Friday, March 30, 2007

Guido takes a beating

The political blogger Guido Fawkes this week appeared on Newsnight with a segment attacking the mainstream media for being too close to politicians and thus unable to properly scrutinise their behaviour. After the short film Guardian assistant editor Michael White joined Paxman in the studio with Guido Fawkes - aka Paul Staines - behind them on a screen seen only as a silhouette. Before showing the film Paxman explained that Fawkes insisted on having his identity disguised despite "the fact that you can find his identity in two mouse clicks". And indeed you can. Type "Guido Fawkes" into Google and rather than being faced with endless results about the Gunpowder Plot, you'll find the fourth result is a link to Paul Staines's Wikipedia entry where you can read all about him.

The segment itself wasn't up to much. There's a nice review at Harry's Place - particularly amused by the "
think reformed sex pest discussing past misdeeds" bit.
Fawkes moans on about how Nick Robinson et al can't properly "go for the jugular" because they need to stay on terms with politicians in order to have any hope of future access. At one point he provoked Paxman into blurting out "bollocks" after some inane accusation. He cites an example where a junior reporter at Sky News upset David Cameron in an interview never broadcast. Cameron reportedly took six months of persuading before agreeing to deal with Sky again. Says more about Cameron than the media if you ask me.

In the interview after the segment Guido was ripped to pieces by Paxman, who clearly found his insistence on anonymity highly amusing, and in the face of what he was hearing a clearly nonplussed Michael White. Guido claimed his "disguise" was necessary so that if met any political high-flyers down the battleship, he'd be able to extract information from them using cunning wiles while all the time not compromising his identity. White then pointed out that he'd seen him somewhere before and would recognise him. Oddly Fawkes claimed on his blog that the "in-the-shadows" idea was that of the Newsnight editor. I mean, bugger me, even I feel faintly idiotic writing under a pseudonym. And even more so when I explain it to people I know. In any event both White and Paxman called him Paul more than once.

At one point Fawkes said he'd been voted Best Political Commentator by the Guardian. I assume (I can't be bothered to check) that he meant Best Political Blogger. Whether this was a mistake on his part or a deliberate word substitution, you'll have to decide. A cursory glance through his blog shows that his posts are never weighty or even bordering on anything you could describe as essayist.

I'm also baffled by his premise. He attacks the mainstream media for its puny interviewing style and the debts he believes bind it. I'd have a little more sympathy with his argument if his attacks on politicians were even handed but they're clearly not. His only victims are New Labour ministers and their associates.

I wonder if Michael Howard still felt cosy and warm next to Paxo after that infamous grapple?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Man skis down escalator

For some reason this has been big in the news for a couple of days. Probably because Transport for London handled it with such casual equanimity. It's my local station and I've never seen the geezer.

We'd be better off without religion (part two)

Not again, I hear you mutter. The hottest ticket in town on Tuesday evening was surely the debate on religion in Westminster's Central Hall. I can happily report the motion was carried 1205 votes for and 778 against, as mentioned in the Guardian today.

Religion belongs to "the abject childhood of our species", Christopher Hitchens told the audience. Amen to that.

On Charles Clarke

Today's Guardian features an extract from a speech Charles Clarke gave last night to the Royal Television Society. In it Clarke talks of the media's relationship with New Labour and describes the last decade as being "one of media pomp, in which the New Labour government has too often colluded." Little to argue with there you might say, but such observations don't usually tumble from the mouths of cabinet members, former or otherwise. Perhaps his words are those of an embittered reject seeking to stick the knife in wherever he sees some bare flesh. Nonetheless, his words throughout the snippet published ring true.

"The practices which were necessary as we came to power have been extended and developed in ways which have ultimately damaged the political process and trust in politics and politicians.

Media power has changed government policy on important matters of substance. I have no doubt that media attitudes and threats have been decisive in influencing British attitudes to the EU, in inhibiting reform in the criminal justice system, in influencing taxation and policies towards the media itself."

Undoubtedly. Leaks, good-day-bury-bad-news scandals, tabloid criminal reform all serving to reinforce his point. But wasn't it ever thus? I'm not sure to be honest. My memory does go back that far. But the polished stage sweetheart we see today in David Cameron certainly wasn't inspired by John Major. Not in a positive sense at any rate.

"But, just as many of us in politics look at the media world and urge you to understand its wider responsibility to society, we in politics have to do the same. Labour's greatest need, if we are to win the next general election, is to assess openly our successes and failures in government. I am certain that we will need to reinvent ourselves. We cannot say to the British people that a vote for Labour is simply a vote for more of the same. And there is no way to do that without talking openly about the issues."

