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Friday, 31 August 2012

Migrant Student Shock Horror

Much has been made of the decision by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to strip London Metropolitan University of the right to sponsor students from outside the EU. The UKBA says that students are not having their attendance monitored, that many of them have not demonstrated their competence in the English language, and that many did not have valid visas to be in the UK.

The University, not surprisingly, disputes the conclusions, but if students cannot find alternative sponsors within 60 days then they face deportation, which is not going to help their studies. Added to the dispute are the usual suspects in the Fourth Estate who have immediately concluded that this is a long overdue crackdown on illegal immigration and that the University has been condoning this.

What jars about this whole affair is that overseas students are a lucrative source of additional income for Universities, and moreover a generator of billions of pounds of business every year for the wider economy – even the scaremongering folks at Migration Watch admit that much. So to take this action in what appears to be such a unilateral fashion seems strange.

The impression is given that the Government, in the person of Immigration Minister Damian Green, has been listening rather too much not only to groups like Migration Watch and worrying about losing support to UKIP, but also has been swayed by parts of the Fourth Estate, where migration scares are de rigueur, especially at slow news times – like just after a Bank Holiday weekend.

So it should surprise nobody to see the Express splashing “1,300 Migrants A Day Pour In” (they don’t merely arrive when the intention is to frighten the readers, they have to flood, swamp or pour). Dirty Des’ finest manage to miss out those leaving the country to get to their Big And Scary Number, as that would have made it around 500. But they did get their preferred political party, UKIP, to quote.

And over at the Mail, “Daily Mail Comment”, otherwise known as the true voice of the Vagina Monologue, talks of “Visas, sham courses and bogus students”, going on to tell readers of “bogus or unscrupulous colleges ... decade of Labour complacency [Tone and Pa Broon must have stopped being complacent for three years somewhere along the line] ... economic migrants”.

Then London Met is described as a “mainstream ... institution”, only to then be condemned with “if they turn a blind eye ... are they really any better than those sham colleges which are merely a front for illegal immigration?”. Isn’t it great that, 44 years after Enoch Powell self destructed his political career on the altar or cheap racist populism, some editors and hacks still resort to frighteners like these?

No it isn’t. But it sells a few more copies, so that’s all right, then.

Republican Reality – Mitt’s The Pits

If you thought that party conferences in the UK were bad at being disconnected from reality, you haven’t seen the spectacle that is the US party convention. Right now, that of the Republican Party in Tampa, Florida is winding down, and next week in Charlotte, North Carolina the Democrats will meet to confirm the rather obvious nomination of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Such is the predictability of these events that the amount of media coverage was scaled back this year. Even conservative voices like Bill O’Reilly were suggesting that four days was just too much (he asserted that two was quite enough, one for the Veep nominee and one for whoever is tilting at the Presidency). But what of the GOP nominee Mitt Romney, after his acceptance speech last night?

There was very little of the rapturous enthusiasm displayed in the hall finding its way to the pundits. “Solid and businesslike” ... “good enough” ... delivered “competently” ... “workmanlike”. Even on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), Brit Hume had to admit that “This was a solid speech. This was a good speech. This was not a great speech”.

That was one way of putting an appearance that was partly upstaged by Clint Eastwood simultaneously wowing the Convention while looking somewhere between strange and embarrassingly bad elsewhere, as he pretended that an empty chair next to him on stage was occupied by the Prez. And no, Clint didn’t speak for six minutes, or only five. He rambled on for a lot longer.

At this stage in 2008, John McCain and Sarah Palin were temporarily well ahead in the polls. It’s doubtful that Romney and Paul Ryan will be this time round. But some pundits have insisted in talking up the GOP ticket, with Tim Stanley at the Telegraph, who you can tell as he’s a doctor, enthusing over “a game changing convention speech ... rebranded as a centrist, he looks like a winner”. Ba-lo-ney.

Stanley needs only to look over at his fellow conservative pundit Iain Martin, who chose instead not to talk about the Romney speech but pretend that Clint’s longeurs were not really so bad, to know that the enthusiasm for Mitt is not exactly universal. But it was supposed Labour member and Bozza voter Dan Hodges that gave the Tel faithful the news that many will not want to hear.

Clint Eastwood can talk to as many chairs as he likes. Mitt Romney is still going to lose in November” was the Hodges headline, summing it up in one. The serious campaigning has hardly started, but the GOP ticket has already been mired by Romney’s business activities, the rape and abortion ruckus, and the desperate deployment of “birther” jokes. Where will they get the votes?

They won’t. And some pundits ought to get real and stop pretending otherwise.

Paralympics Disability Hypocrisy

As Olympics gives way to Paralympics, the enthusiasm of the media has apparently carried over, with much coverage given to yesterday’s medal winners. While that’s only to be expected, the contrast between the sports coverage and those same papers’ attitude towards the disabled generally could not be more stark. For starters, there’s that cycling gold won by Sarah Storey.

Ms Storey doesn’t have a functioning left hand. This is something you can clearly see close up, but if you saw her out and about in town doing her shopping, you might well miss. She has a disability, and many others live with this kind of condition. But in a society where the same newspapers that are now heaping on the praise are often heaping on abuse instead, this can get forgotten.

It should not be forgotten that the Mail and Sun, two papers that are extracting as much in sales as they can from the Paralympics, have the most shameful record when it comes to demonising the disabled. These were, after all, the two titles that went after the Motability scheme last year, giving their readers the impression that it was a £1.4 billion “vast scam” and gave out “free cars”.

And what's f***ing wrong with shopping them, c***?!?

This all hardened attitudes towards disabled people, with many suffering abuse just because they “didn’t look to be really disabled”. Just because those using reserved parking spaces don’t have to use a wheelchair, don’t have a guide dog, or don’t need a walking stick or frame doesn’t mean they don’t merit using them. But the constant barrage of “disabled cheat” stories fuels prejudice against them.

That barrage included the wilful misinformation by the Mail – reinforced by a largely fictitious column from the Million Pound Pundit Richard Littlejohn – about Motability cars being “givento sufferers of AD/HD disorder, which was held to be nothing more than naughty children who could not keep still in class. Yes, don’t bother finding out the facts, shop those Motability users to the DWP sharpish.

