Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ring Out The Old...

Many bloggers will have cast an eye back at the last twelve months, recalling highs, lows, embarrassments, gaffes, etc. I don't intend to follow suit simply because I can't be arsed.
However, seeing as this will be my last post of 2008, I wish you all (all seven of you, presumably) a Happy New Year. Special mentions for Tony Karon, Tony Parrish, Professor Chucklebutty & Guillaume.

Solidarity? I'm All Right, Jack

One of the features of this recession is the ubiquity of trade union leaders on the 24/7 news channels & in the serious press, warning of the uncertainty & hardship facing workers this festive period. Union leaders have been given column space & airtime to excoriate the bankers & other fat cats responsible for the current situation.
All well & good. However, some things don't change. I recall in my activist days railing against the salaries that union leaders & full-time officers enjoyed at a time when their members were under Thatcher's cosh. As we go into an economic downturn which threatens to be worse than that of the early 80s, it's unsurprising to note that at least one union leader won't have to worry about the credit crunch ( ).
David Hencke's incisive piece reveals that Tony Woodley, joint General Secretary of Unite, wants £100,000 to leave a subsidised property for which he pays a peppercorn rent of £200 per month. [Woodley's salary is £80,000 per year.] The £200 per month rent on the flat, in the Elephant & Castle area of south London, includes electricity & heating bills. Documents seen by Hencke are pretty hair-raising:
" . The flat has never been registered as a residential dwelling so Woodley has never paid any council tax on it.
. It was granted to him as an inter-union favour by the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU).
. The CSEU was negotiating to sell the commercial offices and the flat to a Scottish property company, Unicorn Developments, and offered him £15,000 to quit it.
. After much negotiating they later raised this to £55,000 but suddenly, to the company's solicitors' surprise, the Transport and General Workers Union -- as part of Unite -- made an identical offer for the same building.
. Then a private company in Woodley's home town [Wallasey], Purple Apple, which also has a contract to manage the TGWU properties, made a higher offer. Documents show that the sale was made personally to the late Gerry White, then director of the firm and who the union confirm was a long standing acquaintance of Woodley's. The commercial firm pulled out. "
[White & Woodley knew each other through their involvement with Vauxhall Motors Football Club in Ellesmere Port. Woodley is the club President.]
Woodley has been vocal in his calls for the UK government to follow the example of the US administration in bailing out the car industry. That's part of his job; his members' livelihoods depend on State support if they are to have any chance of riding out the storm. However, those members at Ellesmere Port, as well as those at the Jaguar plant in Speke, are entitled to wonder why it is that their leader, a man who really should be setting an example, has been cushioned from the day-to-day financial worries afflicting his membership, & now stands to gain as much as £100,000 for leaving a property which he shouldn't have moved into in the first place.
Something tells me those workers & their families won't be toasting Tony at midnight.

About That Business In Southport, Stevie

That the Steven Gerrard affair ( ) is now a sub judice matter hasn't stopped the messageboards & blogs from commenting on it. I don't intend to follow the online herd; there's nothing to be gained & no useful purpose to be served from it.
However, I do have one question: Phil Collins?!! For f***'s sake, Stevie, why Phil Collins?!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It Won't Even Make The Inside Pages Today

Ever since New Labour spindoctor Jo Moore decided to release some potentially embarrassing news on 9/11, remarking, "It's a good day to bury bad news", politicians & their entourage have quietly absorbed the lesson. When a major news story dominates the headlines & fills up the 24/7 news channels, slip out those press releases which can't be finessed or honeyed with flowery verbiage. So it was with elements within Liverpool City Council on the day of the Rhys Jones verdict, when the Standards Board for England ruled that former council leader Mike Storey had breached the local government code after briefing a journalist about the health of Jason Harborrow, former chief executive of the Liverpool Culture Company ( ).
Along with the timing of the release, it was notable that Storey used the in-house journal of the council, the Oldham Echo, to issue a statement of defiance. Storey declared "he would urge the council to take legal action against those who he said were peddling 'wicked and evil smears and innuendos' about members, particularly on internet blog sites." ( ).
Tony, Professor, congratulations!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

When Beatle Nostalgia Was Still A Baby

Prior to the Christmas break, I came across this curio on the BBC's online archive: .
This 1971 report by the late Bernard Falk, himself a Scouser, features "a disappointing first annual Mersey Beat convention". It includes interviews with Alan Williams, who still dines out on tales of his decision to let Brian Epstein take over as manager of the Beatles, & Cy Tucker, who still warbles away in faded cabaret spots around Merseyside. The piece serves as a welcome antidote to all the usual Fab Four guff in the local media.