From the first letter to the final full stop, this makes sense. Many of the comments which followed Clarke's piece accuse him of simply being interested in getting Labour re-elected. Well, du-uuh. Of course he is, hardly the most reprehensible charge, but it doesn't diminish the truth of what he says. Wherever he'd act on it in a meaningful way and continue to do after achieving his aims is another matter. Where I think Labour has failed (even if Clarke doesn't) is in the erosion of party unity. There will always be factionalism and competing cadres but New Labour has been defined in my view by the cult of personality. The panic about Blair's departure and the rise of the Blair-a-like David Cameron (sans the policies, natch) are testament to that. Here's to party reform, but reform that places the party as a whole above any one minister.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blair: Milliband will win

According to the Grauniad, Blair believes Milliband could win the leadership contest only if "he really has got to want it... He really has to go for it."

Just as Jack Straw reveals his intention to coordinate the Brown campaign.

Blair's backing or otherwise it seems too early for DM.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Editor cleared in Muhammad cartoons case

Philippe Val, the editor of satirical French weekly, Charlie Hebdo, was this afternoon cleared of charges of insulting Muslims, following his decision last year to publish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. These were the same cartoons that had previously caused uproar across the Muslim world.

The court ruled that Val was innocent of making
"public insults against a group of people because they belong to a religion". The tribunal explained:

"the drawing, taken on its own, could be interpreted as shocking for followers of this religion (Islam)." However, it had to be seen in the wider context of the magazine examining the issue of religious fundamentalism. Therefore, even if the cartoon "is shocking or hurtful to Muslims, there was no deliberate intention to offend them."

Perhaps this farcical episode can now be put to rest. The original cartoons weren't particularly well drawn nor do I think all that humorous. Though that's not to say they couldn't have been, or that humour can't be derived from religion. Much of it is inherently and unintentionly humorous in my experience. I question, however, whether the tribunal is being entirely genuine in saying Charlie Hebdo did not mean to offend in reprinting them. It may be that the satirical magazine sought to cause uproar by their republication, perhaps that's what satirical magazines do. Nonetheless, if it was done for gratuitous reasons then we need not cheer along. However, that the paper had a right to print them at all is beyond dispute. The story made waves across Europe for days on end and any paper reporting that news surely had a duty to properly inform its readers. Or at the very least point them in the direction of somewhere that would.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Budget summary

A quick glance guide to today's budget.

Criminal mastermind apprehended

This made me laugh.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Anyone for a five year plan?

Former civil service head, Lord Turnbull, told the Financial Times that Big Gordie Brown operates with "Stalinist ruthlessness". And on top that he has "a very cynical view of mankind and his colleagues" and vetoes "serious discussion" with colleagues.

It doesn't bode well for GB, does it? He's barely put the jibes about being "a bit autistic" and a "control freak" to bed when these comments appear rather reinforcing much of the "private" mutterings on his state of mind. Lord Turnbull seems to have told others that he thought he was talking off the record during his conversation with the FT. It's unlikely that a man of his experience and knowledge of the press could ever have thought anything of the kind.

The news outlets seem to find the comparison quite a hoot. Unfortunately, I didn't see what Channel Four News made of it all. In all likelihood a senior mandarin has had his wings clipped and not liked it an awful lot.

And now Newsnight is on the subject.

Bon soirée.

Schools can ban face veils

Ministers are to publish new uniforms guidance allowing schools to ban pupils from wearing full face veils for reasons of security, safety or learning.

The BBC reports that the guidance says schools need to be able to identify individual pupils in order to maintain good order and spot intruders. It continues:

"If a pupil's face is obscured for any reason the teacher may not be able to judge their engagement with learning or secure their participation in discussions and practical activities."

This is a reasonable position. The possibility of an intruder entering a school wearing a niqab is a real one. And good relationships can only be built on full interaction; body language and facial expressions as well as speech. Nonetheless, I think this is correct guidance but for the wrong reasons. It is unnecessary for pupils to wear any religious symbols in school. Schools should be an environment where children are exposed to many different ideas and practices and where their own views and opinions should be allowed to flourish. After all, many children will be forced to wear religious garments by their parents, not through their own volition. A uniform, if a school has one, should be exactly that: uniform. Religion is a private matter and the state should ensure that it remains so as far as possible.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Comedy goings on in the Caribbean as the darling of the English cricketing nation, Andrew Flintoff, reportedly fell off a pedalo at four in the morning and had to be rescued. It's believed that he was not under freshed when it happened. He has now been stripped of the vice captaincy and banned for one match.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Intelligence Squared

I've made this shameless plea before, but if anyone has a spare ticket for the following event can you please contact me at Obliged. Shame about Roger Scruton being there but it's good to have someone to vent one's spleen at.

