Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Miliband grows up

David Miliband has a piece in the Guardian today, in which he argues, according to Patrick Wintour, that Labour needs a "more mature relationship with the electorate". These words don't actually appear in Miliband's piece but they do encapsulate what he says here:
When people hear exaggerated claims, either about failure or success, they switch off. That is why politicians across all parties fail to connect. To get our message across, we must be more humble about our shortcomings but more compelling about our achievements.
There's no doubt that Wintour would like Miliband to take over:
Miliband cannot afford to be seen to be involved in any manoeuvring against Brown, but his willingness to write confidently about Labour's mistakes, and how he believes David Cameron, the Conservative leader, can be defeated, will be seen as a reminder to a demoralised party that there are figures in the cabinet capable of making a compelling analysis of Labour's political challenges.
The Times says Miliband is positioning himself for the leadership:
The Foreign Secretary fires the first salvo in a deliberate challenge to Mr Brown in a newspaper article that outlines a blueprint for defeating David Cameron without mentioning the Prime Minister once by name.
The Times somehow can't bring itself to mention the Guardian by name.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Fake news

There's a fascinating story in the Telegraph, with Lieutenant Colonel Cynthia Ryan of the US Civil Air Patrol suggesting that American adventurer Steve Fossett may have faked his own death:

An investigator for Lloyds of London says:
"I discovered that there is absolutely no proof that Steve Fossett is actually dead. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I'm a man who deals in facts."
I don't think suggesting that someone fakes his own death makes you a conspiracy theorist, given recent events.

Hard Times

The Times has a typically biased non-story on Labour and the unions:
Gordon Brown has caved in to unions, allowing a series of concessions - including an extension of the minimum wage - in a move that sent shudders through the business community.
Changes to the minimum wage in particular could cost businesses an extra £88 million a year.
Quite a pathetic scare story, from a business community that said the minimum wage would cost jobs. Here's what the bolshevism amounts to:
Under pressure from the unions Labour has agreed to extend the adult minimum wage to 21-year-olds. At the moment the full minimum wage of £5.52 applies only to workers aged 22 and over. Those aged between 18 and 21 get £4.60 and 16 to 18-year-olds get £3.40.
Paying 21 year olds £5.52 instead of £4.60 an hour is hardly going to bring the economy to its knees. Some people might think paying 21 year olds £4.60 an hour is outrageous. But then some people think children should still be sent up chimneys.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Good story

The Telegraph claims that MI6 and US intelligence were involved in the capture of Radovan Karadzic. It's a good story, that might even be true - or not.

Sunday, 20 July 2008


Speaking of non-stories, the Sunday Telegraph says that 5.6 million motorists
will have to pay £15 more vehicle excise duty from April,

More on that non-story

In the Observer, Nicholas Watt is determined to make something of the non-story of Gordon Brown's non-announcement of a troop cut in Iraq.
Gordon Brown yesterday held out the prospect of a substantial withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, possibly as early as next year,
So the troop cut that Brown said last October in the spring that has just passed could be delayed until the end of next year. Wow!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

On the other hand...

Meanwhile, the Guardian's Polly Toynbee says the government is good at burying good news.

More spin from Iraq

Gordon Brown's visits to Iraq are always about propaganda but the Guardian has the most obviously planted story I've seen for a while.

Not only does it helpfully set out Brown's four "building blocks" as bullet points, we are told that
The prime minister and Britain's military commanders believe great progress has been made since March and that lessons have been learnt on all sides.
Thats alright then. This bit too is obviously planted:
Britain is taking a close interest in the Basra Investment Promotion Agency and the Basra Development Fund, both designed to stimulate private sector development. Britain is also promoting the renovation of the Umm Quasr port.
Of course the real story is that Brown has resorted to hinting that there will be troop reductions,
having failed to keep a promise he made last autumn.

British troop numbers in Iraq will be reduced to 2,500 next spring, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told MPs.

Not that you would know from the Guardian that Brown said it would happen. Rewriting history to save Brown embarassment, the Guardian suggests it was something he kept to himself:
Brown hopes that success in training Iraqi forces will allow him to cut British troop numbers, possibly next year when there is a new president in the White House. Britain had hoped to reduce its troop numbers to 2,500 this spring. But this was postponed after the difficulties of the March offensive.

Brown had hoped to cut British troops in Iraq to 2,500 by this spring.

Global spinning

I didn't watch The Great Global Warming Swindle, the film that inspired a generation of flat earthers. The Guardian says that Ofcom will find that Channel 4 is to be censured for misleading the scientists who appeared in the film.
But it is understood that Channel 4 will still claim victory
executives will argue that the key test of whether or not it was right to broadcast the programme has been passed.
Another case of getting your retaliation in first. Off the record off course.

The sham continues

The Independent reports that Labour is delaying repaying its high profile lenders. Did they ever expect to get their money back?

Signifying nothing

Matthew Parris in the Times writes about the government's propensity to make empty announcements, something I've written about before:
Ministers flail around in an alphabet soup of piddling little initiatives. Each time the clock strikes a new idea of breathtaking triviality is press-released.
He makes a good point, although I'm not sure that the government is any worse at this than previous ones.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Same again

In this week's New Statesman, Brian Jones, formerly of the Defence Intelligence Staff, says that Whitehall appears to have learned just about nothing from the Iraq dossier debacle:
Thus, five years after the tragic death of David Kelly, little has changed. Both components of Whitehall, political and official, have ducked all criticism, appearing to have learnt little from the Iraq experience. Something similar could all too easily happen again.
I also get a mention in the piece.

