Saturday, January 31, 2009

Climate Change Denial

The debate about the third runway at Heathrow Airport is naturally receiving a great deal of attention from the London-based media. Its wider ramifications, however, should be followed by those of us outside the M25.
Wednesday's vote in the Commons saw the government's majority slashed to just 19 ( ).
Most of the Labour rebels, listed by the Guardian report, represent constituencies already under Heathrow's flightpath. However, there were also some Labour MPs representing seats in the Midlands & northern England who voted against this latest act of environmental terrorism (for that's what it is). Credit to them, whose ranks included Walton's Peter Kilfoyle. This blog hasn't always been favourably inclined to the Honourable Member for Liverpool Walton, but it's nice to see that, at least on this issue, he has sided with the unarguable contention that adding to London's air traffic is tantamount to state-sanctioned insanity.
The other local MPs seem to have been either conspicuous by their absence from the Chamber, or happy to act as New Labour's lobby fodder.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pot, Kettle, Black?

It's always a refreshing change when the Oldham Echo's columnists actually have something to say which is relevant to current events. So it's nice to see Susan Lee take a break from her usual ersatz Glenda Slagg scribblings & criticise the management of Shop Direct for its handling of its Crosby plant closure (http://www./ ).
Lee begins her column by noting:
"You can tell a great deal about a company by the way it treats its workforce."
Too true, Susan, indeed you can. So presumably you'll be similarly critical of the decision by Trinity Mirror, proprietor of the Echo, to move the paper's printing operations to Oldham with the loss of up to 100 jobs, won't you? I look forward to next week's column in which you'll doubtless make those points.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Democracy In Action

As a local wag remarked recently, local democracy doesn't always go with local government. Take Sefton Council where officers have drawn up a new protocol for media interviews on council matters ( ):
"The protocol was drafted for councillors and officers, and a report proposing its adoption is likely to be discussed at a meeting on February 26.
"A large part of it deals with commenting on confidential reports, stating these reports, which are printed on green paper, contain exempt information which must not be disclosed.
"But another section -- the one which has angered Lib Dem councillors -- sets out rules for commenting on non-confidential information.
"It states: 'Media statements on cabinet decisions will only be made by the appropriate cabinet member, their deputy, the leader or deputy leaders of the council or issued on behalf of the entire cabinet.'
"It adds: 'Interviews on cabinet decisions will only be given by the appropriate cabinet member, their deputy or the council leader'. "
Not surprisingly, the Lib Dems are up in arms; the protocol seems to value freedom of expression so much that it would preserve it in an enclosed space, away from the prying eyes & fevered attention of your average elected representative. It's an approach shared by like-minded champions of free speech such as Mugabe, Putin, et al.
There is, however, a bit of hyperbole in the Lib Dems' response (invoking the First Amendment of the US Constitution may not be entirely germane to Sefton's affairs).
Council officers are either rowing back frantically when quizzed by the Echo's scribe, or flatly contradicting themselves; a spokesman for the council tells the paper that "individual councillors would still be able to express their views to the media if they wish -- as long as it was clear it was not the official council line."
Yes, difficult to distinguish that one, wouldn't you say? A local councillor representing his or her ward dashes off a press release regarding a cabinet decision to, say, the Crosby Herald could be construed to be speaking for the entire council.
Anyone wishing to become an officer at Sefton Council should be aware that they need to undergo a lobotomy prior to beginning their work.

When Ignorance Isn't Bliss

Local civic hubris has taken another uppercut to the jaw with the news that a developer behind one of the superfluous high-rise developments overlooking the Mersey has gone bust ( ):
"The developer behind £35m luxury high-rise flats on Liverpool's waterfront has been put into administration.
"The 26-storey 201-unit Alexandra Tower was completed last year on the city's riverside Princes Dock.
"But as the housing and property slump continues, 147 of the flats remain unsold."
However, don't let this icy blast of economic reality deter the Oldham Echo & the city council from claiming that Liverpool can remain immune from the recession. No siree, we can't have any negative talk pricking their bubble of parochial illusion, can we?

