Friday, July 31, 2009

Going Off Air

It's always nice to see misfortune befall idiots who delight in causing offence; schadenfreude made manifest.
Steven Cohen, a "shock-jock" based in Los Angeles who co-hosts a show called World Soccer Daily, chose the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough to repeat the lies peddled by the Sun. It didn't escape my attention at the time ( ).
It now seems that Cohen has left his position with the Fox Soccer Channel, who refuse to comment on his departure ( ):
"Today Conor Brennan, vice-president of fans' group LFC New York, told the ECHO they aimed to force Cohen off air.
"He said: 'Cohen leaving Fox is a big step as he uses the TV and radio shows to promote each other.
" 'We want to make him toxic to advertisers. His apology was Mickey Mouse, a non-apology.
" 'He said he would not speak about it [Hillsborough], but has kept on making snide asides to the disaster.
" 'No amount of showing him what the Taylor Report said makes him change his opinion.
" 'If the man cannot make a meaningful apology, we will go to his advertisers so he can no longer make a profit.
" 'I have zero faith that on the 21st anniversary of the tragedy, he will not indulge in the same "loutish" behaviour.' "
Cohen last week issued a statement in which he pathetically & contemptuously attempted to marry his own prejudices with the facts of the disaster. He's also used the World Soccer Daily website to claim that he's received anti-semitic emails from Liverpool supporters ( ). If any such emails have been sent, it goes without saying that they should be condemned; as well as being offensive & racist, they also damage the campaign to get this odious individual off the airwaves altogether.
The show can be contacted by phone: (001) (877) 382-5556 or by email: . There is also a website set up to ensure that since Cohen won't retract his lies, he suffers in the pocket via an exodus of sponsors: .

A "Legacy" Issue From Culture Year

Wasn't culture year great? We had Ringo on the roof as part of his £90,000 stay in the city, courtesy of Phil Redmond & his "clever" expense system of payment for the drummer from the Dingle. Pity about that Jonathan Ross business a few days later, but there you go.
And then, of course, there was Macca's concert, you know, the one that was billed as Liverpool Sound, featuring Sir Thumbs-Up himself, The Zutons &, er, Leeds' Kaiserchiefs, &, er, that was it. Pity it didn't go ahead, as planned, at the Salthouse Dock, drained of water, fish humanely stunned for the duration & then returned to their dockside home. Hence the venue change of Anfield, with its narrow access roads, decidedly threadbare nearby ameneties & inconvenienced local residents.
Well, it's all history now, the unsold DVDs acting as useful coasters at the 08 Place on Whitechapel.
Ah, yes, the 08 Place; what, you may ask, is it used for, now that the greatest year in the history of the city (copyright, Oldham Echo) has passed into the footnotes section of the record books?
Well, not even the city's Lib Dem misrulers can ignore that poser any longer ( ), & all credit to David Bartlett -- one of the few journos on Oldham Hall Street to hold the banner of serious journalism aloft -- for turning over the stone on this unedifying spectacle:
"The rent on the 08Place is £220,000 a year and its high-tech TV screens cost £60,000 to run annually.
"Controversially, the council signed a 10-year lease on the Whitechapel building which does not expire until November 2013, and has an option to extend it until 2018."
Anything involving the city council wouldn't be complete without an element of farce, & on this occasion it's supplied by the decision to appoint Richard Kemp as the inquiry's head. Yes, that Richard Kemp; the Richard Kemp who, as the city council's executive member for housing, was supposed to oversee the transformation of the notorious Boot Estate in Norris Green. When the transformation failed to materialise, even the Echo fingered Kemp as being at fault & he was obliged to quit. Speaking to the Guardian at the time, Kemp tried to explain himself, but ended up offering a hostage to fortune ( ):
"We were overtaken by events, particularly the rise in land values and house prices, which went up 40% in two years in Liverpool. But I'm confident that in five years [2008] there will be a first-class estate built by a unique public-private venture."
So much for the farce, now for the corruption. Bartlett reports:
"[The 08 Place] has been controversial from the start after the £1.4m Neighbourhood Renewal Fund -- cash intended to help regenerate the city's poorest areas -- was used to help pay for the £2.2m fit-out and furnishing of the building.
"When concerns were raised in February, 2005, then council leader Mike Storey insisted: 'This will not be a cost on the council tax payer.'
"Months later, a council report revealed the 08 Place would notch up a deficit of £161,000 a year, a total of £800,000 between then and 2010."
Bartlett also relates:
"A website, the Liverpool Evil Cabal, fuelled speculation by levelling a number of unsubstantiated accusations at senior council officials over business dealings."
The Evil Cabal website blew the lid off the corruption going on within the council during the run-up to culture year. It's claims were largely ignored by the local media. Occasionally, it would be dismissed as lurid fiction in the space of a single paragraph on the inside pages of the Echo. Its claims are now being vindicated, as the local media grudgingly admits.
Kemp says the inquiry won't go over the past, which will come as welcome news to Councillor Storey, I'm sure. He also admitted he didn't know whether the 08 Place is an asset or a liability to the city. What an indictment of the Lib-Dem reign in Liverpool!
He's even reduced to musing:
"Could [the 08 Place] be a showcase for Liverpool products?"
A showcase for local products? At £220,000 per annum? Value for money, wouldn't you say? The council tax payers should be delighted.

