Welcome To Zelo Street!

This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Mail Still Hacked Off With Coogan

Even though the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has taken time off for medical attention - private, of course, none of your NHS and mixing it with the hoi polloi for the Vagina Monologue - the Daily Mail’s pursuit of those to whom it has taken an irrational dislike continues unabated. This includes actor, writer and campaigner Steve Coogan, who has had the audacity to appear before the Leveson Inquiry.
Who the f*** says we should have independent press regulation, c***?!? Er, with the greatest of respect, Mr Jay

So it was no surprise to see this week kick off at Mail land with Dominic Lawson - someone who should know better, but hey, he’s being well paid and in the Northcliffe House bunker, that means doing as you’re told - telling readers of the Lord Sewel cocaine sting “The peer who thinks he's Steve Coogan has dealt democracy a terrible blow”. He thinks he’s got a cabinet full of awards, does he?

Well, no: Lawson then confirms that the headline is not just the invention of a creatively minded sub-editor by rounding off his discussion of another paper’s story by telling “But at the moment, the Lords seems to be undergoing some sort of identity crisis — rather like the 69-year-old Lord Sewel, who appeared to be confusing himself with Steve Coogan”. Because nobody at the Mail ever did Snow, right?

Rather, anyone at the Mail who did Snow kept it quiet so the assembled hackery could pass severely adverse comment on the personal lives of the likes of Coogan, who has on more than one occasion been the subject of dishonest and improper behaviour by the Mail, which then uses its dubiously sourced copy to get righteous over his conduct, while somehow not noticing their own appalling behaviour.

And the Mail kicks Coogan on the most feeble of pretexts, as witness “Steve Coogan's American dreams in tatters after his prime-time TV series is cancelled after just one season”, about Happyish, where he secured the lead role after Philip Seymour Hoffman’s untimely death. The Mail tells “It was considered Coogan’s big break after his acclaimed performance in the 2013 movie Philomena, which also starred Dame Judi Dench”.

Considered by whom? It was on the Showtime channel, not a major national network. Bizarrely, there is even the obligatory made-up quote: “A source said: ‘Happyish was supposed to be the show which made Coogan a household name in the States … He got the role fresh off Philomena, which the critics loved. But Happyish never found its feet and Coogan never really gelled with the American audience’”.

And to that I call bullshit. The only “source” is from whoever cobbled up the article looking in the mirror. That a US channel only orders one series of a show is no big deal - in fact, it’s a credit: had Happyish been really bad, it would have been pulled before the end of its run. The only reason the Mail is whining for the sake of it is because Coogan is a supporter of Hacked Off, which campaigns for properly independent press regulation.

That means the Mail, by the iron code of Fleet Street, has to take every last opportunity to kick him. Welcome to the playground.

Dan Hodges Does Not Rejoin Labour

Among the dwindling ranks of the Blairite faithful, one hack continues to rail louder than the rest against the inclusion of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, the attention-seeking extending to rejoining the party he walked out on two years ago. Yes, the Telegraph’s not at all celebrated blues artiste Whinging Dan Hodges has declared to those still reading that he has returned to Labour. Except he hasn’t.
A return to the Labour fold. Or maybe not

Earlier this week, I rejoined the Labour Party. It was a surprisingly easy decision. I didn’t need to pretend to be someone I’m not – adopt a disguise, or a funny accent. I didn’t even need to put on a northern accent. I simply logged onto the website, clicked on the video of a small child attempting to eat a Vote Labour badge, and hey presto. I put in my details, paid my £3, and I was in”, he told triumphantly.
There was more: “Everyone’s doing it, apparently. According to the Sunday papers, up to 140,000 people will have joined the Labour Party by the time the leadership election ends”. Er, a word in your shell-like, Dan: that figure is for Labour Party members. What you signed up to for £3 was to be a registered supporter, not a member. So you didn’t actually rejoin the Labour Party at all. But hey, minor point, eh?
It’s just another example of how Hodges makes next to no sense on the Labour leadership issue, which, fortunately, is fine for someone at the Tel, as making no sense on anything to do with the Labour Party is just what they need. His bewilderment was evident as he Tweeted “There probably is a way Labour's leadership election could have become a bigger mess, but I'm struggling to think of it at the moment”.
Yes, democracy and the open exchange of ideas are difficult concepts for those disaffected Blairites who openly suggested that Corbyn should be kept off the ballot - just as the sainted Tone tried to keep Ken Livingstone and Rhodri Morgan off their respective ballots. Still, even with Corbyn on the ballot, he was certain: “People need to get a grip. Jeremy Corbyn is not going to be elected Labour leader".
No, Jezza would not win, and Hodges was even prepared to deny the name of The Great Leader in order to get his message across: “Even with Tony Blair's insane intervention, Jeremy Corbyn won't win”. Yes, for the Tel and for the maximisation of publicity for the benefit of Himself Personally Now, he cast Tone adrift, telling “I've rejoined the Labour party so I can vote for Jeremy Corbyn”.
Sadly, he still hadn’t rejoined the party, not for £3, but the piss-taking continued: “Please help support Jeremy Corbyn for Leader, add a #Twibbon now!” Laugh? I thought I’d never start. That’s so intercoursing original, Louise Mensch was pulling the same stunt months ago - so long ago, in fact, that she’s now removed it. Admit it Dan, you haven’t a clue what’s happening in the Labour Party right now.

Not even a clue on the difference between registered supporters and real members.