We'd be better off without religion
27 March 2007

Due to the unprecedented demand for tickets to this debate, it will now take place at:

The Great Hall
Central Hall
Storey's Gate
London, SW1H 9NH

Doors open at 6pm. The debate starts at 6.45pm and finishes at 8.30pm.

Speakers for the motion:

  • Professor Richard Dawkins Charles Simonyi Professor in the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford. Author of ‘The Selfish Gene’ and ‘The God Delusion’. He is is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

  • Professor A.C.Grayling Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. Author of ‘The Reason of Things: The Good Life Without God’ and ‘Among the Dead Cities’.

  • Christopher Hitchens Author, journalist, columnist and contributing editor to Vanity Fair. Voted fifth out of the world’s top one hundred “public intellectuals”.

Speakers against the motion:

  • Rabbi Julia Neuberger Rabbi, author, broadcaster and social reformer. Her latest book is ‘The Moral State We’re In’.

  • Professor Roger Scruton Writer and philosopher. His books include ‘Philosophy: Principles and Problems’ and ‘England: An Elegy’. Runs an experimental farm in Wiltshire which turns grass into ideas and ideas into feelings.

  • Nigel Spivey Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he teaches Classical art and archaeology. Author and presenter of several television documentaries, including ‘How Art Made the World’ and ‘Digging for Jesus’.

The debate will be chaired by Joan Bakewell Joan Bakewell’s broadcasting career spans some 35 years – first making her mark in the 60s as a presenter of BBC2’s Late Night Line Up and presenting travel programmes and Granada’s Report Action. In the 80s she was Arts Correspondent for the BBC and in the 90s she presented the award winning Heart of the Matter for BBC1. Throughout this time she has sustained a career in Radio and as a print journalist.

US rejects charge of unlawful killing

Oxford assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker today determined a verdict of unlawful killing in the inquest into the death of Lance Corporal of Horse Matty Hull. He died near Basra on 28 March 2003 when a US pilot fired on his tank convoy. However the US State Department has rejected the coroner's decision that the accident amounted to a criminal act. A spokesperson called it a "tragedy" in a time of war.

And this is undoubtedly true. However, the US is wrong to suppose that an accident is devoid of blame or that a person at some level in the affair is not accountable. The tape of the discussion between the pilots and aircraft control details the whole event. It is believed that a lack of training led the pilots to conclude that the orange panels which marked the vehicles out as British were rockets. Had they been properly briefed they would have known that weapons matching that description were not known to the military. The pilots fired without proper authority.

Imagine person A lets person B take control of a forklift truck knowing full well that B doesn't have training in operating the controls. B, in the course of moving some heavy goods, then drops the shipment on the heads of some colleagues. It is later found that the incident was indeed an accident but that A was wrong to allow B to use the machine and B was not adequately trained. Both are still subject to law and the death of Matty Hull is no different.

The transcript in full:

Popov36: Hey, I got a four ship. Looks like we got orange panels on them though. Do we have any friendlies up in this area?

Manila hotel: I understand that was north 800 metres.

Manila hotel: Popov, understand that was north 800 metres?

Popov35: Confirm, north 800 metres.Confirm there are no friendlies this far north on the ground.

Manila hotel: That is an affirm. You are well clear of friendlies.

Popov35: Copy. I see multiple revetted vehicles. Some look like flatbed trucks and others are green vehicles. Can't quite make out the type. Look like may be Zil157s (Russian made trucks used by Iraqi army).


Popov 36: OK. Right underneath you. Right now, there's a canal that runs north/south. There's a small village, and there are vehicles that are spaced evenly there.

Popov 36: They look like they have orange panels on though.

Popov35: He told me, he told me there's nobody north of here, no friendlies.


Popov36: They've got something orange on top of them

Popov35: Popov for Manila 3, is Manila 34 in this area?

Manila Hotel: Say again?

Popov35: Manila hotel, is Manila 34 in this area?

Manila hotel: Negative. Understand they are well clear of that now.

Popov35: OK, copy. Like I said, multiple revetted vehicles. They look like flatbed trucks. Are those your targets?

