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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Tuesday Travel: Santorini

Following the recent series of programmes about the Atlantis myth, and the probability that Plato was inspired by the Minoan kingdom, and its downfall following the eruption of Thira and subsequent tsunami, I dug out the now decade old images of modern Santorini: here is a small selection.


The eruption of the volcano – which still smoulders out in the middle of the caldera – blew the island apart, with the tsunami devastating the northern coast of Crete. The event is probably linked to the biblical exodus from Egypt, with the tsunami first making the waters of the Reed Sea retreat, then engulfing the Egyptian army.

Nice setting for breakfast

Nowadays, Santorini consists of the town of Fira, on the east coast of the island overlooking the caldera, the village of Oia on the northern tip, and resort villages on the west coast. Excavations of the ancient civilisation that once lived on the island continue in the south of the island, at Akrotiri.

Looking out over the caldera

Some visitors are from cruise ships that moor in the caldera on their way around the Mediterranean, some prefer the traditional and slower journey out from the Greek mainland by ferry, while package tourists and many more arrive by air.


Considering the population is around 12,500, having an airport, and one capable of handling middling size jet airliners, might seem over-generous. But then, the Greek military is present here, not that you should point a camera at them.

Greek urn, that's what

Some tourists insist on hiring a car for their stay on the island, but there is not much in the way of a road network. The local KTEL run an inexpensive and often frequent bus service. And the weather tends to be dry most of the time.

TPA – Healthcare Reality

Following my adverse comment on the latest “research” from the non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), a kind commenter brought to my attention something the TPA might find hard to appreciate: a genuine piece of research, the May 2011 Employee Benefits survey, generously sponsored by Alexander Forbes. You can browse the data for free [.pdf].

This survey is important for several reasons, not least that it contains responses from 439 organisations, only 15% of which are in the public sector, and of which 87% employ more than a hundred people. So when it comes to benefits packages, the research can claim to be a wide-ranging and almost certainly representative cross section of UK business.

So how does this relate to the TPA’s “research” from last week, which was no more than a Freedom of Information (FoI) fishing expedition directed at the BBC and S4C? Well, the TPA were attempting to demonise the Beeb for including Private Health Insurance (PHI) in the remuneration packages of around 2% of employees, and PHI is one of the benefits reported on in the Employee Benefits research.

Scrolling down to Page 13, it can be seen that, of the organisations surveyed, 26% offered PHI to all employees as a core benefit, and a further 42% offered it, also as a core benefit, to some employees. That’s a total of 68%. So the BBC offering PHI to just 2% of its employees puts the Corporation very much in the mainstream.

The Employee Benefits survey – which is proper research, unlike the TPA’s variant, which is slanted to fit a conclusion that has already been reached – tells us that, out of a sample of hundreds of organisations, most offer as a core benefit something that the TPA is trying to suggest is excessive or wasteful if offered by the BBC to just 2% of its staff.

It also tells us much about benefits packages generally, including information on a wide range of other benefits that the TPA have been quick to criticise, when public sector organisations offer them. So the Employee Benefits survey is highly likely to feature in future posts.

Especially where the TPA is concerned.

Fat Dick And The F Word

The editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, is renowned for being legendarily foul mouthed, but what is said in editorial meetings stays on that side of the wall: the paper does not do effing and blinding. Or at least it didn’t until today.

Because Dacre’s premier churnalist Richard Littlejohn has managed to slip the word “effing” into his latest turgid column not once, but twice, as he rails against Young Dave’s restatement of the UK’s foreign aid commitments.

Click to enlarge and see the effs more clearly

It would be easy to miss in the on-line version, but when the image is enlarged, the word leaps off the page, as Fat Dick rants “I don’t see Dave as the new Bob Geldof. We shouldn’t have to give him our effing money, so that he can give it to effing nuclear powers like India”.

Thus something to think about the next time Dacre and his obedient hackery go into why-oh-why mode about young people and their propensity to swear (like HERE, also in today's edition). The most righteously minded of newspapers is setting a very poor example, as well as displaying a routine helping of hypocrisy.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Supermarket Sweep – Demolition Time

The redevelopment of Crewe’s Tesco store continues, with the former Safeway closing a fortnight ago and business transferring to a temporary store across the railway, as I noted recently. What has been surprising is the speed at which demolition has proceeded, with work continuing through the Bank Holiday.

Dead right it's closed

Yes, the machinery has been at work today – that’s Bank Holiday Monday – as the old store is rapidly reduced to rubble and piles of twisted metal. It’s now possible to get a clear view of the Heritage Centre yard, which would be nice if they tidied it up.

That's one big heap of scrap

And once the site is cleared, the new store will rise from the rubble and bring the town yet more retail space it can easily manage without. There is, in the meantime, no progress across Vernon Way on the supposed redevelopment of the building at present partly occupied by Dunelm Mill, and Crewe TV recently floated the thought that Sainsbury’s, who were going to do that redevelopment, only made their proposals to stop Tesco getting their hands on the site.

It’s a thought that makes sense, given the constrained nature of the Tesco site.

Guido Fawked – Not Asking The Questions

The Bank Holiday weekend draws to a close, and Chris Huhne is still in the cabinet, still an MP, and still not charged with election expense irregularity, or anything to do with whether or not he was at the wheel somewhere between Stansted Airport and Clapham in March 2003.

Following the speculative report in yesterday’s Mail On Sunday, which relies heavily on “sources close to the investigation”, came another attempt by Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole at the Guido Fawkes blog (back story HERE and HERE) to keep the story going. But the post was no more than a re-hash of what the MoS had already published.

So, to assist the less than dynamic blogging duo, here are some of the questions that they might consider asking if they really want to do some investigative digging, rather than indulge in lazy churnalism. For starters, although nobody who was at the LSE dinner Huhne’s ex-wife attended that evening will say if she left early, there are ways in which the “Stansted and back” idea can be tested.

After Huhne received a driving ban later in 2003, Vicky Pryce drove for him, so it must be concluded she was named on the insurance policy covering his BMW 7-series. Was she already covered before his ban? If not, she couldn’t have been at the wheel if it was the BMW that was supposedly “flashed” on the M11.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request could be made to establish whether Huhne made an expense claim for car parking at Stansted Airport the week of the speeding offence. If he did, he’s stuffed, but if not, it suggests someone drove the car out to Stansted to collect him.

Did Huhne check a bag? This might seem trivial, but the extra time taken waiting by the baggage carousel feeds into the timeline. Also, the long stay car parking at Stansted is several minutes’ bus ride from the terminal, and not adjacent as at airports like Liverpool. This, too, feeds into the timeline. And did any of the car park bus drivers remember seeing him?

If Ryanair, with whom Huhne is supposed to have travelled, can confirm that he was on the flight from Strasbourg to Stansted, then they should be able to say if he checked a bag. Moreover, the time that the aircraft was “on chocks” and disembarked should be available (right now, just the landing time is known).