When Unemployment Hits Home

Daily reports about the parlous state of the economy can be a little like those brief accounts of foreign conflicts, something removed from your own experience & of which you know little. That is until it affects someone in your own family. Shop Direct, formerly known as Littlewoods in Crosby, is to close with the loss of over 1,000 jobs ( ). My sister is one of those affected.
Management say the closure is ascribed to the exponential increase in online shopping rather than the recession. That is, of course, no consolation to the staff, most of whom, like my sister, are working mothers. Local MP Claire Curtis-Thomas is busying herself with updated missives to the local media on supposed initiatives to minimise the job losses. The reality, however, is that the local economy will take a catastrophic hit. Unlike most other areas of Merseyside, Crosby got off relatively lightly during the last major recession in the early 80s; this news affects a whole generation of staff with little or no experience of unemployment.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Received Pronunciation Or Reviving Prejudice?

Beryl's at it again. Beryl Brainbridge, that is. This time last year she poured scorn on the city of Liverpool in a Guardian Comment is Free piece, claiming that both the city & its people were a lost cause culturally; the rot set in, our Beryl tutted with the arrival of the Beatles & their vulgarisation of the Scouse accent. Now, from the safety of her Hampstead abode, where she may still live on a diet of fry-ups & fags while keeping "a stuffed man with a Hitler moustache in her bedroom" ( ), she launches a fresh salvo, this time focusing on the accent itself ( ).
It is, of course, true that many people on Merseyside accentuate the local accent to the point of unwitting caricature; I work with some of them. However, for Bainbridge to suggest, you'll love this, by the way, that all Scousers should undertake elocution lessons strikes me as a truly Pythonesque premise; it's up there with (Nice, But Dim) Tim Leunig's proposal that we all move to Oxford, Cambridge & London.
Venting his bile in the wake of Bainbridge's CiF piece last year, Edward Pearce, weighed in, echoing her petty self-loathing, middle-class prejudice. The reaction from commenters, myself included, left Pearce limping from the fray to lick his wounds. However, like the Bourbons, Pearce is one who fails to learn from previous follies. He's back, again using Bainbridge's latest mutterings to have a dig at regional accents per se ( ).
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to intone the words "how now brown cow" until all trace of my accent has gone.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hands Across The Water?

I suspected it wouldn't be long before local councillors jumped on the Obama bandwagon, &, sure enough, it was less than 24 hours after the Inauguration that the local Liliputians began to act like crazed autograph hunters outside the Stage Door ( ).
On what was presumably a slow news day for Marc Waddington, he writes:
"City leaders hope President Obama will take the opportunity to see first hand the role Liverpool played in the slave trade and its abolition.
"It is also hoped the 44th president's own family connection to Merseyside will be a draw.
"His great, great grandfather, Irishman Falmouth Kearney, sailed from Liverpool to the USA in 1850, looking for a better life.
"Lord Mayor Cllr Steve Rotheram said the USA owed much of its history to Liverpool."
There's more of this self-serving crap in Waddington's piece.
OK, let's take apart this farrago of fabricated, feel-good bollockese.
Obama visits London this April when Gordon Brown hosts the G20 summit. It's highly unlikely that time would be found for Obama to venture anywhere outside the capital. Moreover, the ports of Bristol, Glasgow, Plymouth & Southampton have equally valid claims to consideration as ports which profited from the slave trade. As for the abolition of slavery, there certainly were individuals in Liverpool who took no little risk in calling for an end to a trade which had enriched the port beyond all recognition. The Port & its merchants, however, saw no reason to end that bloody & obscene business; quite the contrary, in fact. Besides, why would Obama wish to be confronted with the legacy of the trade which can be found in the detail of the buildings around the port, particularly Water Street & Brunswick Street?
In addition, the notion that Obama's great, great-grandfather left the port in circumstances which owed nothing to choice & everything to do with neccesity could be a "draw" for him is risible.
And don't you just love that statement of breath-taking civic arrogance & ignorance from Councillor Rotheram? So the US owes "much" of its history to the port, eh, Steve? How much is "much"?
Setting aside the relatively minor detail that America already had a history of its own prior to the Europeans' arrival, the development of the American continent from the 1500s onwards emanated from a myriad of European ports & capitals. Liverpool's role was very much a supporting one.
Like many others, I would be delighted if Obama did visit the city. However, this is no more than civic onanism. Realistically, there's as much chance of the 44th president visiting Liverpool as there is of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al being tried for war crimes at The Hague.
Besides, there could be no justification for Bradley, Storey & the rest buttonholing Obama to tell him what an unqualified success 2008 was.

