Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Waiting In The Wings

Picture the scene: you're playing at Glastonbury, you know that a certain act from your neck of the woods is topping the bill that evening, & then word is passed round that someone is about to join you on stage to play guitar & provide backing vocals for a song you've written:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/glastonbury/2009/artists/gaslightanthem/ .

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Steven Wells

It was via Simon's No Rock and Roll Fun blog that I earlier learned about the death of Steven Wells from cancer on Tuesday (http://xrrf.blogspot.com/2009/06/rip-steven-wells.html ).
"Swells" had moved to the US in recent years & ensured he made his mark in Philadelphia (http://philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/in-extremis/Steven-Wells-Says-Goodbye-49054426.html ), & also blogged for the Guardian music & sports sections (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2009/jun/25/steven-wells-nme-tribute ).
However, it is as an excoriating NME scribe in the 80s & 90s that Steven will be best remembered.
I always approached his NME pieces with a mixture of relish & awe. Throughout today bloggers & ex-colleagues have highlighted his socialist principles & basic humanity. I didn't always agree with his articles, but he was fearless in saying what he thought. He could be brilliantly scornful of left-wing pop stars who talked the talk, but didn't entirely walk the walk. However, that was as nothing compared to the rage & anger he directed at Thatcher & the system she represented. Steven Wells was truly a one-off.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Walking On Thin Ice

It's not every day that Yoko Ono pops up in the Guardian Diary column, but it is heartening to know that she's got the hang of this Twitter thing (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jun/23/diary-hugh-muir ).
Hugh Muir urges us all to "carry this thought from Yoko Ono on Twitter. 'You are water, I'm water. We're all water in different containers. That's why it's so easy to meet. Someday we'll evaporate together.' And you know the best of it? Couldn't hear her sing."
Ouch. Given her message, it's safe to assume that Yoko is one celebrity who doesn't have others to tweet on her behalf.
Her words will be a source of great strength to the protestors on the streets of Tehran as they use Twitter to tell the outside world of the latest developments there.
What's more, she's right; we are all water...problem is some of us are the Pacific Ocean while others are the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

Terminal Tans

A perennial gripe about the national media's coverage of Merseyside is the perpetuation of crude stereotypes & caricatures. However, on far too many occasions Scousers have obliged said media with their own regrettable antics & quotes. In the most recent example of this, the Guardian's Laura Barton delivers a typically offbeat take on a tanning salon in Orrell Park as part of her Barton's Britain series (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/video/2009/jun/23/bartons-britain-liverpool-tanning ).
Barton notes that Liverpool is "the UK's tanning bed capital", a dubious distinction given the clear link with rates of skin cancer, & relates a couple of exchanges with the salon's patrons who appear to be alarmingly ignorant of the risks.

A City In Focus

The changing face of Liverpool has been researched by academics at Liverpool University (http://www.bbc.co.uk/liverpool/content/articles/2009/06/22/places_liverpool_city_in_film_feature.shtml ).
The university has compiled information on "over 1,500 films made in and around Liverpool over the last 100 years.
"The database is part of the City in Film project which looks at the relationship between Liverpool's architecture and moving pictures. Film footage from the late 19th century to the present day is collated in the database which can be searched online."
It will, of course, be an invaluable online resource for both academics & ordinary people. However, when I visited the link earlier (http://www.liv.ac.uk/lsa/cityinfilm/catalogue.html ), it appeared to be having teething troubles.
There will be issues over copyright to consider but it seems that, so far, the project is on track.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Follett's Faux-Pas

