Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So Long, Farewell

Liverpool Confidential was on hand at the Lady of Mann pub, behind Rigby's in the city centre last Friday, to note the leaving party for those Oldham Echo staff to get the chop by Trinity Mirror ( ).
LC's mole even took along a camera to get some touching snaps of a tired & emotional group, some of whom were bidding a fond, or maybe not so fond, adieu to life on Old Hall Street.
As a city centre Echo seller, leaning on his stall near Echo HQ, said to me a week or so back while pointing in its general direction, "They used to produce a newspaper there, you know. It embarrasses me to flog this rag now."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Taking A Long View

Many people in Liverpool may well think it too soon to try & put the Rhys Jones case in a wider historical context. However, credit to Jonathan Freedland & the team behind BBC Radio 4's The Long View earlier today for placing it in the context of the city's history without seeming premature or tactless ( ).
Freedland & his guests, including the Echo's Ben Rossington, drew parallels between the Rhys Jones case & that of a 13 year-old boy, Michael Burns, murdered by other teenage boys on Commercial Road, Kirkdale in 1883. As well as similarities, there were more, altogether disturbing differences between the two cases.

Falling Down On The Job

While the Masters of the Universe (aka the bankers) were playing fast & loose with global finances in the manner of casino habitues, you might have thought that the ladies & gentlemen of the press would start to suspect that the boom couldn't last. Given the popular perception of most hacks as cynical, headline-hungry rodents, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the financial journalists would count among their number one or two audacious souls who were prepared to rain on the City's parade.
However, no one piped up, & it's now coming back to haunt them ( ).
A panel of financial journalists, as well as Vince Cable, the Lib Dem deputy leader & economic spokesman, addressed a debate entitled, "Why Did Nobody See It [the recession] Coming?"
One reason given:
"Pressure from financial public relations officers was among the reasons put forward."
It's not just the hacks in the dock, Cable tells of being persuaded back in 2002 that raising concerns about what was always an unsustainable boom was unpatriotic. Yes, really.
Moreover, in an aside which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the Daily Mail, Alex Brummer, its City editor, "admitted his paper's 'obsession' with the house price crash meant other aspects of the impending crisis were less prominent.
" 'Our readers seemed to be obsessed with the housing crash, and we played to that obsession,' he said.
" '[Those stories] were at the front of the paper, where we have 10 million readers, as opposed to the City pages, where we have three readers.' "
The BBC's Evan Davis declares that a journalist's role is to "withstand the pressures of the public relations industry." However, he, too, feebly protests that hacks couldn't be blamed for being so gullible & easily taken-in. He even falls back on the Finance Is Complicated argument, forgetting that a hack's role is to investigate a story, however "complicated", & then explain it to a wider audience or readership.
Brummer, Davis & co. would do well to observe the way in which the BBC's economics editor Robert Peston handled criticism of his reporting on the Northern Rock affair when he visited Newcastle & Gateshead last week ( ).
Peston pointedly said that as a journalist, he had a responsibility to explain the story, & what it meant for the bank as well as the wider economy. Complaints that he "talked down" Northern Rock were risible (my word, not Peston's).
It could have been worse, however. Much, much worse. The US cable business station CNBC is less a news channel than a cheerleader for free market capitalism. As such, its presenters are encouraged to "editorialise", ie., spout free market, neo-con nostrums which may be fashionable on Wall Street, but which were rejected by a majority of US voters last November.
John Thain, now disgraced former CEO of Bank of America, is one of the main villains at the US end for the credit crunch. He also arranged to have $1.2m spent on his executive bathroom. Despite this, CNBC presenter (& self-styled "Money Honey", a phrase she's trade marked) Maria Bartiromo recently declared that Thain is "a man of integrity" ( ).
The evidently perspicacious Ms Bartiromo also said towards the end of 2007 that there wouldn't be a recession ( ).
The term "irony" suddenly seems redundant.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Alex Hilton

Recess Monkey website reports that Alex Hilton, one of the leading lights behind the blog & one-time would-be hopeful prospective New Labour candidate for Liverpool West Derby at the time of Bob Wareing's deselection, has been in hospital over the last few days with bacterial meningitis ( ).
I was rather cutting about Alex in a blog post back in October, 2007 after I mistakenly accused him of double standards, thinking he had penned a RM piece about litter in Liverpool ( ). Alex replied to my post in courteous, yet evidently pained tones.
My best wishes to Alex for a full recovery.

