Friday, May 29, 2009

The List So Far

For those of you wondering if your MP's been Telegraphed yet, read on: .
"Joe Benton [Lab, Bootle] designated his second home as a flat he owns in London. In 2005 he claimed £400 a month for food during the summer recess and in 2008 spent £1,500 on repairs to his second home."
"Ben Chapman [Lab, Wirral South] deliberately overclaimed for interest on the mortgage of his London house by about £15,000 with the approval of the fees office, documents seen by the Telegraph suggest. He will stand down at the next election."
"Rosie Cooper [Lab, West Lancashire] claimed £915 for solicitors' fees and survey costs on a property she did not buy."
"Claire Curtis-Thomas [Lab, Crosby] claimed £9,000 for fire escape in second home in her constituency which doubles as an office and was paid £4,000. Submitted £12,000 of receipts for kitchen, and hall. Tried to claim £20 for bank charges when overdrawn."
"Angela Eagle [Lab, Wallasey] claimed just £155 a month mortgage interest on her second home for a period and even underclaimed for council tax."
"Maria Eagle [Lab, Liverpool Garston] claimed thousands of pounds on refurbishing a bathroom at one of her flats just months before switching her designated second home to a property with a higher mortgage."
"Louise Ellman [Lab, Liverpool Riverside] claims £838 a month in mortgage interest, plus £2,300 annual service charges on flat in Westminster. Also claimed £594 for six 'leather effect' dining chairs from John Lewis."
"Frank Field [Lab, Birkenhead] claimed just £44,338 on his second home allowance between 2004 and 2008."
"Stephen Hesford [Lab, Wirral West] has a second home is a flat in Kennington, south London. In 2005-6 he put through a £5,599 bill for a new bathroom and challenged the fees office when told the most he would be allowed was £3,500."
"George Howarth [Lab, Knowsley North & Sefton East] has a second home in London. Claimed £1,000 for a chest of drawers which was reduced by the fees office to £500, and £20 for a colander. MP said he had bought the drawers as 'they were the only ones that matched' his furniture."
"Peter Kilfoyle [Lab, Liverpool Walton] has claimed the maximum second home allowance over the past four years. Claims mortgage on a flat near Westminster and also charged taxpayers £1,770 in service charges."
"Shaun Woodward [St Helens South] received £100,000 to help pay mortgage."
Eddie O'Hara [Lab, Knowsley South], John Pugh [Lib Dem, Southport], Dave Watts [Lab, St Helens North], & Bob Wareing [Ind, Liverpool West Derby] all have yet to be Telegraphed.

Condoning Corruption

There's a curious disconnect between the erstwhile writings of some national newspaper columnists over parliamentary accountability & their current reluctance to throw the leeches thus far exposed into the Thames.
Take Joan Smith. Normally a shrewd, decidedly liberal writer, Smith suddenly has cold feet about commenting on Parliament's parasites ( ):
"In this uniquely poisonous atmosphere, years of conscientious public service count for nothing; decent people are being terrorised out of public life and the perverse consequence is likely to be their replacement by a motley collection of minor celebrities, attention-seekers and outright fascists. Democracy itself is under threat, not because a handful of MPs have behaved greedily but because the public reaction has been (and continues to be) hysterical. The spectacle of a House of Commons populated by TV celebrities, obsessives who blame the EU for everything, and members of the BNP, fills me with horror. So does the prospect of MPs being driven to breakdown or suicide, which the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries was right to raise."
If anything, it is Smith's piece which borders on the hysterical. There's nothing for "decent people" to be terrified by if they've acted ethically & responsibly all along. Yes, a fair number of protest votes will be cast in favour of the wacky, the wierd & the bigoted; the BNP will, sadly, benefit to some degree in next week's European elections. However, such a squalid scenario wouldn't have come to pass if the MPs Smith defends had acted in the right manner. Moreover, her contention that only "a handful" of MPs have been greedy looks increasingly risible by the day. As for her claim that democracy "is under threat", I suggest she take a reality check.
Smith mentions that her partner is an MP, but doesn't name him. The partner is Denis MacShane, formerly Europe Minister in the New Labour circus. MacShane, it seems, has been something less than full & forthcoming about his own expenses ( ).
Yes, I know it's a link to the Mail, but the substance of what's alleged doesn't seem to be disputed.
Another columnist throwing her hands up in horror at the exposure of hitherto accepted corruption is Anne Perkins ( ).
Her argument: rebuilding trust & confidence in politics & those active in it can't begin while the Telegraph's daily revelations continue. With the paper's coverage, she says, "the rest of us are wondering why the House of Commons, which must somewhere have exactly the same information in just the same format, doesn't just put it out into the public domain."
Perkins either deliberately omits to mention, or doesn't realise that the details which the Commons intended to release later this summer were heavily redacted; none of the killer facts contained in the Telegraph would have appeared in the sanitised version.
Perkins goes on to complain that "watching Julie Kirkbride and Margaret Moran dangling in the media wind is a kind of blood sport, unedifying for the onlooker and inhumane for the victim, however much taxpayers' money they have erroneously or wickedly siphoned off into home improvements."
Both Kirkbride & Moran have since said they'll step down at the next election. For their constituents, it hasn't been a blood sport, rather a call for some sort of accountability & justice.
Perkins apologia for the corrupt set-up eventually leads her down the alleyway of hysteria & dodgy historical parallels: "At the moment, it feels like the French revolutionary Terror. Reading about the years around 1789, it is hard not to feel sympathy for the revolutionaries' hatred of their greedy and corrupt aristocracy. But guillotining the lot of them, and then some, didn't help construct a new France in the long run.
"We may look back on this extended media frenzy and feel the same."
You could, of course, muse that all these revelations are fine for the chattering classes to discuss at dinner parties. For the rest of us, life goes on as normal. It doesn't. We are in the grip of a global recession which, despite the shrieks of the demented shills in the City & on Wall Street, will deteriorate even further over the next twelve months, at least. The human fall-out will mirror that of the last major recession in the late 70s & early 80s. In this context, it's necessary to highlight the people behind the statistics ( ).
Jenni Russell relates an anecdote about "Dave", newly redundant in "a northern city". With a wife working part-time & two children to bring up, the drop from a £30,000 annual salary to a Job Seekers' Allowance (JSA) of £64.30 a week has been a sheer one:
"Dave had never been unemployed. When made redundant, with just three weeks' redundancy pay, he assumed that the national insurance he had been paying all his life would provide a financial cushion until he could find work. Instead he's been staggered to find out that, because his wife is earning at a low level, all he's entitled to is £64.30 a week.
"Overnight, the family's take-home income dropped by about £1,500 a month. There's still a mortgage and bills to pay, but the state won't offer any help unless Dave's wife also loses her job. Then it will pay the full mortgage after 13 weeks, housing benefit if necessary, free school meals, and a host of other benefits. But while Dave's wife is working, he won't get a penny more -- and in practice, considerably less -- than someone who has never worked. And that discovery has left him feeling he's standing on the verge of a financial precipice, scared that the family may lose their house, embittered and betrayed."
Does anybody still think that the Telegraph's revelations are unnecessary?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Home Truths