Manila hotel: That's affirm

Popov35: OK


Popov36: I want to get that first one before he gets into town then.

Popov35: Get him - get him.


[Sound of gunfire]...

Lightning 34: Roger, Popov. Be advised that in the 3122 and 3222 group box you have friendly armour in the area. Yellow, small armoured tanks. Just be advised.

Popov35: Ahh shit.

Popv35: Got a - got a smoke.

Lightning 34: Hey, Popov34, abort your mission. You got a, looks we might have a blue on blue situation.

Popov35: Fuck. God, bless it.


Manila 34: We are getting an initial brief that there was one killed and one wounded, over.

Popov 35: Copy. RTB (return to base)

I'm going to be sick.


Popov35: Did you hear?

Popov36: Yeah, this sucks.

Popov35: We're in jail dude

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Olympic shames

Any other city out there want the sodding Olympics in 2012? Come on, I'll take your bids.


I was impressed with Simon Jenkins's piece on Trident in yesterday's Guardian. Those on the Left who oppose nuclear arms have, it seems to me, always done so using the main argument that their use would be both unthinkable and morally reprehensible. These were the sentiments held most trenchantly by members of the CND even throughout the Cold War. However, yesterday Jenkins's focused less on the tangled moral complexities of such weaponry and more on the demonstrably pragmatic reasons for Trident's abandonment.

"Unlike Blair, I thought unilateral nuclear disarmament during the cold war was misguided. At a time when two centralised states, America and the Soviet Union, had large nuclear arsenals poised in equilibrium, keeping that balance required precision discipline, as did their subsequent dismantling. In 1982, Blair said that to reject unilateralism would be "an error of enormous proportions". He was wrong and irresponsible. Multilateral disarmament yielded treaties on arms reduction and nuclear non-proliferation that helped end the threat of communism and made the world incomparably safer, more than can be said for the west's present generation of leaders."

Indeed. During the Cold War the stakes were higher, the threat manifest and clear. Not so today.

"The case against Trident hardly bears repetition. Its value as a deterrent depends on a coherent enemy with a leadership capable of being deterred. This applied to America and Russia in the cold war. That is now over. Even if Nato restarted it by reckless meddling in southern Asia and the Caucasus, Britain's use of nuclear weapons in such aggression would be unthinkable. As for the west's nuclear shield, that would continue to be supplied by America."

And as I've stated elsewhere today, the possibility of Britain using American-provided nukes without American permission is just as unthinkable. Besides: everyone wants one but no one wants to be the person or government to use one.

"The truth is that the west's nuclear status has not deterred any aggressor. It did not deter North Vietnam from invading the south, Galtieri from invading the Falklands, Saddam Hussein from invading America's ally Kuwait, Syria from invading Lebanon or Milosevic from massacring his fellow Yugoslavs. It does not matter how devastating a weapon is. If its use is inconceivable, its deterrent value is zero."

Its deterrent value is zero if its use is inconceivable but its value on its own is little if there is no substantial opponent on which to train it.

"The wars being fought by the west's current leaders are "fourth generation" wars, post-conventional, post-nuclear and post-guerrilla. They are not against states but against groups, insurgencies and public opinions."

"The non-proliferation treaty is being shot to pieces by America appeasing the nuclear ambitions of Israel, India and Pakistan and goading Iran's fundamentalists into wanting a bomb too. These states want bombs not to threaten the west but, as with the east-west balance in the cold war, to balance regional deterrence. We may not like this but we can't stop it; nor does it threaten Britain or the non-nuclear states that comprise most of the world. We have lived with this appalling weapon for half a century, in which it has never been used in anger. The genie is out of the bottle, and diplomacy is her most effective chaperone."

A majority of MPs did not agree. My assumption had always been that even if Trident were decommissioned, a quantity of nukes would be kept in stock in case the unlikely ever occurred. A tacit understanding would exist between the post-nuclear nations that we might not be wearing a gunbelt around the waist but that we'd probably have a smaller, less costly weapon concealed in a boot just in case. The alternative simply makes for a more competitive market.

Only a day out

Had hoped to be back online yesterday but here I am. Not without first having to call Virgin Media's premium rate technical support line, but then how else would Branson make any dough.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Technical problems

I'm sans internet in the house at the moment so posting is on hold until this Wednesday (hopefully).

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Blair acknowledges departure causing uncertainty

The Guardian website is carrying a brief article on an interview with Blair in tomorrow's Observer.

It begins:

Tony Blair admitted that his announcement he will quit as Prime Minister this year has created a period of "uncertainty" for the Government.

