Thursday, December 28, 2006

Perhaps There Is A Santa Claus

A victory of sorts this Yuletide, as the BBC decided to move Kelvin MacKenzie's news review of 2006 programme to Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. This supposedly minor change, as it's been presented by the BBC, is significant. It's no secret that MacKenzie fancies himself as a broadcaster. The reaction of the Liverpool fans & others to the programme, via the online petition & other fora, may well mean that his name is now mud in BBC circles.

Little else to relate over the last week (apart from getting hopelessly drunk at my brother's on Christmas Day after the dinner).

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Culture, Civic Recollections & Cowardice

Shortly after my last post I hightailed it to a meeting at St George's Hall in Liverpool organised by the Liverpool Culture Company ( ) to update the general public on preparations for 2008. (Less publicised, but complete, so we're told is the programme of events for the forthcoming year to mark the city's 800th anniversary.)
The meeting took place in the ante room to the main hall itself. However, to describe it as small would be a gross distortion. It served as the city's Crown Court until the early 80s. Admiring the ornate features & pattern within, I was jolted out of any further gazing by the realisation that it was the place where many were sentenced to death after being found guilty in murder trials.
The speakers included Warren Bradley, leader of the city council, & Jason Harborrow, from the Culture Company.
To be honest, not a lot of what was said amounted to news or fresh perspectives on 2008. However, the cynic in me smiled when it was said that there is a "vision statement". This merely stated that 2008 is not a festival, more a celebration.

The past week has seen the passing of former Liverpool city council leader, John Hamilton ( ).
To those of us involved with the Militant at the time (early to mid 80s), he was what Lenin would have called "a useful idiot". Hamilton's position was merely honourary, Hatton pulled the strings & everyone knew it.
Apparently, Hamilton spoke to the editor of the Liverpool Daily Post, Larry Nield, just before his death. If the aim was to serve up an exclusive on that period, the Post is still sitting on the story. Either that or it wasn't considered newsworthy enough.

We now come to what will be a fairly regular feature of this blog. Entitled, Kelvin Watch, it will aim to shed light on the repugnant sloth, Kelvin MacKenzie.
First items come courtesy of Wikipedia (yes, I know the entries can be falsified & defamatory items can be inserted in the entries, but I don't suppose he'll be put out by that, tit for tat & all that).
According to John Pilger in his book, "Hidden Agendas", (Vintage Books, 1998), "The sources for the allegations [The infamous 'The Truth' front page splash] were stated to be anonymous police officers and a Conservative MP from Sheffield who wasn't actually present at the game."
Pilger also relates a tale which still makes the blood run cold: "Some weeks after the disaster, Joan Traynor, who lost two sons in the disaster, was asked by ITN for permission to film the funeral of her sons. Traynor refused and publicly requested that the media respect her family's privacy with regard to the funeral. ITN and all other British media outlets did indeed respect Mrs. Traynor's wishes with the exception of The Sun. Kelvin MacKenzie sent photographers to the funeral who clambered over a wall at the cemetery and took numerous photographs of the family laying the two boys to rest before eventually being chased away. The following day photographs of the family at the funeral appeared on the front page of The Sun."
It isn't just Hillsborough which marks MacKenzie out as a prime scumbag.
Pilger states, "MacKenzie...ran a story about a previously unknown member of the public who had just undergone a heart transplant operation, the story denouncing the man as a 'love rat', Sun journalists having been told that he had left his wife fifteen years earlier. Aside from criticism about the story's highly questionable news value, the newspaper was furiously condemned as the story was run when the man's recovery was still in the balance."
This tale nicely chimes in with a snippet from the Biog section on the Wikipedia page on MacKenzie: "MacKenzie was married for 38 years but in 2006 was divorced by his wife Jacqueline on the grounds of adultery."
Well I never! Who would've thought it, eh?
MacKenzie likes to refer occasionally how familiar he is with business & infer that he is a successful businessman. Yet the reality is that he took over at publishing firm Highbury House Communications in September 2005. By December 2005 the business had folded.
MacKenzie was scheduled to be on the panel for the BBC TV "Question Time" programme on December 7. At short notice, he withdrew from the programme, citing "other engagements". He would have known that a question from the audience would have mentioned his latest Hillsborough remarks &, like the coward he is, realised he couldn't stand any scrutiny.
MacKenzie has been chosen to present a news review programme on BBC Radio 5Live on, of all days, Christmas Day. There is an online petition which has now gathered over 10,000 signatures, urging Bob Shennan, the BBC suit responsible, &, we're told, a Liverpool fan to boot, to drop MacKenzie from the programme. So far, Shennan isn't budging. Still, you never know. Here's the petition link: .
To end with a quote from the creature himself which says everything you need to know about him in one mini-rant, I'm indebted to Peter Chippindale & Chris Horrie for this passage from their book, "Stick It Up Your Punter: Rise and Fall of the 'Sun'", concerning the readers of that rag while he was its editor in the early 80s: "You just don't understand the readers, do you, eh? He's the bloke you see in the pub, a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he's afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and the weirdoes and drug dealers. He doesn't want to hear about that stuff (serious news)".
That's enough of MacKenzie for now, but don't worry, we'll return to further expose this toerag ere long.

Merry Christmas, Kelvin!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hanging Hubris Out To Dry (Hopefully)

Following on from my last post regarding Kelvin MacKenzie, I've been in touch with Liverpool fan Gerry Ormonde, who runs the witty & informative unofficial LFC website, ( ).
Gerry's post about MacKenzie on the day the news broke pretty much reflected my own thoughts. An online campaign to besmirch MacKenzie's name (not so unreasonable when you consider his collective libel which he is happy to repeat) is very much on the agenda. It's amazing what dirt can be dug up on someone these days, thanks to Google. Gerry's thinking about it; I'm in the process of trying to unearth something. Make no mistake, this won't go away, that bastard will be made to pay for his actions.

My new(ish) PC is like a new toy at the moment. The novelty of listening to live feeds from U.S. radio stations, particularly NPR, has been almost addictive. The wonders of YouTube, too, have been a revelation. Thanks to the site, I've unearthed this semi-forgotten gem in the last week of Liverpool's finest recording "Hey Bulldog": .

Meanwhile, Glasgow's version of Derek Hatton, Tommy Sheridan, has followed the Degsy road towards talk radio (,,1969188,00.html ).
Radio phone- ins are the cheapest & basest forms of the medium, so it seems like a good career move.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Truth? This Creature Will Be Hunted Down.

It's either rank stupidity or such malign intent as to warrant legal action which has prompted Kelvin MacKenzie's vomit inducing defence of his infamous "The Truth" headline in the Sun after Hillsborough (,,1961876,00.html?gusrc=ticker-103704 ).
Moreover, it speaks volumes about the craven, contemptuous and servile culture of the specimens who work for Rupert Murdoch that MacKenzie's apparent recantation on BBC Radio 4 was at the behest of that venal proprietor. Not surprisingly, MacKenzie has gone to ground, the classic sign of a cowardly scumbag who's been rumbled. However, those of us who were there that dreadful day will bide our time; as soon as this arrogant imbecile emerges from the stone which has offered him temporary refuge, we'll be ready to unleash an online & offline barrage. The local football blogs are primed, particularly the unofficial Liverpool FC blogs (more of this anon).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Falling On Deaf Ears

A period of ill-health (a head cold which coincided with a state of semi-deafness due to an excess of ear wax) meant that I have been loath to commit much to record. Anyway, for the record, the head cold has finally abated & the ear problem resolved by the syringing of both ears kindly & quickly administered by the excellent staff at the Ear, Nose & Throat unit at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. To them, much thanks.

Following on from my last post about the Freethinking debate in Liverpool, my attention was drawn to a Guardian article a few days ago:,,1957883.html .
I appreciate that Denise Fergus, formerly Denise Bulger, will be haunted by her son's death & the manner of it for the rest of her life. However, it is distressingly obvious that every couple of years or so the local media play on her gullibility & ignorance (she & Ralph Bulger were just another underclass couple in a deprived Kirkby estate) &, again, she hasn't let them down. Those around Denise Fergus, particularly her solicitor, should have realised long ago that here is a rather pitible figure who is only too willing to provide the press with quotes which have everything to do with circulation figures & nothing to do with the lessons from that horrendous case.

