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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Crossrail – Calling Bombardier’s Bluff

There has been much excitement over the news that the fleet of new trains for Crossrail will not go out to tender until next year. This has been held to be A Very Good Thing, as it has been assumed that the tender documents are being framed so as to give Bombardier, as successors to British Rail Engineering (BREL) a better chance of landing the order.

And that assumption is totally misplaced. Bombardier was given every chance of matching the winning Siemens bid for the new Thameslink fleet, and declined so to do. Management at the firm’s Derby facility has also lost interest in refurbishment work. And the argument – advanced fallaciously in the Maily Telegraph – that Siemens had some kind of financial advantage has been subsequently demolished.

The thought that emerges from observing Bombardier’s recent behaviour in the UK – management at their Crewe site has also lost interest, this time in repair work – is that the company is not long for this country. It would not be the first time that Bombardier has acquired facilities, exploited them and then closed them down, as I noted recently.

What the Crossrail order will show is whether Bombardier is serious about staying in the UK. French owned Alstom, which has already withdrawn from manufacturing rail vehicles in the UK, has now dropped out of the race, leaving Siemens, Bombardier, Hitachi and Spanish builder CAF, who may not be a serious contender, but they do have recent experience in building vehicles for the National Rail network.

And, whoever gains the coveted preferred bidder status, the tender could be written to specify local content, such as final assembly. This would be, once more, held to favour Bombardier, but that need not prove true: Bombardier themselves did final assembly and finishing work on the Voyager and Meridian trains sourced from their Brugeoise works in Belgium – but not at Derby.

The realisation may eventually dawn on politicians, trades unionists, hacks and editors, and yes, the poor souls who work on their sites or depend on them, that Bombardier has no sentimental attachment to the UK, or indeed any other country. The firm has already closed facilities in Switzerland and Germany, and closed down and asset-stripped Portugal’s only train builder.

This is an organisation that buys up technology, exploits it, and ultimately disposes of spent assets once they are no longer worth the candle. The Crossrail order will reveal just how near to being spent the Derby facility has become.

[The final assembly of Voyager and Meridian trains was done at the ProRail plant near Wakefield. The facility has since been closed]

Tuesday Travel: Green London

There are millions of people residing in the Greater London area. It’s a busy, noisy and often crowded city. But there are, even in the centre of that city, green and open spaces that make for ideal walking territory. Here is one relatively easy stroll through some of those green spaces.

The starting point is the Albert Memorial, which can be reached by bus, or by tube to South Kensington, then through the covered way to Exhibition Road, and heading north. From here, you head into Hyde Park, along The Ring, which cuts between the park and Kensington Gardens.

At the south side of the Serpentine is the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, much derided, but also much liked by families taking a break from the tourist trail.

Then there is the Serpentine itself, where you can walk the perimeter or hire a boat. From here, it’s a short walk to the July 7 Memorial, which I covered the other day. And nearby is Hyde Park Corner.

Surprisingly, given that it lies in the middle of a huge gyratory, the Wellington Arch enjoys a green and almost tranquil setting. You head on through and across onto Constitution Hill, maybe taking a detour into Green Park.

And so Buckingham Palace is reached, with the Queen Victoria Memorial at front.

St James’ Park lies beyond as you head towards Westminster. It’s not a bad recreation area for Parliamentarians, Civil Servants, lobbyists and other hangers-on.

Then, at the very edge of Whitehall – the securely guarded rear entrance to Downing Street is close to where the photo was taken – is the open space of Horse Guards’ Parade. From here, the Tube at Westminster, and a number of watering holes, are not much further to walk.

Something to enjoy next time you’re in town. And it’s free.

Littlejohn – The Nelly’s Off The Telly

The Daily Mail’s turgid and talentless churnalist Richard Littlejohn may be trousering almost a million notes a year, but he is not a happy bunny. Lounging by the pool behind the gates of his secure Florida compound, Dick is missing something: it’s called the limelight. Yes, he’s no longer on the telly. So whose fault is this?

BBC, guv? Gays and lefties, innit?!?

Not his own, that’s for sure: after all, his legendarily foul mouthed editor still values this dubious talent, so the TV bods should do too. That means the dastardly BBC is to blame. And the gays. Dick has a problem with gays. So his overlong rant today has the Corporation in its sight. And anyone working for them. Because he isn’t.

And the first target, inevitably, is Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, because it featured an intimate gay scene. Dick knows where the problem lies: “this is what you get when you hire a proselytising homosexual like Russell T Davies ... he comes with an agenda”. But he has already sold the pass: “what on earth has sex got to do with a science fiction show?” he protests.

That successive occupants of Doctor Who’s Tardis have had at least one young female “companion” has eluded Littlejohn, as has the thought that the plot was not what made Barbarella the stuff of sci-fi legend. And that’s before we get on to those early Star Trek uniforms. But go on, Dick, identify the culprits for us.

Yes, it’s the Guardian. They’re part of the conspiracy: “BBC drama, like its news output, is always refracted through the prism [looks like the thesaurus fell off the bookshelf and he read it before putting it back] of the metropolitan prejudices held by the people who work there and take their world view from the pages of the Guardian” he tells. A “metropolitan prejudice”? What that? Move on before anyone asks.

Welcome to Littlejohn country

And move on he does, quickly dismissing Life On Mars as “a condescending New Labour remake of The Sweeney”, before attacking the Beeb’s idea of “reality”: “If ‘reality’ was what they were after in EastEnders, the Queen Vic would have been put out of business by teetotal Islamic fundamentalists and all the women in the cast would be wearing the hijab”. Odd view of London you get from Florida.

But Dick’s got suggestions for the BBC: “insist that news and documentary programmes use both imperial and metric measurements ... weather forecasters should be forced to give temperatures in Fahrenheit as well as Sellotape [that’s intended to be hilariously funny]”. And he misses Question Time.

We know this because he wants the programme to have an audience “which doesn’t look as if it has been dragged out of a students’ union bar via a diversity czar’s wet dream”. But fortunately the rant ends there, as “it’s time for my nap”.

It’s good to see that Dick is still up to speed on his rhyming slang.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Sad Tel Blog Goes Mad About Calling Nad Bad

Next week, three amendments to the NHS bill are to be brought before the Commons and debated. These have been tabled by veteran Labour MP Frank Field and (yes, it’s her again) Tory MP for Mid-Narnia Nadine Dorries. La Dorries has characteristically been scathing and on occasion downright menacing towards those whose opinions she regards as inconvenient.

