Monday, 30 June 2008

No choke

The smoking ban - or smoke free law - has joined the congestion charge as something that a lot of people said would never work, but has. The Independent says it has saved 40,000 lives.

It is interesting that both Cancer Research and ASH refer to it as a smoke free law instead of a ban. Liberating rather than oppressive.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Self-fulfilling and self-serving

When a newspaper headlines the detail of an opinion poll rather than the basic numbers, the chances are that it's looking for a story that better fits its view of the world. The Telegraph says that almost two thirds of people think Gordon Brown is an electoral liability. Given how badly Labour is doing, that's hardly surprising.

In fact, the Tory lead is down six points. Labour are still 18 points behind - but these are silly numbers that are unlikely to be reflected in an election in two years' time.

Secretary vs Nanny

Newsnight continues to make a compelling case against Caroline Spelman. The Times reports the story - that a secretary working for Spelman was shocked to find out how much she was paying her nanny for so little work. Sally Hammond - wife to a Tory MP - is said to be prepared to give evidence to the Standards Commissioner.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Terrorism 4 votes

The Guardian reports comments by Charlie Black, a senior adviser on John McCain's campaign, that a terrorist attack before the election would help McCain. It's pretty cynical and may backfire but, given the shameless way George Bush played the "war president" card in 2004, it's really a statement of the obvious.

When Black talked about a terrorist attack, he did not mean bombing Iran, something neo-con John Bolton says might happen after the election. Terrorism is what other people do.

Times up?

The Times has a speculative piece asking whether wealthy donors who have previously given or lent money to Labour might be the people to pull the plug on Gordon Brown. Newspapers, especially those in the hands of the powerful, always to suggest that there are powerful people who can make things happen. It suits their worldview, but also provides good stories when they can get "inside information" from those people.

In this case the journalist, Rachel Sylvester is aware of the paradox in her own piece:
It is hard to imagine Labour taking orders from its super-rich paymasters - in fact, if the donors did go public with their concerns, their intervention could strengthen Mr Brown's position with MPs and activists who were always suspicious of Mr Blair's alliance with wealth. However, if the party suspects that the donors are reflecting wider public opinion, they could just tip the balance against the Prime Minister.
Of course, the super-rich-paymasters don't need to go public - their "friends" can talk to the Times.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Less than meets the eye

I've got a piece on Comment is Free today asking whether recent revelations about nuclear trader A.Q. Khan are as scary as has been made out.

Boris takes it badly

James McGrath, the adviser that Boris Johnson has apparently sacked, doesn't seem to have done anything too wrong. According to the Times, it was put to him
that Mr Johnson’s win could result in the departure of many older Caribbean immigrants from the capital. According to Marc Wadsworth, the anti-racism campaigner writing on the internet news site, Mr McGrath replied: “Well, let them go if they don’t like it here.”
It's easily construed as telling black people to leave but it's very different to answer someone else's suggestion that people might want to leave than to suggest it yourself. Anyone should be free to leave the country if they don't like it.

The Times story has a bit of spin from Boris, attempting to gain the moral high ground:
The Times understands that he was also motivated in part by an intention to show distinct differences between his administration and that of his predecessor, Ken Livingstone.
This translates as: Boris invited us to compare his actions in this with Ken Livingstone, who wasn't so good. Meanwhile, on Comment is Free, Tristram Hunt says Boris is doing alright and Ken should get over it.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Wot, no nukes?

The New York Times reports that Israel has carried out an exercise that US officials say "appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran's nuclear facilities."

The BBC also reports the story. Neither mention that Israel has nuclear weapons already.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

(Still) No case to answer?

So Caroline Spelman is to be investigated for paying her nanny out of public funds. It seems that she hasn't been entirely straight with us and that this arrangement lasted longer than she earlier claimed.

What gets me on this one is Spelman's attempt to spin the "exceptional" investigation as having arisen from her own request:
Spelman said last night: "Having personally referred this matter to the commissioner in the first place, I welcome his decision to look at it further."
As the Guardian points out:
After the story broke on BBC2's Newsnight, Spelman, on the advice of Tory leader David Cameron, held a meeting with Lyon and asked him to investigate in a bid to clear her name

Monday, 16 June 2008

Signs of a split?

