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Friday, 25 September 2020

Private Eye And Establishment Capture

It is not my business to tell Master Emmanuel Strobes and his team what to put in their magnificent organ, and so I do not. What is the business of anyone and everyone who cares about the future of genuine independent journalism is the nagging thought that Private Eye magazine, that freest-spirited of British publications - and for that reason loved even by those who do not always agree with it - had succumbed to establishment capture.

Someone standing on your foot, Ian?

What fires that thought is the attitude the Eye has to the Hacked Off campaign, and those who support it. Both want to see good independent journalism flourish, even among the wreckage of partisan hackery, proprietorial interference, lobby group Astroturfing and wanton propaganda. They may not agree on press regulation, but, so what?

So the attacks on HO from the Eye continue, with the latest, in issue 1531, veering into the realm of the pointless. Under the guise of “Libel News”, readers are told “Hacked Off’s declaration that ‘the press should be held to standards which protect the public, strengthen democracy and safeguard freedom of expression’ is about to face a severe test”.

There is more. “Veteran BBC journalist John Ware is suing one of Hacked Off’s collaborators [this should read ‘supporters’] for the ‘seriously defamatory’ accusation that his reporting is prejudiced - and rather than defend the BBC, Hacked Off supporters are lining up against it”. The piece continues in similar vein.

Two things here. One, the BBC is not the press, and Two, the BBC is not involved in the legal action described. Therefore no-one is “lining up against” the Corporation. Nor is anyone involved in that action resiling from the assertion which the Eye claims is “about to face a severe test”. Ware was trenchantly criticised by Paddy French of Press Gang. Ware claimed he had been defamed and instructed lawyers. French is defending the action.

That is all. But instead of leaving it at that, French and his legal team get a casual smearing: “Clearly they have an interest in discrediting Ware and Panorama”. No. Just no. Ware has begun proceedings. They are being defended. Worse still, we then read that “Many have tried, but no one has yet been able to lay a glove on Panorama”. And no one is trying to: a defamation action is being defended (for the third time).

After including Justin Schlosberg in the smearing (why?), the piece concludes by telling us how old French, his QC, and Ware are, as if this is some rabbit cleverly extracted from a hat for our entertainment. It’s pointless. Try as I might, it is impossible to see any good reason for the article’s publication - save to serve the press establishment.

Because that is what the article screams at me. It is the press establishment patronisingly lecturing me, and all those other Eye subscribers. And when I open my copy of the Eye, I don’t want to see the press establishment sneering at me from its pages.

Another thought occurs: many other Eye readers may not want to see the press establishment sneering at them from its pages, either. I’ll just leave that one there.

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Italy - Bozo Wasn’t, But Carrie Is

After two newspapers, and at least three eyewitnesses, claimed that alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson had been seen passing through Perugia Airport the other weekend, the Downing Street machine wasted no time in debunking the story. Bozo had not been there, it was someone else, and he’d been in the UK.

Moreover, he’d been in the UK with Carrie Symonds, still billed as his partner and fiancée, even though the wedding that was supposed to have happened in August, er, didn’t. Those red wall Tory MPs could breathe easily once more; Bozo had not been lording it over on what John Sweeney called the Russian mountain, at the Lebedev Palazzo Terranova.

But while he hadn’t been to Italy, Carrie has. As Hardeep Matharu of Byline Times put it, having seen the splash in Mail Online, “In the week Boris Johnson told Britons the UK was in for another six months of misery, his fiancée Carrie Symonds has been staying at the £600-a-night Grand Hotel Tremezzo at Lake Como in northern Italy with three girlfriends”.

Yes, while Bozo was telling the hoi polloi that they were in for another six months of misery, his partner was lording it with her pals in the Italian lakes. As the sub-heading put it, “As Britons are warned the UK faces months of misery by Boris Johnson, his fiancee enjoyed leisurely walks along the waterside promenade and made use of used the hotel’s £300-an-hour launch to go sightseeing”. Sister paper Metro put her on today’s front page.

How much of a piss-take is that? Mail Online thinks it’s a pretty serious one. Hence they have turned over every last detail. “During her luxury getaway the new mother was seen cutting a casual figure in a £325 blue checked cotton gingham dress by Ganni and black Superga trainers (those come in at around £70 a pair, thanks)”.

Como, taken from Brunate. Ms Symonds and her pals have been staying out of town

A sharp-eyed British holidaymaker had spotted Ms Symonds and her pals walking the promenade last Monday, and that sighting sent the Mail off in hot pursuit. The report makes sure we get the hint: “Although Italy was at the epicentre of Europe's first wave of coronavirus infections with most of the northern parts in lockdown, there are currently no travel restrictions from the country to the UK”. But where was Bozo?

