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Saturday, 4 July 2015

Platell Snarks Too Soon

Phoning that column in early has its hazards: the British comedy film Only Two Can Play featured a scene where the lead character, who was supposed to be reviewing a local theatre’s new production, leaves early and submits a cod review for his newspaper column, assuming that nobody will be bothered, or able to tell the difference from the real thing. There is then an accident with the props and the theatre burns down.
Viewers may want to look away now

With the Daily Mail’s Glenda emeritus Amanda Platell, her problem has been not fire but Heather Watson. Headlined “Lionesses who put the divas of tennis to shameshe tells of the England women’s football team: “On Wednesday, I did something I almost never do. I stayed up late to watch a football match. Around 2.4 million Brits did the same … cheering on the England Women’s World Cup team in their semi-final with Japan”.

There was more: “It wasn’t patriotism in my case, but curiosity … Like many, I was cynical. How could a bunch of girls [!], most of whom have day jobs and are semi-professional, play with speed and finesse? How could they ever compare with the men’s game? Like millions of sceptics, I was proved wrong … I was heartbroken when defender Laura Bassett scored an own goal in the final minutes”. And the moral of this particular story?

The highest paid woman in the team earns £65,000 a year - around a fifth of what England captain Wayne Rooney gets in one week … Yet the girls [!] insist on an equal playing field with the men: literally. The same size pitch, the same 90 minutes, the same rules”. Yes? Yes yes? Yes yes yes? “Which is a welcome change from the prima donnas at Wimbledon this week”. It is? Do tell.

Unlike the Lionesses, the women get the same prize money as the men, even though they play only the best of three sets to the men’s five … Reigning champion Petra Kvitova’s first-round match lasted just 36 minutes, while the men’s games lasted two hours or more … And in the heat, the girls are allowed to take a break during their matches, but the men aren’t. I had a hot flush of anger just hearing that”.

Many viewers may indeed have tuned in to see the England women’s football team in midweek, but, probably after Ms Platell sent her column in the direction of Northcliffe House, rather more were glued to the screen yesterday afternoon as unfancied Briton Heather Watson took on top seed Serena Williams in a third round women’s singles match. At Wimbledon. On the Centre Court.

Ms Watson took the 20-time Grand Slam single title winner well into a third set. She worked bloody hard. She won plaudits from current and former players, coaches and commentators. And how long did the match last? Rather longer than 36 minutes - well over that two hour figure that Ms Platell suggests is acceptable for a tennis match. So when many Daily Mail readers read the Platell column, they might have a hot flush of anger too.

Anger at comfortably remunerated pundits phoning their copy in early, that is.

Liz Kendall Sells The Pass

A week, as one former Labour Prime Minister once mused, is a long time in politics. After the General Election, I looked at the potential field for the Labour leadership and concluded that the front runners were likely to be Chuka Umunna and Liz Kendall; a week later, Chuka had left the stage and Ms Kendall’s campaign was already being elbowed out by Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.
Arms' length, Liz - that's where you should keep the Sun

Indeed, more recently the Kendall bandwagon has, according to some polls, become less popular than that of veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps this is behind her decision to give an interview to the Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn, which has, in the retelling, generated the headline‘I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO ISN’T CONTINUITY MILIBAND’ SAYS KENDALL AS SHE LAYS INTO LABOUR RIVALS”.

And, as the man said, there’s more: “Blairite rising star has spiced up the race to replace Ed with scathing broadside … Labour leadership hopeful Liz Kendall has torn into rivals Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham for offering nothing different from Ed Miliband … The Blairite rising star has spiced up the race to replace her disastrous former boss with the scathing broadside”. As Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point.

The problem the Kendall campaign has here is that any form of agreement with the Sun is the most basically Faustian of bargains. She is already allowing phrases coined by right-wing journalists - “Continuity Miliband” and “Blairite star” - to define her, rather than defining herself. Those who work in support of her leadership bid, like former Labour List man Mark Ferguson, are not stupid. They know this.

Yet Ms Kendall is allowed to walk on into the Murdoch trap: we are told “she can win back millions of lost Sun readers’ votes”, and that she asserts “I am determined to change the party so Sun readers look at us again and believe we're on their side”, while knowing that it is only one Sun reader’s opinion that matters, and that reader is Creepy Uncle Rupe. The idea that Newton Dunn is doing it for the majority of readers is absurd. 

Did he, or any of his colleagues, commission a poll of Sun readers to ascertain what they want? Was a reputable polling organisation involved? What was the sample size? But enough: you get the idea. It’s never a case of getting Sun readers on side, but having the attack dogs at least lay off for a while. And that means adopting the kind of policies that Murdoch finds agreeable. For many Labour supporters, that may be problematic.

Rupe wants his troops to be left alone to behave as they wish. That includes backing him if he gets grouchy with media regulators. It also includes abandoning any commitment to listening to the victims of press misbehaviour. It also includes going after the less well-off, the disabled, and any other group that Murdoch deems beyond his particular pale. All with the sure and certain knowledge that it can only end in tears.

Is Liz Kendall desperate enough to become “Continuity Murdoch”? Not a good idea.

