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Friday, 27 May 2016

Tory Expenses - Battle Bus Claim Fails

Time and again, Tory MPs and their cheerleaders in the press have sung one refrain when it comes to the question of the Battle Bus expenses. When challenged as to why the cost has not been declared locally, the reply is inevitably that this is a nationally organised campaign, it was a function of CCHQ, and therefore it forms part of national spending. As a result, no candidate need declare it on their expense return.
As a result, many of those who proved victorious in many marginal constituencies managed to stay within their spending limits. There was only one problem with this approach - the buses brought activists who campaigned and canvassed in those constituencies. They were therefore part of the local campaign. So they should, at least in part, be billed to the local campaign. But then many of those MPs would be in trouble.

That is because going over the spending limit is against the law. But then, so is non-disclosure of expenditure. Still, the line has been adhered to, and with everyone singing from the same hymn-sheet, it would be easier to convince both the Electoral Commission - and the press, most of whom don’t want to rock the boat and risk destabilising the same Government that most of them were effectively campaigning for.

However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, the Tories have not always held the view that Battle Bus spending is a national expense. While much of the attention on their  expense returns has focused on the “short campaign”, that last few weeks before the General Election, analysis of the “long campaign” that preceded it bears close inspection - and provides damning evidence to bust the “national expense” claim.
Two constituencies in Wales were visited by the Road Trip 2015 campaign early in 2015, these being Brecon and Radnor, and Gower. The latter had returned a Labour MP at every General Election since 1910, but Tory AM Byron Davies was hoping to pull off an upset. Thanks to the Mirror’sPeoples Electoral Commission”, his expense return for both short and long campaigns is available online.

The two pages of the return to look out for are those numbered 33 and 38. The first of these breaks down the “Categories of spending”. Unlike all those other constituencies visited by Road Trip 2015 (Brighton Kemptown and Yeovil, for instance) that had a NIL entry for “Transport”, that for Gower shows an amount of £500. Now scroll down to page 38, and it can be seen what that cost refers to.
There is just one item, supplied by “Welsh Conservatives”, for a “Notional” sum of £500, and it is described clearly as “Road Trip 2015. Exactly as this blog has been saying - some part of the cost has to be declared as local spending. Byron Davies has done just that. Anyone might think that this point of principle got lost as push came to shove to make sure that “short campaign” spending stayed within limits.

That’s the Tories’ “National expense” defence well and truly busted.

Guido Fawked - Don’t Drink And Tweet

New technology can prove baffling to some people. It can also prove highly embarrassing  to others. And into the second category have come the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, who have embraced every avenue opened to them by that new technology, only for it to come back at them and bite them somewhere extremely tender indeed.
Photo included merely for guidance, you understand

Yesterday evening, as befits any good servant of the Press Establishment, the Fawkes folks were generating clicks on the back of the BBC, while having no compunction in putting the boot in on the Corporation at other times. “Who Is On Question Time Tonight?” they asked, with a panel that, for once, looked as if it might provide interesting and thoughtful debate on the hot topics of the day.
After all, on the show would be often sound Tory David Davis, former Labour leader Mil The Younger, popular Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, and Young Dave’s pal Steve Hilton, who had flown in from California to tell us all to Vote Leave, before flying back to California, from where he won’t be greatly fussed what happens in next month’s referendum. Fifth panel member was to be novelist Dreda Say Mitchell.

And it was Ms Mitchell’s presence that did for The Great Guido: after she had confused Miliband with his elder brother and referred to him - twice - as “David”, Staines made his fateful move. “Double D-bomb from @DawnButlerBrent for @Ed_Miliband. Somewhere David is cackling. Clearly all these Milibands look the same to Dawn. #bbcqt” he opined, mistaking Ms Mitchell for Labour MP Dawn Butler.
OH DEAR

But all was not lost: it was late in the evening, few would have seen his Tweet, and it could easily be deleted. So it was binned, safe in the knowledge that … actually, someone was watching. Paul Waugh had a screen shot, and duly let the world know: “Guido drops a classic D-bomb of his own. Not Dawn, Dreda. #bbcqt He's deleted it, but ICYMI here's a screenshot”. That’s most enterprising of him.

It is not, however, good news for The Great Guido: Staines never likes it when his student flirtation with the racist BNP is brought up, and his sniping that someone thinks others “all look the same”, while confusing two people who happen to be black, is only going to reinforce the thought that he has a problem in this area. Certainly, tolerance of those who take an opposing view to his has never been high on Staines’ list of priorities.

Nor is his lamentable record of drink related trouble. Another fine mess, once again.

Kelvin McFilth McCann Smear Busted

Kate and Gerry McCann have had to endure more media attention in the last few years than most celebrities. Except that they are not celebrities, and have not gone after the publicity. The attention that has fallen on two ordinary people is solely because of the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine, while on holiday at the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz. And attention is not the only thing they have had to endure.
Grossly intrusive behaviour by the popular press tipped over into forthright defamation, which ended up with the Express and Daily Star titles being taken to the cleaners and forced to publish front page apologies. As Brian Cathcart pointed out in an article for the Staggers, the McCanns could have successfully taken several other titles to court. British expat Robert Murat, who was caught up in the melée, did so.

And there’s the rub: those legal actions, together with their unswerving support for campaigning group Hacked Off, have made the McCanns a target for the nasty and resentful in the tabloid media. That unpleasant side of the press has resurfaced in the Sun this week under the less than benign authorship of former editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who has decided that the McCanns’ years of torment are insufficient punishment.

So Kel span a story in his Tuesday column out of comments Sharon Osborne had made in a Mumsnet discussion. Someone speaking on behalf of the McCanns had criticised Ms Osborne. Very few people outside Mumsnet threads knew, or were interested. But the mere fact of the exchange was enough for Kel to crow “Perhaps the McCanns should have thought first about the effect [of] leaving the children alone on that fateful night”.