And now, Nemesis. These will be the last words typed out on this keyboard & PC. After a long (my friends say far too long) delay, my relatively new PC will be up & running this time tomorrow. I first went online via this PC back in August 2003. However, its age (10 years or more) has been slowly & exasperatingly clear for the last year or so. The thought of it on a tip, leaking toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, leaves me cold. So, I'll be getting in touch with Friends Of The Earth to see how it can be disposed of/recycled.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Remembering The Cultural Aspect Of 2008

Last weekend saw a series of discussions & debates in Liverpool. The "Free Thinking" series, billed as "A Festival of Ideas for the Future" took place mainly at the Fact cinema, gallery & all round cultural hub in the city centre ( ).
The weekend was organised by BBC Radio 3 ( ) & the local station, BBC Radio Merseyside ( ).
The one session I managed to attend could have been an exercise in navel gazing. Thankfully, it wasn't. Chaired by Roger Phillips from Radio Merseyside, it tackled the question, "Is Liverpool An English City?"
As those dreaded exam papers say, "Discuss".
Joining him on stage at the Fact centre were journalist & novelist, Linda Grant, local cultural luminary & one-time doyenne of the city's music scene, Jayne Casey, local historian, John Belchem, & local entrepreneur & property developer, Lawrence Rothko.
Proceedings got off to a welcome start when the audience in this half full venue were asked to call out words which summed up the city. None of the old, tiresome & cliched words surfaced. Instead, the wide range of suggestions reflected not just the wit & humour of the place, but also those aspects which tend to be overlooked as the Beatle/football nexus takes centre stage in everyday conversation.
Linda Grant came up with a suggestion picked up from local lawyer (& self-styled local Renaissance Man, Rex Makin), "narky". Fair enough, I thought. She also alluded to the city's historical role as point of arrival/departure for millions when she felt a dual identity, Liverpudlan & Jewish. Grant made a valid point when she observed that the city's "individuality" has led to the culture of victimhood over the last three decades.
Choosing the word, "chaos", Jayne Casey picked up on the wider perception of the city; successive governments in Westminster had viwed the place as a "troublesome outpost", & that the city had been pretty much left to its own devices as long ago as the end of the slave trade, 200 years' back. That was a new one on me. Whilst the port made some people very rich during the era of slavery, I would have thought that the city still had commercial potential & rewards for capitalism up to the early 1900s.
Lawrence Rothko had his own words, "radical & articulate". Stressing the port's role in the arrival of migrants, he referred to my own tradition & background, Liverpool Irish, & the city's involvement in Irish history. Legendary socialist & trades union leader James Larkin actually grew up in Toxteth prior to his activism with Dublin dock workers. Rothko drew attention to a little known fact, the setting up of the NSPCC in Liverpool.
John Belchem outlined the port's role in migration patterns; it was "our Ellis Island", something that should be commemorated by the city, just as New York marks its own.Yes, Belchem noted, Liverpool's cosmopolitanism was a positive thing. However, it also had a negative side; most migrants didn't arrive here by choice.
Casey observed that "Liverpool was the birthplace of capitalism", & that the port created the wealth for the industrialised age, a comment which, I felt, appeared to contradict her previous assertion that the city was left on its own after the end of slavery.
Grant chipped in with an anecdote which had a resonance for most Scousers in the audience. She said that her grandfather arrived in the port in 1904, convinced that he had arrived in New York, his intended destination. Many Irish emigrants (my ancestors included), who weren't even familiar with Dublin, let alone Liverpool, were shown the Liverpool skyline by unscrupulous & mercenary boat skippers as they arrived in the Mersey & told that they had arrived in The Big Apple. Generations of Liverpudlians had stood at the Pier Head, Grant mused, feeling a strong sense of "possibility", of being just one step away from venturing into the wider world. Perhaps this city's innate sense of rebellion stemmed from this, she ventured. Perhaps, I thought, although this was veering uncomfortably close to the cliche-laden depiction of Scousers. Local folklore has it that the teenage John Lennon stood with Paul McCartney at the waterfront & made such an observation as they waited for the merchant seamen to jump off the boats with the early rock 'n' roll records from the U.S.
The city's image in recent years was put under the microscope when Grant maintained that the depiction of Liverpool had been "vicious & racist", referring to the comment by Jack Straw a few years' ago that Liverpool people were "always up to something". [I well remember that remark. The context of it was that Straw, then Home Secretary was to meet a delegation from the Hillsborough Family Support Group at his Whitehall department. The delegation was delayed by the London traffic & cited it as the reason for their lateness when they met Straw, who said in response that he wondered what had happened, given that Liverpudlians were "always up to something". Straw saw it as a witticism, designed to break the ice, as it were. However, local opinion saw the comment as being every bit as offensive as the infamous headline in The Sun a few days after the disaster, "The Truth!"]
Rothko drew murmurs of agreement from the audience when he noted that Scousers can be their own worst enemies; the city's image had been "hijacked", he said, by those who wanted to impose a one dimensional view of the city. We all knew who he was referring to: the Professional Scousers, the local "comedians", Boardman & Tarbuck, Cilla Black, et al. Those, in short, who hitched a ride on the city's 60s bandwagon which accompanied the rise of the Beatles.
Grant spoke about the Militant era, claiming that Hatton & Co. tried to define the city's image as a purely industrial one, ruling out all other aspects of the city. Warming to her theme, she said that the 80s were the starting point for the "racist" coverage of Liverpool. On the first part of this point, I felt that it completely overlooked the reasons (or "objective conditions" as we used to say) for Militant's rise. The second part of the statement had some validity.
Belchem observed, "We're in the industrial North, but not of the industrial North." The city's separate status from the rest of the north of England has been counter-productive as the port declines; the city has "no allies" in this context.
Casey summed up what for me is the schizophrenic nature of the city & its people by saying, "We lack confidence in ourselves." 2008 can help the city face up to its social problems, she continued, a remark which had me raising both eyebrows as far as they would go.
The hitherto overlooked issue of the city's social problems was picked up by Belchem, who declared that 2008 needed to be followed by major investment in the city in order to tackle social issues. This struck me as being particularly asinine. The "Big Dig" in the city centre continues apace, yet too many areas outside the city centre remain untouched by similar projects & investment. For the people in these areas, 2008 is, at best, an irrelevant sideshow.
Casey provided an anecdote which roused my ire. She said that she had been made to feel uncomfortable at a London dinner party some years' ago because of the mocking comments about her Liverpool accent. My reaction would have been to turn the tables on the tormentors with Lennon-like Scouse sarcasm, coupled with high celebral "bon mots".
Rothko made a good point when he asked, "How many Scousers will get the jobs" in the city's reconstruction? He worried that the city's working-class population, who've had to endure nearly four decades of civic & economic decline, won't benefit from 2008.
In response, Casey noted that there is still a lot of confusion over what 2008 is supposed to be about. Sceptical observers, myself included, joke about 2008 being the Culture of Capital festival.
Grant revealed that the reaction from much of the London-based media had been one of mirth when Liverpool was chosen as the European Capital of Culture. Perceptions were starting to change, she said, yet Liverpool's status for 2008 is still largely unknown in the south of England, a situation she ascribed to the negligible coverage of the city by the national media.
Interjections from the audience were mainly considered & cliche-free; no-one harped on about an anti-Liverpool conspiracy in the rest of the country. Self-pity, one of the charges made against this city, was notable for its absence.
As the hour long discussion drew to a close, Phillips, whose chairing of the proceedings had been BBC impartiality personified, asked the audience for one word answers which would, perhaps, sum up Liverpool in five years' time. The replies were mainly aspirational, relating to civic pride & a forward-thinking mentality. Grant chipped in with one of her own, one which drew applause, "envied". Rothko was stumped momentarily before falling back on the official slogan for 2008, "The World In One City".