A Welcome Step

Remember this moment last April? .

David Conn is in severe danger of giving sports journalism a good name with the excellent features he's written, not least concerning the campaign for justice waged by the Hillsborough families. He yesterday penned a piece ( ) which guardedly welcomed the release of the documents relating to the disaster ( ).
Conn notes: "The chanting which interrupted [Andy Burnham's] speech on the day was a difficult moment for him, but it powerfully drew the government's attention to the strength of feeling which persists about Hillsborough."
It's interesting to compare that inescapable fact with the reproving, almost censorious tone of Echo editor Alastair Machray on his blog the day after the service, although he did concede that "the crowd's actions had merit." ( ).
Conn also refers to the required consent of other bodies to the release of the documents, including the Tories: "The consent of the Conservative Party will be necessary if government documents relating to the disaster are to be released, because the Tories were in power at the time."
There's long been speculation about the Thatcher government's dealings with South Yorkshire Police in the days & weeks after the disaster, not least because the force was instrumental in the battle with the miners a few years earlier; when Thatcher visited Sheffield she visibly appeared to be more concerned with the police officers on duty that day than the families of the dead & injured. Moreover, her arrival at one of the Sheffield hospitals treating the injured fans went down like a lead ballon. A friend of mine witnessed the scene as she robotically asked what the fans wanted. One of the supporters told her in no uncertain terms what he thought of her government's treatment of football fans (the tragedy spelt the end for the fans' ID card system she wanted to introduce) as well as her general policy on Merseyside, saying that if she really wanted to help them, she should provide jobs for the area's unemployed. Bernard Ingham ensured the incident received zero media coverage.

Empty Rhetoric & Empty Spaces

Every so often a cold blast of economic reality is allowed to blow through the local recession-deniers; their blithe insistence that Merseyside can somehow escape a global slump would be humorous were it not for the fact that these individuals are in a position to shape or change local opinion.
An unwelcome reminder of reality arrives in the form of a report by the Local Data Company (LDC) ( ) which the Daily Post repeats pretty much verbatim, giving the lie to those who still contend that Oldham Hall Street doesn't just publish press releases.
That said, the report finds that one-fifth of the city's retail spaces are lying idle ( ), bleakly noting:
"Empty shops have a corrosive effect upon the confidence of any area -- and their numbers are growing.
The spin the Post puts on the LDC report is pretty pathetic. It claims the report says that recovery is "on the way". It goes on to trill:
"[LDC] said official figures showing an increase in sales volume of 2.9% in June compared to the previous year was 'way above expectations and could set the scene for a stronger than expected second half of the year.' "
However (& let's face it, there's always a "however" with these things, isn't there?), the second paragraph of the LDC's comment puts matters firmly back in perspective. So let's welcome back our old friend, However:
" ' However, this has to be balanced against continued rises in unemployment and therefore less spending power overall,' LDC said."
Anyway, back to the approved hymn sheet. Altogether now (to the tune of "Yellow Submarine"), "We're in denial of the slump that's here today, slump that's here today, slump that's here today....".

Candidate's Hopes Submerged?