Then he rubbed it in, for good measure: “The reality is that because the McCanns are medical professionals, they have had a comparatively easy ride … Had Kate McCann been a single mum from Rochdale, I am sure she would have been charged in Portugal with neglect … The McCanns would be wise not to be drawn into public spats like this … it wasn’t the public that left Maddie alone”. And he’s at it again today.

“It is clear from my huge e-mailbag that it rankles with ordinary people that the McCanns have never faced censure through the courts (or anywhere else for that matter) for neglect in the same way a council estate single mum might have done”. We have to take Kel’s “huge e-mailbag” on trust, which is in itself a challenging concept, given his past.

But he knows what he’s doing: “Personally I have always been puzzled at the ongoing silence of their friends who sat around the dinner table that fateful night nine years ago. It’s as though they have taken a vow of Omertà … Perhaps they could tell how often the McCanns left the table to check on their children”. Perhaps he could leave them alone.

Kate and Gerry McCann have had to endure enough without Kelvin McFilth’s nasty campaign against them. But the vindictive side of the press never subsides: Kel and his pals are interested in only one thing - administering a good kicking to anyone who dares challenge them by suing, testifying before the Leveson Inquiry, and backing Hacked Off.

Kelvin McFilth is the lowest of the low. But sadly, he is not alone.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Tory Expenses - The US Contingent

So desperate were the Tories for boots on the ground in the run-up to the 2015 General Election that they brought in a contingent of Young Republicans - under-40s activists from the USA - to canvass in a number of seats in and around London. Not all of these ventures was successful: one constituency they visited was Enfield North, where Nick de Bois, despite the attentions of all that manpower, lost his seat.
But one place where the Young Republicans could point to a victorious campaign was in Croydon South, where Chris Philp scored a majority of over 17,000 over his nearest opponent, Labour’s Emily Benn. With that kind of victory margin, he didn’t really need the Stateside contingent. And he certainly doesn’t need the questions that are inevitably going to be asked about his expense return.

As the Guardian reported before their arrival, “The Conservatives are to draft in a deployment of Republican activists to bolster their efforts in key seats before the UK election … The Americans will arrive during a campaign in which the Conservatives lack ground troops in tight battleground seats compared with Labour, meaning they are relying on mailshots of election literature and busloads of mostly young Tory activists at weekends known as Team 2015”. But not everyone was impressed with the idea.

The expected arrival of the US activists has infuriated Labour candidates in the targeted seats, who pointed out the Republican party’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms aimed at improving care for the poorest in society”. Moreover, “The Tories were … reluctant to answer questions about the deployment, ignoring two calls and two emails to ask whether it was appropriate for Young Republicans to be campaigning for them”. They were not even UK nationals.

So who paid? That was a sensitive point: “A document detailing the programme logistics of the trip, including the estimated $2,500 (£1,675) cost, appears to have disappeared or been removed from the group’s website since the Guardian made inquiries about the purpose of the trip and how many activists would be attending”.

But if they were canvassing in any constituency, and they had been transported in from outside, one might expect the candidate’s expense return to show something. Chris Phip’s return is now online, thanks to the Mirror’s “Peoples Electoral Commission”. So what does it say about transport costs? It doesn’t: Philp’s return has a big round zero for transport costs. Zip. Zilch. Nil. Nada. Not a sausage. Bugger all.

Was any of that £1,675 per person charged to Philp’s campaign? It doesn’t look like it: the “Agent and other staff costs” item of £5,579 is likely to be used up by his election agent and the constituency office. “Accommodation and administration”, at £333, is not going to cover any overnight stays in addition to running the campaign. So any Young Republicans who fetched up in Croydon South were, it seems, not declared.

It would be an awful pity if such a comfortable victory were to be tainted by Philp being tripped up over the American invasion. Ah well, repent at leisure, and all that.

Tory Expenses - The Activist’s Tale

Meet Londoner Amir Sadjady. He’s an entrepreneur, a property developer … and he supports the Tories. Sadjady was one of many activists who took part in Team 2015 last year. He went out on the “Battle Bus”. He canvassed. He leafletted. And his record of some of the party’s actions shows why there are all those Police investigations going on right now into a number of candidates’ election expenses.
One of those now facing investigation is Yeovil’s new Tory MP Marcus Fysh, who defeated Lib Dem David Laws. As the Western Gazette pointed out, “Fysh was one of 24 Conservative candidates accused of exceeding spending limits ahead of last year's general election following the visit of a so-called battle bus to the Yeovil constituency during campaigning”. And there was more.

It is estimated that the cost of using the battle buses came to more than £2,000 per day, a figure that included wages and expenses for volunteers and promotion costs. This was based on an estimated cost of £400 for hiring the bus plus the £1,750 costs of a day's campaigning”. That figure might be yet higher, as thanks to Amir Sadjady, we know that the activists bussed in to the Yeovil constituency came from as far away as London.
This has been confirmed by Sadjady telling “Campaigning with the #conservatives in #yoevil #battlebus2015 @Team2015” and including a photo of Fysh with Sajid Javid, the “Battle Bus” forming the backdrop. Were there any inducements other than travel? It seems there were: the previous evening, Sadjady Tweeted “With the #conservatives #Team2015  #Battlebus2015”, apparently from a restaurant.
That, it has to be assumed, is the reward for another day’s campaigning: food and drink are present and correct. Marcus Fysh, meanwhile, has explained it all away by telling “The battle bus was a national campaign activity rightly recorded as a national expense … I don't think anyone in the Yeovil constituency would really suggest that anything was unfair in the election campaign, which saw plenty of activity on all sides”.
If they were canvassing locally, it should be on his return. His return has a big round zero against transport costs. And the amounts lavished on hospitality are most unlikely to have been absorbed into any of the other categories on that return. But what of Election Day itself? Here, Amir Sadjady was back in London, looking to get the vote out for Angie Bray in the Ealing Central and Acton constituency.
Here, Sadjady was photographed holding three personalised leaflets, which, it is hoped, were declared by Ms Bray on her expense return, given that they clearly show the names of Alexander, James and Ian. Angie Bray memorably lost, not least because of the incident where Karim Sacoor, who was helping out with her campaign, manhandled Labour’s Rupa Huq away from Boris Johnson in full view of the cameras.