More of the same

On Comment is Free yesterday, Inayat Bunglawala makes the kind of points I have previously made about the sexed-up threat from Iran's nuclear programme.

In particular, he singles out Con Coughlin of the Telegraph, who is repeatedly fed what turn out to be inconsistent stories by MI6. John Scarlett and the Iraq dossier get a mention too.

Winning the PR war

It's good thing that Robert Murat has been awarded about £600,000 from eleven newspapers for libelling him over the Madeleine case. Roy Greenslade has argued that approximately £50,000 each is a tiny amount for the papers concerned.

But I don't think Murat has been vindicated, as he claims. Libel is saying something that can't be proved so winning a case doesn't necessarily prove anything. The BBC One O' Clock News ran an "exclusive" interview with Murat today. Like the McCann's, he has his own high-profile media advisor, Max Clifford. In the interview Murat spoke so much like Clifford it was obvious he has been coached by him. At one point, I wondered if Clifford had dressed up as Murat.

Note to lawyers: only joking.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Iraq at the Frontline

The Frontline Club is hosting a debate tonight on Iraq - a Fragile Sovereignty. The debate will be online from 8.30 as well as in the real world.

Webcast powered by Ustream.TV

Tuesday, 15 July 2008


The story about Swindon Council wanting to get rid of speed cameras certainly has a lot of tory spin on it. But the most mindless comment came from Katie Derham on ITV news:

If you are regularly snapped by speed cameras, you may want to seriously consider moving to Swindon.
Either that or slow down.

Friday, 11 July 2008

True, but sad

David Davis has claimed a stunning victory in his byelection campaign yesterday.

Does this make him a bit of a sad fantasist? If so, he was in good company. The Guardian says that:
Like the election, the count was dominated by the whacky fringe candidates, who scrutinised the outsize ballot papers hopefully for rare signs of a cross.

While David Davis made only occasional fleeting visits into the main sports hall of Haltemprice leisure centre in Hull's affluent western suburbs, the myriad independents treated the occasion like an all-night cocktail party.

Thursday, 10 July 2008


The Telegraph reports that David Davis risks being re-elected with a humiliatingly small vote:

David Cameron and other senior Tories have campaigned for Mr Davis, but the cast of eccentrics and publicity-seekers fighting the seat has fuelled Conservative fears that the contest has become a circus.

According to one estimate, the by-election process has cost taxpayers more than £200,000.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Whose fault is that?

The RAC is saying that
The cost of motoring has fallen by 18% in real terms over the past 20 years
although you'd never believe it, listening to the media. The BBC story on this seems to be getting a bit confused about statistics.
more than half of drivers think Britain's roads will be gridlocked in the next 20 years - despite the average annual mileage of British drivers dropping from 10,200 in 1988 to 9,070 in 2008.
Obviously, if drivers are spending less time on the road, roads won't be so busy (assuming they are the same roads), unless there are more drivers...
The number of households with a car has gone from 14m in 1988 to 19.5m - an increase of 39%
The number of women drivers on UK roads has gone from 10.2m to 15.3m

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Storm in a wok

In the Telegraph Rosa Prince contrives to cook up one of those political-correctness-gone-mad stories that right wing papers love. Apparently, guidance from the National Children's Bureau says that toddlers who dislike spicy food are racist.

I haven't read the offending publication "Young Children and Racial Justice", but it's a shame that Prince can't stand up her own story. The best she can say is:

It advises nursery teachers to be on the alert for childish abuse such as: "blackie", "Pakis", "those people" or "they smell".

The guide goes on to warn that children might also "react negatively to a culinary tradition other than their own by saying 'yuk'".

Staff are told: "No racist incident should be ignored. When there is a clear racist incident, it is necessary to be specific in condemning the action."

Sorry, you've lost me. At what point does this say that children not liking spicy food amounts to a racist incident?

Scraping the bottom

Meanwhile, David Aaronovitch shows what a grumpy old reactionary he has become, claiming that Ray Lewis has been a victim of a witch hunt:
But what had Mr Lewis done? It doesn't seem to have been anything illegal, for he wasn't prosecuted.
It must be for such stunning logic and incisive investigative journalism that Aaronovitch is payed whatever huge sum of money Rupert Murdoch is paying him.

Bottoming out?

Once again the Times spins a poll showing a seven point drop in the Tory lead as bad news for Gordon Brown. Instead of reporting that the cut in the Tory lead has been cut by a third, it says that voters think Brown isn't up to the job.

Peter Riddell describes this as a bottoming out:
This was bound to happen at some stage as Labour support could not go on falling.
It isn't clear that he understands what "bottoming out" is. It or be not be true that Labour support could not go on falling but both would imply that Labour stayed as far behind as it was. Instead it has bounced off the bottom. It may only be three or four per cent of voters who have switched back to Labour but if this happens again the Tory lead will be down to seven points and people will start to doubt whether David Cameron will have any kind of lead by the time of the next election.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Serious airheadism

In the Independent, an interview with Andrew Marr plugs the Bevins prize. Marr says: "it's time to save serious journalism." He laments
a discernible shift from policy stories towards reports focused on personalities.
In the Times, Camilla Long shows what he's talking about with another bitchy - and probably racist - attack piece on Michelle Obama, whose problem seems to be that she's not an airhead like Cindy McCain and Long herself. It's hard to believe that such a small-minded piece can appear in a national broadsheet - but then it is a Murdoch paper...

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Iran and Israel again

On Comment is Free, I've got a new piece challenging the spin coming out of Israel on Iran.

It also links to Seymour Hersh's new piece in the New Yorker, which suggests that the US is already covertly engaged in Iran.