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Sunday 30 November 2014

Don’t Menshn Checking Facts

The Sunday edition of the Sun is hidden away behind a paywall, but here on Zelo Street there is usually someone kind enough to scan some of the contents (see how that works, Rupe?). And today’s scan has shown that not only does one of the paper’s star pundits not have her columns fact checked, but that other contributors effectively, and inadvertently, do the checking for her.
(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014

Yes, to no surprise at all, (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch has once again been caught in need of fire extinguisher attention, suffering an incendiary trouser situation as she pontificates on whether prison works, which those who share her current domicile of the USA increasingly think is true: the practice of warehousing the criminally inclined continues apace there.

So she pitches the idea that we are banging up more people for longer: “Chris Grayling can take pride in the new prisoner figures, showing more criminals are being jailed on his watch. Not only that, but they’re there for longer sentences, too. The fact that sentences are getting a little longer – and gangs of villains are being caught – is good for the Police and the judges”.
Fiction on Page 25 ...

Yes, she means it: “Let me put it plainly. If our prison population swells by 100,000, that’s six figures of criminals off our streets. And the cost of housing them is nothing compared to the savings in damage, theft, Police time and general human misery”. Really? The cost per prisoner worked out at around £35,000 in 2012-13, which for another 100,000 would mean finding an extra £3.5 billion a year.

And while Sun readers mull over that nugget of inconvenient information, they might wish to move on from Ms Mensch’s column on Page 25, and turn over to Page 26, where David Wooding tells “Criminals are getting even more time knocked off their sentences to get them out of crammed jails ... the extra days of freedom granted in the past year total 143,479 – equivalent to 393 years”.
... Fact on Page 26

On top of that, it is all too clear that there is little prospect of more prison capacity being opened in the near future, if the comments about some prisons being closed, and staff laid off, are at all accurate. But Ms Mensch is undeterred: “The Tories will see the benefits next May if we can all sleep safer in our beds”, she tells, after asserting that we will get the EU to give us back some money to help.

That’s just fantasy, and what is worse, her assertions that more are being locked up, and for longer, are shown not to be true IN HER OWN PAPER, and, worst of all, ON THE VERY NEXT PAGE. There is no point in David Wooding being blamed for this: all he is doing is use actual facts to illustrate his copy.

Louise Mensch, on the other hand, just invents whatever figures she needs to stand up her opinions, and stuff the consequences. So no change there, then.

Mail Resumes Susanna Reid Attack

Following a number of negative articles about ITV’s new breakfast offering Good Morning Britain (GMB), and especially presenter Susanna Reid, the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre had gone quiet, not least because they had seen the viewing figures for the show – as had I – and could see that they were not nearly as disastrous as the paper had suggested.
Popular: Susanna Reid

But now the Mail is back, and this time it’s personal: all the previous knocking copy could be excused on the pretext of interest in Ms Reid’s move from the BBC, and how the new show would be received. Yesterday’s innocently-titled “Good morning, Britain! Make-up free Susanna Reid ditches on-screen glamour for the natural look as she steps out in London” could not.

She went shopping! In her own car! It was a Vauxhall! And it wasn’t new (had her car been newer and more upmarket, there would have been suggestions of conspicuous consumption)! Perhaps the Mail’s editor was expecting that, as with him, she would have someone to do that sort of thing for her. But the papped photos (the Mail, remember, once said it would never use those again) had a further purpose.

The really personal part was this critique of Ms Reid’s appearance: “Wearing a co-ordinated outfit of denim and faux sheepskin, the 43 year-old was unusually unkempt. With her hair pulled up into a messy bun, it was a contrasting image to usually-immaculate appearance she creates for TV”. Unkempt? Messy? That’s just nasty. So what has she done to offend the Mail?
GMB: Still There

Ah well. Despite the attacks by the Mail, and there have been plenty since the run-up to GMB launching, Ms Reid “has topped a poll of celebrities who are the most searched for on the internet”. What kind of celebrities are those, then? “ITV presenter Susanna Reid beat Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lawrence and One Direction to top Yahoo’s most-searched celebrities”.

Jennifer Lawrence and One Direction the Mail could tolerate, but Kim Kardashian? The most productive source of clickbait for Mail Online? The number one occupier of the Sidebar of Shame? Nobody can be allowed to be more searched than she! Never mind that Ms Reid does a real job, while the Kardashians are famous merely for being and promoting Themselves Personally Now.

Added to that is the knowledge that the story the Mail wanted back in May – that GMB would go the way of other less successful breakfast TV offerings – hasn’t happened. So now the Mail, while pretending to occupy the moral high ground, has resorted to using Paparazzi photos – or, worse, having their own snapper stalk Ms Reid – and sink to hurling personal insults.

The Mail hates popularity, when someone they don’t like attracts so much of it.