So, after taking part in the “Battle Bus” campaigning that is now causing the Tories such grief, what did Amir Sadjady have to say to prospective voters? “If you vote for #labour today, then you are voting for #warcriminals and #champagne #socialists”. After all the questionable activities he had been a part of, he’s got no room to talk.

Harry Cole Hacked Off Hypocrisy

To err is human, and nowhere was this more keenly observed by many in the press recently than when someone at campaigning group Hacked Off made the mistake of claiming that website The Canary was one of the news sources to be regulated by truly independent press regulator Impress. The mistake was admitted, and the publication in which it was made will carry an addendum pointing out the error.
An unsavoury sleazebag airs his views

In other words, Hacked Off came clean, as Evan Harris made clear in a letter published in the latest issue of Private Eye magazine, where he pointes out that “Unlike some, we have not sought to bury a correction on Page 94 but instead have published a correction prominently on our website”. This, though, was not good enough for the Sun’s alleged “Westminster Correspondent” Master Harry Cole.

Gosh. Press ‘ethics’ group Hacked Off caught red handed making up a quote in their magazine. Completely fabricated” he observed yesterday morning, instantly generating ridicule on Twitter, and for rather obvious reasons. Master Cole does not do accidental errors of judgment, and nor does he apologise after being caught. For him, lying is as natural as drawing breath, and getting away with it the ultimate promise.
Indeed, one can compare and contrast easily: Harris’ reaction to discovering an error had been made by Hacked Off, put alongside Cole’s behaviour after being caught. Last September, Cole was responsible for a front page Sun splash titled “COURT JEZTER” (geddit?!?), which claimed Jeremy Corbyn’s position as Leader of the Opposition would be in jeopardy if he did not become a member of the Privy Council.

The article also claimed that Privy Council membership was necessary for the Parliamentary Labour Party to access more than £6 million of what is known as “Short money”. Neither claim had even the most fleeting relationship with the truth: Cole’s article was a pack of lies from start to finish. But unlike Hacked Off, neither he, nor the Sun, were prepared to come clean, even after IPSO received a barrage of complaints.
Master Cole has still not uttered a word of apology. But IPSO bowed to the inevitable, and the Sun was forced to indicate a correction from its front page, although this was buried at the bottom left of the page. The judgment made for lamentable reading: “The newspaper had not offered a correction promptly and therefore had failed to comply with its obligations under Clause 1 (ii). The Committee required the publication of an adjudication”. Do go on.

The misleading information identified was repeated throughout the article, and appeared as the lead story on the newspaper’s front page. It was significantly misleading, formed the principal basis for the personal criticism of Mr Corbyn set out in the article, and resulted from a significant failure to take care not publish misleading information, given that the factors that formally affect the allocation of Short money were known to the newspaper”.

In other words, Cole and his pals knew it was a pack of lies, but ran it anyway, then refused to budge when they were rumbled. And this amateur human being now wants to sit in judgment on Hacked Off. Er, no.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Heat Street Google Search Fail

[Update at end of post]

That Murdoch-bankrolled website Heat Street is not only less credible than the Drudge Report, Guido Fawkes and even Breitbart, it is also, in its projection of (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch’s prejudices, terminally inept when it comes to doing something so basic as interpreting a Google search (Ms Mensch was famously ridiculed after misunderstanding Google search auto-complete). We know this thanks to an article titled “Race Riot School Claims scrubbed from Google”.
Market Hall, Crewe. And no race riots

Heat Street earlier this month reported on a playground fight at a school in north west England - that had happened back in February! Why the delay? Once again, this is down to the obsession of Ms Mensch: the school concerned, the Sir William Stanier Community School, is in Crewe - the same Crewe where Zelo Street is based.

Here was a chance for Ms Mensch to tell the world that the home of Zelo Street was a lawless place, a hotbed of racial tension and unrest at all those scary foreigners. It was, to no surprise, bullshit, and not even well-crafted bullshit. Six students were excluded from school, and the rest was the stuff of ignorance and rumour. We know this as the Police attended after the fight, and their record matches that of the school.

All mainstream local politicians, including MP Edward Timpson - from the same party that Ms Mensch once represented - have worked with the Police, the school, and the communities involved to tackle any concerns. As befits a good Heat Street story, the only one shooting his mouth off is Brian Silvester, who jumped from the Tory Party before they kicked him out after he was convicted over his fire trap bedsits. Silvester is now in UKIP, who clearly aren’t fussed about their representatives’ criminal records.

So there was no story, but for Heat Street, if you don’t succeed, well, wait a week and then suck some more seed. Now, readers are toldA school which was the scene of an alleged race riot is having its Google search results manipulated, apparently to banish unflattering accounts of the incident … Further investigation into the aftermath of the brawl has shown that the EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’ laws to manipulate its search results”.

That doesn’t make sense, which is not good for a website headed by someone who read English Language and Literature at Oxford. Moreover, telling readers “searching its name within the EU brings up a warning that results have been changed under the ruling” shows a staggering level of ignorance. Many EU based Google searches carry that warning.

When it is discovered that “Comparing search results from the UK, an EU member, with those from the US shows there is indeed a difference”, that does not mean any results have been “scrubbed”. It just means the sets of results are different. But how about one last try for credibility? “Nonetheless, the school, which has already proved itself willing to go to extreme lengths to guard its reputation, has much to gain from changing how it appears to the outside world”. Yeah, right.