It didn’t get any better as the new year dawned, with the Sun going after a retired couple from Nottingham for claiming universal benefit even after winning the lottery. Their house was pictured too, just to help the nutters find them, as was their Motability car, which was “shiny and new and handed to them free”. That the Prime Minister has also claimed universal benefits while well-off did not enter.

But all this is forgotten as the Paralympics bring more medals and more triumph over adversity. Yes, for a fortnight, the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate has stopped sending its attack dogs after the most vulnerable members of society in order to get with the national mood and – to no surprise at all – flog a few more papers. But after that, woe betide any Paralympian who crosses the press and then claims benefits.

This hypocrisy shows tabloid hackery in its true light. And it’s not good enough.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Pretentious Commentator

A most unseemly Twitter row has broken out over a less than adulatory reference to the self-promoting and appallingly vain Raheem Kassam, no longer on Wikipedia because his lofty perch out there on the right meant that, well, nobody had heard of him. The unfortunate recipient of Kassam’s superior insights, Dave Talbot, may be wondering what The Great Man’s problem is.

As can be seen, Talbot clearly concluded adversely on Kassam’s self promotion, but did not include the latter’s Twitter handle in his Tweet – perhaps (shock horror) not everyone knows or cares what it is. But somehow Kassam was watching, which I found eyebrow raising, and peppered his riposte with intellectually uplifting terms such as “dipshits”, “coward” and “idiots” (even though Talbot is only one person).

But, as I noted with his admission of buying Twitter followers, Kassam is on occasion prone to refreshing bouts of candour, and he then conceded that he wrote the biographical details for his entries on the websites of the Henry Jackson Society (his employer) and Media Intelligence Partners (for whom he is part of their “Talent Management” – no, seriously, don’t laugh) himself.

The admission, however, was reinvented in the retelling as “Marketing”. I will leave it to devotees of the Boston Consulting Group to deduce whether this makes him a Problem Child, Star, Cash Cow or Dog. It clearly failed to impress Talbot, whose dismissal provoked yet more cerebral insights from Kassam, resulting in the magisterial deployment of the terms “tool” and “twat”.

And then a slightly disturbing note was struck, as Kassam started searching anything he could find about Dave Talbot, including his LinkedIn profile and company website. Why he would need to do this, when he had already decided to do little more than brush off his criticisms with a welter of abuse, is just strange. Not everybody in the world thinks you’re wonderful? So what? Deal with it.

But the best had to be left till last, with Kassam proclaiming that “I am ... a public facing part of various orgs” (Yeah, right, and so is a receptionist in one of those multi-occupancy office buildings over on Crewe Business Park). This enables him to dismiss a link from Liberal Conspiracy, despite the subject of that link – purchasing Twitter followers – being about a practice to which he had admitted.

Kassam then blocked Talbot (despite his also searching for information about him), which allies him with his pal, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, who blocks other Twitter users and then obsessively monitors their activity. Not that the right are paranoid about anything, of course. Or perhaps he is merely working to confirm Olbermann’s dictum: “The right exists in a perpetual state of victimhood”.

In any event, that’s one more heart and mind the right has failed to win over.

Murdoch Is Served (80)


In July last year, News International (NI) lost legal manager Tom Crone to resignation. At the time, the Screws had just been closed, and there were other events in the Murdoch pantheon occupying the attention of other media outlets, and so not much investigation was made into his departure. David Allen Green in the Staggers spoke for many when he called the moveunexpected”.

But this morning Crone was back in the news: he was arrested early doorson suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications contrary to Section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977”. Conspiracy to intercept communications – and several counts of it – was what Glenn Mulcaire was charged with after the Royal Family made the complaint that started the ball rolling back in 2005.

So while Crone is duly interrogated – presumably with a fellow lawyer of his own choosing – at a Police station somewhere in south London, thoughts turn to the possible nature of his involvement. Being part of a conspiracy does not mean that he, or anyone else thus charged, was actually hacking or tapping phones: after all, look at the others already facing a court appearance.

Speak up folks, Rupe can't hear you

Former Screws editor (and chief spinmeister to Young Dave) Andy Coulson and the twinkle toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks are up before the judge next month on charges relating to phone hacking, but no-one is suggesting that they were doing that particular deed. But Crone isn’t a hack or part of the editorial staff, so the reason for his arrest is yet more unclear.

Crone was there to advise. As far as is known, he had no executive role. So the only conclusion has to be that his interrogation is over what guidance may have been given to one or more of the Murdoch editors or their subordinates over matters that included phone hacking. And whatever that guidance may have been, it must have been deemed of sufficient substance to make him part of the conspiracy.

And it must have been documented somewhere. So the impression is given that when Trevor Kavanagh protested thatThe Sun is not a swamp that needs draining” he was being ever so slightly economical with the actualité. At this rate, there will be hardly anyone left of the senior staff that has not been at least arrested and questioned. Apart, of course, from just two people.

Those two names, of course, are Rupert and James Murdoch. Funny, isn’t it, that the crap sticks to everyone else bar Rupe and Junior? But not funny at all for Tom Crone, who may be looking at Very Little Future Work in his chosen field, and the possibility of following Coulson and Brooks to the Crown Court. Hardly the Midas touch that the Murdochs have nowadays, is it?

Guido Fawked – Strauss Not Waltzing Into Corby

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

You have to hand it to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines: he has figured out one basic rule about the Fourth Estate, and that is that when short of original copy they are willing to print anything that fits their agenda, with the rest of the pack often following so as not to miss out. So the possibility of a celebrity Tory candidate for the Corby by-election chimed immediately with the right-leaning Mail.

Nah, Harry thought it up when I was on the bottle, shit, no, I mean phone, yeah, I was on the phone pissed, oh bollocks no, I mean talking. On the phone talking when pissed. Oh sod it

There was only one problem here: Staines had – not for the first time – invented the whole thing, along with his tame gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, whose appalling vanity, as I noted yesterday, threatens to get the better of him. The Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere had added two and two – the vacancy in Corby and the retirement of Andrew Strauss – and come up with rather more than four.

I didn't need to check with CCHQ, cos I'm on telly!

