Friday, June 29, 2012

The Final Word

This blog is always ready to excoriate sloppy, poorly-researched, casual, take-it-or-leave-it "journalism". However, such damning adjectives could not be used in relation to the Word music magazine. Sadly, faced with falling circulation figures, the magazine will soon fold ( ).
Unlike other music monthlies, the magazine wasn't afraid to explore wider cultural issues & genres. It employed writers who didn't treat readers like idiots. Nor did assume that devoting whole issues to "heritage" acts (Beatles/Dylan/Stones) amounted to music journalism.
That said, the effect of the web & the wider economic climate combined to produce a perfect storm for the magazine, as the Guardian notes ( ):
"The Word's demise is symptomatic of the extremely difficult environment for paid-for music magazines, which face a squeeze from an increasing number of free titles and the music industry's falling advertising budgets. In the last six months of 2011, all paid-for rock music titles experienced year-on-year falls in circulation, according to the ABCs."
Word magazine won't be the only victim of the current climate & future trends, far from it. However, it's a title which doesn't deserve this fate.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Addressing The Jobs Issue

Throughout the Liverpool Waters saga there has been a repeated refrain from the scheme's supporters, namely, that it will create jobs in an area suffering from chronic levels of unemployment. Taken in isolation, it's a seemingly compelling argument. No one on Merseyside can be in a state of ignorance about both present levels of unemployment & the "structural", ie., historical levels; many of those made redundant in the 80s found themselves unemployable, their children & now grandchildren growing up in households where joblessness was the norm. The absence of a bread winner (& role model) created an environment where large numbers of the working class became the underclass over three decades.
Given that historical background, it's scarcely surprising that those eagerly backing Peel's plans cite the jobs issue. That's understandable. What's less understandable, however, is the seeming promise of many long-term jobs arising from the scheme from those who should know better.
It's a myth which has persisted for too long. How, ironic, therefore, that the myth has been exposed, at least partially, by Oldham Hall Street ( ).
Just one in ten of the construction jobs on Liverpool Waters will be allocated to people in the most impoverished north end wards of the city (Anfield, County, Everton & Kirkdale) as stipulated in an agreement between the city council & Peel. To take the case of Everton ward, the article spells it out starkly:
"Unemployment in Everton alone is 40% of the population, almost twice the Liverpool average."
Bear in mind that's the official figure.
As for Mayor Anderson's response, it was less than reassuring:
"Mayor Anderson said: 'These figures have not been run past me. It will be more.
" 'We are sending a clear message to every developer that we will be expecting them to deliver local jobs.' "
That sounds more like a vague hope than a specific commitment.
It also begs the question how the council can renegotiate that paltry 10% figure with Peel in the hope of increasing it when the agreement already signed is legally binding.
Yes, the north end of Liverpool needs jobs. Badly. However, what's on offer from the Liverpool Waters behemoth is no more than a mirage.

Tory Gets The Paxo Treatment

It's been a while since Jeremy Paxman really sank his teeth into a hapless & hopeless politician. However, last night's Newsnight provided a real red meat moment for Paxo ( ).
 Junior treasury minister Chloe Smith had already been in a bruising encounter with Krishnan Guru Murthy on Channel 4 News ( ). Nothing, though, could prepare her for the Paxman treatment (the interview starts on 6'19). Woefully out of her depth, Smith made the fatal error of thinking that a stream of cliches & soundbites would be enough. Paxo soon disabused her of that notion & memorably concluded the interrogation by asking: "Do you ever think you are incompetent?"
Smith had been well & truly Paxo'd, her ministerial career in tatters. 

