Tuesday, March 23, 2010 

Insert rhyme or "joke" about labour here.

Westminster was rocked to its foundations yesterday after the revelation that a woman is expecting a baby in September.

One source, speaking to Obsolete through a speculum, raved: "This changes absolutely everything. Never before has a woman been pregnant during a general election campaign. The manifestos of all the main parties will have to be completely rewritten as a result. How can Gordon Brown possibly continue with his message of Labour investment against Tory cuts now?"

The nation's press were equally awestruck by the developments. Many were so stunned that they genuinely thought that rhyming Sam Cam with "mam" was amusing, while the Daily Mail settled upon "SAM'S HAVING A BABYCAM!", in an apparent reference to Babycham, which absolutely no one got. Pages were filled with the political implications of the leader of the opposition's wife having a child, the Guardian noting in a by no means pretentious aside that "the fact she will be pregnant will give her presence on the campaign trail greater piquancy". This unfortunately resulted in the news about small matters like parliamentary corruption being shifted to page 94, to give space to Zoe Williams to write about how this changes everything in an entertaining and certainly not interminable fashion.

There was also certainly no ulterior motives in the announcement being made yesterday. That on Sunday there was an embarrassing photoshoot featuring Glam Sam Cam (soon to be mam) in the tabloids, something knocked entirely off the news agenda with the news of the pregnancy, was just a coincidence, and an unintended side effect. No one would ever be so cynical with such happy news.

One thing was however cleared up yesterday. Everyone had previously assumed that David Cameron was referring to his wife when he discussed his "secret weapon". It's now apparent that he was in fact talking about his cock.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008 

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

The problem with the election of Obama for our own parliamentary equivalents is that it doesn't exactly show them in the most flattering light. Here's a master of oratory who's managed to inspire millions to go to the polls, and here's our bunch, left looking like a stood-up date on a particularly filthy evening. Whilst we've learned the lesson the hard way about charisma and the apparent "everyman" quality, you're still left absolutely bewildered, wondering where our own personal Obama might suddenly come from. With no suitable candidate in sight, we instead have to make do with both Gordon Brown and David Cameron fighting over which of them is most like Obama, reminiscent of two little boys at school squabbling over who the new girl likes the most.

Appropriately enough, the anti-Barack Obama decided upon today of all days to stick her head above the parapet and talk about something she clearly has absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever. I'm talking of course about the walking, talking, Labour-vote destroying robot which is Hazel Blears. Hazel Blears deciding to talk about political disengagement is a little like getting David Irving to talk about the problem of Holocaust denial; Blears, with perhaps only Tony McNulty for company, is the epitome of everything that an member of parliament should not be. She's loyal to the point of willing to sacrifice herself instead of the leader, or at least was to Tony Blair; she refuses to answer any question with anything resembling a straight answer; she has not a single apparent ideological bone in her body which might explain why she's joined the party she has; and when faced with overwhelming odds against her, she starts making things up. These might all be qualities which are essential to rise up the ranks of almost any political party today, but for those of us who actually want our representatives to have some specialist knowledge of any subject whatsoever, excepting motorbikes, or heaven forbid, even be more intelligent than we are, Blears and her friends, overwhelmingly Blairites, incidentally, are everything that is wrong with our politics as it stands.

All things considered, it therefore takes quite some chutzpah to imagine that you're suitably qualified to lecture anyone on political disengagement. Blears isn't interested in just why people are politically disengaged; she wishes to apportion blame. Predictably, it's not the fault of the politicians themselves for having indistinguishable policies, all the charm of a wet Sunday night in Salford or for prostituting their wares to the gutter press, but rather the media itself and additionally, bloggers.

Says Hazel:

Famously, Tony Blair called the media a "feral beast" in one of his last speeches as prime minister. But behind the eye-catching phrase was a serious and helpful analysis of a 24-hour broadcast media and shrinking, and increasingly competitive, newspaper market which demands more impact from its reporting – not the reporting of facts to enable citizens to make sense of the world, but the translation of every political discussion into a row, every difficulty a crisis, every rocky patch for the prime minister the "worst week ever".

