Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Civic Coercion

Just occasionally the Oldham Echo remembers that it's supposed to be in the journalism business & serves up a story which it normally avoids.
Saturday's edition featured a report by North Liverpool Citizens Advice Bureau that bailiffs acting on behalf of Liverpool City Council over unpaid debts (mainly council tax) have resorted to "unlawful tactics" (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2008/09/27/jail-threats-used-to-collect-council-debt-100252-21911350/ ).
According to the Echo:
"Cases of collectors making verbal threats to imprison residents if debts are not paid and charging for visits that did not take place are included in the report [by the CAB].
"The report found that out of the 50 individual cases examined, exactly half of the people affected were elderly and disabled vulnerable people."
The council's response smacks more of an alarmed awareness of bad PR than an acknowledgement that it f***ed-up badly; it protests its "disappointment" that it didn't see the CAB report prior to publication.
The instances cited in the report serve as case studies in exploitation of legal ignorance & naked harrassment. In just one of the cases, the Echo quotes the CAB as reporting that "an elderly couple were chased earlier this year for a £295 council tax debt from 1993 that had already been written off at court."
So there we have it. Not only does Liverpool City Council make the city look a laughing stock over its cack-handed, bumbling & corrupt handling of its culture year, it also employs assorted thugs & goons to intimidate vulnerable people for no reason whatsoever. Proud of yourself, Councillor Bradley?

At Bloggerheads

With a couple of exceptions, the most effective (& read) political blogs tend to be free of party political affiliations. Guido Fawkes & Iain Dale, the exceptions to that rule, make no secret of their Tory sympathies & their direct links to the Tories, Dale particularly (he's stood as a Tory candidate in the past). However, their blogs are exceptionally well-written. They know that dull, Party-approved tracts do not a blog make. You may disagree with the content (& I certainly do) but you have to admire their style & relative irreverence.
Last week's PR Week, not a journal I normally take note of, revealed that former New Labour spin doctor Derek Draper is at the forefront of Labour's attempt to use the blogosphere (http://www.prweek.com/uk/news/article/848968/labour-tories-plot-dominate-blogosphere/ ).
The article does add that the Tories have their own plans but that can be taken as read.
PR Week reveals:
"Labour strategists are keen to respond to the growing influence of right-wing blogs. The eventual system could resemble a modern-day version of Labour's famous Excalibur unit, which was successfully used to kill negative stories by Tory-supporting newspapers in the run-up to the 1997 general election.
"Draper will meet sympathetic bloggers and web-savvy political campaigners over the next few months to thrash out the details."
I'm not expecting a phone call or email from Draper (we once crossed swords at a Labour conference when the Militant expulsions were being persued by Kinnock's High Command).
I also recall a BBC TV documentary a decade back in which he arrogantly lectured a traditional Labour-supporting trade unionist from the north east on the innate superiority of the Blair Project.
What Draper fails to understand is that the right-wing blogs are receiving so many hits because of their jibes at Brown's government, an increasingly easy target. He's also gravely mistaken if he thinks that any self-respecting blogger would allow their blog to act as a crude propaganda tool for New Labour.
Back to the drawing board, Derek.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Manhattan Finally Gets Marx

As the market mayhem rages apace, the CNBC cable channel has just carried live pictures of protesters on Wall Street outside the New York Stock Exchange, one of whom carries a banner with the words "Capitalism is dead".


9.00pm BST Update: Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist whose recent articles on Palin have been forensic in their detail, has been barred from John McCain's plane (http://oxdown.firedoglake.com/diary/288 ).

Palin's Prejudice

Like many others, I've enjoyed Jon Stewart's skewering of Sarah Palin on The Daily Show. However, there's a long history of satire obscuring the true nature of its supposed target. It happened in the 80s on both sides of the Atlantic. Reagan was mercilessly mocked in sections of the US media for his simplistic, folksy schtick when it was clear that his style won him votes. In the UK Spitting Image & Steve Bell's "If" cartoon strip perversely accentuated those aspects of Thatcher's personality which added to her "Iron Lady" appeal.
It's against that historical backdrop that Stewart's barbs leave me suspecting that, scabrously funny though his routines are, they won't dent Palin's image. What might is more prosaic: reality.
Two stories about the Republican Vice Presidential candidate have recently surfaced, one worthy of ridicule & humour, the other most certainly not.
First, the "light" story. Palin appears to believe that humans & dinosaurs lived at the same time...less than 6,000 years ago (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/09/28/palin-claimed-dinosaurs-a_n_130012.html ).
Philip Munger, a local music teacher in Wasilla, the Alaskan town where Palin was mayor, relates a bizarre incident. Munger was talking to Palin shortly after she became mayor. Munger asked what her religious views were:
"Palin told him that 'dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time,' Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said 'she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks,' recalled Munger, who teaches music at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and has regularly criticized Palin in recent years on his liberal political blog, called Progressive Alaska."
[Munger's blog, http://progressivealaska.blogspot.com/ , has given the rest of the US Liberal blogosphere some pretty juicy anti-Palin stories.]
So that's the comedic aspect of Palin's worldview. The second item renders satire redundant, as the full extent of Palin's right-wing bigotry & myopia is laid bare. In Governor Palin's Alaska, women who have been raped have to pay for the rape kits issued to them by hospital staff, a story which the New York Times holds up as the ultimate proof of Palin's unsuitability to hold any sort of public office, let alone Vice President of what is still the most powerful nation on the planet (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/26/opinion/26fri4.html?_r=1&em&oref=slogin ).
The opinion piece in the NYT by Dorothy Samuels pulls no punches from the very first sentence: "Even in tough budget times, there are lines that cannot be crossed."
The vice presidential debate between Palin & Joe Biden takes place at 2.00am BST on Friday. I might just stay up (coffee required!) for it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who Does Your PR?