Crime & Punishment

While the feelings & emotions around the Rhys Jones trial are still raw, some may think it imprudent to address the issue of youth crime in the round. However, that is what Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats' leader, did a week before Christmas ( ).
[Of course, Tony Blair, then Shadow Home Secretary, ran with the Bulger case, shamelessly so, in fact. It wasn't just a stick with which to beat the Tories, it was an early indication of Blair's willingness to inject religiosity into UK political debate, something hitherto confined to the United States.]
The Post reports:
"In a speech to a think-tank, Mr Clegg said politicians must not 'let the worst set the rules' - whether that was the murder of James, the death of Baby P, or the kidnap of Shannon Matthews.
"He added: 'We know it was the disaster politics response to the killing of Jamie (sic) Bulger that led to a massive upswing in the number of children in prison, or prison-like secure accomodation.
" 'And we know it isn't doing any good, it isn't cutting crime, it's just turning fragile children into damaged adults.
" 'Turning out a generation of career criminals..' "
Clegg should be commended for identifying the Bulger case as the catalyst for emotive, impulsive & ill-considered policies; the tabloid agenda drove the legislative process, dangerously so. The Post article pretty much concedes this point:
"By making the speech, Mr Clegg became the first senior politician to voice an argument long made by many political commentators -- that the Bulger case triggered a disastrous 'arms race' in crime policy."
The response from local MPs has been predictable & depressing. Mindful that he is the MP for Kirby, where James' mother still lives, George Howarth issues a defensive & cliched missive which fails to address Clegg's central contention. Walton's MP, Peter Kilfoyle, goes even further: he maintains that " 'there was a considered response on all sides, -- a real sense of wanting to know what had happened and how we could prevent such a thing ever happening again.' "
Considered response, Peter? I recall the mayhem in Snowdrop Street, Kirkdale, days after James' murder, when a frenzied crowd wrongly suspected a local boy of involvement in the case & nearly dragged him out of his family's home. There were, also, the scenes outside South Sefton Magistrates' Court in Bootle when Thompson & Venables, James' killers, made their first court appearance. That emotions ran high that day was entirely understandable. However, to use the term "considered" in describing the response is perverse in the extreme.
The BBC's account of Clegg's address to Demos ( ) is more nuanced & rounded than the Post's treatment:
"[Clegg] added that the economic downturn could lead to many people switching off politics and 'as more people lose their jobs and end up on the streets, an alienated and frustrated minority will turn to aggression, to hate and to blame'. "
The full transcript of Clegg's speech can be found here: .

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A New Mersey Sound

Bloggers are often accused, not without some justification, it should be said, of focusing on stories & issues which highlight the worst forms of behaviour, be it violence, corruption, hypocrisy, etc. Guilty as charged, m'lud.
However, seeing as it's Christmas Eve, I thought I'd highlight a "good news" story from the Guardian earlier this month: .
Season's Greetings.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Bill? Oh, The Kids Will See To That.