I'm not really surprised that those high-calibre journalists on Oldham Hall Street haven't picked up on comments made by junior culture minister Barbara Follett recently to the effect that prior to last year Liverpool had no cultural credentials. Wayne related the story earlier today (http://liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.com/2009/06/stand-up-for-new-liverpool.html ).
A quick Google news check unearths this piece about the matter on "bd The Architects' Website" (http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=437&storycode=3143041&channel=426&c=2&encCode=00000000019b98ca ):
"Given the sensitivity of Scousers to criticism of their fine city, architecture minister Barbara Follett may not want to visit Liverpool any time soon.
"Speaking at a Theatres Trust event last week, she opined that Merseyside --a Unesco world heritage site-- was something of a culture-free zone before it became European City of Culture last year. The minister has obviously never heard of the Beatles. Or the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Liverpool Shakespeare Festival, Liverpool Playhouse, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool Biennial..."
Dot, dot, dot indeed.
It's clearly a mystery why a culture minister, albeit a minor one, should take a leaf out of Boris Johnson's book & open her mouth before thinking about what she has to say. It remains to be seen whether Gordon Brown tells her to get the train at Euston pronto, endures an uncomfortable photo-op at the Albert Dock & makes an even bigger idiot of herself when Roger Philips kindly opens the lines on his Radio Merseyside phone-in.
In all the coverage given to MPs' expenses, it should, perhaps, be noted that Follett, a typical New Labour luvvie (her husband is pulp fiction writer Ken Follett), is one of the growing band of MPs who have repaid the money they fleeced from the taxpayer. According to the Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/police-will-investigate-mps-expenses-claims-1710730.html ):
"One of the biggest repayments was from junior culture minister Barbara Follett, wife of the author Ken Follett, who gave back £32,976 that she had claimed for security at her London home and the cleaning of a child's rug she had 'claimed in error'. "
So what does this affair say about the intellectual qualities & basic intelligence of the not-so honourable member for Stevenage in leafy Hertfordshire (with a wafer-thin majority of 3,139)?
Perhaps this tale involving Follett, courtesy of those wonderful folks at Wikipedia, helps explain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Follett ):
"In 2001 Follett appeared in the television satire programme Brass Eye which satirised media hysteria towards the issue of paedophilia. In the programme she was duped into giving fake warnings about an online game called Pantu the dog, claiming on camera that a paedophile had converted the dog's eye in order to see the child play. Follett went on to demonstrate how the paedophile would wear a t-shirt with a small illustration of a child's body on it, in order to disguise themselves as another child and how paedophiles get children to press their faces against the screen and then use special gloves to feel the child. Follett complained to the BSC [Broadcasting Standards Commission] and ITC [Independent Television Commission] about being duped into appearing on the programme. The BSC noted that the programme makers had deliberately given warning signals to suggest the material might be dubious and thus rejected Follett's complaints against the show as it successfully revealed the dangers of how public figures were willing to speak 'with apparent authority about matters they do not understand.' "
The same could be said about Follett's witless witterings about Merseyside's cultural life & history.
By the way, the Brass Eye clip has been YouTubed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx4ixXQFUQY#t=0m17s .
Wikipedia also notes that Follett & her husband "own two properties in London, one in Hertfordshire, a property in Cape Town and a holiday home in Antigua."
Wonder if she ever buys The Big Issue?

Halfway To Paradise?

Billy shows his Fury at what the planners, the council & the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company have done to the waterfront he knew so well.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good Riddance

The news that David Moores has resigned from the board of Liverpool Football Club (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/06/18/david-moores-resigns-from-liverpool-fc-s-board-of-directors-92534-23918940/ ) will not be greeted with sorrow by most supporters. Moores wept crocodile tears last year in an Oldham Echo "exclusive", saying he felt betrayed by Hicks & Gillett. However, that sense of betrayal was, no doubt, lessened by the £90m he pocketed from the takeover.
Moores & outgoing chief executive Rick Parry bequeathed a toxic legacy in the form of Hicks & Gillett's ruinous reign which has ended any possibility of a new stadium in Stanley Park, the implications of which will be severe for the wider Anfield area (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/jun/05/liverpool-new-stadium-debt ). Rightly or wrongly, some partial regeneration of Liverpool 4 was presented as a hastily-agreed add-on to the stadium project a decade ago. Now, as a source told David Conn in his Guardian piece, "You can forget about that".
The club has been Glazered & the owners have no qualms about leeching off it (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/jun/08/liverpool-tom-hicks-george-gillet ).