Serious and helpful as in spelling out the bleeding obvious, as your humble narrator set out at the time. The liar in chief himself had to have balls to come out and attack the feral beast, having used said beast to get elected and then stay in power, but he of course didn't attack those most responsible for the cynicism with which politics in this country greeted, the Daily Mail and Sun, because if he had they would have chewed up said balls and spat them out in double-quick time. No, he instead attacked the Independent, which nobly stood up him to over the war and many other things, for daring to put its opinions on its front page, something the other tabloids had been doing for decades. Disingenuous could have been a adjective invented to describe Tony Blair, but he at least made the speech on his way out. Blears you would have thought still desperately believes she's on the way up.

In any event, Blears' claim that somehow it's just the media that exaggerates differences of opinion and bad days is simply nonsense. Blair himself was again partially responsible for this: he demanded and expected complete and utter unstinting loyalty. Read Alastair Campbell's diaries and see how he complained bitterly whenever the Labour party resisted his latest wheeze on principled grounds, with him condemning his colleagues for not "being serious". Blair went for such an uncompromising stance both because he wanted to be seen as the indomitable, strong leader, but also because the media had a hefty role in ensuring that Neil Kinnock never became prime minister. Campbell and Blair himself didn't want to see a Labour prime minister on the front page of the Sun again on election day inside a light-bulb, but the ends, suppressing all dissent and Faustian pacts with the likes of the Sun never justified the means. Politicians have themselves to blame as much as anyone else.

Blears continues:

And I would single out the rise of the commentariat as especially note-worthy. It is within living memory that journalists' names started to appear in newspapers; before then, no name was attached to articles. And in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as cabinet ministers. And if you can wield influence and even power, without ever standing for office or being held to account by an electorate, it further undermines our democracy.

As Unity has already argued, this is the equivalent to suggesting that only politicians are allowed to have complete freedom of speech. Blears is correct in suggesting that comment has swelled as investigations and genuine journalism has declined, and that the Guardian's maxim, that comment is free but facts are sacred has irrevocably broken down, but the idea that commentators are viewed as valid as elected politicians is abject nonsense.

As is her follow-up point:

The commentariat operates without scrutiny or redress. They cannot be held to account for their views, even when they perform the most athletic and acrobatic of flip-flops in the space of a few weeks. I can understand when commentators disagree with each other; it's when they disagree with themselves we should worry.

Even before the advent of the blog, commentators had to deal with letters in green ink as well as to the editor, and also the occupational hazard of appearing in Hackwatch in Private Eye, not to mention being parodied by Craig Brown, as many of those considered to be the most influential have been. Half of blogging is mocking what the mainstream thinks, or disagreeing with it, especially the likes of Polly Toynbee, so ruthlessly watched and baited by the right online. The only way in which Blears' statement makes sense is if you remove the word "commentariat" and replace it with "tabloid press", but she's hardly about to start attacking them.

There will always be a role for political commentary, providing perspective, illumination and explanation. But editors need to do more to disentangle it from news reporting, and to allow elected politicians the same kind of prominent space for comment as people who have never stood for office.

Ah yes, that's it; what's wrong with our politics is that politicians themselves don't have enough space to inculcate us with their philosophy and policies. Once they have we'll realise just how wrong we are about the lack of difference between them.

She then gets onto those of us pathetic and vain enough to run blogs:

This brings me to the role of political bloggers. Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a Samizdat style. The most popular blogs are rightwing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?

There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.

Unless and until political blogging adds value to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair.

If Blears thinks that Guido represents vicious nihilism, then she presumably hasn't read the finest of our swear bloggers, more's the pity. She does have something resembling a point regarding how the most popular blogs are right-wing; partly that is obviously because the government is nominally left-wing, but it's also because the left is far more disparate than the right tends to be in this country. As Unity has again already stated, politicians' blogs are almost notable only for their dreariness, with perhaps only Tom Watson and Tom Harris, excluding Bob, rising above it. Blears sees most bloggers as having a disdain for politicians and the political system, but while some are only concerned with the propagation of their own political world view, there are hundreds if not thousands of others who blog because they care about that self-same political system, and think that the current lot are debasing it through their very actions. Of course Blears would see this as a threat: she's wholly satisfied with how things are at the moment, where loyalty to the party counts above what is actually best for the country. She likes how this government has not been held to account for the Iraq war, for the complete abandonment of those that it was elected to defend, and for being in complete subservience to the City over everyone and everything else. Bloggers, for all their faults, and they are myriad, are the future. Barack Obama and the Democrats in America recognised this, and they treated them as more than equals. Instead of learning from their harnessing of the web, Blears only sees the dangers rather than the opportunities. She dares not imagine that she and her party are the problem, not the solution.

