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Thursday 31 July 2014

Dan, Dan The Flat Tax Man

The outpourings of MEP and occasional Tory Dan, Dan The Oratory Man have, over the years, given great pleasure to Zelo Street readers, if only because of the ease with which Hannan’s flagrant dishonesty can be exposed. Today he brings them yet more pleasure with a paean to his beloved Flat Tax, as I’ve already done the research and can therefore debunk his rubbish that much more easily.
Lower, flatter, simpler taxes will help everyone – especially the poortells Dan, an assertion which, as I’ll show, is highly contentious at best and dishonest at worst. “A flat tax will, in a short time, make middle- and low-earners considerably better off as the rich pay more and the tax burden on the rest of us falls commensurately” he assures his readers. So what’s the real story here?

Happily for all concerned, the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) proposed such a tax – they called it the “Single Income Tax”, as part of their pretentiously titled 2020 Tax Commission study. This was duly analysed on Zelo Street (HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE). The TPA also helpfully revealed what size the public sector would have to be as a result of their proposals.

As I noted at the time, “It is claimed that all earners will benefit from the proposals, but pensioners, who are not at present subject to National Insurance contributions – having paid in for their state pension by the time they reach age 65 – would find their tax bill increased significantly. But they wouldn’t have to pay Air Passenger Duty (APD), which the Commission would very generously abolish”.

So pensioners would have to take a hit – something Hannan has, for some reason, failed to mention. What he has also failed to mention is that the public sector would have to be scaled back in size: the TPA estimated that this allegedly “optimum” size of the state would take, at most, 35% of GDP. That is the kind of level last seen in 1939, and one significant part of the public sector was not present then.

What would be missing from this dramatically slimmer public sector can be summed up in three letters: NHS. Coincidentally, Hannan has been more than ready to prostrate himself before professional loudmouth Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) to tell whoppers about the NHS and generally bad-mouth it. And no NHS means one thing for poorer peoples’ tax cuts.

Most, if not all, of those cuts that Hannan uses to tempt poorer people to support his Big Shiny New Idea would be swallowed up in health insurance premia. And, as Richard Murphy has shown on his Tax Research blog, flat tax means the better off don’t pay more – they pay a lot less. Flat taxes are promoted by the rich and their useful idiots. Which category Hannan falls in I will leave for others to decide.

But I can make a call on his proposal: yet more snake oil. No change there, then.

Natalie Rowe’s Drugs Allegations

Some gain notoriety through their being directly in the media spotlight, while others gain it by, shall we say, interacting with them. In this latter category is one Natalie Rowe, former Madam and author of Chief Whip – Memoirs Of A Dominatrix. Ms Rowe is, as Russell Harty might have put it, “famous, nay, notorious” for her alleged cocaine snorting with the current Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Natalie Rowe and alleged former client

Her associations also extended to someone that the Telegraph’s Tim Walker called a “dashing thespian”, an actor who was a household name, now in his 60s and married. Yes thanks Mr W., I got that one without any more clues. And there it might have remained, until the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog prodded Ms Rowe yesterday.
The Great Guido told that Ms Rowe had Tweeted a photo of herself and a young George Osborne (allegedly “off his trolley”), then attacked her credibility: “Her tweets were increasingly hysterical and from her timeline she appears to be having some kind of episode. Today she was arrested for unrelated ‘abusive behaviour’ on the King’s Road last Thursday ... One for the conspiracy theorists”.
This did not impress Ms Rowe one bit, and she subsequently launched into a Twitter tirade against Staines, making the most extraordinary claims against him, starting with “So that everyone is aware, you’re a tax dodger on top of all your other dodgy stuff, you picked on the wrong bitch” and ending the Tweet with the hashtag “#hairfolicle”. What could this mean?

Now, as Staines holds an Irish passport, and the company that runs the Fawkes blog is registered in Nevis, he can quite legitimately make use of tax regimes that can be, shall we say, more revenue-efficient than that in the UK. But it would be interesting to see her expand upon “other dodgy stuff” , as well as explain that hashtag. Was it, someone asked, to do with a hair drugs test?
She appeared to confirm that it was, as she followed up with “Not only would the Tory lapdog fail a drug test, he’d have to find his balls first, far up Osborne’s backside”. Well, we know of The Great Guido’s recent closeness to the Tory Party, but the idea that he may have done illegal stuff recently is a new one. Staines’ recent problems have been associated with his legendary thirst.

So will Ms Rowe expand on her assertions from yesterday? Will there be any further comment from Staines? Whatever follows, it does seem that the Fawkes folks were unwise to rattle her cage yesterday afternoon. Perhaps it is something and nothing: after all, if Staines wants to indulge in a little extra-curricular indulgence, well, it’s his money and his choice. Nothing to see here, or to sniff at.

I mean, it’s not as if he’s driving again. Or is he?

Guido Fawked – Clutching At Straws

And still the attempt by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog to damage Commons Speaker John Bercow continues, despite the award of a Parliamentary pass to wife Sally’s pal Farah Sassoon clearly being a personal matter concerning a family friend. The Fawkes folks have been fortunate here, of course, as many of their press pals hate Bercow.
Worst tribute band fails to pass audition

Moreover, some Tory MPs – but, significantly, not those whose opinions matter – also dislike the Speaker intensely. Some of them dislike John Bercow so much that they are prepared to speak without engaging brain on the subject, one prime example being Simon Burns, who represents the long-suffering commuter town of Chelmsford. His overnight intervention was magnificently stupid.

