Friday, November 28, 2008

A Gratuitous Beatle Post

What amused me about the article in L'Osservatore Romano "forgiving" John Lennon for his 1966 "bigger than Jesus" comments ( ) was that it perpetuated the misconceptions over the Beatle's remarks & overlooked the context in which the quote was made. Still, it's nice to see the Vatican keeping up to date with the pop world.
Meanwhile, the 60s cartoon series about the group (which met with intense irritation from the Fabs) once depicted them performing "Penny Lane" in their mop-top incarnation when that image had, of course, been shelved by the band. There's also a somewhat surreal, sunny depiction of Penny Lane itself; no bistro, no bus terminus, no 82 bus & no relentless traffic. As McCartney sang, "very strange": .

Culture Year's Unsung Hero

One of the things that caught my eye before everything came to an abrupt, juddering stop last week was this nice & well-merited profile of Phil Hayes in Liverpool Confidential: .
As Elvis Costello remarked in an interview with Word magazine earlier this year, Phil kept alive the flame of live music & the local music scene at a time when Thatcher was in her ruinous pomp & Liverpool was seen as Europe's biggest basket case. Despite the city council forcing the Picket's move from Hardman Street (to build luxury apartments, great timing, lads!), Phil's work continues apace; he is a genuine cultural ambassador for the city.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


My brother, sister & myself are coming to terms with our loss. Our mother's funeral took place yesterday. She was a proud & feisty 80 year-old Liverpool-Irish Catholic mother, strong in her faith & keen to stress her heritage. She hadn't been well for a couple of months & went into Fazakerly Hospital towards the end of October, feeling lethargic, breathless & weak. A recent bout of influenza had had a marked impact. After a week & a half, she was released & stayed at my sister's until Tuesday of last week when we rushed her back to the Hospital. Initially, she responded well to treatment. However, doctors had diagnosed an aneurysm by her heart. Its position made it inoperable. I visited her on Wednesday lunch-time; she was conscious & though a little bit woozy, was sufficiently alert to gossip about the other patients in her ward. Barely three hours later she succumbed to the aneurysm.
We took possession of her ashes today & I scattered them over the same area of the Garden of Rest cemetery in Thornton where my father's ashes were dispersed after his death nearly ten years ago.
I want to express my appreciation to the comments left on the last blog posting; thank you, professor, merci, Guillaume ( ).
Thank you also to the emails from Tony Karon ( ) & my good friend in New York, Philip Nadelman, who enclosed this poignant & beautiful Neil Young number: .
The music chosen for her funeral service reflected her faith, including a stirring version of "Faith of our Fathers" by John McCormick. However, the two numbers marking the beginning & end of the cremation service represented her love of swing, Country & early pop. Opening the ceremony was Hank Williams' "Half As Much" ( ), while the strains of Ricky Nelson's "Hello, Mary-Lou" ( ) marked the conclusion of the service.
There's a postscript: my brother & sister-in-law had a baby son last Saturday. I emailed Philip in New York to let him know & enclosed this Lennon number: .

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I won't be posting on the blog for a while. My mother died suddenly this evening.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Brick Dislodged Amid Poltical Posturing