Picking Up The Tab For Our Dishonourable Members

After the Telegraph's incendiary revelations about MPs' expenses, today's release by the House of Commons of the (heavily redacted) figures feels like being offered a Burger King meal after feasting on a good three-course dinner.
For what it's worth, there are one or two curios to pour over in regard to Merseyside's MPs (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/06/18/what-did-your-mp-claim-92534-23911746/ ):
"WEST DERBY MP Bob Wareing has charged up to £1,000 a year for taxi fares in London. But the bulk was on £50-£65 trips to and from Heathrow airport for the air shuttle to Manchester airport. Asked why he did not take public transport, the 78-year-old replied: 'Carrying bags and other gear on the Tube is exhausting. I normally travel by rail or drive myself, but often it is more efficient to fly.' "
Wareing may well consider it "more efficient" to take to the skies, but many, including some who voted for him in his own seat, will think it reckless at best, & an act of environmental terrorism at worst; it beggars belief that someone who still likes to think of himself as being to the left of New Labour shows such ignorance of, or contempt for the issue of climate change. However, I am grateful to him for informing me that travelling on the Tube when burdened with bags & other luggage is "exhausting". I didn't know that.
The Echo article also refers to Crosby's Claire Curtis-Thomas, whose claims included "a 'bathroom hair drier in white' costing £75, and £2,154 to fit out a kitchen with appliances including a £318 glass cooker hood, £249 integrated dishwasher and £486.23 integrated larder fridge.......Among her claims was £15 for organic fruit teas."
The only thing which doesn't seem to be "integrated" in Curtis-Thomas' case is modesty. Moreover, organic fruit tea isn't exactly slaking the thirst of her constituents as they read with increasing anger of her claims on their taxes. There was local disquiet about her decision to change the windows on the property she bought in Waterloo, which just happens to be listed. There are clear guidelines regarding changes to the exterior of properties which are listed. However, it is not clear whether the changes Crosby's MP made to the windows were funded from her expense claims.
Riverside's Louise Ellman, aka, the "Dame of dereliction" (http://www.liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.com/2009/06/louise-ellman-mp-dame-of-dereliction.html ) is mentioned. The big & the small of her chutzpah is noted ("a £499 26-inch flat-screen TV and a 64p ballpoint pen") as well as the £2,140 she claimed for her self-serving "newsletter"
The claims made by Walton's Peter Kilfoyle are mentioned, but there's more in his case: "He also claimed back the cost of a £50 summons from Liverpool City Council for apparent non-payment of business rates --he said the Fees Office failed to pay his business rates-- and £910 in fees from accountants he paid to fill in his tax returns three times between August 2004 and July 2006."
Non-payment to the council, eh? That reminds me, Kilfoyle was scathing of those who either couldn't or wouldn't pay Thatcher's Poll Tax; he intoned the mantra composed by Kinnock & co at the time: better to break the poor than break the law. He was elected in the Walton by-election of 1991, after the death of Eric Heffer. He seldom passed up an opportunity to call the anti-poll tax unions reckless & irresponsible. Nice to see he's suddenly discovered some radical backbone & told the council to go & whistle for money it wanted from him while letting the taxpayer pay for the summons issued as well as the money demanded. Right on, comrade!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Well, You Know, We All Want To Change The World

"I'm sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites,
All I want is the truth,
Just Gimme Some Truth.
I've had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians.
All I want is the truth,
Just Gimme Some Truth.
No short-haired, yellow-bellied son of Tricky Dicky
Is gonna Mother Hubbard soft-soap me
With just a pocketful of hope,
Money for dope,
Money for rope."

"Just Gimme Some Truth", John Lennon, 1971.

