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This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Monday, 26 April 2010

Travelling Once More

As promised recently, Zelo Street is off on its travels soon, blogging on things other than the General Election, and looking at the UK from a more detached perspective. There may be a break in posting – that part is not yet certain – but I should be back on air by later in the week.

But first, I have a case to pack, paperwork to arrange, then a train and plane to catch. Back soon!

Get Over It

Some politicians – notably Tories – and their soulmates in the press are becoming increasingly exercised over the possibility of a so-called hung parliament. And, as they do so, the language becomes ever more strident, and the rhetoric equally ridiculous.

In today’s vanguard has been the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, who has launched the fictitious Hung Parliament Party. The “spoof” broadcast for this party features someone promising “indecision and weak Government”, which sounds awfully like the last Tory Government we had, and that had a majority.

But, as the Lib Dems have countered, Osborne is effectively campaigning against an adversary that does not exist. He is getting obsessed by the hypothetical. And he isn’t the only Tory spokesman railing against the thought that all those jolly good chaps might not now get their well manicured fingers around the levers of power come next month.

Joining the Heir to the Seventeenth Baronet was shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, the one who was going to tear up the BBC’s charter, but maybe isn’t. Hunt says that a hung parliament means deals being done “behind closed doors”, which happens as part of cabinet Government anyway. He warned that this might lead to a fall in share prices, as if we weren’t used to that after the near collapse of the banking system, which his party called wrongly.

Then Hunt started warning that other countries that had coalition Governments suffered “instability”. Yes, Jezza, like Germany, the country that has outperformed the supposedly strongly governed UK for the past 65 years. But, reasoned Hunt, the Government in Belgium had just collapsed. Big deal. The electorate there will just have to elect another, if of course an election is needed. The Belgians will get over the problem, just as politicians across Europe do on a regular basis.

If the electorate in the UK wants to vote in a particular fashion on May 6, then they are entitled so to do. Young Dave and his chaps should quit messing about and accept the will of the people. Get over it.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Regaining The Initiative

Credit where credit’s due: Young Dave has recovered the advantage on one front, even though it’s not on most voters’ radar. His initial reluctance to commit to an appearance before The Inquisition Of Pax Jeremiah let Pa Broon paint him into a corner by agreeing to a grilling, as had Corporal Clegg earlier.

But Brown had also set the date for his appearance before Paxo, and it wasn’t going to be until next week. Cameron and his team, once they conceded the point, were fast enough in rearranging their schedule to get their man in first, and now the interview has been recorded and broadcast.

Is this important? Yes, undoubtedly – as with Clegg, Cameron has got the ordeal over with, the post interview discussion has been had, and any of it that lodged momentarily in the public consciousness has been forgotten. Young Dave can now focus on those kinds of appearances that are less demanding, and those that allow him to say only what he wants.

Moreover, he gets more preparation time for the last Leaders’ Debate.

You All Right Dave?

Over the years that he has been leading the Tory Party, I’ve had more than enough opportunity to hear Young Dave in action. And there seems to have been a subtle change in what I’ve been hearing over time. This leads me to ask if Cameron is maybe tiring as the campaigning intensifies.

Back in 2006, Young Dave can be seen and heard at the dispatch box in this video, reeling off one liners and convenient sound bites as he responds to Pa Broon’s budget. So far, so predictable, but in his rearranged PEB last week – this is available on Webcameron – he sounds subtly different.

What is that difference? Put directly, he sounds more nasal in his speech – I thought he had contracted a mild head cold. Is it getting to him a little, or has he dropped unlucky , having to keep up the usual punishing schedule while dealing with not feeling quite 100%?

Because a General Election campaign is no time to be unwell.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Forgotten Constituency – 2

As promised earlier in the week, I ventured out into Crewe today – nothing unusual there – but have to report that there was precious little campaigning going on. The weather was pleasantly mild, the sun shone, and the place was busy with shoppers as is usual on Saturday. But where were the politicians?

Ultimately, the only evidence of any campaigning was that of Labour’s David Williams, who is also on the back page (all of it) of this week’s free paper, which means his message has been delivered to over 30,000 households around the constituency.

The Williams mark was left on many potential voters (but more often their children) in the form of red balloons, marked with the Labour rose and also the name of Williams’ union Usdaw, for whom he works full time. Yes, there is a union other than Unite. The best that I can report for the Tories is that Edward Timpson’s campaign has done another round of emails.

Perhaps they, and the Lib Dems, are writing off Crewe and Nantwich as a Labour certainty. That’s another aspect of First Past The Post that means swing votes don’t count. Not perfect, is it?

Friday, 23 April 2010

A Desperate Retelling – 3

I did wonder the other day if my description of Tory cheerleader Iain Dale as “a compliant and reliable conduit for Tory propaganda” was a little OTT, after he posted a piece which commented adversely on the welter of anti-Clegg stories in the Tory supporting press. I didn’t have long to wait.

Because today, far from urging restraint on the Fourth Estate, Dale is getting into the pit with them: first he suggests that Clegg reconsider his use of the term “nutters” in last night’s Leaders’ Debate (Clegg was describing the Tories’ new friends in the European Parliament). Yes, Iain, and what terms did Young Dave use to describe the membership of UKIP, perchance?

Then he has, within three and a half hours, followed up with another post telling of “Lib Dem smears”. You see, it’s OK to smear Clegg, because his lot do it as well! And quoting Andrew Gilligan as a source isn’t the best route to the plateau of credibility – unless you’re a Tory supporter.

No, I was right the first time: His Master’s Voice writ large. Woof!

Who’s Behind The Mudslinging?

This week, that part of the Fourth Estate that cheers for Young Dave and his jolly good chaps has, as if by magic, come together to concentrate its fire on Corporal Clegg – just in time for the second Leaders’ Debate. And, for Danny Alexander, Clegg’s election coordinator, the timing is more than fortunate coincidence: he appears to be of the opinion that the Tories have been, if not directing the attacks, at least egging on the participants.

So Alexander has called on the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, to “come clean” on his involvement with the slew of negative stories. Fat chance. Osborne had met with a number of political editors earlier in the week, but all that has been admitted is that he was discussing the Tories’ response to Clegg’s increased popularity.

Osborne has not yet had to face serious interrogation over his role, the long straw going to Fat Eric and “Oiky” Gove, who were wanting to go after Pa Broon for a series of leaflets accusing the Tories of intending to cut benefits to pensioners. This pair of Laurel and Hardy lookalikes, whom I would not trust any further than I could chuck them, bodyswerved much of the criticism and suggested that the anti-Clegg stories were merely evidence of the press subjecting politicians to routine scrutiny.

Well, one of the stories – that in the Maily Telegraph – which suggested that Clegg receiving money into his personal bank account which was then used to pay a member of staff might not have been totally above board has been thoroughly debunked. It emerged that the staffer concerned was paid more by Clegg than those monies received. However, Danny Alexander might find the Twitter feed of one Donal Blaney, CEO of the Young Britons’ Foundation, interesting: Blaney has made a number of perhaps too knowing comments about Clegg’s probity that he might not like directing at himself (or enjoying wider publication).

Ultimately, though, what do all the anti-Clegg stories in the press, together with Tory cheerleaders’ blog posts and tweets, reveal, other than a desperate effort to re-impose the status quo? Their man isn’t out in front, the electorate are suggesting a result they don’t want, and opinion is not being swayed by a load of cheap scare stories.

Perhaps the Tories could listen more to the analysis of their own party chairman: Fat Eric said of the papers running the anti-Clegg line that they were “read by grown-ups who make their own minds up”. Yes Eric, and right now that includes rather a lot of grown-ups who don’t want what you’re selling.

In The Retelling

So now we have had two Leaders’ Debates, last night’s on Sky News (“first for breaking wind”) generating more heat than light. Following the live transmission, there were more than a hundred complaints to Ofcom about moderator Adam Boulton’s apparent flouting of Rule 63 (which states “It is not the moderator’s role to criticise or comment on the leaders’ answers”) after he pitched a question outside the remit of the debate and then heckled Corporal Clegg over his answer.