I do not quite see why at the request of the wife of the Speaker a friend should be given a pass to the House of Commons – in that they are not usually given to MPs’ friends” he told. Hello Simon! Let’s go over this nice and slowly, shall we? The Speaker and his family live on the Parliamentary estate, so their friends have to have a pass to get in to see them. But then, Burns has previous with Bercow.

Meanwhile, the Fawkes blog claimsDavid Morris MP tells Guido this morning that Farah Sassoon introduced herself to him on the Commons Terrace as ‘an adviser to Ed Miliband’ saying she advised the Labour leader ‘on all sorts of things’”. Then perhaps the member for Morecambe and Lunesdale would care to go on the record, and also confirm that he has more recent previous with the Speaker.

One wise decision the Fawkes rabble have made is not to follow the Mail and quote Michael Fabricant, another Tory MP who has previous with the Speaker, feebly trying to up the ante by suggesting “I’m sure the Speaker would welcome an inquiry in to this matter in order to clear his name”. Sadly, Mikey is just another has-been, a gobshite who, like Burns, is unable to engage brain first.

But the Fawkes folks are determined to keep the story going, despite there not being a story in the first place. “Crucially, Bercow’s spokesman dodged the question of whether proper advice was sought before he accepted a donation from this mysterious business woman” they tell, dishonestly. If anything untoward had been discovered, Ms Sassoon would not have got the pass.

On they plough: “Who is this mysterious character, and to what end is she really using this pass?” they demand. She’s a family friend, and uses it to see Sal. Which we all knew last weekend. Then they round off with “Yet each day brings new questions”. Yes, you keep on making up excuses to try and keep a story going which has no substance. But you can’t back down now or your credibility will be bust.

Your story is going nowhere, O Great Guido. Another fine mess, once again.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Gaza – Mad Mel Unrepentant

While the death toll, especially on the Palestinian side, continues to rise, and the IDF persists with what it calls Operation Protective Edge, some are urging restraint and an end to the killing. But one person can be relied upon to ignore such niceties and continue the screaming denunciation of anyone not giving unconditional support to the Netenyahu Government.
Not even slightly fair and balanced

This is, to no surprise at all, Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, who has already attracted condemnation for her appearance on a recent edition of Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, where she can be heard shouting down dissent with “Israel does not deliberately kill civilians ... it does not deliberately kill civilians”, as well as snapping petulantly at her fellow “judges”.
So while the Archbishop of Canterbury says “Today I urge Israel and Gaza to end this brutal violence and seek peace, and churches to offer victims Christ’s love”, Mel couldn’t give a flying foxtrot. There’s blame gaming to do: “Israel says UN shelter deaths not caused by its ordnance. So who killed those [civilians]? Send protests to Hamas c/o UN”. You read that right: “Hamas c/o UN”. Bottom of barrel already.
Perhaps Mel will listen to an Israeli citizen and fellow journalist? You jest. So while Mira Bar-Hillel cautions “Does Israel realise that when its ludicrous, arrogant and belligerent [spokesmen] appear on the media they lose even more support?” Mel is wibbling “Hamas not ‘powerless’ Palestinian resistance but military arm of Muslim brothers’ Alliance headed by Qatar and Turkey”.
Aaarghh! The Scary Muslims (tm) are coming for Mad Mel! Jibber! JIBBER!! Seriously, there is a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding, and one highly intelligent observer is scrabbling round after conspiracy theories. And the jibbering continues with “Is killing Muslims only [an] outrage when [a] Jew does it in self-defence? Is the only good Jew one who lets [him or her]self be killed?
Can we perhaps cut back on the hyperbole and urge restraint, even among pundits? You’ve got no chance – now she’s really cranking up the wibbling: “Obama working for Hamas victory over Israel to reach accord with Iran enabling genocide nukes”. Shine a light, someone just overshot the buffer stops at Upminster. Hello Ms Phillips, there are a lot of people being killed and injured right now. Wake up!
And save us the drivel about “terrorist infrastructure”. The bombing, shelling, rocketing and infantry backup is going way beyond that. As Moron Watch has observed, “Given that Israel is targeting schools, hospitals, UN shelters and power plants, I think the ‘rockets’ excuse is wearing thin”. The gratuitous screaming from those who would be exemplars is not helping matters, either.

While Justin Welby urges peace, Mad Mel remains in her playground. Sad.

Guido Fawked – Not Waving But Drowning

Following my calling out of their lame attempt to smear House of Commons Speaker John Bercow in their increasingly pisspoor Sunday Sun column, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog have sought to leverage the tale of Farah Sassoon, who has a parliamentary pass as she is a personal friend of Sally Bercow, via their pals.
Worst tribute band ever fails to post improvement

Why the Fawkes folks should do this is twofold: one, the Guido Fawkes brand has taken one knock recently when they had to pull a smear story aimed at Owen Jones, and two, the personal credibility of their newly anointed teaboy Alex Wickham, who penned both the Jones snark and the Bercow attack, is on the line. To screw up once is unfortunate, and all that.
Rob Wilson, Fawkes' useful idiot

Moreover, Wickham is, like his colleague the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole, appallingly thin-skinned, and having been ridiculed by this blog after he messed up over Owen Jones, then again after his Bercow “story”, he is unable to let matters rest, even though the Fawkes rabble do not, repeat do not, repeat DO NOT so much as acknowledge the existence of Zelo Street.
Bercow bashing in the Mail not necessarily factual

And so it came to pass that the Fawkes folks prevailed upon Fred Scuttle lookalike and sometime MP for Reading East Rob Wilson, one of a small band of Tories who labour under the mistaken belief that getting close to The Great Guido will benefit Himself Personally Now, to write to the Speaker, ostensibly posing questions about Ms Sassoon’s pass, but in reality, just posing.
Look everyone, it wasn't a non-story - honest!