For most people in my neighbourhood the "boom" which preceded the credit crunch was a far removed economic phenomenon of which they knew little. However, those who did benefit during those times, with their city breaks to European cities, the annual holidays abroad, the conspicuous consumption -- courtesy of easy credit -- & the almost orgasmic pleasure with which they boasted of how their house's value had risen over a decade or so, are now ruefully recognising that there is a downside for their middle class routines. Put simply, their children & perhaps even grandchildren will have to pick up the tab.
Writing in the Guardian last week ( ), Jenni Russell penned:
"On the day of the pre-budget report my teenage son was listening to a news item about the huge expansion of government borrowing, and the debt being built up for the future. 'I don't understand - who's going to pay for all this?' he asked. I thought for a millisecond. 'You are,' I said."
Russell highlighted the bogus arguments deployed by the government to try & justify student loans; leaving university with a degree is no longer a guarantee of a well-paid, secure career. Nor is a graduate's financial prospects enhanced by the debt he/she has taken on for university education (up to £20,000), particularly at a time when the chance to land well-paid work in order to address that debt is rapidly diminishing.
Russell also drew attention to the housing issue:
"Even falling house prices aren't automatically good news for the young. Homes are still expensive compared with salaries; loans without high deposits are impossible to find; and those who buy at a time of very low inflation are going to find their mortgages won't shrink as they did in the past. The only people exempt from this will be those whose parents can spare some capital. In other words, generational inequality is going to further entrench social inequality."
Russell didn't prescribe any answers. Instead, she confined herself to cliched, liberal hand-wringing. Be that as it may, her piece on this "legacy issue" is timely & urgent.
In one of those instances of unwitting journalistic synchronicity, the same day's edition of the Financial Times carried an arch & sardonic article by Jane Owen on the government's contradictory message to the electorate that they should save & spend simultaneously ( ):
"I have been resisting the temptation to pump up my family's nano-economy with debt and, instead, turn down the heating and whisper the 'S' word. However, saving is now reserved for the hard of thinking. If only I had bought that Bombardier Learjet 45XR with personalised numberplates instead of stashing the cash in a plummeting individual savings account."
She concluded:
"The point is this. Mr Darling's debts give our children two things: wierd messages about how to cope with lean times and a future saddled by having to pay back what the government has borrowed on our behalf. We have witnessed a huge transfer of wealth from one generation to another: such wealth transfers used to be from parents to children. This time it is from children to parents. Season's greetings."
There will be a painful reckoning for those whose parents let the good times roll with interest.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Covered Track

Guillaume over at Vraie Fiction has some pretty strong views on the cover versions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", & rightly so ( ).
I don't watch the X-Factor, or other such TV shows, for that matter (too upmarket for me), so it was through the Guardian website that I heard about the winner performing the song. Surreal doesn't even begin to describe it. Mind you, it could have been worse, they could have chosen "Bird on a Wire".
By way of a compare & contrast exercise, here's three versions of the song, starting with the composer's own take: .
Next, Jeff Buckley's ethereal reading of the song: .
Finally, K.D. Lang's impassioned rendition on Later with Jools in 2004: .
Personally, I favour KD Lang's cover of the song, but all three are the best versions you could hear. Bob Dylan also chipped in with his own performance of Cohen's classic, but shouldn't have. My only worry is that it might now become a karaoke favourite. That really would be too much to bear.
BTW, Guillaume, bon voyage et Joyeux Noel.

Justice Delivered

Contrary to the sniping of a commenter on my post a fortnight ago on the campaign to free Michael Shields ( ), the unarguable evidence in his favour has finally been recognised by Justice Secretary Jack Straw ( ).
Given the snail-like pace of the legal process, however, it seems unlikely that Michael will be released in time for Christmas.
Everything about the conviction stank. The investigation by the Bulgarian police was amateurish & prone to basic errors. The "identification" of Michael by Martin Georgiev, the waiter who was attacked, took place in a police cell where Michael was handcuffed to a radiator; Georgiev was also still suffering the effects of his concussion from the attack.
The attitude & stance of the Bulgarian authorities throws a harsh light on their criminal justice system; like many former eastern bloc countries, Bulgaria still has a long way to go before it can be considered for EU membership.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Hidden Liverpool