Karen Danczuk - Bang Out Of Order

As if the car crash reality show that is the Danczuks could not get yet more grotesque, readers of the Super Soaraway Currant Bun have been treated to an “Exclusive” this morning screaming “Danczuk Blow [geddit?!?] … Fitness hunk stays night with Selfie Queen Karen … BUSTED!” where it is revealed that those entering and leaving Ms Danczuk’s Rochdale home have been under purely coincidental surveillance.
And, such is the appetite of Rupe’s downmarket troops to put their prurient hackery before a wider audience that the accompanying article has been made free to view. It makes for utterly unappealing reading: as nominally Labour MP Simon Danczuk - whom the Sun has now demoted from “leading” or “campaigning” to mere “backbencher” - was looking after the couple’s two young children, Kazza was entertaining her personal trainer.
Gosh, I'm so surprised, honestly

KAREN Danczuk spent more than seven hours with her personal trainer as he stayed the night at her house … Athletic Ben Bate sneaked into the 31-year-old’s marital home late on Thursday — just five days after she split with husband Simon, a Labour MP … Ben, who last night revealed he had separated from his wife, did not leave until shortly after sunrise yesterday, when he walked to his parked car with his hood up”.
You almost feel sorry for him

Leaving the rest of the lamentably constructed copy aside - it’s the same kind of puerile nudge-nudgery that the Sun has been peddling for decades - the obvious question begs itself. Where is the public interest in this lurid peep show? Bate and his apparently estranged wife also have children - does this not matter to the Sun? And isn’t it glaringly obvious that this is a calculated and very deliberate set-up?
Tell the Sun that - if they'll listen

Karen Danczuk has shown very little surprise at the appearance of the Sun splash. Why this might be is not difficult to deduce: her agent is Borne Media, set up by the daughter of one Max Clifford, serial sex offender with whom the Murdoch press was so happy to do business for so many years. Had the snapper outside the Danczuk house not been there with her approval, Kazza would more than likely have complained to the Police.
Someone else who wasn't told about the publicity

It’s clear from the reaction of Bate’s wife Natalie that the publicity is not welcome. No such comment has come from Ms Danczuk, just the obligatory attempt to pretend that she is still a devoted and protecting parent - just the kind of thing a PR might prompt her to do. Meanwhile, someone else’s family - that would be someone not getting paid, nor provided with a PR - is having their life trashed for the gratification of the Sun’s leering hacks.
Pass the sick bucket

One has to wonder who is the biggest villain here - Kazza for doing what she’s done (while, seemingly, having it all snapped), or the dregs of journalism for using the whole sorry business to flog a few more papers. Make no mistake, Karen Danczuk is nothing more than a a vacuous and deluded wannabe, and were it not for the Murdoch press pandering to her and her PR, she would by now have vanished without trace.

The Sun keeps returning to the Z-listers - like a dog to its vomit. No change there, then.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Murdoch Sky Deal - It’s On

Zelo Street regulars will recall that, only a week and a half ago, I looked at the way in which the Murdoch press was not just sounding supportive towards Young Dave and his jolly good chaps, but veering into the realms of cheerleading. Having read the runes with due care I concluded that, given that with Creepy Uncle Rupe there is always a quid pro quo, the likelihood was that the Sky bid was back on.
That's how many bladdy goes I get at bladdy taking over 100% of bladdy Sky, ya bladdy Pommie drongoes!

The Murdoch empire, despite its association with the UK’s dominant satellite broadcaster, owns just 39% of it. It was the previous attempt to secure the other 61% that was abandoned four years ago as the phone hacking scandal finally reached critical mass. Murdoch wanted so much to be able to get his hands on 100% of Sky that he was prepared to close his biggest selling UK newspaper to close the deal.

But not even closing the Screws was enough, and it was thought that all was lost. But, having been rebuffed in an approach to Time Warner last year, it seems it is not just me that has come to the conclusion Murdoch is looking once again at Sky: Alex Spence at Politico told “Enders Analysis, a respected media consultancy, gave intellectual weight to the question Wednesday, asserting in a research note that it was a question of ‘when, not if’ Murdoch has another shot at buying the 61 percent of Sky that he doesn’t already own”.

The counter-view is that everything has, as Tone used to like putting it, “moved on” since 2011, but the Murdochs, as the Guardian suggests, are loath to let go of their Sky stake. There have been two recent offers made for that 39%, one from Vodafone and the latest from Vivendi, which owns French pay-TV operator Canal+.

However, the talks did not progress, it is understood, because of the price expected by the Murdochs. They wanted £18 per share for the 39pc stake in Sky, which they control via 21st Century Fox, a 73pc premium on its current trading pricenoted the Telegraph, and a premium that high suggests either supreme optimism - or an underlying reluctance to sell. The Politico analysis explains why this should be.

The argument in favor of a renewed bid for Sky, expressed in the Enders report, is this: Murdoch really wanted the other 61 percent of Sky last time, and he would have got the transaction past regulators had phone hacking at the News of the World not blown up when it did … The commercial logic for the deal has, if anything, strengthened in the four years since it was abandoned”. And there’s more evidence.

Owning Sky would give Fox ‘the biggest footprint of any platform distributor in Europe’ … And the main obstacle to the deal - the political opposition aroused by phone hacking - has largely dissipated … The public’s appetite for bloodletting appears to have been exhausted by the Leveson Inquiry … Moreover, Westminster is now controlled by a Conservative government that is perceived to be friendlier to Murdoch”.