UNESCO's Jolt For Joe

Yelping like a scalded dog, Joe "Tea & Sympathy" Anderson has called UNESCO's decision on Liverpool's World Heritage status "premature" ( ).
The reason for Joe's shrieks of indignation? Partly a dawning realisation that UNESCO aren't messing about & mean what they say, & partly the fact that Whitehall has yet to approve the Liverpool Waters behemoth (just savour the irony of a Labour leader -- a Labour leader! -- invoking the ConDem cutters to justify his position). Just read through this cliche-ridden & defensive missive from Joe's office:
"We also believe the safeguards which were put in place when [Liverpool Waters] was considered by the planning committee will ensure that the World Heritage site is protected.
"The city council is continuing to discuss the plans with the developers and other interested parties and have always firmly believed that Liverpool can retain its World Heritage status while sensitively developing the derelict docklands.
"It is important to note that although this decision has been made, it does not mean that Liverpool is in imminent danger of having its status removed.
"This is a long term development which will take several decades to complete and as it progresses we will continue to work to ensure that we can reach a situation which satisfies all parties."
Wading through such tortuous syntax isn't pleasant, but let's pick our way through it anyway. The first sentence is contradictory; UNESCO have made it crystal clear that Liverpool Waters will mean the end of the city's World Heritage status. Furthermore, the decision by the city council to back the Liverpool Waters project was accompanied by a dismissive quote from Mayor Anderson himself back in January about World Heritage status amounting to no more than "a certificate on the wall in the Town Hall" ( ).
The second sentence continues along the road of contradiction while persisting with the fictitious claim that "other interested parties", ie., those largely opposed to the scheme, are currently being consulted. They aren't & Joe knows it. Moreover, the notion that the area will be developed "sensitively" by Peel is laughable.
The third sentence is driven more by panic than cool analysis.
The final sentence begins with a third-rate attempt to hit the ball into the long grass, as they say, & concludes with a sentiment which is vacuous in the extreme.
The consequences of proceeding with the Liverpool Waters monstrosity couldn't be clearer. Mayor Anderson could at least acknowledge that rather than hide behind hackneyed phrases & dispiriting jargon.    

Stanley Park Stadium Shelved

John W Henry, owner of Liverpool FC, has given the strongest hint yet that there won't be a Stanley Park stadium & that, as widely predicted, the club will remain at a revamped Anfield. Using his Twitter feed ( ), Henry has linked to a blogpost by local architect Peter McGurk ( ).
McGurk has presented a detailed description of what a redeveloped stadium would mean for local residents.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dim Tim Finally Gets It

Adding his voice to the opposition that faces the Tories' "welfare reforms" -- or "keeping the peasants in check", as it's unofficially known -- ( ) is Dr Tim Leunig. Yes, it's nice to see that Nice But Dim Tim has spoken out on the issue. He's expressed his opposition in a piece for the Guardian's Comment is Free site ( ).
Tim correctly describes the proposals as impractical.  Tim knows all about impractical ideas, of course. I presume he now views his suggestion that areas like Merseyside should be deserted en masse ( ) by millions of northerners heading down south as, well, let's be kind here, less than feasible.
There is something else that comes to mind with Dr Leunig, namely his involvement with the Lib Dems ( ).
It's no exaggeration to say that had Clegg & his gang of opportunists not got into bed with Cameron's Tories, such proposals might never have seen the light of day. Still, if Nice But Dim Tim is ready to repent & vow to vacate that ivory tower for good, well, we can slap him on the back & welcome him into the real world.      

UNESCO's Ultimatum

UNESCO have given their response to the Liverpool Waters development & its ramifications for Liverpool's World Heritage Site status ( ).
Those who crow that UNESCO hasn't stripped the city of its World Heritage status & has somehow accepted the weasel words of Oldham Hall Street & Joe "Tea & Sympathy" Anderson would do well to peruse the committee's findings at their conference in St Petersburg:
"The committee warned that if [Liverpool Waters] is implemented, Liverpool may entirely lose the outstanding universal value for which it was given World Heritage status."
Translated from the language of UN diplomacy, it means, "Start work on Peel's vanity project & you can kiss WHS goodbye."
Those hell-bent on inflicting this additional monstrosity upon the city's waterfront can't say they weren't warned. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Schools Threatened By Criminals! Or Are They?