The last time Boris and Carrie were seen together was at Wilfred's Christening at Westminster Cathedral's Lady Chapel on September 12. On Sunday Boris attended [the] Battle of Britain service at Westminster Abbey without Carrie”. It’s that heavy a hint.

Seems like only yesterday ...

And while an increasing number of Brits can look forward to less money coming in, and even looming unemployment, some of them may remember “Carrie and her friends embarked on a two-hour speed-boat tour of the lake. The party made use of the hotel’s £300-an-hour launch to see the various castles, stately homes and waterside villages that have made this Alpine location one of the world’s most prestigious holiday destinations”.

Which will make those red wall Tory MPs, trying their best to sell restrictions and curfews to an increasingly irritable electorate, less than totally thankful.

You voted for a real man of the people? You were had for mugs. And never forget it.

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Thursday, 24 September 2020

So Farewell Then Harold Evans

Those who look in regularly on Zelo Street are, on occasion, told that our free and fearless press has fallen a long way from the days when decent investigative journalism was the rule rather than the exception. Just how far that fall has been can be seen from the career of Harold Evans, one of the greatest of editors and a titan of good journalism, who has died at the age of 92, and who edited the Sunday Times in the 60s and 70s.

Harold Evans: the greatest of editors

Evans made the kind of journey that today would be unheard of: he went from editing the Northern Echo, based in Darlington, to the ST at the time the title was owned by Canadian magnate Roy Thomson. Editors of national titles today are more often appointed for their connections and their ideology, rather than there being any consideration of their ability.

Thomson gave Evans a totally free hand; there was no proprietorial direction or interference. Nor, of course, was there any on the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail, but Evans would not have had any truck with the idea of writing the headline before the story had been brought in. Thus the fall of journalism over the years.

Nor would Evans have indulged in the kinds of righteous vendettas that the Mail, as well as the Murdoch press, pursue and have pursued for so many years, and against so many victims. His kind of journalism was exemplified in the ST’s exposure of shameful behaviour by the Distillers Company over the drug Thalidomide, use of which had led to so many mothers giving birth to children with stunted limbs, heart defects, blindness and more.

Evans also doggedly pursued the story of Turkish Airlines flight 981’s loss shortly after departing Paris’ Orly airport in March 1974. The McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 aircraft’s rear left cargo door had blown open at altitude, with the subsequent decompression collapsing the cabin floor, severing the control cables and rendering the aircraft uncontrollable. 346 souls perished in the accident. The cargo door’s latch had not been properly secured.

Worse, McDonnell-Douglas had been warned about the potential for such an incident before the aircraft went into series production. Worse still, an American Airlines flight had suffered a similar failure, but had managed to land safely. The lawsuits following the Turkish Airlines crash were some of the most expensive ever.

But Evans fell foul of the new dispensation at the ST: Rupert Murdoch was not a benign proprietor. So he left the UK and forged a new career in the USA. That was not all: after the phone hacking revelations, Evans gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, where he passed severely adverse comment on the Murdoch mafiosi.

He also said “Murdoch’s News International came to think it was above the law, because it was”. He was right, but this, as with his support for the Leveson recommendations, went against the iron code of press Omertà; that is why so many in the media establishment are not giving Evans’ passing the kind of attention it deserves.

As former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger put it, Harold Evans “gave journalism a good name”. How many of today’s editors can aspire to that standard, when there is so little investigative work, and so much agenda-driven propaganda?

How far the press has fallen from the heyday of Harold Evans.

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Checkpoint Charlie Moves To Kent

Once the borders were more, well, newsworthy: Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse, the Glienicke Bridge, and in the fiction of Smiley’s People, the Oberbaumbrücke. Spies were exchanged, the military squared up to their counterparts on the opposing side, tension hung in the air. Not now: the latest land border - and it will be, we are told, heavily policed - concerns the M2 and M20. Fog on the Medway, Kent cut off, Crown loses Dover to foreigners.

You think I jest? This from the Independent. “Police will patrol the Kent border to turn away lorries without an ‘access permit’ in a bid to ease Brexit border chaos, it has been revealed. Michael Gove said officers will use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras and ‘other means’ to block drivers - in what will be seen as an ‘internal border’ in the UK”. I warned you English, we know how to deal with counter-revolution!