In a week which has seen two horrendous & depressing cases involving the death of young children hit the national headlines, Bob Wareing, embattled Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, has decided to manufacture a cheap & tawdry story for the local media, while getting himself some easy, & uncritical, coverage as well.
The Daily Post reported last week on the fact that of the bricks in the Cavern wall on Matthew Street which have the names of all the acts that played at the club between 1957 & 1973, one had the name of Gary Glitter, once a glam-rock idol, now a rightly reviled pariah after his conviction for paedophilia in 2002. Bill Heckle, spokesman for both the club itself & the Cavern City Tours, made the sensible point ( ): "We made a conscious decision to leave the Gary Glitter brick where it was as we see the wall as more like an historical document than a tourist attraction.
"When the Gary Glitter story broke we immediately removed all memorabilia and photos of him from the club without consulting anyone, as we felt this was the right thing to do.
"But he appeared at the Cavern with his Glitter band and we cannot change the past. Their performance is part of Liverpool and its history.
There is no way we condone anything he has done and leaving the brick in the wall does not support him in any way."
Actually, Bill, the wall has become something of a feature on the Matthew Street tourist trail, but I take your point about its intended role. Moreover, your point about Glitter's performance being part of the city's history is a little crass, wouldn't you say?
Be that as it may, Heckle's position was a reasonable one. Which was when the Hon. Member for Liverpool West Derby waded in with his high-heel glam-rock boots: "The brick should be removed from the wall and destroyed.
"It is causing an outrage.
"Glitter should not be honoured. His name no longer reminds people about music, only the terrible crimes he committed."
Wareing added for good measure: "The council should exercise their power to pass a motion to have it removed."
The following day saw a volte face by the Cavern when they decided to remove the brick from the wall ( ).
The club's directors made their decision after consulting a victim of child abuse. However, Dave Jones, one of the directors, posed the valid question, why now? The brick had been there since 1997. In fact, if there is to be any consistency on a moral matter such as this, why stop at Glitter? The Rolling Stones performed at the Cavern in the early 60s. Twenty years' later, bassist Bill Wyman openly had a relationship with a 14 year-old girl. Last time I checked, the brick for Mick, Keef & co. was still there.
Within a further 24 hours things had moved on. The Daily Post, with a misleading headline for its piece, reported that "a plaque bearing the names of [Glitter & similarly disgraced media figure Jonathan King] went up on a window ledge next to the wall, highlighting the fact they had their bricks removed." ( ).
The whole unedifying episode was picked up by Simon h in his excellent No Rock and Roll Fun blog ( ):
"It is not to suggest that Glitter's behaviour is acceptable to leave his name in a historical roll-call; it's not as if he played the Cavern after his fall from grace, and Bob Wareing would presumably not feel comfortable if anyone went into [Picton] library on William Brown Street and removed any reference in back numbers of the Echo to the Glitter date. It doesn't help the victims, and it's unlikely to spare the misery of a single child in the future. The suspicion is that this is little more than a spot of easy news coverage for Wareing. I really thought he was better than that."
The depressingly prosaic reality is that Bob Wareing, hitherto seen (inaccurately, it should be said) as some sort of left-wing opponent of New Labour, battling attempts by the national party to have him deselected, spotted an opportunity to get his name in the local headlines, even though his rationale owed more to low political cunning than high-minded political priciple. I don't expect an MP to respond to every crime in his constituency, but it's striking that Wareing remained largely silent in the days & weeks following the murder of Rhys Jones. When the case was given national & international media coverage, the MP for the area concerned kept schtum. Wareing should take a long, hard look at himself.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What A Mandate For Change Really Means

It is possible to pen left-wing critiques of Barack Obama's policies without resorting to offensive stereotypes, as Ralph Nader did on election night. Two such pieces appeared on the Guardian's Comment is Free site last week.
Sasha Abramsky ( ) highlights an aspect of Obama's stated aim of instituting social reform which the centrists & free market wing of the Democrats would rather ignore, namely, that "broad social reform in America has always involved creating coalitions of interests. Unless [trade] unions are brought back into the dominant coalition, Obama's opportunities for durable social reform will be truncated."
Later on in his piece, Abramsky identifies the contribution labour unions have made, & continue to make, to US political culture. It could easily be transferred to this side of the Atlantic: "They educate ordinary people about how power works. They help people make intellectual connections, understanding the link between, say, the low cost goods sold by Wal-Mart and the low wages paid by Wal-Mart to its employees. In the same way Bush used the religious right to achieve an amplifier effect for his policies, so, too, should Obama be able to use organised labour."
Meanwhile, Naomi Klein ( ) urges Obama to ignore the usual convention of the President-elect, quietly biding his time before Inauguration Day, & act against Wall Street as soon as possible because of the global meltdown they've largely caused. She notes with disappointment the reticence so far shown by Obama's team. Klein asserts:
"I suspect the real reason the Democrats are failing to act has less to do with presidential protocol than with fear: that the stock market, which has the temperament of an overindulged two-year-old, will throw one of its world-shaking tantrums. Disclosing the truth about who is receiving federal loans, we are told, could cause the market to bet against those banks. Question the legality of equity deals, and the same thing will happen. Challenge the $140bn tax giveaway and mergers could fail."
Incidentally, it's amusing to witness the spectacle of US hedge fund managers, normally eager to wrap themselves in the Stars & Stripes, threaten a move to the UK, of all countries, if they're subject to the same rates of taxation as ordinary Americans & held to account via proper regulation ( ).
Klein declares:
"One thing we know for certain is that the market will react violently to anyone likely to impose serious regulation, invest in people and cut off the free money. In short, the markets can be relied on to vote in precisely the opposite way that Americans have just voted. (A recent poll found 60% strongly favour 'stricter regulations on financial institutions', while just 21% support aid to financial companies.)"
The message for Obama is crystal clear, Klein maintains. Strike while the iron is hot. Any prevarication in the face of Wall Street's infantile rage could disillusion the millions of first-time voters who turned out for Obama on November 4th.