Put simply, these amendments would exclude organisations like the British Pregnancy Advice Service (BPAS) from counselling women who decide to have a termination. The reasoning behind the move is that BPAS is making money out of abortions, although as a not for profit entity it isn’t. Those wanting a fully referenced background piece should consult Unity at the Ministry of Truth blog.

What the Dorries amendments appear to be enabling is an increasing role for religious groups to become involved in abortion counselling, such as those associated with Christian Concern – who feature Dorries’ recent Newsnight appearance on their site – an organisation we’ve already encountered through their support of Colin Atkinson and Richard Scott.

But Dorries does have an ally out there in the blogosphere: step forward Cristina Odone, who is one of many who occupy the bear pit that is Maily Telegraph blogland. Odone, a former editor of the Catholic Herald, is happy to accuse BPAS of double standards, suggesting that the organisation, along with Marie Stopes International, is making £60 million a year out of terminations.

This, of course, is the same Cristina Odone who works for the Centre for Policy Studies, an organisation that has called for the emasculation of the BBC, and who recently laid into the Beeb for supposedly lifting its copy from the papers, while providing no evidence, and doing so when her own paper was running a BBC bashing piece it had lifted from the previous day’s Manchester Evening News.

Odone does not explain why women should do the equivalent of ignoring specialist medical advice and instead listen to a quack doctor willing to peddle scare stories about mental health issues. But she does suggest that the status quo is being maintained by the Guardian, while ignoring the strict regulation of BPAS and Marie Stopes by the Department of Health.

Still, she’s good at smearing former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, just like Dorries, and she’s even better at playing the Christian victim card. Nadine Dorries couldn’t have a more faithful ally.

Crikey Chaps, They’re Still On The Square!

With the Royal Wedding now fading into memory, the presence of a variety of protesters in Parliament Square has also fallen from the radar of the why-oh-why part of the Fourth Estate. And there has been no recent sounding off on the matter from London’s occasional Mayor and regular collector of “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

The tents: all along the south side ...

The lack of any recent pronouncement from Bozza may not be unrelated to the inconvenient fact that not only are the protesters still there, but that they also seem to be increasing in number. This is particularly noticeable at the south west corner of the square: the tents stretch along almost the whole of the south side now.

... round the south east corner ...

And the original peace camp, still there on the east side of the square even after the passing of Brian Haw, does not seem to be related other than in name to the rest of the temporary inhabitants, many of whom are protesting variously about Korea, money, the riots, freemasons, imperialism, and surveillance. Only a few are still majoring on the Iraq adventure.

... and up the east side of the square

In the meantime, most of the square is fenced off by a line of unsightly barriers, just as it was earlier in the year, and indeed as it was last year around this time. Bozza’s noises off in January – in concert with Young Dave – may have pleased the followers of the Vagina Monologue and scored him a few column inches, but all the bluster and legal action has brought little return.

It will be interesting to see how much hot air is expended on this business in the run up to next year’s Mayoral elections, and equally, how much buck passing is performed as Bozza tries to bodyswerve the whole issue and dump it on Westminster Council – who are responsible for the pavement on which all the tents are located.

[The photos accompanying this post were taken on Saturday last, 27th August]

Sunday, 28 August 2011

In Remembrance

After the atrocities come the acts of remembrance: getting the memorials right is a difficult job, as there are those to remember, a mood to set, a reminder not only of something lost, but also of a more hopeful future. Madrid suffered its day of infamy on March 11, 2004, with London’s being on July 7 the following year. In both cities, a corner of a large public park hosts the memorial.

Madrid: the inscription ...

On the first anniversary of the Madrid bombings, the Forest Of Remembrance was inaugurated by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. It is located in the Parque del Retiro, just outside the city wall. Those who died are represented by 192 olive and cypress trees, the green hill surrounded by a channel of water. The memorial is close to the Estacion Puerta de Atocha, where most of the casualties occurred.

... and the Forest

There is a path to the top of the hill, and the memorial is open to all, although watched over night and day. It provides a place for quiet contemplation, even though there is heavy and persistent road traffic close by. In this, there is a direct similarity to the memorial to the attacks in London.

London: the plaque ...

This took longer to bring to reality than that in Madrid, and was unveiled in 2009, on the fourth anniversary of those attacks. The setting, in Hyde Park, is surprisingly quiet, considering that Park Lane and its traffic is visible in the background. The names of all the 52 who died in the four attacks are commemorated on a plaque at the rear of the memorial.

... and the memorial

Each individual is remembered by a steel column, these being grouped to depict those lost at Aldgate, Edgware Road, near King’s Cross, and in the bus bombing at Tavistock Square. The 52 stelae were individually cast and, while all are similar, are equally individual.

Both memorials are worth a detour from the tourist trail, and worth a period of reflection. They show that, although the style of memorial may differ from one city to another, there is still the act of remembrance.

Express Spell Checker Falls Victim To Cuts

The press empire of Richard “Dirty” Desmond may consist of four national newspapers, but the number of hacks and editorial staff turning them out has declined dramatically since Des took over. So papers like the Express display more reliance on stories that aren’t, while the quality of even the spelling suffers with the lack of subs.

Non-existent stories are typified by this piece suggesting that there was ever a chance of one of the surviving Concorde fleet flying again, specifically as part of a fly-past for opening next year’s London Olympics. Nobody even considered such a move: the cost would have been prohibitive, and there was always the small problem that Airbus Industrie would refuse to renew the type’s airworthiness certificate.

Moreover, the Express story hasn’t been thought out: British Airways is blamed for the flight not going ahead, but the plane that is being discussed is not one of theirs.

So much for the ability of Express hacks to produce “stories” out of almost no source material at all – what of the spelling? Well, yes, today has brought that as well. Although the piece has now been corrected, a screenshot has been taken, and now has pride of place among the litany of routinely dreadful Express spelling howlers – until the next one comes along.

Yes, “Daily Express reporter” cannot spell the word Comedienne. What the paper is using for input is not known, but my version of Word auto corrected the howler when I tried to replicate it. The article is otherwise yet another piece of filler knocked together from a photo and a couple of quotes taken from material already published elsewhere.

As such, it’s situation normal for the Express.

Del Boy And The Cloud Seed

It was one-time Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who said that a good crisis should never be allowed to go to waste. For the climate change denial lobby, though, a crisis can be whipped up from a far lesser event. A report from CERN on a study on cloud formations will do just as well.

Looking at the reportage from the Guardian, one could not imagine the faux outrage about to be deployed: their article tells how the scientists deduced that something other than water, sulphuric acid and ammonia was influencing the formation of clouds. Also, cosmic rays could influence the formation rates of what are known as “aerosols”, particles of those substances.

