Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Them & Us

Sharpening the divide that has been evident for some years now (taking in the latter part of Labour's period in office), the ConDems' approach is as plain as can be. A litany of reports on the consequences of "austerity" has appeared over the last few weeks, some of which detail in stark terms what it means for those at the bottom ( ).
Even those who once considered themselves "safe" now realise that the term has a relative meaning ( ).
What it means for those who fall through the cracks was articulated through the quiet desperation of a supposedly "Middle England" family in an accompanying Observer piece ( ).
The local effects of the cuts are evident to many; the acres of wasteland & boarded-up retail units outside the city centre tell their own desolate tale, a grim continuation of a deindustrialisation process which intensified during the early 80s & hasn't abated. Its human cost in the city is an indictment of a failed system ( ) .
Parallels with the 80s are obvious, a phenomenon strengthened by the callousness & stupidity of Tory MPs who claim that the jobless can sing for their supper (it's OK to busk in Church Street now that BID have thrown in the towel) & toil for a pittance which makes the minimum wage look extravagant ( ).
All of which allows the elephant which has always been in the room to raise its trunk & shriek the walls down. I am referring to class. As in class divide. As in class warfare. However, contrary to the perennial cries from the mouths of the titled & tax-dodgers, that war has long been waged by those who think nothing of calling police officers "f***ing plebs" who should know their place ( ).
It's a philosophy & approach which has now begun to exact the grimmest of tolls from those earmarked as the new 21st century scapegoats ( ).
I make no apology for dwelling on this avalanche of gloom & injustice. This is Britain in 2012. This is the sobering reality.
So is there a ray of light in all this? Difficult to say. However, there are those who have cleverly & humorously sent up the double standards of this recession's architects. Take UK Uncut ( ) who continue to highlight the tax dodging dealings of the corporate crowd. A group of protesters, known as the Black Tie activists, recently gatecrashed a retirement do for HMRC boss Dave Hartnett at a splendid & sumptuous dinner in Oxford. Hartnett has seen to it that multinationals such as Vodafone & Goldman Sachs certainly aren't in the same boat as the rest of us; cosy, secretive deals have been agreed.  With an elegance befitting the occasion, the protesters presented Hartnett with a spoof award for services to tax dodging. The words uttered by a minion who eventually ejects them tell you everything you need to know about them & us ( ) .

Thursday, September 20, 2012

With Subtitles

You may have caught Nick Clegg's seeming penitence on the TV news reports yesterday & wondered at the choice of cliches, platitudes & buzz phrases he employed. Thankfully, some kind soul has provided a translation from bullshit into plain English ( ).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

MacKenzie Gets Doorstepped & He Doesn't Like It

Three cheers for Channel 4 News' Alex Thomson as he finally corners the well-known liar Kelvin MacKenzie: .
However, I think Thomson is being way too generous to the liar & the rag he edited when he says that the claim was made "in good faith". MacKenzie wasn't used in a black propaganda exercise by South Yorkshire Police, he was a willing party in the greatest libel that British journalism has ever known.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bettison's Role In Hillsborough Cover-Up

Some aspects of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report inevitably attract greater attention than others. One detail, hitherto overlooked, was reported in yesterday's Independent on Sunday ( ).
The IoS article states:
"In what was last night condemned as another 'black propaganda' operation, senior officers considered charging Lord Justice Taylor with perverting the course of justice after a police driver claimed he had overheard the judge state that the South Yorkshire force would have to carry the can for the catastrophe, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans in April 1989.
"But although the alleged conversation took place only three days after the disaster, the driver waited a year to 'put the record straight' over the 'injustice' suffered by the force. Documents published by the Hillsborough Independent Panel last week show that he only reported the allegations after he was 'encouraged' to do so by his colleague Norman Bettison -- then a key figure in a South Yorkshire Police unit that attempted to exonerate the force and blame Liverpool fans for the tragedy."
Meanwhile, Carol Gustafson, Labour councillor for Bootle's Derby Ward & chair of the Merseyside Police Authority in 1998, remains tight-lipped about her support for Bettison's appointment as chief constable.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Parish Notice

You would think that after the last few days broadcasters would consider Kelvin MacKenzie to be damaged goods, or, as I prefer to think of him, toxic. However, it's still possible that producers at Sky & the BBC cretinously think his presence on discussions & newspaper reviews will somehow add to the sum of our collective knowledge (when we already know that MacKenzie is a proven liar).
Sky may well be beyond the pale when it comes to MacKenzie (the Murdoch links are still there). That said, it is possible to contact the BBC & let it be known that you don't want part of your licence fee going towards any more appearance fees for him. You can make your feelings known here: .