It's worth highlighting the publication of six slim books which draw attention to a side of Liverpool which didn't get a look-in during culture year: .
Despite the provenance of the article (the title is a Murdoch paper, of course), there are some valid points made in the piece:
"The authors are less concerned with the showpieces -- the two cathedrals, the lavishly refurbished St George's Hall, the monumental Pier Head offices -- than with the fabric of everyday working life and its landscapes. They give an architectural dimension to the sort of grassroots community experience easily overlooked by glamorous 'Culture' projects. A celebrity culture like ours, after all, is predictably fascinated by celebrity buildings; and in no conventional way can the Steble Street Baths and Washhouse or the Sheltering Home for Destitute Children in Myrtle Street be regarded as celebs."
Such institutions would have been known to my grandparents' & great-grandparents' generation.
The article goes on to observe accurately:
"Liverpool is, of course, a special case, emphatically 'Not Just Another Place', as a tourism poster boasts outside Lime Street Station. An insular city preoccupied with its own histories and mythologies, it is militantly unEnglish, sharp, feisty with the energy of migration and immigration. It can sometimes, however, seem indifferent to its architecture; flash new buildings go up before old dereliction has been cleared."
It's certainly of some consolation that this scandalously overlooked aspect of the city's social & architectural heritage has been noted in the final days of its supposed year of culture.

Bradley Puts His Foot In It

Warren Bradley, leader of Liverpool City Council, has just spoken on BBC Radio Merseyside, giving his reaction to the Rhys Jones verdict. He praised Rhys' family but also said that the ordeal of the court case must have been "absolute murder" for them. I realise that you can't always choose your words carefully in such circumstances, but his comment is crass beyond belief.


Strange to see that the Liverpool Times blog ( ) hasn't been updated since early September.


Justice has finally been delivered in the Rhys Jones murder trial: .

Monday, December 15, 2008

Exit Strategy

Did she jump, or was she pushed?
That's the question being posed after last week's news that the chief executive of Liverpool One, Joanne Jennings, is to leave her position ( ):
"Liverpool One chief executive Joanne Jennings announced her decision to leave the role and seek new challenges today."
Ah, yes, "new challenges"; I love that euphemism!
There's the usual bollockese from Grovesnor, owner of the retail behemoth, gushing in its seeming appreciation of Jenning's tenure. However, what's this?
"Following her departure the chief executive's role will not be replaced.
"But a new position of estates director will concentrate on the day-to-day running of the centre from early next year."
So, a reduced position for the same job, &, doubtless, a reduced salary to go with it, too.
Jennings, for her part, adheres to the requisite niceities of such "departures", exclaiming:
"I have enjoyed a challenging and exciting role as the Liverpool One chief executive and am extremely proud of what has been achieved here.
"I have also been very privileged to work in the city during the most momentous of times, with Capital of Culture and Liverpool's resurgence as a regional capital.
"I know that Liverpool One will continue to be embedded in city life."
"Challenging" is another euphemism to savour; Capital of Culture year "momentous", Joanne? Not so for most Scousers, quietly getting on with their lives in credit crunch year. And what's all this bullshit about "Liverpool's resurgence as a regional capital"?
Define a regional capital, Joanne.
Can't? OK, I'll define it for you: a regional capital is the main administrative centre within a federal state, eg., Germany with its Lander system. Last time I checked, the UK had not adopted the federal model.
As for Liverpool One being "embedded" in the city, I can't help thinking it will become as discredited & irrelevant to the city as the embedded journos in the Iraq war were to proper reporting.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Business Of Deception

In the Liliputian world of Westminster politics egos abound, pomposity goes untrammeled & the Punch & Judy of PMQs is presented as an elevated form of debate, a paragon of Socratic exposition & comprehension.
Such puerile political posturing reaches its nadir when Party Political Broadcasts are aired on TV. Added to this is the odd bit of chicanery. All parties stoop to it; much as I'd like to lay the blame largely at the Tories' door, New Labour, the Lib Dems & others are no strangers to an imaginative adaptation of reality.
However, the Tories are the ones to be rumbled with a recent PPB ( ).
Southport businessman Shane Prescott appeared in the Tories' broadcast, aired on December 4th, claiming his loft conversion business had gone bust due to Labour's policies. However, the reality is that, as records at Companies House in London show, his business went under in 2006, when the living was easy & so was the credit.
Prescott wailed before the camera:
"How many casualties are we going to leave behind? Broken families concern me - and I feel like I'm part of that at the moment. It can only get worse, if we don't address the problem now."
Now that the reality of Prescott's case has been laid bare, what's his defence?
"The Company went into Voluntary Liquidation two years ago, as it was trading from an insolvent position, this fact was disclosed prior to broadcast, and was felt to be totally non-relevant to the issues addressed within the interview."
Something can be "disclosed" without being "broadcast". If that was the case, the Tories presumably sat on the information until other sources uncovered the circumstances of Prescott's business failure. As for his contention that his own case was not relevant to the Tory PPB, a misleading impression was created that Prescott's firm folded because of the government's current policies on the recession. As an aside, it raises questions about Prescott's business acumen that his firm failed at a time when the boom still prevailed.
Despite the firm's demise, Prescott's website is still up: .