There was more. “The move would try to ensure ‘constituents are not inconvenienced’, he told MPs, after warning of 7,000-long lorry queues and two-day delays to cross the Channel”. Lisa O’Carroll of the Guardian confirmed the news. “Gove confirms a de facto internal border in Kent - rephrasing previous tweet (this is something transport industry been v worried about) Truckers will have to have a ‘Kent Access Permit’ to get into the county says Gove”. Kent will become a Restricted Area. Bit like Gorky.

She added “This Kent Access Permit will be issued once [a] trucker has completed their paperwork. But sources in industry say it is impossible to implement unless police patrol the Kent border. They have asked govt to explain this. This is first time govt has said police will be used”. Will there be watchtowers? A kill zone on either side? Escape tunnels?

The opportunities for ridicule were endless. Katherine Piper mused “I love that Nigel Farage’s ‘village pub in rural Kent’, which is within the M25, comes under Bromley council, and is served by the TfL R8 bus from Orpington station (except on Sundays) is now a border area. Be careful what you wish for, I guess”. Karla Farage being sprung by The Circus across the Gravesend to Tilbury foot ferry? Netflix will be casting that one soon.

One Tweeter looked at the map and observed “All those sylvan suburban roads going from Orpington towards Knockholt. Hawley's Corner is at the junction of *five roads*, more or less all of them on or near the border between London and Kent”. So, Hawley’s Corner, “The town motto can be 'Like Basel But More Communist And No Rhine’”.

Alexander Clarkson of King’s College London had a question. "Say you're an Amazon delivery driver, do you need a special [Kent Access Permit] for any deliveries inside the Kent Buffer Zone?” The newly-formed Kentish Independence Party had the answer to that: “we're proposing a simplified arrangement where we nick bits off Surrey and London”.

It’s all very Oder-Neisse line and South Tirol all of a sudden. Will sympathetic EU member states arrange air drops of croissants, Belgian chocolate and artisan cheese to the beleaguered lorry park inhabitants? Will Shepherd Neame be able to brew enough Spitfire and Bishops Finger to enable the locals to drown their sorrows? Will comfortably-off Londoners complain that the Rotten Kentish are hogging their wine production?

It would be funny if it were not so tragic: “Oiky” Gove and his pals have fouled up, they knew this would happen, and lied to the electorate anyway. Has the penny dropped yet?

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Labour Fawkes Briefing Shame

The usually Labour supporting Mirror carried an item of news last night on departures among the party’s shadow PPSs: “Three Labour MPs have resigned from junior roles supporting Keir Starmer's front bench after they broke the whip to vote against a bill condemned by former leader Jeremy Corbyn. They voted against the Overseas Operations bill, which the Government says aims to shield British soldiers from prosecution. Labour MPs were ordered to abstain on the vote”. There was more.

Nadia Whittome MP

Beth Winter, Nadia Whittome and Olivia Blake are understood to have been informed that if they voted against the Bill they would be resigning their roles. All three of the MPs are members of the party's left who have been vocal in their opposition to the bill”. That was first posted at 2048 hours. Ms Whittome later appeared on the ITV Peston show.

Indeed, the Mirror article was later updated to reflect this. “Shown The Mirror's story about her forced resignation Ms Whittome told ITV's Robert Peston that she hadn't resigned. She said: ‘I haven't resigned … It was a one-line whip to Abstain, I thought the Bill was a matter of conscience’ … She said concerns from veterans charities, and human rights groups led her to vote against it”. And then someone else waded into the controversy.

Christian Calgie - Fawkes sandwich monitor

That someone was the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, who have exhibited a singularly unhealthy obsession with Ms Whittome in the recent past. And what they told (the author was apprentice sandwich monitor Christian Calgie) has not impressed many on the left: "Nadia Whittome has told Peston she doesn’t consider herself resigned as it was a one-line whip, however a Labour spokesperson tells Guido all three are definitely gone as PPSs. Sacked in other words”.

Got that? A Labour spokesperson tells Guido. And, it seems, tells Guido before Ms Whittome. Now, the Fawkes massive could just be lying, which would not be exceptional behaviour. But what this looks like is, to put it as Neil Kinnock might have done, a Labour spokesperson - A Labour Spokesperson - briefing a hard-right smear outfit.

Ben Smoke was unimpressed, and was not alone in being unimpressed. “Labour briefing Guido before they’d even told [Nadia Whittome] she’d been sacked is absolutely shameful … this Guido story went up at about ten to 10 tonight. At ten past 10 she’d still not been told she’d been sacked. Briefing a far right blog before you’ve even informed someone they’ve lost their job is low, even for this lot”. And it soon got worse.