The Oldham Echo Becomes A Noticeboard

Further evidence that the Oldham Echo has forsaken proper journalism & is now accepting press releases as a matter of course whilst presenting them as "news" can be found today in a missive from Tory Central Office concerning the continued role that Chris Grayling has as "Shadow Minister for Merseyside", despite Cameron's reshuffle ( ).
Supposedly penned by Neil Hodgson, no real journalistic effort can be discerned in the piece.

Liverpool's Tower Of Babel

Have you been Credit Crunched? Downturned? Recessioned? As the UK unemployment figures nudge toward the two million mark, & Merseyside's jobless headcount reaches an ominous 45,000 ( ), it's reassuring to know that developers in the city have their finger on the local economic going ahead with a scheme to build 700 luxury apartments overlooking the waterfront ( ).
Normally, the local media lap up a story like this as further proof of Liverpool's "recovery". Not this time. The Post adopts a distinctly fretful tone in its report & quotes just one of a number of sceptical local estate agents: "This is not just being ambitious, it's downright strange. Even if [the developers] can get money to build, the banks aren't lending to buyers at the moment."
So what form will these putative apartments take? The Post elaborates:
"King Edward Tower, a joint venture between Y1 and Richmont, is a 54 storey giant overlooking Princes Dock that attracted the wrath of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) because of design ethics.
Architect Martin Birkett, of Leach Rhodes Walker, said: 'We have been working closely with the landowners, developers and the city council to take on board the concerns that have been raised and are addressing comments made by CABE.' "
In other words, its design has been questioned by the government's advisor on architectural & design matters ( ), & the architects concerned seemingly pay little heed to CABE's strictures.
The development has been mooted for some time now. On July 7th, 2007, Construction Mall reported ( ):
"The £130 million tower...sits on the former site of the King Edward Public House. This gateway site of Liverpool's Strand and Leeds Street is adjacent to the Princes Dock development and is arguably on one of the most important locations on Liverpool's waterfront."
Therein lies yet another tale of civic & architectural neglect in Liverpool. The King Edward pub was allowed to fall into a state of irreparable decline during the 80s & 90s. It should have been granted Listed Building status, given its design, features & heritage. Myopia, however, prevailed over foresight.
There is a passage of purple prose from the Construction Mall article which belongs in Private Eye's Pseud's Corner:
"LWR [Leach Rhodes Walker] have worked hard to develop the character of the scheme that, whilst distinctive in its own right, made prominent use of stylised vertical elements and the atr deco stepping of the skyline that has been developed to be reminiscent and reflect the iconic imagery of the America bound emigrates from Liverpool, providing the International links between the Mersey Docks and the distant American shores."
Don't expect that burst of verbosity to win a Plain English award.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Redemption Rap

"I'm equally certain that we will continue to pray for justice to roll down as waters, and for that day when there will be peace in the valley, and for that day when every man and every woman will sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none will be afraid, and for that day when black will not be asked to get back, brown can stick around, yellow will be mellow, the red man can get ahead, man, and white will embrace what is right. Amen!"
Joseph Lowery, Methodist preacher, giving the Benediction at today's Obama Inauguration.
Way to go, Preacher!

Rhyme Over Rhetoric

Tony Karon on his Rootless Cosmopolitan blog features the Seeger/Springsteen performance in Washington DC on Sunday. He also republishes the poem written & recited by Maya Angelou at the first Clinton Inauguration in January, 1993 ( ).

Monday, January 19, 2009

America's Real National Anthem

There was no shortage of moving moments at the Obama Inaugural Concert in Washington yesterday. However, one moment which may well go down as the musical moment of the year was the concert's finale when Bruce Springsteen was joined onstage by a gospel choir & Pete Seeger to perform Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land". Simply brilliant.
Unfortunately, HBO have forced YouTube to withdraw the video from their site, citing "copyright". Ironic, eh? I would've thought that if copyright applies here, it should reside with the Estate of Woody Guthrie, which would be only too happy to have the clip online. There is a way around HBO's petulant & heavy-handed attitude, however: it's still available on Google Video. Simply type: Pete Seeger-Bruce Springsteen.