In the Guardian, Andrew Sparrow has Downing Street contradicting the Observer's story yesterday that Bush and Brown were at odds over Iraq troop withdrawals.

It's hard to know who to believe, although George has a point when he reminds us that Gordon promised last October that troops would be cut in the spring.

The Observer also interpreted George Bush's comments about Brown's plan for a series of meetings on the oil price as critical of Brown:

Bush called it an 'interesting idea', but warned against expectations of any major short-term improvement and made it clear he had no plans to go. 'I'm going to go home and take a look at what it all means and I'll decide who's going to attend on our behalf,' Bush said.

He had already been urging King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to increase production. But he said: 'There's no magic wand. It took us a while to get to where we are. It's going to take us a while to get out of it. And the truth of the matter is that there's either got to be more supply or less demand. And demand doesn't decline overnight' - particularly with 'big consumers of hydrocarbons' such as China 'subsidising their populations'.

There must have been a lot of spin on this as it doesn't look overly critical to me.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Old Tricks

Alistair Darling and Caroline Flint have been up to New Labour's old tricks, using spin to bury bad news, . Today, I reveal in Inside Housing that their announcement of “extra” money to show homeowners the government is on their side actually disguises a cut in funding for advice services.

Meanwhile, in the New Statesman, my colleague Martin Bright has an interview with the Chancellor:
Alistair Darling was once the safest pair of hands in the government. A year after becoming Chancellor, our political editor, Martin Bright, asks him where it all went wrong

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Getting personal

It looks like the David Davis story has opened up a bit of a split in the tory party. Guardian online reports an attempted smear:
A Conservative source said that Davis had had only three hours' sleep on Tuesday night and was going through some kind of personal crisis.

So this is permanance

The Independent continues to make the running with its story about how the US wants to maintain permanent bases in Iraq. Today it reports from Washington that George Bush is having to rethink his plans after the Iraqi government stood up to him.

Patrick Cockburn says "there is less to the American "concessions" than would first appear" and that Iraqi authority would be nominal.

Monday, 9 June 2008

No case to answer?

The Guardian reports that John Lyon, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, is "considering carefully" whether to carry out a full investigation into the Spelman affair. He says it would be exceptional to look at such an old issue. This may be a hint that he won't take it further or may reflect a belief that there is something worth looking at.

The report also quotes tories as claiming that the case is a "witchhunt" from a desperate, leftwing BBC.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Objectivity guaranteed

Iain Dale has a go this morning at the Observer's Jo Revill for writing anti-tory stories a few weeks before taking up a job working for Alan Johnson.

Dale makes a good point about declaring interests. But he has completely lost the plot on the Caroline Spelman story, leaping on a evidently cobbled together statement by her nanny saying that she DID do constituency work. A "decent and honest" tory is in trouble so let's defend her.

Isn't it a bit of a worry that, according to Spelman, Tina Haynes was paid to do secretarial work and did her nannying for free? How stupid do these tories think we are?

Faint praise indeed

According to the Indy,
Gordon Brown's plans to hold terror suspects for 42 days without charge received a late boost yesterday when some of Britain's top police and security officers said the controversial proposals were "workable".
But the securocrats apparently "stopped short of offering support", not wanting to be seen to be getting involved in politics, even if that is what they are doing.

The Indy again falls into the classic trap of reporting, without objective knowledge, that "Government whips are confident they will win on Wednesday".

Meanwhile Brown has denied that the 42 day plans are a breach of human rights:
"we have done everything in our power to protect the civil liberties of the individual ... because in Britain liberty is and remains at the centre of our constitutional settlement," he told his MPs.
That settles it then

A bit premature

The Independent is reporting - rather late - that CBS has been embarrassed by a hoax story that Angelina Jolie has already given birth to twins. Could you make it up? Apparently.

Tight Tesco

Both the Guardian and the Independent report that Tesco are asking new shareholder Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to pay nearly £90,000 to circulate papers on a resolution regarding chicken welfare.