If Staines and Cole are serious about their investigation, there is plenty for them to get their teeth into. But just recycling an MoS article, which itself is speculative, doesn’t cut it.

Express Attempt To Locate Fact

Another week begins, with another lame attempt by the Desmond press to demonise the EU talked up into leading today’s Daily Express. There is a certain fascination in taking apart Express Euro frighteners, as this is not only a rare example of original content in the paper, but also contains a kernel, however small, of factual information.

Sadly, though, the headline – “New EU Tax Raid On Britain” – is plain flat wrong. And the giveaway comes in the first line of the piece, which claims “Brussels last night sparked fury after backing plans to increase the ... budget”. Er, hello? The European Parliament was sitting on a Sunday? And no, it wasn’t.

But there are some quite specific allegations in the article, not least “a raft of other power-grabbing measures, including the right to impose levies directly”. And no Express Euro horror story would be complete without “Britain even faces losing its hard-won EU rebate worth £2.6 billion a year”. So what’s the reality?

Fortunately, the Express mentions the name that unlocks the mystery: Salvador Garriga Polledo, who sits on the Committee on Budgets. Sr. Garriga (who is merely a member of the committee – he isn’t its Chairman or Vice Chairman) has authored a report which will feed in to a discussion on future EU spending.

The report addresses questions such asHow big will the EU budget be? Will it be funded differently? And what happens to temporary rebates for certain EU Member States?” to which the Express has answered “[the budget] would soar, directly tax British workers, and Britain faces losing its EU rebate”.

But, of course, no conclusion has been reached, as the Garriga report has fed into a meeting of the Policy Challenges Committee – this happened on Wednesday and Thursday of last week – which has then voted its position on proposals for the 2014-2020 budget period (this was the vote the Express piece referred to).

Even the Express manages to admit that “The final deal will have to be agreed by all 27 member states”, although it omits the key fact that the UK is one of those 27, and is likely to have significant support for the idea that any budget increase should be far less than the 5% initially proposed. But nothing was demanded last night.

Baseless Euro scare stories? That’ll be another Benchmark of Excellence.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Toby Fails To Herd Those Primary Cats

The Maily Telegraph’s USA editor, Toby Harnden, was moved recently to look in on Zelo Street. And Tobe was not a happy bunny: he dismissed the idea that he was cheerleading for Sarah Palin, despite his post talking up the prospect of her declaring her candidacy for next year’s Presidential election.

This is, though, the bloke who had no problem joining in with the Telegraph’s bloggers renaming February “Sarah Palin month”, a truly lame concept only slightly livened up by James “Saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, whose adoration for the former half term Alaska Governor knows no bounds. Harnden earlier went in to bat for Palin, telling that “Sarah Palin deserves a media apology”.

And in April 2009 he managed the following not-too-sceptical observation: “Perhaps this is a tipping point for Twitter – conservative icon [my emphasis] Governor Sarah Palin is now tweeting”. O Tempora, O Google.

But fair play to Tobe: he’s now gone firmly Palin-sceptic, to the clear distress of many of those who comment in Telegraph blogland, those poor souls who enjoy a rather tenuous grip on reality. But he still hasn’t nailed the field for the GOP nomination for the honour of being beaten by Barack Obama.

For starters, Texas Governor Rick Perry could be tempted, and as the HuffPo has pointed out, not only is he a sitting Governor, but has also never lost an election. It’s also looking likely that Rep. Michelle Bachmann will join in, if only because God has told her to [update at end of post]. But Harnden has homed in instead on Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Why so? Well, Ryan is chair of the House Budget Committee, and the proposed changes to Medicare that helped the GOP to lose the special election in NY26 recently started with him. And, although Ryan is much discussed on and around the Hill, he is – apart from in Wisconsin – little known and recognised outside the Beltway.

And the meeting with former Prez Bill Clinton, which Harnden finds so intriguing, may not be Bill undergoing a Damascene conversion on Medicare, but a routine fishing expedition disguised as flattery. As I’ve said before, the US’ debt problem can be sorted simply by reversing the Bush era tax cuts, and as the electorate sees the simple choice of that reverse versus the Ryan plan, they may think again.

Paul Ryan may be thought of as a rising star right now, but whether he is still standing after his budget plan has been tested in battle is not certain. Bill Clinton will remember his mid-term battle with the GOP: the rising Republican star then was Newt Gingrich, and Clinton saw him off. Obama may do the same to Ryan.

[UPDATE 1 June: God has now cleared Rep. Michelle Bachmann to run for the GOP Presidential nomination, according to Talking Points Memo. So, presumably, she's in]

Guido Fawked – The Missing Sunday Story

Sunday dawns, but something is missing: the expected splashing of a signed confession from Chris Huhne’s ex-wife Vicky Pryce across one or more of the papers. Ms Pryce, it is claimed, took the points for a speeding offence when Huhne was the one at the wheel.

The only stories put out today are at the fringe of the affair: the Mail is in nudge-nudge mode, telling that Huhne “failed to answer detailed questions” when interviewed by Police last week, and otherwise is left haggling over the supposed eleven minute difference between when the car was caught speeding, and when the paper asserts was the earliest that Ms Pryce could have been there.

Meanwhile, the Independent tells that Essex police will this week send a file on the affair to prosecutors. Perhaps the decision will come down to Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). But the absence of the anticipated splash today suggests that the prospect of Huhne being prosecuted is by no means certain.

Should Huhne not be prosecuted, there will be right leaning hacks and pundits who will be disappointed that this hate figure has survived, but these things happen, and they will doubtless find new targets in time. But for Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole at the Guido Fawkes blog, who as I noted last week have effectively bet the house on getting Huhne, it could be a serious drawback.

Only last Thursday, the Fawkes blog told its readersSources: Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday have ‘confession’”, but today, confession splashing has been conspicuously absent. The following day, readers were toldWe might see this on Sunday”, but despite the eager anticipation, very little has been seen.

This suggests that the standard of information reaching Staines and Cole is not particularly reliable – or that they are falling into the trap of believing what they are told because they want to believe it. The wildly inaccurate story put out by the Fawkes blog about a meeting in Huhne’s Eastleigh constituency last week, debunked by Mark Pack at Lib Dem Voice (plus follow-up) suggests the latter.

If Huhne survives, the credibility of the Fawkes blog will be in tatters, and its supposed ability to bring down politicians exposed as a sham. Unless the DPP decides to prosecute, Staines and Cole will be well and truly stuffed.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Social Services – Playing It Both Ways

Yesterday’s court ruling in favour of former Haringey Council Director of Childrens’ Services Sharon Shoesmith has sent much of the press off into a righteous froth. But there is more than a little hypocrisy in play here: while the why-oh-why brigade are laying into Ms Shoesmith over the Baby P case, implying that her staff should have taken the child into care, they are equally adept at deploying the counter argument.