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Monday, August 25, 2008 

A portent of things to come.

At times, this moniker I've chosen doesn't seem quite right. For someone who apparently thinks of this isle as septic, I seem remarkably unconcerned about its current state. After all, I repeatedly argue that despite the claims of the Conservatives and the tabloids that our society, for all its faults and deficiencies, is not broken. I never fail to marvel that those predisposed to empty, shallow patriotism actually seem to hate this country far more than those constantly accused of betraying it and bringing it to where it is now. My own pointless, self-serving, delusional rage is directed at other targets, for better or worse.

The Olympics ought to have been everything I've been institutionally designed to loathe. Orwell effortlessly exposed the essential pointlessness of the ranking of one person better than another at some insufferable activity in his Sporting Spirit essay. What he would have made of the obscenity which is the Premier League - where one player who can kick a ball into a net slightly more accurately than another and is in return paid more than some people will ever earn in a lifetime for less than two hours' work - is difficult to imagine. 16 days of this garbage, at immense, unimaginable cost, courtesy of one of the most despicable regimes on the planet - and that's just the IOC, never mind China - should have been over two weeks to forget.

And yet, you couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the show which the Chinese put on at both the opening and closing ceremonies. Yes, this was undoubtedly something which only the most vile dictatorship could both organise and justify, where a slightly less attractive child was elbowed aside lest anyone be horrified by her slightly not straight teeth, where the "Great Leap Forward" was strangely absent from the presented version of Chinese history, and where the contemptible idea of "protest zones" actually resulted in two old women being sentenced to re-education through labour, but you could simply not object to the Chinese having the right to put on such a show. It would have been great to have seen some more protests, especially from athletes themselves, putting further to shame those who criticised those who attempted to stop the torch relay, but when they were such onerous potential punishments for those who did, you can't blame them either for not doing so.

For those of us who went against the grain and wanted the Olympics here as much as we'd like to spend the rest of our lives in the company of Tessa Jowell, it sets a challenge, as does the success of our athletes. Somehow, whether we like it or not, or want to or not, we have to at least put on something which if not equal to the last couple of weeks, at least doesn't embarrass us by comparison.

The problem therefore is that we have such complete incompetents, morons and nonentities in charge at the moment. Behold our 8 minutes yesterday at the closing ceremony. It was never going to be great, let's face it, but it would have been nice if it hadn't been the unmitigated disaster that it was. Uncomfortably, it also has to be admitted that this is not the result of the aforementioned individuals in charge. This was British "culture" writ large, or at least the popular side of it: a double-decker bus, which for some unfathomable reason unfolded itself; a winner of a fucking talent contest; an old man playing a song from the 70s, badly; the most overrated and unaccountably famous man to have ever walked on a pair of legs, kicking a football to no one or to nowhere in particular; a dance troupe performing the worst routine the world has seen since the Black and White Minstrel Show was cancelled; oh, and who could possibly forget the smug, rotund twat that couldn't even wave a flag properly?

This, world, is our island nation. In fairness, Marina Hyde says that she watched the last few handovers and that they were no better than our meagre effort. The funniest thing though is that Boris Johnson and Downing Street were so flabbergasted by the "mistake" of the video which accompanied our 8 minutes of madness featuring Marcus Harvey's child hand-print painting of Myra Hindley. Out of the entirety of our show, that could quite easily be classified as the finest moment, a genuine work of art, going against public opinion which annoyed all the right people.

That ought to be what we base our own games' ceremonies around. Not puerile, semi-ironic stereotypical nonsense which just shows the West as a whole to be completely out of ideas and beholden only to the cult of worthless celebrity, but genuinely innovatory and potentially avant-garde politicking which ignores the advice of those who have already brought us so low. This is where those in charge will fail us; would any other country on the planet put in charge of the games a woman who can't remember little things like whether her husband was taking out a new mortgage, or a man who could rival Tory Boy himself for wit and intellect? A taster for what's to come, apart from in China itself, was presented outside Buckingham Palace. This was the "Visa 2012 handover party", just to prove that the curse of sponsorship will not just be confined to the games themselves. And what a line-up they put on! Not content with just one unspeakably awful band being involved, they chose three just to be sure: The Feeling, Scouting for Girls and McFly. You know that something has gone terribly, horrifically, child-murderingly wrong when the best artist on the bill is Katherine Jenkins; and one opera performer wasn't enough either, as she just had to be joined by Il Divo. And all around, that 2012 logo, so brilliantly conceived at immense cost by Wolff Olins, set to haunt our nightmares for the next four years and beyond.