Coke Sting Hack’s Osborne Question

As Lord Sewel finds the Met’s finest calling on his London address, and decides to leave the House of Lords for good - although he retains his title - there are still questions as to how the Sun secured the story that started it all off. And who is Stephen Moyes, the hack whose name appears on the by-line of the original scoop? That, it appears, is a story that reveals a great deal about how the tabloid press has behaved in the past.
Stephen Moyes

Moyes, by his own testimony, is the only news reporter to move from the now-defunct Screws to the Sun when the Sunday title was closed down in 2011. He had only joined the Murdoch title a year before, after eight years at the Daily Mirror. He recalled “When I joined the NoW it had a clean bill of health. It had been given the thumbs up after probes by Assistant Met Police Commissioner John Yates, the Commons' Culture Media & Sport Select Committee, and the Press Complaints Committee industry watchdog”.
And he has obediently stuck to the accepted line on what happened next: “after The Guardian's factually incorrect page one claim that the NoW had deleted murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's voicemail messages, it was closed in disgrace”. That the paper was sacrificed at the Murdochs’ choosing to keep the Sky bid in play, or that the Guardian’s claim is not “incorrect”, but merely “not proven”, is not told.
Then he had his collar felt as part of Operation Elveden, and Moyes knew exactly who was to blame for this: “the newspaper-hating Guardian, and the hysterical rantings of hand-wringing, frenzied self-styled media commentators on social media”. But one scoop does not make it to his statement after being cleared of wrongdoing.
And that is a story about the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, and former dominatrix Natalie Rowe, which, it seems, was going to appear in the Mirror, but didn’t. Ms Rowe Tweeted yesterday “@stephenmoyes Well done on your SCOOP re #LordSewel. Any chance of the pics you have when you worked at the #Mirror in relation me/Osborne?” Ooh, interesting. And there’s more.
She followed up with “@stephenmoyes Its odd how you suppressed those pics of #Osborne & your Editor at the time was removed unceremoniously, #SewelScoop no prob!” Moyes appeared concerned: “@RealNatalieRowe Hey Nat. Tried calling you. Pls ring or DM me. Cheers”. And then came the real eyebrow-raiser: “Can I have the #Osborne pics @stephenmoyes, I now know that all that time & money you gave me to expose #Osborne was in fact to set ME UP!”.
Observing this exchange was the man otherwise known as Joe Public, who asked the obvious question “Did Andy Coulson get Natalie Rowe story by hacking Sunday Mirror? Was the softer NOTW version the reason Osborne hired him as Comms chief?” Pundits wondered at the time why Osborne recommended Coulson to Young Dave, despite the Screws having given the future Chancellor a working over.

Stephen Moyes won’t be enlarging on that part of his CV any time soon. But someone might. There is still more to come on the Screws, the paper with the “clean bill of health”.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Boris Bus - A Warning From History

As arguments rage over the latest problems to be exhibited by the New Bus For London (NB4L), which is definitely not a Routemaster, the idea has been pitched by Labour Mayoral hopeful Christian Wolmar that these vehicles might best be taken out of service - and, by implication, deliveries stopped - to save TfL any further embarrassment. There is a significant precedent for this action, from half a century ago.
A new Guy Wulfrunian stands outside the Charles Roe bodyworks in Leeds, prior to delivery

The NB4L was not first offered by a bus manufacturer to TfL; rather, the Heatherwick concept was taken to the manufacturers to see if they would like to build it, and this parallels what happened in the late 50s. West Riding, the largest independent operator in the UK, operated in an area where the roads were in a generally awful condition. Fleet engineer Ronald Brooke had his own ideas of how to tackle this.

He decided that the solution was a vehicle with air suspension and disc brakes - at the time unheard of in the UK bus industry. Armed with his specification, he presented builders with it. With one exception, they passed on the idea. It was just too radical. But Guy Motors of Wolverhampton saw this as their opportunity to mix it with the biggest players, and so was born the Guy Wulfrunian.

The Wulfrunian had a lot in common with the NB4L: it was heavy for a late 50s double decker, some vehicles had their passenger capacity reduced, although this was for maintenance reasons, rather than legal ones, hardly anyone except the launch customer went near the design, the number of novel features led to unforeseen problems, and the cooling system had a reputation for alternately baking and freezing passengers.

The design looked attractive at the outset: for instance, the drop-centre rear axle meant it was a genuinely lowbridge design, and so could operate on a wider range of routes. But placing the engine at the front, when Leyland and Daimler were already working on rear engine designs, was not a good idea. Drivers complained of the roasting heat, made worse by the Gardner power unit having a right-hand exhaust.

Eventually, even the enthusiasm of West Riding waned, and they cancelled a final order for 25 buses, which ended production of the Wulfrunian after the mid-60s. By 1972 - the newest vehicles managed less than seven years in service, less than half what might have been expected - they had all gone. West Riding, by now in dire financial straits, replaced the Wulfrunians with rather older second-hand Bristol Lodekkas.

The NB4L is already operating for most of the time without rear platform attendants, and so the “hop on, hop off” feature is effectively redundant, a waste of time. If battery reliability persists, that will harm the design’s green credentials. Electrical problems are harming reliability. The air cooling problem has still not been solved. TfL need to ask themselves: can they swallow their pride, bite the bullet, and admit defeat?

Having a bus designed on the personal whim of a key player was not a good move by Ronald Brooke, West Riding, and Guy Motors. It’s still not a good idea, even if Bozza says it is. The Boris Wulfrunian may have been an interesting concept, but no more.