Warren Bradley's motley crew of ne'er-do-wells, chancers & arrivistes also has among its number Councillor Dave Irving. David Bartlett today reports that Irving, chairman of the planning committee on Liverpool City Council, has a home in Southport ( ).
Bartlett's report is liberally (pardon the pun) sprinkled with the words "allegedly" & "claimed", presumably to prevent Oldham Hall Street's lawyers from being called in.
However, it's notable that all Irving can say by way of response is that the Labour group hired private investigators to check out the story:
"Cllr Dave Irving, who represents Knotty Ash for the Liberal Democrats, claimed that the Labour Party had him followed."
That's not a denial then, is it?
[BTW, there's an alarming pattern here which the good Professor Chucklebutty should address: First, Cllr Paul "franking machine" Twigger & his risible Liverpool Piss-Up Day suggestion, now, Cllr Dave Irving & his Southport abode, both of whom misrepresent the good people of Knotty Ash. Professor, time for action!]
Bartlett outlines the legal position regarding this issue:
"Liverpool city council's solicitor Paul Evans has been asked by Labour to investigate the claims against Cllr Irving. Under council rules, candidates must have lived in the council area they are standing in for the whole of the previous 12 months at the time of nomination, or be registered as an elector for the council area in which they wish to stand or have worked in the area."
He also goes on to note that Irving won his ward last year by 35 votes. The term wafer-thin springs to mind.
So what does Irving actually have to say for himself, apart from accusing Labour of paying a private eye to follow him?
"I have listened to the Labour party go on about Steve Hurst [convicted of breaking election law] and making out they are whiter than white, far from it."
Is that it? No claim of media distortion, or innocent misunderstanding? Right, I see. When investigated, throw a peeved, petulant missive at your political opponents. Moreover, Irving's reference to Hurst merely serves to cement the Lib Dem's thoroughly warranted image as a corrupt & malign tumour in the city's body politic.
Wayne's already posted on the Irving case ( ), touching on Irving's links with Trevor Jones & relating an intriguing exchange he had with the Southport, sorry, Knotty Ash councillor recently.
Professor Chucklebutty deals magisterially with the Hurst affair, as well as other recent events locally & nationally ( ). Professor, you're a star!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tammany Hall On Dale Street

By your friends shall ye be known, as they say. It's therefore relatively easy to assess the moral compass that guides Warren Bradley, Lib Dem leader of Liverpool City Council. At a time when the corrosive corruption of the Westminster village is laid bare every morning, it's heartening to know that shameless politicking can be found on Dale Street. How else to explain Councillor Bradley paving the way for discredited councillor Steve Hurst's return to public life ( )?
David Bartlett observes:
"[Hurst] will replace Cllr Jan Clein on the passenger transport authority, meaning there will no longer be any women on the board at Merseytravel."
Not content with embracing an individual found guilty of breaking election law, it seems that Bradley is also happy to pay lip service to gender equality whilst acting in the opposite manner.
Hurst will trouser £5,675 per annum in his new post. Bradley is of the opinion that Hurst "should be allowed to move on."
Just in case you've forgotten the outline of Hurst's case, Bartlett recaps:
"In April, Cllr Hurst, who represents Wavertree, was condemned by a judge for dirty tactics of the worst kind after failing to have his conviction [for breaking election law] overturned.
"He was convicted in December last year of delivering a leaflet entitled Walton Scab, attacking Belle Vale Labour councillor Pauline Walton and her firefighter husband in the May 2007 council elections.
"Masquerading as a leaflet from The United Socialist Party, the pink flyer accused Mr Walton of crossing a Fire Brigades Union picket line."
Hurst also charmingly claimed that Mrs Walton was using council taxpayers' money to learn to pole dance. Classy guy, eh?
So what does Bradley say to justify his actions?
"The [Lib Dem] group voted for him through a democratic process. I have got confidence in Steve doing the job.
"He has been tried by the court and accepted what the court has found. That doesn't mean he has accepted any guilt.
"He wants to move on."
Before we let Councillor Hurst "move on", there is a striking contradiction in that statement. If he accepts the court's decision, how can he possibly continue to deny any culpability over thiis tawdry matter?
Explain that, Warren, if you don't mind. Given your statement, it's worth recalling the words of Judge Mark Brown when Hurst had been found guilty ( ): "This sort of conduct brings considerable discredit on his party and on local politics in general. This was dirty politics of the worst kind."
At the time I noted:
"Let that be Councillor Hurst's epitaph."
Clearly, it wasn't.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Credit Where It's Due