Stirring Up Trouble

Summer's here & the time is right for rioting in the streets (apologies to Martha & the Vandellas).
Well, no, actually, it isn't & it isn't, if you get my drift.
Today's Guardian leads with a claim by a senior police officer at the Met that the middle-class will create their very own long, hot summer ( ):
"Britain's most senior police officer with responsibility for public order raised the spectre of a return to the riots of the 1980s, with people who have lost their jobs, homes or savings becoming 'footsoldiers' in a wave of potentially violent mass protests.
"Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police's public order branch, told the Guardian that middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year."
The thought of newly redundant IT consultants, journalists & middle managers massing behind an array of banners & flags as they trash the local Starbucks, McDonalds, etc. is fanciful in the extreme. They'll mutter, slam doors, leave a libellous message on the company's intranet system, perhaps, but riot? You must be joking.
If there is the potential for unrest this year, it's more likely to emanate from those students who've amassed debts while studying, only to find that they're confronted either with McJobs, or the Job Seeker's Allowance of £60.50 per week, which will go a long way towards paying off an average debt of £20,000. Even in this pocket of dissent, however, don't expect any sort of mass movement to emerge; denuded of effective organisation, thanks to a supine trade union leadership & a consumerist culture they've grown up with, graduates will react in typically individual ways. Some might urge the others to fight, but the rest will shrug their shoulders & accept all that the slump throws at them.
The real agenda behind Superintendent Hartshorn's claims is referred to later in the report:
"[Hartshorn's] comments are likely to be met with disappointment by protest groups, who in recent weeks have complained that police are adopting a more confrontational approach at demonstrations. Officers have been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by activists to justify the use of resources spent on them."
In other words, it's part of a turf war between competing Whitehall spending departments; what better to validate the expenditure on the Met at a time of economic depression than a couple of manufactured public order scare stories?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

When England Was The Whore Of The World, Margaret Was Her Madam....*

In anticipation of the BBC drama about Thatcher, starring Lindsay Duncan, next Thursday ( ), today's Independent on Sunday selects just a handful of figures who were prominent, or rose to prominence, in the 1980s & asks them for their views on the Tory leader who inflicted more damage on the UK's manufacturing base than the Luftwaffe ( ).
Most of the obvious figures from the decade are quoted, including Tony Benn (with an odd Thatcher anecdote from Eric Heffer's memorial service in 1991), Bernard Ingham, Billy Bragg, Edwina Currie & Alexie Sayle. However, a qoute from Beryl Bainbridge says far more about her than Thatcher herself. It puts her recent & not so recent disparaging remarks about her home town in a sharper, more malign context:
"I never voted Conservative, but she was a strong and able woman, well-educated and she wasn't scared of men. I saw her a couple of years ago with Carol. I had had a drink and I just went up to Margaret and kissed her. I felt terribly ashamed afterwards. Carol asked me why I did it and I just said, 'She's nice'."
Even now, two decades on, nearly every other Liverpudlian, in contrast to Our Beryl, would, if given the chance, feel sorely tempted to administer something other than a kiss to the woman.
As Elvis Costello memorably expressed it on a BBC programme back in 1989, the loathing for Thatcher will persist long after her death: .