But the Wilson missive was sufficient for the Fawkes folks to get their spin past Mail Online political editor Matt Chorley, whose effort from yesterday afternoon has made it onto the front page of today’s paper, not because there is any substance in it, or indeed any proof of wrongdoing, but because the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has decreed that the Bercows are not their kind of people.
Look everyone, I've invented more dud questions!

Meanwhile, Wickham has been desperately Tweeting links to anything that can be spun as support for his re-imagining of reality: look, it’s in the Mirror! They’re a bunch of rotten lefties, so it must be true! We were right, honest! There are questions for the Speaker to answer! What about the donation? There are Nolan principles to consider! Several of Rob’s constituents are concerned!
Look everyone, it's in another paper!

Sadly for teaboy Wickham and his pals, the facts of the matter do not help their cause. Ms Sassoon apparently got her pass at Sally Bercow’s request two years ago. It was issued to allow her to visit the Bercows, who live within the Parliamentary Estate, a secure area. The donation goes to the Speaker’s re-election fund: he must stand as an independent. The Bercows do not benefit personally therefrom.

Poor Alex Wickham. Desperately seeking attention, he’s not waving, but drowning.

Tory Youth Wing Row – It’s Official

 As I first noted last week, Conservative Future (CF), which since 1998 has been the sole youth wing of the Tory Party, has become embroiled in rumours that it is about to undergo a round of leadership elections. I said at the time that Oliver Cooper, elected to the top CF job in 2013, would not only be standing down, but also that he had been instructed not to stand in those elections.

And so it came to pass that Cooper ‘fessed up yesterday, although, in the style of a bad Western, his Twitter farewell took a while to get to the point where he finally falls. “It’s been an honour to lead CF for the last year. We’re now represented on 75% more campuses and 40% more constituencies than last year” he began, citing numbers meaningless without absolute values for comparison.
Yes? Yes yes? Yes yes yes?

Then on he rambled: “CF now has more branches and more members than ever before. Our role for the next year is to mobilise them to win a majority in 2015 ... I am proud of CF’s achievements, thankful to CF’s supporters, and confident in CF’s ability to deliver Britain a more Conservative future ... We need a new, united CF team to focus relentlessly on winning a majority in 2015 – a mammoth task we haven’t achieved since CF was founded”. He does go on, doesn’t he?
Get on with it, Tedious Maximus

And the inference that the outgoing CF team might not have been totally united is an interesting snippet. But then he admits “they got me” as he theatrically tells “I will not be seeking re-election in the CF elections. But I will always offer my help to make our great organisation even greater still”. Hardly LBJ 1968, is it?
Alas I die

So who might be lined up to succeed Cooper? Barely eight minutes later came the answer, as Alexandra Paterson told “Thank you very much to [Oliver Cooper] for all his hard-work [?] as CF national chairman. Best of luck for the future Oli!” At least she didn’t tell him not to let the door hit him on the way out.
Ms Paterson had taken her Twitter feed private last week: anyone might have thought that she was keeping her head down while Cooper was given the hard word and bundled off. And one right-leaning Zelo Street favourite was unimpressed with this charade: the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole observed “This girl takes over. A prearranged stitch up”. Terrible, a mere girlie, eh?
Behold a moment of candour

But then, Master Cole would know all about that, as can be seen from this post-cricket match gathering seen last week at Didcot Parkway station. Cole is at front middle, Mark Clarke (who infamously celebrated the disgraceful ousting of CF Deputy Chairman Sarah-Jane Sewell last week) is at top right, and two from top left, with Mark Clarke’s right hand on his shoulder, is Paul Abbott.
Smile, Tory Party chairman's chief of staff!

Abbott is chief of staff to Grant “Spiv” Shapps. Of course, these chaps may not have mentioned CF at all that evening. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Sun Gets The Hairdryer Treatment

The drive downmarket in the tabloid press was exemplified this morning by the Super Soaraway Currant Bun’s bizarre and creepy use of a four-year-old boy – his face not pixellated – to promote a supposedly light-hearted tale of the minor occult. Readers were regaled by the headline “Satan symbol on chest ... BOY, 4 HAS MARK OF DEVIL”. This, it seems, trumped real world events.
Moreover, the story is tagged “Exclusive”, but is anything but: this flimsy confection, it seems, had already been posted on Facebook by the child’s parents. The family was identified, so that those with a pathological hatred of anything occult-related could find out how to get in touch and disrupt a family’s life. And what kicks off when the poor child starts school – goodness only knows.

Rupe’s downmarket troops will not say whether they paid actual money for this hokum, only that “We are conscious of the code and guidance around paying parents”. So did they pay for it, knowing that they would then splash an easily identifiable four-year-old all over a paper that sells around two million copies a day? Paying money in order to knowingly exploit a minor?