The latter point is where I came in last week. Rupert Murdoch does not do cheerleading for free. Murdoch Junior is back in the saddle. Their desire to close this deal would outweigh any opposition that could be mustered. With the BBC weakened by constant bullying and threats by Rupe’s pals in Westminster and other papers, there won’t be a better time to strike. He doesn’t take no for an answer.

Neil Wallis Protests Too Much

Following his acquittal on the charge of conspiracy to hack phones, former Screws deputy editor Neil “Wolfman” Wallis has been doing the rounds of the broadcasters, telling how it was all some kind of politically inspired witch hunt, and stressing over and over again that a jury made up of twelve of his peers listened to all the evidence and decided that He Didn’t Do It. He must be getting through an awful lot of onions right now.
Some of the interviews went Wallis’ way as he succeeded in manoeuvring the discussion onto his favoured agenda. A chat with Evan Davis on Newsnight, however, did not develop necessarily to his advantage, and the outbreak of whining at the dastardly BBC having a presenter prepared to ask questions, rather than allow Wallis to answer his own, was not merely predictable, but all too revealing (you can see the Newsnight interview HERE).
Newsnight’s own Twitter feed captured Wallis’ favoured opening gambit: “For a long time the belief was that the phone hacking allegations was [sic] a Guardian, BBC story. It’s easy to know with hindsight”. Wallis was, and is, a journalist: the idea that he took that explanation at face value, given his position at the Screws, is amazing.
And the Wolfman could depend on his pals riding to his rescue, such as former Daily Star man Nigel Pauley, complaining “Newsnight didn’t seem interested in [Neil Wallis’] claims of politically motivated agenda by CPS, preferring to tread old ground … wonder why?” Old ground being to ask questions about why Wallis had been on trial, for instance. And by complete coincidence, another pundit used the same phrase.
Kath Raymond Hinton told “Good job [Neil Wallis] but who on earth briefed Evan? Old ground. Pity the story of political witch hunt untold”. Ms Raymond Hinton is married to former Murdoch retainer Les Hinton. Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks had wedding invites. Wallis was duly grateful: “Well, of course [BBC Newsnight], edited by ex-Guardian dep ed were fully paid-up part of the agenda”. Yeah, right.
There was more support: Sean O’Neill mused “Hmm [Evan Davis] doesn’t seem to like the jury’s acquittal of [Neil Wallis]”. I’m sure his being a Murdoch hack is also the purest of coincidences. The Wolfman was also grateful to him: “How dare they, eh? Why didn’t they listen to [BBC Newsnight] & do … their duty?” he sneered.
One observer still not convinced as Wallis was treated to a little softball by Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning was Stuart Glover: “On [BBC 5 Live] moments ago [Neil Wallis] expresses the usual journalist view that they should neither by regulated nor accountable to the law”. Quite.

The Screws, when Wallis was its deputy editor, was hacking phones on an industrial scale. Anybody and everybody there knew about it - except, seemingly, him. That shows a staggering lack of curiosity for a journalist. One can only conclude that, if Wallis really did not know it was going on, he was terminally incompetent.

And, as Detective Columbo might have said, one other thing. If Wallis thinks that the Guardian and BBC are working the CPS, perhaps he can explain the Fake Sheikh’s successes. And the Cook/Hames surveillance. And the Dowler voicemail. And the rest.

Uber - Tom Watson Steps In

If anything happening in London right now were to encapsulate the sheer uselessness of its increasingly occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, it had to be the plight of the black cab trade, whose members - self-employed small business folk, remember - have to spend years getting their licences, and must provide a fully accessible vehicle for their customers, but are now facing incursions from the likes of Uber.
Present: Tom Watson and UCG representatives

Those who use the Uber app to make their living need not do The Knowledge; all they need is a Prius (or similar) and satnav. Their ultimate leader, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, has shown just how interested he is in free competition: taxi services are mere “assholes”, and the dirty tricks Uber is prepared to use in order to hobble the competition are fast becoming the stuff of legend.

So where is Bozza when London’s cab trade wants to talk to him - after all, as Mayor, he is ultimately responsible for Transport for London (TfL), who oversee cabs and private hire minicabs? The short answer is that he is elsewhere: Bozza wants to be loved, and tires easily of problems like Uber. The cabbies do not, right now, love their Mayor. So it came to pass that Labour MP Tom Watson decided to talk to the capital’s cabbies.

Think about that. Watson represents West Bromwich East, which is some 120 miles from London. The Mayor, on the same day, was glad-handing fellow politicians and journalists at the Spectator magazine’s summer party. One might be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that Bozza cares less about his mayoral duties than being the centre of attention at a suitably fashionable piss-up.
Absent: the bloke who should have met with UCG

Watson has written to Johnson, pointing out that he, not a Labour MP from out of town, should be the one on the case. The text of the letter I reproduce in full below.


I have today met with Trevor Merralls (Campaigns Manager), Angela Clarkson (Secretary) and Len Martin (chairman) of the United Cabbie Group.