There have also been criticisms that the Sky presentation favoured Young Dave, and that cameras cut away from both Clegg and Pa Broon while they were speaking. But this is only to be expected from a channel that is under the ultimate control of Murdoch the Interfering Foreigner. Moreover, Boulton was clearly out of his depth: as I’ve said before, he is a monumentally immodest man who has much to be modest about. The shortcomings of Sky, and the cheapness of ITV, will not carry over to the final debate on the Beeb.

Meanwhile, there was the now obligatory slew of post-debate polls, and an average of five of them put Clegg in the lead, not that you would know that from reading the Mail, Maily Telegraph, Express or Sun today: all these supposed pillars of free speech called it for Cameron. In fact, Clegg wasn’t as far in front as last week, but the ICM poll for the Guardian put Cameron level with Brown, and both four points off the leader. Moreover, when the same poll asked who would make the best PM, Brown won.

Which tends to support the view that, for Young Dave, it’s all going a bit Pete Tong. So why is he in this position? He was in the vanguard when it came to wanting these debates, despite leading in the polls. Like Margaret Thatcher he could have played safe and declined to take part. Perhaps he thought that, as he got the better of Pa Broon at PMQs, this would carry through. But these debates are different: at PMQs, it’s a straight Cameron versus Brown, then Clegg versus Brown, exchange. The style is to shorter, one or two line, thrusts at the opponent. It doesn’t get bogged down in detail.

But the Leaders’ Debates do get into the detail, and are a three way discussion: they are far more structured. And there are no supportive MPs cheering on, with no scribbled notes being passed along from shadow cabinet colleagues to help expose flaws and press home points. Cameron is on his own. Yes, he is good at memorising and delivering speeches, but this is not speech making, and, again, it is a world away from standing in front of an enraptured Party conference with as much time as he wants, to say what he wants.

And the parties all agreed to the debates and their rules, so none can have any complaints. That includes the Tories. Game on, and Dimbleby Major awaits.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Curse Of Owen

One endorsement that Nick Clegg may receive with mixed feelings has come from former Foreign Secretary and SDP leader Dr David Owen.

Owen has backed Clegg on scrapping the replacement for Trident, which is a policy I personally find highly sensible. He makes the point that a nuclear deterrent could be had for a fraction – a small fraction – of what it will cost to replace Trident. This is also sensible.

The problem is that mention of Owen brings back bad memories for many Lib Dems, especially those who were formerly in the Liberal Party, or SDP members who made the pragmatic decision to follow Bob Maclennan and merge the Liberals and SDP. Owen, disregarding the SDP membership’s vote to merge, carried on with what was effectively his own party, and the rump SDP even contested a by-election against the Social and Liberal Democrats (later Lib Dems).

That by-election, held in 1989 in the north Yorkshire constituency of Richmond, was won by one William ‘Ague, after the anti-Tory vote had been split by Owen and his one man band putting its oar in. It did not endear Owen to his former allies, and is one reason why he is so often referred to as “Doctor Death”.

Clegg may be hoping that Owen’s endorsement does not curse his progress in this campaign.

A Growing Electorate

Something is happening to the electorate: it’s growing, and according to this piece in today’s Guardian, this is particularly noticeable in marginal seats. The kinds of percentage points being discussed – into double figures – would be easily enough to cause seats to change hands. And it seems this surge in registration may be coming on the back of last week’s first Leaders’ Debate, which was won convincingly by Nick Clegg.

So far, so interesting, but one further development has been noted in the Guardian article, and that is an increase in postal voting, with some constituencies seeing their postal vote double. And it is postal voting that has been at the heart of some of the wilder accusations of vote fraud in the recent past: Labour seeing off the SNP in Scotland recently was swiftly translated into posters and commenters in the blogosphere asserting that Pa Broon and his pals had fiddled it, though no credible evidence was forthcoming.

So I was surprised that the postal vote increase had not been more widely circulated, especially among the Tory cheerleaders: nothing like getting your excuses ready beforehand. The Guardian piece quotes one Labour source on postal voting, and if that party can get a few thousand “in the bank” for any constituency where their MP has a small majority, the chance of holding on is that much better.

And as if that news isn’t bad enough for the Tories, the increase in registration appears to be coming disproportionately from the young: a survey found 40% of enquiries to be from the 18-24 age range. Not only is this group showing more interest in the Lib Dems, they also tend not to take much notice of newspapers and their hatchet jobs.

So that’s another part of the electorate off the radar, off limits to Rupe and his troops, and all the rest of the Grubstreet rabble. Good.

So What Is The Message? – 2

Following on from my thoughts yesterday about the lack of a consistent message from Young Dave and his jolly good chaps (also available on Liberal Conspiracy – my thanks once more to Sunny Hundal), the thought has entered that it is not only in the message department where CCHQ has been caught out not doing its homework.

As the latest poster, featuring an animated Cameron and an allegedly hard hitting slogan, was put before a seemingly less than totally grateful public, it was suggested that this one, unlike its predecessors, would not be easy to imitate. This was, apparently, down to the dark background showing an audience, no doubt hanging on Young Dave’s every word.

Oh dear. Making out that you have perfected a “spoof proof” poster is not a wise move, and swiftly on to the case came Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads, putting together a “template” poster, showing Cameron and his audience, and leaving anyone so inclined to add their own text and any other items they wanted. The Ireland version also reveals a less than rapturous audience.

Those of inconvenient thought have not disappointed: Paul Owen has written a feature for the Guardian website which provides links to many of the demonstrations that CCHQ has once again become an online object of ridicule (this one I particularly liked).

And this latest poster shows the inherent fragility in the Tory campaign: it’s all about Young Dave. He polls significantly better than his party, and this personalisation, combined with the series of Leaders’ Debates, means that the Tories are betting the whole stack of chips on one man. No pressure tonight, then.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

So What Is The Message?

One could forgive the electorate for not knowing what Young Dave and his jolly good chaps are trying to tell them: yesterday brought yet another series of posters, the message being that a Cameron Government would be tough on anyone who chose to remain on benefits rather than take a job.

But this isn’t an original idea, and nor does it follow logically from any other recent Tory poster campaign. And thereby hangs the problem: the message keeps changing. First we had Young Dave in honestly-not-airbrushed mode, followed by the apparently less than successful “I’ve never voted Tory before ...” series. Then with the arrival of M&C Saatchi there was a change to attack adverts featuring Pa Broon smiling.

And now we have Cameron apparently endorsing a crackdown on the lazy and unemployed (an easily demonised and therefore soft target). To all these changes of tack can be added the hurriedly changed Party Election Broadcast from earlier this week, the original being pulled and replaced by Young Dave basically pleading with the public to vote Tory, and not, repeat not, for anyone else.

There does not appear to be any underlying strategy to the Tory campaign, something that Big Al has been banging on about regularly. And this is something that the Tory cheerleaders do not, or cannot, address: moreover, there is no thought that what appeals to them might not even register with the average voter.

The latest poster was rapturously received by Tim Montgomerie and all those other clever people at ConservativeHome who talk loudly in restaurants. They could do worse than heed the wise observation of Lyndon Johnson when reflecting on the subject of economics: “Did y’ever think ... that making a speech on ee-conomics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else”.

The thought of Montgomerie, Isaby and the rest getting sore legs to no purpose is one to savour.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A Desperate Retelling – 2

As last year’s Tory party conference came to a close, one well known blogger could not contain his enthusiasm at the apparently certain prospect of a Tory Government, and produced his own version of the “Ready For Change” strapline, which he amended to simply say “It’s In The Bag”. Who is this incarnation of Ron Hopeful? Step forward Paul Staines, who blogs under the alias of Guido Fawkes.

Staines, who although not part of the obedient Tory cheerleading part of the blogosphere wants to see Young Dave in Downing Street come next month, has been reduced to playing fantasy politics in the wake of Corporal Clegg’s runaway victory in the first Leaders’ Debate. He dislikes the idea of a hung parliament, but detests Pa Broon rather more. So he has persuaded himself that the Tories and Lib Dems are potential soulmates.

