Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Killers, Day And Age

Review by Mark Reed

Album three for the great, feted new big hopes of a dying industry, The Killers manage to join the usual pre-Christmas rush with a suicidal aplomb (going up against Coldplay and Guns N'Roses in the same week is brave).

The age of the album is over. These days kids all want an unlimited “As Much Music As You Can Eat” (subject to a preset bandwidth cap) deal from their mobile phone provider to be able to be just like everyone else and play stupid booming music from tinny phones so it sounds like you're listening to an iPod that's been eaten by a whale through a stethoscope placed against it's gigantic blubber chest in the ocean. The days when people would buy, and enjoy, a whole 45 minutes in one go are gone : we're too busy listening to 30 second introductions, skipping to the next hit singles, and stealing 6,000 songs a second from the Internet. People don't actually BUY music anymore, let alone actually listen to it.

Which is odd, maybe everyone on the trains going to and from work just buy white headphones they stuff into their pockets and listen to nothing at all but the dull thud of babbling commuter tedium and flapping mouth idiots talking about cycling / immigrants / the ecology / house prices / Princess Diana / the rule of the lizards on the way to work in the morning. Why would you listen to brilliant music, and be transported to another world far away from this, when you could listen to idiots babbling on about the rules of cycling at 7.13am?

Of course, the socio-economic / political context of the environment a record is released in is of vital important. Without the world around it, Never Mind The Bollocks would've been meaningless. Art exists in the world in which it is created, and without it, it is abstract. Some music is timeless, and thus, of relevance at all times, not tied to the moment of creation but the immortal human condition.

Oh yes, The Killers. And with the incongrous line “Are we human, or are we dancer?”, would sound like nonsense to most people. But tied to the knowledge that it was inspired by Hunter S Thompson's assertion that mankind was becoming a species of dancers... it fits.

And whilst Day And Age does not match the cohesion, or vision, of Sam's Town - which drew an effective picture of an America last sketched by Springsteen – this album is a fine selection of songs. In the old days, an album would be a work of a set of songs that worked to both compliment, and complicate each other: the narrative progression of a record would be crucial, and songs would be placed together for maximum effectiveness and to ensure some form of musical, lyrical, and thematic journey. To this end, then Day And Age manages to be a successful album in the tradition of albums of yore. The opening Losing Touch, Human, and Spaceman are a interesting pyramid of songs that build on the foundations of the previous. It is only Joy Ride - which sounds like a Wham! song – that starts to undermine this and the later I Can't Stay that indulges in some dated kettle drum effects, that undo the work. Thankfully, A Dustland Fairytale, and the Talking Heads style This Is Your Life rebuild this to create something more than distinctive, with epic sweeps, a lyrical vision that matches a cinematic ambition, and musical drama that ensure you are never far from something thrilling happening.

Comparisons have been drawn to Depeche Mode and New Order, which are unfair : The Killers are something else, something far more organic, more gutteral: not exactly more human, but more hands-on. There are moments, flourishes and instants where it is clear that The Killers are indebted in many ways to 1986, but that's not to say that these are obvious: like any great band these influences are moulded into a unique combination of everything around them – much like any song is a collection, a compilation of the notes within it, and the art comes from the finished product and not the ingredients.

Day And Age is a powerful record that will soundtrack a million commutes and car journeys, make the washing up slightly less tedious, create joy on Sunday Nights dancing at home when nobody is looking, and comfort the sad on Wednesday evenings coming home from the city. In short, The Killers have delivered another fine record, and taken another step on an interesting journey you should be part of.

For more reviews by the same author check out The Final Word.

On the Damian Green affair

We think the police dropped a clanger with the arrest of Damian Green. However, David Cameron can hardly talk.

Excellent piece by John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday. We've never been the biggest fans of the ultra-Blairite columnist. However, in the wake of the 'Damian Green Affair' (the Tory immigration spokesman was arrested for nine hours on Friday, read here for the details) his article today speaks some truth. We're not going to join the ranks of all the liberal blogs who are celebrating the arrest of a Tory as if they'd won the blogging World Cup and we agree with Rentoul that the police were heavy-handed and their the deployment of counter-terrorist officers was just a tiny bit OTT. Any Orwellian show trial is bad news for a liberal democracy.

Yet, Rentoul nails it on the head when he writes: "what did Cameron say when the Metropolitan Police came knocking for Ruth Turner, Tony Blair's adviser, at 6.10 in the morning? Nothing. What did he say before that when Sir Ian Blair, the Met Commissioner, decided, on the basis of no more than a press release put out by a Scottish National Party MP, to investigate the allegation that peerages were sold? Again, nothing".

This week

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Ken Livingstone. Writing in The Guardian, the former London mayor was spot-on with his analysis of New Labour and its alleged end. "A former Tony Blair aide told the Guardian the new top rate of tax was 'political death', and that if Polly Toynbee and Roy Hattersley think you have done the right thing, 'it is axiomatic you have done the wrong thing'. The former aide may be continuing a stale factional dispute with Brown - but more important, he or she is clinging to old dogmas that in the real world have already been swept away." Incidentally, Livingstone also called for the top tax rate to rise to 50p.

Matthew Norman in Thursday's Independent. He came up with the best description of Jon Gaunt that's ever appeared in public: "archetype of prolier-than-thou, far right-wing bigotry of a retrograde silliness that by and large vacated the driver's seat of the London black cab long ago". Norman, of course, was referring to the irony of Gaunty celebrating (the moment he got the sack) the importance of the same human rights he'd scorned for so long. Look at this oily piece he wrote in the Sun.

Kevin Maguire in The Mirror. On Tuesday he warned of the importance of keeping an eye on Tory lies and spin. Writing about the budget and the Tories turning it into a discussion about unfair taxes on the middle classes, Maguire said: "Far better to be hung for a sheep as a lamb. The Tories would have gone just as bonkers if Darling had promised every family a free week in a Corfu villa." And: "Watching wealthy Osborne, the inheritor of a not-so-small fortune, pose as champion of the working man would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sinister".


Aren't we predictable. The Daily Mail. After the tabloids were at pains to link Baby P's death with unmarried or non-traditional families, there was hope the new scandal of the so-called "British Josep Fritzl" was going to show them that tragedy has got nothing to do with good old family values. Fat chance. Here they are with their headline: "'British Fritzl' got sex slave daughters pregnant 19 times to milk thousands in child support". Expect Littlejohn or Phillips to soon come up with: "Child benefits make you rape your daughter".

Fergus Shanahan in the Sun. On Wednesday, this joke of a man had a fit because Gordon Brown announced the possibility of a 5p rise for the top tax rate if Labour win the elections in April 2011. Here's what he said, "Blair would never have done this. But he wasn’t a raving Socialist". Can someone give this man industrial doses of Prozac?

Ditto for the Express. On Tuesday, their 'editorial' read: Brown the dictator is bankrupting Britain. Including: "the very last thing the British economy needs is higher taxes on wealth creation". Here we are with the wealth creators again. Look how much wealth they created that now we're in such shit.