While the Daily Telegraph continues to shine an unforgiving light on the corruption of many, though not all, MPs, it should be remembered that the campaign to inject transparency into the subject of expenses has been waged for some time now by relatively unsung heroes & heroines.
I'm loath to subscribe to the "one individual waged against the system" cliche, it's a bit too Hollywood for my liking [the movie State of Play, featuring Russell Crowe & Ben Affleck, , fell into that trap].
Be that as it may, it's worth highlighting the work of freelance journalist & Freedom of Information campaigner Heather Brooke ( ).
In a Guardian profile over a year ago ( ) Patrick Barkham mentioned that her parents came from Merseyside, even though Heather hails from the US & has dual nationality. She was a journalist in Washington State, an experience which was to prove instructive: "Under US law, she was allowed to delve into politicians' expense claims: airline tickets, room service, everything. 'If they'd ordered some porn films I would have seen that, but there weren't any,' she says. 'I looked through all these receipts and found absolutely nothing. No scandal. It taught me that the only way to keep politicians honest was transparency.' "
In a striking portent of recent events, Barkham noted:
"Brooke originally asked for all 646 MPs' expenses, but the Commons claimed that would be too costly. 'This is just the whole ridiculous economics of their thinking -- they think it is too expensive to account to the public how MPs claim the public's money,' she says."
Given the revelations about Douglas Hogg's moat & Peter Viggers' duck house, the following passage from the Guardian piece totally vindicates her work, despite Barkham's clearly sceptical tone:
"She describes MPs as 'lords of the manor' to whom 'we're all supposed to doff our cap and say thank-you'. This seems a peculiarly American view of British politics. Transparency in the US doesn't produce perfect government. 'Perfection only happens when you're dead,' she says. 'You can only strive to make things better. There are problems in America, but it's not because of transparency. It's in spite of it.' "
Take a bow, Heather.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ellman's Expenses

We really are living in strange times when the Daily Telegraph, of all papers, can hold the sword of Damocles over every MP on a daily basis. It's rumoured (& not denied by the Telegraph) that the paper paid £150,000 for the deadly disc of information. Given the dramatic increase in the Telegraph's circulation over the last fortnight, it's clearly money well spent.
Thus far, there's no more news about local MPs. Wayne posted about Liverpool Riverside's Louise Ellman earlier ( ).
In one of those striking instances of coincidence, today's Oldham Echo carries a characteristically slight piece, stating that Ellman has published her Westminster receipts ( ).
It reveals that "taxpayers pay for her breakfast - but only when she is working at Westminster."
Ah, that's OK then. Hang on, what's this? "Purchases have included a £499 26-inch flat-screen TV and a 64p ballpoint pen."
Five hundred quid for a TV? Seems like she's still shopping at John Lewis'.
The article adds: "Her newsletter to every constituency household last year cost £2,140."
Two grand on a self-serving, self-congratulatory missive, replete with New Labour jargon & buzzphrases, high on hype, low on substance. Well done, Louise. Looking forward to being Telegraphed?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Corruption's Coming Home

It was only a matter of time before the Telegraph's daily list of errant MPs ( ) featured local not so honourable members. Wirral South's Ben Chapman, for many an embodiment of New Labour, today announced he would be quitting at the next election after his, ahem, unorthodox arrangement on his mortgage ( ).
On his Dale Street Blues blog David Bartlett last week anticipated both the level of the scams perpetrated by most MPs & the public reaction. He also highlighted a hitherto unremarked aspect of the discrediting of Westminster, that of the loyal, dogged, perhaps naive political activist who suddenly has the scales removed from their eyes ( ):
"My blood has been boiling for some days now about MPs' expenses.
"This afternoon I spoke to a political party member who told me she had wept tears over this affair, because of the damage that had been done to her party and politics through this sordid episode."
Bartlett went on to call for the Speaker's head, something duly delivered the other day. In seeming anticipation of those local MPs who have & will be exposed by the Telegraph, Bartlett penned his accusatory prose:
"Being an MP should be a privilege, it is not a right. Yet some of these MPs have behaved like they had a divine right not only to hold office but to also pretty much fleece the taxpayer with complete impunity. They have spent months trying to keep these claims secret, secret from the very people that put them into their positions of privilege and pay the taxes that pay their wages and their expenses. Do I think all MPs are bent or on the make? No, but enough of them have abused the system to taint them all and our parliament."
The first Liverpool MP to be named was Garston's Maria Eagle, who claimed £3,500 towards the cost of a bathroom refurbishment at her Mossley Hill flat ( ). Eagle was one of those MPs to vote against their expenses falling under the Freedom of Information ambit. I also recall the days when she & her twin sister Angela, now the MP for New Brighton, were right-wing activists in the Crosby constituency; they sneered at Terry Fields when he pledged to take a worker's wage if elected. Terry Fields stuck to that pledge. Maria Eagle...well, you know the rest.
Speaking of Crosby, Bartlett yesterday noted that its MP, Claire Curtis-Thomas, had issued a pre-emptive mea culpa over her expenses ( ). Curtis-Thomas has yet to be Telegraphed, yet if she thinks that such an act of semi-contrition gets her off the hook with her own party membership & constituents, she'd better think again; interest in her case will only be increased by her statement. It's no secret that Crosby has been well-targeted by the Tories & that its candidate, Debi Jones --still best known for her days on BBC Radio Merseyside & her philistine utterances about Anthony Gormley's statues on the town's beach --was already primed to take the seat at the next election. It's instructive to recall that Curtis-Thomas spoke at her selection meeting about the poll tax. She expressed her sympathy for those who couldn't afford to pay it, but the law was the law. Pay up was her message. Affordability has never been an issue for someone on a basic salary of £64,000 per annum.
There's been disdain & hilarity in equal measure for Anthony Steen, Tory MP for Totnes in Devon, over his expenses ( ), "alleged by the Daily Telegraph to have claimed more than £87,000 over four years for his country house."
Steen ranted on BBC Radio Four's The World At One today: "What right does the public have to interfere with my private life? None."
While I'm delving into the past about certain figures now exposed for their mendacity, it would be remiss of me not to point out that Steen was the Tory MP for Liverpool Wavertree until 1979. As Thatcher swept into Downing Street, quoting St Francis of Assisi, Steen received his marching orders as Liverpool became a Tory-free zone. He fetched up in Devon at the 1983 election, muttering some none too complimentary sentiments about his former constituents. We still miss him up here, you know.