This assertion is, of course, total drivel: as I’ve just shown, any Lib Dem who knows his party’s history knows that getting into bed with the Tories means that they screw you over. The best that Cameron can hope for with Clegg is for a “case by case” support – or not, if the case in question does not appeal. The idea of Staines’ “Change Coalition” is arrant fantasy. But today he has produced more of the same.

The latest Staines wheeze is vote mapping. What that? Well, this shows how MPs of the various parties vote in the House of Commons, and the map produced supposedly shows the Lib Dems voting more and more with the Tories – except that the singularly clueless Staines has overlooked one inconvenient fact: they might be voting together because they’re both in opposition.

Moreover, the number of Lib Dem MPs has increased significantly since 1997, and Labour’s majority shrank in 2005, so Clegg and Co have more chance of successfully mobilising against the Government – if they vote with other opposition parties. But this does not detain Staines, and neither has it bothered Simon Rogers of the Guardian, who has called Staines’ piece a “good spot”. Rubbish. It’s yet more evidence that this supposedly leading blogger is as clueless as ever.

The Forgotten Constituency

Was it only two years ago? For every day of a mercifully short by-election campaign, early morning trains from London to Crewe were packed out with politicians and their array of hangers on, pursued by the assembled hackery, all sent north to campaign, or observe the campaigning. Not this time round.

Because, apart from the Tory attack ads (which have taken over several poster hoardings around Crewe), you might be forgiven for not knowing there was a General Election coming up. Thus far, I’ve not seen a poster for either incumbent Tory Edward Timpson, Labour challenger David Williams, or Lib Dem hopeful Roy Wood adorning a front room window – or house garden (the last window poster I saw was in London’s Docklands last Friday, and it only registered because it was large, and Labour).

Fortunately, even the “literature” has been of modest proportions this time as well: there have been leaflets from Williams and Timpson, and Wood featured on the latest Lib Dem “Focus” flyer, and, well, that has been that. Timpson is keeping up his regular email bulletins, but none of the three major party candidates seem to be out and about canvassing. Of the party leaders, only Young Dave has made a visit, and even that was kept quiet until after the event. The best Labour have done is to send “Shagger” Prescott (“traditional misbehaviour in a modern setting”), while the Lib Dem “stars” seem to be too busy elsewhere.

Is it going to get a little more interesting? I certainly hope so, whatever the outcome. The thought enters that there is too much emphasis on media driven set piece events at the expense of old fashioned campaigning – or that “Redbrick Crewe” may have been written off by at least the Tories as not worth the candle.

I’ll be out and about in Crewe town centre next weekend, and hope to see some real politicians doing some real politics. It’s not just about those TV debates, folks!

A Desperate Retelling

As the fallout from the first Leaders’ Debate continues, the Tory cheerleaders within the blogosphere have been reduced to a state of desperation: they don’t want to appear nasty towards Corporal Clegg, but their belief that Young Dave only had to turn up and look confident has been shot apart. The prospect of a hung parliament, and potential coalition Government, is clearly causing distress, so much so that creative retelling of history to frighten voters back to the Tories has begun.

And today’s singularly desperate storyteller is Iain Dale, a compliant and reliable conduit for Tory propaganda. Dale has exhumed David Low’s caricature of Lloyd George as coalition Prime Minister (after the “coupon election” of 1918) riding a two headed donkey. He says that this Government was “possibly the worst ... of the 20th Century”, which fails to explain why Lloyd George was, by 1922, at the height of his personal popularity. He summons the memory of Michael Foot in telling what did for LG.

What sunk Lloyd George was partly that he had no party by 1922: the coalition had ended (so the two headed donkey was no more), and the Liberals, something that Dale’s simplistic analysis omits, were split between those backing LG and the followers of Herbert Asquith, with the latter having been part of the opposition after 1918. When the election came in 1922, LG and those of like mind stood as a party separate to the Liberals, and suffered as a result. The Tories, who had formed the bulk of the 1918 coalition, emerged if anything stronger (the lesson of what happens to a politician who has no party was not lost on LG’s friend Churchill in 1940).

And the Tories did it again in 1931: Ramsay MacDonald and a group of Labour and Liberal MPs went into a coalition “National Government” with them, the Tories emerging by 1935 as a party with a parliamentary majority of around 200. MacDonald was, on one occasion, discovered by Lloyd George wandering around the House of Commons looking lost: he left LG with the impression that he had come to realise he had been duped.

What Iain Dale and his fellow Tory cheerleaders cannot and will not admit is that there is one lesson to learn from recent peacetime coalition Governments in the UK: you go in with the Tories, and you end up getting screwed over. The Liberal Party suffered most, though they inflicted much of the damage by their infighting and indiscipline. Labour were rescued by their contribution to Churchill’s wartime Government, and the desire of the electorate not to go back to the policies that had failed so many of them in the 30s.

Nick Clegg, an Asquith Liberal, and the likes of Chris Huhne, who leans towards LG, will know their history well enough to hold together, and treat the Tory cheerleaders with the contempt they deserve.

[UPDATE: This post has also featured on Liberal Conspiracy today. My thanks as ever to Sunny Hundal]

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Republican Wrong – Restraint By Decree

While we in the UK are gearing up for another two and a half weeks of politics, over in the USA the non stop anti-Obama machine that is Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) continues its crusade because, well, it can, and it delivers ratings.

Typical of the constant stream of slanted and appallingly poor journalism was last week’s ridiculous suggestion that the logo of the recent Nuclear Security Summit had been deliberately made similar to the flags of predominantly Muslim countries. This suggestion, accompanied by the hint that Barack Obama is somehow favouring Muslims, was given a comprehensive working over by Jon Stewart on Wednesday’s Daily Show (the video can be seen in the UK on 4OD).

Allied to the frankly barmy Fox attacks on the Obama Administration has been the Channel’s support for the so-called Tea Party Movement, which has included a Fox producer being caught orchestrating the crowd at one gathering, and blatant exaggeration of the movement’s support (also rumbled by Stewart). And this was set to continue until Rupe personally intervened: Murdoch declared to a gathering in Washington DC “I don’t think we should be supporting the Tea Party, or any other Party”.

And, to demonstrate who really wields the power at Fox, in the wake of Murdoch’s statement the Channel’s “star” Sean Hannity, who had been due to address a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati last Thursday, was summoned back to New York by senior Fox executives and his appearance cancelled.

Previously, Rupe has left Fox News well alone: under the bullish Roger Ailes the Channel has delivered the ratings and therefore the revenue. But with what looks like a shot across the bows of Ailes and his “stars”, Rupe may have signalled his disquiet with a style of presentation that is becoming increasingly ridiculed.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Push Coming To Shove

With the volcanic eruption in Iceland has come Europe wide travel chaos: in many countries, the airspace has simply been closed down, with no commercial flights operating. And, at first, the airlines complied, but now, with every day bringing zero receipts and outgoings still to pay, the disquiet has started.

Why isn’t the cloud of volcanic ash moving away? Simple: the Atlantic jet stream is still tracking far further south than usual, as it was during the depths of the past winter. Then, it meant the usual south westerly prevailing wind turned to a north easterly and we got cold air off the continent. Now, it means the fallout from the eruption is hanging around for an awfully long time.

So folks can’t travel, and neither can any freight, which nowadays means not just mail, but much imported produce: supermarkets are running out of those more exotic fruit and veg, which in many cases has waited so long for transport that it has rotted away.

First to question the strictness of the no-fly edict has been Air France and KLM, nowadays two parts of the same airline, who have conducted test flights. Not far behind has been BA, with CEO Willie Walsh on board their 747 as it has taken a trip out over the Atlantic approaches. There is discontent over the severity of the decision to close countries’ airspace, but nobody wants to make a move until we know that flying would be safe despite the stuff hanging in the upper atmosphere.

And there is only limited mileage in considering getting the EU (or anyone else) to tide the carriers over. The initial results from test flights are encouraging, but for now we’ll have to be just that little more patient.