And while pundits like the Mail’s Richard Pendlebury carp over Ms Shoesmith’s background and qualifications, they themselves have no idea what social work involves, and certainly don’t have any background in it. This does not stop Pendlebury, and tiresome Glenda Amanda Platell, from pontificating on the case.

It’s no different over at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, where hack Neil Syson claims “she could get £2.5m compo”. This is clearly A Bad Thing, as many Sun readers signed a petition that said Ms Shoesmith should be sacked. The thought that employment law and due process is not decided by Sun readers is not allowed to enter.

So, it seems, children at risk – a judgment made with 20/20 hindsight by hacks and pundits – should be taken into care. Social services should be more proactive. Except that, this time, the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate plays the other side of the field.

The Mail approach is typical: “The couple who lost three children to social servicesscreamed the headline in December 2008. The previous January, there wasHow social services are paid bonuses to snatch babies for adoption”. Last year, readers were treated toIn hiding, the mother accused of abuse for cuddling her child”. In September 2009, there was the case of a father blaming Reading social services for his 13 year old daughter’s pregnancy.

So, when the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre is so minded, social services being proactive is A Very Bad Thing. Either way, those whose lot is to be social workers, and their managers like Sharon Shoesmith, cannot be other than infallible in the eyes of the tabs. Being human, and occasionally erring, is not allowed.

So that’s different to being involved with a calamitous General Election campaign, as Amanda Platell was back in 2001, when her unique brand of terminal incompetence helped William ‘Ague get well and truly routed by Tone and Big Al. Fortunately for her, she now gets to judge others from her lofty perch without having to make the kind of decisions that social workers sometimes call wrongly. Because they’re only human.

Ryanair – Caught Scrapping

In the news again this week for all the wrong reasons, and over something that could have been avoided if only their spokesman had engaged brain before shooting his mouth off, are our old friends at Ryanair, the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care).

Michael O’Leary’s finest were relieved of 80,000 Euro after a Dublin court jury agreed that a post on the company’s website had defamed former Miss World Rosanna Davison, daughter of Lady In Red man Chris de Burgh. Ms Davison had been asked to comment on the absence of any Irish representation on Ryanair’s 2009 cabin crew calendar, and her reply clearly irked the company.

But all she said was that, had she been organising it, she would have made sure there was some Irish representation, because an Irish charity was involved. And of course Ryanair is an Irish company. That’s her opinion to which she is entitled, but Ryanair’s pet loudmouth Stephen McNamara, wanting to milk the occasion, decided to put the boot in.

So he announced that Ms Davison’s comments “bordered on racism and demonstrated an elitist attitude against Ryanair’s international cabin crew”. This is a characteristic and unnecessary reaction, although the intention – usually successful – is to get cheap publicity for the carrier. The problem is that, having got their slice of attention, Ryanair then refused to back down.

So it is entirely their fault that the matter ended up in court, where they deservedly lost. Even then, McNamara told anyone who would listen that Ryanair would be appealing the decision. Happily, though, once the company had thought about it, they decided the cost of that appeal would be more than the award and so decided not to take the matter further.

Of course, they could have avoided the expense by not being so unpleasant in the first place, but that is not the Ryanair way, and neither is publicising anything that reflects badly on them: thus far (1620 hours 28 August), the news has not appeared on their website.

It’s The Stateside Pippa!

Those already fed up with the wall-to-wall coverage given by the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate to Pippa Middleton will no doubt be relieved that the hype has been dying down recently. But as they say on the football results, look away now: the circus may not have finished with Pippa, but merely moved across the north Altantic.

Yes, the latest rumour, coming from the National Enquirer (OK, not the most reliable news source) is that the younger Middleton sister is being courted by both Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey to do either a “reality” show, or even her own talk show, which would be interesting, given that all Pippa has done in front of the camera thus far is to stand there and smile.

Both Walters and Winfrey, according to “sources close to [them]” are in “hush-hush” talks [note that the National Enquirer site will not open if it detects a UK IP address]. Why they should want to employ someone with no media track record is explained away by telling that “Americans are so obsessed with the Royals”.

Is there any substance to the rumour? Well, the USA does seem to enjoy anything Royal – even Sarah Ferguson made a few dollars there – but thus far, the Daily Mail and Maily Telegraph haven’t picked it up. If Oprah’s OWN network sniffs ratings, they may try and set up a deal.

But, I suspect, the Middletons and the Royals wouldn’t be happy, even if Pippa was. So ultimately it won’t happen, but the press will flog the story to death: the tabs will run the rumour next week, if they miss out tomorrow.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Cripes Readers, Bit Pricey Taking This Bus!

Today has been a day out for regular collector of “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph and occasional London Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Bozza, with the press corps in pursuit, has been to Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire to take the prototype of his “New Bus For London” for a spin.

So now that the BozzaMaster has been cast in the metal, and is no longer a concept or mock-up, it’s a good time to reflect on the project, its cost, and the benefits for Londoners. And the first thing that stands out about the cost is that it has been substantial: not far short of eight million notes for the first five buses, which is (per vehicle) more than six times the cost of one “bendy” bus.

That upfront cost would, of course, be defrayed by a large production run, as was the case with the original Routemaster, of which more than 2,800 examples were built. Problem is, the information I’m receiving is that operators currently running services for Transport for London (TfL) are not enthusiastic, although of course if directed to use the BozzaMaster they will have to comply.

One turn-off for operators is that “off the shelf” bus designs can easily be deployed elsewhere in the country after finishing service in London: this makes for better operating margins for the big combines, or even makes it possible to operate services that might be marginal or even unprofitable if new buses had to be purchased to run them.

The BozzaMaster, with its three entrances and two sets of stairs, would be hopelessly overspecified for operation outside the capital – it’s arguably so in all cases, given the low seating capacity. And it provides only 62 seats in an 11.8 tonne vehicle, compared with the original Routemaster’s 64 and 7.5 tonnes.

Moreover, many of the lower deck seats are difficult to get in and out of, a real minus point for all those older and less mobile passengers who choose the bus because of the less than totally accessible tube system. And if operators can’t cascade the vehicles to fleets outside London, it will mean the cost of operation for the BozzaMaster will be that much higher.

So that’s a high initial cost, a higher operating cost, a vehicle that weighs well over 50% per seat more than the Routemaster, low residual value, poor seating capacity, and little likelihood of significant economies of scale, given that operators elsewhere in the UK and mainland Europe won’t be interested.

The obvious question is simply this: why was Bozza’s vanity project allowed to get off the ground? And why is the exercise being allowed to continue?