* "Tramp The Dirt Down", by Elvis Costello, 1989.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Parish Notice

Just a quick note to the effect that the BBC's Question Time programme will be broadcast from Liverpool on Thursday 12th March ( ).
No further details are given on the website except to say it will be somewhere in Toxteth.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Selective Amnesia

Lower the flag to half-mast, play sonorous music on BBC Radio Merseyside, allow Phil Redmond to organise the commemorations & make sure those bloody cormorants atop the Liver Building are well & truly tied down as a city mourns its loss.
Joe Riley is stepping down as the Oldham Echo's Arts Editor ( ).
But before he doffs his cap for a final time, let's accompany Joe as he takes a trip down Memory Lane. Pull up a seat alongside Joe's rocking-chair as we listen in on his recollections:
"The pianist Arthur Rubenstein, then 92, greeting me and saying: 'You are shaking the hand that shook the hand of Brahms."....
"Interviewing Rudolph Nureyev as he gnawed on a chicken leg in the foyer of the Empire."....
"Interviewing Bob Dylan."....
"Going out on the town with George Melly."....
And there we leave Joe to witter on amiably to himself. Don't fret too much, however, Joe will continue to pen his Thursday colum in the Echo ( ).
Hang on, Joe, isn't there one particular moment you've forgotten to mention? Come on, you must recall it, surely? I'll jog your memory, it was the time you fell asleep during a Jimmy McGovern play at the Liverpool Empire Theatre. You were suspended by the Echo for a few days afterwards.
Tony Parrish, on his sublime Liverpool SubCulture blog, explained at the time, October, 2007, just to be pedantic ( ): "Joe Riley fell asleep during the premiere of Jimmy McGovern's extremely disappointing play, King Cotton, at the Liverpool Empire.
"While other bored members of the audience were walking out of the Empire half-way through to do something infinitely more interesting like catch a bus, or count the pigeons, Joe had forty winks. He had been on duty, apparently, since 7 am that morning when he had also been at the launch of some obscure Culture Company event.
"However, Mr McGovern (who we had previously admired, eds) was sitting a few seats away from the Echo scribe and took umbrage at him dozing off.
"Precise accounts vary but there then followed an unseemly and noisy confrontation at half-time at the bar at the Empire with McGovern tearing into Riley with a four-letter tirade."
Remember it now, Joe? Ah, good. Too late for your valedictory piece, of course, but don't worry, you can include it in your column next Thursday. Can't you?

Transgression & Treatment

Injecting a note of reason into the toxic stew of the crime debate, Independent columnist Johann Hari today identifies three areas where crime prevention lies & where it's currently being neglected ( ): Mental health & the continuing practice of putting people with mental health issues in jail; drug addiction, & the controversial, but ultimately unarguable case for increased methadone & heroin prescription for addicts who break the law to feed their habit; & rehabilitation within prison itself, given that "60 per cent of prisoners have a reading ability below that of a six-year-old child - and most leave having learned nothing."
The choice is stark, Hari warns. Do we choose to follow the Daily Mail "Hang 'Em & Flog 'Em" call? "Yes, it gives us all a cheap kick to be rhetorically 'tough' , smacking around the insane, addicts and illiterates who made horrible choices in their past -- but it ends with more of us becoming victims of crime."
Supporting evidence for Hari's point concerning illiteracy is provided today by news of a depressing case of a 16-year-old male found guilty of murder. He is illiterate & boasted of being "the man" after stabbing his victim ( ).