Method In The Madness – 2

Another day, another development: now Young Dave has, after all, agreed to appear before The Inquisition Of Pax Jeremiah. Score one Baron Mandelson of Indeterminate Guacamole and Big Al, who will have impressed on Pa Broon the importance of going through with the “masochism strategy” in order to paint Cameron into a corner and make him look indecisive for once.

When Cameron will appear on Newsnight is yet to be confirmed, and it’s possible that he will be last of the three leaders to be grilled – not the ideal spot. Meanwhile, on this morning’s delayed Andy Marr Show, Pa Broon appeared remarkably relaxed – well, relaxed by his standards – and happily conceded that he had not won last week’s debate on style.

But where Labour did score well was in their ability to brief and spin in the immediate aftermath of that debate: their message was brief and to the point, that their man had provided the substance and Cameron had not. And Big Al, on his blog, shows he is not at all unhappy with the Lib Dems doing well. Why so? Dead easy – it puts more pressure on Young Dave, without Labour having to move a muscle.

There are two leaders’ debates left, and their subject areas are much more to Brown’s liking: world affairs is up next, and finally the economy. Labour will be looking to pull back some ground in both. Clegg can score on anything to do with the Iraq war, but again, Cameron leads a party that was if anything more fired up for the conflict than any other. And he’s not exactly had a good banking crisis.

So Labour will be satisfied with where they are now. The Lib Dems may not generate as much “bounce” with the next debates: they will be happy with maintaining position. The Tories, on the other hand, aren’t happy at all: William ‘Ague has resorted to playing the Euro-scare card against Corporal Clegg, perhaps forgetting that trying to whip up Europhobia in 2001 got him and his party thoroughly trounced.

And Young Britons’ Foundation CEO Donal Blaney, whose blog is still off air, has suggested via Twitter that the Tories should re-hire Lynton Crosby, the same man who brought them defeat in 2005 and finally finished John Howard’s premiership in his native Australia. The various Tory cheerleaders across the blogosphere are starting to wobble badly: on ConservativeHome, Jonathan Isaby has decided it’s the Beeb’s fault. This might make him feel better, but it won’t help his party.

Because it’s not the Beeb, or Clegg, or Brown, or the papers that have got the Tories where they are now. It’s the Tories themselves.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Death On The Underground

One reason for the interruption in my postings yesterday was a day out and about in London: yes, for once I had something better to do. The capital was quiet overhead – none of the almost continuous drone of planes approaching Heathrow, or the buzz of STOL jets around City Airport – but nevertheless heaving with tourists, whether around the sights, or on the Tube.

Also in evidence on London’s Underground yesterday were a number of disruptions due to, as they put it, “a person under a train”. In fact, there were three such disruptions during the day: the idea of three people desperate enough to end their lives sat uneasily with the crowds of tourists milling around Buckingham Palace, and City workers at lunch in the spring sunshine.

Even more disquieting was the news that, at one of the three locations, there are telephones on the platforms that link through to the Samaritans. Stations on the Underground are for most of us just another place where we get on or off trains: for anyone to view them as a final sight of the world is something I find troubling.

And I can only hope that, the next time, someone picks up that phone first.

Method In the Madness?

So the great Leaders’ Debate came to pass. Did anything special happen? Well, yes it did, up to a point: Young Dave did not win the contest, or even come close, ceding that honour to Corporal Clegg. Pa Broon did not suffer the car crash predicted by, among others, dear Polly Technic in the Guardian on Thursday.

And there have already been recriminations within Tory high command: that Cameron didn’t attack Brown enough, that they shouldn’t have let Clegg into the debate at all, and the thought that Young Dave’s import of one of Barack Obama’s team led to too much emphasis being put on the one-on-one style of debate (not much use when there are three participants).

Well, all three major parties had plenty of opportunity to shape the rules of engagement, so to start carping about them now is not only too late, but also comes over as petty. And Cameron is being put under the cosh elsewhere: Brown has agreed to a ritual grilling from The Inquisition of Pax Jeremiah, and as Clegg has already been through this ordeal, refusal would look as if Young Dave were being evasive.

And this would suit the Labour narrative fine: they are already using the e-word against Cameron. In fact, the outturn from the debate may also be to Labour’s liking too: Brown could not have diminished Cameron on his own, but Clegg has made the Tory leader look insubstantial while reminding wavering voters that he, too, represents change.

So it’s Clegg that takes Cameron down a peg or two. That may suit Brown, who merely needs to figure out how to reduce the threat from Clegg while not appearing nasty – and all the while both of them are heaping pressure on Cameron.

Three weeks to go, and still all to play for.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Republican Wrong – Jobs For The Girls

Recently, Discovery Channel hosted potential advertisers to the presentation of a new show on the subject of Alaska. And, as the M&S advert might have said, this was not just any old show on Alaska. This was Sarah Palin’s Alaska: the former Governor is getting a cool quarter of a million dollars an episode for it.

Unfortunately, the assembled advertisers were not impressed, as a source has since revealed. Uncomplimentary comments such as “all time low” have been pitched, with the belief forming that the show – eight episodes, so Ms Palin is on for two mil all up – will be shunted off to a graveyard slot, as there is little demand from advertisers.

However, this is a mere sideshow compared to another discovery – that made by two students at Stanislaus, a branch of California State University. Their search has turned up part of a Washington Speakers’ Bureau contract – that’s Palin’s agency – which lays down a number of criteria for their speaker. As Palin is fronting a fundraiser for Stanislaus in June, the subject of the contract, although not specified, does not appear in any doubt.

So what are the demands of the Palin camp? Apart from the fee, thought to be up to 100, 000 dollars per speech, any hotels must be rated “deluxe”, air travel must be first class on scheduled flights, or if private charter, a Lear 60 (West Coast) or Hawker 800 (East Coast events), and at the speaker’s lectern, two bottles of still water with bendy straws. California’s attorney general Jerry Brown has been so enthused by this news that he has announced an investigation.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin continues to show that resigning as governor has its rewards.

The Devil’s Heatstroke – 2

Only last month, after his singularly unpleasant hatchet job on the memory of former Labour leader Michael Foot, I found adversely on the behaviour of one Chris Mounsey, whose blog was at the time called Devil’s Kitchen. Mounsey has since enjoyed his less than fifteen minutes of fame: as leader of the Libertarian Party, he secured an appearance yesterday on the Beeb’s Daily Politics, only to come up short under the probing of Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil.

And the result has been a personal conversion of almost Damascene proportions, as Mounsey has ditched Devil’s Kitchen, complete with its intemperate and foul mouthed ranting, in favour of a new style. Mounsey refers to his older product as that of his “ruder sibling”, which is weapons grade drivel: he wrote it, so should have no problem owning up to it, without dressing it up in any way.

Did he deserve the reception he got from Neil? Of course he did, and thereby lies the all too familiar problem for much of the blogosphere, particularly the right leaning and libertarian part: much of the response to Mounsey’s skewering has been laughably defensive whining. It’s all held to be the fault of Neil (so he gets plenty of personal abuse, which will have zero effect as he’s heard it all several times before), or the Beeb, or the “MSM” generally. But it isn’t.

The sweary and abusive blog posts that earned Mounsey his skewering had only one author, and it wasn’t Andrew Neil, or anyone else in the “MSM”. And this puerile defensiveness has been seen elsewhere in the recent past: when the Maily Telegraph ran a less than totally laudatory article about Paul Staines, who blogs under the alias of Guido Fawkes, the response from Staines’ fans was as if there had been a desecration of some minor deity. And it was the same kind of outrage that greeted John Ward (who authors The Slog) when he fingered Staines more recently.

But no-one seems to have a problem with bloggers calling out politicians, journalists, slebs and hangers on. This is supposedly legitimate behaviour. It is only when those same bloggers are held to account that everything becomes so unfair. Well, I have news for you all: the world is unfair. You want to dish it out, then learn that someone out there might send some, er, stuff back over the fence.