Local Councillor's Support For Bettison

By a hideous twist of irony, Norman Bettison was appointed chief constable of Merseyside Police in 1998. His role in the Hillsborough cover-up was already known to some. He appeared on Roger Phillips' phone-in on BBC Radio Merseyside shortly after his appointment. At least a few callers challenged him on his record in South Yorkshire. Bettison lied through his teeth, claiming that he was merely involved in the collation of police officers' accounts; it's since come to light that his involvement extended to the alteration of the accounts.
A few members of the Merseyside Police Authority resigned their positions in protest at Bettison's appointment. One member who didn't, however, was Carol Gustafson, the then chairwoman of the authority. She is currently a Labour councillor for the Derby Ward in Bootle ( ).
To be fair, the political fall-out from the Hillsborough report is still in its infancy & it may well be that Cllr Gustafson is preparing to present her case & account for her decision to back Bettison fourteen years ago. What isn't in any doubt, however, is that she has questions to answer.    

Bent Copper Clings To Myths & Smears

I suspected there would be a few who would cling to the smears that have persisted for twenty-three years. One of them is Norman Bettison, chief constable of West Yorkshire Police ( ).
At the time of Hillsborough, Bettison was part of a black propaganda unit at South Yorkshire Police. Its remit was to smear & discredit the fans, & completely exonerate police officers of any blame. Part of Bettison's self-serving statement yesterday warrants dissection:
"Fans' behaviour, to the extent that it was relevant at all, made the job of the police, in the crush outside Leppings Lane turnstiles, harder than it needed to be. But it didn't cause the disaster any more than the sunny day that encouraged people to linger outside the stadium as kick-off approached."
Bettison clearly isn't stupid. Therefore one can only surmise that he is being mendacious in citing the non-existant factor of the fans' behaviour; it wasn't relevant at all & Bettison knows it. Moreover, the police's job was made "harder than it needed to be" by the woeful organisation put into place by South Yorkshire Police on the day; I still recall a dazed junior PC telling me as we finally left the ground that it was his first day on the job & he hadn't been equipped with a police radio. As the situation worsened, he had no means of communicating with his fellow officers.
Furthermore, implying that the sunny weather "encouraged" large numbers of fans to "linger outside the stadium as kick-off approached" is both insultingly flippant & untrue. It also infers ever so insidiously that the "drunken fans" myth still applies. It's difficult to fathom the warped mentality of a force which checks the corpses of children to see if they had alcohol in their systems.
The online campaign to have Bettison & Patnick stripped of their knighthoods is to be commended. However, such a move is hardly tantamount to justice for the families. Prosecutions of the guilty people (Duckenfield, Bettison, Patnick, MacKenzie, et al) are the least that is required.  

15.20 UPDATE: Bettison has released a statement, expressing his apology ( ). Perhaps the thought of what may yet come, & what it would mean for him, concentrated the mind & prompted this seeming mea culpa.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Justice Delayed, Not Denied

It's been a long road for the families. Yesterday, however, a chink of light broke into the darkness ( ).
That the families had to endure a persistent libel over a quarter of a century is one of the most outrageous travesties in British legal history, as David Conn --- a journalist whose work on Hillsborough should be singled out for praise -- expertly documents ( ).
You would think that the panel's findings ensure that the names of those who colluded in the lies & smears will always be mud. You would think that, wouldn't you? However, Roy Greenslade doesn't ( ).
Pre-Leveson, the people of Merseyside & beyond recognised that rag for what it has always been; a leopard can't change its spots & it reflects badly on Greenslade for suggesting that "sincerity" lies in its commercially-driven cry of mea culpa.
As for MacKenzie, his status as a liar of the first order has now been officially recognised, a view endorsed today by a Seven Streets piece ( ).

Postscript: Eyebrows were raised by some when I named not just MacKenzie, but Irvine Patnick & others some years back. At the time it would have been possible for them to sue me. They didn't because they knew that what I wrote was The Truth.