Occasionally, very occasionally, I check out the Daily Mail website. Afterwards I take a shower. Anyway, I digress. The Mail has run two stories in the last few days which take me back to the 80s (yet again).
One of the most vociferous &, ahem, "creative" stooges of Neil Kinnock at the time was a trade union official by the name of Jane Kennedy. She supplied Labour HQ with enough ammunition to fire at Liverpool City Council. Kennedy duly got her reward when she was elected as Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, the seat that Terry Fields represented, a couple of boundary changes notwithstanding.
Kennedy's rise up the New Labour pole has been relatively smooth; she is now a junior minister.
That ascendancy, however, may now be about to stall ( ):
"A minister is at the centre of a sleaze row after failing to disclose to Westminster officials that she uses taxpayers' money to employ her partner as her researcher.
"Jane Kennedy, Minister of State for Agriculture, Farming and Recycling, lists Peter Dowling on her constituency website as a member of her office staff responsible for research and parliamentary affairs.
"But she failed to mention him on the Register of Members' Interests - despite new rules making it compulsory from last August, following the scandal surrounding Tory MP Derek Conway's employment of his sons and wife."
The Mail piece says Kennedy refused to say how much Dowling is paid, but notes she claimed over £80,000 in "staffing allowances" over the period 2006-2007.
The Mail trains its sights on Dowling. In typical Mail style, it goes for the personal over the political, & may well make Kennedy cringe:
"Sources in Ms Kennedy's constituency of Liverpool Wavertree have described Mr Dowling as a 'ruthless political operator' who had been 'the driving force' behind her constituency Labour Party for a number of years.
"One said: 'It is not like he is her partner and so so he is helping her out. He is the real brains behind the Liverpool end of things. He is the one who makes up all the leaflets, he is very, very involved and everyone else just falls into line. He has got a finger in everything that goes on in Liverpool.
"Jane does her stuff in Parliament, he runs the Liverpool end. He is a nice fellow, quite charming, but very cunning and bitter towards his political opponents.' "
The Mail does add that Kennedy has now registered Dowling with the Register of Members' Interests. Nevertheless, the mud has stuck.
Today's Daily Post, normally a refuge for local major politicos to lick their wounds as they "explain" their story, ie., spin like a woodentop, attempts to do just that. However, there are more questions than answers in its treatment of the story ( ):
"Ms Kennedy said listing [Dowling] was a suggested move and was not compulsory.
"She said she had consulted with the registrar and the commission for standards who said it was not compulsory, but she had opted to list Dowling on Friday."
The Post report goes on to state:
"Declaring family employment was voluntary, although recommended from April 1 last year and was compulsory from August 1."
So for five months Kennedy was in clear breach of regulations which had been spelt out to all MPs after the Conway affair. I recall Kennedy's berating of Hatton et al, her main (& fictitious) claim being that the council was opaque & secretive; how could the people of the city have confidence & trust in the council, she claimed, when there appeared to be no real accountability from their elected representatives. Over 20 years later the boot's on the other foot. Kennedy's murky dealings have been rumbled. Moreover, she has shown the sort of wilful disregard for accountability that she claimed Militant was guilty of in the 80s.
The Daily Post's David Bartlett casts an eye over Kennedy's case in his occasionally diverting blog & what it might mean for her Wavertree seat ( ):
"Ms Kennedy's majority has steadily declined since the 1997 election when the seat became known as Wavertree.
"In 97 she received 29,592 votes (64.4%) of the vote - not surprising given the Labour landslide.
"Four years later, although only 20,155 voted for Mr [sic] Kennedy she still took 62.7% of the vote.
"In 2005, she received 18,441 votes - 52.4% of the vote, with the Lib Dem Colin Eldridge in second place with 13,268 - 37.7%.
"And if this slow erosion of votes were not bad enough for Ms Kennedy, boundary changes at the next election are estimated to roughly halve her majority."
The phrase, "writing on the wall" springs to mind, doesn't it?
Kennedy got her feet on the careerist ladder by assisting Kinnock in black propaganda against Militant. How ironic that her ministerial status could be jeopardized by a combination of the same tactics from the venal Mail & her own dubious stratagem.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Egos & Entourage