That said, those who believed the fable that Gordon Brown is "rescuing the economy", as if it was that simple, can now witness MFI and Woolworths both going into administration on Wednesday. Woolies in particular, with 30,000 jobs at risk and its reputation as a British institution (it was founded in 1909) would be the biggest casualty of the economic crisis so far.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Are the terrorists British?

As the Mumbai siege comes to an end, it seems almost inevitable that some British citizens were involved.

The Sun seems fairly sure. A BlackBerry link to the UK suggests "as many as five terrorists had British connections", adding that two of the terrorists are "believed to be from the Leeds or Bradford area". The Guardian gives similar relevance to the opposite claims. One of their headlines today is: Gunmen not from UK, Foreign Office insists, reporting Gordon Brown's warning against "jumping to conclusions". In the same paper, Richard Norton-Taylor notes the striking difference in tactics between the suicide bombings of he first half of the decade and the Mumbai attacks. The headline is Security chiefs fear revamped version of 70s-style violence.

In the meantime, The Telegraph wonders: Mumbai attacks: Are they British? But their question is more of a rhetorical one. Their reporters on the ground quote Mumbai's chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his statement that two "'British-born Pakistanis' were among eight gunmen captured alive during bloody shoot-outs with soldiers". In another piece, there's the disturbing truth of "dozens of young Muslim extremists from this country travelling abroad to learn their deadly trade". A "well-trodden path from England to terror training camps in Pakistan".

The Daily Mail doesn't give much relevance to the Mumbai siege. However, their take on the number of British citizens involved in the "terror gang" is a more radical one. A piece by David Williams mentions "seven" of them, amidst "reports that the terrorists checked British news websites on their mobile phones during the attacks". The Times carries a piece by Jeremy Page about the security forces' Hollow victory as more bodies discovered in Jewish centre and top hotels. Elsewhere, the allegations that "Britons were among the militants arrested for the Bombay attacks" is given as a fact, quoting "a senior Indian official yesterday".

Our guess is that there is no doubt.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The British press and the British Fritzl

All those British papers who were ridiculing Austria during the Josep Fritzl case. "It could only happen there", was the order of the day. Except, now a man in Sheffield has been given life for exactly the same stuff.

There are times the world of British journalism really makes you wince. Last May, possibly for the first time in history, the UK press decided to dedicate full coverage to a story that wasn't related to Britain or America. It was the Josep Fritzl scandal, Austria's own version of a nightmare.

Nothing wrong, obviously. The story was absolutely shocking. A man who turned out to be commander-in-chief of incestuous monsters had segregated his daughter for two decades and fathered her several children, keeping most of them in a perfectly engineered underground bunker.

Except, the British press had to take it one step forward. Their morbid obsession with anything remotely Nazi was just gagging to come out. Josep Fritzl was Austrian, wasn't he? Now, can our cultured British journalists name at least another famous Austrian chap, possibly an evil one too?Adolfo, I hear you saying...Yeah, that one. The equation was just so tempting for our simple editors to keep it at bay.

But I say 'the British press' because this time there's no shaking your head at the 'bad' tabloids and seeking consolation in the 'good' broadsheets. They all did the same. Within days, all papers (with, and I'm not even sure, the possible exception of The Guardian) started writing all sorts of sophisticated analyses about Austria's deep rooted patterns of behaviour. A country, no question, obsessed with holding people captive (concentration camps, anyone?) and all the rest. For the whole month, no-one remembered Britain's own pride and joy, did they? Fred and Rosemary West, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, the Yorkshire Ripper, Denis Neilsen and friends. No, it could have only happened in Austria.

And so The Independent talked about Austria's typical "look-away society", the Daily Mail dubbed it "secrecy shameland" and The Times openly talked about Austria's "cirles of secrecy" where dark things took place, in line with their very own "Nazi past". The Mirror sported the headline 'Evil dungeon dad Josef Fritzl blames the Nazis for his actions'.

All those columnists and professional opinionators. Where are they now? Where's all the gobbing about instrinsically Nazi Austria now that a 56-year-old Englishman from Sheffield has just been convicted of raping his two daughters and fathering their children over a period of twenty years? Yet more evidence that ignorant chauvinism is a very, very British syndrome.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Watch it, Italy

A strange mix of racism and authoritarianism is surfacing in Berlusconi's Italy

As parallels are constantly drawn between the current economic climate and the 1929 crash, we can at least hold on to the certainty that Europe is now a profoundly democratic place.

Italy, however, is a peculiar case. Since Silvio Berlusconi's landslide victory last April, it's as if the country started to passively give the nod to a disturbing series of populistic and semi-authoritarian measures. Whether it's style, rhetoric or actions, whatever the government is doing is increasingly greeted by a collective shrug. The result is that Italy's standards of democracy are lowering fast.

Berlusconi's victory wiped out of Parliament the radical and green left and dropped the decimated centre-left into a morass of petty infighting. That allowed the Government to hit the ground running. Propped up by the type of anti-immigration rhetoric that Britain would only tolerate if the BNP were in power, the new Italian executive agreed to some seriously draconian legislation. Immigrants are now officially b-citizens. One measure, for instance, requires their expulsion the moment they get a criminal record - and the grounds for appeal are strictly limited. In the meantime, reports of immigrant-bashing and racist incidents, in some cases involving the police, are just piling up.

In September, Giancarlo Gentilini, a pro-Berlusconi mayor (famous for his calls for "the right to carry out ethnic cleansing against the faggots") said: "I wanted our streets cleansed of all the ethnics groups that are destroying our country". He taunted the immigrants that "piss in our streets". "Let them go and piss in their own mosques", he barked, adding "I don't want to see any blacks, browns or greys teaching our children"… Only two months ago, members of the ruling Northern League, including MPs, took part in the pan-European far-right gathering in Cologne, the type of event you'd want to pop to if you fancied a picnic with the NF or Combat 18.

Next, the Government proceeded to set up 'special' classes for children of non-Italians at school. And while Berlusconi grabbed the headlines for calling newly elected Obama "suntanned", only muted grumbles met his new ad-hoc law that will grant the Italian Prime Minister (himself, that is) immunity from all criminal courts. What followed was the scandal at the Parliamentary Committee overseeing the state television network RAI. Even though the committee is traditionally chaired by an opposition MP elected on a bipartisan vote, the government rejected the centre-left's official candidate. Instead, they handpicked their own. This too was shunned by the general public as petty political squabbling.

And then came the student strikes. Unhappy with budget cuts proposals as detailed in the White Paper on higher education, undergraduates and college students alike took to the streets in numbers. And this is where it turns sour. After scuffles erupted in Rome when a mob of organised skinheads attacked unarmed teenagers (see pictures here), the hawkish former Home Secretary (and later President) Francesco Cossiga went on record saying that the best way to deal with such protests is to infiltrate them with agent provocateurs and shoot (or beat) at random.