When the city's civic leaders arrange a (not so) cheap photo-op with someone claiming a Beatle connection, you just know desperation & distraction are the driving factors. Culture year was an all too pathetic attempt to indulge in bread & circus politics while the city's real needs were ignored in an Echo-led orgy of self-congratulation. Ringo arrived with his chums & spent his way through £90,000 worth of expenses before flying down to London & being a little too honest for his own good on the Jonathan Ross show. McCartney was supposed to play his gig at the Salthouse Dock, the idea being that the dock would be drained & the fish would be humanely stunned (yes, really, Tony Parish had the story). After spending thousands on a feasibility study into a Salthouse Dock gig, it was decided to move it to Anfield, where, under the banner of "Liverpool Sound" Macca was joined in a celebration of local music by The Zutons &, erm, Kaiserchiefs, from Leeds.
All of which makes it inevitable that tomorrow's easy PR stunt at the Albert Dock with new mayor Mike Storey & Julian Lennon will be long on platitudes & short on relevance to both the people of the city & its current music scene (http://www.liverpool.gov.uk/News/newsdetail_3054.asp ).
It seems this unlikely duo will call for world peace & all that jazz. No, really, they will. They'll also light a white candle there:
"Candles will be sent to all cities across the globe for civic leaders to do the same in memory of John Lennon's struggle for peace and understanding, and Julian's continuing efforts.
"Liverpool's Lord Mayor, Councillor Mike Storey said: 'John Lennon, and indeed the Beatles are a huge part of the history of the city. As a city we will never forget the contribution John Lennon made not only to music but towards a more peaceful world.
'The candles represent a white feather which was a symbolic part of both John and Julian's life. We are hoping that all major cities will take part and help create a more peaceful world.' "
I like the way "all cities across the globe" becomes "all major cities" in the space of a couple of paragraphs. Must be the council cuts, I take it? I'm also indebted to the city's new mayor for informing me that Lennon & his band mates "are a huge part of the history of the city". Nothing much happened in Liverpool before then, I suppose; perhaps Storey's been taking local history lessons from his predecessor & noted expert on American history, Steve Rotheram.
The council PR release (it appeared on its website under the "news" section, by the way) also quotes Lennon jnr.:
"The white feather is so prevalent in my life. One thing for sure is that it's always represented peace to me. One of the things my father said to me was that should he pass away, if there was some way of letting me know he was going to be ok, or that we were all going to be ok, it was by in some way, shape or form presenting me with a white feather."
A cruel & cynical observer might remark that Julian appears to share his dad's enthusiasm for gobbledygook (In His Own Write; A Spaniard In The Works, etc). However, I wouldn't be so cutting.
Still, it's nice to see that altruism & general bonhomie will be the order of the day, eh? Eh? Oh:
"The event coincides with the opening of an exhibition at the new Beatles Story branch at the Pier Head on Wednesday (June 17) called White Feather - The Spirit of Lennon."
It sounds like a Yoko-approved move to cash in on the name with a new alco-pop concoction, doesn't it?
Imagine no possessions, I wonder if they can. Wonder if Storey's called Lee Forde back to help in the organisation for tomorrow's charade?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Boss, I've Got An Idea

Picture the scene: it's been "a long lunch" on Oldham Hall Street. Alastair Machray reclines in his chair, realises that Friday's edition of the Oldham Echo needs a little more padding than those churned out during the rest of the week & attempts a little blue sky thinking. Fast forward a couple of hours & the Echo editor is stuck. Then Paddy Shennan pops his head from behind his terminal. Can I help, he enquires.
A 50 watt light bulb goes on in Alastair's head.
A few minutes later Paddy's busy at work on his latest opus, a frenetic & eager example of journalistic & civic onanism:
http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/06/12/tell-us-what-makes-liverpool-great-city-to-live-in-100252-23860361/ .
By now Paddy's into his stride & nothing can stop him:
"What makes Liverpool great? YOU decide! Tell us what you think are the features and factors which give the city liveability. Perhaps you'll point to the three Ls --location, location, location-- and highlight our much envied, world-famous waterfront and spectacular skyline."
Ah, yes, Paddy, you've raised a good one there. The "much envied" waterfront, where the three Gs (that's Graces, Paddy) will soon have neighbours which should be given architectural ASBOs while burger vans await passengers from near & far. And then, of course, let's not forget how our "spectacular skyline" has been augmented with high-rise developments from the neo-brutalist school of design which can't tempt the punters into them.
Paddy also mentions culture & why not? After all, last year was such a success. Wasn't it?
Yes, there's nothing to stand in the way of Paddy's panegyric to the 'Pool:
"Then again, you might love living in Liverpool simply because it has a cosmopolitan, 'world in one city' feel".
Too true, Paddy, "the world in one city", five & a half thousand of whose residents last week voted BNP.
However, even Paddy knows he has to stop, but not without a final flourish:
"Starting with 'Liverpool is a great place to live because...' simply tell us below, in no more than 50 words, why you enjoy living here so much.
"We'll print as many of them as we can."
So go on, don't be bashful, take up Paddy's invitation & briefly let him know that you enjoy living here so much because of the high-calibre, fearless investigative journalism which is synonymous with the Oldham Echo.