Last week's visit to Liverpool by Gordon Brown & his cabinet was dutifully lapped up by the Oldham Echo. No sneers of "political window-dressing", of course, that would have been contrary to the time-honoured ritual whereby regional papers are mere receptacles for Downing Street press releases. Besides, access is the name of the game. You know, the chance to giddily exclaim, "The Prime Minister exclusively told the ECHO...". Fill in the blank space as you wish, "he loves the Beatles", "he likes football", "Liverpool is a great city", you get the picture? Good.
Anyway, it was left to the Guardian to provide an insight into last week's gimmick ( ).
Quoth the PM: "Politicians used to come to Liverpool to make speeches.......Now what we want is an exchange of views...This is not just an event for the cameras. We will listen to what you are saying and we will respond."
Ah, yes, politicians did, indeed, come here to make speeches; I remember one made at the Pier Head in 1980 by the then Labour leader, Michael Foot, after 100,000 marched through the city to highlight the burgeoning unemployment figures which were the hallmark of Thatcher's reign. Through his idiosyncratic oratory, Foot said more in a single sentence than Brown did in a pre-planned, clunkily-scripted statement for the local media.
Which reminds me: petty rivalries vied with bruised feelings among the local hacks during the visit. Each local media outlet was allowed just one question of Brown & his entourage, with no opportunity to follow up on responses from ministers.
Allegra Stratton's posting on the Guardian's politics site sketched a vista of disgruntlement & vanity among the press pack ( ): "One [TV] reporter, with a viewership of 800,000 ('and that doesn't include the website') followed another senior figure of the government round and found him shocked when she started quizzing him - before he snapped and said: 'I didn't know I was doing interviews.' Later she got a phone call from the ministry. Brave heavy-handling of a woman who will present two packages about the visit on that evening's news.
"Similarly, one reporter from a big regional paper had been forgotten off a list but his rival was enjoying lavish attention. He sulked, and a Downing Street aide jumped. I didn't see him again (good for him)."
Stratton declines to name names, but I can guess the identities of the bruised egos concerned. As for the brusque brush-off from the New Labour minister, it's an open secret that Work & Pensions minister, James Purnell, knows when to turn on & off the charm.

There's Room At The Top, They Are Telling You Still...*

"The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high or lowly,
And ordered their estate."

Class. There, I've said it. The great unmentionable. For years we've been told by media commentators that it either no longer exists, or has ceased to matter. Well, it does now. Only thing is the government still won't use the word itself. "Social mobility" is the acceptable euphemism. Nevertheless, on a day when further irrefutable proof of this recession's severity is provided ( ), & at least one New Labour appointee invokes the spirit of Norman Lamont ( ), the issue is back with a vengeance.
It was therefore unfortunate that last night's edition of Newsnight treated the subject in a less than journalistically rigorous manner. David Grossman's report ( ) at least scratched the surface.
However, a piece by James Westhead on the same programme ( ) about three kids from Burnley, Lancashire, excluded from normal education, spending two days at Wellington College, Oxford, was of little benefit to the teenagers concerned, or the general Newsnight viewer. If anything, it warranted the adjective, voyeuristic; teenagers from a terminally deprived part of the country were taken to see how the other half live & are groomed for power. Their faces were well & truly rubbed in it. Newsnight had the opportunity to devote a whole programme to exploring the complex issues behind this subject. Instead, it fell back on a grotesque gimmick which only served to reinforce perceptions & prejudices.
On today's Comment is Free pages from the Guardian website, Anne Perkins identifies one of the main obstacles facing genuine social mobility ( ): "The middle classes are very good at protecting their privilege. Just look around at people in power. Bankers and newspaper editors (and journalists), many politicians, senior figures in the public services. Senior figures almost anywhere. If they were not born middle class, they learned pretty early on to behave as if they were. They got where they are because they had the skills, and in the early stages maybe the connections, to fit in. They were the kind of people that people already doing the most desirable jobs (well-paid, pensionable, warm and indoors) knew they'd get along with."
Allegra Stratton's piece on the Guardian's politics blog ( ) makes similar points. She also quotes one government minister who admits that getting 50% of children into university means that degrees are devalued; the Gold Standard of tertiary education loses its status. Something to bear in mind next Spring when the next batch of A-Level Pass figures are presented as A Good Thing.