Sun Cocaine Hypocrisy

The revelation in yesterday’s Sun on Sunday that Lord Sewel (“Lord Who?”, some may ask) had been filmed taking cocaine and being entertained by prostitutes has got the more moral end of the Fourth Estate in a terribly righteous froth. He has resigned his House of Lords deputy speakership; now there is a clamour for him to be booted out of the upper house altogether. Someone may not have thought this one through.
Photo (c) Natalie Rowe

And not thinking it through was clearly the order of the day at the Mail, which has maximised its coverage of the affair, despite it being another paper’s exclusive. “A peer filmed snorting cocaine with two £200-a-night prostitutes was today facing calls to stand down from the House of Lords. Lord Sewel, 69, was reported to the police and quit as deputy speaker of the Lords after the video emerged”, they observed.

Daily Mail Comment, the authentic voice of the Vagina Monologue, went further: “Sewel has rightly resigned these roles but he should now be stripped of his peerage and the criminal allegations against him investigated by the police. Beyond his disgrace, however, this squalid affair shines a wider spotlight on the disturbingly low calibre of many peers”. Yes, Something Must Be Done. Because, look, it’s written, that’s why.

What does not appear to have occurred to the Dacre doggies, nor to the Murdoch faithful who first ran this story, is that there is rather a lot that we are not being told about Sewel and his, er, recreational pursuits. Did the Sun pay the sex workers involved? Who supplied the cocaine, which, let us not forget, is a Class A drug, and supplying it is therefore an illegal act? We’re not being told, but if the Met gets involved, we may find out.

That may not be to the Sun’s advantage: after all, it was for that paper that Mazher Mahmood was working when a judge called him out for lying and threw out the case against singer Tulisa Contostavlos last year. Was Maz involved in this one? Were any of his associates? And, apart from taking cocaine, exactly what law was being broken by Sewel’s actions? And then there is the right-wing press’ political hypocrisy.

If we’re going to chuck Coke sniffers out of Parliament, then there would be no point stopping at a former Labour junior minister - which is what Sewel was. Any peer or MP who was on record indulging in illegal substances, and using the services of sex workers, would have to go. And first in that queue, it seems, on the balance of evidence, would be the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet.

Osborne has always denied taking cocaine, but the photo taken of him sitting with former dominatrix Natalie Rowe suggests otherwise - as does her recollection. The Mail knows all about the story - they covered it two years ago. So if the inmates of the Northcliffe House bunker want to clear out all those “squalid” politicians, they could do worse than start with Osborne, who recently appeared at PMQs looking wasted.

But we’ll have a long time to wait for that, because the right-wing press are hypocrites.

Don’t Menshn Barack Obama

The observation by Barack Obama that he (and probably his successor, whatever their stripe) would prefer Britain to remain an EU member state has not gone down well with all those who work in the service of Creepy Uncle Rupe, who bows to no man in his detestation of any Democratic Party politician. So it was no surprise to see (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch dutifully kicking the Prez in her latest Sun column.
(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014

We can read all of the tedious drivel as her witterings are not considered worthy of putting behind the Sun’s paywall, right from the headline, “Disastrous, weak Obama might as well quack it all in … We don’t need to listen to him on EU”, to the lame “SO Barack Obama thinks the UK needs to stay in the EU. ‘Quack quack, special relationship quack,’ the US president reportedly said … What? Sorry, I was translating it into ‘lame duck’ — what they call a useless politician on their way out”. Laugh? I thought I’d never start.

It’s just lies and spin, from beginning to end. “He said we need to bow to Brussels”, she claims. No he didn’t. “Nobody paid him any attention over Greece’s debt crisis”, she wibbles. Not a US issue. “He did sod all to stop President Putin when he invaded the Ukraine”. It’s not called “the Ukraine”, and what does she want the US to do? Start World War 3? “Obama even allowed Russia to host fugitive whistleblower Ed Snowden”.

Terrible, eh? The USA doesn’t stick its bugle into other countries’ internal affairs. But then it gets seriously stupid. “He wrapped up with [?] an Iranian ‘deal’ that will do nothing to stop the mad mullahs developing nukes”. The Iranian “deal” - not yet finalised - provides for an unprecedented level of monitoring, and, yes, stops Iran “developing nukes”.

Can’t she get one thing right? Nope: “some brave Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011, in an operation started by President Bush”. Yes Ms Mensch, it took the Navy Seals two and a half years to get to northern Pakistan. How about health care reform? “Even at home, his Obamacare health programme is unpopular”. Yeah, right. That’s why the percentage of US citizens without cover is at its lowest ever.

Let’s cut the crap: only the most wilful and blinkered right-winger can fail to concede that Obama has been one of the great Presidents. Quite apart from bringing Iran in from the cold and effectively pointing the country to the west, he has ended the pointless stand-off with Cuba, bringing that country into the mainstream for the first time in over 50 years. And Ms Mensch’s claim that he’s doing nothing on Syria is also bunk.

Otherwise, how did all those US warplanes get there? His approval ratings, which one might expect to be poor for a Prez late in the second term, are holding up well. Even now, there are new initiatives: “Executives from 13 major U.S. corporations will announce Monday at least $140 billion in new investments to decrease their carbon footprints as part of a White House initiative to recruit private commitments ahead of a United Nations climate-change summit later this year in Paris”, announced Bloomberg news today.