The word is that local Tories are increasingly concerned about both Esther McVey's involvement with the collapsed building on the Dock Road & her less than adroit handling of the matter with her statement to the media. Indeed, some are even privately referring to her as the new Debi Jones. Sefton's Councillor Jones, prospective Tory candidate for the Crosby seat at the next election, was, you might recall, concerned a few years back about Antony Gormley's "Another Place" installation on Crosby beach. Ms Jones opined that the figures could pose a risk to shipping in Crosby Channel. Even though such a glaring faux-pas won't affect her chances in the newly re-drawn Sefton Central constituency (Labour's Claire Curtis-Thomas has already thrown in the towel after being Telegraphed), the episode marked Councillor Jones down as a future rent-a-quote MP whose appetite for media coverage outweighs concerns about Cameron's view of her.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Handling The Fall-Out

I am pleasantly surprised to see that David Bartlett has picked up on my post about Esther McVey ( ).
Just last week the Dale Street Blues blog noted that Ms. McVey, along with West Derby's Labour candidate Stephen Twigg, had been named as one of thirty parliamentary candidates to watch for the future ( ).
David quoted from a piece on the Insight Public Affairs website ( ). Insight noted that "McVey is currently Managing Director of her owncompany Making It (UK) Ltd which specialises in public relations and strategic marketing."
For someone whose forte is claimed to be public relations, Ms. McVey has shown a remarkably cack-handed approach to her little local difficulty on the Dock Road.
Insight goes on to say:
"The party leadership have high hopes for her. With sharp communication skills, befitting a former TV presenter, her background in business and deep local roots make her popular in the constituency and with CCO [Conservative Central Office]."
Cameron's people may well be rolling their eyes & muttering urgently into their mobiles if this is an example of Ms. McVey's "sharp communication skills".

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Laughing It Off?

Mark Lawson penned a Guardian Comment is Free piece on Friday about the efforts made by Pakistan's President Zardari to ban jokes made about him in the national media & online ( ).
The parallels with Ben Chapman are striking. Indeed, the MP for Wirral South would do well to consider Lawson's concluding thoughts:
"By taking offence at jests, President Zardari has made himself a laughing stock. A man who tried to weaken political humour has demonstrated its strength. As the touchy John Major said, in a different context, if it's hurting, it's working. Skilled politicians know that the smart move is to join in the jokes, no matter how much they sting."
Perhaps the producers of "Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels" still have a spare ticket for him?

A Dereliction Of Duty

Among those hoping to benefit from New Labour's rout at the next election is Esther McVey, erstwhile daytime TV presenter & prospective Tory candidate for Wirral West. However, Ms McVey finds herself in the difficult position explaining why a property on the Dock Road owned by her father was allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair & neglect that it collapsed on to the road last week ( ).
The building, formerly known as Lascar House, crumbled & fell on to Waterloo Road in the early hours of Monday morning. Despite the fact that the Dock Road is now largely closed to traffic, it caused some inconvenience to drivers a few hours' later.
So what is Ms McVey's explanation for the incident? "My dad has been working on the site and the project was under way. We are looking at the development of an education centre in an area that badly needs regeneration, the planning application has been in for some time, it's a great project.
"When it was bought the structural surveys were all done for insurance purposes and it was given an absolutely clean bill of health.
"Everything was done correctly."
Now I'm not saying that Ms McVey is disingenuous in her statement. However, it does smack of a heavily scripted missive from Tory Central Office as a damage limitation exercise swings into effect; it's a pity there wasn't a damage-prevention exercise carried out on the building itself.
The apparent intention to turn the property into "an education centre in an area that badly needs regeneration" seems laudable...until you realise that the area is still partly used for purely industrial purposes, which would make the development of "an education centre" in the vicinity somewhat questionable. Moreover, it does seem a little too convenient to ascribe the derelict state of the property to council red tape.
There's also the role played by the structural surveyors. If they gave the building "an absolutely clean bill of health", & all the procedures were carried out correctly, it raises some interesting questions.
Still, as Ms McVey declared, I'm sure it will be "a great project"...once the investigation has been completed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Having A Laugh At His Expense

Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels, currently running at the city's Royal Court theatre, is the sort of local comedy that leaves me cold. Its premise, that rich people from the Wirral cross the river every day to do jobs which should be done by ordinary Liverpudlians whom they regard as inferior, is both crass & puerile. It also reverts to the Scouse stereotypes which would be greeted with hostility by its audience if trotted out in the national media.
That said, the show's producers have every right to pepper the play's dialogue with topical references. Such as MPs' expenses. Enter stage left, no, sorry, make that Right, the not-so honourable member for Wirral South, Ben Chapman.
Chapman has threatened the show's producers with legal action if they do not drop a reference to his Telegraph moment in May ( ):
"The MP objected to a joke about the parliamentary expenses scandal made by one of the characters comparing benefit cheats and MPs.
"He mentioned 'the MP for Wirral South'."
Chapman's thin skin over a single joke at his expense (sorry!) sits oddly with his bullish demeanour when exposed for his claiming £15,000 for a mortgage already paid off ( ; ; & ).
Kevin Fearon, the show's main producer, offers the Echo what begins as an ostensible olive branch statement, but irresistably concludes as a barbed bouquet: "Brick Up [the Mersey Tunnels] is packed with gags and this one-liner would have passed unnoticed if Mr Chapman hadn't taken this heavy-handed approach. We offered him tickets for the show to see the line in context but he's so far refused. If he'd insisted on paying for them, we'd have supplied a receipt."
Given Chapman's declaration that he wouldn't "repay a penny" of the £15,000 when questioned last May, the moral high ground would appear to be a very odd location for him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