What initially appeared to be just another feature in the Guardian's G2 section on Friday seems to have a more dubious genesis.
Andy Beckett ostensibly examines the Policy Exchange thinktank (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/sep/26/thinktanks.conservatives ), the body which gave us that report on how it would be so much better for us northerners if we migrated en masse to London & the south east. More of that to follow.
However, the Guardian's piece was, claims Recess Monkey, originall commissioned by Policy Exchange to try and undo some of the damage caused to its brand by media reaction to the inner-cities report (http://www.recessmonkey.com/2008/09/26/the-policy-was-right-the-pr-was-crap/ ).
Recess Monkey, however, doesn't mention the fact that, despite the thinktank's close links to Cameron's Tories, one of the report's authors, Dr Tim Leunig, is a member of the Liberal Democrats, a finding that I revealed on this blog on August 14th.
Despite the background to the piece, Beckett does offer up some intriguing observations about the thinktank:
"In its publications and public statements, Policy Exchange has argued that business should run parts of the welfare state; that planning laws should be radically relaxed in favour of developers; that more power should be devolved to local communities; and that the Routemaster bus should return to the streets of London. It has suggested 'a doubling in size of the current motorway network' and the lowering of fuel and road taxes."
Apart from the nebulous guff about more power for local communities & a Boris Johnsonesque embrace of the old double-decker buses, it's as though Thatcher were still Tory leader (one of her more overlooked quotes was a paean of praise for "the great car economy").
Anthony Browne, the outgoing director of Policy Exchange, ruminates on the controversy caused by the thinktank's report, suggesting a mass exodus of cities such as Liverpool:
"Browne still defends [the report] and its timing, but with a selection of not completely compatible arguments. 'It was published unwittingly on the day Cameron was going to start his tour' [of north west England], he begins. He frowns: 'We actually had an outside PR agency dealing with publication...' Then his frown disappears: 'That's what thinktanks are there to do - stir things up.'"
Seems like the PR agency did a brilliant job, &, yes, I suppose a thinktank's raison d'etre is to "stir things up". The problem, however, was that it contributed nothing to a debate which should be held, viz., the role & purpose of post-industrial areas.
Beckett's piece also contains an intriguing section concerning questions raised by BBC's Newsnight about Policy Exchange's methodology over a report about "extremist literature" in British mosques.
However, it's Policy Exchange's take on the market turmoil in the last few weeks which ought to be the real eye-opener. Beckett asks if recent events have forced the thinktank to revise or review its pro-free market stance:
"Browne looked slightly uncomprehending. 'Financial services are quite heavily regulated already,' he said. 'You don't need to bury the financial services industry under a mountain of regulation.' But didn't the failure of the banks have wider implications for deregulated capitalism? 'Just because there's been a crisis in the financial sector doesn't mean it's any less of a good thing to have competitive markets in welfare provision.' The Conservatives have reacted to the crisis in a similar way so far."
So there we have it. Welfare provision is to be placed at the mercy of the markets, at the whims of the bankers & brokers responsible for Wall Street's meltdown, & at the feet of those neo-liberal short sellers who think of the price of everything & the value of nothing. Its dramatis personae could be observed in Washington the other night, as US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson reportedly got down on one knee in supplication at the feet of Democrat Nancy Pelosi, pleading for her support, despite the fact that the bail-out's sworn opponents were Paulson's fellow Republicans (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/paulson-was-down-on-one-knee-begging-for-a-deal-944046.html ).
Put your faith in the markets? Yeah, right.

A BBC Repeat

Even the BBC has slow news days. You know, those long, fruitless hours journalists spend surfing the web in the hope of hitting on a story, any story, which will provide the basis of an item.
Such an affliction seems to have hit the BBC staff in Manchester who work on the north west edition of The Politics Show. One of today's items featured a rather old Lib Dem statement about bringing back terraces at major football stadia (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/politics_show/regions/north_west/default.stm ).
Despite not being linked on the homepage, the piece is avilable to view again on the iPlayer link as the second item.
It's such an old story that the BBC reporter Gill Dummigan looks almost sheepish in presenting it as news. Soundbites from a mother who lost her son at Hillsborough (firmly against the proposal, naturally) & Rogan Taylor (cautiously welcoming) bring more heat than light to an issue which has surely had its day.
Come on, chaps. The silly season's over. Why not do a piece on the cancellation of the closing ceremony for Liverpool's year of culture? There's no shortage of material there, you know.

Putting A Price On Loyalty

A local Derby match is hardly a barometer of general levels of interest & support from the general public. However, yesterday's encounter at Goodison Park, replete with passion, noise & naked bile for the opposition, did set me thinking of a piece by David Conn in Wednesday's Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2008/sep/24/premierleague1 ).
Conn's premise is that the credit crunch won't adversely affect Premier League clubs because fans' loyalty/fanaticism takes little heed of wider economic factors, & that long-term commitments from the fans (season ticket sales) mean that clubs have a guaranteed revenue stream from at least one source for an entire season.
It's a persuasive case, but I suspect that as we enter what will come to be known as the "heat or eat" winter, only the "big 4" can expect to emerge unscathed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Silence On Old Hall Street

Over a week's passed since Tony Parrish broke the news about there being no cash for Lord Phillip Redmond to organise a closing ceremony for Liverpool's year of supposed culture, & yet the Liverpool Echo still hasn't caught up with the news. Either that, or they're desperately trying to put a spin on the news which doesn't:
1. Highlight their role as one of the year's corporate sponsors in the eyes of an increasingly dismissive local populace.
2. Draw attention to the apologia for journalism which the paper serves up.
3. Expose the Echo's extreme tardiness in reporting one of the biggest stories of 2008.
Over to you, Alastair (heard from the PCC yet, by the way?).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

John Linden

In a roundabout way, news has only just reached me of the death of John Linden earlier this month. John was one of the 47 councillors in Liverpool who defied both the Tories & Kinnock in the 80s. His death & legacy are discussed in the Liverpool 47 Forum (http://phorum5.greennet.org.uk/read.php?10,7235 ), in which Tony Mulhearn notes:
"John had often remarked that he didn't want his funeral to be an opportunity for rich funeral directors to line their pockets. So, in a final act of defiance, he was cremated in a cardboard box decorated with pictures of his family and his favourite persuits."
John was also a solicitor, & his advice & representation for those of us who fell foul of Tory laws (picketing & the poll tax) was invaluable.
Unlike most of the 47, John enjoyed a salary which could be described as "comfortable". However, much to the chagrin of his legal colleagues, he remained true to his convictions.
My condolences to his wife, Wenda, & the rest of his family.