Angelina Jolie Peerage? Come Off It

As the number of hacks remaining at the Telegraph’s Victoria bunker continues to dwindle, so does the quality of the journalism. But what has increased to compensate is the desperation clear in so much of the so-called “content”. And today has brought a magnificent example from the joint by-lines of Christopher “No” Hope and Paul Clements, on the subject of the House of Lords.
Angelina Jolie

The Lords, readers are told, is getting more of a younger vibe, and a dash, even, of showbiz. Names such as Martha Lane Fox and Karren Brady are pitched. But, so what? They are business folk, and like other names mentioned, such as Stuart Rose and Alan Sugar, are hardly a rarity in this part of Parliament. Then comes the suggestion out of left field that Angelina Jolie will be next.

Well, one never says never, but as Hope and Clements must know, there is not one tiny shred of evidence to stand up their headline, “Angelina Jolie 'set to become a peer' ... How the Lara Croft star could soon be heading to the House of Lords”. And she could not: the only factual scrap to support this claim is that Ms Jolie visited the public gallery of the Lords recently.

But on they plough: “Now tongues are wagging in Westminster that Miss Jolie is being lined up herself set on a seat in the House of Lords. The idea is not so far-fetched [oh yes it sodding well is]. Last month Miss Jolie was made an honorary dame by the Queen for her campaign work fighting sexual violence and for services to UK foreign policy”. And, as the man said, there’s more.

The only criterion for new peers is that they must be ‘resident in UK for tax purposes and accept the requirement to remain so’. Miss Jolie and her equally famous husband Brad Pitt are on the way to clear that hurdle – the pair are understood to be eyeing up a new permanent home in London’s Marylebone”. Yeah, right. Like all the other non-UK residents buying into the London property market.

Still they flog this particular dead horse: “Miss Jolie’s people declined to comment on whether she wanted a seat in the Lords [stopped laughing yet, have they?]. But asked last week by ITV News if a career in politics was ‘a possibility for you’, she replied: ‘If I felt I could really make a difference, yes. I’ve always gone wherever I felt I was needed’”. Which does not mean the UK.

Ms Jolie has already worked as a Special Envoy to the UN. The strongest possibility is that any future political involvement would follow that route. Hope and Clements’ pretence that she and Brad Pitt would choose to be “resident in the UK for tax purposes” is just that. As with so many of these attention-grabbing pieces, there is no quote from its subject. It’s just pie in the sky.

The Telegraph really is scraping the barrel with this stuff. No surprise there, then.

Top Six – November 30

So what’s hot, and what’s not, in the past week’s blogging? Here are the six most popular posts on Zelo Street for the past seven days, counting down in reverse order, because, well, I have to go out later. So there.
6 Sarah Vine Remains Vain Poor Mrs Michael “Oiky” Gove whined about getting some stick on social media from all those rotten lefties, while her target, Ms Jack Monroe, received death and rape threats.

5 Owen Jones – Know Your Railway A usually sound pundit went in with both feet on the decision to award the East Coast franchise to a joint venture of Virgin and Stagecoach. If only he’d genned up on the subject beforehand.

4 Don’t Menshn Plebgate After Andrew Mitchell lost his libel case, Louise Mensch decided that the judge had got it all wrong. Because she hadn’t been there, but knew all about it anyway.

3 Express UKIP Poll Whopper Was UKIP the second most popular party, behind the Tories, with Labour back in third? Was it heck, this was a poll of Sun readers. Not that the Express bothered to tell its readers.

2 UKIP Resurrects Apartheid Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers talked of “hiding” migrants and “reclassifying” some people. “Reclassifying”? That’s straight out of the Hendrik Verwoerd playbook.

1 Guido Fawked – Sun Not Victorious The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog span the acquittal of Clodagh Hartley as a victory for the Sun. But it was just the opposite: she would not return to journalism, and the paper’s “poisonous” culture was laid bare for all to see. Another fine mess.

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

Saturday 29 November 2014

Dave Surrenders To The Germans

Yesterday brought the moment for Young Dave to tell those ghastly foreigners exactly where they jolly well got off: at the last stop before the UK border, and don’t even think about free movement. Except it didn’t happen: Cameron did not announce any kind of EU migrant quota. So he was going to get jolly tough with all the other EU member states, only not quite as tough as he said previously.
The realisation that Dave would not be telling Johnny Foreigner to Frog Off or Stick It Up Your Juncker was the main reason that the right-wing press, with the exception of the Express, left news of his speech off the front pages. When Macer Hall proclaimed “Migrant Controls Or We’ll Quit EU”, one had to wonder if he had actually read the text of Cameron’s speech.
What, then, was being proposed? There would be a curtailing of in-work benefits, such as tax credits and housing benefit, unless the applicant had been here four years. And a refusal to let in anyone without a job offer, but then, anyone from another EU member state can come here to visit – without precondition – so that one of Dave’s “red lines” is dead on arrival.
Where was the quota, the restriction on issuing National Insurance numbers? There wasn’t one. And, the more extensive the trawl both in countries like Poland, and among migrant communities in the UK, the more obvious the conclusion: they aren’t coming here for the benefits, and many don’t claim them – heck, many of them don’t know they can claim them.
There would be a restriction on migrants’ access to social housing, but one look at a town like Crewe shows why this too would be pointless: there is a large private rental sector and no need for most migrants to apply for social housing provision. The reality of Cameron’s position was left to the Guardian, with “Merkel forces Cameron retreat”, and Independent, with “Cameron forced to retreat on migration”.
All that was left was spin, with the Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn telling “Migrant climbdown proves Cam thinks he’ll win in 2015” (no it doesn’t – see Guardian and Independent). He was backed up by the serially clueless Tim Montgomerie, who thought Phonehackgate was Labour payback for Damian McBride, calling the highly suspect analysis “spot on”.
There was also spin from the appalling Quentin Letts (let’s not), who told “The speech itself was elegantly argued, jauntily written, far better than some recent efforts which have slipped into Blair-Brownish verbless, one-line-paragraph robot-ese”. So he didn’t want to talk about that climbdown to the Germans, either.