As I’m sure you know, UCG is the fastest-growing trade organisation for black cabs in London.
They told me of their increasing frustration at the failure of Transport for London (TfL) to deal with their legitimate concerns about Uber and TfL’s role as a regulator of taxi and private hire services.
I cannot be the only worker in London who is concerned about the increasing disruption to London's transport network by taxi drivers who feel they have no choice but to demonstrate because their concerns are not being taken seriously by TfL.
I'm sure it will not have escaped your notice that two Uber executives in Paris were this week indicted on charges that range from running illegal taxi services to illicit storage of personal data.
And you will also have read reports from America that suggest a senior executive at Uber said that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticised the company.
You are a busy man but you are the person in charge of London. I'm sure with a bit of wisdom applied to this problem, a way forward can be found.
I have asked United Cabbies Group to postpone their planned future actions.
They have considered my proposal that they do so, in return for helping them get their legitimate concerns heard by a senior politician.
Looking at this from all sides, that senior politician is you.
Please take personal charge of this issue and deal with it. If you would like me to broker talks, I'll do whatever I can to help.
Best wishes,

Tom Watson

The photo above shows Tom Watson with the representatives of UCG outside Parliament.

It should be a source of abject shame to any half-credible politician that those they represent have no option but to turn to an MP from over 100 miles away to get themselves heard. But, as it’s Bozza, he’ll probably emerge from this latest heap of horseshit smelling of roses.

Worse, his press pals, some of whom were supping with him at the Spectator party the other night, will excuse him and kick the cabbies instead. That, it cannot be stressed too highly, is not good enough.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Greece - IMF Channels Keynes

In The Economic Consequences Of The Peace, his seminal work written after having seen the short-sighted and vengeful mood of the victorious Allies towards Germany at Versailles, John Maynard Keynes argued forcefully that there were limits to the reparations - enforced debt repayments, if you will - being demanded from the losing side as the price for having the blame for The Great War imposed upon it.
Keynes was, as he was again over Mr Churchill’s Mistake in 1925, absolutely right: the demands for repayments that Germany could not make, as its economy could not generate sufficient funds to do so, only served to fuel resentment and the rise of extremism. Where that led Europe was the Third Reich, and yet another war, after the population though they had already fought “The war to end all wars”.

That analysis may have helped the worthies at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) come to the conclusion that the demands being heaped upon the Greek Government by its creditors are also unsustainable: political instability in that country has already helped a virulent right-wing party, Golden Dawn, gain ground in national elections. Instability was another consequence of the demands on inter-war Germany.

With the Syriza administration in Athens calling a referendum on the bailout terms that lenders are seeking to impose on Greece next Sunday, the IMF has blinked first. As the Guardian has told, “IMF says Greece needs extra €50bn in funds and debt relief … International lender issues strong message to Europe by warning that Athens’ debts are unsustainable and it needs 20-year grace period on debt repayments”.

There was more: “Fund officials said they would not be prepared to put a proposal for a third Greek bailout package to the Washington-based organisation’s board unless it included both a commitment to economic reform and debt relief … According to the IMF, Greece should have a 20-year grace period before making any debt repayments and that final payments should not take place until 2055”.

Someone has looked at the plight of the Greek people - all too many of them cannot even afford to eat right now, and the economy has shrunk year on year since the current crisis hit - and seen that they first of all need help. This was, of course, what happened to Germany, and other European nations, after the second world war, as the USA implemented the Marshall Plan. With that, Europe recovered.

The concept of a “Eurozone Marshall Plan”, to help the economies of those southern European countries most seriously affected, has been broached before. Perhaps Greece is going to help get that idea back on the table, and soon. Some, including the Germans, may balk at the idea of debt relief and assistance to other countries. They have short memories: once upon a time it was they who were on the receiving end.

All we need is for someone to show leadership. Volunteers are no doubt welcome.

Guido Fawked - Don’t Mention The Danczuks

If ever an example of Sun columnists doing as they are bloody well told were needed, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog appear to have provided it, as one of their number has laid bare a gap in their coverage of events which is not otherwise easy to explain away. The subject, one which the Fawkes folks have previously been so ready to exploit, is the saga of the Danczuks.
It's still about Themselves Personally Now

As Zelo Street has previously told (see HERE and HERE), nominally Labour MP Simon Danczuk took a brief timeout from bandwagon-jumping last weekend to let the world know that he and wife Karen were separating. Exactly where that left her, with much of her income coming from working for him, and mounting debts from the former Deli in Rochdale town centre, is not at present known.

Alas, it did not take long for the tearful separation to turn to recrimination, as he took to Twitter to swipe at her. And it was clear that it was Karen who had a direct line to Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun. But, while all this was going on, the Fawkes blog was silent. What a change from splashing Ms Danczuk all over their pages and manufacturing a suitable excuse to give her an award.
Yes, Ms Danczuk believes that Staines and his tame gofer, the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole, are “fab”, rather than a pair of Grade A sleazebags you would not trust any further than you could chuck either of them. So why no comment on the latest happenings chez Danczuk? It could always be explained away by claiming that the Fawkes rabble was merely prioritising, that there were more important fish to fry.

But then came a most interesting development: the Spectator’s Steerpike column, most of which is the work of Master Cole, has run an item titled “Simon Danczuk lashes out at Karen Danczuk following split”, telling “Over the weekend, Simon Danczuk confirmed his break up from his wife Karen Danczuk, with both the Labour MP and the ‘Selfie Queen’ describing themselves as devastated at the decision”. And there’s more.
Alas, any sadness appears to have turned into anger. Simon has taken to Twitter to accuse Karen of using their split for publicity. He says that she is helping her personal trainer ‘friend’ to promote his gym … Whatever could he mean?” Whatever indeed. In the absence of information to the contrary, one must assume that Cole was the author. He’s still at the Fawkes blog - until joining the Sun next month.