Friday, December 12, 2008

They Can't Blame Boris For This

Back in 2004, the then Tory leader Michael Howard instructed Boris Johnson, in his incarnation as editor of the Spectator magazine, to visit Liverpool & apologise for the editorial, penned by Simon Heffer, which used Ken Bigley's murder in Iraq as an opportunity to indulge in a bit of good, old fashioned Scouse bashing. Bumbling Boris shambled up north, map & survival guide in hand, & ummed & aahed a convoluted, Cicero-quoting version of contrition.
Tory strategists were privately puzzled. After all, there were no marginal seats at stake in the city, so why go to such lengths when the city would never go Tory?
I suspect Tory High Command will most definitely hit the roof & demand a Johnsonesque gesture of atonement after the same magazine this week sneered in a similar manner at Nottingham ( ). Unlike Liverpool, there's a juicy crop of marginal seats in the East Midlands just waiting to be wooed by Cameron.
Fist Liverpool, now Nottingham. Which provincial city is next on the gilded rag's hit-list?

There Goes The Neighbourhood

You know how it is when someone moves into your road or street & soon causes hassle, aggro, etc. Bad enough, you'd think. Yet imagine what life must be like in a Dallas suburb where, already saddled with Tom Hicks as one of the residents, one of the vacant properties has been snapped up by a certain George W Bush ( ).
Despite their mutual support for the GOP, not to mention the less than transparent business deals between the two over Hicks' acquisition of the local baseball team, it seems there could soon be a none too neighbourly, good old fashioned Texas stand-off between the erstwhile buddies as keeping up with the Joneses gives way to showing the Joneses who's head honcho in the area:
"US president George W Bush is understood to have bought a house which backs onto his fellow Texan's home.
"The house, in a cul-de-sac in one of the wealthiest areas of Texas, sits on 1.13 acres and offers 8,501 sq. ft of living space.
"But while the property is a good size, it is dwarfed by Mr Hicks's home.
"Mr Hicks's lavish pad, reportedly the largest in Texas, spreads over a 20 acre estate and is more than four times the size of Mr Bush's mansion."
I love the thought that someone needs 8,501 sq. ft in which to live.

Cashing In On A Civic Symbol

There's been an almost Trappist period of silence at Liverpool Football Club since last month's enquiries about the possibility of trademarking the city of Liverpool's symbol, the Liver Bird ( ).
The club has already trademarked "This Is Anfield" & "You'll Never Walk Alone".
Even at the time, someone within the Anfield hierarchy realised the negative PR the affair would bring & rowed back frantically: "The club will not, it claims, prevent other legitimate organisations from using the Liver bird logo."
However, the plain reason for the club's move was spelt out later on in Andy Hunter's piece:
"Liverpool's application includes a range of Liver bird usage, including on clothing, stationery and even kitchen utensils. 'The Liver bird is part and parcel of the city, and we are not remotely going anywhere near that,' insisted a club spokesman. 'What we are asking to do is to register our version of the Liver bird.' "
Methinks they doth protest too much. The Liver Bird symbol is primarily a civic one, relating to the city itself, not to a private organisation seeking to maximise revenue. If anything, the club should be obliged to secure the city council's permission to use the logo.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Anthony Walker Foundation

Screenings & launches are ten-a-penny; not a week day goes by without some sort of hi-tech presentation, replete with powerpoint presentations & a couple of laptops bathed in colour co-ordinated lighting. However, it would be remiss to overlook an event which took place at Liverpool Football Club nearly two weeks ago.
"Colour Blind", a film dedicated to the memory of Anthony Walker, murdered in Huyton in July 2005 by two specimens of racist scum, was shown to an invited audience ( ).
The event was also designed to highlight the work of the Anthony Walker Foundation, set up by Anthony's family in the wake of his death. The comments by Anthony's mother, Gee Walker, at the screening merit quoting:
"When I saw the film, it brought a tear to my eye.
"Our society is being eroded by racial hatred and we have to take a stand and say enough is enough.
"Liverpool is a wonderful city and I am appealing to all of you, don't let a few small-minded bigots destroy the good image of the city.
"I hope this film will change the hearts of everyone who watches it."
The foundation can be contacted by emailing: .