If you can’t stand the heat ...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Pass The Sick Bag

Flying can be stressful. Organising flights can be stressful. Booking flights can be even more stressful. But help is never far away, and to bring a measure of light relief to air passengers everywhere, albeit unintentionally, is the News section on the website of our old friends Ryanair, the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care).

Those who like their news delivered in a pleasant and even handed way should, however, not linger here: the Ryanair style is the most in-your-face in the airline industry. And there is significant deployment of brass neck: jacking up the additional charge for checked baggage during July and August this year has been translated as “incentivising all of its passengers to travel light”.

And CEO Michael O’Leary has no problem in using the website to pour scorn over his rivals, as he did at length when countering Air France’s suggestion that Ryanair were being subsidised to use airports like Charleroi (which, despite Ryanair’s claims, is not in or near Brussels).

But one piece of good news missing from the Ryanair site is that, for both March and April, none of their aircraft featured in the Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB) Bulletin Reports. So no more incidents like that at Stansted, reported in the December 2009 Bulletin, or that at Manchester from February this year.

So why the lack of celebrations over at Ryanair HQ?

Attack Is The Only Form Of Attack

Quietly, but inevitably, Young Dave’s chaps are ditching the positive posters and replacing them with attack adverts. The two hoardings by Addscan Hire Centre on Edleston Road in Crewe that were hosting “I’ve never voted Tory before, but ...” until last week have now joined the Pa Broon “smile” set, along with another hoarding further down the hill.

So what? Well, apart from the thought that the ads aren’t moving very many voters one way or the other – the Tory lead doesn’t look to be growing right now – you have to wonder if they’re just spending the money because they can. Young Dave’s chaps are doing a lot of carping and whingeing about whether Brown has been using resources to prepare for the TV debates that shouldn’t be available for political purposes, and then they’ve been whingeing that the debates might be “sterile”.

Given they launched their manifesto yesterday, one might think the Tories would have plenty of positive things to spend their time putting over. The carping either means they haven’t got positive things to say, or, worse, that there is a lack of discipline creeping in. If the latter is even partly true, then Cameron needs to get a grip sharpish.

Back To The Future

Why launch a manifesto in the remains of a power station that hasn’t generated electricity for decades? It was a strange setting for Young Dave and his array of jolly good chaps to pitch the Tories’ so-called “Invitation To Join The Government Of Britain”, a blue hardback (so also “reassuringly expensive”) volume which has seen the usual sycophantic praise, but hasn’t convinced many doubters.

The Guardian’s Simon Hoggart said the manifesto “looked like a tombstone”. But it was his colleague, cartoonist Steve Bell, who nailed the moment: Battersea Power Station, the Tories’ chosen venue, was memorably used back in the 1970s for the cover of Pink Floyd’s album Animals. The Floyd’s eighth album rails against the excesses of capitalism.

Animals also featured an inflatable pig on that cover, which has provided Bell with his inspiration.

A Quiet Election

When Ted Kennedy died, the ensuing “special election” for his Senate seat brought huge media coverage, with Republicans cheering Scott Brown on as he won the contest and thereby removed the Democrat “super majority” in that house. So, given there has just been another “special election”, you might think that there would be yet more wall to wall media coverage.

Except you’d be wrong: the contest, for Florida’s 19th District, has barely registered, perhaps because it’s for the House, rather than the Senate. And the cheerleading from the right is absent because this election was won convincingly by the Democrats, with Ted Deutch taking 62% of votes to his Republican opponent’s 35%.

That much should not be a surprise, given that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans here by two to one. And one hopeful sign for the Dems, with the mid terms coming in November, is that Deutch’s share of the vote is not far short of the 65% polled in the District by Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential contest.

What you will not see in any detail on Fox News Channel.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Gathering Information

Much heat has been generated recently about the potential origin of information used in political mailshots. Well, targeted mailshots happen in Crewe as well – the electronic variety, that is – so who’s involved?

By-election victor Edward Timpson has, apparently, been emailing “Election Bulletins” to anyone who has requested his help or intervention, and has left an email address with his office. Given that it’s looking to be a big ask for him to hang on to Crewe and Nantwich in the upcoming poll, it’s understandable that he will want to remind those voters of the event.

So is this a bad thing, or indeed is it proper? Well, I don’t have a problem with his office doing this: if any of his constituents have dropped in and volunteered an email address, then unless they forbid the local Tory party organisation from using it for mailshots come election time, there’s nothing improper in giving those constituents a gentle reminder.

And there may well be many other organisations out there that have accumulated email addresses over the years. Something to think about when you give that information to yet another online booking site, or other retailer, or, well, political party.

There’s Only One Flying Language

Last weekend’s crash of a Polish registered Tupolev 154 aircraft on the approach to Smolensk airport has sparked plenty of comment, and a host of theories as to its cause, principally because the flight was carrying more than 90 Polish Government representatives, including the President.

The usual early leader in the theory stakes was that the Tupolev was not the newest of aircraft, and that many similar planes have been involved in fatal accidents over the years. Both assertions, although true, should not delay investigators unduly: this 154 had been well maintained and recently renovated (maintenance lapses in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union have been thought to have contributed to some Tu154 crashes).

Nor should the accident be put down to the aircraft’s design: the Tu154 is a three engine craft with all its powerplants at the back, in the same configuration as the de Havilland Trident or Boeing 727. Over a thousand have been built and it has an average safety record.

The cause of this accident looks more and more likely to be down to human factors: the pilots appear to have been attempting a landing in dense fog and to have deviated from the glide slope, thus striking trees on the approach as the plane’s altitude was too low.

Had the approach to Smolensk not been equipped with Instrument Landing System (ILS), then the landing, given the conditions, should not have been attempted. ILS would, if functioning and used correctly, have put the plane on the runway at approximately one third along its serviceable length. That the Polish Tu154, recently refitted, did not have ILS is unimaginable.

But the most disquieting development has come with the news that Russian Air Traffic Control (ATC) were communicating with the Polish flight deck in Russian, despite the crew’s apparently poor grasp of it. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has stipulated one common language, and that language is English. English must be used on request for communication between aircraft and controller.

So if there was any problem with the Polish crew’s knowledge of Russian, they could, and should, have requested that Russian ATC used English. The obvious corollary is simply this: did they, and if they did, why wasn’t English used?

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Leaders’ Wives – Not Playing

The concept of “Leaders’ Wives” is in danger of being done to death by the various branches of the meeja. And, unfortunately, two of those wives seem more than happy to go along with the circus: Sarah Brown (now with 1,117,900 Twitter followers) and Samantha Cameron (and no, I’m not abbreviating it) are happily wheeling themselves out to bolster their husbands’ campaigns.

Fortunately, this trend is not being followed by Miriam González Durántez. Er, who she? The answer to this future pub quiz regular teaser is that she is married to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and has her own career to get on with. So she has decided to get on with that career, and that is that. Tough cookie for the assembled hackery.

And good for her, say I.

Will Anything Happen? – 2

Another day, and still Young Dave is out in front, by seven or eight per cent. I looked at the potential downside of reprising the Thatcher spending cuts (and her monetary policy) yesterday, but is there anything else of a distinctive nature that a Cameron Government could bring on? How about those pesky trades unions?

The Thatcher parallel is not a straightforward one here: the unions are a shadow of the players in the late 70s. Yes, Unite is a big union, but big out of the weakness of its component parts – the unions that merged to form Unite had little option, with their dwindling membership and declining influence. It’s not easy to see what more could be added to current union legislation, and Young Dave is thus far not proposing anything in this direction.

But just look back to 1979 once more: the media empire that swung behind Thatcher, and has backed the winner at every poll since then, is that of our old friend Rupert Murdoch, spearheaded of course by the Super Soaraway Currant Bun. It was one of those no brainers: the Tories were going to deal with the unions, and for anyone on Fleet Street (as was), anything that restricted the ability of the unions got their vote.

Why so? Well, the print unions were easily capable, should they be so inclined, of stopping the presses of any national paper. The reason could be that they didn’t want certain stories to be run, disputes over pay and conditions, or, on occasion, anything they liked. Murdoch, who later got hold of the Times and Sunday Times partly because Roy Thomson had tired of battling the unions, was up for any trade union restraint he could get.

