Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Then The Second Wheel Blew Out

Hot on the heels, to use a tabloid phrase, of Anderson's departure from the Culture Board, the head of events for 2008, Lee Forde handed in his notice (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/6749217.stm ).
Almost a week after Forde's resignation both he & the Culture Company remain tight-lipped about it. Well, almost tight-lipped. According to the BBC report, "The Culture Company has issued a statement confirming his resignation, saying it would like to thank him and wish him well for the future."
That's the sort of thing which would have fitted in to a Politbureau missive when the Berlin Wall still stood. Nowadays it's the default bollockese which emanates from many a boardroom when the PR machine hasn't got going.
The financial cost of 2008 is only now coming under the spotlight. Joe Anderson referred to it as he bade the Culture Company a less than fond farewell. The sobering reality, in stark contrast to that intoxicating morning in 2003, is that there is a £22m shortfall in Liverpool City Council's fund for 2008. One contentious option for the council, first discussed at a council meeting last Wednesday, is that the city raise the £22m by borrowing the sum over five years. However, this option will not be available if the government doesn't agree to a change in rules to allow this funding plan.
Both Joe Anderson & present council leader, Warren Bradley hope to meet Gordon Brown & pitch their case. From what I've heard, however, Brown is in no hurry to approve the plan, even though it involves no new treasury cash. His thinking is that since the Lib-Dems have been held power in Liverpool for the last decade or so, they should take the hit in any political fall-out over the 2008 shambles.

Once Upon A Time, It All Seemed So Simple

Remember this moment, folks? That morning in the bar area of Liverpool's Empire Theatre in 2003 when the assorted local civic worthies & their business pals glugged back the champers at a ridiculously early hour to celebrate the Capital of Culture Award?
Even then, there were conflicting spins being put on the accolade. The Liverpool Echo, & to a lesser degree, BBC Radio Merseyside, not so much inferred as trumpeted the award as the catalyst for the economic & social transformation of the entire Merseyside region. The local Chamber of Commerce, intoxicated by the champers & heady rhetoric that day, augmented this guff.
There were, however, more sober voices. Those whose input was considered key to the cultural projects (local artists, musicians, theatre staff, etc.) questioned whether what was, after all, a series of cultural projects over twelve months in the city was tantamount to an entire region's renaissance.
The councillors, however, were bullish & hyperbolic in their booze-fuelled euphoria. Mike Storey, the then leader of Liverpool City Council, declared, "It's like the Beatles reforming, Liverpool winning the European Cup & Everton winning the Premiership all on the same day!"
At that point someone should have instructed Cllr Storey to go & lie down in a darkened room.
Well, with just six months remaining before 2008 arrives, the wheels are beginning to fall of the Capital of Culture juggernaut.
The first wheel came spinning away last week with the resignation of Joe Anderson, the city's Labour leader, from the Capital of Culture board (http://icliverpool.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0100regionalnews/tm_headline=labour-leader-quits-08- ).
According to the article, Anderson's criticisms are pretty damning:
"In a hard-hitting attack he said the Culture Board and the Culture Company were:
FAILING to engage communities and real people.
FAILING to provide a 2008 events programme that excited people.
FAILING to provide a worthwhile legacy for the city and missing the chance to kick-start creative industries."
Anderson particularly hit home with his comment, "People are constantly complaining about over emphasis on city-centre investment and when you visit parts of Speke and see the dereliction there it really hits home."
I have been critical of local politicos such as Anderson, seeing them as willing accomplices in the hype & bluster from the Culture Company (http://liverpool08.com/ ). However, Anderson, to his credit, blew away some myths about 2008. On the major developments in the city centre he said, "The renaissance is real but it was begun byEuropean Objective One funding and maintained by government grants."
The Liverpool Echo piece noted that Anderson "believed the culture board was guilty of building up unreasonable expectations about the festival from the word go."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On The Banks Of The Merseysippi

I saw Allen Toussaint & the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall on Tuesday evening. As well as being a stirring musical event, it was also rich in political symbolism. Both Toussaint, elegantly dapper as he carressed the piano, & the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a joyous, riotous eruption of musical virtuosity, represent the music (& by extension spirit) of New Orleans. They acknowledged the heavy toll taken by Katrina, but declared that the music was leading the city's cultural re-emergence. One member of the Jazz Band commented that the reception they received on this side of the Atlantic was warmer than the one accorded them by Washington's power player &, in particular, their Commander-In-Chief. He seemed taken aback by the sustained applause this remark merited.
Allen Toussaint can be heard here in an interview with the WNYC Public Radio programme "Soundcheck", barely a month after Katrina struck:
http://www.wnyc.org/shows/soundcheck/episodes/2005/09/07 .
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band have done a video in which they lovingly apply the Big Easy treatment to the old Kinks' song, "Complicated Life":
http://www.preservationhall.com/video/index.htm .

Pithy, But Precise

Trust Steve Bell to come up with the perfect take on Blair's self-pitying whine on Tuesday:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/cartoons/stevebell/0,,2101767,00.html .

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (never thought I'd quote Elton John)

There were a few nuggets of self-pity & poor-little-me mumblings from Tony Blair yesterday (http://politics.guardian.co.uk/tonyblair/story/0,,2101076.00.html ):
"Speaking at a meeting for journalists at Reuters in London, [Blair] added, 'The fear of missing out means today's media, more than ever, hunts in a pack.
'In these modes, it is like a feral beast just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no-one dares miss out.'"
Blair said he was not complaining unduly: "It is not a whinge about how unfair it all is".
Oh, yeah?
New Labour has been devastatingly effective at "spin", so was amusing to find Blair commenting, "Comment is a perfectly respectable part of journalism. But it is supposed to be separate."
The report went on, "Acknowledging his part in courting right wing media barons in the early days of his leadership, Mr Blair added, 'In the early days Murdoch was incredibly hostile to Labour and it was important to take that away.'"
At what cost, Tony?
Oh yes, nearly forgot: Iraq? Nope, no second thoughts.