TPA – Scraping The Broadcast Barrel

Today brings new “research” from the dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA). And this is no ordinary “research”: it bears the imprimatur of head non-job holder Matthew Sinclair. But, sad to say, it’s not only misguided, but blatantly dishonest.

The story, claiming that the BBC, and Welsh language channel S4C, “Spend Millions on Private Healthcare”, is based on Freedom of Information (FoI) request feedback. And the TPA slip up even before they’ve done with the heading: putting the spend for the Beeb in 2010 together with that for S4C in 2010-11 gives a total of just under £810,000. So “Spend Millions” [present tense] is plain flat wrong.

In order to reach an amount of “Millions” [plural], the TPA has to aggregate three years’ spending, which is roughly equivalent to my saying that I spend [present tense] thousands on Council Tax (shock horror) although the annual bill comes to no more than £700. The tactic should surprise no-one, though: the TPA has used the same idea to claim that HS2 will cost “a thousand pounds per family”.

But does the TPA have a point? After all, the BBC is funded by the licence fee, which all of us with a television set are paying. Well, out of around 26,000 who work for the Beeb in the UK, 532 benefit from private health insurance payments. That’s about two per cent, which suggests that the other 98% use the NHS, or buy their own insurance.

How does the BBC compare with other large organisations? Without that information – which the TPA hasn’t bothered to seek out – the figures have little meaning, unless the suggestion is that those getting private cover, who will be the most senior tier of management, should not enjoy that benefit.

And if those 532 staff exclusively used the NHS, there would be a need for more resources for that service. How much more? Oh, I dunno, let’s say around £810,000 a year. All for what? A reduction in the licence fee of around 25p per annum, but a corresponding rise in general taxation to pay for it.

Unless, of course, the TPA is arguing that the private sector gives less good value than the NHS.

[UPDATE: the potential reduction in the licence fee is actually just 2.5p. I put my decimal point in the wrong place, and unlike the TPA, this blog acknowledges its howlers]

Guido Fawked?

The past few months have not been the happiest of times for Paul Staines, creator of the Guido Fawkes blog, and his tame gofer Henry Cole. First there was the wrong call on the survival of Young Dave’s then spinmeister Andy Coulson, then the failure to dislodge Foreign Secretary William ‘Ague, despite chucking bucket-loads of innuendo (shurely “Crap”? – Ed) over him.

But the credibility of the Fawkes brand took its greatest knock with the farcically low turnout to the “Rally Against Debt”. Staines and Cole lent their support to their pals at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), no more than 350 turned up – including speakers, hacks and snappers – and it became clear to the Fourth Estate, and through their reportage the wider public, just how little clout they all wielded.

Undeterred, the Fawkes blog has now gone after Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne, a favourite hate figure among right leaning pundits, to the extent that Staines and Cole are betting the house on bringing him down. There is, however, a small problem: Huhne is still, weeks after stories alleging he got his ex-wife to take the hit for a speeding penalty, and suggestions of election expense irregularity, in post, and shows no sign of heading for the door.

And today’s Maily Telegraph brings bad news for the less than dynamic blogging duo: Huhne’s ex-wife Vicky Pryce has apparently declined, during an interview with Essex Police, to re-state her allegation that Huhne got her to take the points for his speeding offence, not least because had she done so, she could then be charged with perverting the course of justice.

Unless the law can lay their hands on the confession which Pryce is said to have signed at the weekend for the benefit of one of the Sundays, Huhne will be off the hook and Staines and Cole well and truly stuffed. The allegations over election expenses are already looking shaky – Mark Pack at Lib Dem Voice has the story – and the Fawkes duo therefore have their credibility hanging on the Police.

And that confession may not be in the form of a sworn affidavit, as the Fawkes blog has previously claimed. As I’ve noted more than once, bloggers need the support of the hated MSM if they are to have any real clout, and the latter is driven by the 24 hour news cycle, which right now is more interested – depending on the market segment being addressed – in the detention of Ratko Mladic, and the return from the USA of Cheryl Cole.

So for Staines and Cole, it looks like a case of back to the drawing board (shurely “Westminster Arms”? – Ed).

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Waiting For Sarah Godot

As the days count down to the start of the Primaries, the media on both sides of the north Atlantic maintains its watch on the field for the GOP nomination, and the right leaning part of it clearly despairs at what it sees: Newt Gingrich already in trouble, Mitt Romney with a Tea Party group wanting to derail his campaign, Jeb Bush sitting the whole thing out, and no Chris Christie.

So the flights of fancy from Maily Telegraph USA editor Toby Harnden are understandable. Mike Huckabee has already ruled himself out, preferring to take the money at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), Mitch Daniels has also said no, and the only others so far are Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman.

But I still think that Harnden should have thought twice before rushing to publish his piece suggesting that Rudy Giuliani would run, mainly because the former New York governor is not a credible candidate. Moreover, I also think his assertion today that half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin is about to declare does not give the GOP hope, but rather an unwanted sideshow.

Lots of pundits want Palin to run. Many voters want Palin to run. And Palin herself wants Palin to run. This, however, is not sufficient reason for Palin to run: she also needs to be able to (a) unite the GOP around her candidacy, (b) gain a plurality of votes across the USA, and (c) withstand the inevitable turbulence that close to a year and a half of media exposure will bring.

And, while the likelihood of her managing the first two of those three is debateable, the third will be a very big ask for someone who has demonstrated – most notoriously after the Tucson shootings – that she not only has a very thin skin, but also a singularly unfortunate way of opening mouth while simultaneously inserting foot.

It will be no use complaining about the “lamestream media” and retreating into the Fox comfort zone, either: although it is the most watched cable news operation, Fox doesn’t average much more than two million viewers in weekday primetime. If she runs, she will have to take on potentially hostile interviewers, pundits, and yes, citizens.

And putting out a feature length documentary to build up her image is not going to make that reality go away. Palin would be best advised to remain a kingmaker, and leave Harnden and all the other cheerleaders waiting.

Alastair Campbell Proved Right – Twice

This blog does not generally use the L-word – as I discussed recently – but today an exception is made as Zelo Street celebrates falling standards of journalism on the dunghill that is Grubstreet. More specifically, those standards are falling at the Daily Mail, arguably the best resourced of all UK titles, which makes it even less forgivable.

Former Labour spinmeister Alastair Campbell used to call the Mail (and maybe still does) “The Dacre Lie Machine”, in tribute to the paper’s legendarily foul mouthed editor, and Dacre’s often transient relationship with factual accuracy. And today, the Dacre hackery has confirmed Campbell’s assertion unequivocally – twice in one article.

Not just one spelling howler ...

Because, in trying to run a piece of knocking copy aimed at Big Al, Mil The Younger and the Labour Party generally, Dacre’s finest have shot themselves in the foot by failing to spell Campbell’s name properly, first and most obviously in the title, and then again, for good measure, in a photo caption.