"This is how I dealt with them when I was at the Home Office", he revealed in an interview. Cossiga was speaking of Italy's so-called 'years of lead' in the late 70s, at the height of the country's own terrorist crisis. Between 1977 and 1979, a period of high civil unrest, several demonstrators died in dubious circumstances. Some were shot by random fire during protest rallies. Although the courts were never able to convict anyone in particular, we now officially know that the government was directly behind it. In the words of Cossiga:

"The security forces should massacre the demonstrators without pity, and send them all to hospital. They shouldn't arrest them, because the magistrates would release them immediately, but they should beat them up. And they should also beat up those teachers who stir them up. Especially the teachers. Not the elderly lecturers, of course, but the young women teachers."

No doubt Cossiga is pleased that only in 2001, during Berlusconi's last stint in power, the Italian police pulled off that magnificent mix of Pinochet-style torture, mass-beating and planted evidence that stoked up the infamous riots at the G8 in Genoa. And they really did pull it off because no police officer will ever spend a minute in jail for that.

Yet, what's most disturbing is the Italian's sense of resignation, as well as Berlusconi's enduring popularity in the polls. The temptation is to say that, after all, Italy is the place where fascism was invented. But it wouldn't be fair on all the Italian trade unionists, socialists and liberals who lost their lives fighting for their freedom.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The short-term effects of a witch-hunt

How the tabloid-whipped hysteria over Baby P is reaping its harvest. Septicisle finds out.

The Sun is now boasting of having received 1.1 million signatures to its petition for justice for Baby P. Even accepting that some of those will be duplicates, that anyone can sign the online version with just a name and an email, with some signing from abroad and that there may well have been group efforts to get the total up, it's still a mesmerising total, helped along by the pornographic detail of much of the coverage and the almost Diana-like sense of mourning which led reportedly to up to 1,000 spontaneously visiting the cemetery where his ashes were scattered. This was after the Sun reported that he had received no proper funeral; it subsequently turned out that this was completely inaccurate, but the paper quickly adjusted its coverage and no apology was forthcoming for the father of the child, the paper having appropriated his dead son for its own means. That this resembles the "grief tourism" which resulted in crowds visiting Soham during the summer when Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman went missing is unmentioned.

Also quickly becoming apparent is the effect that the media and Facebook-led witch-hunt is having on social workers themselves. As could have been expected, fearing that a terrible mistake on their part could lead to them being declared to have blood on their hands, the number of applications for child protection orders appears from evidence on the ground to have sky-rocketed. The Observer reported that in London and Leicestershire applications had as much as trebled from the usual average, while in Leeds the number of applications over a week was described as "unprecedented". Figures collected by Cafcass suggested that there had been a 26% increase in applications between the 10th and 20th of November, as compared to the number made over the same period last year.

This is institutional risk aversion. Some will doubtless argue that this is no bad thing, that when children deemed at risk are taken from their families no further harm can be done to them, and that even if it turns out to be unnecessary, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Yet this is work which social workers themselves cannot necessarily possibly deal with: tomorrow's Guardian prints a diary from an experienced social worker in Scotland that simply cannot cope with her current work load. Her problem is both that she cannot provide a proper service whilst so overloaded, but that she is expected to justify her every move, all with the copious bureaucracy and paper-work which has become such a familiar part of working in the public sector.

Here is why the media coverage of the Baby P case has been so hypocritical, so counter-productive, and so potentially disastrous for those who have chosen social work as their profession. It has been led ostensibly by the same right-wing newspapers that so howl when children, especially those of respectable middle-class parents that couldn't even imagine harming their child, let alone do it, are wrongly taken into car. When this happens it's the state snatching, even kidnapping children, as the Daily Mail for example earlier in the year described the taking into care of a newly born child, thought to be at risk, as another of the mother's children was. The same newspapers are the ones that object repeatedly to council-tax rises, when resources, as the anonymous social worker describes, have been so cut to the bone or directed elsewhere that it makes it even more difficult to provide adequate supervision. Finally, who now would honestly consider the idea of becoming a social worker when the profession has become the latest soft target for the impotent rage of the nation to be taken out upon? How many, already brought to the brink of exhaustion by their work-load will see how much gratitude is given to them and finally decide that it's time to pack it all in before something goes wrong on their patch and the mob inevitably moves in? Not enough "golden hellos" in the world are going to make someone, even in an recession, want to take on such responsibility whilst at the same time being given no respect.

Even more unhelpful were last week's ridiculous headlines, including in the "quality" press, regarding 4 children a week dying while either in the care of the state or being seen by social workers. These figures, if true, would also have been unprecedented, and completely out of line with the ones produced by the Home Office. As it turned out, Ofsted had confused the number of those who had died while receiving any kind of local authority help - 282 - with the number of serious case reviews that had been taken out following child deaths, which was a far less remarkable 81. Ofsted said that the "report may have been confusing for a lay person", which it seems is a perfect description of journalists in general, with the figure subsequently being bandied about by those already highly excised by the death of Baby P as an example of the incompetence and failure of social work and child protection policies.

The furore over Baby P will eventually calm down, even if the Sun promises to "not rest until those to blame are brought to book" (pro-tip: they're already have, they're in prison), and the equilibrium will settle back down to something approaching normality. In the meantime however, children will be taken from their families when they previously wouldn't have been, further breaking down the relationship between individual and the state, and potentially loosening those families for good. This will ironically be the result of newspapers that preach the virtue of the family, moralise remorselessly about single-mothers and the "underclass", if not openly in some cases dehumanising them, all while demanding a return to traditional values, the same values which previously amounted to the goings on in someone's house being entirely their own affair. Sales, sensationalism, and giving the public what they think they want always triumph over the note of caution and waiting for the full facts before passing judgement. When the next Baby P comes along, we can look forward to going through this all over again.

This article was first published on the excellent 'Obsolete', Septicisle's own blog.

"People of Britain, perform your national duty..."

...and go back to reckless spending sprees? No, thank you.

Not a single day goes by without a government minister or a newspaper columnist staging their mass appeal: 'people of Britain, perform your national duty and WASTE your money on a shopping spree'. Yesterday's piece on the BBC online magazine was a case in point.

So here's the lowdown. Britain's hit a nasty recession. Banks have gone from shoving credit cards up people's (and in some cases, dogs'*) arses to stopping lending altogether. And Lord Mandelson can growl for all he likes, the banks just won't lower their interest rates. Companies are going bust, sales are down and in the meantime we obsess over I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.

If only those Brits hit the high street again and splashed their money, real or virtual, on unnecessary items, wouldn’t it all go back to normal? Wouldn’t the country's hollow economy be jumpstarted again? Except, what was that saying again…fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me…?

Remember when you maxed out your credit card because you REALLY had to own that big fuckoff plasma screen? And do you recall that sea of red letters as you defaulted on that enticing buy-now-pay-later Apropos Surround Sound hi-fi? Those trips down the high street with that piece of plastic wobbling in your wallet like an extra out of The Exorcist?

Well, that's exactly how the 'recession' grabbed us all by the family jewels in the first place. You neglect things at your own peril, but a spot-on piece by Martin Hickman published in The Independent in January 2006 ("Britons in debt to the tune of 1.13 trillion"), at the peak of the country's spending binge, showed that debit cards accounted for 37% of all retail transactions, while plastic in general (debit plus credit) were used for 63% of all UK retail spending. It couldn’t have lasted, of course, because most of it was money that didn’t exist and the then government will carry that responsibility forever. Because the Brits were happily shopping, weren’t they? Far from saving a dime, we were encouraged into the habit of using virtual money for everything, be it rounds of drinks, wisdom teeth, fake boobs or cool TopShop clothes.