George watches Del Boy engage auto-sneer

All manner of possibilities follow, but the researchers agree that more study is required, and that no conclusion can yet be drawn. But over at Maily Telegraph blogland, James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole has concluded that what the research really means is that the supposed great global conspiracy is once more bust, especially because his pals say so.

So who does Del Boy cite in support? First, inevitably, is Anthony Watts, whose expertise is so unassailable that he is happy to champion Steven Goddard, someone who cannot distinguish between temperatures and temperature anomalies. The Watts cite is backed up by one from Andrew Orlowski of The Register, whose place in the pantheon of denialism is well known.

But Delingpole has offered more evidence, so perhaps there is someone there who isn’t in the denialist camp? Doubtful: these consist of Lawrence Solomon (who has even complained about Wikipedia’s treatment of him), Nigel Calder (who took part in the now discredited documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle), and Lubos Motl, another denialist, who is, like Del Boy, always right.

Thus assembled, this cast of echo chamber inhabitants is duly congratulated, while the dastardly BBC is denounced for being “dutifully on-message”, which in the land of Del Boy means that the Beeb has dared to serve up the news in a form which he finds less than totally ideologically acceptable.

Delingpole may believe that he is striking a blow for, well, something, but in reality, this practice of taking a piece of research and twisting the remarks of anyone connected with it in pursuit of producing more howling denouncements of the scientific establishment will get him nowhere.

Which may, paradoxically, be no bad thing.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Quality Journalism – How It Works

In the bear pit that is Maily Telegraph blogland, one stalwart contributor is Nile “Chauncey” Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, who assails those drifting around the comments sewer with a series of whinges about Barack Obama, his Presidency, his family, and anything else about his presence on the planet.

In pursuit of his mission, Gardiner has today demonstrated that he is prepared to sink as low as is necessary to kick the Prez. No restriction to sound journalistic principles restrains him, although you have to follow the trail of links to see how he stands up his attack. The latest complaint is against Michelle Obama, whose spending Gardiner says is “out of control”.

Firstly, Gardiner makes his assertion, that the First Lady is taking too many holidays – vacations for those Stateside – and cites Keith Koffler, “who edits the influential White House Dossier”. This unimpeachable source also features at The Conservative Speaker, and at Top Conservative Blogs. It’s not unlike calling Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) fair and balanced.

Gardiner then moves on to cite the Daily Mail – another source of variable and selective veracity – to back up his assertion that Michelle Obama has blown $10 million “of US taxpayers’ money” on hols in the past year. But the Mail is not the source of this story – they got it from the National Enquirer, which for the uninitiated is like the Daily Star, only glossier and a lot less reliable, if that’s possible.

Indeed, it was the National Enquirer that last February ran a story asserting that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had only six weeks to live. Jobs may not be in the best of health – he just resigned from Apple – but it’s now six months later and he’s still around. The piece that the Mail cites is attributed to a “top source” which makes a raft of thus far unproven accusations.

So Nile Gardiner is basing his typically crude attack on two sources: a partisan blogger, and the National Enquirer. The rest of his post is just padding and speculation. Thus another example of how the Telegraph, once a paper of record, has sunk beyond recognition.

[Those of an eagle eyed persuasion will have noted that Gardiner cites Keith Koffler, but is unable to spell his surname correctly]

TPA – 50p Worth Of Protests

The so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) joined together with the Institute of Directors (IoD) earlier this year to launch the 2020 Tax Commission, though despite the authoritative sounding name, this body has no formal status. Chairing the Commission was Allister Heath of City AM, nominally of independent status, though in reality another TPA stooge.

As with most of the TPA’s activities, this body is claimed to be working in support of ordinary taxpayers. So after almost eight months, and myriad press releases and blogposts, now is as good a time as any to check the hype against reality. And that reality is that the most noise has been made over the recently introduced 50p income tax rate. Probably because the TPA’s backers have to pay it.

It all started out so promisingly, as we were given “A Meeting Of Minds To Map Out The Future Of Tax”. But the focus on the UK’s top 1% of tax payers began soon afterwards: whereas a minimum wage of less than six notes an hour was “high”, that top tax rate was in the Commission’s sights. After all, it was “nothing more than a political gesture”. The answer was “Simpler Taxes”.

Yes, that 50p tax rate was a problem: Barclays were worried about retaining senior staff, and here began the myth that the new top rate was actually losing the Government money. No reliable figures were cited, of course, but there were lots of estimates. And strong tax revenues in January were not, repeat not, down to the new higher tax rate.

Anyone who said otherwise wasconfused”, and in any case, the UK had been getting more than enough tax out of the well-off before the higher rate was introduced. Then came the Budget, and the 50p rate remained in force: the Commission was distraught to realise it was unable to instruct the Treasury. But the advice kept coming.

And in June came the clincher: Adele opposed the 50p rate. Plus it was only an “unaffordable gimmick”. But nobody took this advice seriously, so non-job holder Rory Meakin has returned to the subject today, his new star witness being former teacher Katharine Birbalsingh, who like Adele does not major in taxation. But, almost eight months on, where are the conclusions from Heath and his pals?

All will no doubt become clear, but for those who can’t wait any longer, I can reveal the general gist of the 2020 Tax Commission conclusions. Put simply, these will be abolition of the minimum wage, lowering the poverty line (both already advocated by the TPA), swingeing [further] cuts to public spending, and adoption of a flat tax which by sheer coincidence will benefit those who bankroll the TPA.

All will be justified in the name of simplicity and competitiveness, of course.

Not So Zowie, Howie

Those who live by television shall die by televisionobserved the Independent’s resident sage Howard Jacobson last Saturday, as he surveyed the wreckage of David Starkey’s ill-advised exposition on Newsnight. The piece – Jacobson’s customary weekly column for the paper – was titled “Foolish vanity of a public intellectual”.

Perhaps it was because he wasn’t on the television that Jacobson equally foolishly followed Starkey into foot-in-mouth territory yesterday: his howler came in an interview given to Liz Hoggard for the Evening Standard. Here, Jacobson is given free rein as he rambles on about life in Soho, where he can walk to from there, and how you can never exhaust London.

Then the conversation turns to the recent rioting, and there is a promising start as Jacobson tells of a “renewed sense of community” emerging after the disturbances. But then he asks “How does one put this without sounding gross?” and you somehow know he is about to insert boot. Sure enough, he continues “it was terrific to see the Asian communities on telly and not have to think about terrorism”.