The Dear Leader's Address

Perhaps I'm living in a parallel universe. According to today's papers, Gordon Brown's speech at the Labour Party conference yesterday was a tour de force. From what I saw of it, Brown delivered a typically wooden address, awkwardly mumbling a half-hearted mea culpa for the 10p tax debacle. Moreover, the synthetic soundbites about "fairness" left this cynical ex-Trot spitting his disdain. By the way, what is the political relevance of having Brown's wife introduce him?
What was also ridiculous (sometimes hilariously) was the almost North Korean alacrity with which the conference rose to their feet in acclamation of third-rate rhetoric which would hardly have merited a ripple of applause at Labour conferences in the 70s & 80s.
Today's Guardian quotes the reaction of some MPs & union leaders to the speech (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/sep/24/labourconference.speeches ).
In stark contrast to opinions aired just a fortnight ago at the TUC, reaction from at least two union leaders is so effusive as to warrant the adjective, Janus-faced. Derek Simpson, General Secretary of Unite, gushes, "His recognition of the turmoil in the markets, action for families, children and the elderly and his determination to reduce the gap between the rich and poor, all show he is on the side of hardworking families. Gordon is an injury time winner. Labour can now go on to win the league at the next election."
The phrase "hardworking families" must be the most irritating & vacous in politics. Does it mean, by implication, that single people who work full-time are shirkers in comparison to their married & cohabiting colleagues? But I digress. Far from Brown scoring "an injury time winner", as Simpson claims, he aimed a long ball upfield to no one in particular with his team three goals down in the final twenty minutes.
Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison, glows, "He did what every party member wanted him to do - turn his guns on the Tories."
Not quite, Dave, there was that "no time for a novice" jibe aimed as much at David Miliband as David Cameron & there's no point disputing it.
The only note of scepticism, amidst an orgy of hero-worship from Labour MPs & Cabinet ministers, comes from the former Tribune editor, Mark Seddon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Alternately, you could try:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REQRHdMRimw .

I Know Some Humans Like That

Capitalism may well be exposing itself again, Labour might delude itself into thinking that Gordon Brown will win it a fourth term, & the Liverpool Echo may be desperately thinking of ways to spin the non-existant finale fiasco, but you can always be sure that a moggie will make a memorable idiot of itself when its curiosity gets the better of it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1vBJfhVwG8 .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

Echo editor Alastair Machray blogs. No, seriously, he does. True, he's not a frequent blogger, but, then again, if you're republishing the Oldham statement ad nauseam in your paper, telling anyone who'll listen (& those who won't) what a success 2008 has been, & leading your front page with small-time local hoodlums & C-list celebrities, it may not always be possible to update it.
However, Machray, it seems, may be in hot water. One of the commenters on the Liverpool Times' take on the move to Oldham (http://www.liverpooltimes.net/2008/09/08/liverpool-echo-and-daily-post-to-move-to-manchester/ ) notes that his last post (http://echoeditor.merseyblogs.co.uk/2008/09/sep_8_2008_10.html ) has been referred to the Press Complaints Commission (www.pcc.org.uk/ ).
The post, entitled, "10 things to do before I die", is a predictable wish-list of a middle-aged, middle-class hack (see kids graduate, watch a test cricket match abroad, improve golf handicap, etc.). However, Machray also lists as one of his wishes, "See Newcastle United win a trophy (more chance of shagging Catherine Zeta [Jones])."
Yes, he really did write that. Strange, really, when you consider that "shagging" is a word you'd never see in a "family newspaper" like the Echo. It's a comment which doubtless brought him out in a Swiss Tony-like moment of panic & crass judgement, as he goes on to write, "Celebrate my silver wedding with Lynne. (Only four years to go...)".
Whether Mrs Machray is thinking of the next four years in the same way after reading that is a moot point. Machray concludes his sorry missive with the entreaty, "What are yours? How pathetic are mine? Comments please."
Alastair, any comments from me on your list are entirely superfluous; you've said it for yourself.

Finding An Echo In The City

The reaction from the unions to the Echo's move to Oldham has been suitably savvy. Staff from the Daily Post & Echo spent Saturday in the city centre collecting signatures for a petition, protesting against the move (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/7627206.stm ).
Unite's Paul Finegan declared, "Too many highly skilled jobs have already been lost on Merseyside and we will not stand by and let Trinity Mirror [owner of the Daily Post & Echo] move the printing of its local newspapers out of the city without a fight."
Stirring words & I wish them well. However, there is more than a feeling that the move is a fait accompli . Realistically, what leverage do the unions have on the matter? A petition's fine, but easily ignored. Industrial action has been mooted but, given the historical tensions between journalists & printers, don't expect the NUJ & Unite to, well, unite. Appeals to the city's business community will be met with a bemused look; business is business, they'll say, the bottom line counts.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rounding Off 2008 Nicely