... but two of them

And the thrust of the attack on Big Al – that he’s donating money to the party he has supported for so long – is utterly lame. Especially if the hacks can’t get his name right.

A Sad Story From Lymington – Update 3

Supporters of sacked South West Trains (SWT) ticket clerk Ian Faletto yesterday experienced their moment of truth, although whether they yet understand the situation is not known. That moment came in the reception area of Friars Bridge Court, the office block on Blackfriars Road where SWT has its London HQ.

A ten strong delegation, led by Tory MP Desmond Swayne and the ever hopeful Rev. Alex Russell, arrived at the building bearing a petition in support of Faletto, signed by around 8,000 individuals. SWT agreed that the Rev. Russell could take the petition through security to their offices, but the delegation demanded instead that SWT send out a “big cheese” to see them, and receive the petition in the reception area.

SWT management declined the invitation, and it seems that a confrontation then occurred between the now disappointed delegation and the Friars Bridge Court security staff, who are not part of SWT. Swayne has vowed to present the petition to the Commons after the upcoming recess, and SWT have reiterated the line that the matter of Faletto’s dismissal is, as far as they are concerned, closed.

What was not known at the time – and is why I held off until today before posting an update – was whether the national press was still interested. A scan of this morning’s copy suggests that it is not. That, together with the delegation’s ineffective appearance yesterday, is why this was the moment of truth, and that truth is that the Mail and Telegraph have, indeed, thrown Faletto under the bus.

Had the Mail still been interested, the confrontation at Friars Bridge Court would have been ideal why-oh-why copy, and perfect timing, too: a splash today would lead into more SWT bashing by Littlejohn tomorrow, with any problems on SWT’s services over the bank holiday weekend an excuse to keep the story running.

Instead, the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has clearly looked again at the story, thought better of it, and instead gone off after Cheryl Cole. Ian Faletto has had his fifteen minutes, there’s the Christian GP story to fall back on, and Desmond Swayne and his delegation are out of time.

I’ll keep watch on the case, and post another update next week – if there is anything to update, of course.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Rudy Awakening

Those seeking the Republican Party nomination for the 2012 Presidential election have mostly now declared, save the remote possibility that king of comb-over Donald Trump might reconsider the wise decision to spend more time with his hairspray. There is, however, the outside possibility of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani clambering aboard at the last minute.

And with this news comes the apparent disconnect between grim reality, and what some pundits want to see: Giuliani is not the universally popular and credible figure that some right leaning commentators believe. I’ll go further: finding a liberal leaning critic of him who in the past has caused Giuliani serious discomfort has been very, very easy.

The source of the hot tip that Giuliani may be about to declare came from long-time colleague Rep. Peter King of New York, the news being faithfully reported not only in the Washington Post by Chris Cillizza, but also in the Maily Telegraph by USA editor Toby Harnden. And both contributors ought to know better than trot out this line without first engaging brain.

Giuliani built up a lot of political capital from the coincidence that he was in office when the al-Qaeda franchise declared war on the USA on September 11, 2001. But his constituency does not extend far beyond New York City, as an abortive attempt to secure the Republican nomination in 2008 showed. Many in the party are suspicious of Giuliani’s more Liberal past.

And that critic I mentioned is about to return to the airwaves: now at Al Gore’s Current TV, Keith Olbermann has been merciless in his lambasting of Giuliani, not least over characterising the latter’s 2007 speech about “Republican Offense and Democrat Defense” as “Vote Democrat and die”. Olbermann dedicated a full throttle “Special Comment” to giving Giuliani’s remarks the full treatment.

It won’t get any easier for Giuliani when Countdown returns, either: Olbermann’s recollection of the first time he met Giuliani when at ESPN is a must-read (most recently HERE), and it will be referenced again and again if the former mayor decides to run, as will his implicit rubbishing of Ronald Reagan’s memory, which earned him a “Worst Person” award.

Or perhaps Giuliani will think back to 2008, recall that it took around 30 million Dollars to get him just one delegate, and think better of it.

DIY Express Greek Tragedy

Richard Desmond’s dwindling and increasingly desperate band of hacks at the Express is at least consistent in one of their habits: if the facts don’t happen to exist, then inventing them, and in the most shameless manner, is not a problem. Perhaps they think that their equally dwindling readership is incapable of looking beyond the headline.

Today’s superb example of Express creative headline writing, as so often nowadays, is on the subject of the EU. And by a happy coincidence, one of those softy Lib Dems gets it in the neck, too, as the problems facing Greece get a factual makeover in a piece to which none of the Desmond hackery has lent their by-line.

The headline leaves no doubt: Vince Cable has said that Greece will need another bailout, and it will be not only “huge”, but also a “multi-billion pound” one. Problem is, he didn’t say that: Cable was talking about “a rescheduling of their debt”. I know this, as the same Express article says so. So by its own admission, the Express headline is, shall we say, factually incorrect.

What Cable’s comments did indicate, and the Express barely mentions, is a level of candour that has not gone down at all well with the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet. The inevitable “official spokesman” has been deployed to stress that Cable isn’t making policy. At least the Maily Telegraph has got its priorities right on this one.

Why the Express keeps pumping out totally fraudulent headlines is mystifying: perhaps the readers actually believe it. But it’s not going to make converts, with the risibly bad reportage and the same small band of talking heads – in this case, Tory MPs Douglas “Kamikaze” Carswell and Mark “Reckless” Reckless, the latter having made his debut on the Commons terrace last summer in a way he has since regretted.

Repetitive, fact free and misleading journalism? That’ll be another Benchmark of Excellence.

Looking The Wrong Way

Elections are won and lost, generally, not on matters outside the country concerned, but on domestic issues: not for nothing did Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign use the strapline “It’s the economy, Stupid”. And that is still the case in the USA: while those of a right leaning persuasion were lauding the address to Congress of Israeli PM Binyamin Netenyahu, and writing down Barack Obama’s stature, the important game was being played out in New York’s 26th Congressional District.

Because here, in a Special Election held in a usually Republican leaning area, the GOP lost. After 90% of precincts had reported, Democrat Kathy Hochul held a six point lead over Republican Jane Corwin. It’s possible that a Tea Party candidate split the GOP vote, but the big issue coming out of the contest is the attempt by Republicans in the House of Representatives to reform Medicare.

That reform, to turn Medicare into a voucher system, is part of the debt reduction plan put forward by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, but it is also deeply unpopular. Ryan, along with most of his party and the right leaning part of the Fourth Estate, is apparently blind to the fact that reversing the Bush era tax cuts would do far more to reduce the deficit than his budget plan.

The focusing by Democrats on a measure that the electorate don’t like could be not only the first chipping away at Republican proposals, but also signal the kind of campaign that will be fought in next year’s general election. It’s one thing to whip up popular sentiment against the supposed ills of “big government”, but quite another when the reality of cuts affects voters.