So why isn’t the Fawkes blog running the story? Ah well. The Fawkes rabble - as opposed to Cole when he’s doing stuff for the Speccy - are Murdoch columnists, having a regular berth in the Sun on Sunday. No mention of Ms Danczuk on their blog, with her being a Sun exclusive property? As Private Eye magazine might have put it, “I wonder if the two are in any way related? I think we should be told”.

Has The Great Guido been leant on by his new masters? Speak up, Fawkes people.

IDS Poverty Sham Exposed

That Iain Duncan Cough has decided to abandon the almost universally accepted measure of poverty may have outraged some: it should surprise no-one. IDS tried to pull this particular fast one three years ago, and a look at his machinations then, together with how he came to adopt the idea - Duncan Cough is not the most original of thinkers, despite the fawning press coverage - may prove instructive.
Iain Duncan Cough ((c) Getty)

The objection to using 60% of the median income as a measure of relative poverty was most strident at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), and their suggestions as to how we should adopt a system which they would find ideologically acceptable was part of their “report” titled Welfare Reform In Tough Times (read it HERE), co-authored by the supremely intolerant Mike Denham, their so-called “research fellow”.
Where the policy originated: TPA HQ

Denham’s attitude to public service was summed up in the name of his equally intolerant blog Burning Our Money. The TPA declared that, at a minimum, the measure of relative poverty should be lowered to 50% of the median income, or that a measure of absolute poverty should be substituted, because, well, they use that in the USA, and that means that, in the eyes of the TPA, it must be inherently superior.

From the TPA, their former chief spinner Susie Squire went through the revolving door to become a SpAd for Duncan Cough. Then, by complete coincidence you understand, he had his brilliant idea of doing away with the 60% target, if only because Mike Denham was affronted by the poor having access to refrigerators and washing machines. That they might also be allowed televisions was yet worse. Now we are right up to date.
And so Duncan Cough told the world about his new targets: “Worklessness measures will identify the proportion of children living in workless households and the proportion of children in long-term workless households … The educational attainment measures will focus on GCSE attainment for all pupils and for particularly disadvantaged pupils”. This is total horseshit. Unemployed single parents mean poverty. Equally less well off working couples with children mean otherwise. And then there is the education criterion.
By the time GCSE attainment is calculated, the system will have long ago failed those being studied. Campaigner Harry Leslie Smith, who remembers life before the NHS, did not mince his words: “There is no polite word for a man like  #IanDuncanSmith he is just the dregs at the bottom of ambition's barrel”. But IDS’ fans were more than happy.

Take for instance the serially clueless Tim Montgomerie, taker of the Murdoch shilling, who Tweeted “Big moment from IDS. Rejecting Left's materialistic idea of poverty for broader understanding of basis of a good life”. It’s got sweet Fanny Adams to do with the Left, materialism, understanding, or ideas. This is policy imported by an ideologically bent yet intellectually deficient charlatan, from a group who don’t care about the less well off.

I called the TPA’s work “Picking On The Poorest”. That is what IDS is now doing.

So Farewell Then Nicholas Winton

As tributes poured in for Nicholas Winton, who, as a young stockbroker, had arranged for the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from what was then Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of war in 1939, the right-wing press had, perhaps not by coincidence, an attack of selective amnesia over Britain’s less than tolerant past, and Winton’s own political orientation.
Winton with one of the 669

What were at the time called the Czech Kindertransport took those children to the safety of Britain in eight special trains, travelling from Prague to the Hook of Holland before being ferried across to Harwich. A ninth train, scheduled to leave Prague on 1 September 1939, did not reach safety; almost all the children on board later died in concentration camps. Seventy years later to the day, that journey was re-enacted.

Nicholas Winton was there at London’s Liverpool Street station to see the train arrive. Some of those his actions had saved were on board. But what escaped the publicists then and now is not only that Winton was born Nicholas Wertheim, and his family were Jewish, having migrated from Germany in 1907, but that, in order to integrate into British society, they converted to Christianity.
The ninth Winton Train arrives at Liverpool Street

It would be unheard of today for anyone migrating to the UK to feel that they needed to convert to the majority religion in order to become more acceptable. But anti-Semitism was all too prevalent at the time, and for many years after Winton’s parents arrived: one only has to look at the fawning attitude of papers like the Daily Mail to the behaviour of the Nazis, even before the events of Kristallnacht.

Today, that same Daily Mail has paid glowing tribute, managing to let slip that “What also made Nicholas unlike many of his contemporaries was that he was a committed socialist, and he became close to the likes of senior Labour figures such as Aneurin Bevan and Tom Driberg”. Winton was not only a socialist before the war, he was active in the Labour Party for many years afterwards, too.
A modest election address

In 1954, he stood unsuccessfully for his local council in Maidenhead; then as now this was very solidly Conservative territory. To give an idea of why Winton might not have been elected, the town’s current MP, Theresa May, was returned at the last General Election with almost 66% of the popular vote. Her majority over the Labour runner-up was more than 29,000. And Winton’s election address was typically modest.

