Friday, March 31, 2006

The quality of Mersey will be strained

In the bizarre setting of the Barfly bar on Monday, prior to an agreeable Liverpool gig by Robert Love (aka Larry Love of Alabama3) a former comrade of mine enquired, "See the [Liverpool] Echo today?"
She was referring to the protests planned ahead of Condoleeza Rice's visit to Liverpool & Blackburn.
Yes, I had. When John Lennon, once of this parish, sang about "4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire", it was an acid-induced vision, owing more to surrealism than reportage. However, the political version of such a dotted landscape now faces Rice as she prepares for the first day of her visit.
Rice has been invited as the guest of honour at a gala concert by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) on the Friday evening. It's galvanized hitherto dormant political activism in this city. Aside from the decision by 60s Merseybeat poet, Roger McGough to withdraw from the event, citing the event's increasingly divisive effect on the locality (Cheers, Rog, remember Vietnam?), there's been a resurgence of the local anti-war scene, thanks to this grotesque farrago. A "warm" reception awaits Rice in this city later today.
Should anyone think that flak directed at "Condi" is misguided, & convenient for some elements, i.e., racist, just remember her reaction to Hurricane Katrina, when she adamantly maintained that the Bush (mis)administration's response to the cataclysm was not based on race. Anyone with half a brain knows that New Orleans was left to stew because it was largely black.
An update on this deeply unwelcome visitor to Liverpool will appear here, shortly after the event (for once, I urge you to take as gospel the accounts from the blogosphere rather than the mainstream media).
By the way, if MI5 are monitoring this blog for any details on the protesters' plans in Liverpool, sorry, guys, I'm as much in the dark as you.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Though cowards flinch & traitors sneer...

A week & a half which has prompted deeply felt, yet contradictory views about the Labour Party.
The BBC last week broadcast "The Plot Against Harold Wilson", a dramatised account of Harold Wilson's private discussions with two BBC journalists a matter of weeks after his sudden resignation in 1976. Those who openly accepted in interviews to their connivings against Wilson were both pathetic & menacing in a Home Counties sort of way; think Terry Thomas meets Victor Meldrew.
I have no doubt that there was talk in exalted circles throughout Wilson's years in Downing Street about the possibility of a military coup; fuelled by the Chilean coup against Allende in 1973, there was fevered planning which involved installing Mountbatten as an emergency leader, a "saviour" at Blighty's hour of need.
However, Wilson was a grave disappointment to Labour Party members as the years went on. Initially aligned with the Bevanite left, Wilson deftly garnered the left's support prior to becoming Labour leader, only to reveal his true colours after the 1964 election victory.
Despite the reversions of policy under Wilson, it is as nothing compared to the further shenannigans of Blair. Wilson was accused of granting favours to key allies, those in his inner circle. However, much of this was pretty tame stuff when one considers the Cash-ForPeerages affair. Jack Dromey, a hitherto assiduous New Labour clone, has lifted up a stone, revealing a grotesque picture. The knives are now out for Dromey, his former colleagues (I was tempted to use the word comrade for a moment) furiously briefing against him. His crime: shining a light on an aspect of Labour's finances which says everything about New Labour.

I used to be active with the Revolutionary left in the 80s. However, even within the Militant organisation, there was a mocking & dismissive attitude towards the WRP, a group whose journal was said to rely on heavy subventions from Libya. This claim was neither confirmed nor denied satisfactorily. However, it was one of several suspect features about Gerry Healey's vehicle for vanity (considering that Healey proclaimed his Trotskyite faith loudly & frequently, there was always a whiff of the Stalinist straitjacket about his leadership).
It all came back to me last weekend with this Observer interview with Vanessa Redgrave:,,1732336,00.html .
Redgrave emerges from the piece as part humourless zealot, part emotional diva.

Meanwhile, the retail giants are trying to hitch a ride on the back of the blogging bus:,,1734484,00.html .
Something tells me they'll miss that bus.

A plug for the Guardian's new blog, "Comment is free", which looks like an excellent example of how the media should embrace the blogosphere. It should serve as a case study in assuaging the anxieties of journalists who may be still blogosphobic, those, for instance, featuring in this article,,,1734486.html .