Not often TB admits to anything with might be to his detriment but this is hardly revelatory.

But he insisted that he would have faced "a load of different problems" if he had kept quiet about his intentions.

I can't honestly think what those "load of different problems" would be. Is he thinking only of the personal difficulties such a decision might have incurred? It seems to be that publicly he'd be having it a touch easier at present.

And he made clear he did not want to repeat the fate of Margaret Thatcher, who said she would go on and on, but was then "absolutely belted and chucked out" by her own party.

Too late methinks.

Referring back to the 2005 election, he said: "Iraq was a factor then. In a sense, when I go, that goes with me."

He must be referring to the stigma here. Clearly if he went tomorrow the disaster in Iraq would continue and it would, presumably, be Brown's task to complete. Would that it were so simple, Tone.

Guido: in a sulk?

The burning question

I've just watched the highlights of Manchester United versus Liverpool on Match of the Day. Giggs makes his 700th appearance for Manchester United (it still baffles me how he's only amassed three caps for Wales). Bellamy has a perfectly good goal disallowed. Riise blasted 30 shots inches over the bar. And John O'Shea, the most charmed United footballer in recent memory, scores a winner.

But what you're all wondering: Is Alex Ferguson the only person in Britain who still chews gum sticks and not pellets? I suspect they must be a few pence cheaper per pack. Frugal us Scots.

BBC confirms injunction concerned internal email

In a thirty second segment on tonight's News at Ten, Rita Chakrabarti confirmed that the injunction granted to the Attorney General did concern an email between two of Tony Blair's "inner circle".

You'll need to go to one of the more high falutin blogs for speculation as to what that email might have said. However, the Beeb says it could be central to an alleged cover-up in cash for honours saga.

Black pupils treated worse

A report published yesterday entitled "Getting it. Getting it right" concludes that staff in many schools are "unwittingly" racist and routinely punish black children more severely.

In the wake of the injunction against the BBC this now seems to have slipped from the top news items. The BBC's own report is here. The report states that, "this as an "iconic issue" for those of black Caribbean heritage" and this is undoubtedly true. Often officials in education and elsewhere do not take the time to consider the background of people they interact with. I know of one educationalist who, when in a meeting with a black child, complained after that the boy did not look at her throughout the discussion. Only after was it suggested to her that the boy's upbringing demanded that he avert his gaze when receiving a chastisement. This may be apocryphal but it certainly gives fuel to an incendiary situation if the two sides of a dispute expect very different behaviour of one another but are unable to communicate what that is. It may seem a small point but at the same time understanding can be reached if sought out at all.

The report looks at two strands of thought, the first being that "largely unwitting, but systematic, racial discrimination" means staff expect black pupils to behave worse. In my career in education, albeit from the local authority perspective, this is certainly evident. And if teachers expect it, it should be no surprise if children come to believe it of themselves. The second consideration is that black pupils, especially boys, are subject to outside influences and cultural stereotypes which make them prone to aggressiveness. There may be some mileage in this suggestion. Certainly if media and drama continually portray a section of society in a negative light then the causal effect of that should not be underestimated. However, educationalists need to be better able to sort reality from fiction. With an increasing migrant population cultural understanding is key. This may upset the Mail readers but simply demanding that this is Britain and this is how things are done here is not the answer. Understanding and explanation will achieve much more.

Beeb gag concerns email

According to Iain Dale the gag on the BBC concerns the discovery of an email which allegedly incriminates someone presumably within the government.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Goldsmith stops Beeb story

The Attorney General has obtained an injunction to prevent the BBC reporting a story on the cash for honours bore... sorry, story.

The BBC website has a picture of Ruth Turner next to the story. Is it a sign? Give us a sign.

Update 10.30pm: the picture has been removed. Door. Horse. Bolted.

Beeb banned from reporting story on cash for honours

And that's about as much as we know at this stage. "More soon" says

Bullingdon ban

Photographers Gillman and Soame have withdrawn its permission for news media to use the photo opposite showing Dave Cameron in his student days as a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club. The picture here is actually the portrait of the original photograph commissioned by Newsnight. The Conservative party denies asking Gillman and Soame to implement the ban.

What do they think we've been smoking?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Tories in a tangle over spending

George Osborne today indicated he would veto spending plans contained in new Tory policy review plans. Unfortunate that this should come hot-on-the-heels of rumours that Osborne skipped off to Oxford to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics but changed to History because he found the economics a little tricky.

Why two stages?

A paltry pay rise, below inflation and staggered.