Matt Thomas found a Tweet from Keir Starmer dated May 6, featuring a photo of, er, Nadia Whittome. Its last line was “No one should be sacked for speaking out”. This morning, he leads a party which looks set to lose an awful lot of members - those people who deliver leaflets, knock on doors and have to persuade a sometimes unwilling electorate to vote for The Red Team - for dumping Ms Whittome in a plainly inexcusable manner.


And then, it seems, briefing The Great Guido on the matter. The Labour Party should not, repeat not, REPEAT NOT, be briefing Staines and his fellow Tory propagandists.

Should all those Labour members resign now, or resign later? Decisions, decisions.

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Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Toby Young - Lockdown Pants On Fire

Today, as with most weekdays, the loathsome Toby Young is posting updates for his eager fellow Covid-19 denialists on Lockdown Sceptics, which, like Climate Sceptics and Eurosceptics, is not sceptical at all. Its sole purpose is to tell the easily persuaded that the Government is wrong, it’s not really happening, and it’s all a big con.

And, d’you know, I don’t give a rat’s arse what Tobes has put up for us to read today, or indeed any other day. Because it consists mostly of falsehood and misinformation, and easily disprovable falsehood and misinformation at that. For someone so keen on education, Tobes seems terribly shy of bothering himself to check his claims.

Take, for instance, the old chestnut about children not transmitting Covid-19. As James Willby has noted, “I know he won't respond because he's a coward but this showing half the recent COVID outbreaks in the Netherlands were from schools again shows up that [Toby Young] and his covid-denialists were wrong about children not being vectors for the disease”. Then we come to the “hospital admissions aren’t rising” excuse.

Tobes RTd Alastair Haimes’ claim “England: covid hospital admissions steady at 200/day for 5 days. Not growth, let alone exponential growth”. See? It’s not really happening! But this is disingenuous bullshit: as any fule kno, there is a lag between infections increasing and admissions doing likewise. And the information on the former is not good.

As can be seen from the numbers for Scotland - updated earlier today - infection numbers are set to go higher than they were at any point in the March-June first phase of tackling the pandemic. Three or four weeks down the line, those hospital admission numbers are going to be rather higher. And so we arrive at the 2200 hours pub curfew.

Again, Tobes has RTd what he wants to hear, and this time it’s James Melville (“Communications and social media consultant”) exclaiming “This is appalling. It appears that the 10pm pub and restaurant curfew was decided on the hoof without any evidence. Source: The Times”. Except it wasn’t: the policy was being floated two weeks ago.

Even the Mail noticed, telling readersBelgium was able to curtail a second wave of coronavirus by limiting the number of people who can socialise together and imposing a nationwide curfew, data shows, as the UK looks to follow in its footsteps … The European country experienced a resurgence of the virus in mid-July that was comparable to the UK's current trajectory, the Chief Medical Officer said”. And the kinds of restrictions enforced?

On July 29, officials there brought in new rules reduced the number of people who could socialise together from 15 to five and introduced a 10pm curfew on the entire population”. Here, it’s six, not five, and the curfew is on bars and restaurants. On the same day the Mail ran its piece, YouGov released details of a poll showing support for a curfew.

And Dominic Raab mentioned this during an interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme … this morning. None of this gets promoted by Toby Young’s Twitter feed. Because it’s not about giving a full picture of what is actually going on. It’s about peddling whatever bullshit fires up the anti-lockdown brigade. And that’s not good enough.

This is literally about life and death. But to Tobes, it’s just a game. What a louse.

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Allison Pearson Says Let’s Catch Covid

While treatments for Covid-19 are still in their infancy, and a vaccine some months away, we do know that many who have become infected with this virus have suffered from longer-term health problems, including heart disease. So it might be thought that responsible journalists would want to hold to the line that it’s better not to catch it.

But that thought would have been misplaced when it comes to the worryingly off-the-wall Allison Pearson, given a platform by the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph. She has declared unequivocally that for some of the population, including her immediate family, becoming infected with Covid-19 is A Very Good Thing Indeed.

You think I jest? Her latest for the Tel spells it out. “My son has Covid-19. Good. Everyone in his student house has it as well. Even better. Typically, the infected ones have had a rough four or five days … Already everyone is much improved although the virus’s trademark loss of taste and smell (the one symptom those geniuses on SAGE forgot to put on the list [don’t think this is true, sorry]) has lingered”.

