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Saturday 31 May 2014

So Farewell Then Richard Ingrams

It seems strange to use a phrase probably coined by former Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams about his latest move, which is to resign the editor’s chair at the Oldie magazine, which he created in 1992. There has been a protracted dispute with the current publisher, and rather than allow matters to drag on, Ingrams has decided to call it a day. His editorial presence will be sorely missed.
Ingrams appears on the cover of Private Eye for the first and only time in 1969

It was as editor of the Eye for well over 20 years that Ingrams made his mark, establishing the magazine as a thorn in the side of the establishment, that being not just politicians and their hangers-on, but the press and other parts of the media. Many hated the Eye; many more sued it, though few in proportion won damages from it. One man tried to close it down.

It was during Ingrams’ editorship that James Goldsmith, who younger readers may remember only as the leader of the Referendum Party, a pre-UKIP anti-EU outfit, who barracked “Shagger” Mellor on the occasion of the latter losing his seat in the Labour landslide of 1997, was given leave to sue the Eye on the ancient pretext of criminal libel. Ingrams could have been jailed as a result.

At this time, in the mid-1970s, the Eye was not well-known outside London, although it was popular with students and political activists. Mainstream news sellers like W H Smith and John Menzies refused to stock it. But its readership was sufficiently loyal and determined to help it overcome Goldsmith’s vicious and deliberate attempt to close it down. Ultimately, he was overcome by his own vanity.

The Express titles, it was rumoured, were for sale. Goldsmith got it into his head that owning a newspaper, and being thereby able to get his one true version of events out into the world, was A Very Good Thing. But here a problem entered: despite many in Fleet Street hating Private Eye, the idea of an over-powerful businessman bludgeoning a small publication into submission was terribly bad form.

Goldsmith therefore brought his action against the Eye to a conclusion, and the magazine survived. Ingrams’ determination had been central to its survival; this will always count in his favour. The Eye’s unfortunate attitude towards homosexuals, however, was also largely his doing, as was its tendency to ridicule the feminist movement. That was a great pity, and a great misjudgement.

And, to those of us outside London, the fascination of the Eye under Ingrams with Royalty and the rest of high society was mystifying (fortunately, Ian Hislop, Ingrams’ successor and still editor, did away with this aspect of the magazine). But much of what made Private Eye a success was Richard Ingrams’ doing, and remains in the magazine today. So it is sad to see him leave the editor’s chair for the last time.

Moreover, whether the Oldie can survive his departure is doubtful.

Mail Joey Barton Story Backfires

The Daily Mail loves to find fault – any fault – with the BBC. And one of its favourite targets is Question Time, still going under the wise moderation of Dimbleby Major. If panellists fail to show – the Salford Quays episode, where two pundits were delayed by a lineside fire in the West Midlands, was meat and drink to the Dacre doggies, and typical – it’s the Beeb’s fault, not the rail network.
What's f***ing wrong with kicking the BBC, c***?!? Er, with the greatest of respect, Mr Jay

And when guests are not of the kind that meet with the approval of the Daily Mail, this is a sign of the programme “hitting a new low”. This category was revisited after Thursday’s show, broadcast from the newly rebuilt Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport, after footballer Joey Barton made an unsubtle comment about UKIP. But the Mail jumped too soon, and therefore made itself look foolish.

Barton “said last week's outcome - when UKIP won 27% of the overall vote - was far from a ringing endorsement of the party, since only 34% of the eligible electorate had voted. Describing UKIP as the ‘best of a bad bunch’, he added: ‘So if I am somewhere and there were four really ugly girls, I'm thinking, ‘Well, she's not the worst’, because that is all you are, that is all you are to us’”.

The Dacre hackery was incensed! How dare a mere footballer talk about “ugly girls” [that’s their job, of course]? Dissenting views across Twitter were duly trawled. The first moderately well-known Tweeter to utter the key phrase “a new low” was deemed the voice of authority. The Corporation was “accused of turning Question Time into ‘a joke’”. Otherwise anonymous Twitter users became the fount of all knowledge.

Sadly for the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his obedient hackery, this was not how the rest of the press saw it. Not only did Barton swiftly and unequivocally apologise for his remark when prompted, he also garnered good reviews for his candour and directness. At the Telegraph, even Tim Stanley observedJoey was pretty eloquent on Chilcot, on Heathrow’s runaway runways, and on Ukip”.

The Guardian noted thatBarton's performance was also widely praised”, citing Tory MP and Fred Scuttle lookalike Rob Wilson, who told “Not making any judgements, but interesting that when Joey Barton spoke like 'a real person' the Ukip woman howled him down”. Katie Hind at the Mirror saidhe is a very smart man who appeals to the general public so much more than a stuffy MP”.

But the Mail could only focus on dredging up as much dirt on Barton, and the BBC, as it could find, right down to whining that the Lib Dems were not represented on the panel. One might have thought that the party would be grateful for a week off, following the ruckus involving Lords Oakeshott and Rennard. Sad to say, then, that the Mail was so keen to put the boot in that it called this one wrong.

Still, Question Time will be back next week, and the Dacre doggies will be waiting.