So, looking at the upcoming contest from Rupe’s end of the telescope, what would he be up for now? Well, what gets in the way of his money making activities in the UK right now? And the answer can be put directly: the BBC. Murdoch (and Junior) hate the Beeb making news available at no extra charge via their website. The Beeb’s raft of original programming dwarfs Sky, despite the latter enjoying a larger income.

Young Dave has, obligingly, said the Tories would hobble Ofcom, and his shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has made noises about tearing up the corporation’s charter. Rupe backed Margaret Thatcher out of self interest in 1979, and his support for Cameron now appears likewise.

All we need now is for the Tories to drop the broadcast impartiality rule, and then we’ll get Sky News (“first for breaking wind”) morphing into another Fox. Perhaps a campaign could be started to persuade Jon Stewart to move to the UK.

Swiss Precision Movement?

Once again, I was watching this morning’s Andy Marr Show while using the laptop, and once again I was therefore not giving my full attention to proceedings. But I did catch a little of Marr’s interview with Lord Pearson, the new leader of UKIP, who did a less than convincing job of painting the EU as some kind of frightening and alien body drawing the UK’s lifeblood out of it, possibly because it isn’t.

But the Pearson interview was most notable for his admission that his party is being funded, if only in part, by a Swiss born banker called Henry Angest. Who he? Well, Angest, who has for many years held UK citizenship, has given and loaned millions to the Tories, but has also given to other groups which are anti-EU, climate change “sceptics”, or allied to the far right in the US via a group called the Atlantic Bridge.

Is the “far right” tag justified when considering Atlantic Bridge? A look at its US counterpart proves instructive. We see a contribution not just from “Dick” Cheney, but bearing the mark of our old friends Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). Or, to cap it all, a piece from the National Review Online by contributing editor Andrew C McCarthy on the supposed horrors of closing Guantánamo, complete with calling the US judiciary “terrorist friendly” and trying to frighten folks with visions of Al-Qaeda operatives walking out of US prisons to, well, terrorise the populus.

And Angest is hot on other topics: he has gone on record as saying that “If we want a thriving economy, we must rein back the dead hand of government, restrain the consumer lobby and stop the do-gooders wasting our resources”. Business, for Angest, clearly knows best and should be allowed to please itself – with the get out clause that waste of resources is someone else’s fault, which is most convenient.

As a piece in today’s Observer notes, Angest is a UK citizen, but his tax status is unknown. He may be domiciled in the UK for tax purposes, but equally could enjoy non domicile status. Another “non dom” who has given and loaned millions to the Tories, and supports anti EU, anti climate change and US right wing groups? Not exactly what Young Dave needs to be defending right now.

But, as today’s information from the PA wire shows, he may have to.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Will Anything Happen?

So, after Pa Broon has finally fired the starting gun for the 2010 General Election, and campaigning has ended its first week, what – if anything – can be deduced about the possible outcome? The opinion polls, with margins favouring Young Dave by up to 10%, suggest that the Tories will not only be the largest party, but should enjoy an overall majority. What will a Cameron Government do that is in any way distinctive or different?

So far, all that Young Dave and his chaps have committed themselves to doing is a reversal of increased National Insurance contributions that is in any case a year away, a token tax break to “recognise marriage in the tax system”, some kind of “National (Community) Service” which may or may not be compulsory (not a lot of people know that) and a “three strikes” approach to benefit fraud, which may have had greater credibility if anyone had ever been done for such an offence three times.

Which is rather like having to imagine the completed 1,000 piece jigsaw from a couple of dozen bits and bats. And we have to go back more than 30 years to the last time a Tory Government replaced a Labour one: then, Margaret Thatcher, enamoured of the economic quack doctory of Milton Friedman, pursued the idea of balancing the budget (a concept she was able to put in the simplistic manner of a housewife), which meant substantial spending cuts. Worse, the Friedman doctrine brought a temporary embrace of monetarism.

The result of Thatcher’s approach was that not only were public sector jobs shed, but also many in the private sector, as manufacturers starved of working capital by a tight money policy went out of business – never to return. Sure, the economy recovered, but that part of it that had been strongest before the cuts – the financial sector and the South East of England – benefited while much of the Midlands and North did not.

That the Friedman doctrine acted for the strong and against the weak should have come as no surprise: the Great Crash and the 1930s recovery had also seen the South East ultimately happy and prosperous, while much of the North East and Scotland suffered.

So will Young Dave repeat the Thatcher medicine? There will have to be cuts in public spending, whatever the stripe of the Government, but if the Tories are ready to give tax breaks while repealing rises in NI, those cuts will have to be more severe. And there should be no truck with those who window dress this as “efficiency savings”: job cuts are job cuts are job cuts, whatever the newspeak.

Margaret Thatcher, helped into power by a poster campaign with the slogan “Labour Isn’t Working”, demonstrated to the electorate that this was a uniquely sick joke by throwing another two million on the dole. Will Cameron follow suit? Just like his predecessor, little is being revealed of the wider purpose this side of the election.

Murdoch Is Served (16)

The previously received wisdom about Phonehackgate was that this was something that had happened in the past: that the whole business ended, more or less, when former News Of The World royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire got guilty. Indeed, the House of Commons media committee had been assured thus back in February.

However, Guardian journalist Nick Davies, of Flat Earth News fame, has revealed in today’s paper that the office of the Information Commissioner (IC) has launched an enquiry into suspected interception of voicemail messages following a raft of lurid tabloid stories around the alleged extra marital behaviour of former England football captain John Terry. Worse, there has been an allegation of intercepting a live telephone call – a more serious offence.

The thought that there may have been phone intercepts came after Vanessa Perroncel, former partner of player Wayne Bridge (she has given the Guardian an extensive interview, also in today’s paper), found that forms of words she was using in private calls were appearing in tabloid stories about her. The IC’s office has confirmed that it is in discussion with Vodafone.

After declining to speak to the tabs, and subsequently finding that they talked about her anyway, Perroncel has taken legal action against the usual suspects: the Sun, Screws, Mail, Mail On Sunday, Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People. The only names missing are those of the Desmond papers – perhaps they were too full of advertorial at the time.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

From Nestlé to Labour In One Go

The inevitable glossy flier from Labour candidate David Williams arrived this morning, and with it came a new yet familiar slogan: “It’s all about you”. Well, that’s one way of deflecting the gaze from Pa Broon. But connoisseurs of ad campaigns will already be familiar with the strapline.

That’s because it was deployed previously in a campaign for the less political brand called Nescafé. It looks as if whoever thought up the ads didn’t copyright the strapline, so it’s a cheap addition to the Labour campaign. And, if the rumours of the party being less than flush with cash are at all accurate, the price will most certainly be right.

The Republican Wrong – You’re Nicked (3)

While we await progress in the case of “Conservative Activist” James O’Keefe and his felony arrest after an alleged break-in at the offices of Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu in New Orleans, there has been a little more light shed on his earlier escapades.

California’s Attorney General Jerry Brown, at the request of Gov. Schwarzenegger, has considered the videotapes featuring O’Keefe and his friend Hannah Giles, and has concluded that, in that state at least, no ACORN staff had committed a crime. Moreover, he was deeply critical of the way in which the tapes were heavily and, it is now clear, selectively edited in order to infer criminal acts when none had taken place.

On one occasion, an ACORN employee appears to be co-operating with the illegal trafficking of underage girls into the USA for the purpose of prostitution, but the reality was that he had rumbled O’Keefe and Giles and was collecting as much information about their intended trafficking as he could: after the two supposedly fearless activists left his office, he called the police.

On another, an ACORN staffer appears to be condoning the idea of setting up a prostitution operation, whereas what she is encouraging Giles to do is to be persistent in her search for housing, and the encouragement has nothing to do with any illegal act.

None of this has been aired on the network that ran the story (and then some) in the first place: yes, it’s our old friends at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). Fox “stars” Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck left their viewers in no doubt that O’Keefe was some kind of hero, and that ACORN was encouraging significant criminality.