Shock Jock Subdued As Sponsors Scram

Lost in the media coverage of MPs on the take &, more understandably, the human cost of the recession, the campaign for justice over Hillsborough continues ( ). However, an ominous silence has descended from government circles in recent weeks over the question of whether all the unedited & re-written documents will be made available to the families.
The vacuum of uncertainty & evasion has been conducive for those who wish to peddle the same old lies about the disaster; any semi-literate no-mark with access to a keyboard & a web connection has been able to throw the darts of denigration into cyberspace. I could provide links to them but why give them the web credibility of a reference?
There is, however, one such cretin who should be identified for what he is. He isn't a blogger, columnist or mere poster. He is actually the main presenter of a US soccer radio show, broadcasting out of LA on the Sirius channel.
Steven Cohen hosts "World Soccer Daily". He is, though, no mere presenter. He is, instead, a shock-jock, the sort of individual whose ego is in inverse proportion to his IQ. Not content with trotting out his, erm, thoughts on the beautiful game, Cohen has also had a few things to say on the Hillsborough disaster over the past few years. It's the sort of stuff which the Sun peddled 20 years back & which Kelvin MacKenzie continues to spout.
I read about Cohen's sub-bar room utterances at the time of the memorial service last month. I decided not to blog about the specimen, reckoning that it would only serve to publicise both his programme & opinion. However, yesterday's Oldham Echo carried a slight & superficial piece [how unusual] to the effect that Cohen had apologised for his comments ( ).
On first reading, the "apology" can be easily seen in the context of hard-headed commerce; the Echo reports:
"Four high-profile sponsors [of Cohen's programme] have already pulled out and it is understood satellite station Setanta are considering not renewing their contract when it expires."
However, the comments left in response to the Echo's article put the record straight. One, atcartlidge, declares, "This was simply an attempt to save his show from yet more sponsors pulling out. After the so-called apology, he continued to mock the sponsorship boycott and those who led it."
Another, Conor 40, writes, "a short and not very comprehensive piece by the Echo, was the Echo aware of Cohen before his so-called retraction?"
Clearly, the Echo wasn't; when Cohen's quotes were first reported during the anniversary, it failed to cover the story.
Another poster, based in the US, has added a YouTube link which neatly & succinctly presents the facts about the tragedy: .
LFC TV departed from its normal format of public relations & nostalgia to feature Cohen's remarks. Margaret Aspinall, mother of one of the fans to perish 20 years' ago, spoke with quiet dignity & commendable restraint in expressing her views on the matter. Brian Reade, Daily Mirror columnist & life-long Liverpool fan, added his own thoughts in the studio: .
As to the "apology" itself, it is prefaced by Cohen commenting that he has had enough of the "crap" surrounding his comments. He goes on to deliver a clearly-scripted statement which expresses regret for the hurt & distress his remarks caused to the families. However, he does not retract the offensive allegations & downright lies he has continually broadcast on his programme. The statement then takes a bizarre turn with Cohen declaring his love of America & invoking the First Amendment of the US Constitution (the right to free speech). Presumably this is Cohen's spurious justification for his actions; the Founding Fathers would be delighted to know that the constitution they devised is now used as a fig-leaf for a cretin's bigotry & ignorance.
Cohen concludes his apologia for an apology by audibly screwing up the paper on which it was written: .
I emailed my good mate, fellow Liverpool fan & senior editor at Time magazine in New York, Tony Karon ( ) with the LFC TV clip attached. Tony soon got back to me, saying, "Yeah, he's a total pillock, appears on Fox sometimes in his Chelsea shirt, ignorant, more than anything else, knows nothing about the game. Got the job, I think, because of his accent, in England he'd be laughed off TV."
Cohen has been exposed for what he is. His sponsors are deserting him & the station bosses must be wondering whether this liability is worth retaining.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Slow News Day On Old Hall Street

No sooner has the city of Liverpool agreed to perpetuate a tired old stereotype of itself by staging another Beatle Day this summer that a Lib Dem councillor has suggested there be a special day each year, celebrating, yes, Liverpool itself ( ).
The "Self-Pity City" jibes of the national press through the 80s & 90s, sadly, had more than just an element of truth. Now, it seems, we are christening ourselves "Self-Regarding City".
The Oldham Echo's piece, however, reads more as a cross between a kite-flying council exercise & another typical Lib Dem bread & circuses PR stunt to disguise the fact that Liverpool City Council remains one of the worst-run in the country, barely a year-and-a-half after its ignominious bottom ranking ( ).
The Echo article gushes:
"Following on the success of the Liverpool capital of culture success [SIC!], there are moves towards establishing a special day devoted to the city and its people."
[The Oldham Echo's sub-editing operations must have been closed down altogether for that howler to get through.]
So who is the Lib Dem civic champion calling for an annual "Our Liverpool" day? Step forward, Councillor Paul Twigger, a representative for Knotty Ash (he's one of yours, Professor Chucklebutty!).
Councillor Twigger thinks that last year proved two things about Liverpool:
"One -- that it has got its pride back. Two -- that it knows how to celebrate."
He doesn't think it would be an excuse for a mass piss-up on the city centre's streets. Really, he doesn't.
Twigger is backed up by his Lib Dem colleague, Councillor Paula Keaveney, one-time Mastermind contestant, who exclaims:
"The possibilities are endless."
Yes, they certainly are, Paula. How many arrests for drunk & disorderly behaviour would be made? How much damage to property would occur? How would the Oldham Echo play down the trouble that ensued from a civic gimmick which it backed?
However, the Echo piece hints that Twigger & co. are ready to row back hastily on their suggestion if it's seen for what it is:
"Because the idea is still in its infancy, there is no suggestion about what day it would be held or how it would be celebrated."
Translation: We know this shallow gimmick could be rumbled, so we can conveniently shelve it without too much hassle or embarrassment.
There is a post-script to add about Councillor Twigger. Just over a year ago he used the franking machine at Liverpool John Moores University to mail Lib Dem election leaflets &, in doing so, charged the cost of the election mailshot to the university ( ).
Councillor Twigger did apologise for his actions...when confronted with the evidence.
The city's civic future is truly assured with ingenious, resourceful & innovative figures like Councillor Twigger.