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Happiness Is A Warm Gig

I was more intrigued than excited about seeing Sean Lennon at Liverpool University on Saturday evening. That he was a singer-song-writer in his own right (or "write", as his father once punned ) was of more interest to me than any superficial concerns about family resemblance or inherited musical influence.
However, a reminder of his father's fate & its consequences for his family was evident as the audience filed outside the venue. Normally, "security" extends to a millisecond of eye contact with the guy on the door. This time, however, there was a double security check, a frisking just outside the venue, followed by the same measure just inside the Stanley Theatre.
A typical gig crowd, the age range being mixed, included a few people belonging to that generation which would have remembered the Beatles before their break-up. Lurking amongst this element of the audience was Peter Grant, erstwhile rock reviewer for the Liverpool Echo, & its sister paper, the Daily Post. In contrast to most critics, Grant told anyone who would listen how much he was looking forward to the gig. My initial surprise at this sentiment quickly gave way to the realisation that it is almost heretical for any measured, let alone hostile, pieces on anything Beatle related to be filed for the local media; why slaughter the cash cow, the thing that draws in the tourists each year to the increasingly tacky Matthew Street Festival?
After two numbers, Lennon, visibly hesitant at the thought of breaking the ice at this symbolic gig, stumbled into speech.
"Um, well, hello," he ventured.
The crowd's response was instantly warm & welcoming. Appreciative calls from the audience punctuated the 90 minute set. At one point, Lennon smiled & apologised, "I hear what you say, but I can't really understand you!"
His accent was pure Manhattan, yet his vocals did evoke his father on the "White Album". As for appearance, the shoulder-length hair & beard suggested Lennon Snr. circa 68/69. His sartorial attire, however,recalled the early Beatle period, when suits were still "de rigeur". References to his father were brief. It was enough that he was playing this city, a statement in itself.
Yet he did refer to it in a typically leftfield Lennon way when expressing his nerves at playing Liverpool, "seeing as my dad grew up here, if you didn't know."
The suffix in the comment drew much laughter from the audience, like a well-received punchline to a joke. Lennon, hitherto relatively tense & cautious, visibly loosened up. He even joked with the crowd about his out of tune acoustic guitar; as a guitarist, he displayed a dexterity which would have eluded You Know Who.
Aside from a cover of an obscure T-Rex track, the set consisted of his own material, which owed just a little to his father's style. What I found heartening was the fact that no-one in the audience called out for any of his father's songs. It was a reflection of this audience's musical maturity.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All At Sea?

Still no word from the boys in blue regarding my encounter with hoodie sub-culture. That is not surprising; I quickly surmised after giving a full statement to the police that these things have a tortuous & nebulous process which can appear to defy rational (& not so rational) expectations.
[On a germane note, I see from this evening's Channel 4 News & the Guardian Unlimited website that David Cameron is advocating a "tough love" approach to this issue. The tough love I'd have in mind would involve a garotte.]

Anthony Gormley's statues at Crosby beach continue to make the headlines. I still think that they should stay, they inject a little bit of genuine culture in an area which is, at best, culturally nondescript, &, at worst, a repository for unabashed philistinism. This is despite yesterday's news from the beach ( ), which appears to owe more to an ignorance of local tidal patterns.
The initial furore was generated by a local tory councillor, Debi Jones, who first came to local attention as an irritating "presenter" on BBC Radio Merseyside back in the 80s (think Ken Dodd, but without the, erm, wit). Jones now has hopes of standing for Cameron's lot at the next election in the Crosby constituency. However, such rank populism may no longer be the vote-winner it once was. Crosby has changed in cultural trends; there is a readily appreciative local audience for Gormley's work, & they, Cllr. Jones, are also voters.

I nearly choked on my lunch at work today when I spotted this story:,,1937064,00.html .
In the land of free market capitalism it seems so surreal as to be hallucinatory. As the article notes, the guy may resemble a blunderbuss rather than a heat-seeking missile, & he may be more Miliband than Marx in policy terms, but the reality is that his message has resonance. Has Michael Moore picked up on this guy?

A quick word about The Raconteur's gig in Liverpool last week. It was everything you'd want from a gig; the excitement was well warranted as a full house savoured a raucous, yet musically superb performance. It's difficult to see how Jack White can return to The White Stripes with any real conviction after this so-called side project.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Before I Was Distracted

The police haven't been in touch since Saturday, which mildly surprises me. I agreed to have my details passed on to Victim Support. I don't feel traumatised or unsettled by Saturday's incident, yet it will be interesting to see what, if anything, they can assist me with.
Most of Sunday was taken up with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen for over a year. After venting our frustration at Liverpool's spineless showing against Manchester United, tumescent testosterone giving way to flaccid fatalism, we had a few more beers before retiring to a local Italian restaurant. The rest of the evening was, erm, a little bit hazy. Reaction to my experience the day before was suitably sympathetic & supportive. Once upon a time they would have reacted like the archetypal Guardian-reading social worker. Nowadays, they, like me, view the world differently.
A few thing which have caught my attention over the last few weeks:
I'm not alone. It turns out that this blogging thing is catching on:,,1923064,00 .
I'll return to the Anthony Gormley statues on the beach just down the road from my home presently, but the news wasn't good when it broke a few days' ago ( ).
Adding to unwelcome news was this morsel:,,1929904,00.html . It's usually the sort of thing I ignore, but, after a week in which I've come uncomfortably close to a kitchen knife of significant proportions, it somehow lodged in my mind.
Google's rise continues apace, so it didn't surprise me to come across this story:,,1930009.html . Some people, not all of them on the liberal-left, have been shocked by this story. However, if I were one of the famous Google Two, Page & Brin, this is precisely the sort of thing I'd be working on.
I'm now off to Liverpool Academy to see The Raconteurs. It's the "hottest ticket" in town this week. It's enough to make me feel trendy.

Monday, October 23, 2006

An All Too Close Encounter

Early Saturday morning sees me on my way to work. It's 5.35 a.m., dark, as you'd expect, & I'm approaching a footbridge over the Leeds Liverpool Canal. A youth approaches me from a side path which runs parallel with the canal.
"Have you got a light, mate?", he calls.
"Sorry mate, don't smoke," I reply, my street savvy mechanism whirring into action as I slow my stride.
The youth then says, "You want to watch it, mate."
"Watch what?", I reply, eyeing him warily.
He repeats the warning. Within a few seconds three youths, all hooded, cross the bridge in my direction.
The youth who warned me calls out to them that they should "leave it".
I decide, in my best "fuck you" mode to sidestep them on the bridge. They move toward me, one of them has what seems to be a ski mask.
"Where d'ya want it, mate?" he demands.
Within a millisecond I spot the large kichen knife he's brandishing. I decide to say as little as possible; a single word could act as a trigger.
A brief, but all too tense, standoff ensues, during which time one of the three who had crossed the bridge mumbles, "We just want your money, mate".
That much was crystal clear to me. At the first opening, I decide to hightail it back towards home just a few hundred yards away (I also surprise myself by sprinting in heavy shoes).
An initial phone call on my mobile phone to the police is followed by a call from home to my workplace. A squad car arrives within 20 minutes & two officers take a statement. It transpires that there had been a report of a postal worker being threatened by youths answering the descriptions I've given approximately 30 minutes before my encounter.
Most of Saturday morning is taken up with a visit to my workplace by another officer, who takes a full statement. He drives me back to the scene of the incident. He scans the scene, then says, "Bingo!"
A bar, at the side of the road leading to the footbridge, has a CCTV camera pointed in the direction of the bridge. Inquiries are made with a female cleaner at the bar. The bar owner can be contacted on Monday morning, she says.
"The officer, who reminds me slightly of John Simm in "Life On Mars", notes wryly, "He will be".

Friday, September 29, 2006

Update: Apathy Gets A Jolt

There I was before, musing that, perhaps, too much spare time to fill today (I'm off work). Then I came across this article in the print version of today's Guardian which I've now found a link to on their website: (,,1883730.html ).
As singer/songwriter, musician & all round decent chap, David Byrne remarks in the piece, "I kept saying to myself, OK, these are the Christian version of the Madrasas.....So both sides are pretty much equally sick."

