Friday, 29 May 2009

Lame spin

I've just posted a piece for Comment is Free about the disappearing Kingsnorth review. Another lame piece of spin I've identified is a claim from Kent's chief constable Michael Fuller that the protestors wanted to "break into Kingsnorth power station and stop power supplies to more than 300,000 people in Kent".

Fuller should know that the National Grid doesn't work like that.

That explains it!

Bill Cash has now explained why he had to rent a flat from his daughter in spite of having a flat of his own nearer to Westminster. According to the BBC:
He told the BBC he could not have stayed at his flat in Pimlico because his son was living there, rent free at the time.

"He was then living there and I had the option of going somewhere else, so I took the rented property from my daughter which was a reasonable rent and in accordance with the tenancy agreement I had entered into," he said.

So the taxpayer effectively provides a rent free home for Cash's son. But Cash says that:

"I don't believe that therefore that there was any disadvantage to the taxpayer."
It is really worrying that Cash thinks that this is a sensible approach. He clearly isn't fit to be an MP, not just because he is crooked but because he thinks everyone else is as stupid as he is.

This was, by the way, an incredibly inept interview from the BBC. Surely the point on which Cash should not have been pressed is that he shouldn't have given up his own flat if it meant generating additional expense.

More eco-towns spin

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that an advert in support of an eco-town scheme was potentially misleading, in that it made four claims that it could not substantiate.

Kingsnorth cover-up

I've done a new - and I think important - story today for Index on Censorship, revealing that the Home Office and Kent Police have colluded to bury a report on the policing of last summer's Kingsnorth climate camp.

Having shelved the report by National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), the government and the police force are pretending that a new review is being carried out by the NPIA, presumably hoping that no-one will see the join. Unfortunately, both the NPIA and South Yorkshire Police, whose assistant chief constable is carrying out the new review, have made clear that the NPIA are not involved.

Mainstream monopoly

Buried in the Telegraph's amazing story about Bill Cash using his expenses to rent a flat from his daughter while he already had a Westminster home is a bizarre comment from Ed Balls.

Cash simply won't explain why he couldn't live in the home he already had but chose instead to use public money to fund his daughter's mortgage while she lived elsewhere.

But it is Balls' comment that really takes the biscuit:
With European elections approaching, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, urged voters to continue backing the mainstream political parties rather than fringe organisations such as the UK Independence Party or the BNP.

“Whichever mainstream party they [voters] are going to vote for, they should go out and vote and not allow minority parties to gain,” he said. “Obviously I want them to come out and vote Labour, but it is very important that people come out and vote for the mainstream parties.”

Saying "don't vote for Nazis is one thing" but to tell people that they should only vote for the "mainstream" parties who between them have a stranglehold on the political process is arrogant and dangerous. UKIP might be a bunch of cranks but they are a legitimate party. What about the Green Party? Is Balls saying people should vote Conservative rather than vote for them?

Hidden Massacre

The Times reports that "more than 20,000 Tamils were killed in last throes of the Sri Lankan civil war". But it looks as if the Sri Lankan government will get away with it:

On Wednesday, Sri Lanka was cleared of any wrongdoing by the UN Human Rights Council after winning the backing of countries including China, Egypt, India and Cuba.

Here is its astonishing explanation:

A spokesman for the Sri Lankan High Commission in London said: “We reject all these allegations. Civilians have not been killed by government shelling at all. If civilians have been killed, then that is because of the actions of the LTTE [rebels] who were shooting and killing people when they tried to escape.”
The claim that the Tamil Tigers were shooting their own people looks pretty far-fetched, but to say that absolutely no civilians were killed by government shelling is entirely unbelievable.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

It's a conspiracy!

What is amazing about the Guardian's story about Ruth Padel resigning as Oxford's professor of poetry is that she is claiming she has done nothing wrong and a host of women writers are queueing up to claim that she is the victim of a conspiracy:
Ruth Padel the first woman elected Oxford's professor of poetry, has resigned following claims she tipped off ­journalists about allegations that her chief rival for the post, Derek Walcott, had sexually ­harassed students.