Letter To America

I see the city fathers are still banging on about inviting Obama to Liverpool ( ).
Eager to hype it up, Peter Elson's piece in the Daily Post begins:
"Hopes were high last night of President Barack Obama planning a visit to Liverpool in April."
Picture the scene inside the Oval Office: Flustered & sleep-deprived aides & advisers anxiously try to engage the Commander-in Chief's attention as they relay the latest news from Gaza, Iraq & Afghanistan. Another insider wants to raise the economy. Outside the office someone is shouting about climate change. Obama waves them all away with a dismissive hand & declares, "I need to plan my visit to Liverpool!"
Anyway, Richard Le Baron, the acting US Ambassador to the UK, has just spent two days in the city & is quoted in the Post's piece as saying that Obama "certainly would be interested" in paying a visit.
Mr Le Baron is a diplomat, don't forget.
Elsewhere in Elson's piece up pops the city's Lord Mayor, Steve Rotheram, the civic clown who recently declared that America owes much of its history to the Port of Liverpool. Mayor Rotheram comes up with another ejaculatory spurt of civic self-delusion:
"No other British city can match our US links, which is why I've signed and sent the letter today inviting President Obama to visit Liverpool."
Hmm, I'm sure the ports of Bristol, Plymouth & Southampton would have a short, sharp response to that one.
Flo Clucas, city council deputy leader, is also quoted:
"[Acting Ambassador Le Baron] was interested in the effect of the Obama factor in Britain and the impact of the recession on the city.
"What a fillip it would give Liverpool if President Obama were to visit."
At which point the sub-editor performs the trick of putting Le Baron's name immediately after Clucas' comments so as to give the casual or inattentive reader the fleeting impression that the quote could be ascribed to him.
As I've pointed out before, it's highly unlikely Obama will go anywhere outside London in April when Brown hosts the G20 summit. Which is just as well. An Obama visit to Liverpool would produce a series of nauseous hanging-out-with-Barack pieces from Phil Redmond, et al.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pricking The Bubble Of Self-Delusion

One of the things which makes the Oldham Echo's coverage of events on Merseyside so risible is its insistence that, come what may, the region will somehow remain immune from the gathering economic storm. Recent events, some of which I've commented on in this blog, make a nonsense of that nostrum.
The feel-good, la-la-la-I'm-not-listening stance of the Echo has been brought up short by the unarguable reality of job losses (including those 100 printing positions the paper is responsible for via its move to Oldham) & collapsed housing market.
Greg O'Keefe injects a welcome & bracing blast of reality about the recession's effect on the city, particularly on Liverpool One ( ).
In typical Echo fashion, however, he couches his thoughts in an anxious surely-it-couldn't-happen sort of way:
"I'm not suggesting that hope has been knocked out -- but it has taken a standing count and its legs look tired."
Later on in his piece O'Keefe cautions:
"What causes concern as the economy consistently hits new troughs is the terrifying vision of a Liverpool One with dozens of empty, boarded-up, abandoned outlets getting scruffier by the day.
"It is not an irrational fear in a city which has seen the once proud Garden festival site go from boom to shoddy bust in a past recession."
Moreover, in an aside which jars the cosy consensus on Old Hall Street about how the city is somehow immune from the economic storm, O'Keefe realises ruefully:
"Perhaps the city centre traders were always going to have to adapt to life without the 08 factor, but doing it in the shuddering cold of this recession-hit winter is proving terminal."
Terminal? I would love to have been the proverbial fly on the wall as Echo editor Alastair Machray & his minions agonised over publishing that loaded term in O'Keefe's piece.

Gone In Thirty Minutes

Agency staff are the easiest of whipping boys as the recession bites. If the workers at BMW's Mini plant in Cowley, Oxfordshire thought they were unique in receiving an hour's notice of their dismissals, they may be interested to hear of the fate that has befallen 20 agency staff at the Fujitsu plant in Netherton here on Merseyside. The notice they got? Thirty minutes. Yes, half an hour ( ).
Like their counterparts at Cowley, the sacked workers are not eligible for redundancy pay, despite their length of service at Fujitsu (the Echo tells of some who have worked there for eight years). The article also relates:
"Last night Walton Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle said it was 'disgraceful' the way consecutive governments has promoted employers' rights over those of employees."
The uncomfortable reality for Kilfoyle & his parliamentary colleagues, however, is that this sort of thing is permitted, even encouraged, by New Labour; Kilfoyle prides himself on the expulsions of Militant members in this part of the world two decades ago. Only thing is that led, in turn, to the creation of New Labour (or "the Project", as Peter Mandelson referred to it).
Still, at least Kilfoyle is saying something about the Fujitsu job losses & the manner in which they have taken place. The Netherton plant doesn't lie in his constituency. It lies in the seat of Bootle Labour MP Joe Benton, who, as is his wont, maintains a Trappist silence on the matter. If it doesn't involve the "right to life" or "family values", good old Joe will keep schtum.
For what it's worth, the article mentions a TUC website calling for fair treatment of agency staff on Merseyside: . The words "stable-door, "bolted" & "horse" come to mind.