While Louise Mensch sits there in her upmarket Manhattan bunker, the world has moved on. Meanwhile, her puerile sniping shows just how out of touch she is. Sad, really.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Dapper Laughs Comeback - Don’t Bother

Regular Zelo Street readers may recall the brief interlude last November when one Daniel O’Reilly, who styles himself Dapper Laughs, was notorious, before ITV2 decided not to commission another series of his “Lad Comedy” show On The Pull, in which he gave out advice to young men, who were not as proficient in getting forward as he, on how to make themselves rather better received by young women. As it were.
Funny. So he says

The reason his show was pulled may have been the lame torrent of misogynist drivel that emanated from his North And South, it may have been comments he made during his stand-up show, but it was indeed pulled. Now, Dapper Laughs wants a way back, and has secured a feature in the Sunday Times magazine, where Martin Daubney has given him the benefit of the doubt - and concluded he quite likes the bloke.
As the Indy has noted, “When O’Reilly was filmed at a gig making a rape joke last October, before telling the audience that a woman in the crowd was ‘gagging for a rape’, he lost his TV show and cancelled his tour due to the backlash, in which 68,000 people had signed a petition calling for him to be taken off TV. He later claimed in an interview with Newsnight that he had killed off the Dapper Laughs character”.
Though it seems O’Reilly spoke with forked tongue: “But O’Reilly has begun gigging again, and in an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine this weekend he has attempted to defend the jokes he made that night, while seeking to assure people that ‘I have never said I condone rape’”. No, it’s nothing more than PROPER LAD BANTER.
I mean, next he’ll be coming on all Reformed New Man … oh hang on a minute, will you look at that Twitter feed: “My point was, with 2 million followers why not ask me to put a message across to young lads, instead of trying to ban me. Stay tuned”. Actually, it’s less than 400K on Twitter, but do go on. “As a son, brother, and boyfriend to some amazing woman id [sic] love to use my position to educate men on sexism”.
Has he turned over a new leaf? “I didn't make ‘rape jokes’ I don't joke about rape. Or find it funny...I spoke about it. Unlike any other comic ever”. Is this reformed character also going to cut out his, shall we say, creative use of Twitter to have critics monstered? Sadly, as Mic Wright has discovered, no he isn’t: “I see Dapper Laughs is up to his old trick of quote tweeting people who criticise him so his followers monster them. Classy as ever”.
Wright has weighed the evidence, considered his words carefully, and concluded of Dapper Laughs that “he's a scumbag as is Daubney. And The Sunday Times should be ashamed of giving them the platform”. One thing is for certain: this is a thinly veiled attempt by Daniel O’Reilly to get himself another fifteen minutes. And he does not merit it, whether he gets himself into the ST Magazine or anywhere else.

So O’Reilly can draw an audience for his stand-up show. Fine. Just don’t anyone pretend that he’s any kind of phenomenon other than one worth ignoring.

Times Finds Reds Under Labour Bed

The Murdoch press has suddenly become most concerned about the future of the Labour Party, the Sunday Times today carrying tales of 1980s-style entryism and a totally erroneous suggestion that the upcoming leadership election may be suspended. The problem for Rupe’s supposedly upmarket troops is that their favoured party - the Tories - is the one with the real entryist problem. So what’s their claim?
Hard left plot to infiltrate Labour race … Harman urged to halt leadership vote” claims the headline, going on to tell “HARRIET HARMAN has been urged to suspend the Labour leadership race after evidence emerged that hard left [again] infiltration is fuelling a huge surge in party membeship … More than 140,000 new activists are projected to have joined by the deadline for registration to vote, a rise of more than two-thirds since the election, with many signing up to back the hard left [again] candidate Jeremy Corbyn”.

Readers have the names of the Communist Party and the Green Party pitched to them, before being told “Some of the new members have previously stood as candidates for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, an electoral alliance including the Socialist Workers’ party, founded by Bob Crow, the late hard left [again] leader of the RMT rail union”.
D’you think the ST wants us to think that there is something “hard left” going on here? There’s certainly precious little journalism: readers are told “Labour MPs say their local parties have been flooded with new members, most of them supporting Corbyn”, but have only one name given, that of Bassetlaw MP John Mann, and even then, the Murdoch faithful have to be highly selective when presenting his contribution.

While Mann has indeed said “People who chose not to vote #Labour at the General Election should not be able to vote for the next Labour leader”, he has also Tweeted “I will be backing whoever is elected #Labour leader (and being awkward). 2016 has elections everywhere and they should be judged by results”. That second comment does not make the ST story, because it does not fit the idea of Labour being split.
Meanwhile, the ST - like all the other right-leaning parts of the Fourth Estate - says nothing about the infiltration of the Tory Party by the alphabet soup of deeply conservative and often Neo-Con influenced lobby groups: the ASI, CPS, IEA, TPA, the Freedom Association (which has been banned from the secure area of party conferences for years), and of course the Young Britons’ Foundation, that supplies so many party activists.

No, all that is hunky dory, but what is not is the prospect of yet another Labour leadership candidate that is beyond the bidding of Creepy Uncle Rupe: Corbyn, like Andy Burnham, has refused to give the Sun an interview. No wonder the Murdoch press wants to frighten the readers against him, to the extent of borrowing the “hard left” meme so beloved of hosts on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

The Labour leadership contest isn’t being suspended. And Rupe still doesn’t have a vote.