Personal safety. It's a priority, isn't it? Without that, everything else is meaningless. If you're a parent, your child's safety comes first. Obvious, really. So let's commend the Oldham Echo for alerting us to a mence in our midst. Or rather, menaces (plural).
You see, the Echo has discovered, via a Freedom of Information request, that "hundreds" of criminals applied for jobs in schools across Merseyside over the last year ( ).
An alarming thought, for sure.
However, as the Echo admits, none of the attempts by local criminals to work in the region's schools succeeded thanks to the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). The CRB's checks ensured that any applicants with criminal records were flagged up & acted upon. Typically, however, that doesn't stop the Echo from regaling us with the number of such cases & a breakdown of the offences which the CRB detected. Sensationalising the story in a manner which would do the Daily Mail proud, the Echo conveys a dystopic vista of villains, ne'er-do-wells & pond life clamouring at school gates across the region.
Fortunately, some much-required context & proportion is supplied in the piece by Ian Andain from the Liverpool Schools Forum. There is, of course, the possibility that the Echo piece is little more than a thinly-disguised plug for the work that the CRB do. Be that as it may, the paper's hysterical treatment of such matters tells us all we need to know about the wretched standard of journalism which has become its hallmark.
Some of the comments left at the foot of the article on its website suspect so. One commenter, lori, ponders:
"I wonder how many of these people have been forced to apply for jobs by the jobcentre. The staff there don't listen when they make people apply for jobs that they know they can't do. Next thing you know, the Echo is implying that criminals are trying to get into schools!"
Another commenter, andychrist, echoes the more nuanced points made by Ian Andain when he observes:
"Just because someone has a record doesn't mean they will always re-offend, a job is a job and is always a step in the right direction...they will be CRB checked for work with kids anyway so management will be aware of their past.
"Or do we want to keep them jobless and on the dole with a greater chance of re-offending?"
There's a question to ponder. It is, alas, one the Oldham Echo is unlikely to consider for any reasonable length of time.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sir Thumbs Up

It may have escaped your attention that Paul McCartney (aka Sir Macca) celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this week. Here's a tribute to the man about whom Allan Williams is full of praise from local impressionist Stevie Riks: .

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Waking Up To Reality

A hazy state of semi-consciousness gives way to the sobering light of day. Half-remembered recollections of intoxicated excess & its attendant claims induce an initial cringe. Then comes the shudder, the mortifying realisation that things were said which owed more to conceitedness than careful consideration. The empty bottles tell their own story. Reality dawns. Too late.
One presumes that a collective shake of the head was in order at Oldham Hall Street today as Alastair Machray, et al, finally understood the ramifications of Peel's Liverpool Waters on the city's World Heritage Site status ( ).
Over at the city council, meanwhile, Joe "Tea & Sympathy" Anderson looks in the mirror, a smile on his face as he ponders his attire for that big day at the Palace ( ). A minion timorously knocks on the door. Irritated to have his royal reverie abruptly curtailed, Joe brusquely snatches the copy of the Oldham Echo that is proffered by the hapless assistant & reads the comments he's OKed for publication:
"The main concerns raised about heritage issues on Liverpool Waters will not become an issue for several years as they focus on later stages of the project -- they will not be built for at least 10 years -- and detailed plans my be subject to change before then.
"We believe firmly that is is possible to have a world-class development while still retaining our world heritage status."
Joe knows it's hogwash, but he'd rather get back to his day at Buck House (what to say, how to act, perfecting that all-important bow). Never mind the fact that WHS status is now up for review by UNESCO in St Petersburg this weekend ( ).
Rewind a few hours & back on Oldham Hall Street the struggle to clear minds isn't easy. Someone helpfully recalls an editorial from last February & its dismissive one-liner about Liverpool's WHS ( ):
"It's a great accolade to have, but some things are more important."
There's a tumbleweed moment in the office. Silence is followed by an embarrassed clearing of the throat & a muffled aside about getting on with some work.
Big Al Machray looks bewildered. Then irritated. Then purposeful. He calls together the finest minds at his disposal, an Echo Brains Trust, if you will. Drafting an editorial, they know it has to reflect Oldham Hall Street's new-found sobriety in discussing UNESCO's impending decision ( ):
"But as [UNESCO] prepare for their discussions, we would ask the committee members to be mindful that this is a city which is constantly evolving and improving -- and the waterfront must be a part of this positive development.
"The last thing this city wants to do is destroy its heritage, and we have no intention of allowing that to happen. We also have no intention of missing out on an exciting and ambitious scheme which aims to revive and regenerate the depressed northern docklands -- providing new hope, new opportunities and new jobs."
Heads are nodded in agreement that the latter point is sufficiently vague & poorly-researched for inclusion in an Echo editorial.
So far, so good. However, a concluding sentence is needed, one that combines a tacit acknowledgement that Liverpool Waters has terminal implications for the city's WHS with a reminder that the Echo is chronically addicted to the press releases issued by the Peel behemoth:
"Trust us to carry on combining the new and the old -- and allow us to retain the status you gave us, while continuing to look to the future."
Will that do, someone asks. There's a furrowing of brows, sotto voce reservations emanate from one or two & Big Al's most loyal lieutenants gaze at their efforts admiringly. Judgment is arrived at. That'll do, is the verdict.
Joe, meanwhile, resumes his thoughts about that day at the Palace. Across the city of which he is Mayor the cuts continue & Peel Holdings wait expectantly for UNESCO to do their worst.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Blogger Bullied