Friday, September 07, 2012

A Fair And Balanced Libel

Ahead of the release of the Hillsborough documents at the Anglican Cathedral next Wednesday, the spotlight is being shone on the invertebrates responsible for the libel against Liverpool fans. One such specimen is Harry Arnold, the "journalist" who wrote up the Sun's infamous story which was then presented by the well-known liar Kelvin MacKenzie as "The Truth".
Arnold has spoken to the BBC ( ) about his role in MacKenzie's lie:
"He said his story had been written in a 'fair and balanced way' because he understood that the claims -- which were later shown to be totally unfounded -- were no more than 'allegations'. "
So this "journalist" thought a story which was fictitious as well as offensive from start to finish was written in a "fair and balanced way", did he? By speaking in such terms, Arnold has revealed himself to be just as spineless & cowardly as the liar MacKenzie.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Fistful Of Awesome

Jon Stewart's take on Clint Eastwood's routine at the Republican National Convention last week was a magisterial ten-minute tour de force ("the Outlaw Josey Wailed") which merits another airing ( ).

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Trapped In Its Own Echo Chamber

When it isn't glamourising the antics of hooded scallies in areas like Kirkdale & Bootle, drooling lasciviously over the money made by local drug dealers, breathlessly relating the comings & goings of Z-list local celebrities , failing to ask the right questions about the city's two football clubs, or running nostalgia pieces on Merseybeat (it's 50 years since Love Me Do, did you know that?), the Oldham Echo is encouraging us to be proud that we're Scousers.
At least once a year the Echo doesn't so much scrape the bottom of the barrel as serve up the wooden fragments that once formed it. So it's nice to welcome back that old favourite from Oldham Hall Street (drumroll; adopts exaggerated Liverpool accent), what makes you proud to be Scouse (la!) ( ).
So who's penned this latest paean of praise to all things Scouse? Why it's our old friend Paddy Shennan (hello, Paddy!). Sit back & peruse this effusive epistle from one of Big Al Machray's more reliable minions:
"It has often been said that Liverpool is a city in England, but not of it -- that the Republic of Liverpool has a special identity and a character that distinguishes it from the rest of the country.
"Dr Samuel Johnson famously said: 'When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford' -- but he clearly meant Liverpool."
We're all indebted to Paddy for providing us with this amazing historical revelation.
It gets worse. Well, it has to, doesn't it? I mean, we are talking about the Oldham Echo here.
Paddy recites a litany of all the obvious topics (football, Beatles, Grand National, etc.). That said, he does allow himself a jocular reference to the mutilation of the waterfront (a potentially heretical offence on Oldham Hall Street).
On the subject of which, Paddy later writes:
"Landmark Liverpool locations and buildings -- where would you start? What is your favourite building? What is the one place, above all others, that makes your heart swell with pride?"
Paddy goes on to summarise in a single paragraph some of the more overlooked & neglected aspects of local history. Aside from that, however, the tone is populist, predictable & puerile.
Such "journalism" has long been accepted as the norm on Oldham Hall Street, of course. Additionally, the standard of reporting on that sorry rag is set to deteriorate even further, as Seven Streets noted recently ( ). Hold The Front Page & Roy Greenslade in his Guardian media blog have also picked up on the story ( ).
Yes, I'm afraid that "journalism", you know, the investigation & reporting of issues that really matter to local people is very much a thing of the past with Trinity Mirror's sinking ship, & it's confirmed by the latest circulation figures which show a 5.5% decline in sales for the first half of this year ( ).
Rather than ask people what makes them proud to be Scousers, Paddy & co. would do better to ask them why the Echo's circulation figure continues to drop like a stone (here's a clue for you, Paddy, it isn't just the web). But they won't, & parochial pieces that masquerade as journalism will only hasten the Echo's decline.