There is a statue of Winton at Prague’s main station. Memorials to the Kindertransport can be seen at Liverpool Street. And there is even a Winton memorial at Maidenhead station, unveiled by Ms May. Whether she let everyone know he was a Labour activist is not known. The BBC report tells only that he was a member of the local Rotary Club.

Nicholas Winton, son of Jewish migrants, humanitarian, committed socialist, long-time Labour Party activist, and thoroughly modest man, 1909-2015.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Neil Wallis - What The Jury Didn’t See

Neil “Wolfman” Wallis, former deputy editor of the Screws at the time Andy Coulson sat in the editor’s chair, and the paper was indulging in phone hacking on an industrial scale, has today been acquitted of conspiracy to hack phones. He therefore leaves court a free man, and with no stain on his character. The jury were not convinced, on the basis of the evidence put before them, that Wallis knew about hacking.
Neil Wallis

This, to some, may appear eyebrow-raising: after all, one might wonder how Wallis could function as a deputy editor and not know how all those stories were, if not obtained in the first place, made to stand up. But he maintained his line - that he didn’t know about all the misbehaviour - to the end. He had not heard a voicemail played to him. It was, in the retelling, a political witch hunt. His former colleagues were quick to comment.
After Wallis took to Twitter to declare “Thanks so so much to all those who stood by me - so grateful”, one of those voicing support for Wallis was former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan, who told “Thrilled for @neilwallis1. One of the best journalists I've worked with. A good man who's been through 4yrs of hell”. It’s good to see Morgan confirm that he and Wallis have in the past worked together.
When Morgan testified before the Leveson Inquiry, as the Guardian noted at the time, “the inquiry's lead counsel, Robert Jay, pressed Morgan to provide more details about who had played him a voicemail left for Sir Paul McCartney's former wife Heather Mills. Morgan wrote about the incident in the Daily Mail in October 2006 … Morgan refused four times, saying on each occasion that he could not risk identifying a source”.
The source - the person who played Morgan the voicemail - was claimed by Private Eye magazine to have been Wallis. Now, the Eye could have been wrong, and if so, it would not have been the first time. Or the magazine may have wanted to protect its own source. But Wallis’ Twitter exchange with me almost three years ago suggests some knowledge of the idea of him playing Morgan voicemails.
Consider the Twitter exchange (link HERE) that is reproduced in this post. Note that Wallis is not tagged in the original Tweet; he engages in dialogue of his own volition and without prompting. After some to-and-fro on the subject of his old boss Coulson, I tell him “Aye, and if I weren't a career cynic I'd think you never played @piersmorgan any voicemails (allegedly)”, to which Wallis simply responds “Harsh!”.
Neil Wallis does not ask me to explain myself. He does not offer a denial. One might reach the conclusion that this was a matter with which he was familiar. And, of course, he was not being charged on any matter to do with his time at the Mirror group titles. As his trial is now over, and there is no further contempt risk - or risk of him getting guilty - I let this one lie on the Zelo Street file, and allow others to draw their own conclusions.

The days of phone hacking are hopefully over. Thank goodness for small mercies.

Janner - Murdoch Seeks Vengeance

The case of former MP Greville Janner, who has been the subject of allegations of misconduct towards under-age males for many years, has been the source of much righteous outrage by the press, after DPP Alison Saunders first decided that putting him on trial would not be in the public interest, due to his advanced dementia, only for the decision to be reversed, prompting some papers to call for her resignation.
That's what I bladdy think of youse bladdy due bladdy process, ya bladdy Pommie drongoes!

Some titles, like the Mail, simply come over all sniffy and condescending, while the Murdoch empire has let slip the real reason they are sniffing blood. Ms Saunders took the decision to prosecute all those journalists who have been subjected to trials as a result of what the Met has called Operation Elveden. All those journalists worked for the Sun. The iron code of the Grubstreet Mafioso dictates there must be vengeance.

At least the Sun and Times are honest about their motivation, with the former particularly unsubtle: “ALISON Saunders must resign as Director of Public Prosecutions today or be fired … Her position would be untenable if the shambolic U-turn over Lord Janner was her only blunder. But it was she who presided over the absurd prosecutions of journalists which collapsed in the Operation Elveden fiasco”.
The Times takes a more aloof but similar line, with an editorial headed “Poor judgment”, which goes on to claim “Alison Saunders’s tenure as director of public prosecutions has weakened confidence in the judicial process”, managing not to see thatthe judicial process” is what comes after the decision to charge. But then, the Times is not only no longer a paper of record, its journalism has also long ago gone down the chute.

That Times editorial comes, to no surprise, to the same conclusion as the Sun: “The honourable course for her is to admit she was wrong and stand aside in order to prevent further damage to her service”. The trials cited - the Sun journalists, and a doctor accused, but later cleared, of practising female genital mutilation - are the same. The only difference is that the Times drives it around the houses before drawing its conclusion.
Perhaps the Murdoch titles really care about the victims of possible past abuse by Janner? Maybe there is a desire to see justice prevail? This is a possibility. But the first reaction of such organisations when they perceive themselves to be under attack is to defend themselves, if necessary by lashing out and attacking those they think are to blame for their plight - so long as they don’t blame themselves.