EXCLUSIVE WLFS – Why The Head Had To Go

While the loathsome Toby Young pops up occasionally at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs and suggests that his readers “look over there” at another example of why Free Schools are really very wonderful, his own West London Free School (WLFS) appears to be in serious trouble. And the lack of candour surrounding recent events is not going to help his cause one bit.
Time to get out of the Weinbunker, Tobes

When former head teacher Sam Naismith departed suddenly last month, even the Governors were tight-lipped about the circumstances. This blog has acquired details of the official line: the Governing body, it was told, were “surprised” at the news of his departure. This was “a combination of personal matters” that “brought things to a head”. The fog of officialise is now being rapidly decoded.
Palingswick House, main entrance: no sign of any of the necessary work being done (Photos (c) Tom Barry 2014)

There were two, perhaps unconnected, strands to the WLFS crisis: one is the apparently less than totally above board behaviour of Sam Naismith that led to his being sent out the door, while the other is the almost total lack of progress in the adaptation of Palingswick House on King Street in Hammersmith, where the work outlined in the WLFS blog back in June 2012 has not taken place.
Rear of the main building at Palingswick House. There are some broken windows, but, again, no sign of building work

Zelo Street regulars will recall that Tobes and his team had spent well north of £9 million – that’s £9 million of our money, folks – on an office block on Bridge Street in Hammersmith, which had next to no outdoor space, and a need for pupils and staff not to travel there using cars. The reasons for this were laid out in a post by Tom at Boris Watch: Palingswick House was seemingly not big enough.
The former annexe at the rear of Palingswick House has been demolished - but the replacement four storey structure has not yet been started

Now, photos taken only last week clearly show that the work required to make Palingswick House fit for purpose by the start of the next school year has not been carried out. The site, empty since all those pesky voluntary groups were turfed out by the now former administration at the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, is even showing signs of neglect and disrepair.

The second strand in the saga of Tobes’ Very Wonderful new school is the behaviour of Naismith. Such was the aura around WLFS, much of it generated by fawning press coverage in the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate, that other schools believed that tapping into the supposed expertise possessed by Naismith and his team would be A Very Good Thing.

And Naismith, it seems, was only too pleased to pander to this belief. The only problem for Tobes and his team was that their school’s resources appear to have been used for this, shall we say, external consultancy, but whatever rewards came back in return did not seem to accrue to the school. More detail on what appears to have been a most creative free market exercise is expected in a few days’ time.

This looks like incompetence and corruption. How will Tobes explain it away?

Friday 30 May 2014

Sex And Drugs – Their UK Role

One EU-wide measure that is eminently sensible is the attempt to measure the shadow, or black, economy. This is now being done by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which has releasedChanges to National Accounts: Inclusion of Illegal Drugs and Prostitution in the UK National Accounts”. The problem arises with the methodology, as I’ll show.
Back to the drawing board for the folks in the big building at the back of the picture

Indeed, it cautions “The article explains the methods and data used to estimate the level of illegal drugs and prostitution activity in the UK and the effects of including this activity on GDP and its components, and sets out suggestions for further action ... The article concludes that there are significant limitations in the availability of data to calculate these estimates, and that this means that such calculation requires a number of assumptions on which the estimates are, therefore, partly based”.

These are not the only assumptions, but, in a move that will not surprise watchers of the Fourth Estate, very little serious analysis has taken place. “Prostitution and illegal drugs are contributing around £10bn a year to the British economy, according to official data. More than half of that - £5.3bn - is attributable to prostitution, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Thursday, while illegal drugs are worth £4.4bntold the Maily Telegraph, prosaically.

The Guardian managed to stress in its sub-heading that the figures being pitched were estimates. Sadly, the Independent went with the more basic: sex and drugs were worth “more than house building, official data has revealed”. Sky News (“first for breaking wind”) also went with the house building comparison.

However, and in this case there is a significantly sized however, Table 2.1, “Classifying the sale and consumption of imported illegal drugs”, shows there to be a potentially serious underestimate in the scale of this part of the shadow economy. “Product is imported and sold on without changing it” is assumed.

This, as anyone who has studied the workings of the supply chain for illegal drugs will readily testify, is plain flat wrong. The two substances imported in most significant amounts – heroin and cocaine – are indeed changed, and considerably, between initial importation and final sale. The range of adulterants used to bulk up the product – especially with heroin – is enormous.

Small wonder, then, that Steve Pudney of the University of Essex has observed that the ONS’ study “rests on some heroically large assumptions which would be difficult to test, and it also uses a measure of demand that is likely to understate systematically the true scale of drug use”. That the ONS’ move is welcome is not in doubt. That their £4.4 billion annual figure is well short is equally so.

When we see the real value of the industry, press’ and politicians’ heads will swim.

Daily Mail Chilcot Hypocrisy

We have been waiting for the so-called Chilcot Report, the result of the Iraq Inquiry, for some years. And so it came to pass that the good news came first: there would be a report released, probably before the end of 2014. This much was welcome, but routine. What has taxed the Fourth Estate has been the bad news: not every last item of correspondence, and all notes of conversations, will be part of that report.
What's f***ing wrong with me changing my mind over Iraq, c***?!? Er, with the greatest of respect, Mr Jay

Worse, the stuff we will not see in full is the to-and-fro between Tone and Dubya, which was thought to be central to the UK being a full participant in the Iraq adventure, which was supposed to topple Saddam Hussein, but instead, via the terminal ineptitude of some within the “Coalition of the willing”, precipitated a deadly civil war which has not yet run its course.

As the deeply subversive Guardian has noted, “The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war has been accused of allowing a whitewash after it struck a deal with ministers to publish the gist of letters between Tony Blair and George Bush but not the full correspondence ... No decision has been taken ... on exactly which quotations from the Bush-Blair correspondence will be published or how the gist will be phrased”.
Establishment blames establishment no shock horror

Oh dear. “Evening squire, know what I mean, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more ... gist, squire, you get my gist, nudge nudge, a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat”. There may be perfectly good reasons for less than full disclosure, but for the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his obedient hackery at the Daily Mail, this is not just the withholding of full disclosure, it is shabby.