Every so often a story appears which makes even acerbic bloggers re-read the details, so as to confirm the arrogance & stupidity of those responsible for it. In this case it concerns the local council for Argyll and Bute in the west of Scotland. The pathetic bureaucrats have bullied a nine year-old girl into discontinuing a blog she's kept about the quality of the school meals she & her fellow pupils have been offered ( ).
The blog by Martha Payne ( ) is impressive, doubly so when you consider her age.
If you would like to let Argyll & Bute council know about your views on their reprehensible & ultimately counterproductive actions, you can ( ).

14.50 UPDATE: The idiots responsible for intimidating a nine year-old schoolgirl have been forced to back down ( ). 

Reward For Failure: £900,000

The fall-out from the Leveson revelations has gone beyond the venality of Murdoch's empire. Other proprietors have blinked uncomfortably in the glare of what have been relatively mild questions from Leveson himself & the QCs at the inquiry. Overlooked in all this has been the record of Trinity Mirror, the Oldham Echo's parent company.
Its chief executive Sly Bailey looked distinctly rattled when questioned about the company's modus operandi. 
Bailey had intended to depart from Trinity later in the year. However, sensing the contempt in which she is held by most of the company's staff (there were cheers in the Mirror newsroom when she announced her departure), Bailey has decided to sling her hook with immediate effect, as tersely confirmed in a Pravdaesque piece slotted into the Oldham Echo (
What isn't mentioned in the Echo's oleaginous article is the £900,000 Bailey will pocket as she vacates her desk ( ).
I'm sure the workers that the company has "let go" during her tenure will wish her well & view her payoff as richly merited.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Ruritania In The Waves