And blaming themselves would be the most appropriate course: after all, it was News International’s Management and Standards Committee that shopped all those journalists in the belief it would stave off corporate charges. And those trials did not merely collapse: many public servants were jailed for selling information to the Sun. No, for Janner’s alleged victims they shed only crocodile tears. The Murdoch press cares only for itself.

This is just vindictive score-settling. Thankfully, thus far, it appears to have failed.

Heathrow - Yes It’s No

The recommendation for which no crystal ball gazing was required has finally been made by Howard Davies and his team: a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport, costing more than £17 billion, plus the less than trivial matter of another £5 billion to improve transport links, the demolition of 800 homes, and years of fun while the M25 is put in tunnel, has been interestingly called the best option.
This largest of hot potatoes has been immediately bodyswerved by all local Tory MPs: Zac Goldsmith maintains that he will resign if it goes ahead, a position which is absolutely consistent with his previous opposition to the idea. He claims five cabinet ministers are also opposed; one of those would be Justine Greening, MP for Putney, who is also adamantly opposed to Heathrow expansion.

And then there is London’s increasingly occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who also says a third Heathrow runway will not happen, and that, to no surprise at all, a new Airport should be built out in the Thames estuary, proving that he was right all along. Meanwhile, buffoon Michael Dugher is attempting to make hay for Labour, while not saying what his own party would do.

So there will be plenty of spectator sport available watching mainly Tory politicians offloading that hot potato, perhaps favouring Gatwick, where a new runway would “only” cost £7 billion, or just punting if off in the direction of the nearest long grass. But do we need more airport capacity? Proponents of expansion point to Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt and Madrid Barajas, saying we must have one like those.

Strangely, no-one points across the North Atlantic at New York, where the aviation load is spread around JFK, La Guardia, and Newark. No-one stops to think that we could improve transport links to and between Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, or that the HS2 project will bring Birmingham and Manchester Airports, both already rail and motorway connected, into the mix. Manchester has capacity; Birmingham is being expanded.

As Adam Bienkov at Politics Home has pointed out, apart from Heathrow, which is politically, shall we say, difficult, the only UK airport likely to suffer from a shortage of runway capacity in the foreseeable future is Gatwick. Fine, build the runway at Gatwick and then make sure there are direct rail links in place to transfer people, goods and services between the three main London Airports.

Press on with HS2 and thereby give London faster access to Birmingham and Manchester Airports. Make better use of the capacity the country’s Airports already have. Making Heathrow even bigger may appeal to some, but it’s a sodding awful place to get to, get around, and get through. Here in the North West, with easy access to Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool airports, Heathrow is somewhere you don’t need to go.

Davies needs only to drop his hot potato on the politicians; they, though, need to act.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Danczuks - Now The Fighting Starts

As the news that Rochdale’s nominally Labour MP Simon Danczuk and wife Karen have separated - well, for now, anyway - sinks in, the recriminations are beginning. And, as the couple have, in their ceaseless quest for self-promotion, egged on the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate so much in recent months, that part of the press has been more than happy to pile in, in search of more cheap copy and clickbait.
More self-promotion by Themselves Personally Now

At this point, Simon Danczuk has made a miraculous discovery: it is his now estranged wife who has direct access to the press, in the form of supplying the Super Soaraway Currant Bun with “exclusives”, as Sun readers are toldI’ve only got my selfie to blame (geddit?!?)”. Yes folks, Ruth Warrender is on hand to tell you all “Karen Danczuk tells how busty snaps led to split from MP Simon”, along with eight, er, busty snaps.

Go on Kazza, give us the spiel, however lame: “I think there was a bit of jealousy. I’ve changed so much mentally and physically. I’ve gone from fat, frumpy Karen to happy, confident and sexy Karen - and I can’t ignore that … It used to be all about Simon. I used to be his plus-one, but it changed dramatically and became more about me. Even at MP events, I became the star. Simon probably just felt a little taken aback”.

Yes, it’s all about meee! Small wonder her now ex was talking about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Meanwhile, the Mail, not having access to any sort of exclusive, has decided to just make it up anyway. “As the Queen of Selfies ditches her MP hubby, has Karen Danczuk set her sights on her personal trainer?” readers are asked, which means, well, nudge nudge, wink wink, personal trainer, SAY NO MORE.

The Mail is, as usual, stuck sometime in the 1950s: “For some time, it has been obvious that Mr Danczuk has no control whatsoever over his wife”. What do they think wives are, something you buy a remote for? But the article soon regains its prurient streak: “In recent weeks, the 32-year-old has branched out and posted selfies of her bottom and pouty pictures of her mouth”. Just what we don’t need to know, then.
What we also don’t need to know is that Kazza has apparently found God, Tweeting the wisdom of the Pope yesterday evening. Ex-husband, though, is not in a charitable mood today, Tweeting “Using our family breakup to help a 'friend' promote his gym in @TheSun & @MailOnline. Fav if #tacky RT if #classy”. Apart from more of the nudge-nudgery, the current score is seven “classy”, but fifteen “tacky”.
Meanwhile, Danczuk’s former wife Sonia Milewski is getting the popcorn in: “‘It’s quite hilarious,’ she says. ‘Next week there will probably be a picture opportunity in Spain, where they have incredibly fixed their marriage … They’re as bad as each other when it comes to trying to get publicity. It’s probably just an opportunity to get in the paper’”. Yes, the Danczuks wanted the publicity. Now they’ve fallen out, their wish will be fulfilled.