Inertia & Urgency Part II

My brother's wedding passed off successfully. I had been secretly dreading it. Family occasions always have what could be termed "minefield" potential. You know the sort of thing, long-suppressed feuds, petty resentments, mind games, etc. Everything appeared to go to plan at a civil ceremony in a hotel/conference centre in Aughton.
Inevitably, I was asked about my own single status & whether I was happy with it. I had my response ready.
"So, when is it your turn?", cooed a well-meaning, but uncomfortably intrusive female relative.
"When Everton win the Champions League", I smiled, before downing another glass of wine.
Ah, yes, the booze. There was lots of it. Not so much as to provoke any arguments or indiscretions, at least, not as far as I am aware. I staggered from the proceedings at a family friend's house later on that evening. I considered going to a local pub to catch the Liverpool v. Newcastle game, but my laboured lurches which passed for walking by this stage persuaded me not to go there.

Despite Labour's conference in Manchester this week, nothing in the world of politics has stirred my curiosity or emotions, a reflection of the state of politics & the appallingly low level of political debate rather than indiference or apathy to politics per se. However, I did enjoy Steve Bell's cartoon in this morning's Guardian; it sums up the egos & vain posturings, in their differing ways, of Blair & Precott (,,1883888,00.html ).
Of rather more interest to me in the last week or so has been some of the postings on the Guardian's "Comment Is Free" weblog ( ).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Inertia & Urgency

A lot to relate later this week, hopefully Thursday. Tomorrow sees my brother's wedding. Expect a much more personal post about this, for obvious reasons.

Monday, September 04, 2006

From The Past To The Present

Another nostalgia fest has come & gone. The Matthew Street Festival was little different to previous years. It should be said that this was the first time the organisers appeared to acknowledge that there is a modern Liverpool music scene; a stage was set aside at the Pier Head for local, unsigned bands. That said, however, when set against the backdrop of unashamed 60s nostalgia, it did seem like an afterthought.

Saturday evening was spent at a fundraising dinner for the Merseyside Stop The War campaign. The dinner was held at the restaurant of the city's Roman Catholic cathedral. Cue witticisms from us atheists & agnostics about the absence of children & their possible whereabouts within the cathedral grounds. It was pleasant, rather than rousing. Guest speaker was Bruce Kent, who rambled amiably about the Middle East & Afghanistan. A selection of Paul Robeson spirituals rounded off the evening. Nothing startling about Bruce Kent's comments. Well, that is if you don't think that both Bush & Blair should be hauled up before the International Criminal Court at The Hague for war crimes.
This year's Labour Party Conference takes place later this month in Manchester, so, given the short distance between the two cities, I'm tempted to join many others as they gather outside the conference venue to "welcome" Blair.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Crushing Victory?

Spotted in what used to be the Anfield Kop two weeks' ago at the start of the Liverpool v. Maccabi Haifa Champions' League tie was the Lebanese flag. Until a couple of months' ago I wouldn't have immediately identified it. I've written before about the unease I always felt when comment turned to the Middle East (it's bad enough trying to form an articulate & consistent argument about Ireland, the Israel/Palestine saga makes the Irish troubles seem like a neighbourhood spat).
However, it did make me smile, given the arrogance & contempt most Israelis (& yes, I do say MOST Israelis) seem to have not just for the people of Lebanon, but for any outsiders who question the carnage visited upon millions of innocent civillians. Yes, I realise what Hizbollah is all about, & the idea of living under a global caliphate isn't my idea of a happy future, yet the response to the abduction of two Israeli soldiers (who have yet to be released) has been militarily counter productive & diplomatically disastrous.

It's been a strange week in which the voice of rational, practical reason over the immigration debate has come from, not the TUC, they're hiding in the forest of cowardice, but the CBI. Yes, the same CBI that cheered on Thatcher as she devastated whole communites in the 80s. Admittedly, Digby Jones has been viewing the issue through the prism of free market capitalism, but it has served as an effective rejoinder to the naked racism which has accompanied the latest immigration figures.
It is, however, nice to see that a local arm of what still calls itself the Labour movement has responded to the feral sniffings of the BNP. A leaflet popped through my letter box last weekend from Sefton TUC, making fairly basic, yet salient points about the fascists. It may seem simplistic for anyone reading this blog whose reading habits normally end with the Guardian, Independent, etc. but one extract from the leaflet merits reproduction here, & I make no apology for quoting it in its entireity:
"The claim that asylum seekers are living in luxury is a total myth. Asylum seekers cannot claim mainstream benefits. If destitute, they can only apply for basic food and shelter. A single adult is eligible for £38.96 a week, equivalent to 70% of basic income support. A Home Office report shows that people born outside the UK, including asylum seekers, contribute 10% more to the economy in taxes and national insurance than they consume in benefits and public services-equivalent to a boost to the economy of £2.6 billion in 1998/99. Britain, the world's fourth largest economy, is ranked 9th in Europe in 2003 in terms of asylum applications per capita. The world's poorest countries both produce and have responsibility for most refugees."

Liverpool is preparing for this weekend's Matthew Street Festival. There appear to be heartening signs this year that the organisers have been made aware of today's music scene in the city. We'll know for sure this weekend.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Time To Rage?

Well, Sheridan had his day, or rather month, in court & emerged victorious. Whatever the conflicting accounts of the case, it seems clear that the News Of The World's reputation was also up for judgement in the Edinburgh court. In siding with Sheridan, a majority of the jury indirectly gave their own verdict on what is probably Murdoch's most venal outlet of propaganda.
As Sheridan & his wife emerged triumphant from court on Friday (looking almost Clintonesque in their sartorial splendour) it would have been tempting to add the image to those of other instances of wronged individuals having turned the tables on their accusers. This time, however, it was different.
One of those who was called to give evidence in support of the allegations was the SSP's trade union convenor, Richard Venton. I knew Venton on Merseyside during the 80s when he was the leading full-timer for the Militant. Even though my own political views have changed since then, considerably, it must be said, I have always regarded Venton as being a man of his word. So when Venton gave his testimony, more in sorrow than anger, by all accounts, that he attended the SSP meeting at which Sheridan admitted to visiting swingers clubs, the whole affair began to crystallize in the eyes of many who had been torn up to that point.
[This is a point I've twice made on the Guardian's "Comment Is Free" weblogs, amid shrill, partisan & downright ignorant postings on the matter.]
What now for the comrades in Scotland? Part of me couldn't care less; the SSP still clings to the utopian nostrum that a Soviet-style planned economy is attainable. However, the fall-out from the Sheridan case promises to be ghoulishly fascinating. It appears that a split will emerge on the old Trotskyite sectarian lines. Sheridan's old comrades from the Militant were most vociferous in their criticism of him, while the SWP element in the SSP have wasted no time in welcoming the verdict as a vindication of the former leader.

Meanwhile, the so-called Holy Land continues to take an almost carnal pleasure in carnage. Margaret Beckett has clearly been rattled by the criticism of her performance & the observation that she has gone from 80s Bennite firebrand to Blair's supine supplicant. It's prompted her to make the risible claim that the criticism of her is rooted in sexism (,,1838342,00.html ).

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Echoes of the past

As someone who normally has little time for nostalgia, certain stories in the last few days have forced me to cast my mind back to times past.
The death was announced last week of Ted Grant (,,1831179,00.html ). This obituary, penned by Bob Wade, whom I vaguely recall, is a sympathetic, &, at times, fawning portrait of Grant.
Wade is on strong ground when recounting the facts: "By the 1970s [entryism] began to pay dividends. Within a decade the Militant Tendency was a household name, with 8,000 members, three MPs, a seat on the TUC, control of Labour's youth section, effective control of Liverpool council and more full-time organisers than the Labour party."
All of which is true. It was a high watermark for revolutionary socialism in the U.K. Hatton was the de facto leader of Liverpool City Council (John Hamilton, the nominal leader, was tolerated, even benignly indulged, by the organisation; as long as the real position of power & responsibility lay with Hatton, no one cared about official titles). Similarly, in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS), the youth section was the best possible recruiting vehicle for those in their late teens & early 20s from working class estates throughout the Thatcher years.
Wade's obit then takes a more partisan turn: "Grant...was beginning to see the writing on the wall from the Soviet Union, in that there would not be a 'political revolution' as he had previously predicted, following the collapse of Stalinism, but instead a triumphant West and an ideological counter-revolution."
This little bit of revisionism needs nipping in the bud. The fact is that Grant & his entourage left the organisation in the early 90s because they refused to accept the analysis of people like Peter Taafe that capitalism was, indeed, returning to Russia. I readily recall many a speech & article by Grant as late as the early 90s to this effect (one Grant peroration at a London conference, I remember, included the words, "Capitalism will never return to Russia!", the word "never" being roared, not just spoken).