This Shabby Whitewash” thunders today’s front page lead, as readers are left in no doubt that this is A Very Bad Thing indeed. “The Iraq War inquiry was condemned as a whitewash last night after more than 150 crucial messages from Tony Blair to George W Bush were censored. In them, Mr Blair is said to have promised the US President: ‘You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I'm with you’”.

There was no stopping the paper, with Daily Mail Comment, the authentic voice of the Vagina Monologue, under the headline “Establishment looks after its own ... again”, thundering “When the Chilcot inquiry was established in 2009, the public was promised it would finally reveal the unvarnished truth about how Tony Blair, in the face of overwhelming opposition, dragged Britain into the shameful Iraq War”.

And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. The “overwhelming opposition” did not, at the time or for several years after the event, include the Daily Mail. Moreover, if we’re talking about the establishment looking after their own, perhaps Dacre would like to advance a credible alternative explanation for former Sun man William Newman being appointed to the board of IPSO.

Paul Dacre – caught facing both ways in order to kick his targets. Yet again.

Rennard – Burying Bad News

After Matthew Oakeshott jumped from the increasingly beleaguered Lib Dem ship following his lack of candour over opinion polls – and his repeated calls for the party to change leader – one might have thought that was quite enough for Corporal Clegg and his motley platoon to digest in one week. But that thought was shown to be misplaced, as back came another of the party’s worst nightmares.
Yes, they told you to Piss Off

One form of bad behaviour was substituted for another in the electorate’s mind, as Chris Rennard, master strategist and tactician but also alleged serial harasser of female party activists, decided that, despite not wanting to apologise when he was asked to do so, it was now time to say sorry, despite not having been asked to do so while his party was encountering its latest little local difficulty.

Rennard’s statement, directed to Bridget Harris, Alison Goldsworthy, Alison Smith and Susan Gasczak, told that “He hereby expresses his regret for any harm or embarrassment caused to them or anything which made them feel uncomfortable ... Lord Rennard wishes to make it absolutely clear that it was never his intention to cause distress or concern to them by anything that he ever said or did”.

And, as the man said, there’s more: “He also hopes that they will accept that the events of the last 14 months have been a most unhappy experience for him, his family and friends and for the party”. Yeah, right: “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” revisited. But the really jaw-dropping moment came with Rennard’s coded description of what he had been accused of doing.

As the Guardian put it, “The statement said Rennard recognised that he may have encroached upon ‘personal space’ and would ‘therefore like to apologise sincerely for any such intrusion and assure them that this would have been inadvertent’”. I’d not seen “groping” described as “encroachment upon personal space” before. And there is only one place this expression is going.

That is to join the ever-lengthening list of code-speak on which publications like Private Eye thrive. So, joining “Overtired” [pissed], “Ugandan discussions” [sex] and “Glenda” [appallingly overrated female pundit], will soon be “encroachment upon personal space”, as already practiced by the likes of “Shagger” Prescott, and now, by his own admission (allegedly) Chris Rennard.

Meanwhile, back at the Lib Dem ranch, Ms Gasczak is in no doubt that Rennard, who is at present suspended from the party, should not be let back in: “We really have got to draw a line under this. The only way to do that is actually to say, ‘Lord Rennard, it's time to go’”. Alison Goldsworthy has also called for his expulsion. So, having chosen his moment to bury his bad news, he may be on his way.

Chris Rennard and the Lib Dems were for a time, but not for all time.

Thursday 29 May 2014

TPA – Another Dishonest Graphic

Out there on the right, the Astroturf lobby groups are trying to garner attention by talking about Tax Freedom Day. This has been declared by the Adam Smith Institute, that museum of outdated economic thought that has shamelessly appropriated the name of the founder of economics, to be May 28. Until that point of the year, we are supposedly working for the Government.
More guff from Tufton Street

This is, of course, utter baloney, but it keeps all those well-remunerated minds occupied. And over at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) there has been a further contribution to the constant attempts to persuade us that we pay too much to the state. Here, a comparison has been made between all the tax that the average family pays, and its spend on food, clothing, housing, fuel and power.

The graphic, on the face of it, looks convincing: all those spending categories totalled up come to less than the amount of tax paid. However, and in this case there is a significantly sized however, a little thought shows that the TPA is, and not for the first time, being singularly disingenuous. Look at the amount of Income Tax and National Insurance, and then consider that this represents around 20% of total income.
Just look at all that VAT - what is it being levied on?

Yes, I know Income Tax is levied at 20%, and National Insurance at another 12%, but there’s a £10,000 personal allowance. A quick and dirty estimate makes the income before tax in this case around £35,000, and probably as well: both columns on the graphic are costs. Together, they give around £17,000. So what’s the problem, if the average family has £18,000 to play with?

But the average family does not: the column of taxes includes items not shown in the household spend column. The average family runs a car, and much of what you pay for that is subject to VAT. Except the TPA haven’t bothered to include this, just the VAT. Likewise any entertainment or holidays – on which, typically, Air Passenger duty is payable. Those outgoings only appear in the tax column.

By this sleight of hand, the TPA makes it look as if all would be well if it were not for all those rotten taxes. Sadly, the deceit is obvious just from one look at the VAT element of the right-hand column: most of what is in the left-hand one is either not subject to VAT, or has a lower rate levied. So something must be missing from the column. The TPA must think that the proles don’t need to travel or be entertained.