When Theory & Reality Collide

Ivory Tower syndrome is never pleasant to witness. Normally respected historians & academics can make us mere mortals sit up & say, "He said what?!" when they dip their toes into the waters of contemporary politics or some aspect of everyday life. The latest casualty from the world of academe is Tristram Hunt, a historian who's done much to popularise Britain's past on TV & through Guardian pieces; he's also written eloquently & passionately about the need to preserve buildings which should be listed & saved from the philistines' bulldozers, something which is certainly pertinent to Liverpool, as the Three Graces are surrounded by bland, soulless high-rise tower blocks (to give them their real description) & acid-influenced edifices "visualised" by stoned Cubists.
Which brings me to Hunt's foot-in-mouth moment. Writing on the Guardian's Comment is Free page the other day, he contrasted the Lib Dems in the Westminster bubble & their counterparts at local government level ( ).
Hunt breezed:
"Of couse, there are many progressive Lib Dem councils. Richmond has pioneered a range of quality-of-life policies, while Liverpool has invested in a cultural strategy embracing the entire city."
Yes, yes, I know, it's horrific, isn't it? Someone call an ambulance, quick!
Hunt's notion that the entire city was fully engaged in truly worthwhile & economically beneficial cultural projects last year, & that last year's legacy continues to benefit communities in Belle Vale, Speke, Kirkdale, Walton, etc. would be dismissed with a chuckle & a comment to the effect that he rivals (Nice, But Dim) Tim Leunig in the commonsense stakes.
At least it would be, were it not for the fact that Hunt unsuccessfully applied to be selected as Labour candidate for Liverpool West Derby after Bob Wareing's deselection ( ).
I presume that Hunt actually travelled to the constituency he hoped to represent. If he did, he might just have noticed that West Derby might as well have been in a different city for all the good that came its way during CoC year.
Tell you what, Tristram, why not make a return visit to the area to see the real picture? Just make sure you don't get ambushed by Warren Bradley, Mike Storey, et al as you disembark at Lime Street station. Otherwise you'll be ferried round the waterfront & regaled with stories about the Beatles while Bradley takes you to one side & asks you to pen a CiF piece proclaiming Steve Hurst's innocence.

This Ain't Middle England

My late mother used to work at Bootle Job Centre. She'd remark ruefully that the town would always be an unemployment blackspot because it was over-reliant on the declining port & the low skills base of many of those looking for work.
She made that observation in the 80s, when the economic fall-out exponentially increased the underclass. Fast forward two decades & the town's unemployment problem is, it would appear, no longer the sole concern of government. In true New Labour style, private companies are now being encouraged to act not just as potential employers to the jobless, but also as dispensers of advice & even counselling ( ).
David Teather's piece describes the scene at a local mission hall in Litherland as long-term unemployed local people attend what amounts to part presentation, part motivational address delivered by a Tesco rep, ahead of the opening of the firm's new store in the neighbourhood.
The rep quickly warms to her task, extolling the attractions of the vacancies on offer & refers to previous applicants in other areas who felt they had no or little chance of regular employment again, only to find that they had skills & attributes employers wanted. There is, however, a shaft of bleak reality when she recounts one particular tale. Teather observes:
"Then she tells a story about a man who had worked at the same factory since he was 15 and was made redundant in his 50s. During a presentation, he had stood on stage and admitted that the reason he had been unemployed for the past few years was because he could barely read or write. [She] speaks about his courage and determination and says that, six months after joining the retailer, he was made a team leader. She later says that when she mentions numeracy and literacy in a room of candidates, she can feel people shifting uncomfortably."
This week's unemployment figures could only begin to tell the tale of those in hitherto high employment areas now painfully adjusting to £60.50 a week on Job Seeker's Allowance ( ).
For areas like Bootle, however, the "boom" years were conspicuous by their absence; no silicon or IT start-ups along the Dock Road, just boarded-up pubs, dereliction on an industrial scale & a raft of social problems largely caused by the town's economic decline. According to the figures, Bootle's unemployment rate has increased by nearly 60% since this time last year.
This recession is just as sharp in its severity as that of the early 80s. Only difference is that it is a New Labour government which blithely presides over its fall-out.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