Recession Is The Referee In This Game

Relocating Liverpool & Everton to new stadia isn't just a purely footballing question, it's a civic & economic one for Merseyside. Liverpool's proposed move to Stanley Park has been shelved for at least the duration of this recession. Even when the economy starts to improve (2010, 2011?) there is no guarantee that work will resume in the park. Everton's move to Kirkby has been referred to the Whitehall mandarins after objections to it were lodged by Liverpool City Council & Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council. The city council holds that two feasible sites within the city have not been fully considered by Everton & their proposed business partner in the scheme, Tesco. Sefton council fears the economic impact of a major retail development in neighbouring Knowsley, claiming it will adversely affect shops & businesses in its borough. As with Liverpool, Everton, too, face uncertainty over their ownership. Bill Kenwright, Everton's chairman, realises that his wealth alone is not sufficient if success is to be achieved.
It's against such an uncertain backdrop that a cold blast of icy economic reality was blown in last week. Keith Harris, who has helped arrange the takeover of five Premier League clubs, admits he's made "no progress at all" in his search for a new owner at Goodison Park ( ).
David Conn, whose previous articles on club ownership have shed much-needed light on the topic, quotes Harris:
"The demographics of Liverpool as a city are not hugely compelling [ ]. It is not a very wealthy city. Everton share the city with another club which arguably has been in the vanguard for the last decade, and they both have a stadium to build. So the economics need a lot of looking at."
The question of a shared stadium is not directly addressed by Harris. However, the implications are glaringly obvious.
The situation across Stanley Park has now been well-documented. The £350m loans which Hicks & Gillette took out with RBS & Wachovia (both effectively crippled by the banking meltdown) are due for repayment in January. Conn observes:
"Harris questioned whether the two banks...would want to keep lending Liverpool the money rather than call the loan in. He argued that it was likely to be difficult for the club to raise cash or new investment for equity in the club if they could not borrow the money elsewhere.
" 'The one that worries me is Liverpool,' Harris concluded. 'The banks are two of those that have suffered, so whether they want to lend again or not, they may not be able to. What normally happens in business, if the banks won't finance, you have to raise equity.'
"However, he suggested that even if Liverpool cannot raise significant cash to repay or reduce their borrowings, and the banks are not happy about remaining exposed to the tune of £350m, they would probably find a solution because of the prestige and high public profile of the Anfield club. 'If they cannot find equity,' Harris mused, 'well, it's a brave banker that would repossess Liverpool Football Club.' "
That's the only saving grace for Liverpool FC...for the time being at least. If the recession's severity intensifies beyond most forecasts, however, reaction to such a possibility, even among local supporters, may not be so adverse.
Harris also pops up in the Independent where he does confront the shared stadium issue ( ).
His message is clear: the only way forward for both clubs is to share a new stadium. The economic reality that is kicking in with the current climate doesn't, however, seem to be registering with those who should be attuned to the changed times. Liverpool FC Chief Executive Rick Parry "reiterated recently he does not see it as the way ahead. 'Groundshare is not back on the agenda. It's a case of delay while things settle down,' he said. How long that remains the case seems dependent on whether Hicks and Gillette manage to sell, before or after the January date on which their loan arrangements expire."
Notwithstanding Harris' rose-tinted view of the rivalry between Liverpool & Everton fans ("My impression from going to Liverpool -- and I've been to both grounds many times -- is that the fans there may have a bit of banter, but there isn't that in-built hatred."), the shared stadium option is now gaining legs simply because the economics of it are unanswerable. Parry's pathetic holding statement attempts to depict the present situation as no more than a temporary blip rather than the most severe economic slump since the 30s.

An Awful Audit

There's still no word of the final decision by the Standards Board over the activities of Warren Bradley & Mike Storey. Both, you may recall, have come under scrutiny for their treatment of Jason Harborow (Jase isn't normally a worthy recipient of sympathy, but he was, apparently, shafted by the Lib Dem duo) & Lee Forde (formerly events manager for the Matthew Street festival).
However, the Oldham Echo, as usual, lags way behind Tony Parrish's Liverpool SubCulture blog in cottoning on to the shambolic state of affairs in the council ( ).
The internal investigation unearths a litany of instances where personal data, expenses & income for the council have been unclaimed or not persued. An alarming aspect is that the investigation covers just one quarter of council departments.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Take Two

Dontcha just love wrong links? .

