Monday, March 12, 2007

Tin Pot Egotists & Iron Men

When I was a callow revolutionary activist in the early 80s, trying to persuade "de youth" on Merseyside council estates to read Trotsky on the Revolutionary Party when all they really wanted to do was go out & get pissed on a Friday night, the Liberals were one of the enemy. Their leader in Liverpool, Sir Trevor Jones, a man given to ostentatiously chomping cigars while guiding Michael Heseltine around riot-torn Toxteth, was referred to as "Jones the vote", a backhanded comment on the Liberals' command of local "pavement" politics.
I was temporarily reminded of this last week when it was reported by the Liverpool Echo that today's Lib Dems in the city have chosen a former cheerleader for Ian Paisley to contest Croxteth in next May's elections: .
Phil Moffat, according to the paper, "was once linked with plans to set up England's first branch of the radical Northern Irish political party in the city."
It seems that Moffat is also one of those sad sods who do battle with local officialdom over the "right" to fly the Union flag on St George's Day; he isn't just bigoted, he's confused.
One wholly unexpected benefit of the bomb damage that Liverpool suffered during the 1939-1945 war was a clear-out of those slum areas in the city where vile sectarianism held sway. The cramped, densely populated area of Everton was a hotbed of support for the Orange Lodge. The area overlooked the Scotland Road district, which had been populated by Irish Catholics in the wake of the famine-induced migration. Attacks were frequent &, by some accounts, particularly brutal. Both sides could instigate the trouble. However, the Protestants of Everton were openly goaded by their pastors to see the "papists" in their midst as a threat.
Liverpool has since moved on. These days it is unthinkable to raise religion as a possible source of conflict in the city.
Perhaps I'm giving this Moffat character too much attention. He clearly seems to be a buffoon with an ego. However, the real question to emerge from this distasteful little story is what does it say about the Lib Dems in Liverpool? The Storey administration, now the Bradley administration, like to quote the slogan about 2008: "The World In One City". How does this square with selecting a candidate who is happy to defend bigotry?

Last week's decision by Sefton Council to retain Antony Gormley's "Iron Men" on Crosby beach was a welcome sign of sanity & sagacity, not qualities I would always ascribe to Sefton's elected representatives. A few days prior to the decision the local Tories decided to remove Cllr Debi Jones from Sefton's planning committee ( ).
I highlighted Cllr Jones' witless utterances on the matter last year. Hoping to create an issue which would help her as the Tories' candidate for the Crosby constituency at the next election, she instead drew attention to her own cultural ignorance & embarrassed senior Tories. Most importantly, she was also out of step with her would-be constituents on Gormley's work.

A brief plug for a local website with a difference: .
It takes an alternative look at how the city fathers are really planning for 2008, & much more besides.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Barefoot, Books & Bigots

As 2008 looms large on the horizon, the national media occasionally tears itself away from its London-centric concerns (exhortations by art critics to visit the Hogarth exhibition at the Tate on Millbank are welcome to those of us who would have a 400 mile round trip, plus at least a night's stay at one of the capital's overpriced B&Bs) to warily survey what's taking shape up here.
The Guardian ran a piece recently which contained a nice anecdote about a visit to Liverpool in May 1965 by the American beat poet, Allan Ginsberg (,,2017940.html ).
Particularly amusing, apart from the description of a barefoot Ginsberg traipsing wide-eyed around the "home of the Beatles", was his observation in a letter to a friend back in the U.S. that "it's like San Francisco with greyer weather".
As they would have commented back then, groovy!

Something which caught my eye was a Guardian piece last week on the question of who is the greatest British writer. Normally, I avoid reading such articles. After all, how can you arrive at an answer? Do you mean fiction or non-fiction? Or both? Do you include poetry as well as prose, or is it strictly confined to novelists? How about essayists (Orwell)?
See what I mean?
There was, however, a wonderfully telling quotation from Amanda Ross, who, according to the piece, was "Creator of the Richard & Judy bookclub, known as 'the most powerful woman in publishing'".
Ross opined, "We don't like to label anything 'literary'. In fact, I really hate that word. For our readers, if we said a book was literary, it might put them off. To the public, literary means inaccessible, or full of classical references, or with long passages in French. So we just say they are fantastic books."
Leaving aside Ms Ross' alarming syntax, which veers into the inarticulate realm, two points emerge from her gibberish. First, it says everything about the sort of undemanding, bland & unchallenging programme that is "Richard & Judy" & its perceived target audience. Secondly, I'm intrigued by her use of the word "fantastic". Does she mean fantastic as in "that was a fantastic pub crawl" or "this is a fantastic action movie"? Or does she mean the word in its original sense, ie., hard to believe? If so, it's not much of a recommendation.
Prior to this bon mot, Ross is asked to comment on the merits of Martin Amis' work over the years. The "most powerful woman in publishing" replies, "I can't say whether Amis is a great writer because I have never read one of his books. I don't think his publisher has ever submitted one [for dissection on the programme]."
You don't say!
Further discussions on the question of the best British writer (yes, ridiculous, I know) can be found at

I'd been feeling a little guilty about not posting anything recently. That mild guilt became something else when I came across the story of the Egyptian blogger who has been imprisoned for four years by the Mubarak regime (,,2019746,00.html ).
There's also a website to highlight the blogger's plight, his sham of a trial & the campaign for his release. Here's hoping, although I'm not holding my breadth, given the nature of the Cairo regime & its support from Bush & Blair.

Now we return to that feature of this blog which has been getting a little dusty of late: Kelvinwatch.
According to Roy Greenslade in his media blog on Guardian Unlimited ( ), listeners are being asked to vote on who will be the guest male presenter of BBC Radio 4's "Woman's Hour" programme for Comic Relief's Red Nose Day. The nominations are Kelvin MacKenzie; "Top Gear" presenter, Richard Hammond; & comedy writer Andy Hamilton.
Greenslade relates that each of the nominees makes a pitch on the "Woman's Hour" website for the prize. MacKenzie, Greenslade notes, "urges women to 'get back to the sink' and calls for more Woman's Hour features on the lines of 'How to make the dinner for your man when he comes home'. He wishes to confront the 'propaganda machine' which convinces women they are no longer slaves."
Hilarious, isn't it?
Greenslade also refers to MacKenzie's Hillsborough comments: "As Matthew Norman reminded us the other day, Kelvin 'is still unsure' whether he should apologise for his Hillsborough coverage. He remains, I suspect, as anti-Scouse as ever and cannot bring himself to say sorry to the city's people."
[Matthew Norman's diary piece can be found at: .]
I've already left a comment to Greenslades posting, repeating the points I've made here previously about the sort of creature MacKenzie is as well as the BBC's decision to employ MacKenzie for a 5Live news review programme last Christmas.