The TPA’s objective is to make us join their cause, which they claim is to have us pay less tax, but is in reality to secure lower taxes only for the rich and greedy who bankroll them. Hence their reference to the “2020 Tax Commission”, which would see the state cut back so dramatically there would no longer be an NHS. Average families would be forced to spend their tax cuts on health insurance.

Put together with the dishonest graphic, that’s another slice of TPA dishonesty.

IPSO And The Hillsborough Apologist

[Update at end of post]

The so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), named to give the pretence of independence when it does not have any, has now announced its board. And those of truly independent mind have homed in on the presence of one William Newman, former managing editor and then ombudsman of the Murdoch Sun. Why this should be is not difficult to understand.
(c) Steve Bell 2014

Newman was not merely a good servant to Murdoch; he was prepared to stand as an apologist for the Sun’s most infamous front page splash, and an especially shameless one at that. In the wake of the Hillsborough stadium disaster, there was first the fateful decision of Kelvin MacKenzie to recycle a smear fed to the press by Tory MP Irvine Patnick as “The Truth”, and then ample opportunity to reconsider.

How others – notably Harry Arnold – tried to dissuade MacKenzie from running the smears as if they were fact is well known. What is also well known is that other papers that had used Patnick’s pack of lies quickly retracted their stories and apologised. Not the Sun. And it was here that Newman came in, prepared to cover for MacKenzie’s blunder, come what may.
Newman's first letter, standing by the Sun's use of photographs taken at Hillsborough

Newman signed on to two letters responding to criticism (see HERE and HERE). In the first, dated 20th April 1989, he defends the use of photographs taken in the aftermath of the fatal crush by referring to the Holocaust, but this is a mere warm-up for the letter of 28th April 1989, where he has the opportunity to row back on MacKenzie’s fateful decision, but instead backs it unequivocally.
Newman's second letter, backing Kelvin MacKenzie, declining to apologise, and shrugging his shoulders at a possible boycott

“It is the Sun’s duty as a newspaper to publish information, however hurtful and unpalatable it may be at the time”, he told. “On reflection, we accept the way in which the article was displayed could have given cause for offence. For that we apologise. For the substance we do not ... We cannot possibly apologise for facts and to do so would be an abdication of our responsibility to a wider public”.
Hillsborough memorial at Anfield

Then Newman plays the victim card, while continuing to back MacKenzie: “If the price of a free press is a boycott of our newspaper, then it is a price we will have to pay ... The Sun has been singled out – not for the first time – although identical reports to ours were published in the Times, Daily Express and Daily Star”. Only the others realised their mistake and apologised. The Sun did not.

Other papers knew, by the time Newman sent the second letter, that the story circulated by Irvine Patnick was not true. They had, in the intervening period, rowed back and said sorry. The Sun continued to claim that it was right, and William Newman was a willing apologist, central to the Murdoch press’ denials of any wrongdoing. Now we are expected to view him as an independent voice.

Those the Sun smeared after Hillsborough may have something to say about that.

[UPDATE 1545 hours: the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG) "has said that the appointment of former Sun executive William Newman to the board of the successor to the Press Complaints Commission is 'totally unacceptable'".

HFSG Chair Margaret Aspinall added "For the Hillsborough families now going through the ordeal of the new inquest, this feels like a fresh insult ... It tells us that lessons have certainly not been learned by the press, despite their claims to the contrary".

She explained "Mr Newman had a key role in defending the outrageous coverage of the Sun of the Hillsborough disaster and in the abject failure of the newspaper to properly apologise when it was clear they had printed hurtful lies and not 'the truth' ... That is why his appointment to the board of the new regulator is totally unacceptable to us and we believe will undermine public confidence in it".

So another less than auspicious act by IPSO and its masters, demonstrating a tone-deafness to the reality of public opinion. As William Newman belittled the views of those on Merseyside back in April 1989, so the wider Fourth Estate is doing today. IPSO is already damaged goods.

All that is now needed is for it to be absent when the next abuse of press power comes along. So not long to wait, then]

UKIP – Small Problem In Redditch

As more and more UKIP activists were discovered to have, shall we say, odd views about the world around them, the party told anyone who would listen that their procedures for vetting candidates were being tightened up. There would be personality tests. The antediluvian element would be weeded out. The racists and homophobes were no longer welcome. They need not apply.
Well, someone forgot to tell those in the West Midlands satellite town of Redditch, which elected one Dave Small last Thursday as a Councillor. Small, still up for a contest at the age of 81, had hardly been elected than his Facebook pronouncements were being pored over and found wanting. And what was found was too much even for the Farage fringe.

On the subject of gays, he was of forthright if unfortunate mind: “I refuse to call them gays, as what has gay to do with Perverts like Elton John and Clair [sic] Balding who get their jollies in such disgusting ways. to sum up, they should not allowed to be married, they should go back to the closet”. And to give Dave his due, he has admitted to being homophobic.

He was equally upfront – and equally wrong – when it came to followers of The Prophet: “Fact, we had most eradicated T.B from this country, then with the migration for [sic] Muslim country’s [sic] its [sic] near epidemic proportions. But mustn’t say anything, it might be considered racist”. As opposed to being mindless, scaremongering crap, no doubt.

This, though, is all in the past, and does not disbar Small from taking his Council seat: as the Redditch Standard notes, “All councillors have two months to sign official papers before taking their seat and as Mr Small has yet to do so he is not bound by the council's code of conduct”. Then the BBC gave him the chance to express some contrition, so one might have thought he’d think again.

But this thought would have been sadly misplaced, as he told the Beeb “I shall never apologise to the poofs and perverts and certainly not the foreigners. The people of Redditch voted for me, I will stand my ground”. The world might have moved on in the past 60 years, but “he said he did not have to adapt with the world and those who were offended could ‘please themselves’”.