The reality is that Dave knew he couldn’t get what he originally shot his gob off about. So he backed down and hoped nobody would notice. Got that wrong.

Sun Sneers At Charity Worker

Fresh from their less than successful touting of White Van Man’s agenda for the British economy, which suggested beating schoolchildren and taking a “send them back” approach to migration, Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun are still looking for any excuse to kick Labour MP Emily Thornberry, because, well, she’s a rotten leftie, so there.
To this end, their Head of PR Dylan Sharpe has taken to Twitter in a routinely dishonest display by telling anyone listening that “‘Van driver’ bro of Em Thornberry who ‘put the record straight’ is actually a trendy fashion photographer in New York”. That would be a difficult one, given that Ben Thornberry is at present working in the London area for a charity, and certainly not in the Big Apple.

Indeed, as the deeply subversive Guardian has told, “He now works for a charity that helps disadvantaged young people find work in the construction industry”. He previously spent many years working in the USA as a builder, and also a photojournalist – in other words, he had a varied skill set, something that Sun hacks will have difficulty getting their heads round.
This means that Dylan Sharpe has crossed that line that divides PR, however questionable its factual accuracy, from outright lying. So what else have the Murdoch doggies got on the unfortunate bloke, whose heinous crime has been to give an interview to the Islington Tribune? Well, he’s in Islington for starters, which, as any good right-wing hack knows, is A Very Bad Thing.

And the Sun has decided that he is not the genuine article, and so smears him with “MP bro’s phony here for the sneer”. Claiming an “exclusive”, despite two papers having run the story already – no need to pay for the paywall and the right-wing spin, then – Daniel Sanderson tells readersSNEERING MP Emily Thornberry sent her brother out to talk about life as a ‘van-driving builder’ — but he is also an arty photographer”. And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here.

One, Ben Thornberry gave the interview to the Islington Tribune of his own free will – he wasn’t “sent out” by anyone. And if anyone is sneering, it’s the Sun, performing its own particular act of snobbery by belittling the craft of photojournalism – which is, let’s not forget, what keeps that paper in business.

Arty photographers” provide the Sun’s fashion and feature pics – yes, including Page Three. That is the level of jaw-dropping hypocrisy to which the Murdoch faithful have had to sink to stand up their angle on this story. But those “arty photographers” are OK, because the Sun approves of them. If they ever have to use Ben Thornberry’s services, that really will put them in a very difficult position.

The Sun: dishonesty and hypocrisy passed off as journalism. No change there, then.

Rupert Murdoch Is Verifiably White

Anyone wondering what prompted the normally relatively sane Megyn Kelly, host of the 9pm ET weekday slot on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), to proclaim in the run-up to last Christmas that “Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact” need wonder no longer, after the latest Twitter howler from her ultimate boss.
That's what I think of youse piss-taking bladdy bloggers, ya bladdy Pommie bastards!

Yes, Creepy Uncle Rupe has been let out to interact directly with his adoring public using social media, to the horror of his minions who have still not figured out how to interpose at least one of their number between their increasingly eccentric CEO and the Twitter audience which is ready and waiting for him to open mouth and insert boot – again, on the subject of white men.
Rupe clearly doesn’t understand why portraying Egyptians using white actors should be such a big deal, despite the cinematic world having moved on since the days of Cecil B DeMille: “Moses film attacked on Twitter for all white cast. Since when are Egyptians not white? All I know are”. What kind of Egyptians might they be?
We don’t get to find out: instead, Rupe digs himself in deeper in short order, in another revealing Twitter excursion. “Everybody attacks last Tweet. Of course Egyptians are Middle Eastern, but far from black. They treated blacks as slaves”. Er, who said “black”? Are people in Murdoch land either “white” or “black”? No wonder he has problems when talking about the Middle East.
But what he did know was that he was not racist, honestly: “Okay, there are many shades of color. Nothing racist about that, so calm down!” There being “many shades of color” was not what he was being called out for, though, was it? And interesting to see that Rupe appears to think he can give orders to Twitter – he clearly has some way to go understanding it.
Because by now, he was being called out – and laughed at – across social media. What to do? He tried to get his audience to “look over there”: “Change the subject. What chance more decent jobs as Europe, Japan, Russia, India, China all start to head south? Dangerous time”. Yeah, dangerous for his profits.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, Rupe is still capable of instilling fear in the minds of politicians, as witness “UK PM speaks today on immigration crisis. His problem – lack of credibility. Anyone listening?” The “crisis” in immigration may be hugely inflated, but the panic in Tory Party ranks at the thought they are losing Murdoch’s support will be all too real.

