This brings us to a singularly desperate rant from Mick Hume at Spiked.
Liberal UK Signs Its Own Death Warrant” he declares, in a style typical of the genre: say something preposterous, as it means more clicks. Then he quotes Orwell, because this, as any fule kno, means he is A Really Serious And Learned Pundit. And then comes the usual dishonest drivel: Hacked Off is an “elitist little lobby group fronted by Hugh Grant to tame the popular press”.

The declaration is an “illiberal demand”. Hacked Off’s campaign is for “tighter regulation of the press”. And there’s more: it’s “the liberal and left-wing intelligentsia and media that have driven the crusade to curb the popular press ... sometimes called the chattering classes”. If only Hume had bothered to read up on his subject beforehand. Like, oh I dunno, that Royal Charter.

The Royal Charter deal ... seeks to impose a regulator using the ancient anti-democratic instruments of the Crown, the royal prerogative and the Her Majesty’s Privy Council”. And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. One, the Charter does not impose anything on anyone. And two, if this is such a bad thing, how come the press also went down that route?

It evokes grim shadows of the old system of Crown licensing of the press, started by Henry VIII in 1529”. They sup some strong stuff chez Hume. And he’s not finished yet: “the Royal Charter is backed by a new law which threatens those who do not sign up to the politicians’ system with the prospect of suffering ‘exemplary damages’ in court”. The Royal Charter is not backed by any law.

Now we are faced with the shameful spectacle of those who claim to be liberal-minded intellectuals openly demanding that the press accept a system of state-backed regulation via the Royal Charter”. Supporting does not equal demanding, an independent press regulator would not be backed by the state, and no signatory to the declaration has claimed to be of any particular mindset.

Apart from that, Hume is correct: the signatories are supporting independent press regulation. What most of the press are supporting is the PCC piss in a re-labelled bottle. “They are fully signed-up supporters of an unfree press by order of the Crown” fumes Hume. Very good Mick, you can join the queue for a commission from the Daily Mail over there. But don’t expect anyone to take your guff seriously.

There’s a good reason it’s called Spiked: it certainly should have been.

Gatwick Or Bust

One hates to be unkind to the Evening Standard and its transport editor Matthew Beard, but yesterday’s article on the proposed expansion of Gatwick Airport, “Turbo-charged Gatwick airport would bring Olympic-style boost to south London” is uncomfortably close to being advertorial material. On top of that, it over-eggs the potential pudding spectacularly.
New Gatwick? Maybe

Yes, there is a demand for more airport capacity in the London area, and yes, Gatwick would be in the “less unacceptable” category when it comes to adding a second runway (versus the wholesale disruption that would ensue if one were added at Heathrow, for instance). But the Olympic comparison is fatuous, and the benefits over-exaggerated. Let’s start with the artist’s impression.

This appears to show a second, parallel, runway to the south of the existing one, and a new terminal, together with its facilities, arranged between the two, with its entrance at the east of the site. That will get the locals opposing the land take, larger noise envelope, and yet more traffic. So the timescale, which suggests construction starting by 2020, is probably realistic.

Then it all gets wildly overblown: the enlarged Airport, readers are told, “would lead to new jobs and homes in the ‘Gatwick triangle’ stretching from the airport to the south coast towns of Southampton and Dover”. Reality check time: how far does Heathrow’s area of influence extend? Reading and the surrounding area, perhaps. So around 25 to 30 miles top whack, then.

For Gatwick, that would translate to south London, and the corridor along the M23, M25 and the Brighton main line. Maybe that would carry on to part of the south coast. But not to Southampton and Dover. And the claim of an “Olympic-style boost” is silly: there was one Olympic Games in town, and it was a one-off event. Sure, there will be jobs and houses. But not on the scale suggested.

We can check this out by looking at the only Airport in the UK to have added another runway recently, that being Manchester. More jobs have come in the south Manchester area, new business parks have been established nearby, and transport links are being improved. But that new runway has been open for more than 12 years. So we’re looking at 2035 to 2040 for the Gatwick effect.