And if the idea of paying money for something that is no more than a lift from social media seems unappealing, the thought then enters that the supposedly diabolical body mark has a very straightforward explanation. The Sun excuses itself by asserting “An unusual mark appears, the mother gets it checked out by a doctor who confirms there is no medical reason why it should be there, and discharges her”.

However, and in this case there is a significantly sized however, one look at the supposedly satanic mark shows that it exhibits signs of being a mild burn mark. And there is one household electrical item well capable of inflicting such a mark if misused, that being the humble hairdryer (that’s the one you need to plug in, not a former football manager).

A hot hairdryer barrel could easily burn sensitive skin, and the most likely part of the barrel end to produce the burn would be the centre (the outside circle would be cooler and usually has a protruding lip). There would be only one problem with this explanation: it wouldn’t have any value when it came to anyone trying to flog the story to the press. But an unexpected devil mark certainly would.

So that’s another instance of where the Murdoch faithful have failed to engage brain before publishing, and another example of why they deserve every last drop of that tsunami of condemnation that, right now, is washing all over them. It’s inexcusable exploitation for nothing more than quick commercial gain, and the story has a straightforward explanation. So it shouldn’t have seen the light of day.

Which means it’s ideal material for the Sun. No change there, then.

Toby Young’s School In Deep Shit

Stability is what the West London Free School (WLFS), the domain of the loathsome Toby Young, must be crying out for after the ructions caused by the activities and subsequent sudden departure of former head Sam Naismith. Sadly, stability is exactly what it will not be getting as yet more of that high staff turnover is combined with uncertainty over where the teaching is going to take place.
Wake up down there in the Weinbunker, Tobes

Quite apart from a new headmaster, Hywel Jones, having to ease his feet under the desk, there appear to be at least twelve – yes, nicely into double figures – new faces on the staff roster for the 2014-15 school year. Yes, the school roll is expanding as the oldest pupils move up a year and there is a fresh intake of youngsters, but there is also a need to replace those who left, or were caused to leave.

At least Tobes and his fellow governors can hire new teachers relatively rapidly. Finding somewhere for them to do their teaching is proving rather more complex. Here I am indebted to Tom Barry at Boris Watch who has pored over the various planning applications and pieced together the actions needed for the WLFS to migrate from its current site in Cambridge Grove (see HERE).

The WLFS primary school, at present in nearby Bradmore Children’s Centre, should be moving into the Cambridge Grove building, which should be undergoing building work at the same time. However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, the senior school should by next September have moved partly to Palingswick House, and partly to an office block on Bridge Avenue.

Work at Palingswick House, as I noted recently, had for some reason stalled. This was because asbestos contamination had been encountered. Tobes and Co had a Plan B, which was a two-storey Portakabin classroom block in the front yard. The asbestos would be eradicated and Palingswick House would be fit for purpose the following September – as in 2015.

And the really bad news is that the Plan B has now apparently been abandoned: one look at the LBHF website shows Application2014/00963/FUL | Erection of a two storey porta cabin with external staircases to the northern, eastern and western elevations to use as classrooms for a temporary period of 1 academic year (2014/15). | Palingswick House 241 King Street London W6 9LP” has been pulled.

So that’s 240 pupils with nowhere to go come September. When push comes to shove, they will probably have to remain at Cambridge Grove. So no building work will be possible at that site, unless something changes PDQ. And all this is highly likely to mean we the taxpayers stumping up yet more dosh for Tobes’ Very Wonderful school. But there is a little good news to tell.

WLFS has just appointed a finance director. Horse, stable door, bolt, eh Tobes?

Dan Hodges Says Miliband Can’t Swim

Sometimes, pundits become so bound up in their obsessions that they are the last to realise that they are playing the same tune, stuck in the same rut, trapped in their own ever decreasing circle. And this applies rather more readily than he will admit to the miserable blues artist of Telegraph Blogs, “whingeing” Dan Hodges, whose hatred of Mil The Younger is beginning to eat away at his very soul.
Dan Hodges, not supporting Labour. Again

Hodges was unable to accept that Miliband had won the Labour leadership almost four years ago. He has remained unable to accept that fact ever since. But, despite his incessant carping, Miliband remains party leader and Labour remains ahead in the polls. Hodges left the party in an almighty mardy strop: hardly anyone noticed. So this too was Miliband’s fault, and the whining got louder.

After someone got hold of what looked for all the world like a Russian surface to air missile and shot down a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, Hodges used the aftermath to carp: “MH17: Ed Miliband is more interested in taking a selfie with Obama than speaking for the dead”. That’s so crass that it doesn’t merit attention. It’s using the shooting down as a stick to beat Miliband. Cheap and nasty.

The next day, readers were fed the suggestion that Miliband doesn’t really know why he’s doing the job. “Why does Ed Miliband want to be Prime Minister?” Very good Dan, why did Young Dave want the job? More vacuous sniping. And he still won’t win next year: “Now that Ed Miliband has accepted reality, Labour might be ready for the 2020 election” was last Friday’s first effort.

Then later the same day, Hodges doubled down: “Ed Miliband's attack on political cynicism is the most cynical thing I've seen in years”. He whined again about the visit to Washington DC. He whined about Miliband’s wife. He whined about David Axelrod. He whined about the visit to Washington DC once more. It clearly wasn’t fair. Why wouldn’t the ground open up and swallow Miliband for him?