They hired a solicitor and a PR to deal with the press and any legal hassle. Hello Heat Street droids! That is not exceptional. And Crewe is still not a lawless hotbed of racial tension. As if a resident of New York City has room to call anyone else out on that.

[UPDATE 1630 hours: just to show the level of ineptitude in operation here, a Tweet advertising the Heat Street article from Louise Mensch herself is included.
In it, she claims "Race Riot School Claims Scrubbed from Google, including 'Slovenians forced English kids to submit'".

There were no claims including the term "Slovenians". There are, as far as is known, few if any Slovenian citizens in Crewe. The word Ms Mensch may have been searching for is "Slovakians".

The defence rests. No further questions, m'Lud]

Tory Expenses - The Letter Bombs

With the launch of the Mirror’sPeople’s Electoral Commission”, we can now see exactly how much all of those 330 Tory MPs elected to Parliament last year declared as their election expenses. Then we can compare the declared spending to some of the actions that took place in the real world - like the activist battle buses with inducements of free food and drink - along with large amounts of personalised mailings.
Those personal letters were rather numerous in the marginal seats the Tories needed to win in order to secure their majority. Typical of these is a personal appeal from David Cameron himself, on a letterhead titled “Rt Hon David Cameron, Prime Minister”, which was sent to swing voters in Hove, and probably many other constituencies. The first page of the letter looks innocuous enough, and the only personalisation is the address.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, all that changes on the second page, as the prospective voter is told “you have the power to stop Ed Miliband and the SNP. You can do it by voting Conservative in HoveHove is one of the handful of marginal seats that will decide who governs Britain. If the Conservatives hold places like Hove, we will only need to win 23 more seats to form a majority Government and keep Ed Miliband the the SNP out of Downing Street … So how you vote on Thursday here in Hove will determine who governs Britain for the next five years”.
Here in Hove” is the key phrase: this should have been declared as part of the local campaign, and all the postages should be there on candidate Graham Cox’s Short Campaign return (the letter was dated May 1st). But his figure for “Unsolicited Material”, at £7,810, suggests it was not (this would also include his “election addresses”, posters, cards, and other material, including postages).
The extensively personalised letters got yet more sophisticated, as one voter in the Bury North constituency discovered: the example sent out on behalf of David Nuttall - who won - is typical of hundreds, if not thousands, sent to addresses across the area. All of these were sent by post. All of them should have been declared as part of local spending. Yet Nuttall’s spending return shows a total postage cost of just £89.20.
Who picked up the tab for posting all those “Personal messages” from David Nuttall? Whether they were posted locally, or in London, that was a local campaigning item. Just as the Hove letter identified only that constituency, the Bury North one identified only one candidate, and even the target voter. That is why these letters are so damning.

To those can be added the visits from those Team 2015 battle buses, with their up-front promises of meals and bar tabs, and even some subsidised accommodation (Graham Cox in Hove appears to have additionally had visits from a number of SpAds, which would have potentially been in breach of their code of conduct).

So that’s more breaking of the rules. And there is more to come. Stay tuned, folks.

Telegraph - It’s Asset Stripping

Nothing exemplifies the shocking decline at the Telegraph titles more clearly than this week’s events: on the one hand, the paper had a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, which was estimated to have cost around half a million pounds, while rather more than that has been slashed from the annual salary bill by the abrupt sacking of ten experienced journalists - with no obvious replacement in sight.
So desperate is CEO Murdoch MacLennan to keep the profits rolling in that he has already rolled over in the face of advertiser displeasure - revenue from this source has fallen across print media by around 20% over the past year - and now staff cuts are being implemented in order to keep wringing money from an asset base that is doing very little more than trading on a fast-disappearing past reputation.

And all the time the rumours swirl regarding the future ownership of the titles, with David and Frederick Barclay, aka The Fabulous Bingo Brothers, apparently ready to sell, providing the price is right. The problem is that the value of the Telegraph brand is falling rapidly as fewer and fewer journalists are worked harder in order to produce more copy, with the quality of the end product falling steadily as a result.

The desperation with which the cost axe is being wielded is clear when the PR spin put out by the Tel is decoded: after telling that the staff canteen was being closed, MacLennan said “Our office is never full and even on a very busy day a large number of desks are unused … With changes in the way we work, and hot-desking for some of those who need to be in the office, we will be able to reduce the size of our footprint”.
More cost-cutting is the reality of that one, as is the idea that the paper will “help startup businesses in the digital space … Some of these exciting new ventures will work alongside us … allowing their expertise and creativity to mix with our experience and own talent for innovative content creation”. More click-bait and cheap copy. And the talk of “flexible working” means one thing: more zero hours contracts and freelancers.

That wielding of the axe has meanta round of targeted cuts of senior newsroom staff, including the deputy editor, Liz Hunt … feature writer Harry Wallop, head of arts Andrew Pettie, foreign chiefs Richard Spencer and Colin Freeman and Asia editor Philip Sherwell [plus] less senior staff … including Rhiannon Williams, consumer technology writer and reviewer, and a number of support staff including on the picture desk and secretaries”.

So it is that the Telegraph titles are following the path already travelled by the Express and Daily Star under the less than benign ownership of Richard “Dirty” Desmond: rounds of sackings, reliance on cheaper and often poorly-paid freelancers, recycling stories from broadcasters, other papers, or even blogs, with a backdrop of falling advertising revenue and sales, and with no outcome in sight other than ultimate oblivion.