Padel won the vote nine days ago. But in a statement tonight she said: "I genuinely believe that I did nothing intentional that led to Derek Walcott's withdrawal from the election. I wish he had not pulled out. I did not engage in a smear campaign against him, but, as a result of student concern, I naively – and with hindsight unwisely – passed on to two journalists, whom I believed to be covering the whole election responsibly, information that was already in the public domain."

She said she had acted in "good faith"
It seems to have been the fault of the journalists for using information that Padel gave them. Clearly she had no idea that they would do so.

No more convincing are the claims of women writers like Jeanette Winterson that it's a sexist stitch-up. Surely they must realise that crying "sexist" on such a weak case damages their credibility.

It appears though that the writer of this piece Charlotte Higgins, is also on Padel's side:
The so-called smear campaign saw up to 100 Oxford academics sent ­photocopied pages from a book detailing a sexual ­harassment claim made against Walcott by a student at Harvard in 1982. Widely felt to be the favoured candidate of the Oxford English faculty, the Nobel laureate resigned from the race on 12 May.
If sending photocopied pages to 100 academics is not a smear campaign, it's hard to imagine what would qualify. Padel is in any case claiming that this act was nothing to do with her. It's presumably just a coincidence that she was tipping off journalists about the same allegations.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Alarming, to say the least

The BBC's Roger Harrabin has an interview with US energy secretary Stephen Chu, who says the US will not be able to cut greenhouse emissions as much as it should due to domestic political opposition.
The American political system is in the throes of a fierce battle over climate policy. President Barack Obama says he wants cuts in greenhouse gases but has left it to Congress to make the political running.

The House of Representatives is debating a climate and energy bill but even if it passes it may be rejected by senators, many of whom are funded by the energy industry.

Prof Chu is a Nobel prize-winning physicist and a world expert on clean energy. But he said it was impossible to ignore political reality.

Another triumph for democracy. Unsurprisingly environmentalists are alarmed. Damon Moglen from Greenpeace USA, echoing the views of Nasa scientist James Hansen, says:
"we are getting very concerned. Professor Chu is a good man and a good scientist, but the science on global warming is clear and he should be guided by the science not the politics."

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The true meaning of suspect

The Independent has an astonishing story detailing how MI5 blackmails British muslims into becoming informers:
Five Muslim community workers have accused MI5 of waging a campaign of blackmail and harassment in an attempt to recruit them as informants.

The men claim they were given a choice of working for the Security Service or face detention and harassment in the UK and overseas.

Apart from the outrageous and probably counterproductive treatment of citizens by the state, the story raises more quesions about the phrases "terrorist suspect" or "suspected terrorist" and about the use of extended detention.

If, as the men claim, people are treated as terrorist suspects as a punishment for not co-operating, it implies that some people are not genuinely suspected. Neither the terms nor the consequent treatment are justified.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The politics of Zimbabwe

Did Gordon Brown really tell David Cameron that we can't have an election because it would result in the "chaos" of a Tory government? Not holding elections because the "wrong" people will win is the politics of Zimbabwe.

But of course there is nothing democratic about the ruling party deciding to hold an election when it thinks it can win and putting it off if it doesn't.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Wrong committee

On Comment is Free, Tory shadow security minister Pauline Neville-Jones says that the Intelligence and Security Committee review of 7/7 intelligence exposes why the committee itself is not up to the job. She says:
The truth is that the Intelligence and Security Committee is not up to the role it needs to play. At the moment, the prime minister can have the last word on what it publishes and the committee does not have a staff able to carry out its own investigations.The perception and the reality of independence in such matters is crucial – the ISC should be reformed and a Conservative government will ensure this happens.
Sadly, another reason to vote Conservative.