Gordon Brown is looking at those good old days with extreme nostalgia. That sandcastle allowed him and Tony Blair to lecture dusty old Europe on Britain's 'dynamic' economy. Cue those typically New Labour verb-free speeches. Global finance. Electronic commerce. The forces of change. A 21st century nation. The knowledge-based economy. The wealth creators. Power to the people to make the most of what is within them.
We grew up in a culture of shopping sprees that cheer us up and provide essential fun and we ended up with £1.5 trillion of personal debt and little to show for it.

Fast forward to November 2008 and the OECD is announcing that the UK's economy will perform worse than any other major G7 country. And the unemployment is forecast to reach 8% in 2009. "The forces of change", is what Tony Blair once said.

*according to Anthony Sampson in his book 'Who Runs This Place?' (page 245), in October 2003 Fred Goodwin of Royal Bank of Scotland was summoned by the MPs' Select Committee on the Treasury and asked to explain why RBS had offered a £10,000 limit gold credit card to one "Monty Slater in Manchester who turned out to be a dog; 'he was only invited to have one', Goodwin explained".

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


One of the things in life that makes me want to get my power tools out and cause medieval-style harm are stories of animal cruelty.
Today the BBC reported the story of two PCs who were filmed by their concerned neighbours beating and torturing their two pet dogs, one of them a Rottweiler puppy. The vigilant neighbour had previously called the RSPCA on several occasions but they found 'no evidence' of cruelty. That was until she installed a camera overlooking the couple's yard and filmed hours if footage. The two shitheads were given fines, over 100 hours of community service and banned from keeping animals for 5 years.

Here at Hagley Road we could think of some rather more satisfying punishments for these two, but we'd have to bring them into the basement of Warwick Castle to do it properly.

Tax the rich

Labour's new proposals to increase the tax rate on those earning over £150,000 would turn out to be their boldest move since the minimum wage was brought in.

I will not reveal many details. There are too many horror stories around of people who got the sack for talking about their job online. However, I can tell you my job involves working with some remarkably well-off people. Some of them are actually rich, in the true sense of the word.
Observing their lifestyle, the things they come up with, as well as the way they literally waste significant amounts of money on a weekly basis, I quickly became convinced that it's perfectly fair for any government to increase the top rate of income tax.

I had top managers telling me about their teenage kids throwing a strop over the family's summer holiday plan. Having scrapped a trip to the US, the idea of a mere three weeks spent in Italy was met by a tantrum. "It'll have to be compensated by a nice visit to the Caribbean over Easter", were the words.

I've seen kids donning the most expensive outfits who get whichever computer or console they want, no matter the price, on tap. And cue the 'extra-curricular' activities. Swimming, judo, hockey, hip hop dancing classes. The families have run out of things to spend money on.
I heard an eighteen-year-old spoilt brat clad in Ralph Lauren announce that a brand new massive 4x4 had been sitting outside his house pending the successful completion of his driving test. All paid for, of course.
Then there was the son of a successful entrepreneur who, bored of cars and not quite sure on how he should spend his pocket money, decided to go shopping for a small boat and came home with one worth £7 million. Seriously. And that's without starting on the second homes, third homes, third cars and fourth cars.

Simply, some people have more money that they can spend. Am I envious? Perhaps. But when you place the current 40% tax rate for the people I've just described against 23% paid by people who make just over £1,000 a month, the word 'crap' springs to mind. And whereas, say, their large pockets wouldn’t even notice an extra £50 a month going to the government, the same sum would be enough to tip an ordinary family towards bankruptcy. In 2006, it was estimated that a 45% tax on incomes over £150,000 would raise £1.2 bn in a year.
Now Gordon Brown has announced the new 45% rate to be brought in if Labour win the next election. According to the BBC, "[s]uch a move would mark the end of New Labour's long-standing pledge not to increase people's income tax rates".
Of course, LibDem MP Vince Cable is right to remark that, alone, increasing tax on the rich isn't enough. The moment you do it, closing loopholes and cracking down on tax avoidance becomes even more of an imperative. It's also true that other steps would bring in more money. A windfall tax on utility companies, for instance. Or scrapping the extraordinarily expensive ID scheme.

However, it's a fact that Labour's new proposals to increase the tax rate on those earning over £150,000 would turn out to be their boldest move since bringing in the minimum wage in 1999. That is, if they stick to the plan and don’t cave in to the Daily Mail (who are already drawing parallels with Denis Healey's 1973 vow "squeeze the rich until the pips squeak"). However, it's a welcome sign that, for once (I'll say it again, FOR ONCE), raising money is not done exclusively by barking against incapacity benefits, welfare or public services in general.
The direction, at least, is the right one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Train rip-off hikes and the watchdog with no gnashers

Where's the big debate about yet more ridiculous train fare hikes? Where are the tabloids? Where's the goading? Why is John Sargent more important?

Simply, shameless. The day train fares go up again, Britain's papers marinate the news in a sea of I'm A Celebrity Out of Here bulletins and debates about Strictly Come Dancing. If an alien landed on UK soil today, aside from granting Richard Littlejohn and Peter Hitchens apoplexy (you can't get more of an immigrant than an alien), he'd think that the dancing moves of one John Sargent matter more than public services in the land of hope and bovvered. And yet the rail increases are supposed to hit people directly. It means less pints. It means more debt.

Still the fact that almost all train operators are introducing inflation-busting fares in 2009 (like they did in 2008, 2007, 2006, and keep counting all the way down to the final days of British Rail) looks like a side issue. Every year, the same story.

I ran a search online. I googled 'rain fares increase above inflation'. There were thousands of entries, local and national, from whichever year since the internet became part of the furniture. Exactly the same stories. Headlines, captions and articles.

Last year, for instance. From the Guardian, "Fare increases of up to 15% anger rail passengers". The watchdog describes the "new prices unjustified and unfair", the passengers calls them "outrageous", and the companies justify the 'change' as necessary for "investments and improvements".

Then this from 2007: "Train passengers face fare rise", with the customary "the money was needed to pay for ongoing service improvements", placed next to "passenger groups have criticised the price increases and said rail users are already paying high fares".
The year before, the Mirror complained that "TRAIN TICKET RISE IS SO UNFARE". Guess what, "train chiefs said the price rises were essential to pay for improvements" and "the Rail Passengers Council says many walk-on fares are now at "eye-watering" levels".

BBC News, December 2004. The rail industry says the rises are necessary to help pay for "investment to improve services". The Rail Passenger Council retorts "it's hitting passengers in the pocket".

And so here we are, ready for January 2009. The watchdog's arguing that "we cannot simply go on dumping costs onto the passenger in this way”; the rail operators repeating that "the increased revenue would help pay for investment to improve the railways and deliver better value for taxpayers"; and the Prime Minister giving the word "spineless" new depths. "Gordon Brown believed it was important customers got good value for their money", said his spokesman. Whatever the meaning, it makes Pontius Pilate sound like one of the Baader Meinhof gang.