And Terry Farrell’s assertion that there will be “better rail connectivity” is an interesting one: the line from London’s Victoria and London Bridge termini that serves Gatwick is pretty much at capacity right now, and providing more would be prohibitively expensive. That’s the problem when you have an Airport on a commuter route so close to a city the size of London.

The Gatwick proposal is worth looking at – but we should be realistic.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Dan Hodges – Not Waving But Drowning

It happens every year at about this time: the press feverishly talk up the Budget, the opinion polls flicker in the Tories’ direction, and as if by magic the stories start about the Labour leadership: it’s not working! Ed is odd! He’s under pressure! There’s going to be a revolt! Yah boo, nyaah nyaady nyaah nyaah! Thus the punditerati run around like so many blue-arsed flies.
And one pundit becoming increasingly blue, and not just in the arse, is poor, deluded Dan Hodges, having taken his bat home from his years of Labour membership and taking to the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs to whine once more about how rubbish the party’s leadership is, and if only they had done what he wanted them to do – whatever that might have been – then all would be well.

Everyone now agrees: Miliband isn’t workinghe declared late yesterday. Why? One of his pals lost out: “The [Labour manifesto] job was initially handed to Liam Byrne, but Byrne was deemed too divisive – ie Blairite – for the role. [Jon] Cruddas, something of a darling to the soft-Left, was chosen as his replacement”. This is meant to confirm that Hodges is right. Perhaps.

And here, in a nutshell, is Miliband’s problem. Everyone has suddenly woken up to the fact that his strategy isn’t working. But no one can agree on what the alternative should look like ... still Labour’s poll lead continues its inexorable slide downwards”. Yes, he’s gone from the Colonel Nicholson of the Labour Party to the Corporal Jones of Tel blogs. Opinion poll change, Mr Mainwaring! Don’t panic!!

In any case, to accuse someone who has Alastair Campbell on call of not having a grasp of strategy is coming it. Hodges manages to miss all those YouGov polls for the Sun which the Murdoch faithful decline to publish, because they show a consistently adverse outcome for the Tories. There will be more of them in the future, especially when Osborne’s pension “revolution” gets rumbled.

That does not deter Hodges, who has now claimedWhen the party loses in 2015, as it will, it will then be clear why Labour lost”, together with a bizarre attack on Guardian pundit Polly Toynbee, the kind of thing that right-leaning papers demand of their own pundits as a way of distracting readers from the shortcomings of their favoured team. One round of opinion polls does not a result make.

One London-based media observer I spoke to recently reckoned that, in the old print-only days of weekly columns, Dan Hodges would have managed comfortably. Sadly, pressured to churn out daily opinion pieces, most of what emerges is barely coherent rubbish. The problem then is that when he says something worth hearing, few want to listen, because of all the rubbish.

And that’s a bleak prospect for a pundit fighting for his credibility. Or lack thereof.

Guido Fawked – Osborne Beer Hypocrisy

As if to demonstrate that their claim to any kind of even-handedness is a sham, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his obedient rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog have provided another example of their Tory-supporting credentials on the subject of politicians drinking beer.  Or rather they have failed to provide one when it comes to the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet.
I don't need to know what I'm drinking, cos I'm on telly!

While the Fawkes folks were laying into Mil The Younger for the heinous crime of visiting the Five Points craft brewery in east London and sampling Hook Island Red, a red rye beer brewed to a full 6% ABV and containing a complex mix of aromas and flavours, they turned a blind eye to the amateurish attempt by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to portray himself as a Man Of The People.
Who doesn't like their tipple? Is it Ed Miliband ...

So Miliband got the full abuse treatment, with the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole sniggering into his lager that the Labour leader “didn’t like it”. Master Cole even produced a Vine from the footage. How the Tory faithful yelped with laughter! But those who enjoy new beer styles and flavours were nonplussed by the hooha: Miliband was just taking a few seconds to appreciate the beer.