But come yesterday, Miliband was still there, so back into carp mode went Dan. The idea of a “Peoples’ PMQs” was “of course, a glaring example of precisely the sort of superficial gesture politics he supposedly decries”. Yeah, it was rubbish, like everything else he did! Can the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition do anything right in the view of whingeing Dan Hodges? Can he heck.

I am reminded of the conclusion reached by Lyndon Johnson towards the end of his Presidency: “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read ‘President Can't Swim’”. That is where Dan Hodges is now in his view of Miliband. The only difference is that LBJ threw in the towel rather than face the electorate – but Miliband will not.

Meanwhile, Hodges will carry on whingeing. But he will embarrass only himself.

Monday 28 July 2014

Murdoch Press Hires Another Tory

Not satisfied with having long-time Tory supporters like Danny Finkelstein at the Times, and giving former Conservative Home stalwart Tim Montgomerie the duty of writing leader columns for the now sadly former paper of record, Rupert Murdoch’s UK press empire has now bolstered the right-leaning ranks at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, with the arrival of Dylan Sharpe as PR man.
That's what I think of youse bladdy impartiality shite, ya Pommie drongos!

Now, some may shrug and suggest that one PR practitioner is very much like any other, that their primary purpose is to promote their business and nothing more, and that they are relatively lowly functionaries. However, and in this case there is a significantly sized however, Sharpe will report directly to managing editor Stig Abell, and so is a key player in the Sun’s management.

And, although PR week has told “Sharpe joins from Business for Britain, an organisation campaigning on behalf of businesses for a renegotiation of the UK’s role in Europe. He was previously head of press on the NO to AV campaign, campaign director at Big Brother Watch and head of media at The Countryside Alliance”, they have sold their man well short.

Big Brother Watch shares an office with the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, the organisation that represents less than one tenth of one per cent of all taxpayers, yet claims to speak on behalf of all of them – and which has proposed reform to the tax system that would shrink the state back to 1939 levels. That means no NHS. It’s another supposedly non-partisan yet inherently highly conservative group.

Sharpe has also contributed to a number of fora recently, including still-extant group blog The Commentator, which has shown the extent of its fair and balanced attitude recently with a post titledOne million bigots to march against Israel in London” and emphasising “The plan is for a million people -- every single one a bigot by definition -- to join a rally in London on Saturday”.

Perhaps it was less screamingly batshit when Sharpe made his contribution, of course. He has also authored posts for Conservative Home, a more mainstream forum yet still a Tory supporting one. And he’s been part of the team that got London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson into City Hall in 2008, just in time to claim credit for projects Ken Livingstone had already started.

That’s a thoroughly conservative backstory, even before Sharpe’s support for the Young Britons’ Foundation, the self-proclaimed “Conservative Madrasa” that trains activists and works so closely with the Tory Party that there is, to the average outsider, little difference. Now, I’m not suggesting media conglomerates shouldn’t hire whomsoever they want – just pointing out the politics of those thus hired.

And with the Murdoch empire, so many of them are Tory supporters.

Miliband Autism Smear – Press Desperate

While Mil The Younger appeared on the last edition of The Andy Marr Show (tm) before it took a summer break, and smiled through the inevitable yet pointless questioning over his image, the press has woken up to the mildly inconvenient fact that, no matter how much mud they sling at him, Labour continues to post an opinion poll lead – of the kind that would see Miliband in 10 Downing Street next May.
He's still standing, press people

Moreover, it’s estimated that a lead of just 3 to 4 per cent will see him home and dry with a majority, and therefore no need to consider a coalition with however many of Corporal Clegg’s motley platoon survive their next encounter with the electorate. The constant cry of “Odd Ed” and “Weird Ed” is not having the desired effect. So the abuse has been cranked up just a little more.

How, one might ask, can the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate get more abusive towards Miliband than it was before last weekend? Simples. The Murdoch Sunday Times has now decided to suggest the Labour leader is autistic. The scribblings of Rupe’s upmarket troops are usually hidden behind a paywall, but the Mirror has lifted the story (see how that’s done, Rupe?).

So how is the smear delivered? “Miliband has now decided to tackle the problem head on by reaching out to one of the world’s leading experts on autism. According to the Sunday Times, Miliband has been meeting up with Simon Baron-Cohen, cousin of Borat star Sacha, for chats on boosting his ‘political empathy’”. Yes, they’re not accusing him directly, but nudge nudge, wink wink, and all that.

One can only wonder at what a clearly frightened press will dream up next: although the routine attacks on Labour policy continue – typified by another hurriedly cobbled-up screed from London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson in today’s Telegraph – they have no effect. So there is a get-out clause: to suggest the electoral system is unfair and that Labour is deliberately gaming it.

This slice of hokum is brought to us courtesy of James Kirkup, also at the Tel: “Ed Miliband will become prime minister if Ukip wins more than nine per cent of the vote in next year’s general election, Labour advisers have calculated”. And how did he come across this one? “The Telegraph has learnt ... Senior Labour figures say ... Labour sources say ... a senior Labour campaign source”. Yeah, right.

Then, just to hedge his bets, he finds “One Conservative MP”, who tells “Ukip is not just a dark-blue party. They are picking up votes in Grimsby and in Bradford and other key Labour seats. Yet again Ed Miliband’s office seems to be about 10 years behind the curve. While they are taking votes from the Tories, Ukip are also taking votes away from Labour which could cancel out any benefit Miliband sees”.

So what’s the problem? It’s so desperate, it makes no sense. No surprise there.