If you think that things are bad now, it's worth remembering that within 2 years it'll be the new Blairite Conservative party that'll be in charge. David Cameron, in his past life spent his time defending the shit on a stick served up by Carlton, so at least he'll be handy when it comes to the abortion to follow. As for his taste in music, he informed Dylan Jones that he had purchased albums by both Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse and couldn't choose between them. Alongside him will be the snot-nosed cocaine-hoovering Gideon Osborne, with a face so punchable that by then the entire country would choose to have him become Team GB's newest and least trained boxing sensation. You can imagine it already, can't you? The countries parading to the strains of "She's so Lovely", followed by the main event, where the corpse of Winehouse is re-animated for her last ever gig. Septic isle indeed.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008 

We are ruled over by vermin.

I don't think the title is too hyperbolic in line with this latest despatch from our glorious home secretary:

More than 1,400 rejected Iraqi asylum seekers are to be told they must go home or face destitution in Britain as the government considers Iraq safe enough to return them, according to leaked Home Office correspondence seen by the Guardian.

The Iraqis involved are to be told that unless they sign up for a voluntary return programme to Iraq within three weeks, they face being made homeless and losing state support. They will also be asked to sign a waiver agreeing the government will take no responsibility for what happens to them or their families once they return to Iraqi territory.

Let me just try and get this straight. We have had a major part in creating the current "situation" in Iraq, a situation which has left at least 150,000 dead, resulted in 4,000,000 refugees, and is still killing untold numbers every week in bombings, assassination attempts and sectarian warfare, a security situation which means that our troops continue to remain in Iraq just in case they're needed and also to protect American convoys travelling to Baghdad, with the Foreign Office advising against all travel to Iraq except the Kurdish autonomous area, an area recently invaded by Turkish troops fighting the PKK guerillas, with Mosul increasingly being a major area of conflict between the salafist jihadists and the American forces/Iraqi National Guard, and the very ministers that voted for this war are now going to send up to 1,600 individuals back to a country in a state of war, a war which we started, a war which our own head of the armed forces said we were only exacerbating by our continued presence?

Jesus wept.

We still haven't even provided the support and refuge we promised to the Iraqi employees and translators that served our troops and are now increasingly threatened by militias which are delighting in trying to find them and kill them for their "treachery". What hope do those left behind, apparently forgotten but given fine words by those in Westminster now have that we're apparently to send these "failed" asylum seekers back to their very possible deaths unless they take the option of destitution instead? None of this though seems to matter to the heartless individuals that took this decision, concerned only with providing ministers with figures showing that asylum claims are going down and that deportations are going up, all in order to appease the screaming tabloids when can never be bought off.

Politicians worry about the apathy and cynicism of the electorate. When those self-same politicians take such apathetic, cynical decisions that put lives on the line, can they really have any objection when they're dismissed as all the same and all only in it for themselves?

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Friday, November 16, 2007 

Scum-watch: The day in a life of the tabloid.

Occasionally, you can get a complete picture of the world view of a newspaper simply by reading just one issue of it. While with most, especially the broadsheets, you might broadly know what it's in favour of, to really understand its exact philosophy you'd have to study it over a number of days, if not longer. Today's Sun, in one sense, is a masterpiece of gutter journalism: it gets its message across, leaves no nuance, uses the most alarmist, provocative and brutal language, and when it needs to, or doesn't need to, it lies and systematically distorts.

The report on Lord Chief Justice Phillips' speech to the Howard League for Penal Reform is partially the result of the tabloid conundrum: how do you convert a speech running to 26 pages in a PDF into a minor article of just over 200 words? The answer is that you only focus on a tiny piece of the actual speech, that of Phillips quite reasonably saying that the prisons are full to bursting and that Labour is chiefly responsible for that fact. On that, the Sun would broadly agree; what it doesn't agree with is that Phillips dares to believe that there is a better option rather than that of building ever more prisons, something he goes into at length in the actual speech. All this adds up to in the Sun's reportage is that he compares the price of 30 years' imprisonment to how it could be spent on education or health, one of his weakest arguments, considering that only murderers or terrorists are ever sentenced to 30 years, while ignoring his more coherent and forceful points about prisons in general. Then examine the language: rather than those in prison being offenders or criminals, they are variously either "villains", a Victorian way of describing them if ever there was one, or "crooks".