Er, what? Perhaps I’ve not been paying attention for the past few decades, but when I think “Asian communities”, the kind of descriptions that come to mind include warm, welcoming, hard working, often close knit, tolerant, self-reliant, and yes, invariably good neighbours. The only conclusion I can reach is that Howard Jacobson lives on a different planet.

Moreover, the thought does not appear to enter that he may have given significant offence, and in this he is not alone, and certainly not the first prominent media figure so to do. Last December, NPR sacked contributor Juan Williams after he had appeared with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) and started with “I mean, look Bill, I’m not a bigot”.

Williams then casually lobbed in his unpinned grenade: “But when I get on a plane ... if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think ... they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous”. He later stressed that he had not been talking about “all Muslims”, but by that time the grenade had already detonated.

Both Williams and Jacobson gave the impression that there was nothing exceptional in their remarks or stance. And that should concern a wider audience than that of the Independent or Fox: maybe we aren’t over prejudice as much as we would like to believe.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Guido Fawked – No Research, No Result (9)

While the runaway train that is Phonehackgate rumbles on, attempts continue at the Guido Fawkes blog to make a case against Trinity Mirror, on the basis of no evidence at all, and merely because the routinely clueless and perpetually thirsty Paul Staines is desperate to score some revenge against those rotten lefties who, in his mind, brought low his beloved Rupe.

And yesterday brought a superb example of why I describe the increasingly portly Staines as “routinely clueless”: the Fawkes blog ran a post titled “Beckham Hacking: Mirror Cover-Up (Part 1)”. Here, the inference was made that hacks at one or more Trinity Mirror titles were indulging in hacking phones used by those working for the Beckhams.

Moreover, the suddenly emboldened Staines has faxed a letter to Mirror Group legal director Paul Vickers under the aegis of the so-called “Sunlight Centre for Open Politics” on the case of a hack called David Brown. “We have been told that in 2007 a People journalist called David Brown was sacked for ‘gross misconduct’” asserts Staines, thus spraying his credibility up the wall in one go.

File that in the bin when the laughter stops

Because, had the clueless Staines bothered to do a few minutes’ Googling, he would have found that not only is the David Brown case no secret, but also that he has not even got the year of his dismissal right. Brown – along with Mirror hack Paul Gallagher – were initially suspended after stories from the Daily Mirror news list had appeared in the People, in March 2006.

Both men were dismissed the following month, and thanks to the Press Gazette and Guardian, we can pinpoint the exact date, that being Wednesday the 5th of April. And, had there been any noises off over an “industrial tribunal”, which Staines suggests in his letter, Private Eye would have been on the case. Thus far, a scan of the Zelo Street Eye archive has not unearthed anything on the subject.

All of which suggests that, rather than quaking at the inquisition of The Great Guido – a scenario Staines suggests all too regularly – Paul Vickers and his colleagues at Trinity Mirror will have been laughing like extras on a Smash advert at yet another example of lamentably poor research. If this is the best that Mr Clueless can manage, Sly Bailey and her staff can sleep easy.

Because, as I keep saying: No Research, No Result. I can’t wait for Part 2 of this expose – maybe this is where Staines gets the date right. Or gets something right. After all, he’s Number 1, you know.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Hockey Stick Mann Cleared

Almost two years ago, along came an event that was manna from heaven for the climate change denial lobby. Here was Climategate, supposedly the final nail in the coffin of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW): over a thousand emails from the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU) had been released into the public domain.

For James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, this was fatally damaging to what he saw as a conspiracy, which had been “suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed”. And thus Del Boy set out to make a non-trivial amount of dosh out of Climate Change by accusing others of, er, making non-trivial amounts of dosh out of Climate Change.

Del’s mentor Christopher Booker went further: this was “the worst scientific scandal of our generation”, our scientific establishment was “hopelessly compromised”, and it was “shocking”. Moreover, this was merely part of a “closely knit group of American and British scientists” promoting the “hockey stick” graph, the work principally of one Michael Mann of Penn State University.

So, although no formal allegation was ever made about him, Mann was duly investigated by a board of enquiry at Penn State. This reported back in February 2010, and concluded that there was no evidence that Mann had suppressed or falsified data, tried to destroy data or emails, or misused information. A second panel would consider whether Mann had been guilty of misconduct.

And now that panel has reported: the conclusion has been that Mann is not guilty of any professional impropriety, this being essentially upheld by the Inspector General’s office. The review concluded “lacking any direct evidence of research misconduct ... we are closing this investigation with no further action”.

What you will not see at the Telegraph. After all, following that first investigation, Del Boy sneered that he wasas innocent as OJ”.

TPA – You’re Nicked

The so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), via the efforts of non-job holder Andrew Allison, yesterday ran a piece of knocking copy aimed at the Association of Police Authorities (APA), which represents 43 member Authorities across the UK. The article appeared in the “Burning Our Money” section of the TPA website, so readers are clearly meant to conclude that the APA is engaged in wasting public funds.

Indeed, Allison asserted that “it does swallow-up [sic] £1.5 million of our money from subscriptions ... and an additional £282k in Home Office grants”, and then told that “It has a council which consists of 80 members, drawn from the 49 member authorities, and it also has a board, which consists of 19 members”. Sounds authoritative enough.

So by the time Allison gets on to members’ allowances, asserting that these were over £294k in 2009-10, and that this was an increase from £253k the previous year, readers may believe that he is telling them something factual and well researched. But, as regular visitors to Zelo Street will know, the TPA speaks with forked tongue when it chooses, which on past experience, is most of the time.

Come on out with your hands up, second floor people

And so it came to pass: the APA, to its credit, has responded and put the TPA straight. First off, they do not receive a grant from the Home Office. Moreover, their council and board have 60 and 17 members respectively – not 80 and 19. The number of member authorities served by the APA is 43, not 49. And those 2009-10 allowances of £294k were actually £184k.

Why am I not surprised? Well, this is, after all, the organisation that put out the largely fictitious “report” last December on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which I dismantled at the time. That invented £25 billion of costs and attributed them to the ECHR, while seriously exaggerating the cost of actual judgments.

But all credit to the APA for biting back at the TPA, and reminding everyone of their shockingly inaccurate reportage. And in the meantime, good TPA people, when are we going to see a full set of accounts, together with list of donors?

The Telegraph Quarry

The dog whistle is being deployed across the print media today: typical is the Maily Telegraph with “Criminals to do eight hours a day of hard labour”. Yes, it’s back to the 1950s, with prison guards barking orders at convicts as they labour in the rock quarry. In black and white.