It’s a strange world where politicians get frightened shitless at the whim of a bloke who shows every sign of not dealing from a full deck.

Friday 28 November 2014

Guido Fawked – Thornberry Snark Falls Flat

The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog are so keen to keep up their campaigns of petty vindictiveness that, when stories are not available to help with their knocking copy, they have to take whatever is going and twist any facts to fit. The resulting lack of veracity means that, as before, they are still full value for that 4% positive trust rating.
Fart in lift inquiry suffers serious blow

Take, for instance, another attack yesterday on Labour MP Emily Thornberry, who, according to Staines, was unwilling to allow his children to commit an act of trespass and so, in the vindictive world of The Great Guido, gets kicked whenever the opportunity arises, and even when it does not. The latest lame snark featured Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Under the typically fictitious title “Pickles Trolls Thornberry”, the Fawkes folks observe that “Today he’s winding up Emily Thornberry by flying the flag of Lancashire”. Why does flying the flag of Lancashire “troll Thornberry”? It wasn’t involved in the mainly fabricated White Van ruckus from Rochester. Perhaps the former shadow Attorney General has some connection with the county?
That won't go down too well in Keighley

Well, no she doesn’t: Ms Thornberry hails originally from Surrey, attended the University of Kent at Canterbury, and represents a constituency in North London. So what of Pickles? This is where the Fawkes rabble went completely wrong: he, too, has no connection to the Red Rose County. And a Yorkshireman promoting Lancashire is a promotion too far.

No self-respecting representative of God’s Own County would want wave the flag of Lancashire, even on Lancashire day. I’ll go further: had that been a Labour politician, The Great Guido would have been down on them like a ton of bricks. Not when it’s Pickles, though: he’s on their team, he makes agreeably right-leaning noises at their prompting, so they wouldn’t say boo.

And when they recycle Pickles’ text, “Whatever one’s class, colour or creed, flags like the St George’s and the Union flag are unifying symbols for our nation. We should also champion the great diversity of local flags. Let’s fly them all with pride, because this sense of shared identity is one of the things that binds communities together”, they don’t tell that he’s been giving the same speech for years.

So not only has Pickles offended many in the county of his birth, but the Fawkes rabble has claimed that he was “trolling Thornberry” with a speech on a totally unrelated event, managing in the process not to mention that Pickles is a flag enthusiast. Thus The Great Guido has given one of its pals a free pass, and reinforced it with another of those freely-dispensed packs of lies.

Someone fears the Fawkes rabble. But not fact checkers. Another fine mess.

UKIP Resurrects Apartheid

Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers at UKIP have decided to frighten potential voters into their camp by suggesting that children born to those who have migrated to the UK should also be called migrants, and indeed that they should be “classified” thus. By doing so, those people would have been “reclassified”. Thus far the press has given the Kippers an easy ride on that.
Fortunately, the ridiculousness of the idea has been pointed up: all the Queen’s children would fall into that category, as Phil was born in Greece, and so would the Leader of the Opposition, together with the children of London’s occasional Mayor. And that’s before considering those born overseas to servicemen’s families and other British citizens.

But what Farage and his pals have so far got away with is the idea of reclassification. As the Independent told, “Nigel Farage’s Ukip has called for the children of immigrants to themselves be classed as migrants”. A UKIP spokesman said that “the issue of ‘hiding’ those born to migrants from statistics had ‘ramifications for healthcare and other public services’”. Really? Do go on.

Party spokesman again: “If the figures for migration don’t include children, you’re not taking the correct facts into account for public policy ... [it is] not the children that are the problem, it is hiding them that’s the problem”. Hiding them? The sounds like something out of The Diary Of Anne Frank, which is a less than pleasant echo of the past. But it is a more recent policy that the Kippers are echoing.

Reclassifying” citizens is straight out of the Hendrik Verwoerd playbook, one of the most insidious weapons of control used by the Apartheid state in South Africa. Some would be reclassified more favourably: rebel West Indian cricketers were given documentation to say that they were classified “white”. Those the state wanted to punish were reclassified less favourably.

The Apartheid state became an international pariah: economic and sporting sanctions isolated it from the international mainstream after the 1960s. The idea of having different classifications of citizenry was at the time considered abhorrent, the worst kind of bigotry. Now we have UKIP proposing just that, behind a smokescreen of “only telling it like it is” and dismissing criticism as “political correctness”.

Well, Mr Thirsty, I don’t give a rat’s arse about your excuses. Talking about “reclassifying” those born in this country in order to exhume a bigotry that was once fashionable is bang out of order. If Farage thinks that he is being misinterpreted here, then let him say so. But there won’t be any say so: UKIP has been caught letting the cat out of the bag. The party is a cesspool of prejudice.

Hopefully the public will “reclassify” their view of this shower in short order.