From Ringo on the roof (& the rates) to...well, no one's saying anything officially --& the Oldham Echo is ominously keeping schtum-- but it seems as though there will be no closing event/ceremony for Liverpool's, ahem, year of culture. Capital of Culture supremo (does anyone outside the media really use that word?) Phil Redmond has been told that the piggybank is empty --blame it on the credit crunch, Warren!-- & so 2008 will probably end in an embarrassed silence on New Year's Eve, in stark contrast to everywhere else, while a Culture Company minion turns off the lights on the way out.
Tony Parish broke the news on Wednesday (http://liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/2008/09/our-lord-redmond.html ):
"Redmond had originally wanted £1 million for the end of the year show when he began planning his great moment six months ago. Then the budget was halved to half a million -- the amount being paid to [former city council chief executive Colin Halsall] as a reward for his incompetence. Then the budget was going to be dependent on what could be raised in ticket sales at the Oldham Arena. Then at today's meeting, Redmond was finally told there were no more spondulicks [Scouse slang for cash].
"What's more, since the long-suffering Culture Company staff are all out on their ears on December 31st, not many were going to be daft enough to rally round to make multi-millionaire Redmond look good."
Some might suggest that, given the frankly underwhelming opening on Lime Street last January, it's a blessing in disguise that the city isn't going to make itself look twice as ludicrous & shambolic before the international media. However, it's surely a first; as far as I'm aware, every other city which has been a Europen Capital of Culture has had some sort of closing ceremony.
Redmond must now regret his stated wish to make the year resemble a great big Scouse wedding. It seems that the bride & groom have left early, the in-laws are squaring up to each other, the scene is filled with the debris of half-eaten food, broken bottles & vomit, & the guests have long since moved on to a pub down the road.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In Her Liverpool Home

Winifred Robinson, one of the presenters of BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme, went back to her hometown in a Radio 4 documentary broadcast earlier today. The programme's title, "What's Wrong With Scousers?" would be guaranteed to generate debate (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/thetroublewithscousers/ ).
However, Robinson presented a sympathetic, though far from uncritical, picture of the city.
One of the comments which resonated with me in the programme was made by local playright Willy Russell about those who put themselves up as "spokesmen" for Scousers. Liverpool poet Paul Farley made a similar point.
Perhaps the only qoute from the programme which could cause controversy came from Robinson herself when she remarked, "Scratch the surface of any Scouser and you will find a victim."
It was, of course, far too close to the "self-pity city" jibe, but I instinctively understood what Robinson meant; historically, the city has been full of luckless individuals & families.
Overall, a welcome corrective to the, sometimes self-inflicted, myths surrounding Liverpool.

In The Days When Bono Wasn't A Saint

There was an interesting discussion on the Guardian musicblog last week about the seeming dearth of "political" musicians (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2008/sep/11/1 ).
As you'd expect, opinions differed sharply on the issue & rather than re-hash all the arguments here, I leave it to the discussion for enlightenment.
One of the acts cited as political was the Irish band That Petrol Emotion. Mention was made of a single they released about 20 years ago, "Big Decision". I hadn't heard that track in years, so I went to YouTube & unearthed this gem:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXAfWKOgo2q .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Here We Go Again

If Paddy Shennan's job description is "journalist", he should change it to "shameless cheerleader" pronto. The Liverpool Echo, ahem, columnist was at it again in Friday's edition of the Oldham, sorry, Liverpool Echo (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/capital-of-culture/capital-of-culture-liverpool-news/2008/09/12/sir-jeremy-isaacs-so-far-so-good-on-liverpool-s-culture-year-100252-21804900/ ) with a puff piece featuring Jeremy Isaacs, chairman of the judging panel which awarded Liverpool its Capital of Culture status back in 2003.
Shennan trills that Isaacs is "the man who, by saying 'Yes' to Liverpool, opened a gigantic door of opportunity for our born-again city."
We can argue about the size of that door (I think "gigantic" is going way too far), but there's little doubt that the Culture Company, the city council &, yes, the local media have left it slightly ajar rather than fully open.
Isaacs, mindful of Shennan's desire for positive soundbites, makes all the right noises. However, he does insert a caveat & conditional endorsement which Shennan & others would doubtless wish to downplay:
"My impression is it's too early to judge the total impact of the year but, from my observations, and from a distance [my italics], I think it has been a very considerable success."
From a distance, indeed.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Setting The Agenda

There's an excellent profile of Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show on More4, in today's Observer by David Smith (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/sep/14/television.television ).
Describing one recent sketch on the show, Smith writes:
"Showing politicians condemn themselves out of their own mouths is a classic Stewart manoevre. In one sequence, the Daily Show spliced excerpts from McCain's acceptance speech at the Republican convention with one by Bush before he became president. The word-for-word similarities were uncanny, promising change in Washington, a pro-life culture and the rest. It was a masterpiece of editing that required no narrative to tear down false idols, arguably more effective than anything the Democrats have thrown at McCain in recent weeks. It makes Obama's argument that McCain represents a third term of Bush more eloquently than the candidate himself has so far managed."
The article also notes that the rest of the US media were forced to follow the Daily Show's exposure of Dick Cheney's links to Haliburton & the awarding of multi-million dollar wartime contracts to the firm.

Another Rentaquote On The Way?

The media are always on the look-out for newly-elected MPs who are, in the jargon, "colourful". One such candidate could well be Debi Jones, a local Tory councillor in Crosby, that supposedly rough & tough patch which Cherie Blair had to endure in her childhood.
The Crosby constituency will be no more at the next election. With part of the Knowsley area tacked on, it will be known as Sefton Central. Given the latest polls, the area looks like electing Ms Jones, the Tory candidate. As well as being a councillor, she was also a local radio "personality" back in the 80s, & hit the local headlines a couple of years' ago with her claim that Antony Gormley's sculptures on Crosby beach, Another Place, formed a hazard to shipping in Crosby Channel.
Local political observers privately remark that she often speaks first & thinks later. The national media could have a field day with Councillor Jones.