Sadly for Dave Small, those who were offended included UKIP, and so he has been expelled from the party just five days after being elected. This is believed to be a record, although were it to be followed by more of the same, few would be surprised. Small, in the meantime, denies being racist, because he has “a lot of black friends”. As opposed to Jewish friends, that is.

Dave Small was stuck in the past. His now former party still has one foot there.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Oakeshott – Has He Shot The Lib Dems?

Matthew Oakeshott was there at the beginning, when Labour lost the “gang of four” and the SDP was born. This group at first allied itself with the then Liberal Party, and later most of it – but not David Owen, who still wanted to lead a party dedicated to Himself Personally Now – merged with the Liberals, the result then becoming the Liberal Democrats. He may also be there at the end.
Because, following the news that Oakeshott was the one who commissioned opinion polls showing the Lib Dems would lose a number of constituencies if Corporal Clegg remained leader – including Sheffield Hallam, Clegg’s own seat, as well as Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Danny Alexander’s home turf – he has resigned from the party and made one singularly incendiary revelation.

Firstly, as Politics.co.uk has noted, “Vince Cable knew about Matthew Oakeshott's polling, the peer has revealed, as he quits Westminster with a defiant call for Nick Clegg to resign. Oakeshott, who has issued a statement making clear the party is ‘heading for disaster if it keeps Nick Clegg’, will have damaged his long-time ally Cable in the final act of his political career with the revelation”.

And, if that were not bad enough, he followed up with this: “When Charles Kennedy rang to make me a peer ... he said he wanted me to shake up the Lords. I’ve tried – my bills to ban non-dom peers are now law – but my efforts to expose and end cash for peerages in all parties, including our own, and help get the Lords elected have failed”. Cash for peerages and Liberal Party together?

It took the scandal of Maundy Gregory, a political fixer who sold honours for money, for legislation to be brought in banning the practice. Gregory, whose name will forever be associated with then Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George, had demanded around £40,000 for a baronetcy, an hereditary title, which in today’s money is well over a million notes.

Although Gregory appears to have paid over money to both Liberals and Tories, it is to the Liberals that the mud stuck, helping to speed the decline in the party’s fortunes, which were also harmed by a split between those loyal to Lloyd George, and those who supported Herbert Asquith, his predecessor as party leader. And now Oakeshott is suggesting that his party has been involved in the practice again.

So, given that the 1925 legislation made selling honours for money illegal, and that Oakeshott has said all parties – presumably this means Labour and the Tories as well as his own – were at it, will we now see the rozzers rocking up at his place to request that he assists them with their enquiries? After all, he must have sufficient proof to make the assertion, given that it is loaded.

But, as he was a Lib Dem, it will be that party that takes the hit. As it did in 1925.

Twat In The Hat Is Sentenced

After his sometimes over-enthusiastic support of then clients Charles Saatchi and the Grillo sisters, which tipped over into forthright unpleasantness directed at Domestic Goddess (tm) Nigella Lawson, there was little sympathy on offer for PR man Richard Hillgrove, aka The Twat In The Hat, when he was hauled up before Bristol Crown Court on Income Tax and VAT evasion charges.
Twat Pictured Wearing Hat

As I noted at the time, the amounts unpaid totalled around £100,000. Even then, Hillgrove was unrepentant, and accused HMRC of all manner of impropriety. This was never going to be a successful strategy. And so it has proved, as, despite not having been imprisoned, he now has a criminal record. This is unlikely to change even if he carries out his threat to appeal.

The Western Daily Press has the details: “Recorder Robert Linford sentenced him to 15 months imprisonment, suspended for two years ... The judge also ordered Hillgrove to pay £5,000 towards prosecution costs and complete 200 hours of unpaid work”. Hillgrove was told “You need to rebuild your life and pay the Government what you owe them”. So he still owes around £100K.

And, as the man said, there’s more: “The judge said Hillgrove’s defence during his trial had been ‘unpleasant’ at times. ‘There may have been an enthusiastic and tenacious prosecution but this was not a conspiracy against you,’ he added. ‘To suggest that it was is ludicrous.’” Quite so. And what the suspended sentence means in reality needs to be set out.

If Hillgrove fails to pay back what he owes HMRC, and they take him back to court within the next two years, the likelihood is that he will end up in jail – hence “suspended for two years”. In fact, he could end up doing two stretches. So he needs to do a little more of what Stanley Unwin called “nosey grindstone”, and a little less of that pointless confrontation with the tax authorities.

And, for once, it seems Hillgrove may be doing just that: the Hillgrove PR website, which has been given a suitably stylish recent makeover, contains no reference either to the “Richard Hillgrove News Opinion” blog, which made some particularly nasty accusations against Ms Lawson, or his “Daily Hillgrove, which is still spewing appallingly biased PR guff on a variety of subjects.

His clients may not know about these less than savoury aspects of his behaviour. So links are helpfully provided, to let anyone know just who they are dealing with. In the meantime, if he wants to remain at liberty, Richard Hillgrove will stick to the PR, spend a little less on Himself Personally Now, and otherwise stay out of trouble. Which is a pity really, as I’ve enjoyed kicking the SOB.

If he can’t keep up the payments, there will be more on The Twat In The Hat.