Forget the foreign policy froth: as in 1992, it’s still the economy, and it’s still about the hopes and fears of ordinary Americans. Some pundits need to keep their eye on the ball.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Cloud? What Cloud?

Just occasionally, I wonder if hacks actually engage brain before writing their headlines, and this afternoon a superb example of this ability to perform the on-line foot in mouth has come from the Maily Telegraph, reporting on the fall-out – literally – from the eruption of the Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland.

The headline is unequivocal: “Ryanair flies plane through Icelandic volcano ash cloud” it tells. But Ryanair has done no such thing: the “verification” flight, from Prestwick, which overflew Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, flew through an area where the concentration of volcanic ash had been predicted to be high.

But no significant amount of ash was found during the flight, and this was confirmed by a walk-round after the aircraft landed back at Prestwick. That was the point being driven home by Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary: his complaint was that predictions of volcanic ash concentration had been wrong.

That was also reinforced by a press release on the Ryanair website. All that the Telegraph needed to do was look there before leaping. Or read the body of their own report.

[UPDATE: The Telegraph has now changed its headline]

Tuesday Travel – Alentejo

This is the first of an occasional series of blogposts on Travel. It won’t be every Tuesday, but Tuesday will be when it appears.


Considering the amount of energy devoted by the media to goings-on in Portugal, it’s sad that so little has been devoted to discovering that part of the country beyond the Algarve and the largest cities. It is, however, not surprising: the tourist trail in Porto does not extend far up the Douro Valley, and that in Lisbon, although taking in the coast west to Cascais, does not reach even Santarém to the north east.

Praça do Giraldo, Evora

So the discovery of the southern Alentejo region featured yesterday by the Guardian was a step in the right direction. As the piece tells, the Alentejo accounts for almost a third of Portugal, yet well under 10% of the population lives there. There are walled towns scattered around the region, then between them the occasional village and little else.

Vasco da Gama 500 monument, Evora

Largest of the walled towns is the region’s capital, Évora: although the old town is now encircled by the inevitable ring road, the area within that wall still contains narrow streets, whitewashed houses, a cathedral, Roman ruins, and at its heart the Praça do Giraldo. Just inside the walls to the south is a park where a monument to the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s birth, donated by the South African province of Natal, can be seen.


South of Évora is another, smaller walled town, that of Beja, overlooking the plains of the lower Alentejo. Here, the old centre of the town houses more narrow streets, the hill being topped by a castle. Also close to the centre of Beja is the Pousada de São Francisco, one of a chain of formerly state run hotels housed in historic buildings.

Pousada de São Francisco, Beja

Both towns can be covered as day trips from Lisbon, and although having a car may be fine out in the Alentejo, in the capital it is hard work, what with the traffic, and the difficulty in finding affordable parking spaces. There is, however, a regular coach service, and the rail link is being upgraded.

At Funcheira, the slow train to Beja

Be warned, though: in the Alentejo there are vast open spaces, and little in the way of population, as I found in a visit back in November 2009. Despite the rumble of traffic over Beja’s cobbled streets, life moves at a slower pace out here.

TPA – Euro Wrong There, Matey

The arrival of the Obamas has created such attention that one could be forgiven not hearing the detonation of another damp squib in the vicinity of Tufton Street. Yes, with as much fanfare as they can muster – and after the “Rally Against Debt”, we know just how little that is – the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) has launched a campaign against Eurozone bailouts.

And this is no ordinary campaign, but a “Call To Action” from chief non-job holder Matthew Sinclair, talking of the “economic failure of the Euro”, and “the Euro’s failure”. So to show the TPA’s commitment to its campaign, there’s a petition to sign. But as of 1540 hours today, just 471 folks had been bothered enough to put their names to it.

Which is pretty poor even compared to the TPA’s Facebook campaign prior to the “Rally Against Debt”, which at least went well into four figures, even though only one in six of those actually turned up. And in any case, Sinclair’s characterisation of the Euro doesn’t stand serious analysis.

Anyone awake on the second floor?

Right now (1545 hours May 23), one Pound Sterling buys just under 1.15 Euro. That exchange rate hasn’t been much different for a while: early March 2009 the rate was 1.12, by late August that year it had improved to 1.14, but by late November it was back at 1.11. Late May 2010 saw a rally to 1.17, with late June another rise to 1.20, then November back to 1.15.

All the while the Euro was supposedly lurching from crisis to crisis, being rubbished and written off by anyone on the right, and quite a few others, yet our own currency has not improved against the Euro in more than two years. Sinclair does not do his credibility any favours by making assertions that can so easily be tested, and proved to be false.

Barry Flies In – And It’s Not Fair

As Barack Obama begins his tour of Europe, realisation is slowly dawning among the right leaning part of the Fourth Estate that not only are many of the photo opportunities likely to figure in next year’s election campaign, but also that there is as yet no half decent candidate to oppose his return to the White House.

Nowhere is that realisation more keenly felt than at the Maily Telegraph, where smirking buffoon Nile Gardiner typifies the mood. Gardiner, telling that it’s “about next year’s presidential election”, then sprays his credibility up the wall by also asserting that Obama’s approval ratings “have been nose-diving”, blissfully unaware that anyone so minded can look up those numbers and thereby demonstrate that Gardiner is talking out of the back of his neck.

Obama’s Rasmussen approval rating may be just 26% “strongly approve”, but taken with the “somewhat approve”, makes 49%. “Dubya” Bush, going in to the 2004 election, was on 48%. Bush won. Go figure, Nile. And while you’re figuring, take the loathsome Toby Young along. Young also has problems with numbers, this time on the US economy. Neither of these clowns, nor their fellow commenter Christina Odone, who tries and fails to smear Obama as “anti-Catholic”, gets it.

So, for all those at the Telegraph, here’s a few facts. The electoral cycle in the USA more or less dictates that campaigning never stops: Presidential polls every four years, but then, the whole House of Representatives every two years. Plus every two years, a third of the Senate comes up for re-election. Factor in the need for fundraising, and the primaries, and you’ve got a perpetual cycle of electioneering.

And that – something that Telegraph hacks might like to take on board – was a fact of Stateside life well before Barack Obama came along. Moreover, to start talking about campaigning as if it only just started misses not only the taking out of Osama bin Laden, but all the months prior to that. The Obama re-election trail started not earlier this month, but in January.

More precisely, it started on January 12, at the University of Arizona, at Tucson. It was there that Obama gave a speech at the memorial to those killed by Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting spree the previous weekend. His was a Presidential performance, something that will be shown again and again as the 2012 election approaches.

Yes, Telegraph people, electioneering in the USA is one perpetual cycle, and has been for decades. Barack Obama wants to be re-elected, so he too is a participant in that cycle. That is all.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk

Christians are under attack yet again, well, according to the Christian Legal Centre, they are. Clearly our “aggressively secular” society is at work, although in this case the BBC has yet to feature. Yes, hardly has the dust settled on the Colin Atkinson case, than the Daily Mail is championing another supposedly victimised and innocent follower of Jesus.