The idea that Strauss may have resigned deliberately in order to stand in the by-election missed one important point: he had been considering his move since before Louise Mensch went public with her own resignation. But The Great Guido understands that many hacks, once the ball is rolling, are even less disposed to engage brain and do a few minutes’ research than he and Cole are.

Five more volunteers for the roll of shame

And the notion that anyone would want to sign up to being an MP merely because they once auctioned off the right to be a golf partner to raise money for the Tory Party is the kind of logic leap that should not detain any rational mind. Moreover, England cricket captain to politician is not a well worn career path, trodden only by the failed campaign 48 years ago of one Ted Dexter.

Dexter, whose appetite for gambling would have put Staines in the shade – once, while captain of Sussex, he declared an innings closed from Brighton racecourse – was selected amidst much fanfare to contest Cardiff South and Penarth in the 1964 General Election against future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Prime Minister James Callaghan. He lost. Badly.

Brass neck and rusty spelling combined

The constituency was not the most solid Labour one, either: the Tories usually managed a strong second place. But celebrity counted for nothing, and it probably wouldn’t in Corby – after all, the by-election follows the departure of one celebrity. The electorate are hardly going to take kindly to the imposition of another. And the Fawkes fabrication missed one crucial fact.

This was that the deadline for candidates had already passed, so the entire campaign was a sham. So the buffoon Cole had to spin it all as someone else’s fault: yes, Andrew Strauss himself was to blame. “Silence from the man himself, who could have shut speculation dawn [sic] very easily yesterday afternoon”. As if a real celebrity should waste his time on pretend ones.

Brass neck will not dig you out of a hole. Another fine mess, once again.

[UPDATE1 31 August 0915 hours: amidst all the talk of the odds being given against a Strauss candidacy in Corby - these understandably shortened as the hype escalated - one detail has not been revealed. And that is whether anyone at the Guido Fawkes blog, which was pushing this story, had wagered any money on their hunch.

Staines is known for his betting habit, having succeeded by backing Bozza for London Mayor, but also failing when he blew £500 on David Laws staying in the cabinet. So perhaps The Great Guido or his tame gofer would like to confirm one way or the other. I'd hate to think that they were trying to profit from their own story. Perish the thought, eh, lads?]

[UPDATE2 1 September 1845 hours: the Tories have confirmed that their candidate for the Corby by-election will be Christine Emmett. So the Fawkes blog even guessed the sex of Louise Mensch's successor wrong. Strangely, The Great Guido has not seen fit to relay this information to his readers, instead concentrating on flying off to another of his family's four homes earlier today.

I'm sure it's merely an oversight from the self proclaimed "#1" blogger, and that it has nothing to do with the cod story about Andrew Strauss turning out to be such a turkey. And there is also no word as to whether any of the Fawkes folks placed any bets on their cricketer hunch. It's doubtful that there will be. Another fine mess, once again]

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Leveson Is Served (19)

Anyone wondering why the Super Soaraway Currant Bun published the photos of a naked Prince Harry now knows the answer. Like soldiers who know they are certain to die in battle, Rupe’s downmarket troops had decided to take out as many of the opposition while they could. And they had done so because they already knew what Lord Justice Leveson had in store for them.

Because, thanks to the deeply subversive Guardian, we know more or less exactly what he has in store, and it will make grim reading for editors and proprietors across the Fourth Estate. The title of the piece says it all: “Leveson rulings expected to include ‘excoriating’ criticism of the press”. And that includes the Murdoch empire, especially over the Milly Dowler case.

And, as the man said, there’s more: “notices went out to all newspaper groups warning them that he [Leveson] anticipates making rulings on everything from privacy to self-regulation ... executives are anxiously awaiting a more damaging Rule 13 notices containing specific criticism of individual titles and witnesses”. And the extent of those Rule 13 notices?

Leveson's Rule 13 notice is understood to be around 100 pages long with a five page summary listing the areas Leveson is intending to make critical pronouncements on, according to sources ... these are expected to contain explicit adverse comment”. According to those who have already seen that notice, Leveson has “thrown the ‘kitchen sink’ at the newspaper industry”.

Rule 13 is all to do with giving those who face criticism the right to reply before publication. But this revelation is really about answering not only why the Sun went totally batshit last week, but also why there has been so much briefing against Leveson of late, going as high as Michael “Oiky” Gove, former Murdoch hack turned apologist for anything the tabs care to get up to.

What is now clear is that all those references to the Inquiry exerting a “chilling” influence on “press freedom” were just cheap attempts to discredit an Inquiry that was about to home in on all the abuses of privacy, spurious claims of public interest defence (as with the Harry photos), failing to give prior notice of publication, general falsehood and misinformation, and other failings of self-regulation.

And it won’t just be the Murdoch press looking at censure: the Mirror and Express are mentioned in the Guardian piece, which notes that the now discredited PCC will inevitably depart the scene. Far from being in any position of strength, the editors and their publishers have been found wanting by an Inquiry that has meticulously and forensically laid bare their failings.

As such, it will be hard to resist the Inquiry’s conclusions, other than to bluster.

Delusion Of The Flannelled Fool

[Update at end of post]

Some bloggers are honest enough to admit that that is all they are. Others, though, attempt to inflate their presence into “online journalism” and thereby justify describing themselves as journalists, when they do not merit the term. One blogger who features regularly on Zelo Street has taken this art to new heights, calling himself a “contributing editor” and even a “columnist”.

But I am important, cos I'm on telly!

No prizes for guessing that the blogger in question is the flannelled fool Henry Cole, tame gofer to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog. And no prizes for noticing that Cole’s pretentiousness extends beyond mere titles and into the world of Twitter, where until recently he was pushing the idea that he was some kind of sought-after media personality.

See, I'm on telly lots and lots!

Yes, the old Cole Twitter background left no-one in any doubt that he was on telly, well, lots and lots (a style also used by the ubiquitous Emma Boon of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance). He was on Sky News (first for breaking wind)! He was on the BBC! And he was on Sky News again! Was there no end to this narcissism? Well, no there wasn’t, as a recent change to that Twitter background has shown.

Where did he get the idea for that background?

It was clearly time for a makeover, so out went lots of small images of Himself Personally Now to make way for two far larger images of, well, Himself Personally Now. But this was then changed to just one large image, with the right-hand side of the background in a plain pastel colour. Surely this was a move towards greater modesty, wasn’t it? Well, no it wasn’t.