It may be legitimate but it somehow gives the impression that Tesco doesn't want the issue discussed.

Ripping off the nanny state

Caroline Spelman is still insisting that paying her nanny out of her parliamentary allowance was legitimate, even though the nanny herself has told Newsnight's Michael Crick that there was virtually no secretarial work involved.

The tories have decided that sticking with Spelman on this is the best way to deal with it. I think it insults people's intelligence. Labour MP John Mann has demanded some proof.

Not quite the truth

It's always fun when someone publicly accuses someone else of lying, especially if that first someone is a minister. The Observer says that health secretary Alan Johnson has accused the British Medical Association of "lying" about the threat to GP surgeries from polyclinics.

The Observer has the comment piece from Johnson that is behind the story. Unfortunately, he doesn't use the word lying. Perhaps there was some deal that that would be how the piece would be spun

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Telegraph continues its preposterous campaign against the restructuring of road tax in the face of evidence that it might be working. As sales of 4x4s drop by nearly a fifth and sales of mid-size cars fall too, the Telegraph claims that it is hard up families that are being persecuted. The new tax bands haven't even been brought in yet but:
The biggest fall was for 4x4s, followed by sports cars which recorded a 14.5 per cent drop, and family cars. However, there was a sharp rise in the sales of so-called "Mini" cars such as smart cars which rose by 120 per cent.
Apparently, we should be worried if there are fewer new cars on the road:
While the new car market is being affected by the worsening economic conditions with families facing rising fuel, food and mortgage bills, motoring camapigners said the proposed tax changes had undoubtedly contributed to the fall in sales.
The paper claims that there is a growing revolt over the rises but can only stump up a tory spokesperson and the car lobby to attack it.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Nasa in hot water

The Guardian reports that:
Political appointees placed by the Bush administration into senior positions within Nasa's media headquarters acted to play down and distort accounts given to the public of the research findings of its scientists on global warming, an official investigation has concluded.
Spin doctors distorting the findings of the experts? It could never happen here...

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Catch 42

Both the BBC and the Telegraph have stories on the 42 day detention issue that report that ministers "sense" that they are heading for victory on next week's vote. It is a bit alarming that they use the same word but in any case, both are pure spin, asserting that someone holds a belief that they cannot objectively test. It may be true that the vote is moving the government's way but it is also obvious that ministers would say that, wouldn't they?

Meanwhile, the Times says that Gordon Brown is backing away from a threat to resign if he loses (I must have missed that) but at least puts the 42 day issue objectively:
Ms [Jacqui] Smith said after the meeting that she had detected clear movement among MPs towards accepting the proposals.

Monday, 2 June 2008

From Lance in France

On Comment is Free, former No 10 spin doctor Lance Price says that Steve Hilton will struggle to advise Cameron from California. Some posters think it's clutching at straws a bit and accuse Price, who "splits his time between the UK and France" of being out of touch himself.

Once a Tory...

The Times provides further evidence of how tories are seeking to be New Labour with a story about how they have allegedly tried to butter up Blairite Lord Levy, who keeps being rude about Gordon Brown.

Quite why the tories would think someone as discredited as Levy to be asset is beyond me.

Guru goes to California

In the Independent, Andy McSmith wonders how the David Cameron will get along without the (immediate) help of Steve Hilton, "the man who made the tories electable". Hilton is off to California, where his wife will work for Google. At the end of the piece, McSmith wonders:
How deeply David Cameron believes in all this new-look Conservatism is another question. Some suspect that he adopted the strategy as an imaginative way to dig the party out of the hole into which it sank 15 years ago. Perhaps now that the Conservatives have their biggest opinion poll lead for a generation, he has decided he does not need to try the patience of traditional Tories any more. If that is so, Steve Hilton might just as well be living in Silicon Valley.
Hilton is said to have studied New Labour very closely. I've just been reading Francis Wheen's "How mumbo jumbo conquered the world" (it didn't), which reminds us how left-wing Tony Blair was - or claimed to be - in the 1980's. Maybe Blair didn't believe all that third way nonsense after all - or maybe he did.