Don’t Menshn Plebgate

[Update at end of post]

Former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell discovered yesterday that his campaign to take Rupe’s downmarket troops to the cleaners for libel had developed not necessarily to his advantage, as a judge at the High Court decided that he had called a Police officer at the Downing Street gates a “pleb” after the officer’s refusal to open the main gate for him to cycle through.
(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014

For one obedient Tory supporter, this decision could not go unchallenged: over in her reassuringly expensive corner of Manhattan, (thankfully) former MP Louise Mensch decided that Mr Justice Mitting was wrong, because he had heard all the evidence, and she hadn’t. And she didn’t need to, because she was right.
No doubt in my mind that the Plebgate verdict is an appalling miscarriage of justice” she declared, unaware that this was not a criminal trial. And the rozzers were the bad boys here: “I say again that Andrew Mitchell should be given back his front bench post, stolen from him by Police collusion; Police jailed for it”. But she had nothing to back this up, and it still wasn’t a criminal trial.
But wait – she did know it wasn’t a criminal trial: “A civil case is a civil case; no way do I believe Andrew at any time used the word ‘pleb’ to Police officers. A shocking result”, she told, going on to talk of “The jailing and dismissals for severe misconduct we saw on the Plebgate case, to criminal standard”. But the judge wasn’t assessing that – he was deciding what had or had not been said at the gates that evening.
And it was still wrong: “based on one bent copper jailed and others dismissed from the force? Just a thought ... I’m saying the judge was very clearly wrong based on the admitted Police conspiracy over Plebgate with multiple bent Police”. Again, the judge was not looking at the bloke who invented the crowds outside the gates, or any alleged conspiracy. He was deciding who had said what.
Still, there was always Michael Fabricant to kick: “Another obnoxious comment from Michael Fabricant. So glad he was sacked for his nastiness towards Maria Miller. Once fun now just vile ... truly Fabricant’s Tweets on colleagues went from class clown to nasty piece of work overnight”. And Mitchell still didn’t do it, honestly: “Andrew Mitchell did not lie and I have no idea whether or not the Policeman did”.
But, by ignoring the elephant in the room – Mitchell now faces a bill for costs of at least £2 million – Ms Mensch was missing the point about the whole business. Perhaps Peter Jukes could enlighten her? “Looking at the eye-watering costs of [the] Plebgate trial – the need for a cheap effective press complaints system is all the more apparent” he observed. Got it in one there.

In the meantime, Ms Mensch might consider for a moment that she is briefing against the paper that keeps her in regular paid employment. Just a thought.

[UPDATE 29 November 1540 hours: for some reason, the first in that series of Tweets from Ms Mensch has been deleted. But the rest are still there. Why might that be?

Well, the deleted Tweet specifically talks of a "miscarriage of justice", which of course does not happen in a civil action where the Judge is deciding on the basis of all the evidence put before him, and the law enforcement authorities are not prosecuting the case.

So she's quietly removed what is probably the most embarrassing in the series, left the rest there, and hoped nobody would notice. But one of this blog's commenters did]

Thursday 27 November 2014

Owen Jones – Know Your Railway

I hate to call out Owen Jones, who has just penned a Guardian Comment Is Free piece on the awarding of an eight-year franchise for what we used to call InterCity East Coast (ICEC), because he’s a sound bloke. But his analysis, “East coast rail has been too successful – quick, privatise it ... Being publicly owned doesn’t fit the free-market dogma that dictates that the railway must be a rip-off, fragmented mess”, misunderstands the way that passenger rail services are operated in the UK.
King's Cross station, London

It’s true that a Government company, Directly Operated Railways (DOR), has run ICEC for the past five years since previous incumbent National Express handed back the keys, and has generated more than £1 billion for the Treasury. But any assumption that the replacement franchise could not do better is false.

In fact, the joint venture of Stagecoach and Virgin – in a 90% to 10% split, unlike the West Coast’s 49% to 51% - has bid what is known as a premium profile to yield £3.3 billion in total. That is around twice the rate of premium paid by DOR. And when Jones tells “it must be run by a tax exile and a Scottish businessman perhaps best known for campaigning against gay equality” he goes wrong again.

The new operator has agreed to run services to a timetable, and with trains, specified by the DfT. They may run more than DOR, but only if the DfT agrees and allocates paths for them. Richard Branson and Brian Souter have no say in the matter. It is the same on West Coast: they have no more say in specifying the Virgin Trains service out of Crewe than I do.

British public opinion ... despairs of our fragmented, inefficient, rip-off rail network” asserts Jones. Well, up to a point. The despair is at what the travelling public see, while the reality is rather different. Virgin Trains operates several stations along the route of the West Coast operation. It owns none of them. Nor does it have any control of the tracks on which its trains run.

All are within the ownership of Network Rail (NR), which is a public body. All of that is already nationalised. No new trains are ordered for franchise operators unless the Government is prepared to underwrite the lease payments. The Government writes the timetable for them. What is not socialist is socialised. To some observers, franchise operators are the front the Government can easily hide behind.