Everything's Coming Up Roses For Me & For You

Welcome to the world inhabited by the Oldham Echo, where 2008 has been an unqualified success, where Liverpool has been the envy of the planet over the last year, & where the city's future is just hunky-dory, credit crunch or no credit crunch. Indeed, culture year will enable the city to "survive the credit crunch". Yes, really ( ).
Citing a report called the Crane Survey, issued by property consultant Drivers Jonas, Neil Hodgson's article trills that it "highlights successes this year such as Liverpool One, which cost £1bn but has so far attracted 33% more shoppers to the city and inspired projects like the £100m development of St John's shopping centre."
There's no mention of how the Liverpool One behemoth has sucked so much business away from the Church Street & Bold Street thoroughfares. The article also begs the question, has Liverpool One really "inspired" the refurbishment of St John's market? It may have been a response to Liverpool One, but that is not to say it was "inspired". There is a difference, Neil.
Hodgson's piece breezes on merrily:
"[The report] highlights six key areas, including the £1bn 'knowledge economy', which provides 14,000 science-based jobs and should create a further 7,000 in the next decade.
"It also mentions culture and the arts; creative industries; the port and airport, which are bidding for 'superport' status for the city; professional and financial services; and shopping and tourism."
The key word in the first paragraph of that quote is "should".
You may also notice that Hodgson doesn't go into specifics about those sectors. In addition, the granting of "superport" status for the Port of Liverpool & Liverpool John Lennon Airport is not "for the city". The status is for the business itself. The city is very much a secondary, perhaps even tertiary, consideration.
Still, we can't let the details get in the way of yet another nauseous Echo puff-piece, can we?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pressing The Self-Destruct Button

During the summer I commended Ralph Nader's campaign & policies, noting that they seemed more progressive than those persued & articulated by Barack Obama ( ).
Fast forward to a little before 6.00am GMT last Wednesday morning. Obama was shortly to give his victory speech before 200,000 people in Chicago. It was at that point that Nader committed political suicide on, of all stations, Fox News: .
The credibility & reputation Nader had built up over decades was wiped out, not just by his incredibly insulting "Uncle Tom" remark, but by his truculent, unapologetic demeanour in the brief exchange with his interviewer.
Despite the fact that hardly any Obama supporters would watch Fox, & certainly not at a time like that, word inevitably got round in the days afterwards. Whitney Leigh, an African-American attorney based in San Francisco, but originally from Chicago, penned a dignified & eloquent response on the Huffington Post the following day ( ).
There's certainly a case to be made for a left-wing critique of an Obama presidency, as Seumas Milne did in the Guardian a couple of weeks' ago. If that was Nader's aim, it's been lost because of the unbelievably offensive term he used.
By way of a subsidiary point, there's a strong response to a piece on the subject from David T. on Harry's Place ( ).
It rightly calls to attention to Nader's comment. Unfortunately, however, it also takes umbrage at Hardy Drew and The Nancy Boys' "There's No One as Irish as Barack Obama".
Lighten up, David. Nader was completely out of order; the Obama song is ironic humour. It would be a pity if this distasteful episode, which surely marks the end of Ralph Nader's role in US politics, obscured us to that.


Tony Barrett, dedicated Liverpool FC correspondent for the Echo, rightly criticises both the BBC & the Guardian for viewing Kelvin MacKenzie as some sort of sage on the Ross/Brand/Sachs affair ( ).
Not only did BBC News have a brief clip of MacKenzie's, ahem, thoughts on the matter, the Guardian's Emily Bell cited him as someone with experience of heading a large organisation who recognised the mistake he made & acted on it. Er, sorry, Emily, but MacKenzie is still unrepentant about his Hillsborough lies; I would have thought you knew that. That's why the circulation figures for the sorry rag which still employs MacKenzie as a columnist sank like a stone on Merseyside & never recovered.

A Taxing Time For Local Papers?

A good deal of adverse comment greets the suggestion by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger that the crisis facing local newspapers be addressed by some form of subsidy from public funds ( ).
He asks, "Is there any reason why local newspapers -- whether in print, on broadband or broadcast -- shouldn't compete with the broadcasters for some form of subsidy in return for providing the public service of keeping a community informed about itself?"
Is Rusbridger advocating a subsidy for the likes of the Oldham Echo? If so, would it come out of the licence fee, or would it be an additional subsidy? Either way, it would be politically unacceptable.
Rusbridger sketches out the latest Ofcom proposals for partnerships between local papers & TV & online broadcasters (BBC?) which may be feasible, but the funding issue is still key.
However, he throws another hand grenade into the arena when he ponders:
"The present competition restrictions might be reviewed, with the Office of Fair Trading being asked to consider whether newspapers are a distinct economic market, or part of a wider information ecology. There would be greater opportunity for cross-promotion and the possibility of additional funding from regional development agencies and local authorities."
Regional Development Agencies take their money from central government, ie., the taxpayer. Councils receive a portion of their revenue from Council Tax. On both fronts, there would be strong opposition, & rightly so, to the notion that local papers, which happily accept advertising revenue already, should be effectively bailed out.
Rusbridger refers to Michael Lyons' speech last month ( ), commenting that some hacks on local papers recognised the merit in his comments.
Reaction to Rusbridger's article is, not surprisingly, largely hostile in the comments section (with a contribution from yours truly). Roy Greenslade is equally sceptical of Rusbridger's proposals ( ).
Indeed, the arguments put forward by the Guardian's editor would seem to be further undermined by what amounts to a crib sheet in Media Week for advertisers on the merits of placing advertisements in the re-launched Echo ( ):
"Since being founded 127 years ago, the Echo has represented the voice of Liverpool and reflected the community it serves. The new look should build on this brand strength."
Voice of Liverpool? Reflective of the community it serves? At a time when it faces a reader boycott over the move to Oldham, resulting in the loss of up to 100 jobs? Someone at Media Week really should have done their homework. Indeed, its piece is contradictory, as it concludes:
"The loyalty of readership is not in doubt, but now advertisers are being offered a fresh new-look newspaper that may improve the diversity of the audience."
If the Echo's voice has reflected Merseyside in its entirety, why is there still scope "to improve the diversity of the audience"?
Advertising revenue appears not to be imperilled at the Echo. As for circulation figures, that's another question entirely.