*John Lennon, "Working Class Hero", 1971.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gremlin In The Works

For some reason, the link to the YouTube clip isn't working. Go to the YouTube site & type: Boys From The Blackstuff-George's Last Ride.

When An Injury To One Was An Injury To All

Following on from my previous post about images of Liverpool in the 80s, this is by far the most affecting scene from Alan Bleasedale's "Boys From The Blackstuff": .
In the episode "George's Last Ride", local actor & trade unionist Peter Kerrigan dispensed with Bleasedale's script, thinking it it defeatist & bland, & delivered an impromptu soliloquy which he felt better represented the character he played as he lived out his final moments at the then disused Albert Dock. Kerrigan was spot on & it made for one of the most arresting & searing moments in British TV drama.

The Lost Decade

Those of us who cut our political teeth in the Liverpool of the 1980s were often too immersed in the frenetic activism of the time to notice the minutiae of the physical changes to the city's environment; fortunately, it's something which did not escape the attention & camera lens of American student Nancy Ostrander during her stay in the city ( ).
There are some images to evoke a flood of memories: the disused & derelict Albert Dock (scene of the video for Teardrop Explodes' "Reward"); Probe Records on its original site in Rainford Gardens; the bus stop on Walton Breck Road at the back of the Kop, & many more images from a time when Phil Redmond had just launched Brookside & Degsy yelled defiance at Thatcher & Kinnock.
Nancy's archive is discussed further on the BBC Liverpool website ( ).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Broken Link

Here's the correct link for the UK Indymedia piece (ahem): .

A City's Kaleidoscope Eyes

To the strains of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by You Know Who, & a spectral-looking Roger McGough intoning reams of doggerel about the city, Liverpool's year in the spotlight came to a largely unlamented denouement on Saturday evening. The choice of that particular Fab Four song, incidentally, may be significant. Lennon's piece, despite his later denials, was clearly influenced by his acid trips. In much the same way, Liverpool's year of culture could be said to have been hallucinatory; it gave the impression of civic & cultural rebirth, but this was no more than a cruel mirage.
Today's Oldham Echo predictably falls back on hyperbole ( ):
"The event ended with a magnificent firework display from boats on the river to a soundtrack which included Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, Imagine, Frankie's Relax, and Echo and the Bunneymen's Nothing Lasts Forever."
So, as well as Lennon's lysergic meanderings, there were also the slain Beatle's worst composition (fact!); an 80s number whose only real claim to fame is that Radio 1 banned it; & Ian McCulloch's prophetic warning about the ephemeral nature of events. You'd think the Liverpool Culture Company actually wanted to perpetuate the old Self-Pity City stereotype, wouldn't you?
Catherine Jones' breathless missive also contains this soundbite from city council leader, Warren Bradley: "I hope we can move on from tonight to the next phase of our renaissance."
Which would be what, Warren? Well, perhaps at least part of the answer is provided by a more sober & hard-headed look at the city on the UK Indymedia site ( ).
It deals deftly with Bradley's infantile claim that Liverpool can somehow avoid the credit crunch this year.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Viaje *

In passing: I normally dispose of the Travel section in Saturday's Guardian without so much as a second look; holidays bearing no relation to my limited budget were & still are often heavily featured. Moreover, the credit crunch means that those who could afford such breaks are now tightening their belts. However, yesterday's section carried a fascinating story of a 73 year old British man, Simon Gandoldini, who travelled from Mexico to the tip of southern Chile on a Honda CG125. As a lapsed biker, it's the sort of thing I've always dreamed of ( ).
Gandolfini's tale, which reads like a superficial version of Che Guevara's Motor Cycle Diaries in reverse, is coloured with Palinesque (Michael, not Sarah) anecdotes about ordinary acts of kindness along the way.
However, the conclusion of his journey & recollections contains an obsevation which brought me up jarringly: "And, riding alone along those vast spaces, uncovered within myself an unfashionable admiration for those scant bands of Spaniards, the Conquistadors. They were small men of minimal education and many superstitions. Judge them how you wish, but never doubt their extraordinary courage and imagination."
Gandolfini would have done well to reflect upon the courage & imagination of the Native Americans who built entire civilisations which were the match of anything Europe had to offer at the same time before their subjugation at the hands of the European colonial powers.
That aside, an interesting read. More details at .