The recent sighting of Rupert Murdoch in the Tel’s newsroom should also not be taken as any sign of hope: all he would want the titles for would be the readership. The papers would soon be closed amid more sackings. That is the reality when the perfect storm of offshore ownership, declining revenues and corporate greed hits. The end.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Breitbart Austria Paranoia

Observers of mainland European politics were given a fright at the weekend, as Austria’s Presidential election looked as if it might be won by the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer. The Freedom Party is regarded as well to the right, and had Hofer won, it would have been  a significant step in the march of the populist right. He had led right up to the counting of postal ballots. And then his lead evaporated.
"Gay Marriage" ... "Global Warming" ... "Eco Crucifixes" ... "Red Meat Conservatism" ... "Batshit Conspiracy Theories" ... "Tinfoil Helmets" ... "Frothing At The Mouth" ... "Enforced Sedation"

Hofer lost to Alexander van der Bellen, nominally an Independent candidate, but a former leader of the Greens in Austria, by just 50.2% to 49.8%. How far to the right was Hofer? Well, the BBC has reported thatMr Hofer had been photographed sporting the German colours of the nationalist Marko-Germania student fraternity, which stands for ‘the German cultural community’ and bears the slogan ‘Honour, Freedom, Fatherland’ … At his swearing-in as Freedom Party candidate, Mr Hofer wore a cornflower in his lapel, which was a Nazi symbol in the 1930s”. That far to the right.

So when the final result was declared, there was a general feeling of relief among most commentators, but at the batshit collective otherwise known as Breitbart London, there was only dismay. This, after all, is the group blog that has unequivocally backed Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and UKIP in the UK, and Donald Trump in the USA.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth was led by James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, who told anyone prepared to listen that “The Austrian presidential election result has been a triumph for the cause of extremism in Europe”. Wait, what? He means it: “We were continually assured by the left-liberal media how awful it would be if the (supposed) ‘far-right’ candidate Norbert Hofer won … But actually the victory of Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen - on, likely, a rigged ballot - is far, far worse”.

Would Sir care to justify that claim? Del Boy goes further, and adds an Islamophobic smear: “postal votes as we know - especially from the experience of Muslim-dominated constituencies in the UK - are prone to rampant fraud”. And how did that fraud manifest itself in Austria? “In some areas there was a remarkable 146.9 percent voter turnout”.

Sadly, Delingpole’s source is the Kronen Zeitung, a populist paper which has a track record of dodgy claims. And it was one area, where there had been an error recording vote percentages (Kronen Zeitung supported Kurt Waldheim in his bid for the Austrian Presidency. Waldheim’s past as an officer in the Wehrmacht was revealed in the 1980s).

But Delingpole isn’t interested in such trifles - he knows what it all means: “This stinks of a stitch up by the bien-pensant elite in unholy alliance with the immigrant bloc vote. As with the EU, so it is increasingly in national elections: the social democratic ruling class refuses to listen to the people … This cannot end happily. Indeed, it was under similar circumstances in the 1930s that another Austrian-born citizen, considerably more ‘far-right’ than Norbert Hofer, began his rise to power”. Twitchy right arm time, folks.

And then he goes totally gaga: “Voting Green today is the equivalent of voting for the Communists in the 1950s or the Nazis and Fascists in the 1930s”. Yes, just because Del Boy isn’t paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not coming to get him. Wibble.

Guido Fawked - Tory Expenses U-Turn

One participant in the debate over whether the Tories broke the rules on spending during last year’s General Election campaign has quietly, but firmly, stopped going after The Blue Team and intend has U-Turned and gone after any and every other party in an effort to play “Look over there”. Who might be the about turn specialist? Step forward the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog.
Just three months ago, in a post headedCrick Reveals More Tory Expense Fiddles”, they told “Channel 4 News last night exposed more allegations about Tory overspending in South Thanet. Michael Crick’s investigation revealed … More hotels booked that were not declared … CCHQ Campaign Specialist Marion Little personally booked hotel rooms in her name, registered to her”. Last month the Fawkes folks were still on the Tories’ case.

Flagging up Channel 4 News’ exposé, they concludedIf the Conservatives are found to have paid the hotel bills for Battlebus campaigners on locally focussed campaigns, then not declaring the accommodation could constitute a criminal offence”. And earlier this month they reckonedThe Electoral Commission is taking the Tories to the High Court to force them to disclose documents pertaining to the electoral expenses scandal”.

But the very next day the tone changed: now the Tories were’t so bad after all. “The good news for the Tories is this shows they did see battle buses as part of the national campaign all along, and demonstrates they were taking steps to abide by spending laws” was now the line. Fast forward three more days and the U-Turn was complete.

Now it was all the other parties’ problem, and mainly Labour. First off wasLabour Battle Bus Not Declared In Local Spending” and later the same day cameTwo More Labour Candidates Didn’t Declare Election Buses”. The following day it was the Lib Dems allegedly at fault (in a constituency where the Tories’ spending is under scrutiny), and another go at Labour with “Another Labour MP Failed To Declare Campaign Battle Bus”.

Next day came an attack on Harriet Harman: “13 Labour MPs Didn’t Declare Hattie’s Pink Bus”. Then, those complaining about the Tories’ expenses came under fire, first former Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders, and then the SNP, who had complained to the Met, were accused of not properly declaring the helicopter that carried party leader Nicola Sturgeon around Scotland. It was no longer about the Tories, but anyone else they could find.
Meanwhile, the smear was extended to the same Channel 4 News journalist the Fawkes rabble had previously been championing, as a lumbering Staines waddled up to Michael Crick in Smith Square and told him he should be looking at the other lot, because they were up to no good as well. The others were all frauds. Not the Tories.

Why the screeching U-Turn? Simples. As my good friend Peter Jukes put it recently, “Guido has become a wholly disownable branch of CCHQ”. The Tories need the Fawkes rabble to rally to the cause, if only by slagging off everyone else. Another fine mess.

Daniel Hannan - Pants On Fire

After Penny Mordaunt’s excursion across the dishonesty line on The Andy Marr Show (tm) on Sunday, one might have thought that those advocating for Britain to leave the EU would now stop and think before trying to pull another blatant whopper. But that thought would have been misplaced, especially as the Outers’ numbers includ MEP and occasional Tory Dan, Dan The Oratory Man, and his fleeting relationship with reality.
How much am I bid for this whopper? It's with you Mr Farage

Hannan has clearly been vexed by all those Remain advocates telling voters that countries like Norway and Switzerland have to implement significant parts of EU laws and other legislative instruments. So during yesterday’s edition of Newsnight he took to Twitter to redress the balance, asserting “Peter Sutherland just claimed that Norway and Switzerland adopt "all EU laws". Norway adopts 9 per cent, Switzerland 0 per cent”.