To further make clear the Sun's own viewpoint, the same journalist who wrote the report also submits a short "comment" piece, on the same page. In his words, "a record 80,000 villains are off our streets and behind bars," and when making the distinction between prison and other punishments, he describes the alternative to prison as "fines and soft community sentences." The latter part of Phillips' speech is dedicated to community punishments, which the Sun deems soft, and how they can be strengthened, yet none of this is deemed important enough to be distilled to the reader, presumably because it just might undermine the journalist's quavering indignation about it all: "Once again, the Lord Chief Justice has shown how out of touch he is. Ordinary people WANT crooks to be banged up." Phillips is so out of touch that he himself went on a day's community punishment "undercover" to see what it was like, and he describes his experience during the speech, something that a Sun hack is never likely to do, except to expose how "useless" they are. The statement that ordinary people WANT crooks to be banged up is the Sun pretending to be speaking up for the commoner, when there is no evidence to show that the general public do want "crooks" to banged up. Indeed, a recent Grauniad poll found the country split down the middle on whether the solution was more prisons. The Sun does have previous on distorting Phillips' public utterances; this time, rather than coming out with it in the actual report, it does it by its side instead.

Next up, the Sun reports on our friend Robert Stewart who was caught having sex with his bicycle. Another lesson in tabloid language: like with the various adjectives for criminals, he's a perv, a weirdo and an oddball. He might quite possibly be all three, but whether he ought to be humiliated any more for what he did is another matter.

Following on from prison and sex, the Sun settles on another best-seller and a moral panic to boot: the kids are most certainly not all right. Taking the government's survey of 115,000 10-15 year olds (PDF), it selects only the most troubling data from it and leaves all the rest on the editing floor:

"BINGE drinking, drug use and smoking is RIFE among Britain’s schoolchildren, an alarming new survey reveals.

At least one in seven kids aged 12 to 15 has dabbled with illegal substances, it found."

It starts by removing the 10 to 11 year olds from the equation so that the figures are even more potentially scare-worthy. The survey asks how many have taken an illegal substance in the past four weeks for example, with 80% saying they've never taken drugs, 7% saying they haven't in the last month, 9% that they've smoked cannabis, 3% solvents, 3% other drugs and 6% prefer not to say. Doesn't look so frightening then, does it? That's the thing with statistics, they can be incredibly easily manipulated, something that the Scum has accused the government of doing, but which it seems also more than prepared to do itself. It does this partially by converting the percentages into one in however many, which the average layman is less likely to easily understand, so that those who have taken a Class A drug becomes 1 in 30, which is almost meaningless unless you put it the context of it being the equivalent of around one child in the average class taking such a substance. It also doesn't make clear that the figures refer to in the last month, so it becomes "takes", giving the impression that they're regular users when that might not be the case at all.

Half of kids aged between ten and 15 admit to underage boozing and a fifth regularly get drunk. And more than one in five has smoked a cigarette.

Again, the question here was have you ever had an alcoholic drink, not just a sip. Unsurprisingly, 48% said yes. Most 10 to 15 year olds would have at some point in their life had a drink, and some parents might even encourage the continental approach of a glass of wine or similar with a meal, but the Sun converts innocent or supervised drinking into "underage boozing". More potentially worrying is that 40% of those over 13 admit to being drunk once in the last month, but the Sun strangely doesn't use that stat. 73% say they have never smoked a cigarette, which again, doesn't get an airing.

Tories last night claimed the figures were more proof of Britain’s “broken society” under Labour. Shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton said: “Gordon Brown is in denial about this problem, and his Government is unable to offer any solutions to it.

Finally then, we get the standard quote from the opposition political party capitalising on the more troubling parts of the survey. If anything, it actually provides plenty of evidence against the Tories' bullshit about the "broken society"; the biggest worry is exams, with 51% concerned by them, rather than bullying, which worries 25%. It certainly doesn't suggest that there has been a moral breakdown, or that today's children are any worst behaved than earlier generations. The best summings up are provided by the chief inspector of schools, and amazingly, Ed Balls:

"The survey presents much that is positive about life for children and young people today. However, it is also clear that more needs to be done to address children and young people’s worries and concerns about how safe they feel; about exams and tests; and about what would help them learn better and where they need to go for help when they have a problem."

"This survey shows that the majority of children and young people in England today feel happy, safe, enjoy life and are doing well at school. But the survey also shows challenges and pressures that we need to address with decisive action."