At the time of the "split" the Tories were pushing ahead with the poll tax, using Scotland as a dry run for its introduction in the rest of Britain. Tommy Sheridan emerged as a natural leader & spokesman in the anti-poll tax movement. For all his political sincerity, a not altogether healthy entourage began to follow in his wake. Having seen a near identical pattern in Liverpool with Hatton, I treated Sheridan cautiously. The libel case he's been fighting with the "News Of The World" in a Glasgow court this month reaches its conclusion this coming week. I make no comment on the allegations which have been at the heart of the case, not just for legal reasons, but because none of the protagonists on both sides emerge with credit & dignity from this episode. (,,1833385,00.html ).

Here's something I don't like to admit, but Tony Blair made a valid point this week. Not over Iraq or Lebanon (still scampering & panting around Bush at the Washington press conference on Thursday).
No, the reasonable point he made concerned the rise of what are, let's be honest, self-inflicted ailments which doctors, nurses & GPs are being asked to treat: (,,1830606,00.html ).
I'm becoming incresingly exasperated with parents I see in public, taking their, sometimes frighteningly young, offspring into fast food emporia as a "treat". Ignorance is no longer a defence. Enough has been established by now to convince parents that giving young children fast food as a substitute for a proper meal amounts to a form of child abuse.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dissecting stupidity

A week away from work which has largely been spent at home. The dubious attractions of cable TV relaying images of a globe with a death wish.
When I was a kid summer heatwaves would be seen as a Good Thing, a chance for the kids to amuse themselves while the parents could get some respite. Not any more. These days, consistently high temperatures are seen in the context of global warming. A sobering thought to act as an effective antidote to the facile cheers of those who don't think about the long term effects of being baked.
In the 1980s there were certain causes which many of us on the revolutionary Left embraced. Nicaragua, as well as the rest of Latin America was a pet topic. The Middle East, on the other hand, we tended to avoid, save for the occasional vague hope that the PLO would adopt a more Socialist path. For the most part, however, concerning ourselves with an issue which went back millenia & invoked religion (fundamentalist religion at that) made us atheists & agnostics feel deeply uneasy. The news coming from the Middle East in the last week paints a grotesque portrait of a region still mired in 12th Century theological arguments, yet using 21st Century military technology.
Feeding on feelings of unease caused by a world in flux & turmoil are the far Right. It was my misfortune to have a BNP leaflet pushed through my letter box over the weekend. Before binning the offending piece of paper, I decided to make a note of the glaring inconsistencies in their position. I have always thought that the fascists display stupidity & bigotry in equal measure. The leaflet confirmed that.
IMMIGRATION: "On current demographic trends, we, the native British people, will be an ethnic minority in our own country within sixty years."
[The source for the "current demographic trends" is not named. Nor do they care to define "the native British people". Celts, Vikings, Saxons, Normans, Hugenot French, & let's not forget the Romans, have all helped make British identity down the centuries. We know that these creatures don't see anyone from an Afro-Caribbean or Asian background as being British, so we'll just observe that the white British identity the BNP claims to represent is drawn from different parts of Europe.]
The BNP say they will "encourage the increase in the British birthrate which is the only real answer to the looming demographic crisis of an ageing population."
[The hapless lads who read the "ladmags" & surf "adult" websites will, presumably, be the shock troops in this Aryan baby boom; they'll think Christmas has arrived early.]
ECONOMY: "Globalisation, with its export of jobs to the Third World, is bringing ruin & unemployment to British industries & the communities that depend on them Accordingly, the BNP calls for the selective exclusion of foreign-made goods from British markets."
[Shall you tell them, or shall I? Wake up & smell the coffee, boneheads!]
NORTHERN IRELAND: "Long term, we wish to end the conflict in Ireland by welcoming Eire as well as Ulster as equal partners in a federation of the nations of the British Isles."
[Ah, now, isn't that nice of them to welcome the Irish Republic & its people back into Britain's bosom after the failed experiment of Irish independence & sovereignty spanning more than 80 years!]
EDUCATION: "We to instil {sic} in our young people knowledge of & pride in the history, cultures & heritage of the native peoples of Britain."
[Waterloo, yes. Peterloo, no. Hang on, isn't this line dangerously close to saying Britain is multi-cultural & multi-racial? I know it hurts your heads, folks, but do try to THINK before you come out with this crap.]

I do not wish for one moment to minimise the threat that the fascist filth pose. However, it is necessary from time to time to highlight the stupidity which underpins their arguments.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

When the scales fall off your eyes

Many will be disillusioned by Blair over his paean of praise for nuclear power today. Some may even feel betrayed, though this is more a reflection of their own naivety than Blair's true nature. Long, long ago, way back in 1997, there was a feeling shared by many, including, I noticed at the time, those who voted Tory, that there really was change in the air. The late Robin Cook spoke confidently about "an ethical foreign policy". I held my tongue. True, the temptation to tell all & sundry that they were in for a rude awakening offered its sweet allure. But, no, I thought, let 'em learn the hard way. Sure enough, the severity of that lesson has been apparent to those poor saps in the last four or five years (many gave Blair extra time in the immediate wake of 9/11).

The bloggers have secured their first big political hit on this side of the Atlantic over the Prescott affair. Even though Guido Fawkes ( ) & I come from different political & philosophical places, I have to congratulate him on the digging he's done on one of the most hypocritical figures in New Labour ( & that's saying something!). I won't mention the name of the female Labour MP named by Guido whom, he claims, is Prescott's other mistress, not because the claim is risible (it isn't), but because you never know if a loophole can be found, & it's found that a blogger can be sued for libel. [Interestingly, the MP named on Guido's blog has, obviously, denied the story, yet declined to take legal action.]

A measure of just how far I've made my own political journey over the last decade and a half was instantly apparent to me last Saturday when More4 screened the Alan Bleasedale serial, "GBH". When it was first aired on Channel 4 in 1991 I was still very much an active member of the Militant. By a strange quirk of scheduling (at the time we were more cynical about its timing) the first episode was shown in the middle of the Liverpool Walton by-election, a contest noted for its bitterness, dirty tricks & open hostility. Both sides were guilty; I recall telling people on the doorstep that Kilfoyle had something VERY dodgy to hide.
It was an open secret in the organisation that Bleasedale's drama was a thinly-veiled portrait of Derek Hatton. Bleasedale denied that the drama's main protagonist, Michael Murray, was wholly based on Hatton's character. We claimed that it amounted to nothing more than character assassination. Looking back, both protestations were wrong. It's ironic that another totemic leader of the Trotskyite Left, Tommy Sheridan, is now revealed to have, ahem, feet of clay.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Keep your rosaries off the ovaries!

A week in which the world's headlong dash over the precipice continues apace. In the midst of sundry horrors which made me wonder if The Enlightenment was just a con-trick perpetrated by successive generations of historians, the Catholic church leapt into the fray like an eager participant in a bar fight. You'd think by now that the Catholic church, its credibility on matters pertaining to the treatment of children on a par with Michael Jackson's, would, at least, keep quiet for a while on its old hobbyhorse of Abortion. Well, think again. They made rumbling noises in the U.K. media last week about lowering the limit for terminations. The church knows that this tactic is the only one that would possibly be effective; if they had the balls to come straight out & say that they wanted a complete ban on abortion in all circumstances, much of the misguided consideration being given to their fundamentalist stance would soon dissipate. Michael White brilliantly dissected the intellectual dishonesty of the Vatican's position on the Guardian's "Comment Is Free" blog ( ).