Or maybe not: Tom Whitehead’s piece is all about community punishment, not what happens to those doing a handful down the Scrubs. In fact, reading not too far beyond the headline reveals “fewer criminals being sent to prison and handed punishments in the community instead”.

But isn’t that being “soft” on criminals? Ah well. In what looks suspiciously like a rebranding exercise – all those “big society” relaunches may have gone to someone’s head – readers are told that “offenders ... will have to carry out unpaid ‘hard’ work for eight hours a day, four days a week”.

Hmmm. So how about some examples of this “hard” work? Whitehead is on the case: “That will involve clearing up litter, cleaning graffiti and maintaining parks, community farms and other green spaces”. Really? The thought occurs that, had the announcement been made before the last General Election, the Telegraph would have denounced it as a soft option.

Ken Clarke must be quietly pleased that the press has bought this creative reheating of an existing and often ridiculed idea. The rhetoric of justice minister Crispin Blunt, telling of “paying back ... your community through hard, honest work” will have helped. But here at Zelo Street the move will be believed when it is seen to be working.

And there will be no black and white rock quarry, so here’s a video snippet from the legendary post-Ealing comedy Two Way Stretch, to remind everyone that attempts to impose “hard labour” can have unexpected downsides.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Jumping To The Wrong Conclusion

Sometimes the press is so wound up in its desire to characterise those it writes about that the headline gets written beforehand. It happened in the case of the sad recent death of singer Amy Winehouse.

For the Daily Mail, the agenda of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre dictated that illegal drugs had to be the cause, so the headline was written – “Amy Winehouse, 27, found dead at her London flat after suspected ‘drug overdose’” – and all those who take their cue from the Mail duly followed.

But note that ‘drug overdose’ was put in quotes, just in case, with this being attributed to “sources”. Only much further down the piece do we get a Met Police spokesman warning “it would be inappropriate to speculate on the cause of death”, which was exactly what the Mail was doing.

Now, Winehouse’s family have let it be known that there were no illegal substances present in her body at the time of her death. The Daily Mail has not thus far issued any kind of mea culpa.

Murdoch Is Served (58)

Another day, another revelation in the saga of the runaway train that is Phonehackgate, and this one completely unexpected: after apparently resigning as a matter of honour from the editor’s chair at the Screws, Andy Coulson continued to be paid by News International, a number of “severance payments” being made up to the end of 2007.

Aw, not Tom sodding Watson again!

Moreover, he retained his NI funded private health care for a whole three years after resigning. And he was gifted his company car. As he started work as Young Dave’s spinmeister in July 2007 at an annual salary of over £250,000, there would appear to be both significant monetary and loyalty overlap in play. According to the Beeb’s Robert Peston, Tory Party sources say they didn’t know of the payments.

There were also raised eyebrows among the ranks of those who served among the ranks of Rupe’s troops in days gone by: Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil, long time editor of the Sunday Times, has told that he got precisely zero on resigning. Of course, Brillo is now no longer a fan of the Murdochs. So is there another cite in the house?

Well, yes there is: David Yelland, former editor of the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, has Tweeted more or less the same message, that resignation brought no additional rewards. Add to this the suspicion that the Commons Culture committee may have been misled by the twinkle toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks recently, and the impression is given that something has been covered up.

Put directly, this is serious. But in one corner of the dunghill that is Grubstreet, the worker ants are unhappy with this line of investigation, and not the ones at NI, but rather those at the Maily Telegraph. Those who look in on Zelo Street will not be surprised: I noted recently that the Telegraph titles, and particularly the Sunday one, were full participants in the Dark Arts.

So what is the verdict at the Telegraph? “The hysteria over Andy Coulson is getting out of hand” protests David Hughes. Who he? Hughes is only the paper’s chief leader writer, a serious job and one entrusted to someone who knows the politics of the paper and its target readership, as well as the aspirations of executives and owners.

Which suggests that David and Frederick Barclay, aka The Fabulous Bingo Brothers, may be concerned that the contagion from Phonehackgate could move in their general direction, and they would rather it did not. Hughes’ attempt to tell anyone looking in to direct their gaze elsewhere is not a wise move.

Mail Incest – Si And Quent Outed

Dacre kills with headlines”, one long serving Daily Mail hack told Nick Davies. And one career that the Vagina Monologue would dearly love to kill is that of Commons speaker John Bercow, at present relaxing on a solo holiday in India, while wife Sally is the only reasonably well known inhabitant of the Celebrity Big Brother house.

Did you just call me Bobby ****ing Charlton?

There is, however, a problem in using CBB to get at the Bercows: although Dacre loathes Richard “Dirty” Desmond, owner of Channel 5 which is screening the show, the sleb goss side of things sells papers. So lots of screengrabs have been plastered all over Mail Online – alongside the Kardashian wedding and anything that can be dug up about Posh’n’Becks – while the hacks sharpen their hatchets.

Harry Potter he ain't

And today’s hatchet wielding flannelled fool is the self important Quentin Letts (let’s not), who feigns sympathy for John Bercow while laying into his wife with a stream of abuse: “trashy bint”, “slapper”, “unlovely”, “Hooray Henrietta” and “ghastly” are all deployed. But for Letts to smear the Bercows is not news, so why is this special? Ah well. All the better to propagate the latest rumour.

Letts is pushing the line that Sally Bercow’s appearance on CBB is putting a strain on her marriage. He tells that “Friends of Mr Bercow, quoted in the Sunday media, suggested the Speaker was at his wits’ end”. Moreover, this had been “reported by a prominent Fleet Street political editor”. So who was this “prominent political editor”? Er, Simon Walters, of ... the Mail On Sunday!

Unity's favourite Scumbag

So this “story” is being passed between the “news” and “comment” parts of the Dacre empire rather in the style of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). And Simon Walters has, as they say, previous: Unity at the Ministry of Truth blog called him out back in 2007 for being selective with his facts. Walters is also notorious for his “We are biased, admit the stars of BBC news” rant from 2006.

And there you have it: this “story” is nothing more than a steaming turd, excreted by one of Dacre’s toadies, then unsuccessfully polished by another. It combines the Mail aggression against the Bercows with the Dacre diktat of wives being subservient to husbands, not being of independent means, and certainly not having any sort of career, unless the Vagina Monologue gives his approval.

Moreover, the line may have been crossed with this one: at the end of his tedious rant, Quentin Letts refers to Sally Bercow as a “doxy”. Doxy is Old English slang for prostitute: there is no way that can be defended as free speech or robustly expressed opinion. It may be time for the Bercows to make an example of the Mail’s repugnant diarist and his legendarily foul mouthed editor.