From her, that's where

Because some of us had seen that background style before. Yes, the single large image at left with plain pastel infill at right is the trademark of none other than Arianna Huffington herself. Master Cole is truly suffering delusions of grandeur to try and put himself in such company. As if. But it raises all kinds of interesting possibilities for the party conference season.

Rumours that he may try and appear incognito at the Labour and Lib Dem meets wearing a blonde wig and under the assumed name of Arianna Huffing-Cole have yet to be confirmed. Another fine mess, once again.

[UPDATE 31 August 1440 hours: Master Cole has posted this Tweet about this post, which is as close as he gets to agreeing with it:
So that's a positively benign response on the subjects of vanity, delusion, and plagiarism. Good to get that one cleared up. I'll post an equally positive Tweet to acknowledge the update]

The Pundit Disconnect

[Update at end of post]

Much had already been written about how many of those who pontificate about the state education system either have never been near a state school in their lives, or have not done so since they left the system, because they send their children to private schools. But the recent furore over GCSE exams and grade boundary movement has taken this disconnect to a new level.

Bit late for peace offerings, Max

Put simply, the pundits have so little first-hand knowledge of the subject on which they are writing, and have so little inclination to become knowledgeable, that they make themselves look utterly ridiculous. This leads them to proclamations and conclusions that bear no relation to what is actually happening in the schoolroom and the staff room. It renders them totally useless.

The disconnect can be summed up in one article from each side of the divide. Inhabiting the rarefied world of the pundit, we have Max “Hitler” Hastings, self-styled liberator of Port Stanley, formerly of Charterhouse and University College Oxford. And in the real world of education, a number of responses to Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove has been collated by the deeply subversive Guardian.

Who, me? Yes, you

Hastings does not even bother himself with the mildly inconvenient fact that thousands of pupils had the goalposts moved on them between the January and June examinations in the same subject, except to assert that if Gove stuck his oar in, or unduly influenced exam boards, that this was A Good Thing. Otherwise, he blames the unions, and accuses teachers of a “breach of trust”.

It’s a fair assumption that Hastings had not met previously with those whose opinions were recorded by the Guardian. “You have to resource school sport, not blame teachers”, “We cannot work until 8pm [and find time for marking]”, “You should not blame teachers for everything”, “There are big problems in my school and you are not listening”, and “We need more non-teaching time” are typical sentiments.

Instead, Hastings merely trots out the usual re-heated clichés, making accusations of “Stalinist” behaviour and “Politburo-speak”, that “educationalists” are engaged in a “cynical and shameful campaign to hold down standards”, and that “the cruel truth is that state education is failing”. Privately educated pupils, on the other hand, are by default “decently educated”.

It would be a cruel person who locked Hastings and his fellow flat earthers in a room with a cross-section of the profession that they so willingly demonise in the obedient service of their editors’ and proprietors’ agendas, and left them to it. But right now I can’t think of a more suitable method for what is clearly a crying need for the urgent transmission of knowledge from latter to former.

Because the time has come for that demonisation to stop, and pundits to listen.

[UPDATE 1340 hours: the TES has now revealed that the number of pupils affected by the moving of goalposts - the grade boundary between C and D being the most obvious - could exceed 60,000, not 10,000, as previously suggested. As a C in GCSE English Language is effectively mandatory for those wanting to go on to further study, that's a lot of educational futures put at risk - or down the pan altogether.

To no surprise at all, there has been no word thus far from the punditry at the Mail, whose more urgent priorities include kicking the BBC for "insulting Muslims", which the Mail would never dream of doing. Yeah, right]

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Hypocritical Commentator

The high convocation of right-wing dishonesty that is The Commentator has today found adversely upon PoliticsHome, now under the control of Tory donor Michael Ashcroft, for running adverts from Press TV. Why so? Well, Press TV is owned by Islamic Republic Of Iran Broadcasting, is based in Tehran, and is owned by the Iranian state. And The Commentator doesn’t like them.

A Press TV advert on PoliticsHome

This is for a number of reasons, not least Iran’s supposed position towards the state of Israel. Also, George Galloway has appeared on Press TV, and he’s, well, y’know, out there on the left. Then there have been conciliatory noises towards the channel from Mehdi Hasan, who The Commentator loves to kick about. So Press TV has to be A Very Bad Thing Indeed.

And from this we can only conclude that other regimes with dodgy records are also A Very Bad Thing, especially if they have any connection to the Iranians. So perhaps those whopper generating souls at The Commentator can riddle me this: their so-called “Political Editor”, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, is first and foremost employed by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, yes?

Staines has been quite open about his willingness to run adverts on the Fawkes blog from whoever is prepared to stump up the going rate for them. And, as Cole is a permanent employee to the extent that he receives paid holiday as well as a salary, one would expect that he is happy about this arrangement. So who has been buying advertising space on that blog recently?

Russian money: bad on left, good on right

Well, those buyers have included a regime with a truly dodgy recent electoral record, support for the beleaguered Syrian Government, and a history of support for, er, Iran: yes, the Guido Fawkes blog has been taking advertising from the Russians. Only on that occasion, the buffoon Cole and his Commentator pals did not have a problem with it. Now the Iranian connection is elsewhere, they have a conscience.

Can you smell hypocrisy? Another fine mess, once again.

Del Boy And A Hockey Stick Illusion

There is great excitement in the world of climate change denialism right now, as the prospect looms of a lawsuit taken out by Michael Mann against Mark Steyn and the National Review Online (NRO). This thought has sent James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole into an ecstatic state, so convinced is he of the righteousness of the NRO and its correspondent.

Much of Del Boy’s certainty derives from his own self-proclaimed “victory”, when the now totally discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC) ruled in his favour after a complaint by scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) Climate Research Unit (CRU) over a series of abusive and otherwise defamatory comments made in Del’s Telegraph blog about their work.

Delingpole clearly believes that this means not only that he was in the right, but that the verdict will somehow be replicated across the North Atlantic. But, says he, once again going into Jon Stewart mode, two things here. One, Del Boy’s PCC case rested mainly on what is now known as the “Littlejohn Defence”, that the post was clearly an opinion piece and not an assertion of immutable fact.