Monday, November 10, 2008

From Kenya To Kilkenny

I suppose it was inevitable that Obama would soon be claimed by the Irish as one of their own: .

It's All In The Mind

Two articles over the weekend, on different sides of the Atlantic, stress an aspect of the US election result which most of the networks & press unsurprisingly ignored or downplayed.
Jonathan Raban ( ) celebrates the fact that Obama is an intellectual.
[He must be the first US politician since the 19th century to quote Latin in his speeches, as he did at the Democrats' convention in 2004, & not be howled down or treated like a freak ( ).]
Raban relates, "At the University of Chicago, he taught constitutional law, the most demanding and far-reaching area of study in US law schools. He names Philip Roth and EL Doctorow among his favourite living writers."
Raban highlights Obama's rigorous academic approach to any given topic, enabling him to develop & articulate a flexibility of thought which is par for the course in academia, but truly mind-blowing in modern US politics:
"The unique contradictions and messinesses of his own childhood made him an empiricist by instinct, finding a path for himself by testing his footing each step of the way. His education at Columbia and Harvard made him an empiricist by training. As a law professor at Chicago, he pressed his students to adopt contrarian views while playing his own opinions close to his chest. In July this year, the New York Times reported:
'Obama liked to provoke. He wanted his charges to try arguing that life was better under segregation, that black people were better athletes than white ones. "I remember thinking, 'You're offending my liberal instincts,' " a former student remembered.' "
The counterfactual argument in history is often a meaningless academic exercise. However, when applied to specific & emotive issues, it carries a moral & intellectual resonance, augmenting the case for progressive causes.
Nicholas D. Kristof pens what turns out to be a welcome accompanying piece to Raban's article in the New York Times ( ):
"We can't solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth."
Kristof lists some fascinating, yet almost forgotten facts about early US presidents:
"James Garfield could simutaneously write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other, Thomas Jefferson was a dazzling scholar and inventor, and John Adams typically carried a book of poetry. Yet all were outclassed by George Washington, who was among the least intellectual of our early presidents."
Last time I heard, George W. Bush was making good progress with his English.

Political Pygmies

Watching British political figures desperately claim a connection, however tenuous or fictitious, in the last few days to Obama's win has been a spectacle of almost Lilliputian absurdity. What should alarm most MPs in Westminster is the sudden realisation among their constituents that they are represented by a class of people whose mediocrity is laid bare by last week's events. (The great Gill Scott-Heron was wrong: the revolution HAS been televised.)
In Saturday's Guardian, Marina Hyde dissected the changed mood ( ):
"As they watched Barack Obama's inspiring acceptance speech this week, one wonders how many politicians, and even ex-politicians, experienced a similarly sobering, gut-sinking sense if not of their own inadequacy in the face of the gold standard, then at least in the manner in which the public discourse has been allowed to bump along at the level of the banal and unedifying for what suddenly seems so long."
Gordon, Dave, Nick, give it up, will you?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Apathy: It's All The Bloggers' Fault