Guido Fawked – Cash For Access Story Is A Dud

The reliability of the fresh steaming by-product coming out of the Guido Fawkes blog does seem to be suffering serious quality control problems right now: last week, a lame smear of Owen Jones had to be pulled amid a welter of ridicule, and now has come a rather more serious howler in an attempt to kick Commons Speaker John Bercow. It’s more serious because it was in the Sun yesterday.
Worst tribute band ever not getting any better

Yes, Rupe’s downmarket troops have published a story which has absolutely no basis in fact. How they are going to deal with the inevitable complaint from the Speaker and wife Sally, not to mention Farah Sassoon, who is named in the piece, will be interesting. It will be especially interesting when they find out that the Daily Mail debunked the Fawkes rabble – nine months ago.

The Fawkes feature said this: “The Bercows had arranged for Farah to get a pass allowing her to bypass security checks into Parliament. Usually that would provoke accusations of ‘cash for access’ though surely the Speaker – a stickler for the rules – should be squeaky clean and beyond reproach”. This followed details of a donation to the Speaker from Ms Farah’s business: the insinuation is clear.
The insinuation is yet clearer in The Great Guido’s promotion of his latest column: “John Bercow is facing accusations of ‘cash for access’ over a donation from Sally’s party-loving pal Farah Sassoon, who is security cleared for Parliament thanks to the Speaker”. The connection between Ms Farah’s pass and the donation is made very directly. And Staines is not the only one making it.
The Fawkes blog’s newly anointed teaboy Alex Wickham was certain of his ground as he announced “Speaker faces cash for access allegations after accepting donation from a businesswoman he gave a Parliamentary pass”. Very good Alex, but Ms Sassoon had the pass last year – so pretending that there is a link to the donation, which was given “this month”, is coming it.
It gets worse: as the Mail says, “[Ms Sassoon’s] security pass derives from the special status of the Bercows as some of the few people who live in the Palace of Westminster. They occupy a palatial grace-and-favour apartment overlooking the Thames and are allowed to grant a few passes to ‘friends and family’”. She’s a family friend. There is no story here. Oh dear, Fawkes folks!

The Owen Jones smear could be pulled in order to avoid further embarrassment. But this excuse for a story has already been published by a national newspaper. And a few minutes’ fact checking would have shown it to be bunk. With columnists as inept as the Fawkes rabble, how long will it be before the Murdoch press realises it can do rather better elsewhere, and terminate their contract?

The end of this particular adventure can’t come soon enough. Another fine mess.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Spain Rail Crash – One Year On

The anniversary might have been forgotten in the UK – after all, there are all manner of horrors elsewhere in the world to occupy the news bulletins – but in Spain, memories are still fresh: the derailment one July evening last year of a Madrid to Ferrol train on the Angrois curve near Santiago de Compostela. Investigations continue into the causes of the accident in which 79 people died.
A 130 series train at Alacant Terminal. The 730 series trains are converted from these sets

One good thing to come out of those investigations is that efforts to pin the blame on the driver, Francisco José Garzón, have proved less than totally successful. This may be due to his immediate admission that he “failed”, that he confessed to being distracted in the moments before the train entered the Angrois curve. It may also be due to an understanding that wider failures may have occurred.

As El Pais has noted, “Besides Garzón, there are 12 other people under court investigation, all former execs at Adif, the state company that manages railway infrastructure in Spain”. There was no overspeed prevention on the approach to the curve, and the most modern safety system – ETCS – was switched off on the 730 series trains, the type involved in the accident, because it was “buggy”.
The new line from Ourense to Santiago de Compostela will eventually form part of a longer high-speed link, at which point the track may be re-gauged to match other “pure” high speed lines in Spain. It was opened in a very much interim mode; the suggestion of a rush job and lack of initial fitness for purpose runs through much of the investigation. But other problems remain unanswered.

That 79 out of 222 on board the train died is a horrendous proportion of fatalities. Yet there seems to have been little questioning of the survivability of the Talgo-type coaches, especially given the reports of parts of the seats and other fixtures coming loose and flying around the coaches in the immediate aftermath of the derailment. Compare with Hatfield – similar speed, only six fatalities.

And the stability of the generator cars that house the diesel engines which enable  the 730 series trains to work beyond the limits of electrification does not appear to have been questioned: the video of the derailment clearly shows that the front generator car was the first vehicle to leave the track, effectively dragging the front power head onto its side and pulling the following coaches off the track with it.

Meanwhile, the unfortunate driver is left in limbo with charges for those 79 deaths hanging over him. Rail watchers in the UK will see parallels with the press campaigns against Larry Harrison, the driver of the train involved in the Southall crash, and the family of Michael Hodder, the driver of a Thames Trains service that overran a red signal and precipitated the Ladbroke Grove collision.

Due process continues slowly. Hopefully it will reach a conclusion soon.

Don’t Menshn Your Sunday Sun Column

Readers of the Sunday Sun may not be aware that one of the paper’s columnists read English Language and Literature at Christ Church, Oxford, especially when her copy is littered with such Wildean bon mots as “bugger off”, “bastards”, and “sod off”. Yes, we’re talking about self-promotion specialist Louise Mensch, for whom Page 13 of today’s paper is all about Herself Personally Now.
(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014

The judgmental tone is not merely strident, but screaming: small wonder the paper has lost more than 70,000 sales of late. Typical is the attack on Peaches Geldof, who happens to be dead: “the smack that did for her was hidden inside a box of sweets. Exactly where a child would look”. Magnificently selective – it was in the loft, apparently. Yeah, kids are always up in the loft, eh?