Don’t Menshn Nick Clegg

After the Lib Dems, being both the junior Coalition partner and no longer the repository of protest votes, lost all but one of their MEPs in the elections to the European Parliament (EP), some called for Corporal Clegg to be relieved of his command of that motley platoon. Others, meanwhile, decided that this was an opportunity for partisan sniping and personal abuse.
(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014

And there was plenty of both on offer from the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate, but for the more slavish kind of Tory Party adherent, especially those whose experience of front-line politics has never included the length of public service that includes the inevitable setbacks, it was time to put the boot in. One former MP of limited commitment was all too keen to do just that.
The increasingly wayward Louise Mensch, now representing the distant constituency of Manhattan Upmarket, gleefully put the boot in on someone whose ankles will forever be out of her reach. “I’m a Cleggebrity get me out of here” she trilled, to the dismay of the better class of people who would rather she had not bothered. Laugh? I thought I’d never start.
But, as the man said, there’s more: “Clegg practically crying on TV. Embarrassing. Not leadership. Unmanly. No crying in baseball” she wibbled. And what, pray, does baseball, or perhaps I should say MLB, have to do with elections to the EP? But then, Clegg was not crying, practically or otherwise, although he looked drained – maybe through lack of sleep. Leadership, eh Louise?
Not that she’d know about that sort of thing. And on she ploughed: “What Clegg should be doing is talking about the GE and reviewing the LD’s Eurofanaticism. ‘Party of In’ = ‘Party of Bin’”. Oh dear, once again the right-wing says anyone not agreeing with them is a “Eurofanatic” or “Federalist”. And we won’t be hearing what Ms Mensch thinks about the UK’s EU membership.
Well, not anything that makes any sense, we won’t. But by now she was attracting criticism: “Lots of people saying it’s sexist to call Clegg crying on TV over election results unmanly. It is unmanly, and men and women are different” she asserted. Men and women are different? Nowt gets past Louise! Plus he still wasn’t crying on TV, but facts and Ms Mensch are once again destined not to meet.
It is objectionable in both men and women to cry over a political defeat, but more so in men. Clegg is an embarrassment”. This from a Margaret Thatcher fan: her tears on leaving 10 Downing Street for the last time were public and genuine. Ms Mensch is unpleasantly cold when it comes to showing emotion. Everybody hurts, as the song goes. But then, her husband never did manage REM.

He did sign and manage Lostprophets, though. But we don’t talk about that.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Max Clifford – Wolfman’s Revenge

Blimey, they’re made for each other ... lying scumbag Chris Huhne has been to visit sex abuser Max Clifford in jail, according to [The Times]” tweeted Neil “Wolfman” Wallis the other day. Moving right along from the thought that Wallis might not be best placed to call anyone a “lying scumbag”, the former executive editor of the now-defunct Screws and Cliffus Maximus have what is generally called previous.
Wallis was a long-standing client of Clifford: given the nature of the product on offer from the latter, and Wallis’ standing in the Sunday red-top arena (he was editor of the People for five years before re-joining Rupe’s downmarket troops in 2003), this could hardly be otherwise. And it was Wallis who made the move which caused significant financial discomfort to Clifford.

As Media Guardian pointed out at the time, “When Westlife star Bryan McFadden had a one-night stand with lap-dancer Amy Barker on his stag weekend, Clifford got Jeffrey Green Russell to draw up a deal with Westlife's management, paying Barker £15,000 to sign a confidentiality agreement”. Thus Max thought he had it all tied up, and the principals could only work through him.
But Wallis – who was already pissed off with Clifford for going to the Screws before offering the story to the People – dealt directly with Ms Barker, leaving Mr Sleazebroker high and dry. His comment was that “I don't blame the girl ... The people I blame are the lawyers and Neil Wallis”. And it seems that Clifford had a long enough memory to get payback when the opportunity arose.

When former Metropolitan Police Commission Paul Stephenson resigned back in 2011, Clifford was on hand to pontificate: “I think the whole thing is getting more and more serious ... we need to know exactly what went on and so, in terms of Rupert Murdoch, I find it staggering that the BSkyB deal was going through ... It is only because of Milly Dowler that politicians are now standing up”.

There was a very good reason that Max was suddenly very interested in the whole sordid business: Stephenson told the media that “I have taken this decision as a consequence of the ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met's links with News International at a senior level and in particular in relation to Mr Neil Wallis, who as you know was arrested in connection with Operation Weeting last week”.

Wallis had been retained by Stephenson as a PR consultant. He has since been advised that no charges will be brought against him following the arrest and repeated subsequent bailing. But he is clearly sore that Clifford chose to occupy the moral high ground and denounce him, however obliquely. Hence what looks on the face of it as a singularly ungrateful piece of behaviour.

There’s no honour among thieves – or, indeed, within the Fourth Estate, it seems.

UKIP – What Is It For?

While the more excitable part of the Fourth Estate gets its undergarments inverted over Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers at UKIP topping the poll for elections to the European Parliament (EP), none of the hacks and pundits seem to want to ask the obvious question: what does the party really stand for, apart from its hatred of the EU? What would it really change, if given power?
Squeaky policy finger up the bum time

The problem here is, as Alex Harrowell has observed, that UKIP has taken on so many of the anti-politics-as-usual crowd that it would be highly dangerous for Farage, or any of his pals, to dwell too long on policy for fear of teeing off one of the party’s factions and seeing the voters drift away. And, as Richard Murphy has noted, what we do know about UKIP policy does not add up.

A key example of the sleight of hand that Mr Thirsty is already having to employ in order to keep his foot soldiers facing the same way is over income tax. As recently as February this year, Murphy noted that UKIP was in favour of a flat tax system. This was effectively what was proposed in May 2012 by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) and Institute of Directors (IoD).