Correction: My post a few weeks' ago about Liverpool's Capital of Culture in 2008 gave the wrong website address for the Liverpool Culture Company. It is .

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Tectonic Plates Shift

A grey, nondescript Tuesday morning was suddenly enlivened. Shambling around the house, asking myself why I continue to buy muesli when I've lost the taste for it, & reflecting on the night before when I found myself in empty, lifeless bars (that's Monday for you), I flicked through the Guardian. My eyes lit up.
My eyes screeched to a juddering halt at a report entitled, "Internet means end for media barons, says Murdoch" (,,1730539,00.html ).
Murdoch! Who would have thought it! I knew the knarled, septugenarian union buster had made worried noises about the web & its effect on the circulation figures for his News International titles over the last few months, but this is different.
Owen Gibson, media correspondent for the Guardian, noted, "The News Corp media magnate nurtures a long-held distaste for 'the establishment' but last night confided to one of the few clubs to which he does belong --the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers-- that he may be among the last of a dying breed."
Leave aside, for a moment, the irony of Murdoch belonging to a club with a name which sounds every bit as prehistoric as NATSOPA or Gradgrind. My head swimmed with images of Murdoch as a dinosaur, railing uncomprehendingly at a meteor-struck world. I smiled; schadenfreude!
According to the article, Murdoch tried to sound upbeat. Putting a brave face on things, Murdoch said this is the start of an information golden age, & even compared those who blaze a trail in cyberspace to Columbus (though in this case there isn't an indiginous cyberspace populace to initially enslave & then exterminate).
I can't leave this story without mentioning at least one more gem from Murdoch's peroration. Gibson quotes him as declaring, "Great journalism will always attract readers. The words, pictures and graphics that are the stuff of journalism have to be brilliantly packaged; they must feed the mind and move the heart".
How stirring, how eloquent, how poetic. Great journalism? I could cite scores of instances when the Sun has been to journalism what a prostitute has been to chastity. So I'll cite just one, and it's personal: April, 1989, days after the disaster at Hillsborough, which my brother and I witnessed at first hand, the Sun's front page bore the headline, "The Truth". Disgustingly inaccurate and tasteless allegations were made about the behaviour of Liverpool fans. The Sun's circulation figures on Merseyside bombed, from 57,000 per day to 19,000. They haven't picked up since.

On a not unrelated theme, the Guardian also carried a column by Arianna Huffington (,,1730326,00.html ) about the growing influence of blogs. Huffington is a strange political creature in the U.S. Long seen more as a high society socialite, she has in the last few years used her U.S. newspaper columns to attack the Bush administration. She's also set up, a website which impressively marshalls the arguments against Bush on Iraq, Katrina & other issues which highlight Dubya's benign neglect & incompetence. Huffington's website/blog (the terms really are interchangeable in this instance) is mainly focused on the U.S. political scene, so there are aspects of her operation which probably won't transfer across the Atlantic. That said, however, she makes some salient points. Take this excerpt: "Blogging has empowered the little guy --levelling the playing field between the media haves and the media have-only-a-laptop-and-an-internet-connection. It's made the blogosphere an invaluable tool for holding the mainstream media's feet to the fire."
I've changed that mental image of Murdoch the dinosaur. The media magnate writhing in severe distress as the flames lick his soles is a far more satisfying vista.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Giving the people what they want?

Developments near & far have been distractions during a grey, cold & occasionally abrasive week. The distractions, news stories which appeal partly to my bugbears, partly to my sense of the absurd, reflect a world of the usual human failings, twisted ambition, constraints being loosened & shattered certitudes.
I've always viewed TV as a necessary evil. That might sound like the observation of a curmudgeonly recluse, but it's one that I've held since my mid-teens. Flush with the heady mix of youthful brio, teenage idealism & (over) reverence for the written word, I saw television in terms of mindless pap. That was in the late 70s/early 80s, long before the avalanche of sewage which descended via cable & satellite.
In this context I was drawn to a story which both intrigued &, yes, pleased me. It appears that the web is seeing off the tube, at least to some degree (,,1726019,00.html ).
Of course, it is true that there is a lot of garbage out there in cyberspace. The difference, however, is that the web does offer you the chance to examine & follow issues which directly appeal to you. This it does 24/7.