Those who thought London could never resemble Pyongyang & that the BBC wouldn't offer up a bemusing mix of sychophancy & banality over this extended Bank Holiday weekend may well feel disoriented. 
Certainly, the scant number of Merseyside neighbourhoods which applied for council permission to hold jubilee parties attests to a general indifference towards the Monarchy in these parts. However, that didn't stop the Oldham Echo from banging the royal drum yesterday (
A half-hearted stab at populism, its editorial trumpeted:
"There's the fact that we are a proud little island kingdom with an NHS which is still the envy of the world and a belief in fair play and democracy that allows a free press and fierce pressure on the politicians who so often let us down."
Leaving aside the inconvenient fact that Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, et al are hell-bent on policies which will effectively dismantle the NHS, the claim that "a free press" holds the powerful to account is risible, particularly with regard to local politics. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't get the feeling that Oldham Hall Street has exerted "fierce pressure" on Peel Holdings, Joe "Tea & Sympathy" Anderson, or his much-missed predecessor, Warren "War Zones" Bradley.
Moreover, the supposedly robust media has been conspicuous by its unctuous & tedious coverage of the Windsors' weekend; the Daily Show with Jon Stewart expertly & forensically dissected CNN's coverge ( ).
As ex-Echo hack Vicki Kellaway writes in a guest post for Dale Street Blues, there is sufficient local evidence that we live in a very dis-United Kingdom (  ).
Adding to this unarguable presentation of a grim reality facing an increasing number of people (including those who once thought they were safe from the vagaries of market forces) is a story from the Guardian which truly warrants the adjective Dickensian ( ).
Those jobless "volunteers" who were forced to sleep beneath London Bridge, told they had to change in public, denied access to toilets for 24 hours & paid the not-so princely sum of £2.80 per hour for their labour would beg to differ with the Echo's contention that "a belief in fair play and democracy" is a defining characteristic of life in Elizabeth Windsor's Britain.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Anfield's Decade Of Atrophy

Alexei Sayle once remarked that, as someone who grew up in the Anfield area, the football stadium seemed to be a squat, unwelcome presence, sucking revenue in while the adjacent neighbourhoods were left to neglect & decline. Such an observation was once tantamount to heresy for many. Sayle's pronouncement, however, is now tacitly accepted by many, including those who are loath to criticise Liverpool Football Club.
The sorry saga of a new Stanley Park stadium has taken on the appearance of a little-noticed & scarcey-viewed daytime TV soap opera; to a wider audience, its irrelevance has deepened with just a miniscule number of followers still hoping that work will eventually begin. It now looks pretty much as if the proposed stadium will remain on the architects' drawing board.
Despite the city council's "ultimatum" to Fenway Sports Group, the club's owners ( ), it looks likely that the club has already decided to remain at an expanded Anfield ( .
David Conn's Guardian piece lays bare the physical reality of a lost decade: "Outside the walls of the ground in which footballers play for multimillionaires' salaries, for a club owned principally by John W Henry, a billionaire in Boston, people are living amid dereliction and decline approaching the country's grimmest."
FSG's revamped plans for Anfield may well make economic sense. Spending £300m on a stadium in Stanley Park which affords the club a mere 15,000 extra seats would have been questionable before the crash of 2008. In today's changed business world it looks financially dysfunctional. However, the residents around the Anfield ground have been kept in the dark about this change of policy by the club, making a mockery of the claim by the club's managing director, Ian Ayres, that there has been a "great dialogue" with those who live in the stadium's shadow.
There is also the question of financial assistance/compensation for the residents whose properties will be demolished.  Conn reports the comments made by Liverpool City Council's assistant director for regeneration, Mark Kitts, who says that "homeowners will be paid the market rate plus 10% 'loss of home payment' but said the council is 'very sympathetic' and he hoped this would be enough."
Doesn't sound completely reassuring, does it?
Like most parts of North Liverpool, the Anfield area has long been a festering eyesore & bereft of real economic growth. The wider Liverpool Walton constituency has the highest benefit claimant count in the whole city at 8.5% ( ) & the decision to remain at the current stadium will do nothing to reverse the neighbourhood's long-term decline (Conn refers to the area around the ground, a good deal of which is now largely uninhabited, as "sunken", a brutally candid assessment).
So has anyone gained from this depressing saga? Well, yes, there is. Step forward David Moores, the former club chairman, who, as Conn reminds us, pocketed a cool £89m from the sale of the club he professed to love to Tom Hicks & George Gillett. When it became clear that Hicks & Gillett were a couple of con artists whose business methods have since been excoriated by the courts, Moores bleated to the local media that he felt dismayed & somehow betrayed by them. However, Moores donated not a single penny of the £89m he made to the cost of the campaign to get Hicks & Gillett out of the club. The Spirit of Shankly group invited him to address one of their meetings. He declined.