And alongside the selection is the deflection: never mind Gaza, readers, look over there at ISIS! “If you really support the rights of Muslims, Israel isn’t the first thing on your mind” she asserts, talking of “the Muslim children and women of Mosul, girls and women aged 11 to 46, Isis are rounding up so they can mutilate their genitals”. Very good Louise – that story turned out to be a fake.

Still, that doesn’t fit the desired narrative, of bashing “Lily-livered US hand wringers” and “professional Israel-haters” (I hated the country so much I visited it twice). And the intolerant tone extends to the Commonwealth Games, which we should not be hosting. No, according to Ms Mensch, “we should get rid of the Commonwealth”. Not sure Brenda would agree to that. So what’s her beef?

In the vast majority of Commonwealth countries it is illegal to be gay. You can be jailed for it”. No shit, Sherlock. And why do you think it’s called the British Commonwealth? Because Great Britain is the former colonial power. When did all those countries where homosexuality is still illegal gain independence? In the years between the end of World War 2 and the mid-1960s.

What did the law in Great Britain say about homosexuality at the time? It said it was an illegal practice. You could be jailed for it. Louise Mensch cannot get her head round this straightforward chain of logic. And somehow she got elected as an MP. Moreover, you can forget the idea that she’s in favour of basic human rights: in the same column there is a tirade at departing Attorney General Dominic Grieve.

Never mind Andy Coulson – the Prime Minister’s real error of judgment was in appointing Dominic Grieve”. Yeah, never mind that Coulson’s doing a stretch in Belmarsh, look over there at someone who believes in basic human rights. Like not jailing people because of their sexual orientation. Which Louise Mensch agrees with on the one hand, then disses with the other.

This is appallingly incompetent punditry. But it’s bloody hilarious with it.

Guido Fawked – Who’s Been Editing Wikipedia?

Vanity editing of Wikipedia is nothing new, especially for those out there on the right, as witness the entry for Raheem “call me Ray” Kassam, pushing the idea that he was “Mr Conservative”. Alas, “Ray” was not well-known enough to merit an entry at all, and so his attempt at self-promotion was deleted, to the relief of right-thinking people who would rather it had not appeared in the first place.
Nah, it can't have been me editing it, I was in the pub, shit no, office, knocking back some serious booze, sod it, no, coffee. Yeah, to overcome another hangover. Oh bollocks

But the entry for the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes, is still very much in evidence. However, and in this case we have a significantly sized however, what is contained in that entry has seen several less than totally flattering items removed recently, with the result that Staines has had his image miraculously cleansed – well, for the time being, anyhow.

Sadly, whoever has been cleaning up the Staines Wikipedia entry has been rather amateurish: the footnotes in the text start at number 2, because number 1, although the text to which it refers has been deleted, is still present. This refers to Staines’ court action which led to his declaring himself bankrupt: the judge passed severely adverse comment on his tendency to dishonesty.

Also missing is the most unfortunate episode that occurred when Staines was leading the Federation of Conservative Students branch at Humberside College of Further Education: that attempt at a pact with the BNP. This, of course, is less than convenient when Staines is painting himself as an “anti-racist”, as does his past fondness for the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

And the clean-up of The Great Guido’s Wikipedia entry has extended to remove any reference to the altercation outside London Bridge tube station during the 2012 London Mayoral election campaign, when a camerawoman was knocked to the ground. Staines is highly sensitive about this incident, threatening legal action against anyone suggesting he was the one doing the knocking over.

Then there is the curious episode of “fake sheikh” Mazher Mahmood, whose photo Staines published after a well-publicised campaign. Now that The Great Guido has taken the Murdoch shilling, you will find no trace of this at the Fawkes blog. But that mildly inconvenient fact has not been allowed into his Wiki entry. And the favourable rebranding has one truly puke-making finale.

While the narrative has had his bankruptcy wiped off, the pact with the BNP removed, his South African links excised, and the London Bridge incident purged, we now know that “In 1981 he won the UK Atari Asteroids video games championship and went on to come ninth in the world championships held in Washington DC”. There is even a photo of the angelic teenager to illustrate the great occasion.

No doubt Staines had nothing to do with turning his Wiki entry into a hagiography.

Top Six – July 27

So what’s hot, and what’s not, in the past week’s blogging? Here are the six most popular posts on Zelo Street for the past seven days, counting down in reverse order, because, well, I have to clear up after curry-making later. So there.
6 Tory Youth Wing Row Worsens Another day, another senior Conservative Future figure forced out, this time by an anonymous smear campaign. Who was behind it was not clear – but that Mark Clarke was celebrating the ousting certainly was.

5 Fake Sheikh – Pants On Fire Mazher Mahmood’s latest sting, on singer Tulisa Contostavlos, fell apart after the judge threw the case out. He did this because Mahmood lied to him – so how many more of those stings might have to be revisited? Another less than beneficial day for the Murdoch press.

4 So Farewell Then Tabloid Troll All the wrong calls, threats of turning up on critics’ doorsteps, and frequently dodgy “inside information” ended suddenly as the Twitter presence called Tabloid Troll disappeared. He won’t be missed.

3 Guido Fawked – Say Sorry To Owen Jones The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog had to pull their smear of Owen Jones after being called out and ridiculed. But, as usual with the Fawkes folks, there was no apology. No change there, then.