Janus-Faced Politics

It may be unfair to single out a particular newspaper columnist or commentator for inconsistency & hypocrisy (they're there to "provoke debate", ie., spout any old crap, if necessary), but Polly Toynbee's witterings in the Guardian are now being viewed as case studies in schizophrenic political polemics. Yesterday she excelled herself (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/13/labour.conservatives ).
Toynbee, who enjoys an annual salary of £250,000 for her thoughts, penned a truly risible piece on how all is not yet lost for both Labour & Gordon Brown at the next election, despite the fact that Toynbee was one of the panellists on Thursday's Channel 4 News, on which the latest damning opinion poll was dissected (http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/politics/domestic_politics/battleground+britain+exclusive+poll+of+key+seats+predicts+tory+landslide/2449117/ ).
Toynbee contradicts her own wild-eyed optimism in the first paragraph of her article:
"Stepping up to microphones in the TUC hall were those authentic voices now almost entirely absent from Labour politics. Many, these days, are women, and they speak for the workplaces of the third of people whose real living standards have fallen over the last five years. When they tell of years of pay settlements falling below inflation, it's not an abstraction. When they call for a windfall tax and a fairer sharing of the pain of this recession, it's not a political idea of fairness, it's bread and butter. But they went back to their workplaces empty-handed."
Despite the truly galling & grotesque spectacle of New Labour ministers telling the low-paid to be grateful for small mercies (a cynical bookie could take bets on the number of hypothermia-related deaths this winter), Toynbee still thinks there is one last chance for this government.
Well, Polly, there isn't. Cameron will walk into No. 10 in 2010 & it will be the mendacity of New Labour which will facilitate it.

Left Behind

At a time when the Labour government is being hung out to dry, less than two years from probably its biggest electoral hiding, it seems an odd time to be pleading the case for a paper inextricably tied to the party. Yet that's what former Tribune editor Paul Anderson did on the Guardian's Comment is Free pages this week (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/11/georgeorwell ).
Anderson, also a former deputy editor of the New Statesman & currently a lecturer in journalism at London's City University, concedes that Tribune's circulation is miniscule (4,000). However, he pleads the case for the paper, unsuccessfully, I suspect:
"But the magazine plays a vital role in the British labour movement -- as a source of news, as a forum for discussion and, most crucial of all, as the independent critical voice of the non-communist left. And the main reason for its tiny circulation is that it has been ridiculously undercapitalised for years. It would break even on a circulation of 5,000 -- but has had nothing to spend on promotions to would-be subscribers."
Any magazine or paper involved in politics which is seemingly happy to get by on just 5,000 sales is effectively talking to itself, its influence in direct proportion to its pathetically small circulation figure.
There is also the downward trend in political weeklies' sales figures to consider. The New Statesman has slipped in sales, yet again. However, it is not just confined to the left. The Spectator can't boast too much about its figures.
Throw in the Web factor, too, as Anderson fails to do, & you have the "perfect storm" for Tribune. The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ ) shows the way forward, at least on the other side of the Atlantic.
The sad reality is that Tribune, though nominally independent of the Labour Party, is closely associated to it, & as the government sinks further into the mire, so, too, does the paper which, as Anderson is keen to remind us, once boasted George Orwell as one of its writers. I suspect that if Orwell were around today, he would advise the paper to go online.

*Anderson is also a blogger. His blog, "Gauche", (http://www.libsoc.blogspot.com/ ) is worth visiting.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Get Out Of Our Pub

Word's travelling around the city (though not via the Liverpool Echo, surprise, surprise) about the frosty reception accorded to George Gillett in Ye Cracke (or the Crack, as we Scousers normally call it) on Rice Street. The Crack is considered to be one of the more bohemian pubs in the city centre (John Lennon spent perhaps too much time there in his days at the neighbouring Art College) & it's true that there is a large student element as well as local bohos in the place. However, Friday night would also have attracted many working class football fans to the pub. I'm surprised & amused that Gillett's people hadn't done their research. After the "welcome" given to Tom Hicks Jnr at the Sandon pub last year, it must surely be plain to Stadler & Waldorf by now that their presence in the city is as welcome as the Sun's printing plant.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Living In Denial

Heads will roll at the Liverpool Echo. Someone, probably one of the few sub editors the paper still has, hasn't published Alastair Machray's Oldham statement in today's edition.
Meanwhile the delusions engendered by this year have been at their most manifest this week. At least one of the bigwigs at the Culture Company sees no reason why the city's status for 2008 shouldn't be permanent. No, really (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2008/09/10/make-liverpool-the-uk-s-permanent-capital-of-culture-100252-21718439/ ):
"Culture Company chairman Bryan Gray told a council inquiry only a lack of ambition could stop the city holding on to its new-found reputation beyond the end of December.
"Mr Gray spoke out as Liverpool council confirmed the Culture Company will be wound up once 2008 celebrations draw to a close.
"He said: 'The right to call ourselves Capital of Culture will be taken away on December 31.
" 'But what is to stop us from being the UK's Capital of Culture? The only thing which can stop that is our own ambition'."
I'll tell you why it's a non-starter, Mr Gray, & it's got nothing to do with "ambition". There's no such accolade, that's why. Persuading the city to give itself such a tag would be meaningless & would probably induce a great deal of mirth in the rest of the UK.
Some people just don't know when to let go, especially when it means that their gravy train is pulling into the sidings.
A much more sober & realistic portrait of the city post-2008 was issued by Dr Beatriz Garcia, a director of Impacts 08, a project whose brief is to assess the long term effect of Liverpool's culture year. The project will look at its legacy between now & 2013 (http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/regional-news/2008/09/11/warnings-over-legacy-of-culture-year-for-city-64375-21793462/ ).
Dr Garcia cautions:
"We cannot judge the success on just a year[ ] The decision right now is what direction is the city going in, for example in the creative industries.
"Will the talent leave after 2008? We will have to look at it over the next three to four years.
"We have to move away from statistics. In Glasgow [European Capital of Culture in 1990], there were nowhere near the same level of expectations.
"Liverpool has seen much higher expectation over much larger social issues, not just around cultural activities."
That leads to the heart of what, if anything, 2008's "legacy" will be. The city's cultural community was au fait with what the city's status really denoted, & cringed when the crass, corrupt civic crowd, aided & abetted by the local media, hailed it as the answer to a city's deep-seated economic & social decline.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Leaving The City To The Sun

Credit to the Liverpool Times for pointing out that when the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo printing operations move to Oldham at the end of next year, "the only newspaper printed on Merseyside will be the SUN!!!!" (http://www.liverpooltimes.net/2008/09/08/liverpool-echo-and-daily-post-to-move-to-manchester/ ).
However, I, for one, wouldn't describe the Sun as "a newspaper".