Besmirching Shankly's Name

There's been a relatively muted response in the local media to an incident that took place at an end of season party organised by the Spirit of Shankly group at the Olympia Ballroom in West Derby on May 24th.
By all accounts, a "musician" took to the stage & started a chant about the Munich air disaster in 1958. The idiot's antics were caught on video & posted on YouTube. However, if you visit the link now, you'll find a statement from YouTube: "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by the Spirit of Shankly, Liverpool Supporters' Union" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCtaAhaxLMk ).
SoS is being disingenuous & it knows it. Copyright? Do me a favour, folks, it's sheer embarrasment & shame at a disgusting incident which the SoS allowed to happen.
As Matt Scott wrote in his Digger column in the Guardian sports section on Wednesday (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/jun/10/kevin-bond-bbc-panorama ), SoS have issued an apology for the incident (http://www.spiritofshankly.com/news/Spirit-Of-Shankly-Announcement.html ).
However, that isn't quite the end of the matter. Scott observes that it "does not explain how the singer was allowed to remain on stage for at least five minutes afterwards. A spokesman did not return calls."
SoS has deservedly won plaudits from far & wide for its campaign against the ruinous reign of Hicks & Gillett at Anfield. It would be stupid in the extreme to forfeit such tributes & support by failing to take the necessary steps on this incident. There will always be drunken idiots among the ranks of Liverpool fans who sing about Munich; as long as they're marginalised & told in no uncertain terms to either grow up or shut up, that should be sufficient. However, allowing a "performer" to grab the microphone & repeat such crap reflects badly on SoS's organisational abilities.

Spin Over Substance?

The Oldham Echo's sickly sister the Daily Post today carries a piece by David Bartlett, stating that, despite taking up his new position as Health Secretary, Andy Burnham will continue to campaign for the release of all the original Hillsborough documents in their unaltered & unedited forms (http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/regional-news/2009/06/12/andy-burnham-says-he-will-keep-fighting-for-release-of-secret-hillsborough-files-92534-23852136/ ).
I'm not calling into question Burnham's personal sincerity on the matter (those of us who attended the 20th anniversary memorial service at Anfield will readily attest to his own commitment on the issue), but it does read uncomfortably like yet another New Labour spin missive which Bartlett regurgitates faithfully. Pressure on the government to fulfill their pledge on the documents will, of course, continue, & Bartlett, to his credit, does mention the march on Parliament for justice over Hillsborough on Saturday June 20, linking to the march's website (http://www.m4j.co.uk/ ).
In the meantime, reminders of the need for movement on Hillsborough should be addressed to the new minister at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Ben Bradshaw (http://www.culture.gov.uk/contact_us/default.aspx ).
Bartlett's article repeats the ficticious claim that Burnham was "heckled" at the service in April:
"The Newton-le-Willows-born Everton fan, who was heckled at the recent Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield, has also revealed the way he was barracked was helpful because it helped 'lift the lid' off the feeling justice has still not been done.
"Mr Burnham said: 'The 20th anniversary service of Hillsborough was absolutely a difficult experience.
" 'If I was not a minister, I would have been shouting at the minister.' "
According to my mini-reference version of the Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus, "heckle v interrupt (a public speaker) with aggressive questions and abuse."
Burnham's address was "interrupted" by the crowd, but not in an aggressive manner towards him personally (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z3mBIi084Q ).

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Broadcasting Baloney

The US TV news networks rarely offer their viewers real journalism. Instead, thet serve up a toxic concoction made up of infomercials & deranged, partisan cheerleading (just check Fox News' website...then again, best not to). We all know the broadcast media in the UK has numerous shortcomings, but most BBC reports & Channel 4 News are head & shoulders above anything masquerading as journalism across the pond.
Yesterday's edition of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was on fine form in skewering the hype, rants & general bullshit which passes for news (http://www.thedailyshow.com/ ).

Monday, June 08, 2009


The commenter who felt that I was unduly alarmist about the threat of a BNP victory in the North West last night referred me to David Bartlett's updates from the count in Manchester. I read his despatches until just after midnight. Little was he or I to know for sure what would follow.
On his Dale Street Blues blog this evening Bartlett gives an account of the scene at Manchester Town Hall early this morning. He also relates a couple of intriguing anecdotes about the activities of the far-right in Lancashire when he was at the Lancashire Evening Telegraph (http://blogs.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/dalestreetblues/2009/06/a-witness-to-the-far-rights-ri.html ).
Meanwhile Hilary Burrage has updated her posting. Invoking the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson, she continues to contend that only a huge Labour vote would have stopped the fascists. Nope, she still doesn't get it.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Heads In The Sand