Nobody, no paper, no journalists asking the obvious questions. I guess they must be all thinking about John Sargent. And still...

a) What the fuck is something called a "watchdog" doing if every single year the rail companies run rings round them just like that? Watching it may do, but the dog has no gnashers;

b) How long are those "improvements" going to last for?

c) Could it be that the only people enjoying said "improvements" are the shareholders?

d) Shouldn't the papers be full of horror stories about overcrowded, super-overpriced trains across the country? Where are the goading tabloids when you need them?

e) Shouldn't the Labour government be as gobby about it as they are with the incapacity benefits they keep fiddling with at each turn of the weather?

But no, that was no way to treat John Sargent...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This week

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At last a decent entry for the Times' David Aaronovitch. On Thursday he wrote that "The BNP can never make itself respectable". "Its activists comprise far more than the usual proportion of convicts and football hooligans", he wrote, a breath of fresh air in a week when every single paper expressed their direct or indirect sorrow at the 'victimised' shitty party.

Mark Steel in Wednesday's Independent. Commenting on the week that saw the worst possible attacks on 'non-traditional' families, he asked: "Why do people cling to the myth of the nuclear family?" adding that "a glance through history suggests there's nothing natural about the "traditional" family, and societies have found countless different ways of organising themselves".


Completely gone. With all the problems affecting ordinary people, cabinet minister Jim Murphy decided to call for the Strictly Come Dancing judges to be sacked. Incidentally, take the amount of press coverage handed to Strictly Come Dancing and compare it with New Labour's latest lot of benefit cuts or the umpteenth rise in train fares. No contest. Feed the little people shit.

How many times have we heard it before? "MP criticises energy firm charges ", calls "on the energy regulator Ofgem to launch an inquiry". This week Conservative MP Peter Luff criticised the companies' direct debit schemes and the "real temptation for the companies to boost their cash flow at a time of economic recession. It's the free market, Mr Luff.

"The trouble with Reclaiming the Night"

Great article by Laurie Penny challenging radical feminism on the excellent Liberal Conspiracy website today.
Here's an extract:

"Brutality is bred in the bone in this country, in playgrounds, in the streets, and at home. It runs even deeper than a simple insult to women perpetrated by patriarchy. We are not as civilised as we like to think. Sooner or later, we all learn to fight, or we learn to run, or we learn to lie down and take the kicks and learn to hate. Sooner or later, we all learn to be afraid to walk the streets after dark.

Would I like to live in a world where all women felt safe at night? Damn straight. And all men, too. And all boys, all girls, all transpeople, bankers and shopkeepers and streetwalkers: none of us should have to steel ourselves for a beating when we pop to the shops for milk. This is something that needs to be addressed urgently in our culture. It’s not just a feminist problem; it’s a gendered crisis that makes new demands of feminism, and I will not be Reclaiming any Night until the men and transpeople whom I love are allowed to march beside me

Read the full article here.

The Obama Files

Hagley Road to Ladywood expands with a new section

Remember the happy days of the 1997 elections? Weren't you convinced Tony Blair's victory was the beginning of a new era? Well, we all know how it ended. In fact it hasn't ended yet, but it sure went pear-shaped right from the start. With their determination to out-Tory the Tories in both policies and rhetoric, New Labour's roll call of lies, privatisations, tuition fees and the Iraq war (as well as much more) won't be easily forgotten.

Fast forward to 2008 and Barack Obama's victory in the US Presidential elections is also being hailed as 'history in the making' and the start of a new dawn. At Hagley Road to Ladywood we actually think he's a more genuine article than Saint Tony. This time, however, we've decided to keep a close eye on his latest decisions and actions in office, week by week. Will Obama walk the walk, keep his promises and bring change? Hagley Road's new online section "The Obama Files" will help you to keep track of the new US President's first term in office.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The sacking of Jon Gaunt

Are we witnessing the return of sanity?

What a month. You thought the Brand and Ross saga would have been enough to pull the plug on that particular type (I was gonna say 'brand') of oversexed, lairy entertainment. Now, loudmouth Sun columnist and TalkSport presenter Jon Gaunt has been given the boot for calling a Tory councillor 'Nazi' and an 'ignorant pig' during a debate over banning smokers from fostering children. Is sanity slowly returning? Or is our democracy turning into a load of broadcasters frozen with fear?

Or perhaps the questions that should be posed are different ones. How is it that our TV and radio suddenly turned into a headline-grabbing contest for the presenter that insults the most and swears the loudest? When exactly did we decide that bullying should be worshipped and rewarded? Can you honestly say our broadcasting is better off now than, say, ten years ago?

To read more about Gaunt's sacking, here's what the BBC, the Daily Mail and the Guardian said. The Independent made that extra step and decided to feature an interview with the 'big animal' .

Friday, November 21, 2008

Blood of a social worker

The hysteria surrounding the Baby P case has reached new lows. As the Sun calls for direct action, the crowds are baying for blood.

In the midst of the mass hysteria surrounding the Baby P case, a balanced, informed and well-documented article feels like a rare moment of sanity. Because, in the meantime, it's all becoming surreal.

You may be excused for wondering whether this is Britain in the 21st Century or some medieval land where witches are routinely burnt at the stake by baying crowds. We go from the ludicrously hysterical yet harmless "re-post Derek the Mystical Gnome and raise Baby P from the dead" on Facebook (look here) to the truly vicious vigilante calls. As if plastering lamposts with posters calling for mob lynching is going to achieve anything.

Because aside from Dereck the Mystical Gnome, the now ubiquitous Facebook is hosting about nine groups whose names range from "Justice for Baby P" to ""Baby P killers should be hanged Drawn and Quartered" (see this), containing threats of violence and the addresses of the three involved in the child's death. They are literally salivating for "people to be killed".

Who knows, perhaps the inspiration was the Sun's Blood on their Hands headline, though it referred mainly to the social workers. And if you thought that was bad, have a look at the balanced service to the community coming from Carol Malone in the Sun's sister paper, the News of The World. "Baby P: they're all guilty", shouts the headline, with, on the side, the photographs of all the social workers and doctors involved, however peripherally, in the case. Here we're bordering on horror-film material and the demonising likes of The Wicker Man or Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Look at Malone's piece: "I don’t give a toss how low their wages are, how hard their job is or how understaffed they are. A vulnerable baby’s life was in danger and they left him to die out of stupidity, ignorance or because they just didn’t care enough. And if these social workers and their bosses can’t spot a child four days from death then they’re not just in the wrong job—they’re dangerous as well". The only consolation is in the fact that a picture of Carol Malone is on the same page. In this witch-hunt hullabaloo, she may run the risk of being mistaken for one of the "guilty ones" and slain by the mob too.

And she continues, working herself up against the "people who have sponged off the welfare state their whole lives", "political correctness" and "this underclass [that] will become even more savage, more feral—and more innocents will die". And then the creepy "Inquiries don’t save children’s lives. Direct action just might". Remember it's the News of the World, so I'll leave you to imagine the comments posted by the goaded pack. Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell comes close.