Gove Puts His Foot In It

What better way to give voice to the Government’s claim that the NHS is not properly open for business at weekends than one of its ministers discovering that first hand? And what better way to get the information out there to a still sceptical public than having that minister married to a tabloid journalist? So when Michael “Oiky” Gove injured his foot - falling over a toy, for Goodness’ sake - the opportunity was obvious.
Oiky”, who has form for falling over and making a prat of himself, was driven to an NHS Treatment Centre by wife - and Daily Mail writer - Sarah “Vain” Vine, only to make the Shock Horror discovery that they were unable to X-Ray the potentially broken foot because he’d turned up at the weekend. Here was the smoking gun, the evidence that proved Jeremy Hunt (the former Culture Secretary) was right.

The Telegraph was clearly not best pleased: “Michael Gove left on crutches because he couldn’t get an X-Ray over weekend … Michael Gove’s wife has called for all NHS services to be available 24/7, after her husband was let down by the lack of Sunday services”. Ms Vine told the Tel that “Oiky” “has been unable to receive treatment for a possible fractured foot because parts of the NHS shut down on the weekend”.
Ms Vine was deeply insulted: “His work diary was packed (he left home before 8am and returned after I was asleep); Tuesday’s, too … The foot has not yet been X-rayed. Obviously it’s not life threatening. But it is very painful … Trouble is, like most people, he doesn’t have a spare half-day to sit around awaiting the pleasure of the hospital radiographer”. There was more. Rather a lot more.

No one is suggesting NHS staff don’t work very hard and do an excellent job. Just that the service needs to be a 24/7 one. And that means all departments - not just acute emergency departments - need to be available at weekends”. The problem for Ms Vine is that radiology departments at many NHS hospitals are open 24/7.
So the Tel then had to issue a “correction”: “Yesterday’s article … wrongly implied that Michael Gove could get no treatment because all NHS radiology departments close on Sundays … These departments are in fact open 24 hours a day for emergencies in many hospitals other than the minor injuries unit that Mr Gove attended”.

It got worse: the NHS Treatment Centre in Shepton Mallet, where “Oiky” and Ms Vine fetched up, is run not by the NHS, but Care UK, a private provider. So the rotten socialist NHS, which Ms Vine was so joyously attacking, already provides a 24/7 service, but the Very Wonderful private health providers that the Tories want to see lots more of do not.

And so the latest attempt to demonise the NHS in pursuit of another needless and misleading Tory campaign has been unmasked as a sham, driven more by the cluelessness of a Mail pundit than reality. Still, generates column inches and gives Young Dave and his jolly good chaps a nice warm feeing. Mustn’t grumble.

Top Six - July 26

So what’s hot, and what’s not, in the past week’s blogging? Here are the six most popular posts on Zelo Street for the past seven days, counting down in reverse order, because, well, I have domestic stuff to do later. So there.
6 Welfare Bill - What Does Labour Stand For? Opposition consists of more than just sitting there and doing nothing. Especially when tens of thousands of people in work are facing a significant reduction in their living standards.
5 Newton Dunn - Still A Bully The Sun’s political editor got himself into the latest issue of Private Eye magazine for allegedly behaving very badly towards a waitress in Moncrieff’s Bar. Not that he’s a bully, you understand.
4 Nadine Dorries Protests Too Much The fragrant Nadine’s latest attempt to silence the serially tenacious Tim Ireland failed as press regulator IPSO - for the second time - threw out her complaint.
3 Subsidise Uber? You’re Having A Laugh The idea that taxpayers should subsidise a global company with a cash war chest of over $1 billion, just so it can make provision for the less able, something that London’s black cabs do anyway, really was taking the biscuit.
2 Sun’s Picky MP Paedophile Claim The Sun’s latest “Paedo Scare” was notable not for what the story contained, but for what it did not.
1 Hillsborough - The Full Truth The Sun’s disrespect for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough stadium disaster went a lot further than one front page story.
And that’s the end of another blogtastic week, blog pickers. Not ‘arf!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Liz Kendall Sexism Row Fail

With each passing day, and voting beginning in around three weeks’ time, the Labour leadership campaign of Leicester West MP Liz Kendall looks a yet more forlorn cause. Today’s news is typical: the tally of Constituency Labour Party (CLP) nominations stands at 106 for Jeremy Corbyn, 98 for Andy Burnham, and 86 for Yvette Cooper. Ms Kendall has garnered the support of just 14. She’s run out of road.
But, given the nature of the voting system, those calling for her to pull out are not thinking this one through: votes are allocated to second, then third preferences as candidates are eliminated when those votes are counted. There is little point in taking a name off the ballot right now. There is, though, no point in trying to whip up controversy for the sake of it, and the latest such event does those involved no favours at all.

Charles Falconer, long-time friend of the saintly Tone, is backing Burnham. He explained his choice thus: “Neither Yvette [Cooper] nor Liz [Kendall] can steer the party through the challenging few years ahead of us when we need a leader who can reach out to all wings of the party and provide unity”. What he did not do was make any generalisation about the capabilities of women in a leadership role.

Not that you would know that from Ms Kendall’s response: “It’s depressing to see a senior man in the party dismiss the contribution of women so easily … For Charlie to say that somehow women aren’t tough enough to lead the Labour Party is a gross insult and, as for standing up to Jeremy Corbyn, I’m the only candidate who has been saying he would be a disaster for our party and that I wouldn’t serve in his shadow cabinet, unlike the candidate Charlie is supporting”. If only Falconer had said what she claimed. But he didn’t.
Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News disagreed: “I can spot sexism a mile off, and I’m not afraid to say it. But Lord Falconer - Charlie to his mates - is no sexist … what cheerful Charlie was saying was a statement of fact, based on YouGov’s opinion poll released early this week”. The involvement of the Murdoch Times has not helped matters.