Right, so we've had crime and prisons; sexual perversion; kids on drugs and booze; what's left? Of course, immigration!

THE NUMBER of migrants coming to Britain has hit a record high – as officials admit underestimating figures AGAIN.

Some 591,000 arrived last year – up from 327,000 a decade ago.

Of the 400,000 leaving to go abroad, just over half were UK citizens – the first time that figure has gone above 200,000.

The figures were published as officials said the number of arrivals in 2004 and 2005 was 41,000 HIGHER than predicted.

Earlier this month ministers admitted 1.5million migrants had come to Britain since 1997 – TWICE their original estimate.

Here the Sun is hedging its bets ever so slightly. The number of migrants arriving here last year was a record - but only by 5,000 on 2004's figure. When you take into account that the net migration figure that year was 244,000, as compared to last year's 191,000, due to the rise in emigration, 2004, the year the A8 new European states joined, was in actual fact when the highest net number of migrants arrived. The Sun doesn't comment on the emigration figure, which includes just less than half of those who had already come here to work going back home, probably because that undermines the idea that all those who have migrated here have stayed. Figures for those who come here for less than a year then return home aren't kept; they're counted in, but not counted out, which also distorts the figures somewhat. Instead of pointing out how the figures of those migrating here have now dropped for two years, and that the emigrant figures suggest that we're now becoming a revolving door rather than a permanent stop for migrants, the Sun brings back up the mess up from earlier in the month, but gets it wrong. 1.5 million migrants have taken up new jobs since 1997, not have simply come here.

After all of that, we have the very voice of the Sun itself, just in case you can't detect it in any of the above. As the Sun often does, it returns to one of its very favourite themes - and lies about it. (Again, the article seems to have disappeared into the ether with it changing to tomorrow's leader rather than leaving a permanent entry, so you'll have to trust me on what it said.)

RABBLE-rousing Abu Hamza has used our liberal system of justice to get away with murder — almost literally.

Which is completely untrue to begin with. He hasn't got away with anything - as his current stay in a prison cell demonstrates. If the Sun's really so outraged by how long Hamza escaped justice for, it perhaps ought to take it up with the security services, who were more than aware of what Hamza was up to and might well have even had an agreement with him regarding how as long as he didn't advocate violence against the UK itself they left him alone.

Three of the four 7/7 Tube bombers were radicalised while attending the Finsbury Park mosque where he spouted his evil creed.

This is the real lie. There is no evidence whatsoever that the bombers were radicalised while visiting the Finsbury Park mosque; indeed, if they ever did attend it. The only source that has ever alleged that three of the bombers listened to Hamza was the Times, in just one story the day after Hamza was sentenced. No other newspapers have seen fit to investigate and follow up this potentially explosive revelation, which is usually the sure sign of it being untrue.

Convicted 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid were fans.

Established facts? In the Sun? Amazing!

It was only after a campaign led by The Sun that he was locked away for inciting murder.

Ah yes, it was the Sun wot did it!

Some might balk at this post and wonder what the point of it is meant to be. After all, tabloids are meant to be provocative, entertaining, and strong, unrelenting voices: not all of us are going to want the staid tones of the Times or the Grauniad, or the pompous handed down opinions of the "commentariat"; that's why so many enjoy swearblogging and fisking, preferably with gratuitous insults. That's all more than fair, and I'm certainly not suggesting that they should be stopped from doing any of the above. It's also probably true that the tabloid press are not any worse than they've ever been; certainly, they have to now crouch pieces that would previously have been openly racist and bigoted in less certain terms, or cushion the blow through mealy-mouthed language which actually adds up to the same thing. It has to be remembered however that the Sun is still the highest selling newspaper in the country, shifting over 3 million copies. For some people, this newspaper is the main source of news, or the only source of news for those who aren't that interested. Through such openly biased, unfair and in some cases plain wrong reporting, a completely false image of this country comes across. As the quote at the top of this blog suggests, the very nature of the press affects the nature of politics, and who can argue that the Sun, or its owner, doesn't wield power that most politicians themselves would kill for? The examples in this post are just a small snapshot of how it sets about setting its own agenda on just one day. Isn't it time, rather than just blaming the politicians for the cynicism with which the public views politics, that we examine the fourth estate's role in furthering the disconnect that seems to be becoming ever more pronounced?

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007 

Scum-watch: Encouraging cynicism and other tales.