Within a couple of hours we could have the odious spectacle of Nick Griffin & his suited thugs revelling in a protest vote which has partially gone their way. The grotesque irony of fascists being elected just a day after the D-Day commemorations will be lost on no one. Who's to blame? Contrary to the impulses of some, the answer is messily complex & unsatisfactory.
Labour certainly has to accept a good deal of responsibility for the rise of the far-Right in recent years. When faced with the spectre, their response has been by turns complacent & arrogant. A combination of both was evident on Hilary Burrage's blog (http://www.hilaryburrage.com/2009/06/critical_choices_4_june_09_eur_1.php ):
"In the 2004 European elections the BNP got 6.4% of the vote in the NW [North West] of England region, but no seat. This time they could need as little as 8% to gain one.
"It has been calculated that only a strong vote for the Labour Party candidates...is likely to ensure the critical 8% level is not reached."
She adds later in her post:
"If you prefer other, non-Labour candidates, that's absolutely your democratic choice; but everyone needs to know that not voting (or indeed voting -- however ernestly -- for small parties which cannot realistically win a seat) may end up with just the same result as actually voting for the BNP."
In the following paragraph, Burrage kindly declares her own Labour Party membership.
Such arrogance & complacency is breath-taking. As for Burrage's warped perception that a vote for other parties amounts to a vote for the fascists, I've rarely read such an offensive & imbecilic remark.
You may not be surprised to know that Burrage is honorary chair of Liverpool Riverside Constituency Labour Party & honorary agent for Louise Ellman, the constituency's MP (http://www.hilaryburrage.com/2005/10/about_hilary_burrage_1.php ).
Burrage would have done well to read a Comment is Free piece by the Guardian diarist Hugh Muir, headlined "Who opened the door to the BNP?" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/05/bnp-labour-conservatives-voters ).
Muir refers to Labour & Tory policies on immigration over the years. Both parties pandered to racist, xenophobic sentiment, he contends. Muir continues:
"And yet, in truth, what we are hearing from both sides is yah-boo stuff. It's irritating because they know the problems involve both of them. This situation hasn't appeared from nowhere. It is the result of negligence. The architects of New Labour did not see the need to involve ordinary working people. They focused their attention on the limited numbers of seats and on the limited demographic they identified as necessary to get the party elected: Daily Mail readers and voters in the marginals. They cut the cord with the unions and the activist left, both of which were seen as a drag on their ambitions. But both provided grassroots links, connections with communities and foot soldiers. There was nothing to take up the slack."
Mandelson, Draper, et al used to sneer, "Where else will they [the working class] go?" when challenged about New Labour's "intensely relaxed" [Mandelson's quote] attitude to the super rich. We may, sadly, know in the next couple of hours.
It would be welcome if Hilary Burrage "got it". Can't see it happening, though.
For the record, I voted Green.

Kennedy To Cut & Run?

David Bartlett today observes on his blog that Labour's Liverpool Wavertree MP Jane Kennedy is set to quit her post as environment minister (http://blogs.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/dalestreetblues/2009/06/wavertree-mp-jane-kennedy-on-t.html ).
Bartlett refers to a story in today's Sunday Times in which Kennedy is named as one of two female junior ministers who are about to jump from the sinking ship (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6446324.ece ).
Bartlett also asks us to remember that Kennedy "first came to prominence in fighting the Militant Tendency in Labour. Some would say there are direct comparisons in the manner in which Militant operated and the so-called cabal that runs the government."
Such "comparisons" are lazy in the extreme. Whatever Militant's shortcomings may have been, & whatever your view may be of those years, it should be noted that Brown's "cabal" is slowly disintegrating, something that didn't happen to Militant; democratic centralism, for all its faults, ensured that.
Kennedy has been Telegraphed, it should be said. According to the paper (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5349413/MPs-expenses-Full-list-of-Labour-MPs-investigated-by-the-Telegraph.html ):
"Jane Kennedy [Labour, Liverpool Wavertree] regularly claimed £400 a month for food, as well as £200 for telephone bills and £200 for service and maintenance on her second home, a flat in Lambeth."
The reference David Bartlett made to Kennedy's role in Liverpool Labour politics during the 80s reminds me of an episode from that time which speaks volumes about her willingness, or otherwise, to try & justify the claims she made. The Labour Party NEC voted in favour of an inquiry into the running of the Liverpool District Labour Party (DLP) in the wake of the expulsions in 1985. Peter Taafe & Tony Mulhearn recall:
"On the very first day of the inquiry, the Sun reported: 'Shock 150 page blast at Militant'. This dossier had been drawn up by Jane Kennedy and the NUPE leadership in Liverpool probably with the connivance of the union leadership at national level. Jane Kennedy was more than eager to detail the alleged 'crimes' of the Liverpool District Labour Party in the safety of the inquiry's private sessions.
"When the leaders of the District Labour Party appeared at the inquiry, they were given an assurance that they would be allowed to question their accusers and the 'evidence'. When this was revealed to Jane Kennedy by reporters, she was alarmed and threatened to withdraw the 'dossier'. The inquiry was a show trial." ("Liverpool: A City That Dared To Fight", p.356, by Peter Taafe and Tony Mulhearn, Fortress Books, first edition January, 1988).