Labour minister Hazel Blears is the sort of New Labour cheerleader who blithely disregards the traditions of Old Labour; the Blair Project's disdain for the old ways, as well as the old policies, discouraged activism. Blears' sense of timing is particularly ill-judged with her address to the Hansard Society this week ( ).
In a week that has shown the potential for mass re-engagement with civic & political life, she completely misreads the changed mood in the UK &, indeed, the rest of Europe.
Blears correctly notes that the idea that there was a golden age of mass participation in politics is a myth. Even in pre-war Britain, those active in trades unions & political parties were in a minority in the working & middle classes. More questionably, though, she includes the Chartists & the Suffragettes in her assertion. However, the main body of her address is a fairly typical example of of New Labour's exasperation with a print & broadcast media which is no longer pliant, as it was following Blair's 1997 win.
She complains that "in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as cabinet ministers."
True, there has been a diminution in the level of investigative journalism, even in the "quality" press, but that, surely, would be greeted with relief in New Labour circles. Also, is Blears inferring that the views of cabinet ministers are more valid than those of others, be they commentators or otherwise? There is the concomitant contention that columnists & commentators can often articulate the thoughts of many voters when the government is seen to be out of touch with ordinary people.
Blears concludes by stumbling into an intellectual minefield:
"This brings me to the role of political bloggers. Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a Samizdat style. The most popular blogs are right-wing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?
"There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.
"Unless and until political blogging adds value to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair."
First of all, most political blogs tend towards a Samizdat appearance & content because of the mainstream media's shortcomings; it isn't just the seeming retreat from investigative journalism, it's also the cosy collusion in off-the-record & unattributable briefings. Virtually all the revelations now coming out about Sarah Palin were known to the media during the campaign. However, the reporters & editors decided to keep their readers & viewers in the dark.
Blears' observations on Iain Dale ( ) & Guido Fawkes ( ) may be true (although both are also popular both for their opposition to New Labour & their concise, punchy style of delivery, particularly Guido). However, Blears must surely be aware of the left-of-centre blogs, such as Liberal Conspiracy ( ) & Recess Monkey ( ).
As for her description of blogs written by local councillors as "informative and entertaining", I presume Blears is referring to those servile missives scrawled by councillors from all the main parties. I won't link to them because they are a waste of cyberspace (although a blog written by Councillor Gordon Friel could be an entertaining read) ; MPs also blog, of course & one such example is that written by the former junior transport minister, Tom Harris ( ). Harris famously mused on his blog earlier this year why people were "so bloody miserable" when the first signs of the recession were starting to bite.
In addition, the contention that political blogs show a "disdain" for the system is fatuous in the extreme. Politicians may well get it in the neck from the blogosphere, but they can't complain about such online scrutiny, it goes with the territory. Blears can't have it both ways: because the mainstream media has lessened its coverage of issues which demand investigative journalism, bloggers are perfectly entitled to see their role as "unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy."
There is also nothing to stop "new and disparate voices" making themselves heard in cyberspace, that what blogging is all about. The idea that the blogosphere is somehow conspiring to prevent diverse opinions from being expressed is one of the most absurd claims I've ever heard from any politician. Anyone can set up their own blog, maybe Blears should try it. Then again, maybe not. Moreover, the blogs do "add value" to political discourse by virtue of their refusal to follow the MSM's agenda.
It is politicos like Blears, with their culture of spin, obfuscation, secrecy & evasion who "fuel a culture of cynicism and despair", not the bloggers.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


The link I gave for the Daily Post story on Councillor Friel was broken. Here it is: .
Blame it on the booze.

In Vino Veritas?

Following the movement of the tectonic plates on Tuesday, the bathos is supplied by Councillor Gordon Friel, Labour representative for Linacre Ward in Bootle. Obama's slogan may have been Yes, We Can; Councillor Friel's appears to be Yes, I Can...have a skinful & return to tell some people what I really think of them ( ).
Friel was, note the past tense, vice-chairman of the Mersey Port Health Authority, which deals with health & safety issues at the city's port & Liverpool John Lennon Airport. He attended a meeting of the body in Manchester in September. However, the Post relates that "after an evening drinking session he returned to his hotel and became embroiled in a row with fellow delegates and hotel staff."
After which, there was no option for Councillor Friel but to tender his resignation.
Alas, it may not end there for the councillor . There is the possibility of some form of sanction after his "tired & emotional" outburst. Mike Young, executive secretary of the MPHA, muses, "There's a question really -- he has resigned, is that sufficient? The question's about the councillors' code of conduct -- should we be making a formal complaint about him?"
Councillor Friel has another appointment to a body outside Sefton Council. He is a member of the North Western and North Wales Fisheries Committee ( ).
Please feel free to think of your own "drinks like a fish" joke.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes He Did

Yes, it does seem extraordinary. When history is made in front of a global audience, all you can do is sit back for a moment & savour it. By far the most affecting image was that of Jesse Jackson in the Chicago crowd.
The BBC's coverage was exemplary, save for the amiable bumbling of David Dimbleby. Christopher Hitchens was in particularly excoriating form on the Republicans, although the double act of Simon Schama & John Bolton was memorable; Schama's quote about McCain being the bull & Obama being the matador should be YouTubed.
Meanwhile, the local media have dug up the most tenuous of links between Obama & Liverpool ( ).
Far more germane to Obama's seismic achievement is the Slave Trade which transformed & enriched the Port of Liverpool beyond all recognition.
Timing is crucial in political engagement, & the arrival of Jesse Jackson at Edge Hill University, near Ormskirk, next month couldn't be more apposite ( ).
The lecture takes place on Monday 1st December. Tickets are free. Phone 01695 65089, or email .