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Read All About It

Given the wretched state of affairs at the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo, not to mention the crisis affecting pretty much all the MSM, it's worth noting the arrival of a website designed to monitor & highlight falling media standards (where to start, guys?), "Dog Bites Dog" ( ).
I forsee a steady flow of material for the site.

More From The Echo Chamber

The only drawback with the BBC's otherwise invaluable iPlayer is that TV & radio programmes are stored on it for just seven days. Before it's too late, therefore, here's the link for the Roger Phillips Phone-In on BBC Radio Merseyside last Friday: .
The programme's first hour was taken up by calls to the Echo editor, Alastair Machray, about the changes at the paper &, of course, the move to Oldham with the loss of up to 100 jobs from the city that the paper ostensibly champions. The ever-genial Mr Phillips gave Alastair an easy ride. So far, so pleasant. Then the calls came in. Many were unswayed by Alastair's honeyed words about maintaining the "quality" of his publication. Some compared the Echo to the Daily Mail. One really put the knife in & twisted it by remarking that it was worse than the Sun.
And on it continued, Alastair gamely defending the job losses, the move to Oldham & the content of the paper that he puts together. There were some good gags, too. Alastair's contention that the Echo really was "the voice of Liverpool" had me chuckling. However, the real gem came when he compared the brand value of his sorry little paper to that of the New York Times. Yes, he really did make that comparison. Laugh? I nearly organised a whip-round for Jason Harborrow!
Just by way of a good old-fashioned compare & contrast exercise, click on this link: . Now click on this link: . Like peas in a pod, aren't they?
Of course, the situation facing the Daily Post & Echo's parent company, Trinity Mirror, is grim. Its other titles around the country have seen swingeing job losses. Moreover, its advertising revenues have fallen by 20% ( ).
However, in PR terms, it goes from bad to worse for its Merseyside operation. And it certainly isn't helped by the latest round of job losses among its journalistic staff; one quarter of its staff will go ( ).
According to LC, the quality of the content WILL suffer:
"Sub-editors, the people who polish the writing, design the pages, fact check and act as a last legal safety net, appear to be in the sights of much of the 'streamlining' and the ones that survive will be called 'multimedia deskers' who will work across all papers and platforms."
These "savings" could be very costly if an article leads all the way to the libel courts; Rex Makin doesn't come cheap, you know.
It doesn't stop there. The Saturday edition of the Liverpool Daily Post will be no more ( ).
All of which makes the Echo's gloss on the situation look even more risible. Take this self-congratulatory missive on its new "look": .
It's almost Pravdaesque in tone. It quotes a satisfied reader, who, along with six other deluded souls, was invited to Echo HQ. on Old Hall Street: "We really appreciated being listened to and invited to come to the ECHO. I love the paper and the changes that have been made to the headlines and the text size made a big difference."
It would be nice to treat that quote as verbatim. It would also be nice to think that there is a Santa Claus & that the moon's made of cheese.
The Echo says it wants more comments from its readers...the right comments, of course.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