Taking The Bait

Tuesday morning's on-air spat between Labour peer George Foulkes & BBC News presenter Carrie Gracie left neither protagonist unscathed ( ).
Forced into a corner & defending the indefensible over MPs' expenses, Foulkes set a trap for Gracie into which she fell headfirst. The BBC presenter's naive statement about her £92,000 salary will only serve to fuel the arguments not just about the licence fee, but about the future of the BBC itself.
Gracie is an experienced hack; she reported with some distinction during her stint as the BBC's Beijing correspondent ( ). However, her studio presentational skills (not to be confused with journalism per se ) were clearly shown to be limited by the exchange. Paxman dealt better with such an encounter when Tony Benn jocularly remarked about his salary on Tuesday's Newsnight. Paxo remained silent while wearing a cross between a smile & a grimace.
Foulkes' on-air claim that Gracie's salary was nearly twice as much as an MP's basic salary of £64,000 clearly demonstrates that economics is not his forte.
Meanwhile, on the same day, unemployment rose by another quarter of a million ( ).
Something for highly paid hacks & MPs to consider, perhaps, when they've stopped fretting about their "perks". Or perhaps not.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's All Their Fault, You Know

My brother & I were walking across the city centre yesterday, savouring the glorious weather, when we passed the large TV screen in Clayton Square. As the text scrolled across the foot of the screen my heart sank. It announced that the launch had taken place that day of this year's Beatle Day in the city. Ricky Tomlinson had reportedly donned a Beatle wig for the occasion (remember the days when Ricky was associated with workers' causes & raising awareness rather than cavorting like a walking, talking Liverpool cliche?).
So here we are, in 2009, STILL acting as though those four fresh-faced lads you see here were still playing & recording.
As you'd expect, the Oldham Echo just had to get in on the orgy of nostalgia. Its "culture" correspondent Catherine Jones tossed out a piece so rank & derivative that it made me wonder whether she actually gets paid to churn out such crap ( ):
"MOP tops at the ready -- Liverpool Beatles Day is back!
"And organisers are promising the celebrations will be bigger and better this year with dozens of events taking place on Friday July 10.
"The date is the 45th anniversary of the Fab Four's return to Liverpool following their conquering of America."
Catherine, take a long, cold, sober look at what you've tapped into your terminal. Now, call yourself a journalist?
Incidentally, I was under the impression that the likes of Columbus & the conquistadores were involved in "conquering" the place. Evidently, my history teachers let me down in failing to inform me that added to that list should be a music group from Liverpool.
I can just imagine the outraged reaction to these observations on Old Hall Street; it's all for charity, they will shriek. How dare I slight the efforts of many to raise money for the Marina Dalglish cancer appeal & Alder Hey Children's Hospital, both of which benefitted to the tune of £50,000 last year, according to the article.
It's a charge that would only serve to deliberately miss the point & muddy the waters (metaphor collision alert).
As I remarked just the other day, Liverpool is addicted to nostalgia. The Matthew Street festival organisers treat local, unsigned bands as an irritating afterthought. These kids don't bring in the tourists [& their money], they privately sneer. True, but that's an audience whose demographic is largely moving from middle-aged to elderly. As a "business model", the festival must either adapt & move into the 21st century, or quietly decline to the point where not even hysterical PR from the Oldham Echo will save it.
Still, I suppose if things do look bleak in the next few years, the organisers & city council could call back Bob Dylan after he joined a coach party to see John Lennon's childhood home in Woolton prior to his recent Arena gig ( ).
Dylan was reportedly not recognised as he took his seat on the coach out of town & down to the city's south end; to paraphrase his "Ballad of a Thin Man", there's someone getting on, but they don't know who he is.

Make Sure Those Cormorants Are Teathered Down

I'm not sure if Wayne over at the Liverpool Preservation Trust ( ) has noticed or commented on it, but I was disturbed by the news last week that the iconic Liver Building has undergone what has been described as a "makeover" ( ):
"Roy Alexander, director of architecture at property consultancy Acies, has overseen the first phase and believes the building's architect, Aubrey Thomas, would have been delighted with the results.
"He said: 'We tried to put his hat on and think "what would he have used?" What would he do with the materials and technology that are around today?
" 'If Aubrey Thomas was around, I think we would get a pat on the back.' "
[I can't help thinking that if Aubrey Thomas were around today, he would rage at the stupidity of building a giant egg box next to the Three Graces, as well as the lunacy of trying to turn the Liverpool waterfront into a mini-me version of Manhattan.]
The Echo article says the near £1m refurbishment of the building's west entrance (facing the river, for the benefit of any readers unfamiliar with the waterfront) includes a ramp for disabled access. Not before time, we'd all agree. However, more worryingly, it adds that Roy Alexander said that the building "had to present more of a commercial opportunity". What purpose, exactly, has the building served over the last century?
Of course, let's not forget that the area around the Three Graces will soon be adorned not just with a Cubist's wet dream, but also the aestetically pleasing & ornate features of fast food vans ( ).
Aubrey Thomas would be so pleased.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Revolution Should Be Digitised