A Shot Of Working Class Culture

Wading through a couple of unread Guardian weekend Review sections recently, I came across an engaging feature by Emma Brockes in which she interviewed Boston writer Dennis Lehane ( ) to mark the publication of his latest novel, The Given Day, which received a qualified endorsement from Chris Petit in the following week's edition ( ).
In Brocke's piece it's immediately apparent that Lehane not only essays gripping & resonant tales, he also gives great soundbite: "Its good not only to realise that you can't please all of the people all of the time, but that you don't want to. There's a certain type of reader that you don't ever want to write for. And that really helps. I impressed a moron, why should I care? Or I pissed off a moron, why should it bother me?"....
"I believed from a very young age that all race warfare is essentially class warfare, and that it's in the better interests of the haves to have the have-nots fighting among themselves. And I believe that to this day. It's probably the strongest socialist tenet that I have."....
In response to being asked by "otherwise mature" compatriots whether unions are needed: "You might want to thank them for the weekend, the eight hour day and the fact that your 12-year-old doesn't work in a sweat mill."
Any one who warms to the background & philosophy which informs Lehane's work will certainly find an echo of it from the same edition of Guardian Review in William Feaver's feature on the "pitmen painters" from the north-east in the 1930s ( ).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

With A Union Like This, Who Needs Management?

In an age of instant globalised communication which big business exhorts us all to appreciate & utilise, it was, perhaps, appropriate that the moment when 850 agency staff at BMW's Mini plant at Cowley, Oxfordshire, were told that they were being sacked at one hour's notice (yes, you read that correctly) was captured through the grainy lens of a worker's mobile phone ( ).
What was striking about the images contained in Darshna Soni's report was that the news was broken to all 850 staff at a 5.30am meeting not by the bosses themselves, but by representatives from the main union at the plant, Unite. The Unite rep at Cowley declined to be interviewed on camera, but told Soni over the phone that the union knew about management's intentions before Christmas.
I suppose, being cynical, one shouldn't be shocked by the news that people can be dismissed at just an hour's notice (thus are the vagaries of life as a temp), after all, it is perfectly legal under this New Labour government for workers to be sacked by text message, as happened a year or so back.
Nor am I unduly shocked that it concerns Unite, whose joint General Secretary, Tony Woodley, continues to live at his London address for a peppercorn rent with an option to purchase, the terms of which must make him think, "Credit crunch? What credit crunch?" ( ).
Woodley popped up for a couple of soundbites on the news bulletins, suggesting it was entirely the responsibility of BMW & that Brown should intervene. The term "disingenuous" sprang to mind.
Some active trade unionists reading this blog may well raise the objection that the role of agency staff throughout the 90s was deeply damaging to trade union organisation & welfare. They'd be right. Most agency staff at the time were antithetical to notions of solidarity; many were old enough to remember Thatcher fondly. However, the situation has changed with regard to the composition of temporary workers in the 21st century. Most of them are the sons & daughters of parents who were or still are trade union members. In that context, viewing their plight as delayed comeuppance is deluded & stupid.
Moreover, it should be noted that the agency staff at Cowley are Unite members; unions adopted a policy in the last decade of trying to unionise such staff. In short, Unite shat on a section of its own membership.
Reaction in the rest of the media to the decision has been predictable (kudos to the Guardian for allowing comments on the story from its usual CiF posters: ), but this was really a chance for what's left of the Left in the blogosphere to shine. It didn't. You may not be surprised to learn that there's no mention of the story & the issues it throws up on LabourList ( ), although it does link to Unite's website helpfully ( ). Unite the union, indeed. Ha, do me a favour!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Liverpool Lullaby