FA By Name, FA By Nature

Following the example of the Hillsborough Justice campaign, the campaign to free Michael Shields & clear his name ( ) received a powerful boost before Liverpool's home fixture against West Ham United on Monday evening.
Actress Sue Johnstone addressed the crowd, pointing out the inconsistencies in the prosecution's case & subsequent conviction against Michael for the attempted murder of a Bulgarian waiter, Martin Georgiev, in May 2005, as a group of Liverpool fans made their way through Bulgaria on their way home from the Champions League final in Istanbul.
Reflecting the strength of feeling about the case among supporters, as well as recognising the increasing body of evidence which points to a major miscarriage of justice, Liverpool FC not only agreed to the pre-match protest, but also encouraged the players to wear "Free Michael Shields" t-shirts. The protest was also televised live by Setanta, to their credit. [Something tells me the Murdoch-owned Sky Sports would have ignored or downplayed the event.]
However, demonstrating, yet again, their irrelevance to most football supporters, as well as a chronic inability to acknowledge the evidence, the FA have lived up to their initials by demanding an explanation from the club ( ):
"Officials at Soho Square [FA Headquarters] are considering whether to bring disciplinary charges after taking exception at the manner in which Liverpool have publicly backed a man who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of a Bulgarian waiter, Martin Georgiev, in May 2005.
"Another Liverpool fan admitted being responsible for the crime before later retracting his confession and Shields' case will go before a high court review tomorrow. The FA, however, is alarmed that Liverpool should openly use a live televised game to try to influence the matter."
Two points need to be made from that quote: Firstly, it is common knowledge on Merseyside that the "Liverpool fan", as he's erroneously described, who retracted his confession is publicly known. Seeing as any case against the individual concerned has yet to be instigated, I don't think I'm breaking any sub judice rules in naming him as Graham Sankey. This individual is, as they say, known to the police. He has a criminal record for a number of violent offences, some of which were racially aggravated. Sankey has openly boasted about his luck in evading conviction for the crime. Secondly, it is the right of any body or individual to try to "influence" the outcome when it is claimed a major miscarriage of justice has taken place (a polite term for it is "lobbying").
The FA disgraced itself in its response to Hillsborough. Therefore it isn't surprising that it has acted in this way. Local MPs, Liverpool City Council, Liverpool FC, the Spirit of Shankly, the club's fans & countless others recognise the compelling proof of Michael Shields' innocence. That the FA should be blind to this is depressingly predictable.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Religion Of Retailing

In this Alice In Wonderland society where government ministers exhort us to spend more in order to, erm, combat the credit crunch, it's good to see one of the city's most prominent figures urging reality over the mounting personal debt crisis affecting an alarming number of families on Merseyside. James Jones, Anglican bishop of Liverpool, issued a stark warning about the issue ( ), adding, "This is something I've given some thought to over a number of years and I think the chickens are coming home to roost."
Fine words. But, hang on, wasn't the Right Rev. one of the local grandees to attend the opening of Liverpool One, that temple of local "retail therapy"?

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

There are few figures more sad or forlorn in Liverpool's pubs than those relics from the Merseybeat era. You know the type: they'll insist on telling you that they either knew the Beatles, or were in a band which could've been as big as the Beatles. Perhaps the best example of this breed of sentimental Scouser is Pete Best. He was the Beatles' drummer before the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine replaced him at the behest of Lennon, McCartney & Harrison, purportedly jealous of the female following that Best apparently enjoyed.
All these years later, Best insists he's not bitter ( ).
The only valid comment from Best in what turns out to be little more than a puff-piece for his new album is, "It's important that the city's culture moves on".
Unfortunately, due to lachrymose garbage like this, that isn't always possible. Best's comments on McCartney & Starr amount to a read-between-the-lines invitation, particularly the terse comments about his successor, with whom he seems to share a gift for lyric-writing.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Gratuitous Beatle Post

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

Culture Year's Unsung Hero

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008


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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Brick Dislodged Amid Poltical Posturing

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

What A Mandate For Change Really Means

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

Recession Is The Referee In This Game

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

An Awful Audit

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Take Two

Dontcha just love wrong links? .

Everything's Coming Up Roses For Me & For You

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pressing The Self-Destruct Button

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


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

A Taxing Time For Local Papers?

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

From Kenya To Kilkenny

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

It's All In The Mind

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

Political Pygmies

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

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Apathy: It's All The Bloggers' Fault

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

Saturday, November 08, 2008


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

In Vino Veritas?

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

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes He Did

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

When The Circus Leaves Town

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

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

Partners no more?

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

Futility & Fantasy

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

Eyes On The Prize

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

Monday, November 03, 2008


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

Civic Chaos: A Case Study

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

Hidden Agenda

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