Here’s hoping.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Libya – Everybody’s Claiming Victory

Back in February, I predicted that the game was up for Muammar Gaddafi, after news emerged that his regime had been turning its heavy weaponry on its own people and had thereby engaged in casual mass murder. Moreover, I considered that if the legendarily flatulent Gaddafi did not go, and soon, the result could be as it was in Romania, only worse.

Now it seems that we are into the endgame: the kicking in of the rotten door is almost complete. And it is not out of any lack of firepower that Gaddafi’s forces have all but collapsed, but that they appear to have lost the stomach for the fight. The rebel forces – at the moment more or less united against a common enemy – are the ones who want to finish the job.

And, as it is only a matter of time before the Gaddafi era ends, the business has started of claiming victory and making appropriate modifications to recent history to suit the retelling. This has given considerable enjoyment thus far to those of a right leaning disposition, especially as the no-fly zone was championed by Young Dave and Nicolas Sarkozy.

This version of events conveniently omits the involvement of Democrat Barack Obama, and there’s more: the normalisation of relations between the West and the Gaddafi Government is then painted as some kind of act of treachery by Labour generally, and Tone specifically, with plenty of stick also given to Pa Broon, “Shagger” Prescott, Big Al, and anyone else in the vicinity.

Here, however, a problem enters: lifting of UN sanctions occurred from 2003, and the administration in Washington DC was not in any way left leaning, presided over as it was by “Dubya” Bush and his Veep “Dick” Cheney. When the Secretary of State visited Libya in 2008, it was Condi Rice who represented the USA. Then, as now, there was no uniform centre-left, or centre-right, alliance.

So while Young Dave and the constantly underestimated William ‘Ague deserve credit for their tenacity in getting the French on board early doors and then not only pitching their product to Barack Obama, but also making a sale, there is no “right good, left bad” to celebrate in the backstory.

And Cameron will know that being right about Gaddafi, and taking the action he did, will not guarantee domestic pay-off. What worked for Margaret Thatcher after the Falklands campaign did not pay off for Tone over Iraq. In any case, this one has a long way yet to run: now comes the need to secure the peace.

Nepotism, Meet Hypocrisy

Some of the characterisations routinely wheeled out by the followers of the Vagina Monologue are as unchanging as his hatred for them: anyone from the Lib Dems is fair game for smearing, from Corporal Clegg down. Many in the Labour Party are similarly treated: Peter Mandelson is presently being given a roughing up over the deeply subversive activity of house purchase.

No, you can't borrow my ****ing comb

So it is with Tone, and those who have had the temerity to associate with him, which as I noted recently includes Alastair Campbell. In June, the obedient disciples of the vindictive and bullying Dacre took revenge on Big Al for adverse comment on an edition of The Big Question, starting a hate campaign against him by fans of boy band The Wanted over a series of tackles at a charity football match.

Now, the Mail has discovered – just the nine months after the event – that Campbell’s son Calum is employed in the Labour Party’s fundraising team. This is a clear affront to Dacre. So yesterday came the inevitable hatchet job, with the singularly nasty title “Nepotism row as Campbell son is given a plum job with Labour”.

Plum job” is the really nasty part: this is saying that Calum Campbell has been given a job that he doesn’t merit, that is more than likely merely a sinecure, that the post is generously and unnecessarily well paid, and that no selection process took place. Not surprisingly, the Dacre hackery does not back any of these suggestions up, because they cannot.

Given it is his first serious job, Calum Campbell will be fortunate if he gets more than a thousand notes a month. A look at w4mp.org shows that many internships and assistant posts are expenses only or attract no more than the minimum wage. That’s a far cry from the overmonied hacks at the Mail, but then, nepotism would surely have no place there, would it?

I wouldn’t be so sure: check out Mail Online’s finest, rabbiting on about The Only Way Is Essex, someone from 90210, Eva Longoria, Lady Gaga, and Halle Berry’s daughter Nahla (plus the obligatory guff about the various Kardashians). All this dubiously meretricious copy has been authored by one person: step forward Georgina Littlejohn.

Georgina? She's family, innit?

Hey, that’s a familiar surname. You don’t think she’s related to Fat Dick, perhaps? Well, yes she is: Georgina is his eldest offspring. And I’m sure she got her job solely on merit, after a suitably rigorous selection procedure, that she works hard, and earns every penny of her salary.

After all, it wouldn’t do to have been “given a plum job” merely because of her Dad, would it? That would be nepotism, wouldn’t it?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Murdoch Is Served (57)

While many of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet continue to ignore the runaway train that is Phonehackgate, or tell their readers that the affair isn’t really important, events rumble on, and more unwilling participants are caught up in the expanding legal imbroglio. This post provides an update and points up why recent happenings could be important.

On Friday, the Metropolitan Police arrested another former Screws staffer, named as Dan Evans. Evans had been suspended by the paper following legal action on behalf of Kelly Hoppen. Importance: another piece in the jigsaw, although one has to wonder how many are still missing, given he’s the fourteenth to be nicked recently.

Also, a police detective has been arrested for allegedly leaking information about the investigation. There has been much speculation as to whether this was the source for the Guardian’s ability to get stories first – beats smearing Tom Watson in the originality stakes – but the paper isn’t commenting. Importance: not much in the wider scheme of things.

More interestingly, events surrounding Glenn Mulcaire have moved on: he has apparently now sued News International, most likely over their decision to stop paying his legal fees. Importance: very high. If Mulcaire was working as an employee, or at least on the instructions of other Screws hacks, there is a strong argument for them to pick up the tab.

And Mulcaire, as I noted recently, could start singing very soon, as he’s been ordered to reveal who told him to access six folks’ voicemails. The six include former PFA head Gordon Taylor. Importance: critical. The potential to drag more names into the frame is only matched by the knowledge that buying off Taylor did not end the potential of his case to do Rupe and his troops further damage.

Mulcaire is still fighting an attempt to force him to reveal the name of the hack who asked him to hack Steve Coogan’s phone, but the prognosis is not good, especially if he has to pay the legal bills himself. Importance: significant. Another name, another potential arrest, another step closer to seeing Murdoch Junior being invited to attend a Police station of his choosing.

And what is equally important is that part of the Fourth Estate is reverting to keeping quiet about the affair, particularly the Daily Mail, where the word had already gone out from Paul Dacre to portray Phonehackgate as no big deal, not of much interest, or even part of the cause for the recent rioting.