One City, Two Worlds

It may not quite rival Westminster tales of moats & duck houses, but the dispute between former Lib Dem mayor of Liverpool, Paul Clark, & the city council still shines a brilliant light on how the other half live their lives & the assumptions they make regarding their private whims.
David Bartlett reported in the Echo last week on Clark's battle with the planning committee to build a four-bedroom house & detached double his garden. Yes, you read that correctly, his garden ( ).
Clark lives in a spacious listed property in Grassendale Park, overlooking the Mersey. After Woolton, it is probably the most affluent area of the city. It's unclear why, apart from the obvious pecuniary advantage via rent, Clark wishes to turn part of his rather large garden over to bricks & mortar.
Be that as it may, there's something deeply distasteful about a councillor who represents County Ward in Walton, one of the most deprived in the city, deploying his skills as a barrister &, doubtless, phoning round his mates at the council to win a planning application for his property in an area where the average house goes for at least £500,000.
Having declared his loyalty to fellow Lib Dem councillor & convicted criminal Steve Hurst ( ), it'll be interesting to see if Warren Bradley displays solidarity with Clark & his laudable attempt to slap a four-bedroom house & double garage in a corner of his large garden.

Keeping It Local?

The anonymous commenter who suggested last week that this is little more than an anti-Echo blog may well be interested by latest developments on Oldham Hall Street. How-Do last week reported ( ):
"Journalists in Liverpool have reacted angrily to a Press Association plan to cover some court and local authority stories for the Trinity Mirror's Merseyside titles.
"PA's managing director, Tony Watson, revealed details of the pilot scheme to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committe earlier this week, but reporters at Trinity Mirror's titles (Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post) have been emailing How-Do to say that this was the first they'd heard about it."
"Anonymous" claimed that this blog threatened the jobs of those left at the titles. Aside from the risible notion that a blog could have such an effect, I suggest "Anonymous" write to the Echo to ask why roles hitherto carried out by its own reporters are now to be outsourced to the PA.
Moreover, what's left of the Echo's reputation has taken an irreparable hit with this most recent move.
I'm all in favour of supporting local media. The problem is that both the Post & Echo have ceased to be "local". There is also the indisputable evidence that the local titles, particularly the Echo, have gone progressively downmarket. Don't believe me? Take a look, if you can, at this meretricious piece of saloon-bar opining from local celebrity Pete Price in today's edition: .
Time was when this sort of effort wouldn't even have made it on to the editor's desk for approval.
How-Do quotes Watson as saying the reason for the pilot scheme is that "a lack of resources is preventing local papers from covering them."
In other words, Trinity Mirror refuses to allocate money for its own staff to cover local court reports & council meetings. It is Trinity Mirror, not a humble blogger, that should be encouraged to "back the Post and Echo", as "Anonymous" puts it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wish To Declare An Interest, Larry?