Convened under the aegis of the Writing on the Wall festival, last night's discussion at the Casa on Hope Street on the role of the media during the miners' strike & Liverpool City Council's battle with the Tories in 1984 sometimes felt like old times. There were moments when the points raised took one back to the Militant Aggregate meetings at the old AEU building on Mount Pleasant.
Mike Morris, ex-Militant full-timer, chaired the meeting & all four main speakers (Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press & Broadcasting Freedom; Nick Jones, BBC industrial correspondent during the strike; Paul Astbury, one of the Liverpool 47; & Peter Lazenby, NUJ activist & currently on strike with his colleagues at the Yorkshire Evening Post) made some powerful & telling points.
Nick Jones was direct & frank about his trade's complicity during the strike:
"We became cheerleaders for the return to work," he admitted.
Jones was "troubled" by following the Tory agenda on the dispute; similar contrition should be shown by other reporters at the time, he suggested.
Paul Astbury's speech, or "lead-off", as we used to call it, amounted to a passionate defence of the 47's record & legacy. He noted that turnout in local council elections in the city at the time was 60%. Last year it was 20%. However, he was in no mood for nostalgia.
"The barbarians are at the gates," he warned when referring to the BNP; the need to effectively oppose the fascists was stressed several times during the evening. However, many of the points on this issue seemed rather vague & woolly.
Peter Lazenby, a splendidly Rumpole-esque figure with an impressive handlebar moustache, was a witty raconteur. However, one statistic he produced stood out for many: last year the UK imported 43m tonnes of coal; prior to the decimation of the mining industry, the average pit produced 1m tonnes of coal per year.
When discussion & comments were opened up to the meeting, Tony Mulhearn spoke about the treatment given to the Militant council by the Echo. It's easy to forget, but the Echo carried pieces then which were every bit as poisonous & fabricated as those dreamt up by the national tabloids.
In an additional comment by Nick Jones, the role of the web was raised. The Left has failed to "get" the web, he said. The Right has certainly harnessed the power of the online world via blogs (Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale, etc.). That need not be the case, he claimed, look at Obama's web-based operation last year.
Many of those present were veterans from the early 80s, so it would be easy to dismiss the event as the Left talking to itself. However, one of the themes stressed several times was the changed situation today. You can't turn back the clock; reviving the old Militant wouldn't work anymore (if, indeed, that were possible). Instead, both the message & the communications used need to be more diffuse & web-savvy.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Elected To (Self) Serve

I seem to have attracted the attention of a New Labour troll with my post on Stephen Twigg becoming the party's candidate in West Derby. "Anonymous" (what an original web moniker!) is of the view that this blog is "ill-informed". When a New Labour minion throws that one out, I have to smile.
I suppose it isn't easy to hold on to the Third Way in these times, what with one thing after another. Overlooked, largely, in the last few days has been the departure of Derek Draper from the LabourList website ( ).
Certainly, Stephen Twigg's website sheds a little more light on the circumstances surrounding his guest post on David Bartlett's Dale Street Blues blog ( ):
"Thanks to David Bartlett, now of the Post and Echo who kindly asked me to produce a guest blog for the Dale Street Blues.
"I've chosen to write my blog on how new propopals from the Government to reduce speed limits have once again drawn attention to the numbers of unnecessary lives lost and people injured on our roads."
"Anonymous" also stated that Twigg had already bought a property in Liverpool by way of his commitment to the area. He/she didn't say whether the property was in the constituency itself. Some might think that a minor quibble. After all, you don't have to live in the constituency you represent (Terry Fields continued to live in Bootle while serving as Broadgreen's MP). Nor is it intended to be a parochial point -- Eric Heffer was an outstanding constituency MP for Walton over three decades, despite the fact that he originally hailed from Hertfordshire ( ). However, if the property is in, say, Mossley Hill or Woolton, it's still a different environment from many of the wards making up West Derby.
Twigg's page features a map of the newly redrawn boundaries of the West Derby constituency. The redrawn seat includes Tuebrook, Croxteth & Norris Green; a long way from leafy Enfield in North London suburbia.
At the time of Twigg's selection for the seat, Susan Press, vice-chair of the Labour Representation Committee, expressed her dismay at the news & commented that "parachuting Twigg into a constituency in such a manner is cynical, unnecessary and typical shenanigans of a kind we have had far too much of in recent years. There must surely have been a wealth of local candidates who would have been more appropriate....." ( ).
Moreover, one commenter on Press' post recalls an occasion which may be of interest to those in West Derby & elsewhere who couldn't or wouldn't pay Thatcher's Poll Tax:
"I remember Twigg being lambasted at NUS [National Union of Students] conference in 1989 for telling delegates he would pay his poll tax. Scottish students booed him off the stage.
"He was a right-wing fool then and still is."
Twigg was seen by many on election night in 1997 as personifying New Labour. How ironic that he hopes to re-enter Parliament when the Augean stables of Westminster are being exposed as rarely before ( ).
It adds insult to injury when one considers the glaring failure of New Labour to address what was, Blair & co. declared, a top priority, inequality ( ).
It is a failing roundly dissected & excoriated by Larry Elliot ( ):
"It's not that difficult to analyse what has happened. Labour inherited one of the west's most unequal societies from the Conservatives in 1997 and, far from reversing the trend, it has allowed the gap between rich and poor to widen.
"A deregulated and de-unionised economy meant the sky was the limit for those at the top, but downward pressure on wages for those at the bottom.
"During Labour's first two terms, there was at least some positive gloss that could be put on the inequality figures. It wasn't that the incomes of the poor were going down, merely that the incomes of the rich were going up more rapidly."
The last few days have seen more details emerge about the bubble which MPs, not just those in the New Labour camp, inhabit; it's not often that I side with the Daily Telegraph (in fact, I think it's a first), but the question of how they received the expenses figures is irrelevant when set against the decadent, Bourbonesque excesses they reveal. It is therefore either an astonishing act of political chutzpah, or a jaw-dropping act of naivety for cabinet minister Caroline Flint to appear in today's Observer displaying different fashion outfits, & posing in a way designed to make her look like a 50s femme fatale ( ), particularly when her own actions in the Great Westminster Expenses Scam were featured by the Telegraph on Friday ( ).
This is the demi-monde to which Stephen Twigg hopes to return next year. Good Luck, Stephen. Oh, & you, too, "Anonymous".