Then, the “2020 Tax Commission” called it a “Single Income Tax”. As I pointed out at the time (see HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE), this would mean the state being downsized to a level last seen in 1939, and that means there would be no NHS, and indeed, as Murphy pointed out in a Guardian CiF piece, very little of today’s welfare state, much of which was established by the 1945 Attlee Government.

But, as Harrowell has pointed out, since 2010, when UKIP proposed a flat tax, not only has the TPA let slip the consequences – no NHS unless you pony up for it separately, for starters – but also UKIP has gained a large number of new followers, typified by its east London misinformation specialist Roger da Costa, for whom the NHS is sacrosanct. So a change was in order.

And, as Isabel Hardman at the Spectator noted, Farage duly signalled this on one of his many Question Time appearances. Perhaps her fellow Speccy contributor James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, a faithful Kipper of the party’s libertarian strand, noticed this. Most likely he didn’t bother. But this distinction between the various UKIP factions is critical in understanding the beast.

And Farage knows this: we’re not going to be told what UKIP is for until very close to the next General Election. What he must hope is that the press keep asking the other parties what they are for, but not UKIP. And far too many within the Fourth Estate have already failed on that count. That’s not good enough. The question has to be asked, again and again until answers are prised out of Mr Thirsty.

What is UKIP for? What would it do, other than photo opportunities down the pub?

Telegraph Shills For Astroturf Lobby Group

Call it churnalism, advertorial, propaganda or all three, the shilling for Astroturf lobby groups by supposedly credible newspapers is one of the inevitable by-products of years of cutting staff and demanding more from those that remain. And this morning, the Maily Telegraph has been caught red-handed fronting for one of the latest lobby groups to enter the fray – and presenting it as genuine journalism.
The Tel’s lead story – “Business leaders demand new deal with EU” – under the joint by-lines of Peter “Dominatrix” Dominiczak and James Kirkup, masks the sad fact that “a letter to The Daily Telegraph” signed by “business leaders including some of the Conservative Party’s biggest donors” is actually from “the Business for Britain advisory board”. This is another Astroturf lobby group.

Yes, some prominent businessmen have been prepared to sign the letter. But Business for Britain, while claiming to be “an independent, non-partisan campaign involving people from all parties and none, run by business for business” which seeks “a new deal for the EU and for the UK’s role in Europe”, is in fact dedicated to demonising the EU and thereby undermining its credibility.

In this, it mirrors the behaviour of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which claims to represent ordinary taxpayers, but in reality is shilling for the selfish rich, who would rather keep hold of more of their dosh than they are at present able to do. The TPA pretends to offer constructive advice on what it calls “better Government”, but is about demonising Government and undermining it.

Whatever the TPA gets will never be enough; it will always be back for more. Ditto Business for Britain. How can I be so sure of this? We need look no further than the CEO: step forward Matthew “Gromit” Elliott, former stalwart of ... the TPA! Elliott is aided by Dylan Sharpe, formerly of Big Brother Watch (same offices as the TPA) and the No2AV campaign (prop. Matthew Elliott).

Indeed, Sharpe’s move from BBW to No2AV was reported at ConHome by Jonathan Isaby, who has since moved to the TPA. This incestuous-looking game of musical chairs is so well-known within press and politics circles that it is inconceivable that Dominiczak and Kirkup did not know who was feeding them the story. This is another example of the Tel’s fall from grace.

Readers might expect the lead story in the last English daily broadsheet to contain a little proper journalism: instead, they are served a re-heated press release from yet another Astroturf lobby group pushing their backers’ agenda. This may be acceptable to Mr Head “Content” Man Jason “Psycho” Seiken, but the reality is that it confirms the Telegraph long ago ceased to be a paper of record.

Meanwhile, Elliott and Sharpe can celebrate another lobbying job well done.

Monday 26 May 2014

Toby Young – The Tories’ Ron Hopeful

Clutching at straws the morning after, the loathsome Toby Young has decided that the third place in elections to the European Parliament (EP) by his team – that would be Young Dave and his jolly good chaps – is a better position that the second place recorded by Labour. Moreover, it means Mil The Younger is in the same deep trouble that the Murdoch Times claimed before any result was announced.
In this, Tobes is faithfully following the script dictated to him by CCHQ, but he fails miserably to back it up, or to take any notice of reality. He talks of Labour’s “lacklustre showing in the local elections”, but the party picked up well north of 300 seats and took control of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which may cause him more than the odd little local scholastic difficulty.

Then, as demanded for anyone given a pulpit by the Telegraph, he goes immediately into barrel-scraping mode with a personal attack on Miliband: “an electoral liability. He just doesn't look like a winner ... collapse of discipline in the parliamentary Labour party ... under fire from armchair generals in the shadow cabinet”. Yes, Tobes is on bullshit autopilot. So let me put him straight.

The Conservative Party – that’s your party, Tobes – has been in existence around 180 years. It had, until yesterday, not polled outside the top two in any national election. Not even at low points like 1945, 1997 and 2001. But in this year’s EP elections, the Tories fell outside the top two. Yet this does not merit a mention by Tobes – or, indeed, anyone else writing at the Tel.
No, all their fire is directed at Miliband, because he “only” came second, which is held to be rubbish. Again, let me put some of those facts into the discussion. At the 2009 EP elections, Labour came third. The party went on to lose power the following year. In 2004, however, with the saintly Tone at the helm, Labour recorded 2.8% less vote share in the EP elections than this year.

And what happened at the General Election the year after? Labour won a Parliamentary majority of over 60. The Tories have come third for the first time in the party’s history. Their organisation at constituency level – as demonstrated during the Eastleigh by-election – is somewhere between poor and laughable. Party membership has declined to a level where, in parts of the country, it is negligible.