Much sniggering over the epithet uttered by Margaret Beckett, who once memorably savaged Neil Kinnock for abstaining in the Labour Party deputy leadership election rather than support Tony Benn, but the real cause for offence lies surely in her thinly veiled acknowledgement that if Bush decides to target Iran, Britain will be there as customary lap dog (,,1807797,00.html ).

Friday, June 16, 2006

Idealism, ah, yes, I remember that!

Once upon a time there was a rather gauche, solicitous, eager to please Labour Party member called Tony. He even went to the trouble of writing a long letter to Michael Foot in 1982, proclaiming his faith in radical socialist policies (no, don't laugh). Alas, the 80s were lost to the Tories & Tony came to swallow rather more poisonous nostrums as the decade wore on. By the start of the next decade Tony's metamorphosis was pretty well complete, &, well, the rest, as they say, is modern history ( ).
Accompanying this week's New Statesman in this morning's mail was a leaflet from something calling itself the "LabOUR Commission" --the typography is deliberate--, stating its aim to bring accountability & inner democracy back to Labour. The individuals behind LabOUR consist of those who would have been on the soft Left 20 years' ago, & who then bit their tongues as the New Labour "project" proceeded apace; Michael Meacher, Tony Robinson (yes, Baldrick himself) & Billy Hayes (general secretary of my union) are the most prominent names. I wish them well, but I don't hold out much hope for their mission (I also can't help but reflect wryly on the flawed political perspective of these individuals over the last two decades). Under the sub heading, "How you can help", they declare, "LabOUR needs to know why you joined the party, if you left the party why and what might make you want to join in the future." Got a spare weekend, brothers & sisters?
For the record, email: .
Website: .

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mersey Mayhem

A link to Saturday's events in Liverpool & other parts of the country:,,1796292,00.html .
The local media, including the local BBC outlets, have affected astonishment at the way things transpired. Gullibility among the local hacks? No way. More like a juicy story which can be breathlessly related to the middle class wannabes who somehow perceive the Liverpool Echo as a local journal of record.
I do have some sympathy for the BBC. They have been portrayed as irresponsible & blithely indifferent to the consequences of showing England's match on the big screen. Instead, the antics of the local intelligentsia, fuelled by cheap booze, grilled by hot temperatures & spoiling for a fight with anyone, was the sole cause of the mayhem.
The people at the Liverpool Culture Company ( ) are paid to be spin doctors, among other things. They will therefore seek to downplay this episode as an isolated act involving just a handful of lumpen scallies. The reality is greater & darker, tapping into a local mindset which has long revelled in a fug of self-pity & fecklessness.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Different wavelengths

The phone rang just as I sneezed. Great, I thought, a snifly croak of a voice with which to answer. There was a slight delay when I picked up the phone, no more than half a second, but sufficient to tell me that a call centre somewhere on this globe was on my case. The male caller mispronounced my surname. I stiffened. Jumping straight in with his pitch, he asked me if I had read the Times recently.
"Nooo," I averred.
The caller persisted, seemingly oblivious to the tone of my response, telling me of the paper's "merits".
"Which paper do you normally read?" he chirruped.
"The Guardian," I said.
Warming to a theme that had started to buzz around my brain, I casually informed him that I hadn't read the Times for many years.
"Oh, any reason for that?" he bubbled.
"Rupert Murdoch," I said, the syllables of the name being enunciated with audible disgust.
The penny dropped. He remarked that a lot of the people didn't seem to like Murdoch. You don't say, I was tempted to comment, but didn't. He quickly bade me farewell.
"Have a nice day," he whimpered.
"You too," I smiled before replacing the receiver.

The hot weather has coincided with a plethora of English flags. Otherwise sane individuals have succumbed to the infantile orgy of nationalism. England's first game this afternoon saw them labour to a single goal victory over the mighty Paraguay. The ruddy featured John Bulls grunted & belched their relief at the final whistle.

Across the pond the influence of the bloggers continues to rise exponentially, as confirmed in today's New York Times ( ).
Writing in the same edition, columnist Maureen Dowd freely confesses her mixed feelings at the bloggers convention in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Ostrich Summit

A revealing cameo from my workplace this afternoon. Three middle aged female colleagues & I were lamenting our new working environment. The arrogance of management was commented on sourly by all. Then it all went very Daily Mail.
Ostrich 1: "'Course, the government are quite happy for this to carry on, it means they can bring in more asylum seekers."
Ostrich 2: "Yeah, that's why our kids won't get a decent wage when they start work. These Arabs work for nothing, so Tony Blair's gonna do f*** all about it."
Let me get this straight, you're blaming asylum seekers, Arab or otherwise, for the lousy wages that employers can pay young workers. And it's all with Tony Blair's agreement?
Ostrich 3: "These foreigners are ruining it for our kids. They've got no chance while more of them stream into the country."
This learned exchange continued for a further ten minutes or so, by which time I was grateful to leave The Brains Trust & deliver a package to another department.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

And We Won't Build Jerusalem In England's Green & Pleasant Land

Out with the old, in the new (excuse the cliche). I didn't need any battalions of advisers, spin merchants, PR creatures, etc. lurking in the undergrowth. The blog's new persona begins here.
Under increasingly clear blue skies the preponderance of English flags on cars, vans, lorries & even bikes has grown exponentially. It sucks. I am too aware of my own family background (Liverpool/Irish) to buy into this nationalistic gangbang. Every so often I'm asked if I "support" England in the football tournaments. I just smile & say that I'm a Liverpool fan, period. Diplomatic, but, hopefully pointed.
Musically, I've been listening to Willie Nile's "The Day I Saw Bo Diddley In Washington Square", Jamie Liddel''s "Multiply" & Howe Gelb's "But I Did Not".

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bagpipes on Scotland Road

An inordinate amount of time has elapsed since my last posting. Several reasons for this, some trivial, some not so trivial. I've been thinking long and hard about what to do with this blog & the changes I need to make to it, as I feel it was limping along, not so much injured, more laboured, hazy & unfocused; the attempt to maintain a broadbrush approach to the blog, refusing to devote postings to a particular subject, hasn't worked so far. The changes will become apparent in the near future. The frequency of the postings will also increase. Less can be more, but not in this case.
Politically, the local elections duly delivered on their promise to give New Labour a hefty kick in the John Prescotts. No real surprises, the BNP did make gains, but no more than had been predicted. Locally, the political permafrost failed to crack, the area I live in is tribally Old Labour in an unhealthily dinosaur-like way.

It's a sign of these politically neutered times that the event to get people on Merseyside worked up recently was the FA Cup final & the subsequent homecoming. That said, however, the match was memorable & the homecoming on the Sunday was impressively colourful. True, there weren't as many on the streets as last year when the squad returned from Istanbul, but then again, that was a one-off in various ways. On Scotland Road I noticed a lone piper leading a throng of delerious Liverpool fans on a demented pied piper procession up & down the thoroughfare prior to the coach's arrival.

Musically, the highlight has been the Springsteen album, "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions". I saw Springsteen with the band in Manchester just over two weeks' ago & it was simply breath-taking. The album is reminiscent of Dylan & Costello in their journeys into the heart of early American popular music. Cajun, folk, blues, worksong, gospel, etc. are all reflected.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Things can only get better

The chickens are coming home to roost, to employ a well-worn phrase, for Blair's New Labour. Until now it has been premature in the extreme to pen this creature's obituary. An electoral machine made up of contradictory, disparate forces, it has surprised even its own acolytes by lasting this long. As I write, the polls have closed in the local elections. For Tony Blair 1997 must seem like decades ago.
A bizarre, yet toxic trinity of Clarke, Hewitt & Prescott has reduced Blair's government to a laughing stock. OK, so Clarke's incompetence at the Home Office over foreign offenders (what a boon to the BNP in the local election campaign, expect them to make gains tonight) is not to be treated with levity. It does, however, remind me of a bumbling, overwhelmed middle manager, woefully out of his depth, yet dementedly babbling to his boss, & anyone else within earshot, that all is well, apart from one or two "operational difficulties".
Time was when local election night would have seen me calling on confirmed Labour voters to ask if they had voted, or if they needed a lift to the polling station. How times change.
STOP PRESS: A blog written by the political editor of the New Statesman, Martin Bright, tonight contained new revelations about one particular released prisoner which will probably drive the final nail into Clarke's coffin.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Flowers in the dirt

So what to say about the last few weeks (if there's anyone out there who's actually followed this blog)?
First things first: I have no specific links to stories for this post; inattention allied to a strange period of online inactivity for me.
The most striking thing about this month has been found in nature. Since climate change was established by the scientific world, I've been conscious of the changing seasons in an almost assiduous manner. As children we're acutely aware of dark winter afternoons, the changing of the clocks, the first warm embrace of spring & other such natural phenomena. As adults in the early 21st Century, there is no excuse for not rediscovering that innate awareness. Cheap air flights get cheaper. However, writing as one who believes that people don't forget lessons when they're delivered the hard way, it seems obvious that those who take their families to holidays across oceans with no qualms may well live to see their children reap the whirlwind of irreversible climate change.