And so back to sanity. We mentioned at the beginning the importance of balanced, well-informed articles. Rob Williams in today's Independent may not satisfy the rabid packs, but it explains why it often happens that "children at risk are not put into care". You can do a Malone and write "I don't give a toss" as much as you like, but the under-funded reality of social care is absolutely crucial.

But the best analysis comes from Peter Corser on The Social Care Experts Blog: "The singling out of individual workers in the campaign/witch hunt by The Sun is certainly not going to make the children of England and Wales any safer. And presumably that is what The Sun wants". Corser is not calling for his category to be let off lightly. "We do after all get paid to do a job and we should do it well", he says. "In the case of gross negligence then people should lose their jobs. But that needs to be done in a considered manner. Not in the white heat of a witch hunt".

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stop talking about the BNP!

With the leaking of the party's membership list, the press has taken the bait like a fish would a juicy grasshopper

If it's true that a disgruntled former BNP member is behind the online publication of the party membership list, you've got to question the motives. Were the leaked details a traitor's attempt to embarrass the leadership? Were they, really? Because as far as betrayals go, this is no Julius Caesar material. The BNP spokesperson said that "someone out of malevolence or treachery has published it", but the press has taken the bait like a fish would a juicy grasshopper. The BNP, in fact, is receiving press coverage like never, literally NEVER, before.

Worringly, the amount of interviews their leaders are being given is now reaching the Cheryl Cole threshold. And the BNP are doing what they do best, posing in their usual concoction of victimhood and self-satisfaction. On the surface, they're moaning about privacy issues, human rights, threats and abusive phone calls. But they are pleased to announce that "the range of ages and occupations of [its] members disproved the caricature that the typical member was a 'skinhead oik'".

Paradoxically, the two papers that are covering the story like there was no tomorrow are the Daily Mail and the Guardian. While the former are repeating that the BNP are vile and all the rest, they're also echoing the opinion that "[a]lmost every shade of opinion, every walk of life, is said to be represented among the party's 12,000 members". As if the presence of one university lecturer, a vicar and a few former soldiers were shocking material. Two royal servants at Buckingham Palace? What were you expecting, Socialist Workers' material?

In the Guardian, you get Lola Adesioye writing this: "While I find BNP ideology abhorrent, the publishing of this list has brought home the fact that the people who belong to the party are ordinary British citizens [...] more understanding of the party and those who belong to it is, therefore, vital. This could be an opportunity for some open engagement and dialogue".

Really, Lola? You may start by watching this then. It's a BBC documentary called BNP exposed. As far as I'm concerned, the only type of coverage the BNP deserves.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Afghanistan: theatre of defeat?

Will we ever come to a point where the US government can sell its citizens the concept of 'public security' without having to fight a full-scale war in some corner of the world? By Johnny Taronja.

Iraq was always the 'bad war'. By 2007, only Blair, Bush, a crazed warmonger or an arms dealer were still of the opinion that the Iraq carnage was justified as part of a 'grand', 'just', design. And so now we read that they can't wait to get out, both the Americans and the remaining British troops. Which is good.

But a look at Simon Jenkins' article in today's Guardian warns about sleepwalking into another catastrophic mess, Afghanistan. The constant stream of bad news from Iraq distracted public opinion from the fact that a war has been fought in Afghanistan for the past seven years and that no end appears in sight. In fact it looks like more of a mess as each day goes by. "The conflict is far more intractable than Iraq", writes Jenkins, "since the staple crop is not oil but opium and since the border with Pakistan is hopelessly unstable. Throughout history this land has been the theatre of defeat".

During the presidential election campaign, Barack Obama was careful to boost his patriotic credentials by stating that, while still opposed to the Iraq war, he supports the idea of more troops in Afghanistan, lest we forget, a country much bigger than Iraq. That remains unknown quantity.

One question, however, remains open. Will we ever come to a point where the US government can sell its citizens the concept of 'public security' without having to fight a full-scale war in some corner of the world to show that they mean business?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Social engineering is back

The Conservatives are publishing their recommendations. Don't worry if your husband beats you. Iain Duncan Smith tells you why you should stick together.

What better way to publicise their proposals than in the wake of Baby P's death and the 'blood on their hands' groundwork done by the tabloids? Back-to-basics Tories and social engineering are back with a bang. Iain Duncan Smith, former Conservative leader and now David Cameron's advisor on 'social breakdown' has published his recommendations.

'Informal' relationships are to be discouraged. The idea is that unmarried couples are behind a good chunk of Britain's ills. If you're not married but you have a partner you may be more likely to slap a child or fraud the system in your quest for council flat Eldorado. There will also be "a series of measures to make marriage more attractive and divorce more difficult."

Have you just discovered your hubbie has smelly feet? Worse, are you enduring some old-skool beating from him? Calm down, you woman and take a breath. Iain Duncan Smith found out that you shouldn't give up. If you do, you contribute to the breakdown of society, that entity that never used to exist but then came back from the wilderness right in the middle of its breakdown. In any case, tax breaks for married couples should do the job. Sod that black eye, your National Insurance contributions will be a little lower.

Of course the Tories aren't doing that because they're bad or backward-looking. IDS explains his ideas are based on statistics. They're all saying cohabiting couples went from 10 per cent in 1988 to 25 per cent today. Shit. That's where all that knife crime and crack consumption comes from.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Melanie Phillips on Baby P

We were starting to worry. The Daily Mail's chief opinionatrix hadn't yet pontificated about Baby P and left-wing atrocities.

With the scores of columns penned on the subject of Baby P and his tragic story, I thought the ever-excitable Melanie was being conspicuous by her absence. No one's better than our Daily Mail opinionatrix-in-chief at blaming "multiculturalism", no matter what. Even when Steven Gerrard picks up a thigh injury you can be sure the fault lays with multiculturalism, left-wing councils and the progressive intelligentsia.

Rest assured, Melanie didn't desert us and here she is in all her glory. They're all mentioned. "Social workers indoctrinated in political correctness", "activist judges", "corrupted academics", "feminist zealots" and "spineless male child psychologists and psychiatrists and sociologists who all connived at the Big Lie". Then, the icing on the cake:

"But the people who really have blood on their hands (our emphasis - ed.) are the progressive intelligentsia who have simply written orderly, married, normative family life out of the script, enforced the doctrines of multi-culturalism and nonjudgmentalism with the zealotry of the fanatic, and caused Britain to descend into an age of barbarism". Phew.

Thank you Melanie. Now we know. Perhaps this is why Myra Hindley and Ian Brady killed. Because they weren't married. Oh but hang on. Then you look at Fred and Rosemary West. They were married. They were monocultural. Still they buried people in their back garden. Perhaps it's because Gloucester town council were Labour. Or were they? Maybe they were just anticipating political correctness gone mad? How does it work, Melanie? Enlighten us, will you?

Addicted to speed?

If I walked down the street shooting a random round of bullets, I'd probably have less chances of hitting someone than speeding red light runners do.