More Junkmail In The Post

Accompanying my trade union journal in the post the other day was a plain white envelope addressed to me. I opened it & was shocked to find a ballot form for Labour's deputy leadership election. Seems that because my union pays the political levy I have a voice. Ha! Who would've thought back in 92, when I left the party as a full member before the bastards could kick me out, I would one day be asked to vote for the most boring & depressing political election since Enver Hoxha was in his prime in Albania.
The Candidate booklet, hilariously subtitled, "the future for Britain" contains a couple of gems. An introduction from my union's General Secretary concludes, "As you vote in this important election for a new Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, why not join the Labour Party, and help us to secure a fourth term Labour government."
Thanks, but I think I'll pass on that one.
There's a message from Gordon Brown, Washington's next bag-carrier, sorry, ally in the War On Terror (copyright, Dubya). Brown rhapsodises, "As a teenager I chose this party because of its values--values that I grew up with--and I am honoured that this party has chosen me."
Hmm, values, eh, Gordon? Those would be values behind PFI, faith schools, donations from corrupt businessmen & sychophancy to Rupert Murdoch. I've checked the dozen or so paragraphs of purple prose, nay, Olympian oratory from Gordon a few times now. So it must have been an error at the printers that there is no mention of Iraq. Bloody workers!
As for the candidates for the political equivalent of fluffers on a porn set, Hilary Benn declares that he wants "a country that acts on its concern about poverty and injustice, whether at home or in Africa". Just the UK & Africa, Hilary? What would your dad say about that? Comically, he says he also wants "a world that puts justice at the heart of our foreign policy". Evidently, that line went to the printers before the latest BAE/Saudi arms bribery scandal. Any mention of Iraq, by the way? Erm, nope.
Hazel Blears, nicely dubbed Mrs Pepperpot by Kevin Maguire in his New Statesman column, predictably comes up with cliches. Blears trills, "Yes, I'm a loyalist--to Labour and our members."
Not, presumably, those members who have left in disgust over the last decade, meaning that party membership has more than halved since 1997; the figure for that year were at 407,000, & the figure for last month stood at 177,000 (http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,,2101211,00.html ).
Jon Cruddas, dismissed by many as the no-hoper, does, at least, nod towards reality. He states, "While proudly proclaiming what we have got right, we must have the honesty to accept what has gone wrong and learn the lessons."
Aha, yes, he does mention Iraq, albeit fleetingly.
It is only when checking those MPs who back his nomination that I get a nasty jolt. My own MP, Joe Benton, has put his name to Cruddas' candidacy. Benton, one of the easy lump of lobby fodder to slavishly follow the New Labour line. His speeches in the Commons have tended to stress his Christian faith, the implication being that there is no real effective secular version of ethical awareness. As an atheist I find that deeply offensive. His views & voting record on abortion & gay rights also belong to the Victorian era.
The remaining candidates, Peter Hain, Harriet Harman & Alan Johnson, don't scare the horses with their addresses. Hain does state that he believes in "a progressive internationalist foreign policy", something which may evoke hollow laughter from Brown's entourage as they prepare to deliver their credentials to Washington.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

White House & Whitewash

First of all, I must mention Connie Lawn, a senior White House correspondent who I first noticed on a BBC Newsnight interview a couple of years ago. Her comments made a refreshing change from the usual roster of neo-cons the programme was beginning to rely on. I emailed Connie, congratulating her for breaching what had become a neo-con stronghold. Since then I've emailed Connie a few stories from this side of the pond which might be of relevance to her brief. Connie files reports for various media outlets, but has asked me to spread the word, so to speak, on her despatches. Consider it done, Connie, the word has gone out.
Connie is also a keen skier & I was delighted to come across this piece from Christmas 2003:
http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=255&mode=headlines .
Connie didn't quite succeed in her attempts to get Dubya on a ski slope. What a pity; there could have been a great big tree to greet him on the way down.

The ramifications of the Athens affair continue. Liverpool FC's chief executive, Rick Parry, returned to the fray yesterday (http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,,2095001,00.html ).
Parry noted, "The shortcomings in the management of the situation in Athens were apparent to anyone who was there...These latest comments from Uefa should not deflect attention from that reality."
He went on to say, "We produced a report for Uefa a week beforehand predicting, sadly, all of the things that did go wrong. They knew and we knew that thousands of fans would travel without tickets and we stressed the need for a proper check at the outer cordon."
Earlier in the Guardian article, William Gaillard, Uefa's director of communications (a job title which is becoming more of a misnomer by the day), was quoted thus, "What other set of fans steal tickets from their fellow supporters or out of the hands of children?...We know who caused most of the trouble in Athens."
Whilst condemning those "fans" who stole tickets, got in with forgeries or simply forced their way in, I suspect that Gaillard's emotive point about children will turn out to be every bit as apocryphal as Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
It didn't take long for one of the threads on the Guardian's sportsblog to run with the latest exchanges:
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/sport/2007/06/04liverpool_v_uefa_whos_to_blame.html .
One of the club's new owners, Bill Hicks, threw his lot into the ring this morning, calling Gaillard a "clown". I'm not sure that such a jibe, coming from a guy who by his own admission is still new to "soccer", helps Liverpool's cause. Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn met the Uefa President, Michel Platini today & all the usual diplomatic phrases were trotted out in the press release. What was actually said &, more importantly, decided, is still to be made clear.