Whenever public cynicism in politics is discussed, it's always the politicians themselves that get the majority of the blame. Some of it is quite rightly deserved, whether because of the lack of difference between the main parties, the spin and lies of the Blair era, or inability to almost ever answer a straight question with a straight response.

The media also though has to cop some of the blame. A perfect example of how newspapers wrongly claim that ministers have deliberately misled or lied to the public is today's Sun leader:

LABOUR’S shabby deceit over immigration exploded spectacularly last night as red-faced ministers queued to apologise for “misleading” the nation.

First they claimed 800,000 migrants had come to work in Britain since 1997. Then they admitted the statistics were out by 300,000 — and the real figure was 1.1million.

Now we learn there are at least 1.5million — almost DOUBLE the original estimate of only a few days earlier.

Rather than the wrong figures given by the government being down to simple mistakes, the Sun is claiming that this was a "shabby deceit", with the government's apology for misleading being sneered at. It's worth noting that not even the Conservatives, hardly slow to capitalise on such woeful inaccuracies, have attempted to suggest that the government deliberately fiddled the figures. In addition to this, the 1.5 million figure now being liberally bandied (originally put into the mix by the Tories) about is similarly misleading, as it includes the children of those who previously emigrated, as well as those who have gone on to take British citizenship.

But why should we be surprised? Labour tried to tell us only 13,000 migrants would come to Britain from eight new EU states.

The true figure was nearer 500,000.

The government's prediction was based on the other European nations not imposing limits like we have now on the Romanians and Bulgarians, when they in fact did. As a result, only Britain, Ireland and Sweden fully opened their borders, resulting in the vast numbers we've seen.

Fiddling figures is a Labour trademark. They fiddle public spending estimates, exam results, NHS targets, prison numbers, you name it.

Just how do you "fiddle" exam results or prison numbers? It isn't possible. The Sun is simply talking rubbish.

The government’s embarrassment is all the greater because this shambles was unveiled not by the Tories but by Frank Field, one of Labour’s most respected MPs.

Frank Field is about as respected as the Tory turncoats are. The poor mite has never got over being dumped out on his backside after his welfare reforms were rejected by Brown back during Labour's first term, and he's beared a grudge ever since, something he freely admits. He's since dedicated his time to proving he was right all along, whilst failing miserably.

Gordon Brown must be thanking his lucky stars he scrapped the election which he had planned for tomorrow.

But with our population forecast to grow by 5million in nine years, immigration will still be the issue haunting Labour whenever polling day finally rolls round.

Possibly, especially when the biggest selling newspaper in the country tells its readers that the politicians are lying to them when they most certainly weren't.

Elsewhere today in the Scum, the Sun's readers are being told how marvellous they are as usual:

BRITAIN’S top security boss last night praised readers of The Sun for helping fight the war on terror.

Admiral Lord Alan West, former head of the Navy, revealed there had been a superb response to an appeal to be his “eyes and ears”.

He had called on our millions of readers to assist the security services by reporting suspicious movements and people.

And your tip-offs may have provided vital information in the constant battle to smash al-Qaeda plots and avert atrocities similar to the 7/7 bombings in London.

Of course. Perhaps their tip-offs might have helped towards only 1 in 400 searches under the Terrorism Act resulting in an arrest. In all there were 44,543 stops under the notorious section 44, a 34% rise over the previous year.

The interview is mostly the usual amount of garbage about the terrorist threat, with West now claiming it will take 30 years to combat the "terrorists intent on mass slaughter." He also says:

“We need to go to the root of it. Having English-speaking Imams in this country is extremely important.

“We are getting more and more Muslim youngsters who all speak English. Yet in some mosques, services given by radical Islamists are not in English.

As yesterday's rather good Policy Exchange report (PDF) (for a right-wing thinktank) made clear, the notion that extremism is all the fault of Imams, especially those who give their sermons in languages other than English is deeply misguided. The only reason the government is so concerned about those who don't speak English is that it means they can't easily monitor exactly what is being said. Abu Hamza gave his sermons in English. Sheikh Faisal gave them in English. Those caught in Channel 4's Undercover Mosque programme spoke English. Invariably, those involved in extremism tend to be able to speak good English, are decently educated and from a middle-class or stable background, while they come under the influence of extremism through their own research or discovery, not through listening to the speaker at the local mosque.

This however is the most hilarious statement in the whole piece:

We have wonderful civil liberties, something The Sun drives home all the time.