I don't live in Oldham but when I read the news that three died as a car crashed against a wall, after it ran a red light at high speed, it really spooked me out. The same day in fact, as I left my home in Wolverhampton, I spotted a Ford Transit speeding -no joke- at about 80mph (and that's a conservative estimate) right in the middle of an urban area. It then proceeded to run a red light without even remotely slowing down. It was 10 am, the roads weren't deserted and the fucker in question probably thought he was in Grand Theft Auto and that real people were virtual targets. Or maybe invisible. Or, more likely, he didn't think at all.

Bear in mind the current speed limit stands at 30mph (or 50km/h). Seeing that Transit driving like that, I can't deny I had a serious rush of anger. If I walked down the street machine gunning a random round of bullets, I'd probably stand a lower chance of hitting someone. Perhaps the coppers would be alerted (or, at least, I hope so) and within minutes I'd be handcuffed or even shot down. But no crossing car, let alone pedestrian, would have stood a chance against that red light runner. Yet almost everyday we spot such absolute morons toying with other people's lives.

We view it as normal. To paraphrase the organisation Road Peace, road deaths and injuries are treated by the economy as some sort of "acceptable collateral damage", by the judicial system as "trivial" and by society as mere "accidents". Yet, a study by the American IIHS, revealed that in 2006 alone, "almost 900 people were killed and an estimated 144,000 were injured in crashes that involved red light running". About half of the deaths in red light running crashes are pedestrians and occupants in other vehicles who are hit by the bastards.

And so it may sound harsh, but the three in Greater Manchester who crashed their lives into a wall got exactly what they deserved. This time, at least, it wasn't some innocent soul walking the dog unaware he was about to meet his fate.

If there's one type of stupidity I just cannot tolerate it's what those Grand Theft Auto wannabes call "my addiction to speed". Contempt for human life, more like. Society is rife with patented idiots who literally can't see past their own nose. Their brain is so empty that they don't even take into consideration the notion that their stupid speeding addiction is the equivalent of brandishing a killing machine. It takes one episode, one second, for an innocent victim to lose their lives or remain fucked up for ever. And what exactly is the need for that?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This week

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Polly Toynbee. Not for the first time, she seems to be the only observer writing about the worst victims of the economic crisis. Forget bankers, businesses and financial institutions, "the lid is being lifted on the 'flexible' work culture beneath the surface glitz of the boom years", she wrote in The Guardian on Saturday. Agency and temping workers are losing their jobs in the thousands and can forget about redundancy pay. It's "the 'flexible' army that fuelled the boom: cheap, no strings, with no compensation".

Sophie Heawood in the Independent. Though her article contains a number of debatable points, it at least acknoweldges the scary exponential growth of a "definite underclass" in Britain - without, at last, relating it to the lavish £60.50 a week dole handout. Rare stuff, when so many opinionated columnists are convinced that there's a queue of 'scum' so terribly attracted to the country's sumptuous benefits.

Barack Obama. You still think Democrats and Republicans are the same, don't you? This week a) Barack Obama stood up to George W Bush over the routine killing of trade union leaders in Colombia (don't forget the British government sells weapons to Colombia); b) he's talking a reluctant Bush into authorising a bailout for the US car industry as they face bankruptcy (which would then trigger a terrifying domino effect in the whole country). Not only that. Advised by Al Gore, Obama wants to link financial assistance to be used on "making more fuel-efficient cars" such as "plug-in hybrids".


The Daily Mail (part 1). Unemployment is rising fast like never before in this decade. Businesses are going bust. The pound is sinking. So what's their main story today? An old lady who, as a former activist of Labour Action for Peace, moved to Prague in 1985 to allegedly spy on behalf of the old Czech secret service. Their editorial, of course, jumps at the opportunity. Check (quite literally) this classic: "Much of the Labour Party was then, and remains now, hostile to the traditions and institutions of this country. Today such people no longer have the Soviet Union as a sort of alternative fatherland. But they have not necessarily become British patriots. Some are infatuated with the European Union. Others instinctively undermine and oppose anything connected with the Establishment. Some devote their energies to political correctness."

The Daily Mail (part 2). Tabloids this week enjoyed a bit of a feast battering council estate dwellers and welfare recipients. If you're in any doubt where the tide is going, then look at this stunning piece of investigative journalism ("Revealed: The X-rated family Cheryl Cole left behind") in which Richard Price gives the words 'sneering' and 'patronising' new depths. Meet Cheryl's sister who "lives in frayed jeans and tracksuits accessorised by gaudy jewellery which owes more to Argos than Tiffany". Then her brother too, "an alcoholic glue-sniffer who has clocked up more than 50 court appearances and spent a third of his life behind bars." Ewww, a trip to the zoo would have been more fun, wouldn't it Mr Price?

The Conservatives. According to the latest opinion polls, their lead went from 19 points in September to 5 per cent at present. So nice to see that smug toff George Osborne dropping a clanger after the other. Apparently, "angry Tory activists" are saying he "should go".

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Paul Dacre's moral rectitude

According to the Daily Mail's editor-in-chief, tabloids are synonym with 'civic virtue'. Did I blink while public morality benefited from the Sun making up lies about Elton John and rent boys or when the News of the World spread rumours about David Beckham and Rebecca Loos?

From time to time you need to be reminded of the noxious effect tabloids have on British culture. Their presence is so pervasive that it's easy to become desensitised.

Yet, when you read debates about what's happening to British society and "what went wrong", the impact of the 'popular press' over the years is often played down. Very few are ready to rank the red tops amongst the biggest culprits. They'd tell you the fault lays with welfare benefits, single mums, the immigrants and some may even remember what Margaret Thatcher did to entire regions. But you point the finger at the tabloids and you've had it. They'll come to your house and hound you until you retreat, like Ladywood MP Clare Short found out to her misery when she dared to criticise the Sun and Page 3.

A good assessment of the tabloids' overpowering role can be found in Francis Gilbert's book Yob Nation (reviewed here). As he placed "media yobbery" right at the top of Britain's sprawling yob culture, he cited the red tops' "seedy combination of self-righteousness and trivial scandals", along with their "hysterical, hectoring style" and pseudo-cheeky laddishness. In short, the "normal backdrop to our lives".

Which is why, when this week Paul Dacre, Daily Mail editor-in-chief (or rather "the nation's bully-in-chief", in the wise words of the Guardian's Polly Toynbee) grabbed headlines with his tirade about public rectitude, we were reminded of the subtly poisonous nature of tabloids.

In a speech, Dacre lashed out against those who don't understand the role of papers like his as guardians of morality and sentinels of decorum and family values. Referring to last summer's ruling in favour of Formula One boss Max Mosley and against the News of the World, he criticised the judge for making it "perfectly acceptable for the multi-millionaire head of a multi-billion pound sport [...] to pay five women £2,500 to take part in acts of unimaginable sexual depravity with him". Those judges who trample over freedom of press, he said, are "arrogant and amoral". More, he slammed the "wretched Human Rights Act", for jeopardising the red tops' ability to publish revelations that would "benefit" public morality.