It's occasionally illuminating to learn how an international audience perceives the city of Liverpool, or at least a particular aspect of it. A case in point is provided by the San Francisco Examiner's review of Terence Davies' celluloid ode to the Liverpool of yesteryear, "Of Time and the City" ( ):
"Davies combines archival pictures, news footage, pop tunes, classical music and radio clips, and coalesces everything with his own voiceover, to relate the evolution of Liverpool from 1945 to 1973 (when he lived there) and beyond."
The Examiner's reviewer, Anita Katz, finds it noteworthy that Davies is dismissive of the Beatles' music. What should be understood, however, is that Davies was born a decade or so before the Fab Four, so was not of that generation to be swept up in the Merseybeat phenomenon; his musical influences would have come from the pre-rock 'n' roll era, of big bands, crooners, as well as classical pieces.
I haven't seen Davies' film, but I suspect it's of a piece with his other films about life in the city (repressed homosexuality, Catholic guilt, unashamed nostalgia, etc.). There is, of course, nothing questionable about those concerns per se, but, like Beryl Bainbridge's curmudgeonly & downright cranky conviction that the Beatles represented not an apogee of local musical culture, but a nadir, Davies' sepia-tinted wallowings have nothing to say or contribute about the city over the last three decades.

ERRATUM: Terence Davies was actually born in 1945, contrary to my statement that he belonged to the generation born a decade or so earlier than the Beatles. Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Mea Culpa.

Friday, February 13, 2009

His Master's Voice

No sooner had Derek Draper trumpeted the brave new world of Labour blogging that along came his erstwhile mentor & uber spinmeister, Peter Mandelson, to stamp all over Derek's honeyed words ( ).
Andrew Sparrow notes in his post that during yesterday morning's "bloggers' breakfast" (couldn't make it guys, but thanks for the invitation), Mandelson delivered "a revised version of his thinking about campaigning in the age of the internet."
Ah, I see. So what do you have in mind, Peter? Sparrow quotes New Labour's very own Marie-Antoinette: "We are still going to need carefully crafted, repeated messages. The difference is that the message has got to be richer, has got to be more original, it has got to be more creative and there's got to be more plurality, from a greater range of people."
Further on in his post, Sparrow again quotes Mandelson: "We will still have to have slogans, we will still have to have soundbites, well-chosen, and they need to be repeated."
In other words, same old, same old, only online.
Sparrow alludes to the Obama campaign & its use of new technology, pointing out that "recognisably old-fashioned ways" were also deployed so as to develop an army of volunteers to distribute leaflets, knock on doors, etc. However, the huge difference is that, after eight years of Bush, Obama appears to offer real change. New Labour, in office for nearly 12 years, & seen --even by sympathetic commentators --as hapless incumbents as the economy goes further south, offers...well, what exactly?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Listing Badly