The paper, seeing its chance to make mischief, reported Falconer’s comments under the headline “Women ‘are not tough enough to lead Labour’”. That, he observed, “suggests I think that women are not tough enough to lead the Labour party. That is not my view and I said nothing that suggested it was … The Times itself has acknowledged in emails that the headline was ‘stupid’, ‘misleading’ and ‘sexist’”.

Would Ms Kendall now accept that? Well, no, the Times headline may have been wrong, but “I based it on what he actually wrote … He said that myself and Yvette weren’t up to the challenge of leading or uniting the party, and I think that’s just plain wrong. He only picked out the two women”. The impression is given that someone is arguing in their spare time. And that person appears to be Liz Kendall.

Sorry, team Kendall. Your candidate is not going to win. Maybe quit the attention seeking.

Toby Young Fails GCSE History

There were many raised eyebrows this week as the Mail suggested that, even in the brave new educational world ushered in by Michael “Oiky” Gove, GCSE exams were being “dumbed down”. The screaming headline, “Spot the difference! How new 'tougher' history GCSE exam will ask pupils to compare these two images of Parliament... with extra points for pointing out presence of women and ethnic minorities”, said it all.
What was that about Dumbing Down?

And the inmates of Northcliffe House wanted readers to know that their chosen party of Government was unhappy about the situation: “Schools minister Nick Gibb said sample papers submitted by the exam boards were ‘far below’ the standard he expects. He attacked the boards for failing to raise standards and making questions too easy”. Gibb did not, for some reason, explain himself. But, for one Tory supporter, that was enough.

The loathsome Toby Young immediately took to Twitter in condemnation, telling anyone out there who had not hit the Mute button “Dumbed-down History GCSE exam asks students to play ‘spot the difference’. My 7-year-old could get a C. Pathetic”. Sadly for Tobes, a perusal of the examination paper - taken together with the marking notes - shows that he has not acquired the sobriquet “Captain Bellend” for nothing.
To get a Grade C pass, candidates must achieve an answer standard around Level 3. But this is a one-size-fits-all examination paper, and some questions do not require a Level 3 standard of competence to be demonstrated. The question with the “Spot the difference” images of Parliament is one of those. The marking notes clearly show that there are Level 1 and Level 2 answer standards. Getting a C involves the later questions.

Take the very next question, “Explain the significance of the signing of [the] Magna Carta”. Here is what the examiner is looking for in a Level 2 answer: “eg It was significant at the time because the barons were pleased to have obtained agreement from the king of their rights. They renewed their oaths of allegiance to him. Copies of the Charter were drawn up to distribute throughout the kingdom. Although it did not prevent the barons going to war with King John it did become the basis for peace between them and subsequent kings, such as Henry III”. That, Tobes, is not yet good enough for a C.

To achieve Level 3 - and a C standard - the marking notes require that the candidate “Develops more than one of the aspects in Level 2”. Perhaps Tobes - and, indeed, the likes of Nick Gibb - would like to explain how requiring that in order to get a C grade is “dumbing down”. And I have one more question for Toby Young.

Tobes runs the West London Free School. So one might expect that, even if he does not understand the structure of the questions, and the marking scheme, in an exam paper, he would be able to consult a specialist teacher who could explain it to him. That suggests either lack of communication, or that Tobes is just being wilfully ignorant.

They don’t call him Captain Bellend for nothing. Because Toby Young is indeed a bellend.

Northern No Powerhouse - Tories Knew

The suspicion of many observers that Young Dave and his jolly good chaps knew that Network Rail (NR) could not complete the network upgrades promised in the run-up to the General Election was, at the time, no more than that. But that NR - like BR before it - could reasonably manage one large project at a time became clear after the event. Now the beans have been well and truly spilled: the Tories knew all along.
What was promised before the polls included the electrification of the Midland Main Line from Bedford to Sheffield - a route which takes in a number of marginal constituencies, such as Corby and East Northamptonshire, won by the Tories in 2010 but regained by Labour after Louise Mensch threw in the towel and left for the USA. The prospect of a direct electric service to London may have proved attractive to swing voters.

And so it came to pass that Labour incumbent Andy Sawford lost the seat he had won in that by-election. The promise of better rail links to the capital may also have proved beneficial to Anna Soubry in Broxtowe, to the west of Nottingham, Nigel Mills in Amber Valley, Amanda Solloway in Derby North, Maggie Throup in Erewash, Nicky Morgan in Loughborough, and Mark Spencer in Sherwood.

That’s seven seats. The Tories’ overall majority is 12. Had Labour taken all of those, there would have been a hung parliament. There was also the promise of electrification for the main northern Trans-Pennine route from Manchester to Huddersfield, Leeds and York, which may also have benefited the Tories. This is doubly important, because we now know that the outgoing Coalition Government knew there would be delays.

The BBC has reported “Ministers were warned before the election that major rail upgrades might have to be delayed … Network Rail boss Mark Carne said the Department for Transport was told in March that decisions about deferring schemes could be due within months. The department had previously said it was not told Network Rail's board expected delays until after the election”. Someone is being economical with the actualit√© here.

Carne wrote to Labour’s Lilian Greenwood to tell “In mid-March 2015, Network Rail informed DfT that decisions may need to be made in the coming months about the deferral of certain schemes”. He also told that “Network Rail, the DfT and the Office of Rail Regulation all knew around 80% of current projects were ‘at an extremely early stage of development, with inevitably high levels of uncertainty regarding their cost’”.