This time, the Mail is going in to bat for Richard Scott, a GP who works at a practice in Margate. Scott has apparently told a patient, by his own account, “that faith in Jesus could give comfort and strength”. I have to confess that this is not among the various diagnoses that I’ve been offered, on the NHS or otherwise, over the years.

As usual with the Mail, the thought enters that not all the facts of the matter are being presented in the article, but we have to go with what we know. And what we know is that this story does not add up. The General Medical Council (GMC) has supposedly issued Scott a formal warning over the case, which he has declined to accept, and so the matter will proceed to a full hearing.

The possibility of Scott being “struck off” is splashed all over the story, but buried in the detail is his own observation that “the GMC may warn me [my emphasis] or decide to take matters further”. So he doesn’t face being “struck off”, at least not as a direct result of the upcoming hearing.

And we don’t hear much from the GMC, or – as patient confidentiality dictates – the family who made the complaint about Scott. We do, however, hear at length from not only the Christian Legal Centre, but also The Christian Institute, both of whom are in full-on why-oh-why mode, pushing the victimhood line.

But Scott gives the game away when he says “it is worth the risk as I wanted to do this because there is a bigger picture ... I wanted to give confidence and inspiration to other Christians who work in the medical profession”. So this follows the Colin Atkinson case by masking aggressive Christianity as victimhood, and wildly exaggerating the potential outcome (Atkinson made out he faced the sack, something his employer vehemently denied).

At the end of this particular day, neither Christianity, nor any other religion, is under attack from secularists, nor anyone else. Richard Scott is not in any danger of being “struck off”. But Christian organisations are succeeding in enlisting national newspapers (the Telegraph is also on board) to promote their own particular agenda.

Perhaps someone at the Mail could summon the courage to tell the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre that not only is he being used, but that many of his readers aren’t interested.

Murdoch Is Served (37)

Today has brought another “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” moment for Rupe and his troops as “Shagger” Prescott (“traditional misbehaviour in a modern setting”), has succeeded in getting a judicial review over the Met’s handling of Phonehackgate. This comes hot on the heels of Friday’s revelation that a senior executive at the Screws had ordered the hacking of Jude Law’s voicemail.

Even the right leaning part of the blogosphere is starting to realise that something significant is happening: Paul Staines, who blogs from time to time under the alias of Guido Fawkes, has even featured the story today, though his angle is to whinge about how much it’s all going to cost, and the answer is, probably no more than Staines is going to have to shell out if Shillings come looking for him over, er, you know who.

But Staines – or maybe his tame gofer Henry Cole wrote the item – doesn’t even mention Friday’s news, probably because the Fawkes blog is banging on about Chris Huhne in the mistaken belief that this will somehow make a difference. The attack on William ‘Ague had no effect, and without the despised MSM, the crusade against Huhne will go the same way.

And that isn’t the only Phonehackgate related story that Staines and Cole have missed: veteral hack Dennis Rice has also started proceedings over the hacking of voicemails, this referring to the time when Rice was at the Mail On Sunday. The suggestion is that Glenn Mulcaire was helping Screws hacks spy on the MoS, and pinch stories from them.

So this may be more significant that the Prescott action, because thus far, many of those scrabbling about on the dunghill that is Grubstreet have been staying loyal to the iron rule that “dog doesn’t eat dog”: the Fourth Estate does not attack its own, certainly not in public. If the Screws has been spying on the competition in order to gain an advantage, all bets concerning that rule are off.

Staines and Cole have figured out – at long last – that Phonehackgate has the potential to rumble on for some time, and involve a lot of slebs, money and column inches. But they’ve only figured out one of the three recent revelations, and for a blog that claims to be in front of the field, that’s not good enough.

So no change there, then.

Am I Breaking A Superinjunction?

The idea that getting your lawyers to stop anyone talking about a past affair with Imogen Thomas, a former Miss Wales (might be a clue there, allegedly), may have seemed a good one at the time, but the whole business is getting silly. Anyone who wants to know the identity of the Premiership footballer concerned can find out, merely by doing a Google search and looking for auto-complete suggestions.

Actually, “suggestions” has a double G in it, which might be a little too close to revelation. Earlier today, Christian Wolmar joined in the fun by asking if he was breaking the injunction by saying “that the footballer’s first name is an airline, and the second rhymes with a common farm animal”, to which the obvious answer is that there isn’t a footballer called Monarch Howes.

There could be hours of allegedly harmless fun in this, especially watching all those newspapers that have eulogised over the player’s skill, achievements and longevity (is that on the pitch or elsewhere? Sorry, can’t tell you that) engaging reverse gear and denouncing him as a secretive love rat.

Maybe the injunction means that I can’t even discuss the Goon Show. Well, one particular episode of it, anyway: Six Charlies In Search Of An Author, in which several of the characters manage to wrest the typewriter from the author and begin to make the story up themselves, features a mythical author called Jim Spriggs.

Or perhaps it’s now forbidden to mention a legendary Welsh comedy series, especially the name of one of the two leads. And no derogatory reference to the Police featuring Neil from The Young Ones will be allowed, just in case anyone adds two and two and gets a result that puts them in contempt of court.

And what I definitely can’t mention is the Sunday Herald. That’s because this Scottish (and definitely not Welsh, Captain) paper allegedly put the player’s photo on yesterday’s front page with only a thin black line across the eyes. The defence being offered is that the injunction does not apply to Scotland. Perhaps. And it’s not Carlos Tevez or Craig Bellamy.

But seriously, this business shows that engaging the services of an old money sounding (allegedly) firm of legal eagles in today’s world is no more use than stopping up a dyke by putting your finger in it, not that any sexual orientation or preference should be implied by that wording, of course.

The rest of this post is now Sub Judice.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Ferrari Fails To Finish

This post, motor racing fans may be disappointed to know, is nothing to do with Scuderia Ferrari of Maranello, but refers instead to LBC’s so-called “terrier”, morning show host Nick Ferrari, whose cheerleading in the case of South West Trains (SWT) and sacked ticket clerk Ian Faletto had previously slipped under my radar.

Ferrari has clearly made his mind up about the affair, his view expressed in his Sunday Express column on May 15. Here, he lays into SWT’s “hideous apparatchiks”, who “would rather have a train career into a discarded shopping trolley”, an event which “could have ended in tragedy”. Just how much tragedy an approach speed of 5mph might produce is not told.

In any case, Ferrari knows he is right, as he asserts “The facts of this case couldn’t be more straightforward”. So straightforward, in fact, that Ferrari does not ask why the traction current wasn’t switched off, why no-one else has been disciplined, and what SWT may know that he doesn’t. The affair has also been publicised via Ferrari’s LBC show, and on their website.