When The Circus Leaves Town

How Liverpool follows its year in the spotlight has long been anticipated. However, widespread suspicion will greet the setting up of a culture department within the city council ( ):
"The department, which will have a team of up to 25, will replace Liverpool Culture Company which will be wound down between January and June next year."
Aside from the thought that a "culture department" sounds Stalinist & bureaucratic, it could be argued that following the incompetence, nepotism & corruption which has disfigured the city's year of culture, the city council shouldn't be allowed anywhere near future cultural projects in the city.
There's also the issue of money:
"On Friday, city leaders will consider a proposal to maintain culture spending at 2008 levels for the next two years. It would mean investing £4.1m a year in 2009-10."
As the recession hits Liverpool, such a financial commitment will seem, at the very least, incongruous.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

You're Embarrassed, George? We're Furious!

Partners no more?

George Gillett seems to be tiring of Liverpool Football Club. The co-owner's attention has now turned to business opportunities in India, very much an emerging market in sports business ( ).
The Independent's report also states:
"[Gillett] did not say how long he intends to remain at Anfield, with or without co-owner Tom Hicks. 'You feel a responsibility and an embarrassment on occasions when you haven't provided all you might have,' Gillett said. 'There's a level of embarrassment and you want to correct it quickly.' "
Feeling embarrassed is all very well, George, but the fans simply want to see the back of you & your Texan buddy; on a night when one unpopular Texan is replaced, it would be nice to think that another will shortly take his leave.

Futility & Fantasy

It's worth wheeling out Geoffrey Howe's quote from 1981 that the then Tory government's policy on Merseyside should be one of "managed decline". The reason for doing so is that Cameron's Tories are trying to attract university students in Liverpool, or so the Daily Post claims ( ).
"Neil Wilson, Conservative Future's area chairman for Merseyside, said: 'It's about involving young people in politics in a city where they are starting to look around them and wonder just what the Lib-Dems and Labour have really done for them.' "
Wilson's clumsy syntax aside, it doesn't really work as a rallying call for the Cameroons, does it? Er, hi, guys, do you, erm, want to, you know, talk about the council and stuff? Cue a dismissive shrug of many a shoulder.
The Tories claim to have recruited some students, but it's worth noting that at least half those at uni won't stay in the city after graduation. Therefore it seems that pitching an appeal to the city's students as a way of rebuilding their moribund base in Liverpool is inherently flawed.
Moreover, Wilson may want students to consider the record of the Lib-Dems & Labour, but they only have to ask their parents & grandparents about the Tories to get a rounded picture, particularly those from Merseyside.
The article also quotes Chris Grayling, the Tories' "shadow minister for Merseyside", as he's risibly described by Tory central office. He enthuses:
"I've always said winning seats in Liverpool is a long-haul task, but the situation is beginning to change.
"In Woolton, we reduced the Lib-Dem majority from 1,200 to 500."
This is whistling in the wind stuff, isn't it, Chris? Cameron may well appeal to people in Woolton, but only because it is the most affluent part of the city. There may be one or two other middle class pockets of support in the south end of the city (Mossley Hill, Allerton, perhaps), but that won't be sufficient to significantly increase the Tory vote in the city. As for the chances of actually winning a seat in any Liverpool seat, dream on.
Cameron will probably win the next election (expect Crosby, or Sefton Central, as it will be known, to go Tory), but the Liverpool seats will remain generally unchanged.

Eyes On The Prize

Guillaume provides some intriguing background information in response to my post about the Sarah Palin prank call from "Sarko", aka Marc-Antoine Audette. Merci, Guillaume.
Meanwhile, the day has finally arrived across the pond. Anticipating the right result, I present the real US national anthem: .

Monday, November 03, 2008


Ma connaissance fine, Guillaume, who writes the Vraie Fiction blog ( ) may be more familiar with the oeuvre of French-Canadian comedian Marc-Antoine Audette, who phoned Sarah Palin, claiming to be Nicholas Sarkozy, confirmed McCain's running mate to be every bit the gullible reactionary she really is ( ).
Suzanne Goldenberg's report contains this gem:
"Palin, evidently thrilled to take what she had been told by aides was a call from the French leader, told the faux Sarkozy within a matter of seconds that she loved him. She did her best to keep that love alive, even when the conversation took an increasingly bizarre turn. When her caller pointed out that the two have a lot in common 'except from my house I can see Belgium', Palin cheerfully responded: 'Well, see, we're right next door to different countries that we all need to be working with.' "
It's easy to laugh, but just think, within the next 36 hours this woman could become the US Vice-President.