Eh? Oh, Right

Don't you just love it when you get the link wrong?
Here it is:
http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/views/our-views/2008/09/11/echo-editor-why-this-change-is-all-for-the-best-100252-21792944/ .

Once More With Feeling

Guess what? The Liverpool Echo has published Alastair Machray's statement on the Oldham move for a third time:
http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/views/our-views/2008/09/11/why-this-change-is-all-for-the-best-100252-21792944/ .
I'm all for recycling, but isn't this going a little too far, guys?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cheek By Jowl: Wealth & Squalor

It's been a while since I last featured Stadler & Waldorf, aka George Gillett & Tom Hicks.
My antipathy to them hasn't lessened one iota. Their recent announcement that work on the new stadium in Stanley Park had been put back by at least a year, due to the credit crunch, didn't surprise me.
The reality, however, is that even owners of a more transparent & purposeful hue would have had to put the Stanley Park development on the shelf because of global factors.
My strong suspicion, unchanged since last Spring, is that both Liverpool & Everton will remain at their respective grounds for the forseeable future. In the longer term both sets of supporters will recognise the unanswerable economic case for a shared stadium.
David Conn examines the state of limbo at Anfield, in today's Guardian, shedding some much needed light on what it means for the wider Anfield area (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2008/sep/10/liverpool.premierleague ).
Conn's observations merit considerable quotation:
"Yet there is more to Hick's and Gillett's failure to finance the new stadium than the challenge to Liverpool's footballing status. The new stadium on Stanley Park and plans to develop the current Anfield site into a hive of restaurants, shops and offices are central to plans to regenerate the area around the old ground, which, over the years, has declined into near-devastation.
"Anfield could currently lay claim to being the most economically unequal place in Great Britain. Around the Premier League club's famous ground are rows of shattered streets whose houses have stood empty and boarded up for years. Like many areas in formerly industrial towns and cities, particularly in the north-west, old jobs disappeared in the 1980s and people moved away. Houses, if they were occupied at all, were let short term to people who had no stake in the area. The terraced streets of Anfield and neighbouring Breckfield were blighted by crime and many houses were burnt out before being sealed with grimly familiar metal shuttering, a process known locally as being 'tinned up'.
"The area around Venmore Street, opposite the stadium, is, according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation, the most deprived local authority ward in Britain. Crowds of fans walk past its boarded up terraces on matchdays and it is difficult to imagine that Liverpool's Spanish striker Fernando Torres, the very definition of a European glory boy, can be parading his multi-million pound skills just over the stadium wall."
Anfield, like so many other parts of the city, is likely to remain unchanged, stadium or no stadium.

Closing Time

Imagine, if you can, that you're one of the minions toiling away in the Liverpool Echo's offices on Old Hall Street (hello, Paddy!). Your editor has twice issued his self-righteous missive about the move to Oldham. You cower behind your terminal & desperately try to think of a new way to describe culture year as the best in the city's entire history. You've raided the picture archive so often, it looks like that Baghdad museum after the Americans arrived.
Then, PLOP!
You learn that your parent company, Trinity Mirror, is to apply the coup de grace on seven of its local publications (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/sep/09/trinitymirror.downturn ):
"Sara Wilde, the Trinity Mirror North West regional managing director, said, 'I believe these changes will strengthen the power of our products in their marketplaces and meet both the needs of advertisers and readers in the face of challenging market conditions'."
Such management bollockese really is whistling in the wind, isn't it?


Harriet Harman Update, 15.10 BST:
"Although [Harman] dropped the word 'class' from the text of her speech when it was delivered, she later denied on the BBC's World at One that there was any taboo about using the word." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7607895.stm ).
In that case, why was the word omitted from the text?

I'll Tell You What We'll Do, We'll...Erm, I'll Get Back To You Sometime

"Hello, we'd like to know if you are poor"
Talk about tailoring your words for different audiences. Harriet Harman addressed the TUC Conference earlier today & declared that "the overarching influence in inequality was the issue of 'where you live, your family background, your wealth and social class'." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/sep/10/tradeunions.labour ).
And what does Harman propose in order to tackle the problem? A "National Equalities Panel".
Yes, a panel, which, the Guardian report states, will "undertake a year-long study to provide an 'authoritative' analysis of the gaps between rich and poor in the UK."
So after eleven years of the New Labour project, the answer to something which has been left to fester on their own watch is to appoint a panel of the usual middle class professionals to issue a report next year, which will then gather dust in a Whitehall storeroom.
And Brown still wonders why he's in for a kicking at the next election!