Friday, May 08, 2009

Is This Man The GOP's Public Enemy No.1?

Notwithstanding their numerous half-truths, inconsistencies, Janus-faced positions & shameless fabrications, the media on this side of the Atlantic can be a rather different creature to their US counterparts. Opinions are stated & headlined as such, generally speaking; op-ed pieces are not normally inserted into the news pages of the Guardian, nor would the BBC dream of allowing one of its news presenters to give a personal, highly-partisan opinion on any issue.
In the US, as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart brilliantly reminds us, things are a little different.
Rupert Murdoch's Fox News this week gave neo-con shill Bill O'Reilly carte blanche in criticising Bruce Springsteen for appearing at Pete Seeger's 90th birthday concert ( ).
Believe it or not, O'Reilly suggested that part of a successful strategy for a Republican recovery in US politics after last November's election defeat should include a condemnation of Springsteen for his "snide reference to America".
Characters like O'Reilly now call the shots in the US Republican party. If all they can offer is reheated McCarthyism, with a continued faith in free market capitalism & social & racial bigotry thrown in, they fully warrant at least a generation of political isolation & irrelevance.

Capital Of Theme Park Culture

Penny Kiley, a one-time music journalist on the Echo, back in the days when the paper actually employed people who cared about what they wrote & attended the gigs they reviewed, posted a wistful & reproachful piece on Liverpool Confidential the other day ( ) for those who now celebrate not just the Cavern's place in the city's musical history, but that of Eric's too:
"When Eric's was happening, very few people in Liverpool knew or cared about the city's music. They hated Eric's, if they knew about it at all; they'd forgotten Merseybeat. Even the site of the Cavern was the car park over the road from Eric's that I used to run across to get the last bus. The Beatles industry didn't get started until after John Lennon died (and then it was used to evict the new musicians from Matthew Street)."
I've often lamented the city's penchant for nostalgia at the expense of the present & future. The city's music scene is a case in point, as Penny observes:
"Memory lane is culture as comfort food: familiar, reassuring, and something you don't have to think about. And it's the default setting for Liverpool. Are we selling a lie to the tourists (we all know the Cavern is a copy, but no-one lets on)? Or are we telling a lie to ourselves?"
Penny muses:
"It's easy to celebrate something after the event, smoothing over those awkward questions about sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, politics and authenticity that make real culture so hard to take at the time."
The Cavern was bulldozed & cemented over on the say-so of 40 & 50-something overwhelmingly white male councillors in 1973; the Beatles couldn't sing for toffee, one famously declared; they took drugs, another whined.
Eric's was closed on a spurious pretext of drug use at the premises in 1980; punk was viewed with fear & loathing by a new generation of mainly white, male, middle-aged councillors, some of whom, ironically fondly recalled going to the Cavern at lunch-time in the early 60s.
Youth culture in Liverpool? It's long as it belongs to a different era.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Retread On Road Safety

It seems so far away now, but back in May 1997, when the middle classes were taken in by Blair & that risible headline "Cool Britannia" appeared in just about every national paper, delight in the Tories' hammering was accompanied by the question, "Were you still up for Portillo?"
I was, knocking back the lager in what was then Kitty O'Shea's in the city centre.
Michael Portillo's seemingly safe Tory seat of Enfield, North London suburbia, fell in the New Labour landslide to a clearly nervous & ill-prepared Stephen Twigg.
Fast forward 12 years & we find that Twigg has surfaced as the official Labour candidate for Liverpool West Derby. Sitting MP Bob Wareing was deselected a couple of years back; he hadn't done himself many favours with the local party, but his deselection came from Labour HQ rather than the constituency itself.
For reasons best known to himself, David Bartlett has given over his Dale Street Blues blog to a post by Twigg ( ).
It's all well & good to highlight the issue of road safety, as Twigg's piece ostensibly does. However, it descends into little more than a personal manifesto statement, the sort of self-serving drivel that will be on leaflets pushed through letterboxes this time next year. One wonders why Bartlett would allow Twigg to deliver what is basically an electioneering tract. It also ends on a rather presumptuous note:
"Having worked in Enfield [on road safety] I am pleased to have the opportunity to do the same here in Liverpool," he crows prematurely.
West Derby may be seen as a "safe" Labour seat normally. However, the move to parachute Twigg into the seat has caused a lot of resentment & anger in the local party. Twigg shouldn't take support or victory for granted.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Parish Notice

Good to see the return of the Writing On The Wall festival to the city ( ).
Particular highlights for me include "Shafted: The Media, the Miners' Strike and Militant Liverpool" on Monday May 11th at The Casa on Hope Street ( ), which marks the 25th anniversary of the miners'strike & the city council's battle versus the Tories (& Kinnock) the same year. The panel includes Nick Jones, BBC industrial correspondent during the strike, Brian Reade, Daily Mirror Columnist & Paul Astbury, one of the Liverpool 47.
There's also a debate on last year's capital of culture events ( ) on Wednesday May 13th at the Everyman Bistro on Hope Street, "Whose capital and whose culture? Looking back on 08", with "two exiled Scousers", Dr Philip Boland of Cardiff University & Dr Mark Christian of Miami University, Ohio. Together they ask, was 08 the success story it was claimed to be? [You know my answer to that!]
Wonder if the Oldham Echo will cover it?