It's a memory I treasure to this day. His face reddened with rage, Derek Draper confronted me close up & roared, "You don't believe in democracy!"
It was in the bar of a hotel during a North West Regional Labour Party conference a little over 20 years back. We were all "tired & emotional", our differences lubricated by the contents of the hotel bar. My mistake, if mistake it was, was to shove a copy of the Militant in his direction as I made a point about accountability & adherence to conference decisions.
The rest is, of course, history. Militant left the Labour Party & Derek played a significant role in the creation of New Labour during the Kinnock years.
Well now he's back, in a manner of speaking. Derek is spearheading the launch of LabourList ( ), a site which has been touted (perhaps by Derek, perhaps not) as a UK version of the Huffington Post ( ). Just take a moment to check out both sites by way of a compare & contrast exercise.....yep, me, too.
Draper trumpeted the arrival of the site on the Guardian's Comment is Free site yesterday ( ) & spoke of the web with all the zeal of a new convert:
"Although far from a techie, I had long been aware of the power and reach of the internet after an incident that occurred while I was retraining as a psychotherapist in California a few years ago. It was a sunny morning, as they all seemed to be in California, and my new best friend approached me in class. 'You know,' she said, 'you need to be careful. Last night I was really bored so I Googled you -- and there is another Derek Draper in England who is a complete jerk!' I couldn't bring myself to tell her that it was me for about six months."
Well, Derek, you have related that anecdote at your own expense, but you know how things are on the web, it'll be quoted ad infinitum from this point onwards.
However, I digress. Back to LabourList, of which he writes:
"And in the spirit of what we are setting out to achieve -- providing a platform for genuine debate on progressive issues -- our contributors have come from across the broad spectrum of the Labour movement."
Really, Derek? I've checked the list of contributors & it's about as varied as New Labour itself (one of them is employment minister Tony McNulty, who pathetically flanneled his way through a Newsnight discussion on the latest jobless figures last night).
There's also some unintentional hilarity ("as Peter Mandelson pointed out in his first LabourList post, the key to modern politics is not to command and control, but to embrace and engage").
The response to Draper's post among the CiF posters has been deliciously carnivorous, a veritable feeding frenzy, in fact.
Sunny Hundal also takes a dim view of LabourList's much-vaunted, self-proclaimed mission on the Liberal Conspiracy site ( ):
"Let's start with LabourList. Derek Draper's past indiscretions aside, my main problem here is that all the top names seem to see it as a medium to publish bland rubbish that sounds similar to a press release. It's boring and lame, and will end up like the far more abysmal Tory effort: The Blue Blog. Hell, that's so bad even Iain Dale doesn't plug it anymore."
Where the Huffington Post is diverse, innovative & irreverent, LabourList is stodgy, Pravdaesque & poorly designed. Unimpressive, Derek, very unimpressive.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Due For A Makeover

Few would deny that Liverpool's Royal Court Theatre is in need of modernisation. Despite its well-deserved reputation as the city's best live music venue for rock & pop (I could pen an entire post about the memorable & not-so-memorable gigs I've seen there), it's clearly showing its age. Possible design plans for the Court go on display at St George's Plateau today ( & ).
The venue has long been a flea-pit, albeit a lovable old one & when full, boasts an atmosphere which no other venue in the city can match (&, yes, that includes the soulless Echo arena).
Whatever changes are made to the theatre should compliment its design & heritage.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Denial Isn't In Egypt, It's By The Mersey

In his recent round up of blog postings, Iain Dale ( ) linked to a post at the weekend by Shadow Tory minister Ed Vaizey about his visit to Liverpool ( ).
It's the usual party political guff by Vaizey for his online (Tory) readership & doesn't contain anything controversial regarding the city itself. You won't be surprised to know that Vaizey chooses to remain silent on the Tories policy towards Merseyside during the 80s & 90s. So, alas, there's no reference to Geoffrey Howe's infamous comment after the Toxteth Riots in 1981 that the government's policy on the city should be one of "managed decline".
Meanwhile, the Oldham Echo still bangs on about how the region can emerge unscathed from the credit crunch ( ).
The article, penned by Paddy Shennan (hello, Paddy!) liberally quotes Professor Michael Parkinson from Liverpool University to talk up local prospects. In short, it amounts to whistling in the wind. Quoth the professor:
"The key question is 'what is Liverpool's trajectory'? From a very, very low base, the city has slowly pulled its way up and, as a result, has much better prospects for the next 10 years than it would have done.
"There has been a lot of pain, many communities haven't benefited and some people have lost out. I'm not denying that for a second, but the trajectory is the right trajectory. Liverpool is beginning to reinvent itself and find a new role."
Professor Parkinson follows this up with the usual hyperbole about Capital of Culture year ("I just think it was bloody great"), & a gratuitous plug for the Echo-sponsored arena.
And the effects of the credit crunch? The professor breezes:
"We were lucky with our timing. If the credit crunch had come three years ago, things would have been a mess. Liverpool One and the ECHO arena would have been half-built. We just snuck under.
"The credit crunch is bad for a lot of people but it came at the right moment for Liverpool in the sense that we had recently achieved a huge amount of regeneration."
There's more of this feel-good bollockese from an academic who really should know better. Shennan gleefully interjects every so often in the manner of a shameless cheerleader. Professor Parkinson should read the comments ascribed to him & realise how contradictory they are; he ventures that the recession will have passed over by 2011 at the latest. I normally view the Children's Minister, Ed Balls, as just another New Labour minion, but I suspect he's closer to the reality about economic prospects than the good professor ( ).