And please, Owen, don’t fall into the “English passengers pay more for rail tickets than anywhere else in Europe” trap. It ain’t that simple, and like the choice of using a franchise system, to subsidise less than other European operations is a political decision. Demand management, especially for long distance services, is an area where the rest of Europe is more likely to move in our direction.

I welcome Owen Jones’ interest; I hope he sticks around and gets knowledgeable.

Mansion Tax – Poor Rich Tories

While their MPs and cheerleaders talk of securing an overall majority in next May’s General Election, the Tories’ actions suggest they expect Mil The Younger and “Auguste” Balls to be Downing Street neighbours after the votes have been counted. Nowhere can this be seen to better effect than their reaction at both national and local level to the proposed Mansion Tax.
Across London, the panic button has been well and truly struck as occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has lent his name to a letter asking the party faithful to donate to help him – and Dave, natch – hold the Red Menace at bay. The suggested level of donation, as Laurence Durnan at Political Scrapbook has noted, starts at the kind of level the Mansion Tax would start – then gets a lot higher.

So the idea is that all these poor people who can’t afford to pay should pay anyway – on the off-chance that Bozza and his pals can keep Labour out. Then, if they fail in their endeavour, they have to pay again. Sounds like the kind of value for money for which Bozza has become infamous. But over in Kensington and Chelsea, there is a yet more blatant sob story being spun.
As London Weekly News has told, council leader Nick Paget-Brown “is calling on residents to join a ‘peoples’ movement’ to stop the retired and elderly being forced from their homes over the threatened ‘Mansion tax’”. And he’s got a petition to sign: “if we are going to stop the tax, the campaign has to be less about the politics of the Mansion Tax and more about the real people who will end up paying it”.

So another meaningless soundbite, then. But Paget-Brown is serious: “Many residents of Kensington and Chelsea are now in a state of very great fear and worry about the Mansion Tax proposals. They are just ordinary people who have paid rather a lot of tax already; many of them are now retired and on fixed incomes. The Mansion Tax will destroy their well-earned retirements”.
And to which I call bullshit: as the LWN goes on to say, the Mansion Tax proposals provide for “those on incomes below £42,000 [to be] allowed to defer until they sell their homes or die”. If retirees defer a £250 a month tax for 25 years, that takes £75,000 off the value of a £2 million property, or less than 4%. Nobody would have their retirement “destroyed”, and nor would they be “forced from their homes”.

Paget-Brown’s blatant and obvious scaremongering just underscores that there is a real belief that not only will the Tories lose next May, but also that whatever Government takes over, it will introduce the Mansion Tax, with the intention of using the funds raised to help the NHS. This idea is popular enough not only to frighten Tories, but also make more voters choose Labour.

From Bozza to Nick Paget-Brown, that’s one hell of an admission. Thanks chaps!

The Sun Is Out To Lunch

Today’s Sun front page merely hints about it; the editorial within confirms it. Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun are either living in some kind of warped parallel universe, or they really believe that they can dupe the readers into thinking that something happened yesterday that proves their paper victorious. We are back to the acquittal of Clodagh Hartley.
Top Sun reporter cleared” proclaims the item at left on the front page. But Ms Hartley is not a “top Sun reporter”. More to the point, she is not any kind of Sun reporter: after her ordeal was ended yesterday, she confirmed that she would not be returning to journalism. And, despite the miserably pisspoor nature of its content nowadays, working at the Sun still counts as journalism.

And the front page item is a mere warm-up for the editorial, which proclaims “She was just doing her job. That’s what the jury found yesterday after the expensive trial of our colleague Clodagh Hartley ... It’s not just a victory for Clodagh, but for all journalism ... Because the press has become an easy target”. Brass neck, much? Why was she put on trial in the first place?
Clodagh Hartley was charged because of information provided to the authorities by the News International (as was) Management and Standards Committee. In other words, and using the Sun’s favoured technique of putting the really important stuff in capitals, SHE WAS SHOPPED BY HER OWN BOSSES. Yes folks, Ms Hartley WAS JUST DOING HER JOB until her bosses SHAT ALL OVER HER.

Do Sun readers get to know that? You jest. Instead, we get the Tory-supporting tabloid confirming Olbermann’s Dictum (“the right exists in a perpetual state of victimhood”) by bleating “[The Government] would have a meek press, over-regulated and under the tightest of controls. George Orwell warned about this ... while the focus on us all continues, social media gets away with whatever it wants”.

That would be the same social media that the newspaper proprietors cannot control, and have difficulty understanding. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room goes unnoticed: Clodagh Hartley got shopped by her own side, and, as James Doleman has noted in his report of the trial, she “also said that other senior staff at the paper were fully aware of her relationship with civil servant Jonathan Hall”.

One wonders if those senior staff included the Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn, who may well have been behind today’s editorial. Ms Hartley had a bullying complaint against him upheld, but now he is pretending that she was a valued colleague and he cares deeply about her predicament. Pass the sick bucket.

