Sunday, 29 July 2007

Countless agenda

There are more agendas and more layers of spin than I can count in this Sunday Times story headlined Us fears that Brown wants Iraq pull-out.

Apart from the main theme, based on a US official's impression that Gordon Brown's chief foreign policy adviser was "doing the groundwork", there is further analysis around Brown's trip to the US.

We have already been told that the Bush administration dislikes Mark Malloch-Brown, the new Foreign Office minister and critic of the Iraq war. One former UN official accused him of turning a blind eye to corruption and mismanagement during his time there. UN insiders have accused the accuser of being a US government stooge.

Meanwhile "no walkabouts or matey photo-opportunities are expected when the president meets the new prime minister" we are told.
“President Bush and prime minister Brown don’t need a photo-opportunity of the two of them heading off into the sunset holding hands to prove that the US-UK relationship is as strong as ever,” a British official said.
Clearly Brown doesn't need a photo opportunity to make him look like Tony Blair.

All the old tricks

According to the BBC, opposition MPs have been complaining that the government sneaked a lot of embarrassing information out in written statements at the end of the parliamentary session.

Apparently Norman Lamb "had repeatedly asked for the Chequers guest list to be released only for it to be given to a Labour MP". Lamb said:
"The government introduced the Freedom of Information Act. It is remarkable to see how resistant it is to complying with it."

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Covered in glory on honours

The Times has the only new information on the cash for honours story. It claims that eight people who loaned Labour large amounts of money were initially put forward for peerages - to some extent reported before - and that a diary entry from one lender recorded an agreement to nominate him. Meanwhile, the Observer quite shamelessly gives the Blairites' side of the story.

The most interesting piece comes from Blairite apologist John Rentoul in the Independent. After a few digs at Blair's opponents, Rentoul concludes that Blair brought it on himself:
First he took secret loans to pay for his last hurrah on the hustings. Then he took the even more extraordinary risk of trying to nominate four of the lenders to the peerage while trying to keep their loans secret.
Is Rentoul repositioning himself?

Elsewhere, the Independent suggests that Blair may be about to put some or all of the donors forward for peerages in his resignation honours.

Is the less spin spin true?

An interesting comment from Martin Bright (my collaborator on Iraq dossier stories) in the New Statesman:
With briefings now at a minimum, political journalists have to spend their time speculating about what they genuinely don't know, rather than pretending to speculate about what they have already been told in advance.
Bright thinks this is a good thing and I agree. Are we any worse off for finding stuff out a bit later? Obviously the only things that journalists find out when they are fed stories are the things that the feeders want us to know, and on the feeders' own terms.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Some Justice

A young woman who killed another woman while texting at 65-70 mph has been jailed for four years the Telegraph reports. Initially she denied it but of course the police can check the phone records.

After the Cash for Honours cover up, it's tempting to say that if you do something bad and try to cover it up, the truth does sometimes catch up with you but four years (i.e two years) for killing someone (and then lying about it) is just a little bit soft as BRAKE have pointed out.

The Daily Mail also carries the story, including a quote from Brake. Just for once the driver is not the victim.

It goes pear shaped for Cameron

Andrew Grice in the Independent sums the Ealing Southall result in a sentence:
The Tories, having over-hyped expectations in Southall, began to lower them, and duly lost the battle for second place in both seats.
Iain Dale, who got very excited about the possibility of a Tory win at one point admits that the Tories failed to meet expectations, while accusing the Tory election manager of clutching at straws. At the time of writing, Dale has this ad on his blog. I'm guessing that Tony Lit won't be the Tory candidate at the general election.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Blind faith

The Times is desperate to reassure us that the collapse of Metronet does not undermine Public Private Partnerships. But reading through its leader, it's hard to see any argument beyond a few cliches asserting blind faith in the superiority of the private sector:
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the trials of Metronet indicate that the PPP way is fundamentally flawed. The merit of PPPs, notwithstanding the tongue-twisting name, revolves around the simple belief that the private sector is more capable of delivering public services than the State. All-important qualities of ingenuity and enterprise, it is assumed, thrive in the private sphere while they are too easily hobbled by unwieldy state-run institutions.
TfL has to demonstrate that it can find replacement contractors. It does not have much time to prove that it is equal to the task.
The bitter Metronet experience does not sound the death knell for PPPs. Instead it must be used to prove that the State can replace failing contractors in a timely, and relatively cost-effective, way.
The gist of the argument is that if the private sector isn't up to the job, it's the state's fault. Beyond satire.

Turning back time

Mark Seddon on Comment is Free has beaten me to this one. The BBC's little error with the Queen is nothing compared to its outrageous behaviour during the miners' strike (1984-5) when it reversed the sequence of its footage of the battle of Orgreave to suggest that the police charge was a response to a barrage from miners, rather than the cause of it.