Given that both Norway and Switzerland have access to the EU Single Market, that’s a most interesting claim, especially the part about the latter country. Was he right, or was this another example of Hannan talking well, but lying badly? As if you need to guess. Fortunately, the question of how much EU law is adopted by both countries has been comprehensively fact checked by Full Fact, so we know the answer.

The Norwegian campaign against EU membership came up with the 9% figure, but this appears to be the percentage of the country’s laws that come from the EU, not the percentage of EU law. And it was the latter that Hannan was referencing.
Full Fact noted that a figure of 75% of all EU law had been pitched, and this would make sense: Norway does not play any part in the Common Agricultural Policy or Common Fisheries Policy, which together make up a significant part of EU legislation, but adopts pretty much everything else. Other estimates are that the country adopts 70% of all EU directives, and 28% of laws. Either way, Hannan’s 9% figure is bust.

So what about Switzerland? As Full Fact observes, that country does not enjoy the same level of access to the Single Market as Norway, and so it adopts a lower percentage of laws and directives. But the quid pro quo of any access to the Single Market is that some EU laws and directives have to be adopted, so every country with that access plays by the same rules. So the figure is a lot higher than 0%.

Full Fact concludes that “the EU has a great deal of influence over what Norway does”, and that, although Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is rather different, the latter has “also got a trading relationship through the European Free Trade Association, without being part of the European Economic Area … This also involves taking on EU laws”. Membership of EFTA is often cited approvingly by Hannan.

But that, too, means adopting some EU laws. So not only is his 0% figure for Switzerland bust, the idea that leaving the EU would mean no longer having to adopt EU laws and directives is, too. So that’s a burning trouser alert - fire extinguisher for Mr Hannan!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Top Gear - Murdoch Wants It Pulled

While filming for the first series of BBC motoring show Top Gear with its new line-up has been progressing, with the Guardian reporting thatThe first episode … was filmed on Thursday and the format has been tweaked by the producers to give it a livelier feel with a hint of the atmosphere of Evans’ Channel 4 show TFI Friday, while Evans and co-star Matt LeBlanc compete to tell the best jokes”, the knocking copy keeps on coming.
The campaign against the programme, focused almost totally on spreading a variety of unpleasant smears and rumours about Evans, has been spearheaded by the Murdoch empire, with the role of shock troops taken by Heat Street, the website headed by (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch, and which is effectively an extension of her prejudices. Papers like the Sun then follow up the alleged “news”.

Until this week, there had not been any inkling of the ultimate objective of the attacks, although, as Zelo Street has pointed out, it was clear that the Murdoch doggies were hell-bent on vengeance for the BBC’s sacking of their man Jeremy Clarkson following an act of gross misconduct. But now Heat Street and Ms Mensch have let slip that their goal is to see the Beeb pull the plug on the show, something they hope to achieve this week.

First has come a Heat Street piece tellingThe BBC has come under further pressure today to reveal how it has dealt with allegations of misconduct involving Top Gear presenter Chris Evans … For the second time in 10 days, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen has sent a letter to BBC chief Lord Hall asking him to explain whether claims that Evans bullied two female BBC employees at Top Gear and Radio 2 are true”.
OH WHAT A GIVEAWAY

Bridgen is a known rent-a-quote for the right-leaning. And he’s shown this newest branch of the Cosa Rupra his letter beforehand. “In the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Heat Street, Bridgen writes: ‘I trust that in view of your zero-tolerance approach to bullying, you can provide me with a full breakdown of how the BBC has examined these claims and what, if anything, it has done about them’”.

And what is Bridgen going to do about it? “I need to know this because I am intending to raise in the House of Commons shortly the matters I mentioned to you regarding Chris Evans and the BBC’s response to the various allegations about him. For the sake of completeness this should include your own explanation as BBC editor-in-chief”. Then there is an admission that this is a last desperate push before the new series starts.

The post conceded “The new series of Top Gear, presented by Evans and Matt LeBlanc, is due to start on Sunday on BBC2 and on BBC America on May 30”, before Ms Mensch Tweeted in anticipation#ChrisEvans bullying claims reach Parliament - EXCLUSIVE will BBC have to cancel #TopGear?” It was, as I’ve said previously, always about trying to get the new series of Top Gear pulled before the TV audience saw it.

Once it’s broadcast, if the show is half decent, they’ll forget all about Jezza. My thanks to Louise Mensch for confirming that I was right all along.

Simon Danczuk Selena Slip

As rumour continues to swirl over the future of nominally Labour MP Simon Danczuk, The Great Man has clearly decided to ignore the speculation and concentrate on what he does best - opening his mouth and then putting his foot in it. He has accomplished his latest example of this less than totally stylish behaviour by once again pretending to be hip and knowledgeable, rather than boring and middle-aged.
As seasoned Danczuk watchers will know, previous attempts to appear Down With The Kidz have not gone well: when the story of his “sexting” exchanges with a then 17-year-old girl were revealed, he had told Sophena Houlihan that he was aBig fan of the Article Monkeys - I’d forgotten about them”. He’d forgotten so much about the Arctic Monkeys that he no longer knew what they were called.

After that episode - which also involved his then girlfriend Claire Hamilton dumping him - it might have been thought that Danczuk would desist from any further pretence of being hip and with it. But that thought would have been misplaced, as yesterday he revealed a new liking for the now and happening. The only problem is that not only is he still having problems spelling the artiste’s name, but that also, er, you’ll see.