Wrong man

The BBC report on the Intelligence and Security Committee's second report on the July 7th bombings has a case of mistaken identity:
The committee's chairman, Kim Howells MP, said: "Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Those judgements were made at the time and, having gone in detail through all of the details, we cannot find any reason to criticise the actions that were taken at the time."
Having seen the ISC press conference on the t.v. I'm sure it was Tory MP Michael Mates who said this, not Howells, who has quite a strong welsh accent.

Still, the BBC webpage has a column by its home affairs correspondent Daniel Casciani about the failure to identify Mohammad Sidique Khan:
For MI5, knowing what someone is up to is more important than exactly who they are.
In the Guardian John Crace seems to be taking the mickey out of smug neo-con David Aaronovitch, who has wrote a book debunking conspiracy theories:
This book is all the fault of Kevin Jarvis. Kevin was an underling when I was making yet another of my groundbreaking exposes that failed to win the prizes I deserved and was eating my way through a six-course dinner while trying, as usual, to fend off the attentions of ­dozens of attractive young women, when he asked, "Why does ­everyone think you are a ­conceited, ­deluded, not-very-bright New Labour ­apologist?" It was a eureka ­moment. Never ­before had I seen so personally how unsubstantiated rumour could so easily become a global conspiracy theory.
It couldn't happen to a more conceited, ­deluded and not-very-bright New Labour ­apologist.

Now that's what I call grooming

The Times has an interview with Christopher Galley, the civil servant who leaked information to Damian Green. Galley says that the Tories have dumped him after promising to look after him. The Tories clearly want to avoid any suggestion that they groomed or bribed Galley but he clearly was groomed.
He had read an article on immigration posted by Mr Davis on the Conservative Party website and left a message on the site agreeing with the article and making a few suggestions. To his amazement, he received an e-mail asking him to meet the Shadow Home Secretary. “The invitation was to Davis’s Commons office,” said Mr Galley, who was then aged 24 and in the lowest rank of the Civil Service.
“In the invitation it said, ‘Our immigration spokesman wants to be there as well’,” Mr Galley went on. “At the time I didn’t have a clue who he was. So this balding bloke turns up at the meeting. It was Damian Green.
Galley also tells what first led him to leak:
“One day, I was sitting in Vernon [Coaker]'s office and . . . a private secretary to Vernon and one of the assistant private secretaries were dealing with a matter relating to the Security Industry Authority [which licenses workers in the security industry],” he said. “They were looking at this document to do with how licences had been granted to asylum seekers to work in the SIA. But rather than trying to put a stop to that, these two people were actually trying to co-ordinate . . . a damage limitation exercise on how to keep it quiet, which I didn’t think was right.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Another cock-up or conspiracy conundrum

In the Times, Ian King wonders whether the "accidental" early release of unemployment data may have been another attempt by No 10 to grab the headlines.

King suggests that some of the data may represent good news, as employment does not appear to be falling as fast as unemployment is rising and the labour force is therefore increasing in size.

The story that matters

Dare I suggest that there is a more important story in today's papers than MPs' expenses? It's one that also involves the corruption of politics. The Guardian reports that:
America's oil, gas and coal industry has increased its lobbying budget by 50%, with key players spending $44.5m in the first three months of this year in an intense effort to cut off support for Barack Obama's plan to build a clean energy economy.
A defeat for the bill would have global consequences. The international community is depending on America, as the world's biggest per capita polluter, to set out a firm plan for getting off dirty fuels in the months before crucial UN negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

Without such action, the chances of getting a deal that scientists say is vital to limiting dangerous climate change are much reduced.

In a capitalist democracy, big business will find huge sums of money to influence public opinion when its interests are threatened. In this case, the carbon lobby wants us to carry on polluting. If they do succeed in stopping efforts to tackle global warming, we may have to ask whether this form of democracy is such a good idea.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

A real scandal

The Times is on firmer ground with evidence that the Taleban, like Israel, is using white phosphorous. In this case, it seems to have been made in Britain, by BAE:
The Ministry of Defence in London said that there was no evidence that British soldiers had been burnt by white phosphorus munitions in Helmand, but said that there would have to be an investigation into how British-manufactured munitions were in the hands of the Taleban.