This was entirely of the Murdoch press’ making. The Sun’s reputation came out of it utterly trashed. No amount of pretence can clean away the stain. End of story.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Guido Fawked – Sun Not Victorious

The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog were in buoyant mood this afternoon, as the trial of former Sun journalist Clodagh Hartley ended with her acquittal, and shewalked free from the Old Bailey after a jury found her not guilty of paying for leaks from a corrupt tax office official”. The official concerned had already pleaded guilty.
The Great Guido was in no doubt as to what had happened, proclaiming “Sun Victory In Court”. But, as Captain Blackadder might have observed, there was only one thing wrong with this idea – it was bollocks. For starters, although the Sun and News UK were not in the dock, they were effectively on trial too, and came out of proceedings with their reputations in tatters.

Ms Hartley has no intention of going back into journalism, and certainly not with the Sun. This was not hard to understand, given she was shopped by her own employer: “She said she had no idea her conduct could be questioned by police and hit out at the decision of the Sun’s then-publisher, News International, to hand over swaths of data to the Met. ‘I thought that sources would be protected’ Hartley said”.

Yes, the Super Soaraway Currant Bun was prepared to betray its own staff, and the paper’s sources, if it thought it would better serve the company’s interests. Some victory that is, eh, Fawkes folks? And, as the man said, there’s more: “Hartley had told jurors about the poisonous atmosphere working within the Sun’s Westminster team, describing how a senior colleague bullied her and stole credit for her work”.

Until the trial ended, it was not possible to know the identity of this “senior colleague”, although anyone who wanted to know already knew. “The paper’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, ‘had succeeded in stealing contacts’ from her, while ‘bullying’ and constant demand for exclusive stories meant she was forced to take time off to deal with the stress, she testified”.

Counsel for Newton Dunn took issue with this view, but sadly for them and their client, Ms Hartley had already had a complaint of bullying upheld against him. Now the whole world knows that the Sun’s non-bullying political editor, well, isn’t non-bullying at all. The likelihood of collective raised eyebrows at the BBC, ITN and Sky News becoming “we’ll ask someone else to appear, thanks” is all too real now.

Moreover, Newton Dunn’s behaviour was central to Ms Hartley’s defence. He is still in post, but for how long? And who is going to want to work as part of that team, given his presence and all the talk of a “poisonous atmosphere”? There was no victory for the Sun today, and the only reason The Great Guido span the trial’s outcome that way was to prostrate himself before Creepy Uncle Rupe.

The Fawkes rabble – sell-outs singing for their supper. Another fine mess.

Letts Pretend To Be Ordinary

In the wake of David “Shagger” Mellor being caught ranting at an unfortunate taxi driver the other day, the Daily Mail had to pass judgment. And, perhaps not totally willingly, the appalling Quentin Letts (let’s not) has been sent over the top by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre to pass severely adverse comment. In doing so, Quent has opened mouth and inserted boot spectacularly.
Harry Potter and the Gobshite of Arslikhan

The headline, “Who do they think they are? First Labour's sneering Emily. Now Mellor. How much more proof do we need that the smug elite despise the rest of us”, does not help Letts. We are supposed to believe that he is not one of this “smug elite”, despite his having attended a private prep school, Haileybury and Imperial Service College, Trinity College Dublin and Jesus College Cambridge.

Moreover, Quent is a member of the Savile Club, and has a place in the country, dontcha know. He sneers that Mellor “sets himself up as a connoisseur of the higher arts”, yet he is the Mail’s theatre critic. “David Mellor is warped by self-belief, fuelled by an unerring sense that he can do no wrong” he tells, seemingly unaware that this could serve equally well as a description of Himself Personally Now.

The unfortunate parallels keep on coming: “he remains a national voice on our radio airwaves and he continues to pop up on serious news programmes as a political pundit”. Like you do, Quent. “Mellor was never much of an oil painting, but he was vain and bright — impressively fluent, too, even while being palpably insincere”. Was he looking in the mirror while writing this?

Others noted his smarmy way with TV interviewers, using their Christian names and presenting himself as a moderniser” he goes on, immediately invoking memories of a recent BBC Question Time appearance. “At the same time he was superbly knowledgeable about classical music”, which I suspect Quent is, although I might just get him on opus number nerdery.

But do go on. “Mellor was National Heritage Secretary, the position we today call Culture Secretary, and had given a warning to newspapers that they were ‘drinking in the Last-Chance Saloon’ when it came to ethics”. Ah, the real reason for the shameless hypocrisy, just like the Letts attack on Leveson – despite his having not bothered taking notes at the presentation and getting caught, eh Quent?

And so he goes on, right to the bitter end: “But as the world can now see, that sophisticated aesthete has a rotten core. Not that he will care one hoot. The man ... is shameless”. You certainly are, Quent. You couldn’t give a flying foxtrot, and “rotten core” sums up rather well someone who has sold his soul to the Vagina Monologue in return for a nice wad and an easy life.

They looked from Mellor to Letts, and from Letts to Mellor”. No change there, then.