And so it came to pass that Si told the world “I can't stop listening to this Selena Gormez album, really is very good”. “Gormez”? Who is this “Selena Gormez”? Oh right, he means Selena Gomez, who, at just 23 years old, seems a bit young, even for him. But that was not the whole foot-in-mouth story. A little research showed why it was most unwise of Danczuk to show his admiration for Ms Gomez’ new album.
Research like checking out her latest single release, which is titled “Hands To Myself”. What might this song be about? Fortunately, the lyrics are readily available online, so we can see exactly what the song is on about. Here’s a sample.

Can't keep my hands to myself
No matter how hard I'm trying to

Is this a line taken out of context? Let’s check out some more of those lyrics.

And I'm trying, I'm trying, I'm trying, I'm trying, but I
Can't keep my hands to myself

Maybe not out of context at all. And, as the man said, there’s more.

Can't keep my hands to myself
I mean I could, but why would I want to?

Er, because the result could be anything from a slap across the face to being charged with a range of sex crimes? “Spanker Si” really should have thought twice before telling the world how much he adored “Selena Gormez”.

Strangely, there has been little surprise at this revelation in and around Rochdale. I’ll just leave that one there.

Murdoch Poodle EU Desperation

After a dismal weekend for the Out campaign, with Penny Mordaunt reduced to lying on The Andy Marr Show (tm), and Bozza saying Turkey should never be let in to the EU, only for footage to emerge where he says it should never be kept out, the mood in the Europhobic press is turning desperate, as the realisation hits home that the voters are not inclined to follow the instructions and leap off into the unknown.
Why did Kavanagh cross the road? To secure More And Bigger Paycheques For Himself Personally Now

So it was no surprise to see the Murdoch mafiosi send for faithful retainer Trevor Kavanagh today. In doing so, they not only get a slice of mainly dishonest knocking copy, and the fulfilment of Don Rupioni’s instructions to the letter, but also an excellent illustration of why any press regulator with Kavanagh sitting on its board - like IPSO - is most unlikely to be fit for purpose.

Kav starts as he means to go on, warning “Three key reasons why we MUST all vote Out on June 23 … We only have four weeks left to avoid making a Titanic mistake for the future of the UK” before frightening readers with “ON June 23, if the polls are right, a jubilant David Cameron will lock Britain permanently aboard a European Titanic just as it steams into the iceberg”. Then he accuses the other lot of, er, frightening the readers.

So what are his three reasons? Let’s take them one at a time. First comes the old chestnut “The EU is unaccountable, unelected and undemocratic. It treats its citizens with contempt”. The final decision on laws, regulations and the rest is taken by the European Parliament. It is accountable, because it’s an elected democracy. As its MEPs are accountable to their electorates, it cannot just treat them with contempt.

Not a good start. What’s second on the Kavanagh menu? “Its dithering leaders are useless at moments of real crisis such as the Balkans conflict and mass immigration”. The EU now has to be a military force and intervene in wars? But the Murdoch press is opposed to anything like that. And what is this “mass immigration”? Does he mean refugees? If he does, why not say refugees? Or is this just dog-whistling (yes it is)?

What, then, is Kav’s third “key reason”? You’ll love this one. “The euro - its single most celebrated creation - is on the brink of catastrophic meltdown”. Hello Trevor! We’re talking about Britain’s membership of the EU, and there you are wibbling about the Euro, when we’re not part of the Eurozone. And no, it isn’t “on the brink of catastrophic meltdown”.

But do go on. “In or Out, these facts will not change”. They aren’t facts. They’re the prejudices of Rupert Murdoch as channelled by someone who has made a career out of lying to order. Or are we expected to have forgotten Kavanagh’s Hillsborough contribution?

Have a last throw of the dice. “As for immigration, we will abandon control of our borders and the right to say who stays”. No we won’t. We have control of our borders, as anyone who has had to cross one recently will know, and can refuse entry to anyone - whether they are an EU national or not. In any case, that’s not the real reason for Kav’s rant.

No, that real reason came from Murdoch himself. When asked once why he was so opposed to the EU, he replied “That’s easy. When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice”. That’s why the Sun wants you to vote to leave - it’s about the selfishness of a foreigner who doesn’t have the vote.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sunday Times Chilcot Questions

After it was revealed that the much-delayed and long-awaited report from the Iraq Inquiry, otherwise known as the Chilcot Report, would be published soon after next month’s EU referendum, the hunt has been on within the Fourth Estate to get a clue as to what will be revealed by its publication so long after the events into which it was inquiring. Today, the Murdoch Sunday Times claimed to have the inside track.
And there it was on the front page, under the by-line of political editor Tim Shipman: “Chilcot will savage Blair and generals … ‘Brutal’ verdict on MI6 chief and Jack Straw”. This, by the most fortunate of coincidences, is all that Don Rupioni could wish: Blair, with whom he has fallen out, getting it in the neck, along with reliably slippery Straw, and the collateral damage including people who are not the press who wanted the war.

In other words, it is all too neat and uncomplicated. And one read through of Shipman’s article throws up rather more questions than answers. So let’s look at some of those questions, and see how the piece measured up against them.

Some of it is nothing to do with Blair and Straw’s judgment: there is alleged to be “criticism of the decision to disband the Iraqi army and the lack of a reconstruction plan”. Not a great deal that the British Government could do about that.

Some of it we knew many years ago: Chilcot will apparently “conclude that the cabinet did not ‘have the full picture’ of what was going on before the invasion”, and “the gloss given to the intelligence assessments before the war was political”. Blair will allegedly be criticised “for telling [George W] Bush a year before the war that he would support military action”.

All of Shipman’s article is highly dependent on one “senior source”, who “has discussed the report with two of its authors. That description would fit Shipman’s former colleague James Chapman, who is now Director of Communications for Young Dave’s next door neighbour George Osborne, and who is suspected to be the source for several of Shipman’s recent stories. If he’s the source of this, it should be admitted.