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Price Of "Culture"

It'll all be over this Saturday. Ringo mimed on the top of St George's Hall, then spent £90,000 of council taxpayers' money with his buddies, thanks to Lord Redmond before that Jonathan Ross show; Jason Harborow retreated to his hacienda after a big, fat pay-off, again courtesy of the council taxpayers; Macca warbled the old favourites for an Anfield audience of babyboomers; & the Oldham Echo almost had an orgasm over a mechanical contraption that resembled a spider.
And, of course, there's a reckoning for the last twelve months. Paid by guess who? Yep, them again; Liverpool City Council will increase council tax bills by 4.5% this year ( ).
Deputy Lib Dem council leader Flo Clucas "said the planned budget would let the council keep 'moderate' care for elderly people and school uniform grants."
Ah, yes, that would be the "moderate" level of support that was slashed by Bradley, Clucas, Storey, et al, to help finance the unalloyed success story that was culture year. Wouldn't it?

On The Waterfront

Got the day off work tomorrow? Yes? Good. Why not brave the weather & take a bracing stroll along the Liverpool waterfront; a chance to clear your head after all that festive excess. Er, hang on, you can't. Sorry, see Gordon Brown & his cabinet are in town. On the waterfront itself. So it seems that both the Albert & King's Docks will be out of bounds between 6.00am & 7.00pm ( ).
That's not all. There's a cost to the taxpayer for this PR gimmick, sorry, I mean bold decision to reach out to the people ( ):
"The [cabinet] sessions, which were held in Birmingham and Leeds last year, along with one in Liverpool tomorrow, could land taxpayers with a bill of £600,000."
New Labour minister Rosie Winterton is wheeled out by High Command to put the requisite spin on the meeting in Leeds (safeguarding jobs, etc.). If a more risible excuse is trotted out by a politician in 2009, I'll be surprised.
It's worth recalling what the Oldham Echo said in an editorial last October about tomorrow's meeting in the city ( ):
"A major criticism of New Labour is that it has lost touch with ordinary people.
"So the only true justification for the cabinet visit is that the most influential figures in government are leaving the rarified atmosphere of the Westminster village to find out more about life in the real world.
"In that sense, ministers will be the beneficiaries of some Scouse commonsense.
"But that requires them to learn from the experience and then act on the feedback.
"Anything less is political window-dressing."
Yes, that's it. They'll see what things are like in Liverpool. At the Albert & King's Docks. Just as the tourists do. Then they'll be whisked back into the limosuines & the M62 will beckon.
Something tells me the Oldham Echo's coverage of tomorrow's meeting won't include the phrase, "political window-dressing".