Facebook The Fall Guy

It was all that the authoritarian right could have wished for: the official report into the brutal killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich last year named “an American Internet Company” that had failed to pick up on a message left by one of the killers expressing a desire to kill a soldier. The company was then revealed to be Facebook. War on Facebook was duly declared.
First with the ritual condemnation, because as any fule kno it is the paper that supports our soldiers more than all the others put together, was the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, ranting “Facebook ACCUSED ... Lee Rigby family fury as net giant failed to report murder threat ... BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS”. Yes, Sun readers, take the killer Facebook away from your kids RIGHT NOW!
The increasingly downmarket Maily Telegraph concurred: “Fury at Facebook over terror note left by Lee Rigby’s killer”. And the Daily Mail typically added its own smear as it thundered “Damning report into soldier’s slaughter by fanatics reveals ... FACEBOOK KEPT QUIET ABOUT RIGBY KILLER’S PLOTTING”. The Dacre doggies say they knew but kept conspiratorially schtum!
It was left to the Independent to draw the obvious conclusion: “The war on Facebook” was its headline. And Amol Rajan and his team are spot on: had Michael Adebowale used the Royal Mail to convey his message, they could hardly be held to blame for not opening the letter en route. Nor could a telecoms provider be accused for not knowing to listen in to his calls.
This ridiculous blame game could be taken further: someone sold the killers a car. Do they also have “blood on their hands”? A filling station provided the fuel that powered it. How about the owners? A number of food retailers kept the two plotters fed and watered. The conspiracies could be extended to provide hours of fun for the why-oh-why merchants. And it would be totally pointless.

There are two facts that the authoritarian press manages to either ignore or miss here: first is that Adebowale was about to be put underintrusive surveillance” by the security services, but that it took several weeks to complete the admin work and by the time that was finished, Rigby was dead. That’s not good enough.

And the second is the idea that Facebook should spy on its users. Think about that for a minute: it is a platform available to all, just like any other publicly available communications medium. There is nothing preventing MI5 from accessing Facebook and doing its own monitoring. So why the hell didn’t they? Why shoot the messenger for the spooks’ inability to get with the technology?

That the predominantly right-leaning and authoritarian press doesn’t ask that question tells you all you need to know. Clueless, ranting technophobes all of them.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Sarah Vine Remains Vain

Sarah “Vain” Vine wants her Twitter followers to know that she is a patriot. In fact, she is so patriotic that she is still displaying a poppy on her Twitter avatar even though Armistice Day was a fortnight ago. What the Daily Mail pundit otherwise known as Mrs Michael “Oiky” Gove also has no trouble in telling the world is that she takes to Twitter late in the evening.
No point being envious Sarah, your husband definitely ain't getting her husband's job. Ever

This happens despite recently throwing a night-time online mardy strop after Young Dave demoted “Oiky” in a bid to persuade some of the teaching profession to vote for him next year, which caused Private Eye to refer to her state at the time as “Absolutely Pixellated”. But, on a more serious note, she has been on another late-night Twitter excursion to berate Jack Monroe.
2155 hours: no "fury" in sight, just curiosity ...

Ms Monroe expressed an opinion on Twitter about the manner in which Cameron defends his party’s actions on the NHS. Free speech means that is allowed. Ms Vine, though, being a Mail columnist who has met the Camerons, has been ordered over the top by her legendarily foul mouthed editor as part of a coordinated hit on Ms Monroe for being Not The Daily Mail’s Kind Of Person With Intent.
... but give it sheventeen minutesh, and she's really, really angry. So angry that she left the #CameronMustGo hashtag in. Oops!

So cruel and such a hypocritestarts the typically endless Mail headline, designed to firm up opinions without the need to read the underlying article. The assertion is made that Ms Monroe used her son to “build her career”, which she did not. This assumes that Ms Monroe secured her income streams as a result of the content of a book which she had yet to write – a difficult proposition.
Sounds like business as usual for the Mail, then

There’s more: “Contributing to a thread on the site called ‘cameronmustgo’, she wrote: ‘Because he uses stories about his dead son as misty-eyed rhetoric to legitimise selling our NHS to his friends.’ In a fury, I replied: ‘If I’m not wrong, you used misty-eyed rhetoric about your son to build your career. People in glass houses…’”. And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here.
"What is 'transphobic' - and can I buy it at Waitrose?"

One, we are talking about a hashtag, not a website, and Ms Vine, not being stupid, ought to know the difference. And two, that was not her first reply to Ms Monroe (her first effort was a rather more mild “Sorry, who exactly is ‘buying’ the NHS? Just curious to know”). Anyone not charitably inclined might think that taking a whole 17 minutes to work herself up into that “fury” looks ominously faux.
Yep, that's what Mail pundits care about. Damaging their targets, then running away

And save us the “I have received so much online abuse from her Left-wing supporters I seem to have ‘blocked’ half of North London”. Ms Monroe, partly as a result of Ms Vine’s Mail hatchet job, has received rape and death threats. But then, Mail pundits and their editor don’t give a crap about a little “collateral damage”. All that’s on Sarah Vine’s mind is knowing what “transphobic” means.

Plus, of course, wondering how to spend her six-figure wad. Pass the sick bucket.