And two, the PCC, despite Del’s assertions otherwise, is not a judicial or even quasi-judicial body. It is not a judicial body at all. That is its whole point – to avoid matters going to law. So its testing of evidence, particularly the taking Del’s assertions as fact without the kind of examination that they would be subjected to in a court of law, bears no relation to what may await Steyn.

On top of all that, as I pointed out, the PCC is now no more than a joke, waiting for the deliberations of Lord Justice Leveson to finally put it out of its misery and replace it with something marginally more credible (which, as many industry watchers will not be slow to point out, will not be difficult). Had the UEA CRU taken Delingpole and the Telegraph to court, the result would have been very different.

The apparent support for the Steyn case, too, is suspect: there are lots of sites and posts cited as demonstrating that he is right and Mann is wrong, but a careful examination of each one shows that this is merely a roll-call of denialism, from the idea that more CO2 in the atmosphere is good for plants, to the claims that the so-called Medieval Warm Period was really, really warm.

And, as the New York Times has pointed out, any trial could become the modern equivalent of the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial”, but far more readily publicised and well financed. Given the weight of consensual evidence in Mann’s favour, the likes of Mark Steyn and NRO may need more than their customary bucket load of abuse to save themselves from defeat, and subsequent ridicule.

It would be utterly priceless to see Del Boy try and spin his way out of that.

Cameron’s Heathrow Fix

[Update at end of post]

Almost as soon as the Bank Holiday squelched to a close, the debate over airport capacity in the south east has been reignited by none other than Tory MP and pal of Bozza Tim Yeo, who has very deliberately chucked the grenade of Heathrow expansion into the policy room, where it has gone off all over Young Dave. And this time he doesn’t have anyone else to blame but himself.

Guess who's waiting in the wings, chaps?

Yeo can hardly be sacked from any ministerial position, as he doesn’t hold one. So his freedom as a back bencher has allowed him to goad Cameron with the question of whether he is a man or a mouse. If only the choice confronting the Prime Minister were such a binary one. It is not, and I’m sure Yeo is well aware of it. For starters, there is the cabinet to consider.

Not only would approving a third runway at Heathrow go down like a cup of cold sick with the Lib Dems, it would also make the position of Cameron’s own Transport Secretary untenable. Justine Greening, who represents Putney, formerly the seat of “Shagger” Mellor, has made clear her opposition to expanding Heathrow from the outset. Cameron knew that when he gave her the job.

And she isn’t the only local Tory MP to have nailed their colours to the mast on the subject: Zac Goldsmith in nearby Richmond Park is of similar mind. If that isn’t enough of a problem, Young Dave has London’s occasional Mayor attacking from the other flank with his idea for a new airport in the Thames estuary, £60 billion price tag and SS Richard Montgomery notwithstanding.

What to do? Well, wringing much more capacity out of Heathrow without expanding it is not going to do any more than kick the can a very short distance down the road. Proceeding with HS2 won’t bring any kind of relief for several years – not unless and until significant time savings can be shown on routes like London to Glasgow and Edinburgh. So the train isn’t going to ride to his rescue.

Cameron either has to muddle on – increasingly difficult even in the short term, given all the flak from not only his own MPs but also the aviation industry – or make some kind of decision. Not expanding Heathrow means his options are either gifting Bozza yet more ground by going with Borisport, giving the go-ahead for expansion of both Stansted and Gatwick (potentially very unpopular), or appropriating Northolt.

As I noted previously, the RAF may be about to cease operational use of Northolt. It’s close to Heathrow, and if the site were redeveloped with two runways on the same 09/27 orientation, could take much of the shorter haul traffic. It is not ideal – you can’t move planes between the two – but it has the advantage of Not Being Bozza’s Idea, while bringing more capacity.

Whether his MPs will accept that solution is another matter, though.

[UPDATE 1250 hours: predictably, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, returning to work today at the Guido Fawkes blog (I know, I know, how can they tell?), has spun the entire Heathrow affair as a way to kick Tim Yeo. Why the Fawkes blog is so enamoured of this course of action - given Yeo isn't a minister - is strange.

What is also strange is the missing of rather more significant players who have been lobbying for more capacity, and banging on about more flights to China, which is the specific reason the buffoon Cole is whingeing today. Players such as BAA, the CBI, BA and other airlines, hoteliers, bankers and business folk have also urged action.

Just because Tim Yeo has an interest in a firm that has a presence in China is an utterly lame reason to go after him. But then, as he likes to say, Master Cole is utterly shameless. Another fine mess, once again]

Monday, 27 August 2012

Kavanagh, Kavanagh, You’re A Clown

After the Super Soaraway Currant Bun drove a coach and horses through the PCC Code of Conduct and published the photos of a naked Prince Harry that everyone who wanted to had already seen, there had to be someone to spin the whole thing in a suitable way without even thinking to offer an apology. In the event, the hack drawing the short straw span the story without even thinking period.

Because that hack is none other than Trevor Kavanagh, former political editor and faithful Murdoch retainer, who has dutifully trotted out an autopilot generated pile of fresh and steaming bovine by-product which holds, more or less, that whatever decisions were made were correct, anyone who says otherwise is a Rotten Lefty (tm) or a media hater, and manages not to mention the PCC.

And he slips in a whopper at the very start, as Sun readers are told “we ignored threats and published”. Trevor, nobody threatened you. Nobody. Not the Royals, not their lawyers, and certainly not the PCC, who were probably looking on from behind the sofa. And your excuse? “We made a stand for the ... now dangerously imperilled freedom of the press”. Yeah, like you backed the Guardian over Wikileaks.

Not a wise place to practice meditation

He goes on “Nobody pretends Prince Harry’s conduct, ill-advised as it may have been, was an earth-shattering event”. So what’s it doing on your front page, then? Ah, but the monarchy has to take the rough with the smooth, y’know: “The Royal Wedding and the Queen’s Jubilee were planned and milked for all the favourable publicity they were worth”. Yeah, by your sodding paper, Trev.

William and Kate’s every move is weighed for its contribution”. Yes, Trev, also by your paper in its desire to move a few more copies – which is the only reason your editor, Dominic Mohan, and his boss published the Harry photos – that, too, was “weighed for its contribution”. “But Buckingham Palace cannot turn the publicity tap on and off to suit themselves”. Nowt gets past Kavanagh, does it?