22.40 UPDATE: Seven Streets highlights yet another crass Echo front page ( ).

Make His Day

Neutering A Malevolent Merseybeast

Recommended reading: Seven Streets assessment of the civic & cultural liability that the Mathew Street festival has become ( ).
Seven Streets' opening is both damning & unquestionably accurate:
"It's a real shame that, for a large majority of us, the annual lead-up to the Mathew Street festival is filled with complete dread. Liverpool city centre becomes a no-go zone, only for the bravest of the brave. Like one of those 'are you man enough?' army adverts, except with a minefield of half-empty Carling cans and vomit."
Given the financial question mark that hangs over the festival's future, Seven Streets looks at ways in which the event can be saved &/or improved, each suggestion it makes possessing more than a modicum of feasibility. It addresses, inter alia, the booze issue; reducing the number of outdoor stages; making it more family-friendly & integrating the Fringe festival, the latter idea being particularly innovative & welcome.

BID Hits Discordant Note

Stories & developments that occur in August tend to be overlooked; silly season stories predominate & most people are preoccupied with their kids' considerations during the school holidays. However, the pincer movement of Liverpool City Council & BID against street entertainers has both been reported to a wider audience & legally challenged.
A piece by Christian Eriksson for the Guardian's Northerner page dissected the role & methods of BID ( ):
"Around 650 businesses currently make up the BID, and each pays a levy on top of their business rates to fund it. Besides extra cleaning, care and security, this levy effectively grants businesses an amplified voice in local democracy. Like BIDs in other British cities, Liverpool's is a quasi-govenmental corporate body which works with local authorities, but is not wholly accountable to them."
Eriksson later related in his piece:
"Now Kirwans [a Liverpool law firm], acting on behalf of Liverpool buskers and its client Siobhan McDermott, has given notice to Liverpool City Council of its intention to seek a judicial review over the 'unreasonable, overbearing and unfair' decision."
Liverpool Confidential also reported this development ( ).
The Oldham Echo did report on this development...a few days later.
Joe "Tea & Sympathy" Anderson & his unelected, unaccountable mates at BID will doubtless be pleased to know that a judicial review will spread the word far & wide that a city which shamelessly milks the Beatle cash-cow wishes to discourage or exorbitantly charge local buskers who perform in public spaces.
On a semi-related note, I'm indebted to my New York-based friend & senior editor of Time magazine Tony Karon for this video of a group of buskers known as The Human Jukebox  in the Big Apple: .
I'd like to see Ged Gibbons of Liverpool BID try his luck with these guys.

When Egos Collide

Remember Channel One Television? Go on, you must, surely. No? Oh well, it was the brainchild of the Oldham Echo in the late 90s. Its output was, at best, ditchwater-dull. At worst, it was execrable; "local, much-loved celebrities" -- such as Billy Butler -- were regular faces on it (there's some gruesome clips on YouTube, but I won't inflict them on you).
Alas, Channel One had the plug pulled a few years back -- just as well, perhaps, given its dire output & unfortunate ability to attract the attention of the Independent Television Commission (ITC) ( ).
Like most local cable TV stations, Channel One was very much a 90s phenomenon; the advent of the web rendered such ventures obsolete. However, it seems such technological changes haven't been explained to Ofcom ( ).
The notion of Frank McKenna & Phil Redmond engaged in a "beauty contest" to decide who should broadcast a mixture of mediocrity, parochialism & nostalgia disturbingly questions that commonly accepted definition of the term beauty. As the photograph* above shows, McKenna is the sort of individual who is keen to promote his, erm, appearance as well as his renowned business acumen. Redmond, sorry, Professor Redmond has contributed greatly to the cultural heritage of the city...hasn't he?
Two aspects of this silly season story are baffling. Firstly, surely Ofcom would have heard of the web by now. Secondly, who in their right mind would consider these two characters as leading contenders to provide a "local" TV channel?

*Photo courtesy of the Liverpool Preservation Trust.

Answers Needed Over India Buildings

Nobody familiar with Liverpool needs to be informed about its historic buildings. However, some are more famous than others. Largely & mystifyingly overlooked in terms of architectural distinction is India Buildings on Water Street ( ).
However, a recent stroll through its main concourse provoked concern rather than civic pride. Once a bustling hub of businesses & commerce, it now looks & feels empty, each sound made echoing eerily around the place. Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in an empty church, each step & voice amplified disproportionately.
It makes you wonder what sort of future the building's owners, Green Property Ventures ( ), envisage for the complex.
The question of ownership regarding India Buildings has been a relatively secretive affair over the last few years ( ). A little clarity on the future of one of Liverpool's finest buildings would be appreciated both by those who work there & the rest of us who enjoy visiting it.