The inescapable impression is that the Mail, and maybe other titles, are getting worried that they may not be able to stay out of this one. More soon.

Europe – Frightening The Readers

Just to underscore the tactic of the Daily Mail, that headlines are written and copy is then written to fit them – with or without facts in support – come more anti-EU frighteners telling readers that Brussels, or France and Germany, or someone foreign, is going to raid the UK for billions of pounds, or possibly tens of billions, over an unspecified period.

Key to this unfolding, and largely fictitious, story is the Mail’s deputy Political Editor Tim Shipman, whose grand title merely qualifies him as another stooge in the efforts of his legendarily foul mouthed editor to stiffen the anti-EU resolve of his loyal readers. Shipman has authored, or co-authored, three increasingly hysterical pieces in the past week on community goings-on.

First came an article co-authored with Rob Davies on the 17th, telling “Paris and Berlin launch a coup to control Eurozone, demanding rights to dictate economic policy”. Sadly, this was undermined by asserting “The 17 countries in the single currency will be ordered to balance their budgets by 2012”. That’s next year, chaps. They haven’t been ordered. And they won’t be.

As an aside to that piece was a line about a financial transaction tax (FTT, aka Tobin Tax), which Shipman and his fellow Mail hacks might find a useful stick with which to beat the EU if only it were a serious proposal, rather than one where the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands were already opposed, with other EU member states less than totally supportive.

This minor consideration, though, did not deter Shipman, who by Thursday was clearly under orders from Dacre to crank up the demonisation machine, bringing Mail readers “Sarkozy and Merkel plot £13bn tax raid on the UK to save Euro”. In support, the Mail cited the Adam Smith Institute, a museum of outdated economic thought which has fraudulently appropriated the name of the founder of economics.

But by Saturday, the numbers had become really scary, as Shipman authored “Britain faces £50bn bill under Brussels tax raid to bail out Euro”. This time, the favoured citation was from Open Europe, an anti-EU body that does not want the UK to leave the EU, mainly because that would remove the reason for their existence.

The reality is that an FTT covering part or all of the EU has never been any more than a proposal, and then by few of the member states. It would not succeed, not even of it could be pushed through by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). The Daily Mail pieces are no more than scaremongering drivel, which tell us more about Tim Shipman’s lack of control over his by-line than any wider issue.

Still, it’s good money taking the Dacre shilling, so that’s all right, then.

A Jolly Eurotunnel Joke

The shuttle on Friday lunchtime was full, and another full one would follow less than quarter of an hour later. Eurotunnel does good business in August.

Down at the back, in the upper deck, I’ve parked at the front of my coach, with a Range Rover next, that being filled by a couple and their teenage sons. If anything, departure from the UK terminal is a couple of minutes early.

After 25 minutes or so transiting the Channel Tunnel, we emerge at the French side to an even more sunny day than that in England. The two teenagers are fascinated by the high fences lining the top of the cutting, which at this point are there to keep folks out – for their own safety.

One of them has a guess as to its purpose: “Hey, do you think that’s the border?”.

Sometimes, Littlejohn is right. You couldn’t make it up.

Oh Brother – What A Let Down!

Back in early April, Zelo Street looked at the over optimistic publicity being generated by the Desmond press over Celebrity Big Brother, and observed that many of the names being pitched “could do without the attention of Dirty Des’ forthcoming new acquisition”. So how many of those names actually appeared on the show’s opening night?

None. Not one. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

I’ll credit the original Daily Star “exclusive with one accurate guess – reality show fixture Amy Childs – but she had been so low on the radar that I didn’t consider her worth mentioning at the time. But that is the limit of the article’s accuracy.

So who didn’t turn up? For starters, the deeply unpleasant Mohamed “you can call me Al” Fayed didn’t show. Football pundit Andy Gray wasn’t in the line-up either, and neither were rapper Tinie Tempah, former occasional royal love interest Chelsy Davey, boxer Ricky Hatton, Peaches Geldof, or Tara Palmer Tomkinson (OK she wasn’t in the original list, but I suspect was approached).

There was no sign at all of the evergreen (and sensible enough to bodyswerve CBB) Joanna Lumley, and two names pitched regularly during the summer – former boxer Mike Tyson and ex Baywatch Pamela Anderson – also managed not to be anywhere near the launch celebrations.

Got that one wrong - again

And, as anyone with brain engaged prior to opening mouth knew from the start, the rumours about Charlie Sheen were not worth the hot air from which they had been cobbled. That, though, didn’t stop the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes, from being taken in. Not that he’ll be issuing any kind of mea culpa – after all, why change the habit of a lifetime?

Ratings prediction for CBB? That 5.1 million for the launch show will be seen as a fond memory in a couple of weeks’ time. Richard Desmond needs to understand that, unless he’s prepared to spend serious money, he will get a line-up that is not worth tuning in for. This collection of nobodies is the biggest let down in the UK history of CBB.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Step Off The Treadmill

There are times when blogging can seem like an eternal treadmill: the euphoria of one successful post, or series of posts, has hardly died away before the realisation sets in that there has to be another successful post, or series thereof, and that it has to top the last one. Hopefully, Zelo Street regulars appreciate the reasonably constant supply of new content.

But, on occasion, one has to step away from the keyboard, if only for a couple of days, which I will be doing starting, more or less, from the time this post is published. So there will be no dismantling of tomorrow’s Littlejohn column here, but I’m sure there will be others around the blogosphere more than willing to show up Dick and the rest of the overmonied dinosaurs of the Fourth Estate.

In the meantime, I remain hopeful that Zelo Street might garner a few more votes in the Total Politics 2011 blog poll. The voting instructions can be found HERE and you can cast your preferences HERE. This particular poll closes tomorrow, so there is still well over 24 hours of voting time left.

I hope to be back blogging on the usual variety of subjects by Sunday next. In the meantime, being of occasionally shameless disposition, I can recommend Littlejohn’s foot in mouth moment, James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole and his admirers in the comments sewer of Maily Telegraph blogland, and Daily Mail hacks “MadMel Phillips, Amanda Platell, and Liz Jones.

And of course there is always Phonehackgate, to which I will return very soon (latest updates HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE). Enjoy the break – I will. Perhaps.

TPA – Let Them Eat More Whoppers

As the supposedly new and original book Let Them Eat Carbon by Matthew Sinclair, head non-job holder at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), is launched onto a less than ecstatic market, it’s increasingly clear that much of the material it contains is neither new nor original. As I’ve shown previously, Sinclair’s talk of “excessive green taxes” was merely a recycled January TPA document. And there’s more.