The Royal Family have known that since, er, “Royal Family”, which was over 40 years ago. I think Phil and Brenda have figured that out without the assistance of the Dirty Digger. But then the mood changes as we get the inevitable Diana sob story and the assertion that “We did NOT invade his privacy”. Trev, you’re not bloody illiterate. You know damn well what’s in the PCC Code and that you broke it.

But, after suggesting that “the high minded” write the rules, which may amuse Paul Dacre, Kavanagh gets to the punchline: “News is what people DON’T want in the paper”. Good job they read the Sun, then, innit? Bugger all chance of them seeing any of it there, by all accounts. This is the lamest apology for Murdoch since the last Kavanagh lamest apology for Murdoch. And you know what that splashing sound is?

That, Trev, is you spraying your credibility up the wall for the last time.

Equivocation Of The Wolfman

Those who saw my recent post about the release by the Leveson Inquiry of the Severance Agreement signed by News International’s Les Hinton and Andy Coulson, which marked the latter’s departure after the initial phone hacking cases, will have noticed that Paragraph 4.6 of that agreement provided for NI to pay Coulson’s legal fees in relation to any action following his service there.

Neil Wallis leaving the Police station

So far, so procedural, but later on came a Twitter intervention from Neil “Wolfman” Wallis – yes, the very same, the former deputy editor of both the Sun and Screws – protesting about the idea that there could be an outcry at the discovery that NI might be paying the legal fees of someone who had departed their service some years earlier. The exchange is shown below.

What is also shown is the remainder of the Twitter conversation, and the comment from me which joshes Wallis about the potentially less noble journalistic skills so aptly described by Nick Davies as “The Dark Arts”. Private Eye asserted some time ago that Wallis was the one whoplayed Piers “Morgan” Moron the voicemail that Paul McCartney had left on Heather Mills’ phone.

So I worked this into the Twitter reply. Those who have followed Phonehackgate will need no prompting to understand that Wallis’ reply – the single word “Harsh!” – does not amount to a denial that he had some involvement. Given that Wallis was also one of those arrested last year as part of the Met’s continuing investigation, that does seem a notable omission.

Sadly, as the rozzers are likely to be interested in anything that resembles an admission regarding the Mills voicemail, it’s doubtful that the Wolfman will confirm his involvement. But the Eye never got sued over their original claim, and, well, who knows?

Owen Jones Foxed At Five

There is one media outlet in the USA which is forever on the lookout for anyone who is not totally in open support of US policy on, well, anything. And anyone straying from this accepted line is fair game for whatever this player and its obedient servants choose to dump on them. No prizes for guessing that the name in this particular frame is Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

So it should have come as no surprise at all to writer and commentator Owen Jones to see his article for the Independent (“Getting rid of George W Bush wasn’t enough. The US remains a bully”) made the subject of an on-air rant by Greg Gutfeld, self proclaimed conservative and libertarian, on Fox’ The Five. Gutfeld’s less than measured tone included denouncing Jones as a “creep”.

Moreover, Jones was held to have meant “Death to America”, whatever his actual words. He was further smeared as a “baying jackal” whose attitude was equivalent to those at “Soros funded blogs”. And what was supposedly “really scary” was that Jones “could have written an Obama stump speech back in 2007”. But “sensible folks must realise that a powerful America will always be the enemy of the left”.

Gutfeld is backed up by the equally immoderate Eric Bolling, who refers to his own President as “the occupier in chief” (that means he does not accept that Barack Obama is legitimately in the White House) and Andrea Tantaros, who sneers that Jones should “take history class” when he “goes back to school and finishes the ninth grade”. Laugh? I thought I’d never start.

This supposed demolition (note that Jones does not get a look-in) has sent right-wingers in the UK into an almost orgasmic state. The convocation of dishonesty at The Commentator has posted the video to YouTube, which they no doubt think is incredibly clever. The Guido Fawkes blog has also featured the incident. Both miss the rather obvious point.

And that point is that this is yet another example of them lapping up what will either not interest 90% plus of the population, or turn them off in short order, just like all those wonderfully sound conservative policies and ideas that they love, but those in the real world know will have the electorate voting for, well, anyone else. This is just another part of the right’s extended jerking circle.

As for The Five, well, all you need to know about the target audience is to see the name of the host whose show came before: the 5pm Eastern time weekday time slot on Fox was formerly occupied by none other than Glenn Beck, who became less credible as time went on, notable only for the material he afforded to those who ridiculed him. The Five continues that tradition.

And as for Owen Jones, well, is he bothered?

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Republicans And Tories Split?

Political parties of the centre-left, centre, and centre-right tend to at least sympathise with their counterparts in other countries. So Labour finds no problem allying with the German Social Democrats in the European Parliament (EP), along with the French Socialists, the Spanish PS, and its Portuguese equivalent. Likewise there are ties with the Democrats in the USA.

The Tories, despite Young Dave pulling his jolly good chaps out of the mainstream centre-right group in the EP, also have ties Stateside, in their case to the Republican Party. Also, Prime Ministers can work across these alliances, as Tone did with Dubya Bush, or not go along with them at times, as Harold Wilson did when he resisted Lyndon Johnson’s call to join the Vietnam misadventure.

But the ties between the Tories and the GOP are under strain, as the latter lurches to the right on key issues such as abortion, where the party position is now to outlaw the practice even in cases of rape. While the Tories have those who take a more pro-life stance, such as (yes, it’s her again) Nadine Dorries, even she does not argue in favour of an outright ban.

And even the Tory supporting Telegraph has joined the implicit disquiet, with Peter Foster featuring Braintree MP Brooks Newmark, who was born in the USA and campaigned for Dubya’s Dad. Newmark makes the point that he expects most Tories who take sides on the Presidential Poll to support Barack Obama. He cites health care reform and religion, in addition to abortion, as influencing this choice.

What the Tel does not mention is that the GOP also endorses a far more draconian stance on immigration, including walling off the Mexican border and a policy of “self deportation”. That’s a bit like what the National Front was advocating in 1960s Britain. And, as the man said, there’s more: Rep Michelle Bachman, who will be speaking at some convention events, has called homosexuality “part of Satan”.