You're known, & sometimes defined, by the company you keep, so the saying goes. It helps to put views & comments into a context which is more rounded, thorough & clear. If you pen pieces for the old or new local media on subjects which involve civic matters, it's only fair to declare where you're coming from. If there's a connection, however tenuous, between a body you're associated with & an article's subject matter, it could be considered remiss not to state that link.
Larry Nield was for many years a distinguished hack on the Echo. In his time on the paper its claim to be a local journal of record could be taken seriously. Larry was also an NUJ rep at the paper. Since taking his leave of the Trinity Mirror circus he's written some thought-provoking pieces for Liverpool Confidential.
However, something he doesn't always declare at the foot of his articles is his role as a consultant for local PR consultants October Communications ( ), a capacity in which he's served for nearly eighteen months now ( ).
This news in itself would be greeted with at best a nonchalant shrug from many. There's long been an incestuous relationship between the worlds of journalism & PR, witness the current Guardian coverage of the role played by David Cameron's media handler Andy Coulson when he was editor of the News of the World at the time of its phone-tapping operations.
So what is October Communications' USP? Under its "what we do" page ( ) it enthuses:
"We can help you to change opinions, get your name in the headlines, create an advertising splash or deliver a profit-busting marketing campaign.
"We will help to boost your campaign's success and everything we do is aimed at ensuring you achieve your goals."
It also claims elsewhere ( ): "Your problems become our solutions."
October Communications list among their clients Neptune Developments. Here's what it says about the arrangement ( ):
"As a forward-thinking developer, Neptune's schemes always provide a talking point and October work closely with them to ensure that the end results in terms of media and public profile are positive and fruitful. October has provided a full range of media public affairs services for Neptune, supporting them in securing a number of difficult planning applications, and maintaining a strong media presence for the organisation and its developments."
Last week Wayne referred to Larry Nield's involvement with October Communications ( ) & questioned his willingness to be as open as he once was in his views on the changing face of the city centre, given that October's clients include Neptune Developments, the city council & the North West Development Agency (NWDA).
[I'm also intrigued to see that the full list of clients on October's books includes the noth west branch of the Royal Institute of British Architects, RIBA ( ).]
Just in case Larry reads this and starts to reach for the phone to consult his lawyer, I stress that in no way am I inferring, implying or basically saying that there is anything untoward in his dealings on behalf of October Communications; I have no reason, suspicion or evidence to suggest that. However, it would serve the interests of transparency & open debate, online as well as offline, for Larry to note his involvement with October Communications, in passing, when penning another wry & erudite piece for Liverpool Confidential.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Fading Echo

It won't be long now. The Oldham Echo's move to its Greater Manchester base will be sealed at the beginning of August ( ):
"The owners of Liverpool's two daily papers have confirmed that print production will be moved to [Oldham] at the start of August."
The beeb's rather short piece went on to report:
"From October, the Liverpool [sic] Echo will also be released earlier in the morning to 'compete with the nationals', said a Trinity Mirror spokesman."
Competing with the nationals is only part of it; when Trinity Mirror refer to "the nationals", they aren't thinking of the Guardian, Independent, Times or Telegraph. They're thinking of the Mirror (surely some duplication there, methinks), the Mail (in its more, ahem, considered moments) &, yes, the Sun. Many of the older hacks who left the sinking ship recently were in no doubt that the paper was careering even further downmarket; one ex-journo on the Echo (no names, but she knows who she is) allowed herself to get "tired & emotional" whilst savouring Rigby's fine ales on Dale Street a few weeks back. She expressed her considered view, in terms as colourful as a kaleidoscope, that said paper was now little more than a local version of the national red-tops, obsessed with sex offenders, c-list celebrities & ASBOs, & that the management on Oldham Hall Street had been less than firm in its defence of the paper & staff as Trinity Mirror's cost-cutters swooped into offices & identified "savings". Of course, I heavily paraphrase. Quoting her comments verbatim might shock those of a delicate disposition.
Robin Brown on The Liverpool Culture Blog lifted the lid a little further on the Echo's relatively unlamented leaving of Liverpool as well as hinting what it means for its sickly sister ( ):
"Reading between the lines, the change in deadlines is to accomodate a switch from printing in Liverpool to Oldham, at least one hour's drive away.
"The consensus -- right or wrong -- in Liverpool's media community is that The [Daily] Post is on its way out, with sales down to under 10k, according to various reports I've heard."
The circulation figures Brown posits for the Post are spot-on; even more ominous for the title is that a sizeable proportion of those sales come from an elderly readership in North Wales. Think of the demographics: the writing is no longer on the paper, but very much on the wall for the Post.
Meanwhile, just in case it's been overloked in the headlines about the move, 100 local printers are soon to lose their jobs. The Liverpool [sic] Echo: speaking up for Merseyside...from Greater Manchester.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Before The City's Face Was Botoxed

While we're on the subject of capturing images of the city, past & present, Wayne blogged earlier today about the need to record the views of the waterfront before the vandals moved in & disfigured what is still, though not for much longer, I'd wager, a World Heritage Site ( ).
For what it's worth, here's a few shots I took of the waterfront area a few years back when the monstrosities being built weren't even doodlings on an architect's drawing board.

In The Picture

It shouldn't really be surprising that genuinely cultural events are taking place in the city a year after junket, sorry, that should be culture year. A case in point is a photographic exhibition at St Luke's church on the corner of Berry Street & Leece Street (better known to most of us as "the bombed-out church") throughout August.
"Up to something", an exhibition put together by Liverpool-based photographers, promises "a fresh view of the city and residents of Liverpool" ( ).
The pictures above are just two of the many snaps I've taken over the years while ambling around the city centre with nothing better to do. You'll be relieved to know that the quality of the photographs on display at St Luke's will be higher than these.