There was an anniversary on April 15th which made me stop to remember. It was the 16th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. I was on the terrace behind the Leppings Lane goal that awful afternoon; I witnessed scenes I'll carry to the grave with me. For some months after the event I struggled to come to terms with what I'd seen. Perhaps that struggle continues.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy.....

The collision of lofty ideals & low life reality which has permeated Merseyside since Liverpool won the Capital of Culture award ( a horrendous car crash of a conjunction partly fostered, partly ignored by the local media ) hit home today with the news that the BNP are to field a candidate in the ward covering the area where Anthony Walker was murdered in a racist attack every bit as sickening in its detail as the Stephen Lawrence case in 1993 (,,1746862,00.html ).
The area of Huyton is similar in many ways to my own part of Merseyside. A run-down inner-city area which is overwhelmingly white, its composition increasingly changing from industrial working class to part-time, casual workforce, lumpen in its attitudes on race, gender & sexuality. It's the sort of area where Labour has been continually in the ascendancy, though largely through default & semi-forgotten family/tribal allegiances. Lest anyone think I'm exaggerating in this portrait, I 'll tell you of my own experiences (after all, I.V. Lenin did say that an once of experience is worth a ton of theory ). Most of the people I work with revel in a sub-culture of trivia, junk media & purience, women as well as men. Casual racism is expressed in a manner which suggests it is as acceptable as comments on the weather; grumblings about management decisions which adversely affect them result not in a sudden awakening of class consciousness, but a rodent-like rush to preserve their own pathetic, miniscule patches. Makes me almost sympathetic to the bosses.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Cordon

"Sorry, you can't turn right down Hope Street," the constable said. His tone was more apologetic than authoritarian. 500 yards from the Philharmonic Hall some 2,000 people had congregated on the steps of the city's Roman Catholic cathedral. Wandering towards the cathedral, I heard Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance" sung with gusto. Christ, I thought. The baby boomers & students will make us all join hands next.
A march of sorts was permitted by the police, stopping just past the Everyman Theatre. Ahead of this point was a phalanx of police, their horses & riot shields augmenting the not so thin blue line. The march was led by "pallbearers", carrying a seemingly hastily constructed coffin. They also wore "Guantanamo" uniforms.
As the march ground to a halt, the mood of many changed. Most had a self-satisfied air, the ones who felt they had made their point. A couple of anarchists tried to persuade others that if we all breached the police line, it would be a great victory for the proletariat. Yeah, right.
I joined a few others in a nearby bar. There's nothing like boozing for socialism.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The quality of Mersey will be strained

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

Friday, March 24, 2006

Though cowards flinch & traitors sneer...

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Tectonic Plates Shift

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

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

Monday, March 13, 2006

Giving the people what they want?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 06, 2006

Blind faith

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

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

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Arrogance & Ignorance

No shortage of events, near & far, to take in. Let's take them chronologically.
I took a, perhaps, perverse pleasure in the three year prison sentence handed down to Nazi apologist David Irving by an Austrian court. There are those who say that this gives Irving the martyr status with the far Right which he craves. I don't buy that. Nor is it possible for the BNP to use this as some sort of recruiting agent. The disaffected white working class, if aware of Irving, certainly wouldn't respond to it as they would with tabloid scare stories about asylum seekers.
There's also a personal reason for my loathing of Irving's vile denials of the Holocaust. My late father was one of the first British troops to liberate the concentration camp at Belsen, an experience he related to me shortly before his death. He told me there was no way he could get those images out of his head.

As a republican I shouldn't really be surprised by the witless utterances of the Royals. Yet there was still something breath-taking about the, ahem, "thoughts" of Prince Charles in the writings presented for all to see in the Mail on Sunday case.
[BTW, hasn't someone told him that it would be so much easier for him if he joined the rest of us & kept a blog?]
Comments about the Chinese at the time of the hand-over of Hong Kong bordered on the racist; titling his missive, "The Great Chinese Takeaway" says all we need to know about his Blimpish mindset.

I've previously mentioned the problem I've had with anti-social behaviour in my neighbourhood. One of the youths responsible for the problem was jailed this week for being part of a gang of thieves. Jay Sands, 19, a youth whose greed is matched only by his stupidity, was apprehended by police after a botched robbery attempt in which he was covered with indelible red dye from a boobytrapped cash box. Sands & his five fellow defendants were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court, the sentence for Sands being six years. I wasn't aware of the news until Wednesday morning when telling a local police officer about shouts & screams emanating from the Sands' rented house in the early hours. The officer phoned back to impart the good news.

Tonight's news has featured the riots in Dublin. There is, of course, no excuse or justification for the attacks. However, the key question is what were the Irish authorities thinking in allowing the Orange Order, a rabble every bit as repellent as the Klu Klux Klan & the BNP, to march down O'Connell Street. It was also reported by RTE this evening that the bigots would have walked past the GPO building, a site of almost totemic significance in modern Irish history before the Gardai intervened ( ). The marchers were accompanied by a Loyalist pipe band, according to the estimable blog Slugger O'Toole ( ). This last piece of information is breath-taking.
STOP PRESS: In a staggering display of journalistic insularity, the BBC fails to mention the Dublin riots as one of its lead items.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

John Stuart Mill is back in fashion

If I had a fiver for every time something in the media has offended me, well, I would be what Dickens described as a man of considerable means. This is not to deny or ridicule the sense of insult & hurt felt by many Muslims over the Danish cartoons. [It seems that the original images appeared in what has been described as the Danish Daily Mail, so no wonder the paper's editor was eager to publish.]
However, it does seem perverse that such a furious response around the world on the issue is rarely, if ever, replicated when it comes to Abu Ghraib (more images of which have come to light in the last 24 hours) or the continued policy of military & economic isolation which Israel persues against the Palestinian population on the West Bank.
Andrew Anthony struck just the right note in last Sunday's Observer (,,1707716,00.html ). It simply isn't acceptable to expect a secular society to make special provision for religious communities at the expense of those of us who believe in a clear separation of religion & State.
Peter Tatchell, whose tactics I don't normally endorse, was spot on recently when exposing the hypocrisy of Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain. Sacranie had used the forum of a Today interview on BBC Radio 4 to express his condemnation of gay marriage, same-sex civil partnerships & homosexuality in general. Tatchell reasonably noted that if Sacranie felt he had the right to criticise others on the grounds of their sexuality, it was permissible for anyone to criticise Islam for its neanderthal views on social issues. To wheel out a well-worn cliche, you can't have it both ways.