How true. This would be the same Sun that called those who opposed 90 days without charge "traitors", the same Sun which routinely ridicules the "civil liberties brigade", the one that supports ID cards,
every police request for more powers and supports the notion of zero tolerance. Those wonderful civil liberties are no thanks to anything the Sun has ever done.

Moving on, here's a story to keep an eye on:

A SCHOOL was yesterday accused of MAKING teachers dress up as Asians for a day – to celebrate a Muslim festival.

Kids at the 257-pupil primary have also been told to don ethnic garb even though most are Christians.

The morning assembly will be open to all parents – but dads are BARRED from a women-only party in the afternoon because Muslim husbands object to wives mixing with other men.

Just two members of staff – a part-time teacher and a teaching assistant – are Muslim.


Sally Bloomer, head of Rufford primary school in Lye, West Midlands, insisted: “I have not heard of any complaints.

“It’s all part of a diversity project to promote multi-culturalism.”

The only other place this story seems to have spread to is the Mail, which illustrates the point with a photograph of a woman in a niqab, so the accuracy or otherwise of the report is currently up in the air. Might know more once it does become more widely reported.

Finally, the Sun treats its readers to another thinly veiled attack on Facebook:

A RANDY geek on the helpline at Tesco’s cheap internet access arm sent a saucy photo to a shocked mum – after using her personal details to track her down on Facebook. Furious Tania Roberts, 24, received the snap of technician Jamie Piper wearing only a green towel just moments after he dealt with her query. Fuming mum-of-two Tania – who complained to his bosses – last night claimed she was living in fear in case he was a stalker. She said: “I’m terrified of this nutcase coming round to my house.

All, naturally, without any mention that the Sun's owner also owns Facebook's rival, MySpace. As one of the wags in the comments says:

Oh dear. This sort of thing would never happen on MySpace!

P.S. Heather Mills this morning attacked the media over the withering coverage she's received. Whether she mentioned that the Sun calls her "Mucca" after it "exposed" the fact she had taken part in a sex manual I don't know, but she might have mentioned the same newspaper is currently running a sordid competition encouraging the women of Britain to get their tits out for a woefully small prize. The Sun's response to her claims:

When someone rightly accuses you of disgusting journalism, make sure you select a grab with the person responsible with her mouth wide open.

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Monday, August 27, 2007 

Utterly shameless.

How then did the Daily Express respond to Gerry McCann's request for the media to stop bombarding the general public with images of his daughter and to scale down the coverage of the search for her? By reproducing yet more unsubstantiated reports from the Portuguese press on the front page, while somehow pretending to be outraged by their very existence, naturally.

Just how much longer is this going to go on for? In a decade's time, is the Express still going to be screaming about supposed new revelations about her disappearance? Is it going to be informing us for the umpteenth time that she really was pregnant when she went missing, honest? Or that the Duke of Edinburgh, allied with MI6, conspired to kidnap her from her bed because she was about to bring down the monarchy through a roll of film stuffed inside her cuddle cat that proved Diana was murdered? I spend most of the time here wittering endlessly and complaining about the stranglehold that the Murdoch press has over both the public and political mood in this country, but not even the Scum is so disgustingly blatant in its futile attempts to boost its circulation through lies, conjecture and downright abuse of those unlucky enough to either have died or gone missing in suspicious circumstances. It's worth remembering that Dirty Desmond was helped along in his purchase of the Express/Star titles through donating £100,000 to the Labour party, meaning we have this government to partially thank for the excuse for journalism which adorns the newsagent shelves every morning.

Speaking of disgustingly futile attempts to boost circulation, something suddenly hit me earlier, and for a change it wasn't someone who had randomly abused me for having the temerity to walk down the same side of the street as them.

POSTERS about The Sun’s £100,000 reward for information that helps catch Rhys’s killer have gone up around Liverpool.

Really? In the same city where the Sun has never been forgiven, nor will it ever be forgiven for its appalling coverage of the Hillsborough disaster? Where the unofficial boycott of the paper has never been lifted? Am I being far too cynical when I think that the Sun's offering of such a reward might be more than just a selfless gesture in response to a shocking crime? If Wikipedia is to be believed, then circulation of the Scum in Liverpool was at around 12,000 in 2004, a fall from 200,000 prior to Hillsborough. The newspaper it seems has plenty to gain and little to lose from offering such a reward. After all, who would ever accuse it of having anything other than the very best motives at heart?

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