Not So Free Thinking

The Free Thinking festival makes a welcome return to Liverpool at the end of next month (31 October -- 2 November). Details are on the website (www.bbc.co.uk/freethinking ).
There's no shortage of "names" for the event. The writer Will Self will appear, as will David Puttnam, Stuart Maconie, Germaine Greer, Liam Fogarty (whose campaign for an executive mayor of Liverpool, http://www.amayorforliverpool.org/ , has been relatively muted recently) & Phil Redmond (who let him in?):
http://www.bbc.co.uk/liverpool/content/articles/2008/08/20/cap_cult_free_thinking_08_feature.shtml .
There is another speaker at the festival, someone whose presence could reignite bigotry & general malice in some parts of the city: Ian Paisley.
Yep, the bombastic bigot "will be discussing his writings, his faith and his long and often controversial political career", according to the blurb.
As I've mentioned before on this blog, Liverpool was once rent asunder by religious bigotry, particularly in the north end of the city. However, the post-war slum clearance programme greatly lessened it. Pockets of bigotry can still be found in the Everton district, but it isn't even a mere shadow of its former self. Paisley's presence in the city, however, could result in some pretty nasty confrontations.
I can understand the organisers of the Free Thinking festival in their stated remit to be challenging. However, inviting to the city a man who opposed civil rights for Northern Ireland's Catholic population is surely a step too far. You might as well invite Nick Griffin, too.
At this late stage the organisers should withdraw their invitation to Paisley

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Panic On Old Hall Street

Either the Liverpool Echo is regurgitating an old story (which wouldn't be a first), or it's starting to panic at local reaction to next year's transfer of its printing operation to Oldham. How else to account for Echo editor Alastair Machray's comments in Saturday's edition reappearing in today's paper (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2008/09/09/echo-editor-we-re-committed-to-this-city-100252-21709088/ )?
Actually, I suspect it's the latter, given the blurb at the top of the piece:
"EDITOR Alastair Machray today urged people to support the ECHO as it restructures for the future."
Given that the "restructuring" involves the loss of 100 jobs in the city the hostile response to the news is only to be expected. Expect the paper's circulation figure, currently just above 100,000, to take a significant hit because of the Oldham factor.
Loyalty is a two-way street, Alastair, as you'll soon discover.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Capitalist Conundrum

So let me see if I've got this right. Free market capitalism holds that you sink or swim in the marketplace; if you screw up, tough luck, buddy, you're on your own. They call it "moral hazard". Right, I think I understand.
But wait, what's this (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/sep/08/freddiemacandfanniemae.creditcrunch )?
David Pallister exposes the hypocrisy of Wall Street as it responds almost orgasmically to a State bailout which makes Nortern Rock look infintesimal by comparison:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2008/sep/08/mortgages.useconomy ).
Remember those homilies from the Right's apostles throughout the 80s about the evils of subsidies? If that meant miners, steelworkers, manufacturing staff, etc. faced not just hardship for their families, but their communities, too, well, too bad, that's capitalism.
Pallister notes that Barack Obama "received $1.6m [£900,000] in contributions from the two companies [Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac] in the current election cycle".
Given the bailout the US Treasury has sanctioned, isn't this money now tainted?
The very least the Obama campaign could do is return the money to the Treasury.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Echo Chamber

Alastair Machray, editor of the Liverpool Echo, is clearly feeling the heat over the decision to have the paper printed in Oldham from late 2009. Machray pens a piece in his paper today (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2008/09/06/echo-editor-why-we-ve-moved-printing-out-of-liverpool-100252-21685560/ ):
"Machray responded to criticism from some quarters yesterday -- including some from misinformed media pundits -- that the ECHO was effectively 'pulling out' of the city and heading to Manchester.
The article on the mediaguardian.co.uk site & the comments of bloggers obviously struck a nerve at Old Hall Street. Machray bellows:
"Some clots in the media have tried to portray this as a move to Manchester. Let me give them a basic geography lesson. Oldham is five miles from Manchester and no one in the town of Oldham would EVER say they were from Manchester."
Er, sorry, Alastair, but this blog, for one, didn't describe it as "a move to Manchester."
I described it as a move to Oldham, which just happens to be in Greater Manchester. The Guardian piece also specifically said Oldham. So, too, did the Press Gazette in its coverage of the story (http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=42040&c=1 ).
Get your facts straight, Alastair.
There's more third-rate guff & bluster from Machray as he desperately tries to reassure the normally docile element of the Echo's readership.
However, as the blustering continues, the contradictions in Machray's position become clearer:
"We've been here for 153 years -- and in that time we've provided thousands upon thousands of people with jobs. And that's the plan for the next 153 years."
Assuming there is a plan stretching through to 2161 for the Echo (highly unlikely, I'd say), it doesn't have a place for the 100 workers who stand to lose their jobs over the next 15 months.
Machray concludes his bombastic blusterings with a combination of the pathetic & the risible, professing hurt that the Echo's commitment to the city can be questioned, & that the paper has "played a part in Liverpool's extraordinary renaissance."
Really, Alastair? If that's true, its part must be microscopic.
FACT: Those aspects of 2008 which HAVE succeeded have mainly emanated from grassroots & community groups, from unsung musicians, writers, film-makers, etc. in the city. The local media & the third-rate "celebrities" they obsess over have played no genuinely useful role in it.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Speaking Up For Merseyside...From Greater Manchester

Local pride. The Liverpool Echo oozes it. Every year it has its "Scouseology" awards, a chance to highlight the city's people & also demonstrate the paper's commitment & loyalty to the city itself.
Er, right. Spike that. Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo, has decided to close its printing plant in the city at the end of 2009 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/sep/05/trinitymirror.pressandpublishing ).
Up to 100 jobs could be lost & newspaper publishing in Liverpool, which goes back to 1854, will come to an end.
The Liverpool titles will be printed in Oldham. Yes, Oldham. That's Oldham, Greater Manchester. Trinity Mirror say that the move will result in "reduced costs".
Really? What about the scores of delivery vans trundling 50 miles down the M62 at least twice a day? With the current price of petrol, it's difficult to work that one out. It also does nothing for Trinity Mirror's carbon footprint.
Some observers may say that it is another sign of regional newspapers' decline, & that, in the face of competition from TV, freesheets & the Web, it isn't so surprising. Perhaps.
However, this move, made by a firm which is one of the main corporate sponsors of Liverpool08, sits at complete variance with its much trumpeted parochial pride. In fact, it invokes hollow laughter. When you next come across an Echo puff-piece about Liverpool, remember that from the end of next year, you might just make out the words, "Printed in Oldham" at the base of the back page.