Instead of coming clean, the Tories carried on with the pretence, their press pals happy to see the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, unveil a stick-on nameplate applied to a 25 year old train as proof that all was well. Now, those same press pals are keeping schtum (the Guardian has reported the story, though) because there is the possibility some seats have been won on a blatantly false premise.

Not that Cameron and Osborne will be fussed. They won. That’s all that matters to them.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Free School Not Cleared For Take-Off

Although the likes of the loathsome Toby Young rightly attract their share of brickbats over a slavish support for the Free Schools programme initiated by his hero Michael “Oiky” Gove, at least the information about how much the West London Free School is costing the public purse - that means all of us - has been willingly ponied up. Sadly, the same thing cannot be said of all Free Schools - well, not yet, anyway.
Zelo Street regulars may recall the curious case of the Parkfield Free School in the south coast town of Bournemouth, which began its life at Butcher’s Coppice, a scout camp, before moving to an office block in the town centre called Dorset House. But then a problem entered: this accommodation would not be available after 2015, so a new home had to be found. The National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS) provided the solution.

Their training centre was now vacant. However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, the building was not in town, but six miles away - and in a different local authority area - at Bournemouth Airport. It was, in fact, adjacent to the airport apron, giving the potential for pupils to be subjected to the bracing aroma of aviation fuel, and the related prospect of significant noise pollution.

That was bad enough, but then it was found that since NATS moved out, the building had become home to a large number of bats. So the school had to negotiate to remain at Dorset House for another year while that was sorted. By this time, the thought entered that Parkfield Free School might be racking up a fair old taxpayer bill, what with all the different premises, start-up costs, and of course the bat removal to pay for.

So the Bournemouth Echo put in an FoI request, only to have most of it refused: “the DfE would only give us limited information about the school's pre-opening and post-opening expenditure that revealed the school received £145,807.46 before opening and £467,500 afterwards … However the DfE does publish lists of payments over £25,000 and these appear to show that between July and December 2013, a total of £2.14million was paid to Parkfield Education Limited, the trust that set up the school”. There’s more.

Land registry records also show that Parkfield paid £3million for the College of Air Traffic Control at Hurn”. Hurn is where Bournemouth Airport is sited. So there has been around £6 million shelled out, but the DfE is stalling: “The Department is currently in commercial negotiations to finalise the capital costs and releasing the information you requested may have a negative impact on the Department's negotiating position”.

I detect a whiff of bullshit here. The new premises has been paid for, and all that should now be outstanding is clearing the bats, fitting it out, and paying for temporary accommodation in the interim. Why is the Government dragging its feet? Is there another significant capital sum coming at us down the runway?

Either way, this is another example of Free Schools equalling an open-ended taxpayer commitment. Plus this one, it seems, got a “requires improvement” from Ofsted. The people of Bournemouth could have done better with their local authority.

Daily Mail’s Sour Kuenssberg Whopper

After the BBC announced that long-serving political editor Nick Robinson was to join the Radio 4 Today programme, the speculation began as to who might replace him. Since the appointment to the post of John Cole back in the early 80s, the post holder has become a fixture of TV news bulletins, a nationally-known figure. It is arguably the highest-profile role for a journalist anywhere in the UK, and perhaps beyond.
Jan Moir: such a happy soul

There was also speculation that the selection process would see the appointment of the first woman BBC political editor, and so it came to pass as Laura Kuenssberg was given the nod earlier this week. Much of the reporting of this event has been purely factual (Press Gazette account HERE), but then the Guardian told “The BBC was said to be keen to appoint a woman to the role to give its political coverage more gender balance”.

Now, that is not the same thing as making the selection on gender alone, but it was all that the inmates of Northcliffe House needed to use the event as yet another excuse to put the boot in on the hated Beeb. It is no coincidence that the duty of confecting the hatchet job was given to Glenda Cattia Maxima Jan Moir, who preceded her rant with the routinely dishonest headlineLaura's a star but why did the Beeb only want a woman?

There was more. Rather a lot more: “from the moment the plum vacancy was announced, BBC bosses made it clear that they wanted a woman for the job to give the Corporation’s political coverage more gender balance. A lady person! Crack open the Babycham and the cal-free snacks. For a mere girl in the top job would be cutting edge and groovy and inclusive, not to mention super-modern and make them look really, really great”.

Not, you understand, that the Mail is being demeaning or sexist - how can it, when it’s given the job of kicking the BBC to a woman? But having made her false assertion, Ms Moir was off and running: “Isn’t making it clear that female candidates will be favoured not unlawful discrimination by any other name? Positive discrimination is just as sexist as the negative sort and anyway, there is nothing positive about it if you’re a bloke”.

Sadly, as Captain Blackadder might have observed, there was only one thing wrong with this idea - it was bollocks. Nothing was made clear. There is no evidence that any male candidate was passed over, which Ms Moir almost admits: “Boo hoo to all the other hard-working and now slightly disillusioned chaps who might have fancied their chances at the top job but understood that Men Need Not Apply was the tacit message”.

Then she lets slip the real reason for the kicking: “it has been particularly galling to see BBC executives and certain newspapers crowing about the first female political editor of the BBC”. Pay attention all you yogurt knitters at King’s Place - it’s the Guardian’s fault. Listen up: “These things are not supposed to matter … To do so is demeaning to Laura Kuenssberg and to all of us”. It’s not the Mail demeaning women, so there.

Not as demeaning as peddling a pack of lies as fact, but hey ho. No change there, then.