Setting Sun

I was vaguely aware of a blog dedicated to exposing the poison churned out by the Daily Mail, but didn't think any more of it. Now I notice that another enterprising soul has a similar blog dedicated to exposing the propaganda & meretricious crap printed in The Sun ( ), titled "The Sun -- Tabloid Lies", with the sub-heading, "Analysing and exposing the many deceptions of the Sun newspaper".
There shouldn't be anyone on Merseyside who really needs to be informed that Murdoch's rag is to journalism what Bernard Madoff is to financial probity. However, it's heartening to come across such blogs because there are millions of dupes out there who, despite their denials when challenged, believe what that publication claims.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Weighting The Scales Of Justice

Thursday's decision by the no-justice secretary I'm-Alright Jack Straw not to grant a pardon to Michael Shields looks even more perverse & indefensible with the news that a confidential Merseyside Police report, prepared for Straw, "says if the case had happened in the UK, Shields may have been given an appeal." ( ).
Meanwhile, the question of class is raised by Eric Allison, the Guardian's prisons correspondent in a Guardian Comment is Free piece ( ).
It should be said that Allison muddies the waters somewhat by drawing Ronnie Biggs' case into the equation (Biggs may well be another victim of Straw's penchant for fake machismo, but his is still a far less deserving case than Michael's).
That said, Allison notes that "as so often with this government, it is not so much the decisions they take as the shabby manner in which they conduct their business. In parliament, some weeks ago, Gordon Brown told a Labour MP that Straw's decision on Shields's pardon would be relayed to his solicitors. Instead, yesterday, the 22-year-old was called up to the governor's office in his prison and handed a 50-page document 'explaining' the reasons for the refusal to grant a pardon. According to his solicitor, John Wheate, the language in the document is so technical that 'after 37 years of working in the law, it will take me three days to decipher it.' As with most prisoners in open conditions, Shields is eligible for day release and home leaves. He was due to take a four-day leave this Tuesday, but it was cancelled because of potential media interest. So, a lad who had hoped to be pardoned this week is knocked back, in language difficult for a layman to decipher and then told that a leave-earned by good behaviour is cancelled through no fault of his own."
Allison ends his piece by posing (& answering) an obvious question:
"Michael Shields's father asks if Straw would treat his own children in this way? Of course he wouldn't. But then, there's one law for them -- and the Pinochets of this world -- and another for the working class."
Some observers may point to Straw's reaction when his then teenage son Will was caught in a Daily Mirror sting in 1998. Straw's son was dealing mild amounts of dope at his university. After playing to the cameras in claiming that he'd immediately offered his resignation to Tony Blair (an offer Blair turned down, conveniently), Straw ensured that the media soon dropped the story. Will Straw now works for one of the Washington-based thinktanks.
The Pinochet tale is also instructive; Straw ensured that the ex-dictator, feigning severe illness in an English semi, of all places, escaped justice on such bogus grounds. Once Pinochet's plane touched the ground at Santiago airport the US-backed general demonstrated to all his rude health.
Straw's record shouldn't really be seen as shocking when you consider his toadying (some would use a much more revealing & salacious adjective) approach to war criminal Condoleeza Rice. My sources tell me that when Straw & Rice visited LIPA in the city a few years ago the no-justice secretary was, well, how best to put it, overly attentive to the then US Secretary of State.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Straw Washes His Hands Of Michael Shields