I don't smoke. I 've never seen the point of it. Its supposed attractions have always left me cold. Even when the area behind the bike sheds at school was frequented by rookie smokers, convinced that the habit was the epitome of cool, I was aware of the health angle. My father was a heavy smoker, but managed to kick the habit in his mid 40s, cursing the damage that tobacco does to the body.
Yesterday's vote in the Commons on smoking in public places has been met with the expected squaks of dissent from those who believe it's the nanny state on the warpath again. Nor should those Labour MPs be taken seriously when they defend the "right" of working men's clubs in their constituencies to maintain smoking sections. [Some of these clubs used to be openly racist & sexist in their admission policy, so much for the vaunted egalitarian ethos.]
One of the most offensively patronising comments came from Health minister John Reid last year. Smoking, he opined, was one of the few pleasures --yes, he said pleasures-- open to those at the bottom of the heap; the single mother stuck in a high rise while the kids were playing up. Once upon a time Labour MPs would have railed against destructive vices brought on by poverty. The notion that such vices should be indulged & tolerated would have led to calls for deselection.
Another factor to consider is that most working men's clubs are used at least once a week by children. Citing a fictitious "right" to smoke in these circumstances is a breath-taking, pardon the pun, example of negligence & irresponsibility.
Such attitudes were unearthed by Today's Guardian (,,1709906,00.html ) in a rather sad & run-down Manchester social club. A depressing slice of inner-city defeatism was captured in the remark from one denizen, "You live, you die. You might as well have a ciggy while you're at it."
Hearing it as a snatch of dialogue from the execrable "Shameless" or reading it in an NME Mark E. Smith piece, it's easy, maybe too easy, to dismiss. When you realise that this is a comment from someone with chronic health problems & stunted horizons, it makes you loathe even further John Reid's throwaway defence of the indefensible.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Enlightenment values, secular and/or sacred?

A lengthy interval twixt posts is explained by work commitments, my mother's birthday (a surprisingly pleasant day out in Liverpool with mother, brother, sister, nephews & neice), an addiction to the BBC TV series "Life On Mars" (I hadn't realised how good an actor John Simm was) & sundry football matches involving my beloved Liverpool F.C.
Last week saw the latest media mauling of Sir Iain Blair, the Met commissioner after he spelt out the ugly reality of racism & how the usual suspects in the media (take an ignominious bow, Rebekah, Dacre et al) fan the flames on the burning corpus of crime (,,1695701,00.html ).
Blair, of course, has many a blemish. His handling of the Menezes case was contemptible. Yet he has surprised me with his willingness to go out on a limb over the "Institutional Racism" issue.
It's been a week when this secular atheist has found himself torn between the principle of tolerance & respect (specifically against the backdrop of the BNP trial & the Danish cartoons) & a Dawkinsesque urge to point out the inherent irrationality & anti-intellectual bias of all religious belief. What to do? Defend the right of a group of people to worship a dogma which condemns gays, women's rights, etc., or revive my somewhat dormant secular zeal, dismissing all theistic belief systems?

This blogging business, as anyone over 30 would say, grows in importance & influence. I've never subscribed to the view that blogging spells the end of journalism. Quite the opposite, in fact. It can & should be a useful supplement to what is, after all a skilled trade. Ruminating on this, I was pleased to see the issue fleshed out a little more (,,1697633,00.html ).

Desperate to stay in the spotlight after his mini-holiday in the Big Brother house, George Galloway was arrested in Cairo & thrown into a cell for the night. Then the Egyptian authorities realised that another stay in unusual accommodation was probably what Galloway craved. So they quickly evicted him from their rather less salubrious "house".

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Burlesque & Business

I didn't know there was a second silly season for the media. How else to explain the prominence given to the whale in the Thames & Celebrity Big Brother. Even the "serious" media outlets, such as Newsnight, Radio 4, the Guardian & the Independent have caught the bug.
Meanwhile, Grotesque George Galloway has received the verdict of a different group of voters (,,1695156,00.html ).
Even his Respect acolytes pause tellingly before attempting to defend their leader's exercise in ego stroking & self-indulgence. Many cite Galloway's feline purrings with Rula Lenska & his surreal motions in a red leotard as the moments when the penny dropped, any remaining vestiges of political credibility being brutally torn away. I think that the "Emperor's New Clothes" moment came at the very outset when Galloway entered the Big Brother house, claiming to reach out to young people.
Today's Guardian carried a timely piece by John Lanchester on the Google phenomenon (,,1695200,00.html ).
Unlike some romantics out there in cyberspace, I've always recognised Google to be a business, its "Do No Evil" motto amounting to no more than a hazily recollected phrase from hippiedom.
Google's decision to censor news content on its Chinese service is not surprising. The latest move, affecting the Chinese Google site's treatment of entries such as "Tianmen" & "Tibet" is a logical next step in this regard. Google may feel comfortable striking a "liberal" pose with the U.S. administration ( a stance which is now being dissected in the U.S. media: ). Let's have no illusions, though. Business is business. Google is doing exactly what any other global player would do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hype, hypocrisy & hackneyed images

I've been fighting off a cold these last few days, more irritating than disabling.
Evidence that the Dianafication of British society is still going strong came last weekend with the story of the whale in the Thames. I'll admit that the story initially arrested my attention. Then the tabloids got involved. Feeding on the public's maudlin & lachrymose treatment of most creatures, they duly delivered what the punters wanted.
The tabloids were also on the warpath this weekend over politicians' private lives. Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten was found to have paid a male prostitute. I'm always full of distaste for such scandals. Oaten certainly erred in letting the cameras in to film his family at the kitchen table during his short lived leadership bid. However, he had not followed the lead of other politicians down the years in pronouncing on "morality".
Closer to home, I see that Liverpool's preparations for 2008 (Capital of Culture year, lest we forget) continue to stumble & lurch like a scally on a Saturday night. I've been in two minds about 2008 ever since the city won the bid. Local wags have dubbed it the Culture of Capital, & that tag seems to be applicable with each new development. 2008 could have been a great opportunity for the city of Liverpool & Merseyside. Instead, however, it will be a cringe-inducing endorsement of the stereotypical image the area has nationally; cashing in on the Beatles whilst ignoring the vibrant local music scene is the ultimate in local myopia. The Culture Company (what a jarringly inelegant title) gave a cross between a mini-presentation & a pep talk at my workplace a fortnight ago (my employer is one of the main corporate sponsors). It confirmed all my suspicions that this will be a missed opportunity.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Respect, disrespect.

One thing I normally avoid with a capital "a" is saying, writing or doing anything which could be construed as endorsement for the Court of King Tony in Downing Street.
However, this observation reflects an issue where normality is sadly all too scarce.
Some friends & acquaintances of mine scoffed at the fanfare for Blair's "respect" agenda last week. And I agree with what they say about spin, one eye on the polls, style over substance, double standards, etc. Yes, yes, yes, the man will say anything, but the uncomfortable reality for many on the left is that this issue resonates.
I write with both feeling & personal experience. For some time now I've had problems with anti-social neighbours. The ins & outs of the saga don't bear repeating here (there may also be legal developments afoot).
The wider issue is highlighted by a story on the Guardian Unlimited website (,,1689335,00.html) .
Matt Weaver's article is a typically "liberal" take on an issue where firm & prompt measures take precedence over the muted mewlings of the civil liberties lobby.
Weaver's piece cites a study undertaken by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University on families with members involved in anti-social behaviour.
According to Weaver,
"It found:
. 80% of the families were headed by single mothers;
. a quarter of the families included at least one child with special educational needs;
. 39% had at least one family member with mental health problems, and
. 28% of the households reported a history of family violence."
The first of those four findings is undoubtedly controversial. We all remember John Redwood's question to a group of single mothers on a Cardiff housing estate a decade ago, "But where are the fathers?".
Yet the fact remains that people choose to be parents (with the easy availability of contraception & access, albeit inadequate, to abortion, let's have no more crap about "happy accidents" or surprises).
Becoming a parent is the most important decision anyone can make --it's so axiomatic that I surprise myself making that point--& it therefore requires careful thought, planning, commitment & responsibility. Too many parents, male & female, are failing in their duty. Society pays the price. Before I get deluged by hostile comments, let me say that many single mothers do a tremendous job in difficult circumstances.
Children at primary school need to be told in clear terms what they will forfeit if they have children before they're emotionally, mentally & financially prepared. It also means that there should be no "taboo" areas in reproduction classes.
The remedy, if that's not too grandiose a term, lies in education & the fostering of self-confidence in children as soon as possible.
I'm half-expecting a congratulatory comment from "T.B., Downing Street" soon. Oh well.......