2 MH17 – Citizen Journalism Shames The Press While papers did their punditry and speculation over the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, Eliot Higgins’ new venture Bellingcat showed how citizen journalism located the missile launcher thought to be behind the attack. You can still contribute to the Kickstarter.

1 Don’t Menshn Mira Bar-Hillel Louise Mensch tried to smear the Israeli journalist as anti-Semitic and racist. This only served to make her look yet more ridiculous.

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

Saturday 26 July 2014

MH17 – Booker Hoaxes Himself

Today we have an unusual treat: the Sunday column of serial fraud Christopher Booker has been published even earlier than usual. And this one is a real Lulu: “Could Obama have prevented the MH17 disaster? US intelligence would have known the separatists had captured missile-launchers, and where they were being used” screams the headline.
Consistently unreliable over the years

We’ve gone from figuring out that the missile launcher probably came from Russia, to some out there in left field trying to pin the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 298 on board on the EU, because, well, they don’t like Cathy Ashton, to this magnificent slice of rubbish suggesting that The Prez has the kind of supernatural powers that enable him to prevent munitions being loosed off.

When, in his statement 24 hours after the plane was downed, the President stoked speculation about the involvement of President Putin, did he deliberately obscure the fact that, days earlier, he had already learnt enough from his many intelligence sources to know that the 55 international airliners travelling every day along that flight path over eastern Ukraine faced the threat of precisely such a disaster?

The answer to this is that, no he didn’t. But he is sure the Buk didn’t come from Russia: this “had almost certainly been in Ukraine all along, as part of the equipment of Ukraine’s official armed forces. On June 29, several launchers were probably captured from those forces, in a non-operational state, by the pro-Russian rebels. By July 13, at least one was again fully functional”.

And on he ploughs: “No one, then, was in a better position to know the danger that air travellers were being exposed to than Washington. Which also apparently did nothing”. Where is Booker getting this information? Why, from Richard North and his EU Referendum blog, of course, which he quotes at the end of his piece. North has also written for the batshit collective that is Breitbart London.

So riddle me this: if the Buk had indeed been captured from Ukrainian forces, why have the Russians seen fit to spread so much misinformation about it? North is non-committal on this aspect. “Sergei Kavtaradze, a spokesman for rebel leader Alexander Borodai, repeated to the AP on Friday that no rebel units had weapons capable of shooting that highhas just been reported.

Well, if the rebels didn’t capture a Buk from Ukrainian forces and make it operational, that rather constrains the options, doesn’t it? It also pisses all over North and Booker’s “Obama knew” firework. What we are then left with is an already discredited journalist out-doing even his own worst efforts – and then Telegraph readers having it passed off as proper journalism for which they should pay.

Booker cons his readers, his sources con him. You really couldn’t make it up.

Don’t Menshn Mira Bar-Hillel

Journalist Mira Bar-Hillel describes herself, like many who were born in what is now Israel, as Jewish yet secular. She was born in Jerusalem in 1946 – at the end of what was known as the British Mandate – and moved to the UK in 1972. She served in the IDF, in a non-combatant role, as part of the national service that all Israelis must undertake. She was the first female Israeli news reporter.
(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014

So she speaks on Israel from serious first-hand knowledge of the country, and experience of the 1967 Six Day War. But she is, at the same time, critical of much that is done in the name of Israel, leaving Press Gazette to noteAn Israeli journalist has defended her claims that fellow Jewish writers in the UK are afraid to speak out against her country of birth over the Gaza conflict”.
The blowback against Ms Bar-Hillel has now included her being branded an anti-Semite by none other than former Tory MP Louise Mensch, now representing the distant constituency of Manhattan Upmarket. The naming of Ms Mensch brought some surprise from Bonnie Greer, but Ms Bar-Hillel has been remarkably sanguine, considering the mean-spirited nature of the Mensch name-calling.
Take this exchange: the former MP asserts “I am not with Israel now”, to which Ms Bar-Hillel asks “When did this happen? What changed your mind?” There does not appear to be anything loaded or provocative in that reply, but back came Ms Mensch with “anti-Semite, you should read my [Sun] column. Have been consistent from the start”. Consistently nasty and intolerant, by the look of it.
Ms Bar-Hillel does not need to sink to that level to give as good as she gets, laughing off the Mensch faux-monstering with “She’s hilarious ... so patronising” [got that in one]. This is probably as well, as the response to Ms Greer was yet nastier: “Mira an anti-Semite who is prejudiced against Jews by her own admission. Not Israel; Jews. She’s a racist”. Subtle, isn’t she?
It’s sad that these tactics are being deployed to try and silence someone merely because they seek to question received wisdom and register their dissent at what is happening in Gaza. As Michael Volpe tried to point out to Ms Mensch when he asked her “What do you call these protestors?” the adverse reaction extends to observant Jews. The photo he references was taken in New York City.
Yes, thousands of Jews registered their disquiet at Israeli actions in the city where Louise Mensch lives, and she somehow missed it. But she didn’t miss sneering at Ed Miliband, who is held in the retelling to have somehow neglected the victims of flight MH17 when he visited Washington, DC, to meet Barack Obama. I’m sure her whingeing at the Labour leader doesn’t tip over into anti-Semitism, though.

Louise Mensch tried to get clever with Mira Bar-Hillel. And she lost. End of story.