While government ministers continue to drag their feet over the release of the full, unedited documents about Hillsborough, it seems that Whitehall is also happy to slam the door shut on Michael Shields' hopes of a full pardon ( ):
"A statement issued by the ministry of justice said:'Following a detailed and careful consideration of all the relevant evidence the justice secretary, Jack Straw, has made a provisional decision that the application for a free pardon from Mr Michael Shields should be refused.'
The ministry said Straw made his decision in accordance with a high court judgment in 2008 which indicated that, in order to grant a free pardon, he would have to be satisfied that Shields was 'morally and technically innocent'.
"To reach this conclusion the following factors had to be taken into consideration: the Bulgarian courts' judgments as they stood, fresh evidence the Bulgarian courts did not consider, and the evidence they did and their judgment on it.
"This was a high test, the ministry said, and Straw provisionally concluded that on the evidence it had not been met."
Cowering behind the official verbiage is a so-called justice secretary who has decided to turn his face against the growing body of evidence that Michael Shields was not involved in any way with the attack on Bulgarian waiter Martin Georgiev in 2005. I'm no lawyer, but it's clear that hiding behind hastily-assembled, self-serving caveats such as "morally and technically innocent" both buys Straw time to cover his back & allows him to wash his hands of what must have been an awfully inconvenient business for him.
Bulgaria is one of the newer members of the EU & it's not unduly cynical to calculate that Straw's decision owes more to realpolitik than a fresh appraisal of the evidence.
A well-known criminal thug who has long been on the radar of Merseyside police due to a string of violent offences, Graham Sankey, admitted that he was Martin Georgiev's assailant, but later retracted his confession. In addition, Mr Georgiev formally identified Michael Shields when he was still suffering the effects of concussion from the assault.
So far, the campaign website ( ) hasn't been updated. Michael's family have 28 days to appeal against Straw's decision.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Merseyside: A Recession-Free Zone

Taking a leaf from the Oldham Echo's book, its sickly sister the Daily Post yesterday published the sort of part puff-piece, part PR noodling which would have been spiked as third-rate copy by the editors even a decade ago ( ).
Its "author" Laura Davis trilled about the "extra one million sq. ft. of retail space and lots of swanky new buildings in Liverpool One, as well as a new museum taking shape just down the river from an impressive Arena".
Yes, Laura, there is so much retail space in the city centre, isn't there? Pity an increasing amount of it lies empty. Still, at least the city's bucking the recession, right? And, of course, there are those "swanky new buildings" at Liverpool One, too. Shame about the growing number of empty retail outlets there also. Still, as you say, we're bucking the recession right here on the banks of the Mersey, aren't we? [Lest anyone protest that Davis can't be held responsible for a misleading headline & that my fire should be focused on the sub-editor, it should be noted that part of the new order on Oldham Hall Street means that the hacks now write their own headlines.]
As for the museum taking shape by the river, well, perhaps it's just as well that Davis chose not to preface it with a gushing adjective, given the fact that it's helped to disfigure the waterfront. Instead, the term "impressive" was wheeled out to describe the Arena. Hmm...OK, if you like soulless, utilitarian venues in which atmosphere is muted & too many punters are allowed to drink themselves senseless. I also note that Davis omitted the Echo's name from the Arena, surely a firing offence on Oldham Hall Street. Or does she know something which has yet to be announced?
Davis' article roped in the odd accomplice for this exercise in parochial self-delusion:
"The situation is better than it could be, according to Prof Peter Stoney, business expert at the University of Liverpool's management school, who believes the city's Capital of Culture status has softened the blow of the nationwide recession. He said: 'It's been good timing. It's mitigated some of the bad effects.' "
Still clutching at Liverpool08, eh? How sad. Moreover, I don't know if Davis reads the papers (the proper ones, I mean), but if she does, she'll find that the recession isn't just "nationwide". Professor Stoney's comment that the slump has been "softened", or, to quote the professor himself, "mitigated" doesn't really tally with the triumphant boast in the headline that the recession has been bucked.
Professor Stoney went on to say that Liverpool One was built "just in the nick of time" & that it would have been scrapped altogether if it hadn't met the 2008 deadline for completion. This will come as news to many, even though such sentiments were privately shared in the council.
Davis' article went on to be little more than an extended statement by Professor Stoney as the Echo hack ernestly & obediently scribbled down his somewhat jumbled & contradictory thoughts:
"Prof Stoney also believes an improved cultural offering and quality of life will also help tackle Liverpool's historical problem of a draining population -- which has halved to around 430,000 in the past 50 years, but is now levelling off."
Pedants may well note that "levelling off" isn't the same as halting, let alone reversing the city's population decline. There was also this surreal gem:
"Many of the likely benefits of hosting a Capital of Culture year, such as residents' renewed sense of pride in their city and Liverpool's improving reputation, are hard to measure."
This is so vague as to be meaningless! In the context of an article designed to act as a feel-good, journalism-lite exercise, it inadvertently gives the game away. When you fall back on ambiguous phrases & cliches removed from hard facts, it exposes your desperation, proof of which was to be found in the figures cited by Davis regarding visitor figures to the Tate, the Everyman, etc. & hotel bookings over the last year. You can prove anything with statistics, they say, & that certainly applies to Davis' piece, as she puts a positive spin on figures which reveal reductions as well as occasional increases.