Monday, January 05, 2009


Stereotypes. Don'tcha just love 'em? Why consider the messy, complex realities, or take the time out to carefully weigh up matters of nuance & distinction when you can make lazy generalisations about a whole group of people while passing yourself off as enlightened & principled?
Why not follow the example set by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in today's Independent as she damns the entire white working class as reactionary bigots ( )?
Hazel Blears, perhaps the most irksome automaton in New Labour's ranks, has been delivering speeches & penning articles over the last year or so about the future of the white working class. Oddly for Blears, she has been willing to confront some uncomfortable truths in assessing the life chances & opportunities of what was once the proletariat.
Taking that as her cue to wade in, Alibhai-Brown wastes no time in referring to "the always wretched and complaining classes." No matter that the white working class don't hold a monopoly over racist sentiments & actions, Alibhai-Brown warms to her half-baked nostrum, observing:
"One writer, Liz Jones, of white-working class stock, sees through the cultural protectionism. Responding to beer-swilling blokes in Wibsey Working Men's Club, in Bradford, who said on television that they had lost their place as the backbone of the nation because Asians were overtaking them, she wrote: 'A snail with special needs would overtake this lot...It is patronising and not remotely useful to treat the white working-class as though they are all helpless, giant toddlers in need of conservation.' "
There's something rather snobbish &, dare one say it, discriminatory, to use terms such as "stock", wouldn't you say? In the context of Alibhai-Brown's supercilious sneer, its connotation assumes a more disturbing hue; she would rightly object to phrases such as "stock" when used in a racial manner. Could it be that class has replaced race when it comes to scapegoating?
How perverse things are when the issues thrown up by class are more soberly addressed by Tory MPs ( ):
"Figures released today show that white boys lagged further behind the national average in this summer's exams than a year ago. Just 16% of white boys on free school meals reached the government's target of five good GCSEs including English and maths -- 32 percentage points behind the national average of 48%, and a one percentage point on last year."
However, the most telling & damning sentence in Polly Curtis' piece for the Guardian is devoid of statistics, but pithy in its finding:
"Throughout their education white working class boys are now the lowest achievers apart from a small group of Traveller pupils."
The article goes on to quote a Tory spokesman:
"Shadow schools minister, Nick Gibb, said: 'It is deeply worrying that the gap between disadvantaged and better off boys just keeps growing. A culture of low expectations and a lack of rigour are holding these pupils back.
We need to ensure that schools in the most deprived areas are using the type of high-quality academic teaching which we know can drive up standards, with a focus on setting by ability and a strong behavioural policy.' "
While Gibb's point in the second paragraph of his quote owes more than a little to party politics, he is correct to identify the culture of hostility to educational attainment & a structure in which any academic progress could be possible.
Such sentiments neatly dovetail, doubtless to the Tories' chagrin, with the questions raised by the Guardian's Michael White in the week before Christmas as he pondered whether the rising unemployment in this recession will produce a response of protest or apathy. He recalls those who lost their jobs in the 80s ( ):
"Many were shunted on to a version of Invalidity Benefit (recently re-engineered as the proactive Employment and Support Allowance) and left to fend for themselves or to rot. They never got jobs when the boom came and therefore will not lose them now - the kind of employees always vulnerable to a cull."
It should be noted that Alibhai-Brown inadvertently invokes the more relevant class factor that she otherwise ignores in her blunderbuss of an article when she protests:
"We immigrants didn't cause the credit crunch. We didn't privatise the nation's assets and pay ourselves shockingly high bonuses. We did not outsource jobs and bring down wages. We didn't cut back on public housing and run down the infrastructure. We didn't make the British choose benefits over work. We are blameless citizens and residents."
Quite right, Yasmin, any attempt to smear immigrants & migrant workers with those factors is odious racism. However, neither did the white working class have any involvement with the culture of irresponsible lending by the banks, the City's culture of excess, the policies of Tory & Labour governments to run down council housing & the deliberate creation of a burgeoning underclass.
A necessary corrective to Alibhai-Brown's ill-considered, scattergun piece was unwittingly provided in a post on David Osler's blog, Dave's Part at the end of last week ( ):
"Political commonsense over the last two decades has insisted that elections are won and lost in a small number of key marginals, and manifestoes have been geared exclusively to swing voter concerns. If there are millions of ordinary people out there who think that New Labour has written them off as mere voting fodder with no viable electoral options, they are not far wrong. That, of course, potentially represents a colossal opening for the far right."
Osler goes on to highlight the changed character of modern racism & its contributory factors. Gone is the racism based on fading, sepia-tinted Empire images:
"This is instead a racism rooted in the collapse of social housing, a racism born of the disappearance of blue collar employment and grassroots trade union organisation, a racism of benefit cuts, a racism centred on the perception that nobody in a position of authority really gives a shit. You might even want to call it a racism of desperation."
Alibhai-Brown should discard her blinkers & recognise that "the white working-class" is not a homogenous lump, eager to swallow the latest tabloid story about asylum seekers. Those of us who have protested & campaigned against racism, be it in the UK or elsewhere, through working-class organisations such as trade unions will not accept her lazy slur.

Paxo's Back

New year, same old intractable issues around the globe. Still, there is one bright feature of the return to "normal" life: Newsnight's back ( ).
Even better, it's presented this evening by Paxman. He'll be getting his teeth into Shadow Chancellor George Osborne. I'm normally opposed to blood sports, but on this occasion...