A note of thanks to Bitterweed for his comment after my post about Cllr Harry Phibbs' piece on debt for the Guardian CiF site. Bitterweed was the poster who provided the link showing the FCS's call for Mandela to be hanged.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

I Blame The Parents, Don't You?

Yesterday's Guardian shed further light on the Carol Thatcher row ( ).
It also reported:
"She is understood to have flown out to Italy this morning [Friday] as part of a European speaking tour."
British embassies across the continent should be braced for a series of "diplomatic incidents".

A Bankrupt Argument

It's easy to feel just a tad smug & judgemental when you're a comfortably-off Tory councillor. At a time when the recession is gathering a fearsome head of steam & the rate of personal bankruptcies has risen seemingly exponentially ( ), along comes a London Tory councillor by the name of Harry Phibbs with a piece on the Guardian Comment is Free site ( ):
"Avoiding bankruptcy where possible should be regarded as a moral issue as well as a financial one. We talk of people being 'forced into bankruptcy' but sometimes this is not really the case. Sometimes it is a choice."
At face value, there isn't much to quibble with in that passage; going bust is never a desirable state of affairs & the increasing number of people deciding to declare themselves bankrupt rather than agree to IVAs (Individual Voluntary Agreements) will have cause to rue that decision.
However, it's a bit rich (pardon the pun) for a fairly prominent Tory to pontificate on the matter when credit controls were relaxed to the point of irresponsibility by the Thatcher government. Much has been made, & rightly so, about the explosion of cheap credit over the last decade or so. Predictably, the Tories have attempted to pin this on Blair & Brown & declare it to be yet another indictment of the New Labour years. Not so fast, folks. Cheap, accessible credit was made available, & damagingly so, to many low-paid workers as far back as the late 80s. Most of the applicants for credit, then as now, were not au fait with every aspect of loans & interest.
Instead, they were coccooned in a state of ignorance about what they signed up for; don't worry about paying it back, they were told, that can be sorted out later, you've earned that new car/foreign holiday/fancy winter coat.
Anybody familiar with the history of the Thatcher & Major years should be aware of that policy decision. However, Phibbs isn't. He expounds:
"Risk-taking is synonymous with the capitalist dynamic. I understand the point that limited liabilities for companies keeps the show on the road. With all the discouragement to risk-taking it evens up the equation. As it is, we are not exactly overrun with thrusting go-getters starting new businesses at the moment. But a moral, responsible capitalism has clear rules, for both individuals and companies, about just who is taking the risk. It should be with your own money, not someone else's."
Alas, there seems to be no space in Phibbs' sermon on fiscal sobriety for mention of the bankers on both sides of the Atlantic who continue to live the high life while taking taxpayers' money & refusing to reopen credit lines.

Postscript: I responded to Phibbs' post, briefly setting out my criticisms of his points. I also drew attention to his time as a leading light in the Federation of Conservative Students during the 80s. This body proved to be too embarrassing even for the likes of Norman Tebbitt (no mean feat) with many of their pronouncements & conference decisions. I mistakenly gave the impression that Phibbs himself had said back then that Nelson Mandela should be hanged. I was wrong. He certainly didn't say that. Phibbs was quick to respond to my post & indicate his readiness to call in the lawyers. Upon re-reading my post, I realised it had been clumsily written & was, indeed, inaccurate. However, the fact remains that during Phibbs' time in the FCS its members were fond of wearing t-shirts & displaying posters which called for Mandela to be hanged for being a "terrorist"; I'm indebted to one of the other CiF posters for supplying the following link to substantiate this: .

He Said What?

Memo to the dead tree press:
"Google is the new newsagent" (Matthew d'Ancona, editor of the Spectator): .