If It's Thursday, It Must Be Liverpool

Those of us who have long sussed this year of culture as, inter alia, a civic exercise in Bread & Circuses are not surprised by the hype surrounding the mechanical spider "crawling" the city centre's building. I've no wish to unduly endorse a philistine mindset, but it's difficult to see the cultural or artistic purpose of it. It's as devoid of meaning & substance as the risible Beatle Day in the city centre a month or so ago.
True, the spider did provide a fleeting image for the press when Gordon Brown made a brief stopover in town yesterday (loved the "Joke Box" photo-op, btw, Gordon, was that planned?), but it still leaves me cold.
Brown's visit gave rise to a nauseous confluence of bullshit from Downing Street & the Liverpool Echo (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2008/09/05/brown-says-city-is-on-forward-march-100252-21679039/ ).
The piece's author, Marc Waddington, must wonder why he went into journalism when he's obliged by his employers to churn out bilge like this. It's so craven in tone & "content" that it reminds me of those Tass & Pravda epistles during the Cold War. Brown's spiel for local consumption is dutifully related by Waddington &, boy, does it suck:
"The motto of Liverpool, 'You'll never walk alone' and the motto of Everton, 'Nothing but the best is good enough', show the support of Liverpool and the desire to aim high for the future."
It's the sort of meaningless cant which has been vomitted forth in Denver & St Paul over the last ten days.
Still, it is heartening to know that aiming high & looking to the future will get people through what Brown's Chancellor, Alastair Darling, has called the greatest economic slump for 60 years.
Isn't it?

Rewarding Sub-Prime Management

As ever, the Liverpool Echo lags behind the Liverpool Subculture blog in its story about Phil Halsall, director of finance at Liverpool City Council, receiving a £500,000 pay-off. The Echo is left to gormlessly recite the figures involved (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2008/09/05/liverpool-city-council-finance-chief-in-500-000-pay-off-100252-21681124/ ):
"Phil Halsall, who earns £180,000 a year, will be seconded to one of the city's joint venture partners, Enterprise plc, in October, before taking early retirement in April.
"Mr Halsall, 50, will receive an extra five years enhancement on his pension package worth around £420,000, and a lump sum of £80,000."
Isn't it nice to know that there's at least one person out there who won't be faced with a choice this winter of heating the house or buying the food?
Halsall, of course, follows Jason Harborow in securing a handsome pay-off at the expense of Liverpool's council tax payers ("Jase" pocketed almost a quarter of a million quid at the beginning of the year. The Echo's piece concludes:
"[Halsall's] deal includes a gagging clause and precludes Mr Halsall or the council talking about its terms."
Both parties may well have adopted a Trappist vow of silence, but, rest assured, the rest of us haven't.
With the pay-off Halsall is about to enjoy I wouldn't have thought there was any reason for the gagging order; the right offer can shut the most garrulous of gobs.
Tony Parrish informs us of a few more facts about Halsall which, for some unfathomable reason, don't make it into the Echo's piece (must have been lack of space):
"[Halsall] is a mate of Chas Cole, promoter of the Summer Pops.
"He gave more than £3 million of council tax payers' money to his mate Chas for the Summer Pops, breaking all council procurement rules.
"He went on holiday to New York with his mate Chas and his other mate, the rotweiller Dr David McIlhenney while signing the fat cheques for Chas.
"He went to the same school in Southport with his mate Chas and Colin Cover-Up --talk about the old school tie!
"His mate Chas gave Hasitall's son Liam a slot for his band 'Abe' as support to Status Quo at the Summer Pops --the band have since sunk without trace."
(http://liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/2008/09/cost-of-failure-for-hasitall.html )

[Then again, appearing on the same bill as Status Quo would be enough to sink any band!]

There's more in Tony's post which lifts the lid on the latest instance of civic corruption, incompetence, nepotism & mendacity which has so disfigured this supposed year of culture.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Fall From Grace

During the late 80s I tired of pop music. It was the age of formulaic Stock, Aitken & Waterman drivel. Those acts which still had something to say through their music were increasingly marginalised. Talking Heads were viewed as an afterthought by the then almighty controllers of BBC Radio 1's playlist. The Clash had collapsed largely due to Joe Strummer's ego. Costello wandered off into the fascinating, yet commercially suicidal world of Americana.
It was against such a background that I started to listen to Andy Kershaw's programme on Radio 1. Free from the constraints of the station's normal playlist, Kershaw was one of the pioneers of what was lazily termed World Music. Within a month or so his programme had become essential liostening for anyone who wanted to broaden their musical horizons.
Kershaw also wore his left-wing politics on his sleeve, but in a humorous rather than po-faced way.
In the last year Kershaw's private life has gone into freefall. The details are obviously no one else's business, but it's been saddening to see someone like Kershaw go through the mixer.
He opens up in today's Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/andy-kershaw-the-year-my-life-fell-apart-917948.html ).
It's to be hoped that things begin to improve for him. Right now, however, the situation is bleak.

Monday, September 01, 2008

What Would The Webbs Say?

I've mentioned on more than one occasion before that I'm wary of the term "citizen journalist" as an apellation for bloggers, the sterling efforts of Huffington Post, Firedoglake & Raw Story notwithstanding.
However, in his mediaguardian.co.uk Mediawatch blog on Friday, Roy Greenslade drew attention to the New Statesman's appeal to its readers for ideas on what issues should be investigated by the magazine (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/greenslade/2008/08/new_statesman_asks_readers_wha.html ).
I was astonished & clicked on the NS link in Greenslade's story (http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2008/08/british-investigation-party ) to find that yes, indeed, the "Staggers" was making such a bizarre & seemingly unnecessary request of its readers.
It's a sad state of affairs when a magazine which has, if nothing else, been highly regarded for its campaigning journalism over the decades resorts to such a cheap gimmick. It also seems to suggest that, unlike the Guardian, the NS is seriously rattled about the blogosphere.