After last week’s local election results, it is coming clear that the Tories do not have a credible route to a majority Government next year. As for all that wonderful economic news that Tobes believes will keep on coming, what does he expect will happen when the inevitable rise in interest rates makes the “cost of living crisis” articulated by Miliband into a grim reality for tens of thousands of swing voters?

Saying “the other lot are rubbish” will not advance Tobes’ cause one millimetre.

Katie Hopkins – Don’t Engage Brain First

She may have been banned from the ITV This Morning sofa, but professional motormouth Katie Hopkins is not downhearted. And with an increasingly enthusiastic following for her trademark rant-and-quick-on-to-the-next-target-before-anyone-gets-the-chance-to-call-her-out-for-talking-mindless-drivel technique, pretentiously repackaged as “telling it like it is”, must think she’s on a winner.
Viewers may want to look away now

So must Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, who have kept faith with the alleged Hopkinator, probably on the grounds that it’s better to have pundits whose witterings the readers will actually read, even if they talk out of the backs of their necks. This has been epitomised by the latest Katie Krap on the subjects of her heroine Mrs T., and feminism.
Shall we have a reality check here?
And here's the reality

As for the Falklands, the headline ‘GOTCHA’ defined the spirit of proud Brits. Bring back Thatcher to teach Spain a lesson over Gibraltar” she pontificated, and wrongly. The “Gotcha” headline defined only the crass and insensitive nature of the Sun, after hundreds of Argentines died following the torpedoing of the General Belgrano. And a minor problem enters: Mrs T happens to be dead.
Pass the sick bucket

But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, eh? “Thatcher is not dead. She lives on; in every council house now owned by a family, in the Falklands – still ours, in the hearts of the brave”. So, after a quick passing round of the sick bucket, that’s a vote for economic growth through increasing the stock of debt, and for inept foreign policy that means spending a lot more to guard the same distant islands.
Who is this penguin? Look no further ...
This is Laurie Penny, Katie's target

Never mind, perhaps Katie can do better when it comes to feminism? Perhaps not: after being asked who, between Herself Personally Now and Laurie Penny, was the real feminist, she ventured “[Laurie Penny] obviously – because she dresses like a penguin that is heavily in to porn”. A photo of Ms Penny is included, to demonstrate how Ms Hopkins is in touch with reality. Or perhaps not.
Carry on with the Thatcher blether ...

Ah well, perhaps there is more fertile ground on the Thatcher tribute patch? “Thatcher was a conviction politician. These days all we have are convicts running free, pretending to care. Maria Miller et al”. Ms Miller ain’t been convicted of anything, some of us can remember the al-Yamamah arms deal and the Westland saga, and let’s not forget Mrs T’s confidante Peter Morrison.
... and carry on digging yourself in deeper

So she’s not too hot on that, either, so it’s back to snarking at Laurie Penny. When asked who Ms Penny was, she replied “no-one. Someone the BBC waves about when they need someone of no obvious gender or sexuality”. Once again, I refer to the photo of Ms Penny. Readers may usefully compare and contrast this with the photo of Ms Hopkins in fully motoring mouth flow.

Katie Hopkins – when you want someone who didn’t engage brain before mouth.

UKIP Win – What It Means

So this morning Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers are celebrating ... what, exactly? They have come first in the poll to elect Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), yet UKIP doesn’t want to engage with those rotten people who talk foreign. After getting themselves elected, just what are they going to give their supporters in return? Get ready for the bad news.
(c) Martin Rowson 2014

Will this bring the fabled Brexit any closer? No. Any move to change or even end the UK’s membership of the EU would have to be decided within the Houses of Parliament. Here, UKIP has an elected strength of precisely zero. So you can safely ignore the front page of today’s Daily Express, which follows the paper’s grand tradition of totally untrue EU bashing pro-UKIP propaganda.

What will UKIP’s MEPs do to benefit the UK? Nothing. Sure, they will tell that they are standing up for British interests, that they want to “regain control of our borders”, and perhaps even that they “want to take our country back”. But when it comes to actually participating in EP business, we will count ourselves lucky if they bother to turn up on a regular basis.
Totally untrue - so nothing new

How will they vote on the issues before them? We’ll be lucky if they vote at all. Much of the time, UKIP MEPs have historically either not turned up, or, as exemplified by Roger Helmer, used the EP as a place to have a snooze. If they are around for votes – and awake – they are most likely to abstain. Or they might vote against whatever is being decided, ‘cos they like to say no to the EU.

Can we trust them to tell us the facts about the EP and EU? No chance. One look at the stream of whoppers pitched during the campaign is all you need to know on that front. Farage – for instance – was quizzed on his claim that the EU makes 75% of the UK’s laws. His response? That was “his estimate”. You can trust Nige, he’s a man of the people, you can have a laugh with him, and sod the facts.
This is what voting UKIP means

Won’t UKIP’s MEPs be genuine individuals? As opposed to all those career machine politicians, you mean? Nope. Look at the East of England representation. Patrick “Lunchtime” O’Flynn, former Express pundit whose paper had for years spun a litany of lies about the EU. And Tim Aker, an I-Speak-Your-Weight machine, but programmed for UKIP rather than Labour, Tories or Lib Dems.

Won’t UKIP bring a more straightforward politics? No way. This result will open the door to all those who call their opponents retards, accuse the mythical “LibLabCon” of treason, demand the hanging of anyone of opposing views, and otherwise scream petulantly that “We want out of Europe”, as if this will somehow make the world a better place. You can forget the grown-up debates.

But you can expect unintentional hilarity. So there is a silver lining after all.