But the correcting of the record has come too late for ACORN, which lost funding as a result of O’Keefe’s sting – and Fox’ promotion of it – and is now effectively finished as a national force. That’s right: an organisation set up to help the poorest people in the USA has been dishonestly demonised by the right to the point of collapse.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, as you might expect, has found adversely upon O’Keefe, Fox and the rest: her analysis is suitably rigorous, and asks the obvious question – who is going to be next?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

That’ll Cost You, Sport – 13

Rupert Murdoch still doesn’t get it. At a National Press Club event, he laid into Google for “stealing” content, without conceding that much of his own papers’ stories come off the PA wire with precious little added value – or they are lifted from local or regional papers and reheated. Or taken from the Web – in other words, stolen just as much as the copy he so rigorously defends.

But, as the Huffington Post has also noted, Rupe, although readily accusing cable rivals CNN and MSNBC of being close to the Democrats, has said that Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) is not Republican leaning, despite its list of hosts including Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. He also tried to show to his audience that there were more liberal presenters on the channel, but the only name he could pitch was that of Greta van Susteren.

Van Susteren “close” to the Dems? Don’t make me laugh. Just because she’s not as rabid as Hannity and Beck doesn’t mean she isn’t just as GOP as they are. And this difficulty that Murdoch had in confronting the fact of the matter was not lost on his audience, many of whom ended up sniggering at him. I say again: he doesn’t get the new media. The Web, with its immediacy and lack of centralised control, seems to be a technology too far for him.

Nobody, not even Rupert Murdoch, controls the Web. End of.

Beyond The Fringe

One party that has not been getting much attention thus far in the General Election campaign, out there on the fringe, is UKIP. From a Tory point of view, of course, the less attention UKIP gets, the better: any traction from a concerted campaign dragging up Young Dave’s less-then-cast-iron-guarantee of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty would be most unwelcome.

So can UKIP make a difference? They’ll get a Party Election Broadcast, which will bring them at least to the attention of those not quite fast enough with the remote control. But they will only get the Euro-issue to lodge in the minds of the electorate if they hammer it home, and that means making their campaign Lisbon Treaty and Referendum full stop.

And that may be where the Tories get let off the hook: Lord Pearson, the party’s new leader, obsesses with immigration, so much so that the issue gaining traction could well be that UKIP finds itself on the same ground as the BNP. If Pearson can be persuaded to put away what is in reality his race card, then his party may dent the Tory vote.

How much? Well, it would only have to poll more votes than the majority by which a Tory candidate loses. Only then will Cameron’s volte face on a referendum come back to bite him.

[UPDATE: This post has also been featured on Liberal Conspiracy's Westminster blog. My thanks to Sunny Hundal]

Bullying The Beeb – 3

Most people take the impartiality of broadcasters as read: there are the usual wingnut crowd, principally out there on the right, who believe that the BBC, and maybe Channel 4, are part of some gigantic Marxist conspiracy, but in the grand scheme of things they are numerically small. So when the Beeb’s DG has to make a pronouncement of fairness, it is significant.

Mark Thompson has taken time out to emphasise that the BBC will “show neither fear nor favour” in the General Election campaign. Why should he need to emphasise what most folks take for granted? Ah well. The wingnuts who equate the Beeb with Soviet-era propaganda may be daft, but some of them are in the Tory Party, as the recent bullying behaviour of Michael Gove demonstrates.

Thompson should not have to have made his statement, and Young Dave could easily tell his chaps to desist from their more extreme behaviour. That Cameron shows no sign of doing so suggests that the Tories see an advantage in the plainly vindictive stance of “just you wait until we get elected”.

And it’ll play well with Dave’s new friend Rupe – someone who does not have the vote, and who should not be influencing the poll.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Zelo Street Claims Best Seat For Election View

This morning, I am able to disclose that the Zelo Street blog has finalised its plan to provide an ideal view of the General Election campaign. Moreover, this is exclusive to Zelo Street: the view is not available on any other blog, or indeed major newspaper or TV channel.

Yes, for a week during mid-campaign, Zelo Street will be coming from the very best place to be during this time of wall to wall electioneering, and that place is outside the UK. In order to preserve the exclusivity of its coverage, locations will not be disclosed in advance. But they will be exclusive.

Stay tuned!

They Really Are Off

Another worst kept secret: the General Election is to be on 6th May. That makes it just 30 days away, 30 days of wall to wall campaigning with every interested newspaper cranking the rhetoric up to full volume. There will be leaders’ debates, analysis of leaders’ debates, and then there will be yet more debates between those who are not leaders, but merely holders of cabinet or shadow cabinet rank.

So by the end of it, the average voter will have had more than enough information than they could ever need prior to entering the polling booth. More likely, they will just have had enough. Already, the media coverage is in overdrive (the Beeb has now got the helicopter out), but from looking at the latest photos, one participant is looking remarkably relaxed.

And that man is Pa Broon, who has been over for a brief cuppa with Brenda before attempting to stress the collegiate nature of his cabinet. This is already being seen as a counter to Young Dave and his chaps, who are trying to make the contest all about Brown – the same idea as the Crewe and Nantwich by-election.

Why should Brown be so relaxed? Well, there’s not a lot more he can do now, except get out there and campaign. Will he still be relaxed come 6th May? Of course not – and neither will Cameron or Clegg. What will the result be? Right now it looks like a small majority for the Tories, but it only needs one big event to knock them out of their stride.

And will it be dirty? As if you need to ask. The last General Election with the parties so close was 1992, and that one really was dirty. Ask Neil Kinnock.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Tony’s Ghost

So Tony Blair is back on the election trail, this time in support of Pa Broon, who was wheeled out in 2005 to demonstrate unswerving loyalty and therefore see off Michael Howard and his Lynton Crosby inspired dog whistles: we weren’t, after all, thinking what they were.

Not helping matters this time round is former Labour supporter Robert Harris, whose novel The Ghost has been adapted by its author for the screen. The resulting film, directed by Roman Polanski, is in UK cinemas on the 16th April. Its central character is a former British Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan, who is potentially in the crosshairs of a war crimes prosecution, and holed up in the USA as a result.

The twist in the tale, of course, is that Polanski was also holed up somewhere beyond potential justice, and has since been arrested, the final touches to the film being applied from behind bars. But the film is coming out in what looks as if it will be the middle of an election campaign, to Blair’s inevitable detriment.

So it’s possible that Tone won’t feature quite as heavily as might have originally been intended.

Naples: Graffiti

The term is derived from Italian, so it should be no surprise to see graffiti in major cities across the country. Naples is no exception, and its surface transportation has been the subject of some serious attention from the spray paint brigade over the years.


While buses get put away in depots overnight, and the Line 1 Metro trains make their way back to a fenced off compound at Piscinola, the trainsets of the Circumvesuviana, Circumflegrea and Cumana systems enjoy no such benefit. As the national rail provider, Trenitalia, has made great strides over the past decade to clean off graffiti from its stock, the local networks’ laxity rather stands out.

It might be thought that at least the Circumvesuviana would make an effort: their services are the most convenient way to reach the historic sites at Herculaneum and Pompeii, and the pleasant resort of Sorrento (where the photo below was taken).


Fortunately, tourists appear not to be seriously deterred from taking the train. The thought enters that the routinely grim road traffic may help matters where graffiti removal policy does not.


Murdoch Is Served (15)

As I suggested yesterday, the Guardian’s Nick Davies is indeed still on the case of Phonehackgate: steadily chipping away at the unwillingness of the Met to yield information, he has revealed that the police’s decision to bring a number of sample charges against former Screws royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire has resulted in the names of many victims of organised phone hacking being kept quiet.

Worse, it seems that the Met have known the identities of many of those victims, but have failed to notify them after the event. The inference is also that the police acted to suppress the names of a number of prominent victims, thought to include members of the royal family.