The GOP has lost ground among women voters, unsurprisingly when proposals that affect them are devised by mainly Christian and invariably conservative men. Many women have said they are less likely to vote for Mitt Romney since he picked Paul Ryan – whose stance on abortion is no different to that of Todd Akin of “legitimate rape” notoriety – as his running mate.

Those in the wider UK Conservative Movement will doubtless support the GOP wholeheartedly. But the Tory Party is still a broad enough church for many of its members, those suggested by Brooks Newmark, to be turned off from identifying with their sister party and instead going with Obama, whom many Republicans still believe is a Muslim who was born in Kenya.

Such a split should send a message to the GOP. But I doubt anyone will listen.

CF Right Turn – Another Dead End

Although few outside the bubble of right-wing Westminster Village politics will have bothered to read it, a piece published on Mail Online’s RightMinds collection of right-leaning rants by one Alex Singleton illustrates once more that the wider Conservative Movement is bringing more influence to bear on the Tory Party and thereby gradually poisoning it as an electable entity.

Singleton is described asa free marketer who thinks the Conservatives need guts”. He is a fan of Ayn Rand. He endorses frankly whacko ideas such as the proposition that space exploration would have developed so much more favourably if only the private sector had been allowed to get on and do it all. And he is using Mail Online to intervene in the politics of the Tory Party.

The Tories’ youth wing has, over the years, brought the senior Party a steady stream of grief. This was all supposed to cease as all previous incarnations were superseded by Conservative Future (CF), which at present is chaired by Ben Howlett. Singleton wants Howlett out, to be replaced by Oliver Cooper, because he is supposedly well connected.

Singleton also claims that his intervention is unsolicited, to which I call bullshit. The background campaign against Howlett has been rumbling on for months now, with a moderately significant amount of dirt being slung by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer, the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole, at the Guido Fawkes blog, whose heroes include UKIP boss Nigel “Thirsty” Farage.

The Fawkes blog, run by someone with four alcohol related convictions including two for drinking and driving, suggests that Howlett is regularly drunk and that he is driving the Tories’ youth into the arms of UKIP, which is, er, led by someone of legendary thirst. Howlett is mocked as awalking liability”, alleged to be in cahoots with the dastardly Germans, and there is a suggestion of illegality.

So what of the purported replacement? Cooper is much more to the liking of the intolerant right: routine smears of the BBC, obediently regurgitating content from the serially dishonest Commentator, and whining at a poncy cocktail bar for having the effrontery Not To Know Who He Is. He is clearly an up and coming example of those clever people who talk loudly in restaurants.

Small wonder that Singleton thinks so highly of him. But, as I keep pointing out, ideological purity never put a party leader into 10 Downing Street. And turning to the right looks to be also poisoning the Republican Party in the USA. Getting Oliver Cooper the top job in CF will no doubt give many on the right a nice warm feeling, but all those swing voters will about turn and run in the direction of away.

And without their support, no party will form a Government.

Top Six – August 16

So what’s hot, and what’s not, in the past week’s blogging? Here are the six most popular posts on Zelo Street for the past seven days, counting down in reverse order, because, well, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend. So there.

6 Murdoch Harry Hypocrisy The Super Soaraway Currant Bun published the photos of a naked Prince Harry that everyone who wanted to see had already seen, then claimed there was a public interest defence. In reality the Murdoch press had blatantly breached the PCC Code of Conduct and showed the world that the press is not capable of regulating itself, just to flog a few more copies.

5 TPA – Petrol Price Porkie The so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance told anyone who would listen that fuel taxes exceed the cost of building and maintaining the road network. That depends on how selective you are with the figures.

4 Guido Fawked – Taxi Not For Yeo, But For Boris The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his latest gofer Alex Wickham went after the Tory MP over his involvement in replacing London’s taxis. But the source of their story was going after Bozza first, although that was  edited out to protect their hero.

3 Can I Exchange This Policy Please? The increasingly whacko think-tank Policy Exchange came out with a belter – flog off all council housing in more expensive areas and ship the occupants out to somewhere cheaper. The right-wing loved it, but then, nodding along without thinking goes with the territory.

2 Guido Fawked – Taxi To Crewe The Guido Fawkes blog suggested that Tory MP Tim Yeo was chairman of a company that had cornered the market in replacing London’s taxis. Except the local Crewe free paper showed that wasn’t true. The “monopoly” turned out to mean a 30% market share. Another fine mess.

1 Glenda Hates Looking In The Mirror The appalling Liz Jones whined about the evil spirits lurking out there on Twitter, while failing to realise that her incessant self promotion might cause some account holders to find adversely upon her behaviour. And the icing on the cake was her whinge about the Somalia spoof account, which raised rather more money to help famine victims than she did.

And that’s the end of another blogtastic week, blog pickers. Not ‘arf!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Gove Still Mired In English Duck Pond

[Update at end of post]

The ruckus over marking of GCSE English exams shows no sign of dying down, despite it being a Bank Holiday weekend and the other news on offer. Worse, the Government may yet face one or more legal challenges over the issue. And for once the usual suspects in the punditerati have mainly remained silent, despite their usual willingness to dispense their supposed wisdom on matters educational.

One exception is the singularly unyielding Kathy Gyngell of the right-wing Astroturf lobby group the Centre for Policy Studies, formerly the favourite think-tank of Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph. Ms Gyngell, given a platform by the blustering Simon Heffer at Mail Online, trots out all the usual prejudices about the education system, teachers, and standards.

The truth is that the reactions to yesterday’s GCSE results reflect the woefully low professional standards and expectations that beset the entire education system” she opines, before adding “The simple fact is that GCSE reform is not enough. Michael Gove will only end decades of falling standards if he brings back 'O' levels”. Yes, because “O” levels were marked so you couldn’t tell if standards were slipping.

But Ms Gyngell sticks to her task, deploying all the usual canards of grade inflation, an “Orwellian farce” over standards, and that young people were in cloud cuckoo land when it came to their abilities. Sadly, though, she does no more than would be expected from someone deemed an “expert” by her employer, telling all those rubbish teachers that they and their pupils just have to work harder.