Civic Chaos: A Case Study

Fresh from the farce over the McCartney concert, Liverpool City Council has again demonstrated its ability to look after the city's coffers responsibly. A final settlement has been reached on the court case involving the council & Bill Davies' Walton Group, &, guess what, Davies has walked away with a cool £2m in his pocket, courtesy of the city's civic comedians ( ):
"The Daily Post can reveal Liverpool's taxpayers will end up paying 80 times the £25,000 which Mr Davies's Walton Group paid the council in 1996 for a disputed option to develop Chavasse Park."
Some background detail is necessary here. Davies took out an option on the Chavasse Park site if the council's plan for the area, a "National Discovery Centre", set to mark the millenium, fell through. It did, of course. Davies set about devising his own plans for the site, a major shopping complex, employing architects to draw up plans. However, in 2002, the council went to court to win the right to allow Grosvenor to build the Liverpool One development on the land.
It's worth recalling that Davies' Walton Group owned a number of properties in the city centre which had been allowed to fall into disrepair & neglect, one such property being the old Post Office site in Whitechapel. The local media's attempts to interview Davies were always rebuffed, creating the image of the Walton Group as secretive & unconcerned about the city's regeneration. The reality was & is more prosaic: Davies is a hard-headed businessman who bided his time, knowing that the council's negotiating team was no match for his retinue of assiduous lawyers. Davies also owned the Aintree racecourse at a time when the future of the Grand National was seriously questioned.
The Daily Post article dredges up some pretty embarassing memories for the city fathers:
"Back in September 2005 the council pledged to 'strenuously' resist Walton's demand.
"Cllr Mike Storey, then leader of the council, said at the time: 'The Walton Group has become a byword for inactivity and failure to help the regeneration of this city. I think the people of Liverpool will be shocked at the sheer cheek of this claim.'
"It is understood the council had set aside £1m to fight a court case which was due to start in January 2009.
"Sources said the council had been sure it had a 'water tight' case. However, this opinion seems to have changed given the level of the pay-out."
To paraphrase Mike Storey, I think the people of Liverpool will be shocked at the inept, inattentive & spineless way in which the council has capitulated to Davies, costing the city dearly.

Hidden Agenda

So where do I stand on the Brand/Ross/Sachs saga? Well, to get it out of the way before anyone thinks I condone what happened, it was puerile, immature & reprehensible; if it had happened in any other workplace than the BBC, Brand & Ross would have been dismissed.
OK, now for the story behind the story. In the immediate aftermath of the programme's transmission, there were just two complaints. It was when the Mail on Sunday led with the affair last weekend that the number of complaints to the BBC rose exponentially (the current figure is 37,000, according to today's Guardian).
Both the MoS & the Daily Mail, of course, have their own agenda when it comes to anything involving the Beeb. They don't like it. They don't want it. In an ideal Daily Mail world, there wouldn't be a BBC; the Corporation can be everything the Mail could never be: enlightening, educative, innovative, diverse, open-minded, catholic, informative, stimulating & authoritative.
Marina Hyde's take on the (p)rank phone calls & the Mail's synthetic rage, noting that the rag directs none of its ire at the bankers for the credit crunch (a far bigger journalistic case, wouldn't you say?), brings some sanity & perspective to the whole debate ( ).
As Hyde points out, the BBC is "more responsive to public opinion" than any other institution in the UK.
There's an interesting contrast provided by Anton Vowl on the Liberal Conspiracy website between the BBC's method of dealing with complaints & the way in which the Daily Mail handles them ( ).
To sum up, the Mail foments prejudice, the BBC helps to dispel it. As for Jonathan Ross, a P45 is the answer.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Studs Terkel

A true giant in US journalism, Studs Terkel, died on Friday ( ).
It's worth recalling the inspirational & moving interview he gave to Stephen Sackur on the BBC Hardtalk programme last February: .
The US mainstream media didn't know how to handle Studs. Not surprising when you consider that, unlike the execrable Sarah Palin, Studs was a true maverick.

Marketing: The Art Of Making A Turd Look Like A Ruby

Pete Price's ire at the blog which claims to be written by him would be a lot easier to understand if he didn't appeal to the lowest common denominator on his radio show. For those of you who haven't had the dubious pleasure of hearing it, it rapidly descends into a shouting match between Price & callers who are either drunk, or not quite there, if you get my drift. The topics, ahem, discussed on the programme are the sort of stories to be found in the tabloids & daytime TV. Price's presentational style makes Russell Brand sound like Alastair Cooke. The station which employs Price has now launched a new advertising campaign ( ).
The campaign quotes Price declaring, "bring back national service for all scumbags". Such original, nay, Socratic pronouncements are presumably intended to attract more listeners.
How-Do's article quotes the station's marketing manager Suzanne Grant. Believe me, it's management bollockese with an extra layer of bullshit slapped on:
"This new wave of creative reinvigorates what has already been out and about across the city since the launch in January.
"We've kept the presenters' opinionated quotes, which reflect the style of their show and perhaps pushed them a little further this time."
Apart from Grant's poor use of the English language, the notion that promoting the imbecilic emissions from local shock jocks with rampaging egos is "creative" makes me wonder if she's ever consulted a dictionary.
Oh, by the way, Pete, good luck in your search for the mystery blogger.