But it is the sheer number of targets that catches the eye: Goodman and Mulcaire had an interest in more than 4,300, and had garnered almost 3,000 partial or complete mobile phone numbers. Moreover, the suspicion remains that the Met was wary of crossing the Murdochs, with the departure of former assistant commissioner Andy Hayman – the man in charge of the investigation - to join News International as a columnist conceded as “unfortunate”.

That’s a spectacular understatement: Rupe’s empire has seemingly bought off some high profile victims, including Max Clifford and Gordon Taylor, and has seen Goodman and Mulcaire right, despite their proven criminality. Hayman getting himself a nice little post-Met earner looks to be at least potentially in the same category.

Davies tantalisingly floats the idea of a new Government enquiry into the affair, and this could be a tricky one for Young Dave: if Pa Broon were to start the ball rolling only to see the Tories get elected, what would a Cameron cancellation of such an investigation do to the new PM’s credibility and trustworthiness?

Expect Tory cheerleaders to shout “non story” (again) for the next few weeks.

[UPDATE: Nick Davies has added a Comment Is Free piece on the latest developments]

It Was 42 Years Ago Today

Actually the anniversary was on the 4th of April: it was on that day in 1968 that Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

King, who had led the civil rights struggle, knew that the peoples’ concerns changed over time, and that as a leader of those people, his attack must also change. He had therefore taken up a forthright stance against the US’ involvement in Vietnam, which was needlessly wasting the lives of young African Americans.

And what memory did he leave for those so far away in the UK? For me, it was the sound of his voice: few speakers have since come close. What of his legacy? After so many years, the USA has an African American President. But there is still so much racism going under the disguise of attempting to paint Barack Obama as “left wing”, or even “communist”.

Dr King would have recognised all of that: he, too, was branded a communist, and the accusation was as racially motivated then as it is now against Obama.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Murdoch Is Served (14)

As Nick Davies pointed out neatly in Flat Earth News, when it comes to the fourth estate, “Dog doesn’t eat dog”. What Davies means is that newspapers don’t dump on their own kind, which makes his own investigations at the Guardian into the phone hacking activities at the Murdoch News Of The World unusual.

And an indication that Davies may still be ferreting around in pursuit of this story comes in a Comment Is Free piece today on the Guardian website from the iconoclastic Peter Oborne, who usually inhabits the realm of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre at the Mail, but clearly needs the Guardian to allow him to break with the iron code of Grubstreet.

Oborne’s target is Young Dave’s right hand man, and Murdoch “family” member, Andy Coulson, whose explanation of the acts of routine criminality being carried out at the Screws he clearly does not believe. Oborne contrasts the entry into Downing Street in 1997 of, well, y’know, Tone – accompanied by Big Al - with the potential entry by Cameron with Coulson in tow.

And the conclusion he makes is that Coulson is tainted to a far greater degree than Campbell ever was. Oborne concludes: “As deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World, he was presiding over what can only be described as a flourishing criminal concern”.

[For those who still doubt the ability of papers to keep quiet about their own, the Guardian website also carries an interview with former Sun editor David Yelland, who, in discussing how his alcoholism coincided with his spell in the editor’s chair, noted that “When I went out and disgraced myself in public – as I did many times – I could silence the diary columns by calling a fellow editor”.]

Foot In Mouth Silver Lining?

Yet another political own goal has been recorded in the increasingly tense days before Pa Broon is expected to fire the starting gun for the General Election. The unfortunate party on this occasion is the Tories, but the event could prove beneficial for Young Dave, despite the sensitivity of the subject.

Cameron’s shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling has been caught on audio apparently saying that it would be OK for the owners of a B&B – rather than an hotel – to decline admission to gay couples. Grayling, making his remarks to the Centre for Policy Studies, a right of centre “think tank”, gave as an example owners who shared a Christian belief.

Following the release of the tape, there has been a predictable range of comment: that from Labour and Lib Dem has been stressing – perhaps a little too much – the suggestion that the Tories are still not free of their homophobic past. The “libertarian” right has, though, defended the idea of discrimination, as this is what their particular dogma sees as “freedom”, their argument being that market forces will triumph over the forces of bigotry.

But the “libertarians” are, as so often, talking utter drivel: in their world, we would never have needed legislation on race relations or equal pay, but we have. Free market ideology is little comfort for those humiliated by intolerance.

And there is now a problem for Young Dave: what to do with the underperforming and gaffe-prone Grayling? Here is Cameron’s silver lining: an opportunity to bin someone seen as a less than totally effective member of the Shadow Cabinet, and show that the Tories are as modern as he says they are, at one go.

But who would replace Grayling? Well, Cameron could always bring back David Davis – no point having your big guns underemployed come General Election time.

Naples: The Worship Of Football

The old Shankly saying about football being more than a matter of life and death came to mind when I saw a bizarre shrine in the Centro Storico of Naples recently. And its subject isn’t, despite his best efforts, even dead yet.

Cutting through the old town more or less from east to west is the ancient and narrow thoroughfare known as Spaccanapoli, literally “Split Naples”. It can be picked out easily when looking down over the city from the heights of the Vomero district to the west.

And attached to a wall on the south side of this street is a shrine to the player who brought Napoli its greatest recent triumphs, two Serie A titles among them: Diego Maradona.



Maradona encapsulated the best and worst of the game, on one memorable occasion in the course of one match, when he first deliberately handled the ball into the England net, but then dribbled past six players to score the “goal of the century”, during the 1986 World Cup.

But, despite his later years having been blighted by drug abuse, Maradona remains an iconic figure in Naples, and hence the shrine. Bill Shankly would have approved.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Yes Or No? – 2

Hardly had I considered the damascene conversion of the Lib Dems to the view that the Gateway scheme for redeveloping Crewe station should be revived, than yet more folks are voicing their support. If only they had been so enthusiastic when Network Rail (NR) were pitching their potty idea for moving the station to Basford in an effort to create a groundside airport terminal, and nice little earner.

But at least they are coming round to the idea that CREAM were promoting, almost as a lone voice, from the start. So who is adding their presence to the move? Well, rent-an-enthusiast Pete Waterman has grabbed the headlines, but unless he is inclined to simultaneously open his wallet, this will be of no more than cosmetic use. The significant voice is that of Wesley Fitzgerald, current leader of Cheshire East Council.

Why so? Well, not only is Fitzgerald the holder of elective office – unlike Waterman – he also represents the Tory Party, whose best efforts until now had been to sit firmly on the fence. So it now looks as if all three major parties are more or less signed up to the Gateway scheme being revisited.

All we need now is some action. Hint.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Naples: Friday Food Is Pizza!

Today brings a special Friday Food: something I haven’t had in the house for more than five years, and don’t intend to reintroduce in the near future. But Naples is the birthplace of pizza, and to experience it there is something else. It also underlines just how dreadful supermarket pizza, and much restaurant pizza, really is.

And it’s not expensive either, despite true Neapolitan pizza being subject to the strictest quality laws. The highest of standards, and lowest of prices, come together in Naples’ Centro Storico at the Antica Pizzeria Da Michele on Via C. Sersale: a middling size pizza and bottle of beer will set you back just six Euro.

The Da Michele serves only the two true Neapolitan pizza varieties: Marinara, with a topping of tomato, garlic, and oregano (note, no cheese) and Margarita, topped by tomato and mozzarella. You need to tuck in the moment the pizza arrives at your table to experience just how different and enjoyable the real thing can be – anything from the supermarket is like a cross between gloop and cardboard by comparison.

At lunchtime, Da Michele not only gets full, but there is routinely a queue outside. This is when most tourists arrive, as they are visiting from out of town. Evenings are easier, but you should still get there well before 2000 hours. Alternatively, there is the nearby alternative of Pizzeria Trianon on Via P. Colletta, where the pizza is almost as good, and there are more varieties, but they mark up the drinks rather more aggressively, and put a 15% service charge on top.

The Trianon fills up later in the evening than Da Michele, which tells you something about the locals’ favourite. Both attract tourists of an evening, the Stateside ones taking photos of every part of pizza preparation, marvelling especially at the little ol’ oven, as if there is something unusual about it. That, too, tells much about many folks’ knowledge of this simplest of foods – or their lack of it.