Forever In Their Debt

Watching the TV coverage of the D-Day commemorations yesterday, I was vaguely conscious of a jarring collision. The almost festive feel of the occasion, coupled with a brisk, uptempo treatment of its significance seemed at tasteless variance with the reality of the landings, the battles on the beaches, the thousands who didn't even make it beyond the shore.
My late father, then eighteen years of age, was one of the lucky ones, one who didn't have a bullet, bomb or booby-trap to cut him short. He made it all the way to Berlin from the French coast, staying on in Germany for a further two years after the war as part of the Military Police (MP).
He was also among the first of the allied troops to liberate the Belsen concentration camps.
[By the time he returned home to Bootle in the late 40s he was fluent in German, much to the consternation of the neighbours.]
With the possible exception of Barack Obama, it seemed as though the heads of state present yesterday cut an incongruous prescence; Brown & Sarkozy, in particular, serving as a reminder that this generation of political leaders, with no direct experience of warfare, think nothing of authorising acts of war based on false premises & dodgy dossiers.
Euan Ferguson pens a moving & eloquent piece in today's Observer. The final paragraph perfectly articulates the chasm between the official remembrance & the bloody reality the troops faced (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/07/d-day-normandy-veterans-barack-obama ):
"Yesterday the American president, and the world, saw the beauty of Normandy. Marked the glory of heroism. Marked the stirring music, and splendid tales, and noted our courteous ways of the remembrance. One can only hope, as the veterans go, that we do not forget to remember the darkness. Hope that, even for an instant, as the world and its leaders watched, a time-shimmer could allow them to see beyond the beauty, to see what the veterans were seeing: many thousands of young men in personal darkness, losing their minds."

Discordant Notes

The people who gave us that memorable ditty, "There's No One As Irish As Barack Obama" have turned their attention to the MPs expenses scandal. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1T0xsDCI5o .
[Hat tip: Jennie Rigg's Daily Blog Review at Liberal Conspiracy (http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/ ) .]

Saturday, June 06, 2009

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

The summer of 1989 was a conflicted one. Traumatised, distressed & angered by Hillsborough little more than a month earlier, most of us were vainly attempting to make some sort of sense of what happened. The FA Cup final had its own drama on the pitch. Off it, in baking heat, Wembley stewards doused Liverpool & Everton fans with water. Emotions were as high as the temperature that day & a regrettably large number of idiots on both sides invaded the pitch during & after the game.
I recall that summer as one of unbroken, glorious weather on Merseyside also.
A few weeks after Hillsborough I saw Elvis Costello play two nights at the Royal Court. He donated all the takings from both evenings (about £25,000 at the time) to the Hillsborough Fund.
I write all this because a clip on YouTube has sparked those memories. Here is Costello performing an acoustic version of "Veronica" for Warner Brothers' staff in Los Angeles on this day 20 years ago:

Friday, June 05, 2009

Retailers On The Rack

Tucked away in the inside pages of the Oldham Echo is the occasional admission that the global recession is affecting the local economy. No, really. So while the front page & first couple of inside pages may be given over to self-congratulatory doggerel & C-list local celebrities, the sobering blast of economic reality is channeled into areas of the paper which may be overlooked on a casual reading.
A case in point was its article yesterday that the owner of Liverpool One has offered its retail tenants the chance to pay rent on a monthly basis. Until now the preferred system has been one of quarterly payments (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/06/04/liverpool-one-helps-retailers-struggling-with-rents-100252-23786061/ ).
I've made the point before, but it bears repeating: Liverpool One is a retail behemoth, dependent on people's ability or willingness to spend considerable sums of money. Fine when the economy's doing well. The recession, however, lays bare the hollow claims of civic regeneration via "retail therapy". Liverpool One may well end up as the biggest white elephant on Merseyside since the Kirkby ski-slope.

Held To Account?