Clearly, Kathy Gyngell has not encountered those teachers who have put serious amounts of effort into getting their pupils through GCSE English, such as Chris Edwards, who teaches at a school where around 40% of those attending do not have English as their first language, and who has posted an open letter to the Education Secretary. There is, it seems, no lack of effort from the pupils either.

Another teacher, signing their post “JD”, a Team Leader (or Head of Department in more traditional parlance) has also posted an open letter to “Oiky” Gove. And assistant head teacher Daniel Stucke from Manchester has gone over the numbers and demonstrated how the goalposts for GCSE English were moved between papers being entered in January, and those submitted in June.

Stucke titles his post “Playing with lives, because that is what it is. Changing the rules in mid course is out of order, and he has demonstrated what has happened, so all can see. But the pundits cannot look this far: they cling to their lexicon of catchphrases and beliefs, and for them, teachers are lazy pension chasers, and part of some leftist cabal that is rotting the country through its enforced mediocrity.

The disconnect between the armchair “experts” and reality is disturbingly stark.

[UPDATE 26 August 1915 hours: the latest armchair pundit to underscore the disconnect between the Fourth Estate and the real world is the Mail's Peter Hitchens, who characteristically blames the Tory Party for going soft, what happened in the 60s, and of course the BBC, who allegedly support everything which he deems to be bad.

The bedrock of Hitchens' rant is that his paper is no longer delivered by those of school age, but pensioners. One should not generalise from such a sample, but when the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has laid down the accepted line, then his iron law, and that of Phil Space journalism, dictate otherwise. Hitchens, as with his colleagues, does not cite any example other than hearsay.

That, of course, is good enough for the Mail, so Hitch gets to score More And Bigger Paycheques For Himself Personally Now]

Downing Street Petition – Virgin On The Embarrassing

Following the award of the franchise to run services on the West Coast Mail Line (WCML) to First Group, and their admission – as I predicted last week – that stations would be barriered off, starting with Manchester Piccadilly and Liverpool Lime Street, has come a petition in support of incumbent operator Virgin Trains (VT), originated by Ross McKillop, who asserts that VT have provided a reliable service.

Well, up to a point: McKillop, who is 29, may not remember the early days of the VT operation, which were shambolic and not a good advert for either the Virgin brand, or for the railways in general. Had Richard Branson not summoned Chris Green, aka The Good And Great Grey Controller, back from exile to head up VT, Virgin would have lost its franchises. And it would have deserved to have lost them.

But Green and his successors have steered VT through the chaos of the post-Hatfield work, what sometimes seemed the unending upgrading of the WCML, the introduction of a new fleet of trains, and most recently the implementation of a higher frequency and faster timetable, remarkably well. So, yes, it is most likely that today’s VT customers will have a positive image of the operation.

Not sure if that's allowable

And it is therefore no surprise that the petition passed the 100,000 mark, which triggers the potential for a Parliamentary debate, without any problem. The current total stands at over 118,000. The petition has been advertised not only by Branson, but also has been slipped onto the platform display indicators at stations run by VT, which may be viewed as a little naughty.

So what could happen if there is a debate? By the time it happens, the number crunchers will have gone over First’s figures and whether their passenger and revenue projections are realistic. Any finding suggesting that they are not would be highly embarrassing to the Government, especially following two failed bids for the East Coast Route and, indeed, First calling their own Great Western one wrong.

The matter of First’s indifferent customer service may also be raised, and those with longer memories may look at their takeover of what is now Transpennine Express from then incumbent Arriva. First fouled that one up only moderately, but typically tried to dump the blame on Arriva. I claim some experience: I was a regular traveller on those trains at that time.

And, I’m afraid, all the fault I could attribute was First’s. They were fortunate, though, as Arriva were not quite as swift to run to the media as their successors. There will be no such benefit from Virgin. The Government is on a lose-lose track here: it cannot credibly row back on its decision, First won’t be able to dump mistakes on Virgin, and the ultimate arbiters – the travelling public – will punish them both.

A punishment which will start with a very public Parliamentary debate.

Friday, 24 August 2012

He Gove And He Also Taketh Away

The behaviour of Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove is in the spotlight once more, and this time it looks to be serious, and not just for his career, but the education of thousands of teenagers around the country who were expecting to achieve a Grade “C” pass in their GCSE English exams, were predicted so to do, and yet when they opened the envelope saw it was only a “D”.

If it quacks like a Gove ...

What is claimed to have happened is that there has been a moving of the “grade boundaries”, that is, the point on the marking scale which divides one grade from another. The dividing line between “A” and “B”, and that between “C” and “D”, are said to have been moved upwards. If this is true, it is simply inexcusable. Moving the goalposts during a course is bang out of order.

Gove claims he wants to raise standards, and also does not see the merit in the numbers getting the highest grades rising every year. But students and their teachers are working under the understanding that the GCSE is criterion based – you get the mark, you get the grade – and not marked normatively, as the “O” Level was, with no more than a certain proportion of students getting any one grade.

Why should it matter? Well, getting that “C” grade, roughly the equivalent of an “O” Level pass, means the pupils get to go to college. If they only score a “D”, they don’t. So has Gove been sticking his bugle in? He does not deny that grade boundaries have been moved, making a statement of the obvious that “the number of Cs has fallen but the number of Ds has increased”.

And Gove also said “that is the result of the independent judgements made by exam boards entirely free from any political pressure”, which is an interesting form of words for someone not wanting to draw attention to themselves. On the one hand, he says he has no influence, then on the other stresses the need to maintain standards, which sounds rather like the veiled wielding of, well, influence.

One sign that all may not be well for Gove is that his own side is not united behind him. John Redwood has signalled his disquiet, and admitted that he is unsure what examiners are trying to achieve, making this observation: “It is unfair on those taking the exams if they do not know what is expected, or if the standards change between the time they start and the time they finish without them knowing it”.

Redwood goes on “It is particularly unfair if  someone needs a C or higher in a GCSE to go on to further study, and has just failed to get this through some unannounced change in the standard required”. He is not known as “The Vulcan” for nothing. Something less than logical appears to have happened in the marking of GCSE English, and there needs to be a coherent and prompt explanation.

And it will serve all parties best for Michael Gove to come clean about his role.