Nadine Dorries Protests Too Much

With May’s General Election campaign receding into past memory, there has come a timely reminder from press regulator IPSO of the less than totally honest behaviour exhibited by some of the candidates, as an adjudication has been published regarding a complaint made by Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire (yes, it’s her again) Nadine Dorries.
And one look at the adjudication shows that this was one campaign that developed not necessarily to the Fragrant Nadine’s advantage. During the run-up to the election, the Sunday Mirror had run a story titled “TORY NAD STALKING ROW WITH VOTE RIVAL … Police probe Tory’s ‘harassment’ blast”. The article detailed the varied and creative allegations made by Ms Dorries against the serially tenacious Tim Ireland.

The piece also asserted that there was a Police investigation in progress following complaints received in the wake of a hustings event at Shefford, which Ms Dorries did not attend, but at which a number of her supporters turned up and distributed leaflets which made allegations about Ireland. These, shall we say, were not factually correct, and gave every appearance of being highly defamatory.

IPSO, on this occasion, was not pronouncing on the nuances in the Editor’s Code of Conduct, but on a straightforward matter of accuracy, that being whether a Police investigation was indeed in progress when the paper published its article. And, as the Guardian has reported, “The regulator found that the paper’s report that Dorries was at the centre of a police investigation was accurate”. There was more.

Dorries said that no such investigation could have been taking place because any allegations that she had broken electoral law would have had to be referred to the police by the returning officer, who would only do so after the vote on 7 May. But police repeatedly confirmed to the Sunday Mirror that they were investigating allegations into Dorries, Ipso found”. It got worse for the MP.

Dorries also complained that the story … was inaccurate because it reported that police had produced a report clearing the other candidate - the blogger Tim Ireland - of having harassed her on different occasions in the past … She said that the document on which the paper was relying, which Ireland obtained under data protection laws, only took into account the professional view of a single officer”.

However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, the Sunday Mirror checked its story with the relevant Police press office, and the IPSO findings note that “The police had … confirmed that [Ms Dorries’] concerns about [Ireland] had been investigated and passed to the CPS, but that no evidence of an offence was found”. Moreover, this was not the only recent Dorries complaint about Ireland that IPSO has thrown out (see HERE).

Those papers that have given Nadine Dorries the opportunity to peddle her claims against Tim Ireland might do well to peruse this latest adjudication before humouring her again.

You can see Richard Bartholomew’s take on these events HERE.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Uber Doesn't Care About Disability

Sometimes, the most unexpected sources ride to the rescue, and so it is with the currently debated issue of driver and rider matching service Uber and its stance on accessibility. The signs that Uber, to put it directly, does not care about the disabled and the less mobile have come not from their opponents, but from their own actions, and the reports on them. The lesson for those needing accessible transport in London are clear.
The capital’s black cabs must be fully accessible: that means they can accommodate wheelchairs, which in addition benefits those less mobile, less confident to use the bus and Tube, those laden with luggage and shopping, or just wanting to make a more dignified exit from their chosen conveyance. No such compulsion extends to Uber to provide accessible vehicles, and so they do not.

But if there were a demand out there, then surely the market would step in and satisfy the need? That would be the dream of those who urge less regulation and free competition. And, from the experiences of customers in the USA, it is, sadly, nothing more than wishful thinking. The effect of Uber in New York City has been to impact severely on the availability of accessible vehicles. And the news from California is yet worse.

In NYC, advocates for more accessible taxi services had worked with the industry over the years to make 50% of the city’s cabs wheelchair accessible. This was not up to the standard of London, but it was excellent progress. Then along came Uber, taking business from taxi services, and taking taxi drivers, too. The result was that, out of an estimated 14,000 Uber cars on the road in NYC, not one was accessible. Not one.

You can see the video setting the facts out right HERE.
What Uber won't give you, and doesn't much care about

It gets worse: last week, as the Los Angeles Times has told, Uber suffered a blow “when an administrative judge recommended that the ride-sharing giant be fined $7.3 million and be suspended from operating in California”. At issue was reporting customer information: “The reporting requirements include the number of requests for rides from people with service animals or wheelchairs; how many such rides were completed; and other ride-logging information such as date, time, Zip Code and fare paid”.

Uber is not letting the authorities know how many requests it’s receiving from wheelchair users and those with service dogs (guide dogs in UK speak), nor how many of those requests were satisfied. This is a most creative way of airbrushing out the issue: just don’t report on it at all. Then there is the issue of non-cooperation with the NYC authorities.

As The Verge has told, “The City Council is expected to vote tomorrow on a new proposal that would impose a one-year slowdown in the number of new vehicles it can license for its fleet. The city says it needs time to study a rapid increase in congestion happening in its crowded urban core”. Uber’s response is to wheel out the aggressive lobbyist and claim that it’s not fair because it will cost people their jobs.

That is Uber in a nutshell. It’s all about them. No word about their total lack of disabled provision. No word about the percentage of disabled requests they actually accept. Just the aggressive pursuit of expansion, expansion, and yet more expansion - on the terms on which they want to do business.

Meanwhile, in London, Assembly Transport Committee Chair Val Shawcross has noted that TfL “does not appear to have progressed plans to develop an over-arching strategy for the taxi and private hire trades”, and, worse, “there is no clear audit trail for interactions between senior managers and licensees”. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Uber’s lack of accessible vehicles will not be addressed by TfL - at all.

So where does that leave those who do require an accessible vehicle, and all those who benefit from the black cab requirement? One thing comes clear from happenings Stateside, and that it that Uber does not give a damn. Hello TfL, time for you to wake up.