Royal Ordnance factories owned by BAE Systems make 81mm mortars that the British fire with white phosphorus rounds for illumination in Afghanistan. But the MoD denied that the Taleban had somehow acquired British mortars sent to troops in Helmand.

Two four one

The Times has two non-stories for the price of one on Cristiano Ronaldo.

Firstly, Ronaldo is not moving to Real Madrid. This is a classic football non-story where the papers report that someone is going to move and when it doesn't happen say it has fallen through. Admittedly, the Guardian has made the running on this one.

Then the Times reheats the non-story about Ronaldo throwing "a hissy fit that challenged the authority of Sir Alex Ferguson". As far as I saw, Ronaldo stood still for a few seconds while Ferguson got on with things, then walked off and knocked a training top out of a trainer's hand (rude, I know) and then sat out of Ferguson's sight shaking his head.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

FOI in tatters

Late yesterday I posted a blog piece on IndyMinds, asking, Is this the worst FOI response ever?

The Department for Transport has refused to let me have a copy of a letter sent by the BAA chief executive to transport secretary Geoff Hoon, on the grounds that its contents are already in the public domain, in the form of a BAA press release. The DfT is not so much witholding the information as:
"providing information in a format different than the format requested"
under the Environmental Information Regulations.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Wishful thinking will save the world

Following yesterday's letter in the Times from a collection of business leaders arguing that we do not need a third Heathrow runway, BAA chairman Nigel Rudd comes out fighting, assisted no doubt by spin doctor Tom Kelly. His weapon - optimism.
Senior figures from aviation and other interested groups will gather tomorrow in London to explain how the industry can work effectively at the heart of a global low-carbon economy.
So the purpose of the conference is not so much to confer, as to explain. It's a PR stunt.
At tomorrow's conference, we expect to hear a refreshingly optimistic note from the aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing, whose new generation aircraft are making a substantial impact on the industry's carbon footprint.
Going along with the theme of optimism, aircraft manufacturers are looking on the bright side. But if optimism - not to mention self-interest - colours their claims, why should we take them seriously?
Rolls-Royce is developing an open rotor engine that can reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent, raising the prospect of substantial reductions in CO2, and further advances could reduce engine noise by as much as 20 decibels and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere by 60 per cent.
Can and could, not will. The whole article is an overt plea to think wishfully. Given BAA's input in permeating the Heathrow consultation with wishful thinking, it's hardly surprising.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Inquiry forgotten?

With British "combat operations" in Iraq officially over, only the Telegraph and the Mail really highlight the fact that Gordon Brown's promised inquiry could start now.

In the Telegraph, LibDem Ed Davey complains that the government has not yet begun talks with opposition parties on the form and scope of the inquiry.

The Mail's Correlli Barnett says:
It is time, at last, for the truth.

Time for the spinning to stop

The Metropolitan Police have been accused of misleading their own "watchdog", the Metropolitan Police Authority, according to the Guardian.

The Met's report to the MPA said that people caught up in "kettling", were free to leave "wherever possible". Presumably it wasn't possible very often. The Met also claimed that kettling was an effective tactic, so it appears that it would only be possible to let people out if they chose not to use it. As LibDem David Howarth said:
"It is time for the spinning to stop"

Straw good on spin, bad on justice

I have a new piece on the Index on Censorship website about how Jack Straw's ministry of justice held on to a list of possible sites for Titan jails until it had briefed the media that there wouldn't be any. The MoJ is also bottom of the league for responding to FOI requests, according to its own figures.

On Newsnight last night Michael Crick was talking about Straw as a possible caretaker PM if Gordon Brown is forced out. Surely things aren't that bad.