Might not be the publicity they want, but tough shit eh?

CPS Welfare Whopper Busted

The alphabet soup of Astroturf lobby groups out there on the right keep on pushing the idea that the UK is awash with welfare dependency, and in the tradition of misinformation established by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance has come the Centre for Policy Studies, co-founded by Keith Joseph, Mrs T., and Alfred Sherman, the last-named possibly best remembered for urging conversion of railways into roads.
Sherman’s idea was bunk, but that hasn’t stopped others exhuming it periodically over the years, and nor has it stopped the CPS trying to pull a fast one when the mood takes it, as witness their latest “report” on alleged welfare dependency, which has been swallowed whole by the piss-poor SunNation site: “MORE THAN HALF OF BRITS TAKE MORE HAND-OUTS THAN THEY PAY IN TAXES” it howls.

There is only one thing to do: “Shock new figures trigger fresh calls for Osborne to press ahead with saving”. Yes, just like the TPA, it’s “savings” and not “cuts”, because, for all those hard-pressed and hardworking taxpayers, it’s only “fair” that those “savings” should be made. But, as Captain Blackadder might have observed, there was only one thing wrong with this idea - it was bollocks.

Almost 14 million households in the UK take out more than they put in – an incredible 51.5 per cent … over half of households in the UK get more in hand-outs than they pay in – far higher than the number supported by the state in 2000. Under Labour the number ballooned  from 43.8 per cent to 53.4 per cent in 2010”. And, readers are told, “This figure excludes benefits in kind, like education and health care”.

Yeah, make ‘em pay, eh? Guess what they aren’t telling you? Many have been taken out of income tax altogether, the figures include housing benefit - which goes straight to the landlord - and tax credits, and of course the less well off, in a redistributive system, will inevitably receive more than they pay in, especially when so many jobs pay no more than the minimum wage. And one other item is missing.

Yes, the CPS has lumped state pensions in with all those other benefits, so as far as they are concerned, pensioners, who have spent decades paying into the system, are part of the welfare dependency problem! As Littlejohn might have observed, you couldn’t make it up. Why the Sun hacks have missed this - well, it’s another case of “you might like to ask that - I couldn’t possibly comment”.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has passed severely adverse comment on the CPS’ rubbish, noting “The number of working-age people who receive more in support is around one in three and the vast majority of these are low-paid families. But why let facts get in the way of spin?” Quite. Meanwhile, Adam Memon of the CPS claims “Welfare dependency is an economically destructive phenomenon”.

Not half as destructive as you telling whoppers to the press, Adam

Don’t Menshn Tim Hunt

Biochemist Tim Hunt has been in the news, after his remarks to a conference held in the South Korean capital, Seoul. He told the gatheringLet me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry”, and “said he was in favour of single-sex labs, adding that he didn’t want to ‘stand in the way of women’”.
(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014

This caused him to face severely adverse criticism, and Hunt later resigned his honorary position at University College, London. He told the BBC he “‘did mean’ the remarks but was ‘really sorry’”. That was 19 days ago. But in the meantime, the Sun and Daily Mail have tried to push the idea that Hunt either didn’t say what was attributed to him, or he was misunderstood, or he didn’t really give offence, or that his accuser was dishonest.
And, as the first paper to indulge in whataboutery over Hunt’s comments was the Murdoch Times, it should surprise no-one that (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch has gone off on one about the story - and is still at it, two and a half weeks later. “He said it in a very lighthearted manner with no outward hint of malice, condescension, or derision” she claims of Hunt’s remarks, omitting that this was someone’s opinion, delivered after the event.
There was more. Rather a lot more. David Colquhoun was subjected to so much Twitter aggression he called Ms Mensch out for harassment: “in particular you personally advocated #TimHunt not receive due process on Twitter” she demanded. “Can you explain if you ‘Established facts’ by speaking to Connie St Louis only or her colluders” she demanded, including Dorothy Bishop for good measure.
Then came the derisory “I’m writing a blog about you” threat: “Thanks. On record. Later today blogging up your involvement as suggested by your Twitter … I have of course screenshot your tweets so there will be no point in deleting … There will be two #TimHunt blogs - the  reporting is already thoroughly discredit[ed]”. And on she ranted.

To Colquhoun’s protest of harassment, there was only “on your own heads if you do not respond to the questions before I publish”. Ms Bishop’s gentle suggestion that Ms Mensch ask herself how she’d feel if Young Dave had made the remarks - like the Angela Eagle “calm down, dear” and Nadine Dorries “extremely frustrated” jibes - only met with “what things? Prof Hunt made no comments about women in science he joked against himself”.

So that’s more “opinion I like = facts”, then. And she wasn’t letting Ms Bishop off the hook: “answer the question did you personally demand his resignation before speaking to him or establishing the facts … did you personally speak to Connie St Louis whose account is a proven lie”. Ms St Louis might have something to say about that. But what Ms Mensch has to say about Tim Hunt will not move the story forward one millimetre.

She’s been banging on about this for the last fortnight. Incessantly and obsessively. Nobody who matters will care what she writes. So sad to be all alone in New York City.