What did The Great Guido expect him to do, leer theatrically for the camera? This may be a difficult one for those who think the acme of beer drinking consists of nitro-keg Guinness, or drinking Peroni out of the bottle (my apologies to the staff at a recent bash I attended for making them go and get me a glass), but stopping to understand the flavours of a craft beer is not “hate” or “dislike”.
... or George Osborne? ((c) PA)

Worse, when Osborne fetched up at Banks’s Wolverhampton brewery and forced himself to sip a pint of beer, Cole and his pals didn’t want to know. This, for right-wingers, is quite understandable: the Chancellor closed his eyes before sampling – a clear sign that he was not happy at the thought of drinking the commoners’ tipple – and didn’t even wait for it to settle before drinking.

That last is a dead giveaway. And on top of that, instead of showing support for a craft brewery, Osborne sided with the big brewers (Banks’s was a big player in its West Midlands heartland even before it became part of the yet larger Marston’s empire). And Banks’s Sunbeam is most certainly not a beer of significant complexity: it’s a 4.2% blonde beer more suited to session drinking.

Note also that Osborne does not even appear to be doing any more than giving the appearance of drinking that pint. And there doesn’t seem to be any video of the event. Even the Mail concedes that he was “slightly awkwardly ... sipping the top out of a pint”. So The Great Guido says nothing, and instead exhorts followers to “look over there at Ed Miliband, he’s dead weird”.

The Fawkes rabble caught supporting the Tories yet again. Another fine mess.

Sharia And Beth Din Courts – The Facts

Amidst the faux outrage generated by the Law Society issuing guidance to its members on drawing up wills that follow Sharia custom, there has been an awful lot of hot air expended by those ready to exploit the situation to tell some very tall tales and generally promote Themselves Personally Now. In the meantime, the fact of the matter is not allowed to enter. That is not good enough.
First among the accusations and assertions being thrown around is the claim that Sharia courts appeared in 2008 with the blessing of Pa Broon and the last Labour Government. This can be traced to papers like the Maily Telegraph, which pitched the fraudulent claim that the courts had been “quietly sanctioned” by Labour. There was also a typically foam-flecked intervention from the Express.
That's a straight Pants On Fire

Worse, the then shadow security minister, Pauline Neville-Jones, suggested that Sharia courts would be banned by a future Tory administration. She and her colleagues were merely grandstanding in order to garner a few more votes. This was the basis for yesterday’s continuing stampy tantrum from former Tory MP Louise Mensch, for whom reality is a mere inconvenience.
Labour "legalised" nothing, so wrong again

I make no apology for highlighting the frankly batshit interventions from Ms Mensch, as it should be remembered that she managed to get herself selected by the Tory Party, and elected an MP. She secured membership of a very important Select Committee during her brief stay in the Commons. And almost all of what she said about the Law Society’s advice, and Sharia courts, was a pack of lies.
Dishonest pundit cites dishonest article no shock horror

The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal was established in the UK in 2007 (not the following year). It came into being not through any intervention by the then Government, but used a clause in the 1996 Arbitration Act, passed by the preceding Tory administration. They can rule on civil disputes: English law provides for a third party to do so. There is no case of “two laws” being simultaneously in force.
And that brings us to the Beth Din. Ms Mensch’s assertion that such courts were set up in 2008 is utterly risible. The Manchester Beth Din, for example, can trace its history back to 1892. That’s eight years before the Labour Party was formed. Labour did not “establish” or “legalise” any Beth Din or Sharia court. This tsunami of falsehood and misinformation has exasperated even seasoned commentators.
As Jack of Kent has pointed out, to stop wills following Sharia custom, legislation would have to be passed. And Sam Leith, writing in the Evening Standard, has said what should have been obvious: disinheriting relatives is not confined to one religion, and nor is it illegal. Meanwhile, the less responsible part of the Fourth Estate continues to mine its seam of Muslim bashing.

That’s because it sells more papers than rational debate. No change there, then.