A sulphorous collision of human failing & twisted ambition was to be found last week in the Tessa Jowell affair. I know that New Labour creatures look askance at things like Labour movement history & egalitarian ethics. Yet there was still something jaw-dropping about the blithe defences put up by Jowell & her (now estranged) husband, David Mills. Jowell said something to the effect that the couple saw tempting business opportunities when there was a convenient "window".
It prompted this welcome, though long overdue, Guardian article,,,1725569,00.html .

A second example of human failings & twisted ambition came with the news that George Galloway is to host a show on Talksport radio ( ).
Talksport is the British, or rather English, attempt to reproduce the U.S shockjock format. Radio 4 it ain't. Its approach & character are simple & simplistic. Its marketing direct: If you're male, white, straight, 18-40, read the red-top tabloids & like "havin' a laugh", it's your bag. Galloway, with his bull-headed certainties, self-styled saviour status & ludicrous self-importance has found his perfect home. As for the feeble mewlings from his small band of defenders that it gives the anti-Iraq war argument a platform, do me a favour! (Sorry for lapsing into Talksport terminology, there.)
It's similar to the case of Derek Hatton, a former "comrade" of mine, whose ability to perform well for the cameras as Liverpool seethed 20 odd years' ago morphed into manifest ego. "Degsy" has made a few bob for himself by attempting his own shockjock act. White Van Man loves him, in a straight, blokeish way, of course.

Local authority shenaniggans continue around this parish ( ).
OK, so it's not exactly Mayor Daley making Chicago his own plaything, Poulson lining the pockets of 60s northern councillors or gerrymandering by Orange bigots in post-war Ulster, but it's still a nice, juicy tale for these environs.

"The Big Dig" grinds on in the middle of Liverpool. Adding to the caccophany it brings is the heated exchanges of those who have made the year of culture in 2008 an incohate, ill-thought vista. The reality is that key projects for the city -& which were instrumental in securing the prize for the city from Jeremy Issacs & co.- have either been scrapped or won't be ready on time. The Liverpool Culture Company, a moniker which is becoming more oxymoronic by the week, claims that all is in hand. This could be accepted at face value were it not for the fact that their website is still worryingly thin on details & hasn't been updated for a while ( ).
David Ward put his finger on the root cause of the delays & uncertainties in a Guardian article last Thursday when he asked, "what did the whole city think capital of culture was about? A glorious high-artcultural festival, a kind of year-long Edinburgh? A community knees-up that would have them dancing in the streets of Toxteth and Speke? Or a chance to show the world that Liverpool, a bit later than several other British cities, was heavily into economic regeneration and dockside apartments?"
The message, Ward gloomily concludes, was never clarified.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Blind faith

When I heard the report about Tony Blair's "that God bloke is a good mate of mine" boast on a TV chatshow, I immediately assumed that he'd been speaking to Letterman, Jay Leno or some other U.S. talk show. After all, mention of the "G" word in the land of the poor huddled masses is almost obligatory. A few hours' later I was shocked to be told that it was on "Parkinson", that cosy, middle England institution which anyone with a discerning approach to TV viewing would avoid with a capital "A".
As an atheist I'm not so much riled as amused by Blair's invocation of a deity to justify his act of political fellatio on Dubya. There is nothing, however, to smile about when you consider that the reckless dash into Iraq has resulted in over a thousand U.S. deaths, a hundred British fatalities & untold numbers of Iraqi deaths. It has also shattered Iraq, throwing that country into a civil war which will persist for decades.
Against that hideous background, Bush & Blair's proclaimed defence of this mess via a divine guidance is every bit as moronic, irrational & offensive as the calls for jihad from monovisioned imams & their flock.

The Tories came to Liverpool today. Well, David Cameron & Michael Heseltine, that is. As part of Cameron's rather pathetic attempt to persuade cities like Liverpool that the Tories have changed, Heseltine, the man who thought that the Garden Festival was an answer to the Toxteth riots, was dispatched to the Albert Dock to spread the word. It wasn't quite the humiliating act of self-abasement that Michael Howard demanded of Boris Johnson, rather it was a shameless attempt to gloss over the Tories' attitude to the inner cities during the 80s.
In the words of George Clooney's Oscar-winning film, "Goodnight & Good Luck".