There's Something Going On, But They Don't Know What It Is


I'm indebted to Simon on the No Rock And Roll Fun blog for highlighting a truly, & typically, inane piece in the Oldham Echo regarding the chart success of Bob Dylan's new album ( ).
Simon is bemused to find that the piece appears to claim that the album's success has something to do with his Liverpool gig last Friday ( ).
There's no byline for the Echo piece & no wonder when you read this breathless & self-congratulatory piece of crap:
"Just days after his sell-out appearance at the Echo arena, superstar Bob Dylan leapt straight to the top of the album chart --almost 40 years after his last number one record."
Ah, so it was Dylan's gig at the Echo (yes, get the plug in, guys) arena which prompted thousands to buy the CD or download it, eh? Well, well, well, the power of a Liverpool concert to shift units in the rest of the UK is truly something to behold!
The Echo notes that Dylan "now holds the record for the longest gap between solo number one albums."
But wait, there's a little bit more:
"The previous record for the longest gap [was] held by Welsh crooner Tom Jones, who appears in Liverpool in October."
Got that? That gig is also at the Echo-sponsored arena. If his album doesn't storm to number one in the days to follow, heads will roll on Old Hall Street; editor Alastair Machray will be seen marauding through Liverpool One, demanding that everyone there goes to HMV & buys the album.
Jade Wright's review of the Dylan concert both plumbs the depths of lazy journalism & raises the question of her attendance at the gig. Her "review" ( ) starts ominously:
"HE EPITOMISED [her capitals] the sound of sixties unrest."
It gets worse. Much, much worse:
"But somehow, almost against his will, the music world clasped him to their collective hearts, and nowhere more than here in Liverpool.
"His parties in the Adelphi in the 60s have fallen into legend, the heady nights drinking Beaujolais with the beatniks and Mersey poets.
"He always said one day he'd come back to settle down in the city he loved so well."
It's difficult to decide where to begin in dissecting this wretched example of junk journalism. So, Jade, affection for Mr Zimmerman was at its greatest in Liverpool, was it? Right, & I suppose John Lennon was actually a native of New York after all, his proclaimed Liverpool origins being just a front due to the popularity of Merseybeat at the time.
As for Dylan's supposedly legendary parties at the Adelphi in the 60s, he appeared in the city just twice during that decade, 65 & 66. On both occasions he was self-medicating on substances a little stronger than French wine.
Dylan's love of Liverpool? Oh yes, that's always been well-documented. He even went out of his way in his book Chronicles to declare his undying affection for the place & that he'd soon be buying a place near Sefton Park. Didn't he?
The comments on Wright's piece don't seem to share her gushing enthusiasm for the performance. One takes issue with Wright's statement that Dylan played "Spirit on the Water" & asks, "Were you at the same gig?"
Another asks of Wright, "Was she actually there?"
Irony is neatly deployed by a poster who quips, "Great review from a real music lover. Well done to the Echo for not going soft."
So, Jade, were you there? If not, it's very much a case of It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Health Matters

Splashed across the front page of today's Oldham Echo is a local angle on the swine flu pandemic ( ).
You can tell it's a slow news day for the toiling minions on Old Hall Street when they're reduced to leading on a woman's recovery from the flu at quite an early stage. Indeed, the Echo dithers over whether to give the story the full "Don't Panic!" treatment, designed to have the opposite effect, or whether to go with the dry, factual advice given by a local health professional. In the end it opts, reluctantly, it would seem, for the latter.
Far more informative, insightful & germane to the subject is a piece by Felicity Lawrence in today's Guardian ( ).
Lawrence draws a neat & unarguable parallel between the banking crisis & the intensive farming of animals such as pigs which has led to the pandemic. In both cases a toxic legacy has emerged from unsustainable, reckless & short-termist practices.
I'm not a vegetarian, but a passage from Lawrence's excellent analysis may well make this carnivore look at meat differently:
"If these new viruses are the toxic debt of the food system, the genetically improved pig is its highly engineered and artificial derivative. Pumped up like a bodybuilder, dependent on antibiotics and vaccines to keep it going, it has disproportionately large back legs to meet a market that likes hams more than shoulder of pork; it has tiny ears and no tail to limit the scars from the aggressive behaviour distressed conditions produce; and it is bred without hair for ease of slaughter. When herds of 5,000 of these genetically identical modern animals catch flu, it rips through them."
Still looking forward to that pork tomorrow?
A reminder of a much more immediate & so far deadly malaise was provided earlier this week with news that Bootle sculptor Terence McGunigle is hoping to produce a statue of Kitty Wilkinson for display in the city ( ).
Kitty Wilkinson remains one of the unsung figures in Liverpool's history. One of the many oversights of culture year was the virtual omission of her name from the Culture Company-produced literature. When you consider her feat, it is nothing short of scandalous:
"Catherine (Kitty) Seaward was born in Londonderry in 1786 and came over to Liverpool with her family three years later.
"In 1812, she married a French seaman and was expecting their second child when he drowned at sea.
"Soon after that, she married Tom Wilkinson, a former teenage sweetheart whom she had met working in a Lancashire cotton mill.
"Together they made the link between poor sanitation and the spread of cholera, and had a boiler fitted at their home in Denison Street.
"Mothers from the neighbourhood would visit her to wash their clothes and linen, so she turned it into a wash house and later opened Britain's first official wash house, in Upper Frederick Street, to accommodate more people.
"She died in 1860, aged 73, loved by rich and poor alike, and was buried at St James' Cemetery."
However, the cost of the project is £60,000, & it's fair to point out that in a recession, spending such a sum of money on a statue probably isn't the best or most cost-effective way of remembering the contribution she made to the city's health.
Be that as it may, her story does highlight a little-known period of the port's history prior to the arrival of millions of Irish people during the famine; it's also worth bearing in mind that this remarkable Irish-born woman, said by many to be the original Mary Ellen, was a Protestant. Liverpool's Irish heritage has been depicted as being largely Catholic in character. This shows, yet again, that the reality was much more nuanced.
There are some fascinating details about Kitty's early life at this website: .
A popular song which would have been familiar to the young Kitty Wilkinson, Mrs McGrath, was revived a couple of years' ago by Bruce Springsteen: .