Fancy that. Public morality would allegedly benefit from a paper that gratuitously spies on people, takes lurid photos and exposes them to the world for everyone's amusement. It would then run a follow-up story with a generous display of female parts from whichever lady was involved in the scandal and then round it all off with a columnist saying that it's disgusting and Britain's lost its marbles. Incidentally, did I blink while public morality benefited from the Sun making up lies about Elton John and rent boys (ending up in massive legal damages awarded to the singer) or when the News of the World spread rumours about David Beckham allegedly cheating on his wife?

Paul Dacre dubs it freedom of speech. He says it's the 'glue of democracy'.

How do you call that? Is 'hypocritical' too soft? Would 'bare-faced' do? The Italians have a more effective expression called 'faccia da culo', which you may want to look up if you have nothing to do.

There would be nothing wrong if the tabloids conceded it's merely a case of shock-more, sell-more, make-a-fast-buck. Instead they have to fill their gob with "moral rectitude" and "freedom of speech". In the words of Martin Kettle, "ultimately, [tabloids] do not defend themselves to the public on the basis of the right to be foolish, untrue or rude, or even to sell newspapers. They defend themselves, as Dacre did again this week, by asserting their civic virtue".

Only three weeks ago, the Daily Mail was displaying bipolar levels of hypocrisy as it managed to castigate Georgina Baille as "symptomatic of the degradation of standards in society", while publishing what was effectively a whole photo gallery of her raunchiest pictures in the hope that a certain breed of lads would buy copies and jerk off during lunch break.

To this, alas, we've become completely accustomed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Right-wing bile on the Baby P case

More nanny state, less nanny state. From castration to welfare layabouts, how the depressing tragedy that took place behind close doors is fuelling the tabloids' rage and anti-working class bias

In Haringey, North London, a 2-year-old child died after being tortured by his scummy parents. The resulting blaze of finger-pointing is reminiscent of an incoherent pub talk amongst pissed-up geezers. "This beer's fookin shite, ennit?", says one. And the other slurs "Yeah mate, 'know what you mean, it's ace, love it".

Look at this. David Cameron, the man who suckled his political milk from the tits of there-is-no-such-thing-as-society, now is making the government accountable for anything dysfunctional that may go on in our society, even if it's behind closed doors. The high ranks of the anti-"nanny state" brigade are asking angrily where nanny was. At a guess, the implication is, if the Tories were in power, no family violence, no barbaric cruelty, would take place.

But Richard Littlejohn, in his Daily Mail bilefeast, decides instead that nanny is too overbearing. There are too many social workers, "legions" in fact. Not to mention "welfare layabouts". And of course the next step is that, with all those benefits, some scumbag may feel encouraged to kill their 2-year-old kid. Logical, isn't it?

Suspended radio presenter Jon Gaunt, from the Sun, slams the "elected and unelected metropolitan elite [who] impose their warped views and social engineering on our country". Perhaps he was referring to his colleague Patrick O'Flynn from the Daily Express, who calls for the state to "take action now" and "curtail the rights of everyone to have children", while pointing the finger at the "skewed benefits system in this country [that] provides massive incentives for the most dysfunctional people to have loads of children they cannot care for". Likewise, Kelvin Mackenzie in the Sun is indignant at the authorities who allowed the child's mother, "this disgusting piece of humanity [...] to have the child in the first place".

Needless to say, nobody explains how such vetting would work exactly. Do these people think at all before spitting rage and writing such shite? Still, they all pontificate, they all know better, they all have a solution - they love playing their who-shouts-it-louder little game. Even if it's in total contradiction with one another, or even with themselves - within the same piece. As long as they rant against liberals, 'PC' councils and the "benefits system".

In the excellent words of Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, suddenly "we want nannies galore. We want nannies with whips, nannies with locks, keys and public inquiries". Like he puts it, "the response to the case of 17-month-old Baby P has been a classic of incoherent social comment".

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The new fantastic Q

The legendary music monthly joins the fight against dumbing down with an improved new format

We must admit Q was starting to get on our nerves. Like most publications in Britain, the most prestigious music magazine too was quickly turning into an overpriced cross between Heat and a shopping list. The articles were getting shorter, the photos bigger, and their "best of" lists too many to mention. Also, NME-style, the topics discussed in interviews amounted to: a) drug addiction b) getting pissed. Nowt else.

However, praise when it's due. Last month, Q re-invented itself with a new format which is not just new fonts and the makeover undergone by every magazine every so often. This time, they've made a conscious effort to reverse the general dumbing down trend and the galloping infantilisation of society.

Not only does it look great, but for the first time in god-knows-how-long, a magazine makes the assumption that people may have an attention span longer than that of a goldfish. They may not all suffer from ADHD. They may wish to read something longer than a tagline. They may like a page that stimulates thought and debate. And anyway, for trash and big photos of Paris Hilton your newsagents shelves will leave you spoilt for choice.

The new Q features more meaningful, longer articles and better interviews. The review section has been completely revamped and a hefty portion at the back has been allocated to cinema, including interviews with legends such as Oliver Stone or Martin Scorsese. "Meet the audience" has also returned. After years without it, the reader can also find out about what type of person went to see a certain band and what they made of it.

Most amazingly, Q has now the equivalent of 'columnists'. Under the heading 'Insight', scattered throughout the magazine are entire pages written by guest writers such as David Quantick, John Harris or Billy Bragg tackling thought-provoking subjects or debating issues such as 'the meaninglessness of awards', 'rock and the credit crunch' or 'guitars and the PSP generation'. In November there were even four pages about a politician. Sure, it was Barack Obama, but in no way that would have happened any time in recent years.

Normally Q would make an embarrassingly big deal out of their yearly award ceremony. Out of 12 issues each year, at least three (before, during and after) were a feast of self-celebration and back-patting. Not this time. Of course the December issue features a large report of what went on at this year's awards, but for the first time it's done with taste. You don't get the impression the world actually stopped while Chris Martin was handed over a statue with the letter 'Q' etched on it.

Music can stimulate brain cells. This is the concept the new Q is centred around. We couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Retch, student, retch

"Got so fucked last night, mate": the world of UK universities and the big business behind it.

Breaking news. The Daily Mail seems to have finally caught up with what goes on at those fine academies known as British universities. A piece called "Carnage UK: The company cynically turning student binge drinking into big business" reports on a typical student pub crawl organised by the 'UK's number one student event promoter' featuring drunken dares, vomiting undergraduates and a 'Dirty Porn Star' fancy dress party.

And the zombies just go along. Often students who are terrified of being left out as the year goes on are more than happy to show that they can keep up with the cool guys and gals, which is why a great chunk of the conversations revolves around "I got proper rat-arsed, mate, last night", tales of vomiting on one leg or other. This has been happening on such a mass-scale for at least fifteen years (hence our surprise at the Daily Mail's sudden discovery) that people with a keen eye for the easy buck have decided to make a business out of it.

This is what the promoter, who does that as a full-time job all year round (he also organised this), said in response: "We are not irresponsible or promoting binge drinking, our events are heavily focused on group identity and social and ethnic cohesion". Social and ethnic cohesion. Perhaps he means that all of the undergraduates vomit in unison. Or, better, that they're all equally wasting their hefty student loan on lining his 'entrepreneurial' pockets.