Iraq war helped al-Qa'eda

The spin from the British government continues to be that the invasion of Iraq has not increased the likelihood of terrorist attack, in spite of a pre-war Joint Intelligence Committee assessment which predicted this and the obvious reality. Now the Telegraph reports that a declassified US intelligence assessment has said that
the Iraq war has helped al-Qa'eda "raise resources and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for homeland attacks".
The Tory government used to deny that there was any link between high unemployment and high crime rates. Tony Blair cleverly talked about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Perhaps now it's time to be tough on the causes of terrorism.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Speculation and Spin

I watched the Iraq Commission on Channel 4 last night. I'm not sure about the detail of their recommendations and less sure about the idea of getting a gaggle of the great and good to give us their, necessarily establishment, view of what to do.

But it did cause me to remember all the stories we've been fed in the press about plans to reduce UK troops in Iraq. If you looked closely at them they were mainly spin on top of speculation. I won't dig them all out here. Suffice to say that if they had all been true we would have several thousand Iraqi troops in the UK by now.

Monday, 9 July 2007

The pages of spin

I've nicked this headline, which is a Channel 4 news classic. It was probably the best bit about Gary Gibbon's jokey interview with Alastair Campbell. John Humphries wasn't much better on Today this morning.

I've added my bit in an "online exclusive" for the New Statesman.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Marr the true heir to Frost

I saw Andrew Marr interviewing Alastair Campbell this morning, to help promote Campbell's book. Marr was a true pro and the true heir to David Frost.

Anyone wanting a cosy, non-threatening interview will have no worries about going on Marr's show. They will get an easier time than on Richard and Judy without being quite so blatant.
Recess Monkey has a slightly bizarre story about a battle by MPs (or their henchtypes) over their Wikipedia entries. It is a bit sad to be devoting time to making sure that your profile is properly positive or that your potential opponent's is a bit negative. I like these bits of detective work but there are more important issues of who wrote what.

Campbell: the spin begins

Obviously Alastair Campbell is going to be all over the media in the next week with highly selective and self-serving extracts from his diaries. In the Observer, Ned Temko, who is never happier when being fed a story, tells us how the David Kelly affair was one of the low points of Campbell's life. The Sunday Times leads on a claim that Blair wanted to quit in 2002 but also lets us know how bad Campbell felt about Kelly.

Given that Campbell knew the government was in the wrong over the dossier all along, it isn't surprising that he felt a twinge of guilt. But what did he do? Went out and lied some more.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

How is Brown doing?

Most commentators seem to think Gordon Brown has made good start and done particularly well to look solid in the face of the recent terror attacks. On Sky on Sunday Shami Chakrabarti had a bit of a dig at Blair when commending Brown for a lack of lip trembling but rather surprisingly said we all like to have a "father figure" at such times. Interestingly, Matthew Parris in the Times is wondering outloud whether recent events qualify as terror attacks.

On the pure political front, Martin Bright suggested on the day of the handover that Brown was looking to do things the old fashioned way, announcing changes to policies and personnel formally, without resorting to leaks and spin. I'm not so sure. Andrew Grice in the Independent today covers some of the same ground, observing that:
The Cabinet is holding longer meetings; Mr Brown lets his ministers share the limelight and decisions are (mostly) being announced in Parliament rather than spun to the media as he tweaks Mr Blair's policies.
Interestingly, Grice's angle:
Brown's strategy is to expose Cameron's failings - without taking his gloves off
is very similar to what Martin Bright said.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Raised eyebrows in Washington

The Times has an astonishing story this morning, that some of Gordon Brown's appointments - of people critical of the war in Iraq - have caused concern in Washington. The idea that Brown needs the approval of the Bush administration for the make up of his own government is mind-blowing, but probably a hangover from the Blair era, where everything the government did had to have 100% approval of our closest ally.

On the other hand:
Figures close to the Bush Administration say that they have been encouraged by the general tenor of Mr Brown’s remarks towards the US and that they understand his need to “play the domestic political game” by demonstrating a degree of independence.
The pro-Washington spin from this Murdoch paper is unmistakable. It ends with the observation that for Brown to delay at all before becoming more fully engaged with the US:
carries the risk that Britain will lose influence to other European powers, such as France and Germany, who seem keen to heal their Iraq rift with the US.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

In good faith

The Telegraph reports that "Lord" Carlile, "who acts as a one-man watchdog reviewing anti-terrorist legislation", is calling for a wide-ranging review of the role of the intelligence services on the basis that:
The Iraq dossier left a legacy which we don't deserve. It was produced in good faith, but the fact that it happens to have been wrong has infected everything that is said about intelligence. It has created a trust gap.
It has become part of what you have to say these days, that the dossier was produced in good faith. The involvement of the government's spin doctors on the inside of the drafting process had nothing to do with it.

Nothing to do with Iraq

Hazel Blears was on Sky News this morning trotting out the old Blairite line that Al-qaeda was attacking as early as 1993. This spin forgets that it was the US, not the UK, that was the target back then. But then if you regard the two as being as inseparable as they were in the Blair years, maybe that's how you think.