In the frame for demonisation by the TPA’s finest is something Very Bad called Environmentalism. This subject may also be already familiar to TPA watchers, as it was covered in a piece of “research” last December titled Taxpayer Funded Environmentalism [.pdf]. In characteristic TPA style, this contained page upon page of detail on grants given to environmental groups.

Then, Sinclair made a leap of logic to assert that funds given to what he categorised as “environmentalist groups” were effectively being used for political campaigning. From this followed the usual mean-spirited TPA call for funding to be stopped. The approach follows that used in the now notorious 2009 Taxpayer Funded Lobbying report [.pdf].

The notoriety of the latter was substantially down to Mick Fealty at the excellent Slugger O’Toole blog, who nailed Sinclair’s leap of logic. This was, basically, to examine payments from Government to bodies among whose core competencies was lobbying and then declare that the payments were for lobbying. No evidence was cited to back up the claim, as there was none.

Fealty was not taking sides in any debate on whether taxpayer funded lobbying existed – he was merely calling out the TPA for what he called a “decidedly dodgy dossier”. The ventures of Matthew Sinclair into the comments following the post are revealing, as he appears abusive and petulant, as well as raising his FoI fishing expeditions to the status of “empirical, real world, research”.

So when anyone comes to read or review Sinclair’s new magnum opus, they would do well to remember that not only is much of the content not new, but that it has also already been shown to contain false assumptions that have rendered the conclusions reached utterly worthless – except, of course, to the more gullible part of the Fourth Estate.

As I said before, Let Them Eat Carbon is effectively a bogus book, filled with bogus figures, by a bogus expert.

Mail Sal Sums Fail

The legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has clearly decreed that Commons Speaker John Bercow, along with wife Sally, are not “our kind of people”: both are regularly pilloried by the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not go there), and otherwise attract adverse comment from whoever is duty hack at the front of the Dacre cab rank. So knocking copy aimed at the Bercows is not a surprise.

You lookin' at me?!?

But one might have expected that the Daily Mail would at least bother to get its sums right, even when putting the boot in. That, though, misses the point, which is that if the purpose of the article is to kick the subject, the subject will be kicked: as one former Mail news reporter put it to Nick Davies, “on touchstone issues, you knew that the headline had been written before the story came in and your job was to make the facts fit” [Flat Earth News, page 383]

And so we come to Sally Bercow’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. This is, for Dacre, A Doubly Bad Thing: not only is she not “one of our people”, but the programme airs on Channel 5, part of the empire of Richard “Dirty” Desmond, whom Dacre despises with a vengeance.

The main headline “Mrs Speaker will pocket [my emphasis] £40,000 for appearing on Celebrity Big Brother” suggests personal gain. So let’s do the math, and see just how much Sal is actually going to “pocket”. We are told “It has emerged [that’s Mail-speak for “best guess”] that Mrs Bercow ... will be paid £60,000”. She will allegedly pay £20,000 of this to the great Cliffus Maximus to act as publicist.

So that sounds like she does indeed make £40,000 out of the deal, except that the piece concedes that she will make a £100,000 charitable donation. Now, forgive my potentially shaky sums here, but that looks very much like Sal comes out not £40,000 up, but £60,000 down. So she isn’t “pocketing” anything.

That is backed up by the great Cliffus Maximus himself, who has said “I can confirm [she] is giving a £100,000 fee to her chosen charity. She’s also being paid a fee a lot less than that and is paying me out of that”. But this revelation comes well down the copy, and by the time readers have got this far, they are more than likely to have already made up their minds that she’s only in it for the money.

That decision is suitably reinforced by Tory MP Rob Wilson, who suggests that Sal is using Parliament “for her own financial gain”. The Mail using Wilson as its talking head is not an accident: his antipathy towards John Bercow is well known. His presence confirms that this is knocking copy written to order.

Little changes in the miserable, spiteful and vindictive world of Paul Dacre.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Express Late With Non Exclusive

Not for nothing is the Daily Express still known as the Daily Diana, when of course it’s not being referred to as the Daily Maddie. The Express has majored in stories about Diana, Princess of Wales for one very good reason: they continue to sell papers, and there is so much conspiracy theory junk out there to turn into cheap copy. The Desmond press likes it cheap.

And so it came to pass that there was no money in the Express kitty for a proper front page story for today’s paper. What to do? There was clearly no advertorial to churn, no EU horror story waiting in the wings, and no sleb goss that could be lifted from yesterday’s titles. But there was a Diana story – a complete steaming pile of bullpucky, but a Diana story nonetheless.

Which 94th retread was this to be? It was to be the “Diana and Dodi Engagement one. This tale, which has been debunked more times than the “War on Christmas”, “World War 2 Bomber Found On Moon”, and anything involving a grassy knoll in Houston put together, has merited lead story in the Express because of a former hack on German tabloid Bild called Trixi Chall.

Ms Chall allegedly saw Diana and Dodi in Monaco, where they visited a jeweller’s store. But we know they visited Alberto Repossi’s, and that a ring from a range called “tell me yes” was purchased by Fayed Junior. We also know that Diana was intending to wear the ring on her right hand, and that she was treating it as a “friendship” ring, not one indicating engagement.

We also know that the jeweller has previously claimed that he was selling an engagement ring, but had previously not been sure, or even had stated that it wasn’t an engagement ring. And we’ve had the associated story telling that Diana was pregnant at the time of her death. Except that she wasn’t. There is nothing new in the Express story.

At least, though, there is no attempt to place Prince Philip at the wheel of the white Fiat Uno. Another one for the bin.

Eye Spy Telegraph Shy

Issue 1295 of Private Eye arrived on the Zelo Street doorstep this morning – demonstrating at least that Crewe’s abysmal postal service is getting back to the level the rest of the UK calls normal – with an interesting item on blogging in the Street Of Shame column.

Someone from the Telegraph website appears to have been leaking information to the Eye about the way in which the occupants of the bear pit that is Telegraph blogland are encouraged to compete with one another for the attention of those drifting around the comments sewer.

According to the Eye, “Every writer is rated according to the number of hits their blog gets each month. Anyone who stays in the lowest 25 per cent for three months running is put on warning. Linger in the bottom quarter for a further three months and you get dropped”.

George Monbiot observes a Del Boy sneerfest

As the Eye points out, this tends to encourage the ranting and generally attention grabbing contributors. The article reveals, unsurprisingly, that top performer on Telegraph blogs is none other than James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole.

And equally unsurprising is the assessment of Del Boy by one of his fellow bloggers: “He’s always number one, because he really is batshit mad”.