Too much of the article is quotations, presumably from Shipman’s “senior source. Line them up: “damage to their reputations”, “absolutely brutal", “won’t be let off the hook”, “embarrassing”, “not plugged in”, “bounced along behind the Americans” - along with two major paragraphs in the middle of the piece. So we’re depending on an interpretation of an interpretation, or, as it is usually known, a Delingpole. And, to paraphrase Dubya Bush, you can’t take that to the bank.

We hear from “A former minister with knowledge of the panel’s deliberations. But we are not told whether this former minister had any involvement, or even if they were in the Labour Party. Hell, it could be Liam Fox, and that would be an instant cred-down-the-pan moment.

Shipman’s article is headline grabbing and looks convincing on the surface. But it falls apart under a little probing. And that’s not good enough - must try harder.

Penny Mordaunt - Pants On Fire

The arguments for and against Britain’s continued membership of the EU are - sadly yet predictably - becoming louder and more strident as referendum day approaches. And in the heat of debate, it was only a matter of time before someone pulled a whopper so bad that the ensuing blaze would demand swift access to the nearest fire extinguisher. For Portsmouth North’s Tory MP Penny Mordaunt, that moment came this morning.
Penny Mordaunt ((c) Guardian)

Ms Mordaunt is campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, and in this capacity appeared before the host’s inquisition on The Andy Marr Show (tm), where she was questioned over suggestions that a million Turkish citizens would come to the UK over the next eight years. Turkey was not an EU member state, argued Marr, and so the concept of free movement of people did not arise. So where did Ms Mordaunt get her figure from?

Marr was informed, with a straight face, that Turkey would become an EU member state very soon, that there were several other countries queuing up to become EU member states, and that this explained her figures. But, Marr suggested, Britain had a veto on Turkey, and indeed any other country, becoming an EU member state.

Marr was right: as Sky News political editor Faisal Islam has pointed out, Article 49 of the EU treaty states “The applicant state shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously”. This means any country applying to become a member state has to receive approval for its application from all existing member states (which, in Turkey’s case, is not made easier as two of those are Greece and Cyprus).
So what did Ms Mordaunt have to say to that? The exchange went as follows:

Penny Mordaunt: They [Turkey] are going to join, it’s a matter of when.
Marr: Except the British Government does have a veto on Turkey joining, so we don’t have to let them join.
Penny Mordaunt: No it doesn’t. We’re not going to be able to have a say. The British People aren’t going to be …
Marr: I thought accession was something each country could veto if it wanted to.
Penny Mordaunt: No. I do not think that the EU is going to keep Turkey out. I think It is going to join.

That is not just a “mis-speak”, a slip of the tongue, or a misunderstanding of any kind. It’s a flat-out pants on fire moment. The idea that a Member of Parliament, and one who has been put up to speak for the Leave campaign, does not know such a basic fact is unimaginable. Penny Mordaunt was so desperate that she lied, live on air.

It was therefore no surprise that when Young Dave was asked to pass comment on her assertion later by Robert Peston on ITV, that he effectively put the boot in on Ms Mordaunt, albeit in an answer crafted rather more diplomatically. What made it even worse was that Andrew Marr gave her a chance to modify her stance later in the interview, but she declined that offer. This morning has not been a good one for the Outers.

And there are more than 30 days of this to go. Not looking good for the Brexiteers.

Simon Danczuk - The End?

Rumours have begun to circulate around his constituency that Rochdale’s nominally Labour MP Simon Danczuk may discover soon that the party’s judgment on whether he should be allowed back into the Labour fold has progressed not necessarily to his advantage. And while the final decision has yet to be taken, Danczuk’s own behaviour shows an increasing sloppiness, a hint that he no longer cares.
Take the issue of MP surgeries, a vital part of any Parliamentarian’s work, and one where Danczuk’s priorities have suddenly slipped. Last week, constituents who expected their MP to hold his surgery on the usual day - Friday - were disappointed to see him Tweeting “Busy weekly surgery today with @elsiewraighte: immigration; tenancy issues; housing benefit; Crown Prosecution Service decision; & more”, but on Thursday.
Why would he hold his weekly surgery a day early? We had to wait until Saturday for the answer, when he again took to Twitter to tell “Really enjoyed watching @englandcricket yesterday & well done to @jbairstow21 & @jimmy9”. Yes, when his constituents might have expected Simon Danczuk to be in Rochdale, listening to their problems and addressing their concerns, he was at Headingley watching the cricket.
That isn’t going to win him any brownie points, and nor is the frankly bizarre behaviour later than morning, when he - or whoever was in charge of his Twitter feed - blundered into a discussion which had passed adverse comment on Smile For The Camera, the book about former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith which bears Danczuk’s name, but was in fact written mainly by his former sidekick Matt Baker.
Snapping at a Tweeter called @bankersdidit, Danczuk asked “Hi John, still upset that nobody was interested in your Cyril Smith book?” Two things here. One, that Tweeter is categorically NOT John Walker, which Danczuk was suggesting. And two, Danczuk only secured his book deal on the back of the 12,000 word synopsis that Walker wrote, and for which, as Zelo Street has previously told, he was not paid a penny.
It got worse: that Twitter exchange had started with Danczuk sniping at Dave Hennigan, and may have been not unrelated to Hennigan’s earlier assertion “My quote to @SimonDanczuk last night - ‘You are a liar, a thief and you are going to jail’ If he thinks I'm going anywhere he's mistaken”. Hennigan had previously made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police about Danczuk, alleging fraudulent activity.
My information is that the Met is very close to taking a decision on how that complaint might proceed. So when Danczuk Tweets “Just been reading about what Freud called 'repetition compulsion' - fascinating. People who can't stop repeating the same behaviour”, he has to remember that he is not only a prime example of what Freud was describing, but that such actions can, further down the line, have consequences.

I am told that Danczuk’s week is likely to start badly, and get worse. More on this soon.