Roy Greenslade is sometimes right on the money when analysing media matters. However, he was way off target yesterday in his contention that local papers are increasingly holding their MPs to account over their expenses (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2009/jun/04/mps-expenses-local-newspapers ).
Aside from the occasional piece by David Bartlett on his Dale Street Blues blog (http://blogs.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/dalestreetblues/ ), the Oldham Echo has been strikingly reticent to confront local MPs over their expenses. There's been the odd, outraged, tabloidesque editorial on the matter, but it's been scattergun in nature, not focused on particular local miscreants.
True, there are some local papers which have spoken out, to their credit. Indeed, on a local note, Greenslade observes:
"A commenter to my earlier blog posting (Zeds) also pointed to the Wirral Globe (a Newsquest free weekly) for its tough response to revelations about Wirral South MP Ben Chapman. He had flatly refused to talk to the paper and has now decided to stand down."
However, Greenslade's central point that local papers are suddenly showing some journalistic gumption is somewhat undermined by his ownreference to the coverage given by the Manchester Evening News to Hazel Blears' resignation from the cabinet (http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1118830_blears_ill_stay_on_as_mp ). Its senior reporter is quoted as saying:
"Hazel [Blears] is smart enough to know that the Manchester Evening News would be a good bet to get her views across at a local level."
A good bet? What's that got to do with journalism?

Cancel The Plane Tickets

When she isn't ignoring letters & emails from her own constituents (http://liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.com/2009/06/louise-ellman-why-wont-you-answer.html ), Liverpool Riverside's MP Louise Ellman chairs the transport select committe down at the Augean stables that masquerade as the Houses of Parliament. Ellman & her chums were due to jet across the Atlantic next week. However, there's been a change of plan. Hugh Muir in today's Guardian diary column casts a wry look (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jun//05/diary-hugh-muir ):
"And there will be no early election, goes the line from the bunker. We still have a mandate. We're still getting on with the job. Which makes it quite surprising that the transport select committee, led by Labour MP Louise Ellman, has cancelled a trip to Washington next week fearing that there might soon be an election. It's not as if they would miss out. There's always CNN."
Ellman's majority in her seat has halved to just over 10,000 since 1997. As today's election coverage conveys the scale of Labour's wipe out in the local elections, Ellman will be worried. Very worried.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Exit Stage Left

Acording to the Daily Telegraph, Labour's Crosby MP Claire Curtis-Thomas tried to claim £9,000 for a fire escape. The fees office knocked this figure down to £4,000. There, it seemed, the matter ended. However, I was informed by a more than reliable source last weekend that Curtis-Thomas' constituency home, on Marine Terrace, Waterloo, already had a fire escape. It would appear that the Honourable Member for Crosby has some questions to answer.

Leopards Don't Change Their Spots

Some things don't change. Labour may be in deserved meltdown, the Lib Dems may make noises from the sidelines & Cameron's lot may already be planning for life in government. However, one thing set to continue for the forseeable future is Merseyside's status as a largely Tory-free zone. We know that, they know that.
Be that as it may, the Tories still have to make the right statements for the benefit of their membership & the local media. Last week Tory party chairman Eric Pickles popped up on the Wirral, wanting "Merseysiders" to join the Tory ranks as part of the drive to "clean-up" politics in the wake of Expensegate (http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/regional-news/2009/05/29/tory-chairman-calls-for-real-merseysiders-to-join-campaign-trail-92534-23739326/ ):
"Mr Pickles said he was encouraged by the number of people from the region responding to party leader David Cameron's announcement he would open up Tory candidates to 'successful head teachers and the owners of small businesses'.
"But Mr Pickles insisted the party was not merely looking to the 'petit-bourgeois' to restore Parliament's credibility in the wake of the expenses scandal, which has rocked Westminster."
[Pickles made his comments from the relative electoral safety of Wallasey, where he also met local Tory candidates (http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/regional-news/2009/05/29/conservative-candidates-meet-party-chairman-at-wallasey-town-hall-92534-23739323/ ).]
It's worth recalling that Pickles was one of the first MPs to inadvertently fess up on the BBC's Question Time about his expenses & housing arrangements earlier this year. It helped to set the ball rolling on the expenses story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MrFV4c_sVY .
Yep, cleaning up politics sure is a messy business. Just ask Eric Pickles, he's up to his neck in it.
Some of us remember the then Tory chancellor Geoffrey Howe saying in the wake of the 1981 Toxteth riots that government policy on areas such as Merseyside should be one of "managed decline". Thatcher's policies throughout her reign were zealously implemented to that end.