And the case was still being run by Ferrari into last week, as his blog entries for May 16, 17 and 18 show. After all, he has already concluded that “Our descent into the nightmarish world of health and safety is now total”, and that “A man who in effect spies on a colleague is rewarded by seeing him get the sack”. Why the CCTV footage from Lymington Pier station was inspected, as with anything else about the case, is not something that detains Ferrari.

But he may be spared the ignominy of being made to look a fool: Ferrari is taking a break from his LBC Breakfast Show next week. Into the great man’s shoes, for one week only, steps Iain Dale, who may have checked out the story a little more thoroughly, but then again, he may not.

There is potential yet for LBC to come out of this affair with its reputation even more tarnished than the Mail, Telegraph, and all the others who called the score before stopping to think. Much may depend on whether Iain Dale looks before he leaps.

Comment Is Still Free – But ...

Commenting on any post I’ve loaded to Zelo Street is still freely allowed: there is no check or moderation in place. That brings benefits for both administrator and commenter, so comments appear as they are made, and there is no need for me to spend additional time on them.

Sadly, there has been occasional posting of abusive comments. It’s not about disagreement: that’s part of any debate. Posting comments that go beyond disagreement are what is not acceptable, not merely to me, but to anyone looking in as well.

For now, the open comments policy will continue. I don’t want to introduce moderation, but with more visits being made to the blog, and comment numbers rising accordingly, that appears an inevitability.

But comment is still free right now.

Petty ... Mail Feels Petty

The part of the Fourth Estate that leans to the right generally enjoys kicking the BBC. That much is not surprising. But the level of sheer pettiness exhibited by the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre today is crass, even alongside the usual whingeing.

Because the latest Mail wheeze is to carp about the title sequence of long running soap EastEnders. One of Dacre’s dubiously talented hacks – the name Chris Hastings appears on the by-line – has figured out that the titles, which show London’s East End from the air, have not been changed to reflect the still unfinished site for next year’s Olympic Games.

Not only that, but three local MPs have also grumbled about the omission, although careful examination of their comments does not match the tone of the article, which is pushing the assertion that the Beeb has “snubbed” the Olympics. After all, Hastings tells us, the Millennium Dome was put on the EastEnders map.

But, so what? The Olympic site is still unfinished, and rehashing the titles for the soap would come with a non-trivial price tag. Had the BBC gone down that road, the Dacre hackery would then be berating the Beeb about wasting licence payers’ money.

It’s another example of the Mail wanting to have it both ways: they kick the BBC if it does what they demand, and do the same if it doesn’t. This pointless carping only underscores Paul Dacre’s obsession with the Beeb, and fails to move his cause forward. At all.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

A Sad Story From Lymington – Update 2

The campaign by supporters of sacked South West Trains (SWT) ticket clerk Ian Faletto to get him reinstated continues, with a delegation set to travel hopefully next week to London, carrying a 6,000 strong petition. However, SWT have now come out fighting – well, inasmuch as employee confidentiality allows – and the national press remains silent on the matter.

The delegation visiting SWT headquarters at Friars Bridge Court, on Blackfriars Road south of the river, will be headed by MP Desmond Swayne, and the ever optimistic Rev. Alex Russell. And they might as well not bother: Swayne has already met with SWT boss Andrew Pitt and been told the matter had been dealt with “fairly and properly”.

Moreover, the idea that information about the meetings where Faletto was initially dismissed, and then lost his appeal against dismissal, had been withheld has also been quashed: as I’ve been informed, Faletto would have had an RMT representative with him at both meetings, and it’s normal procedure for minutes of those meetings to go to all concerned.

Why the Mail and Telegraph, which were so ready to castigate SWT only a week ago, have gone quiet is something I looked at the other day. It may also be due to a sober and practical reading of SWT’s statements now in the public domain, which contain an easy to decipher coded message aimed rather obviously at the press.

SWT have said that “the facts are fundamentally different from the seriously inaccurate picture painted to date”, which in plain English is telling the Fourth Estate that it has been printing a pile of total crap. Moreover, the impression is given that when the full story is revealed, anyone persisting with last week’s line is going to end up looking very foolish.

The company then says “we are ready to ensure the full facts are made public at an employment tribunal”, which is aimed at Ian Faletto himself, reminding him that at such a hearing, they would have no compunction in putting everything that is at present covered by employee confidentiality agreements into the public domain.

And in case the Mail and Telegraph are looking to kick SWT again, they also say “It would be entirely wrong to be influenced by external parties or other factors”, which means that the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre can rant as much as they want, but will be wasting their time.

The Fourth Estate has been given a simple choice: lose your credibility, or throw your hero under the bus.

Express In Drive-By Euro Shooting

Job losses are agreed by most of the Fourth Estate to be A Bad Thing. So when steel maker Tata (formerly Corus) announced a total of 1500 job cuts this week – 1200 at Scunthorpe, and 300 on Teesside – the reportage was suitably downbeat, except at the Express, where it was taken as a cue for more EU bashing.

EU Push For Green Energy Costs Another 1,500 Jobs” screamed the headline in today’s paper, the Express characteristically getting the story out a day after the Daily Mail and Guardian. There could be no doubt where the Desmond press laid the blame for the job losses: “climate change legislation required by Brussels”.

But not even the anti-EU Daily Mail goes with that (although it can’t resist reminding us that Tata is “Indian”), quoting one manager as saying “we will be taking out of production some highly energy-intensive plant that is pretty much obsolete in today’s steelmaking world”. Moreover, demand for the finished product isn’t there: “Some of our key markets are not forecast to fully recover ... for a number of years”.

True, all three papers quote the CEO of Tata Steel in Europe as saying “EU carbon legislation threatens to impose huge additional costs on the steel industry”, but this refers to potential future costs, not today’s market conditions. In any case, the Express gives the game away by fielding a UKIP MEP to dispense an industrial sized portion of pejorative anti-EU language.

Civitas HQ ... looks familiar

But then a more subtle tone enters: the Express now quotes an “Independent report” in support of its line. This report, actually more than a year old, comes from a body called Civitas, which certainly claims to be independent. But a cursory inspection of their background does not take long to show otherwise.

Civitas is headed by David G Green, formerly of the IEA, not known for its softy leftism. Editorial Director Robert Whelan is also ex-IEA. The trustees include Kenneth Minogue of Bruges Group fame, and its Academic Advisory Council includes Tim Congdon, UKIP follower and chair of the Freedom Association.

Even the Maily Telegraph concedes that Civitas is “right of centre”. And the group manages to share an address with the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance: both are based at 55 Tufton Street, SW1.

Trying to pass off another right wing lobby group as “independent” and failing miserably? That’ll be another Benchmark of Excellence.