So there are longer-term effects already showing themselves. There is more. “There is no cause for alarm. On the contrary, I am glad that my boy will now form a tiny tile on the vast human shield which will protect his grandparents and other endangered citizens as our country acquires community immunity”. This is not just any bullshit, it is dangerously misinformed bullshit, especially in view of the possibility of re-infection.

But do go on. "Apart from a vaccine (unlikely to show up any time soon), allowing Covid to run through the healthy population is the only way out of this loathsome epidemic”. No it isn’t. It really isn’t. But she isn’t finished. “University term starts this week. It’s the ideal time for freshers to socialise, swap mobile details and microbes. Far from relations who may be vulnerable to Covid, they live in promisingly fetid halls of residence where they can easily get the virus during Match of the Day and be rid of it in a week”. And her conclusion?

Covid cannot harm students but adult paranoia about Covid certainly can”. Small wonder there has been severely adverse comment passed, including “Allison Pearson is happy her son has Covid-19 to ‘own the libs’ … 'I'm delighted my son have a virus that is increasingly being shown to cause long term heart damage' is a hell of a fucking article to feel is a good idea to write … It’s very funny to read this as if Allison Pearson actively hates her son and his friends rather than whatever dumb point she’s trying to make”.

James Felton concluded “I’d want to know a little more about the long term effects of a disease before I decided whether I was glad my son got it to be honest. Even then I think I’d come down on the side of ‘I’d rather my son didn’t have a disease’”. One Tweeter added “What sort of a mother is [Allison Pearson] to truly believe she is glad her son has Covid-19? The possible long term effects are horrific. Should we not all be calling social services to report her?” And Ian Hamilton had a grim coda to relate.

Data from the King's College symptom tracker app is showing hundreds of thousands of people in the UK alone reporting being ill for more than a month, and over 60,000 people ill for more than three months. Some have been ill for 6 months now”.

Allison Pearson may not be irretrievably stupid. But you can see it from there.

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Troops On The Streets - OR MAYBE NOT

How many Sun hacks does it take to cobble together an article missing basic fact checking and sub-editing? The answer today appears to be four, including the odious flannelled fool and non-journalist Master Harry Cole, who claims to be the paper’s political editor. The subject, as with many papers, is restrictions in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

This disastrous foray into know-all one-upmanship began when Master Cole took a Downing Street briefing on board without asking someone who knew their facts what it really meant, because he knows everything (no laughing at the back). “Police can draw on military support if they are busy enforcing covid rules. That's new and big and slipped out there” (fnarr fnarr). And what other superior insights would Sir care to dispense?

Opening the door to troops on British streets, PM says he takes no comfort in ‘stifling freedom’. Grim times … Operation Temperer - military support for police, under police command - not launched since Manchester bombing in 2017. PM announced Police can draw on it again … Fifteen hundred soldiers, currently on standby, would guard sites such as Downing Street, parliament and nuclear power plants - to free up cops responding to coronavirus calls”. Spot the howler? Nor did whoever subbed the resulting article.

Because the Sun has now told readersTHE Army could be used to help police enforce coronavirus laws, Boris Johnson warned today. Five hundred soldiers, currently on standby, would guard sites such as Downing Street, parliament and nuclear power plants - to free up cops responding to coronavirus calls”. The howler is still there.

And there is more. “Troops from three battalions will step-in [poor use of punctuation there] if armed police are overstretched”. There are armed cops on the streets already? Not here in Cheshire there aren’t. Has the Sun sacked its subs? Or are they equally clueless? But we do know “Plans seen by The Sun show infantry soldiers, armed with SA80 assault rifles, are ready to be drafted in”. So the leaked document had pictures in it.

On goes the clever tone: “Around 500 troops will form the first wave of reinforcements with 12 hours notice to move, defence sources said”. Someone has been watching too many World War 2 films. Pay attention men, we will be deploying here, here, and here.

Then the Sun contradicts itself (this detail was also noted by the Guardian) as it cautions “Police chiefs would decide where to deploy the military and soldiers would not take over, and currently the National Police Chiefs Council believes: ‘At the moment, no military involvement is necessary, nor do we anticipate this will be needed.’”.

So there is no current requirement for military backup and the story is therefore crap. Worse for Master Cole and his pals is that howler: nuclear installations, such as civil nuclear power plants, nuclear materials in transit, and research facilities that may handle and/or store nuclear material, are protected by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

That is the kind of elementary detail that someone entrusted with the job of political editor should know. Yet it has evaded Cole and three of his colleagues.

That’s in addition to frightening readers over a military deployment that is not happening.

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