Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Irish elections

Mick says the necessary (usual warning - ignore the fuckwits in the comments).

Normally, it would be fairly pleasurable to watch a political opponents' long-term strategy unravelling in front of their eyes, but in the Pinheads' case, the brutally wasteful tragedy competes with the farce and wins hands-down.

Either way, Sinn Féin are, surely now, completely fucked?

And I suspect that they know it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Words of advice

This Guardian campaign is very sensible and it should be supported.

That's all. Carry on with your work.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


It's time for the BBC to abandon it's policy of presenting it's leading interviewers as 'impartial'. I want Paxo to be forced into a dialogue.

This does not mean that I agree with Jim Gibney – an Irish republican writer – calling for the BBC to hire journalists to reflect the views of the electorate.

It may not be a view Gibney would have held a few years ago, but you can see why he’s on this one now. Reluctantly, I can see his point, though in the context of Northern Ireland, I can’t share his conclusions.

But it does raise a question I’ve wanted to ask for a long time. The way that bureaucrats are given free rein to stifle political discussion in the name of freedom of expression is an old chestnut here. But what about the façade of impartiality that we are forced to accept from the BBC’s flagship news programmes?

Does Jeremy Paxman or John Humphrys’ supposed apolitical stance actually work in the public interest?

I would argue that it doesn’t for the following obvious reasons:

  1. Enforced impartiality makes a virtue of negativism. Actually being in favour of a particular line of policy naturally involves making choices. These are rarely universally respected, and it will forever be the yoke of public office. Taking a line on almost any controversial aspect of public life will always make you enemies. Interviewing a politician from an ‘impartial’ perspective always allows you to have the best of both worlds. You can put the critical points from both sides without formally endorsing them. You never lose an argument and never make enemies. Everybody wants to be like you.
  2. And if everyone wants to be like you, no-one wants to be like the poor sap on the sharp end of this. It’s like that ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ question. It always degrades politics. In this context, the fact that a reasonable percentage of the population still vote is proof of the low esteem that the public hold journalists in - despite the advantages that they hand themselves.


Evidence break: To illustrate this, I’m going to take a fairly random sample – the last interview with a politician that I heard on the Today programme a few days ago now (I’ve got to the point of avoiding it, but I overheard this 8.10am interview the other day while getting ready for work one day last week).

Humphrys is interviewing Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling. Darling is widely seen (by kremlinologists) as being part of Gordon Brown’s camp, and it is rumoured that he will be offered the Chancellorship when Brown finally takes office as PM.

15 mins and 20 seconds into this (realplayer required) clip, he starts in on Tony Blair’s apparent dishonesty in failing to serve a full term as Prime Minister. In 2005, Blair did say that he would serve a full term, though I distinctly recall him leaving himself plenty of wriggle-room about an orderly handover. Certainly, I doubt that anyone concluded from what he said at the time that he would definitely serve a full five years and leave Labour having a leadership election at the same time as the national poll.

So Blair has ‘grievously misled’ us all.

Now, fair dos here; Blair should have known better. He should have known that journalists will always prefer lazy kremlinology to the honest reporting of public policy issues, and that – in making any statement about his future – he was exposing himself to a ceaseless frenzy of speculation. Which he duly got - and he's acknowledged his mistake here.

But for the representative-in-chief of a press corps that has spent the last two years obsessing about exactly when Blair will go, the pretence that he was ‘misled’ is completely dishonest.

Had Blair said ‘I will stand down in May 2007’, he would have had two years being called a ‘lame duck’. What’s more, Humphrys seems to cling to the quaint view that politicians don’t need to manage information, and that untimely revelations don’t make it all-but-impossible for a government to govern. The fact is, he knows just how powerful he can be, and this interview is just a playful flexing of those muscles.

Of course, Darling challenges him, saying (paraphrasing) ‘if Blair today announced he was going to stay on for a full term, you’d be asking him why he wasn’t standing down and leaving his successor enough time.’ Tellingly, Humphrys denies this emphatically, and - he must know - dishonestly.

The coup de grâce is where Humphrys says (of Brown)
JH: “Has he asked you to be Chancellor? A yes or no will do.”
What is the purpose of this question? Does Humphrys expect an announcement? Or a denial? Of course not. He knew that Darling would have to field the question, saying that the decision was with Brown. But Humphrys then replies
“Why did I think you’d say that.”
All the usual fare, you may say. And you'd be right. Politicans certainly don't deserve an easy time. They should be cross-examined. But - in this case - the end result is for the interviewer to paint his interlocutors as dishonest and himself as the ringmaster - the honest broker. And this is the rule here, rather than the exception.

In fact, he knows that government business is routinely been disrupted by media obsessions with Westminster gossip. It is never reported as such, of course, but if you ever speak to a civil servant who is responsible for any initiative, they will tell you just how impossible this kremlinology makes their work.

He also knows that there are some questions that even the most candid of (sane) politicians can't answer. It's like the classic demagogue at the old Roman circus. Looking around at the crowd, deciding whether to offer the thumbs up or not. These people are spectacularly powerful, without ever having to demonstrate that they add anything to public life.

So what would things look like if these ringmasters had to declare their hand, and politicians could actually have a conversation with them? Taking the earlier part of the Alistair Darling interview (above) where he is challenged about closing local Post Offices. It could go something like this:
Q: Why are you closing these Post Offices down?
A: Because they're losing tons of money and people go elsewhere for the services that they used to offer. What would you do instead?
If Humphrys had to reply to that question, rather than being able to offer the (Policeman-like) get-out, "I'll ask the questions if you don't mind", it would be an interview that I'd like to hear.

I doubt if any of the ringmasters would enjoy the long careers that they get at the moment.

It would fulfil the BBC's 'mission to explain' better than they currently do as it would show people that decisions aren't simple binaries, and that trade-offs matter. It would also satisfyingly damage most pressure groups, because they thrive on the spectacle of politicians being ridiculed.

A decent conversation would even reduce the stranglehold that political parties have over public life. So, I move that inteviewers should have to say what they would do on a matter of policy if they are asked by an inteviewee.

To allow this, the BBC needs to drop it's untenable claim to impartiality.

Whaddaya say?

*** sorry that this post was so long. I'm trying to be concise - honest. I'm no good at it. ***

Apropos of this, David Halpern was on the wireless this morning explaining the background to the whole Grammar School debate. He had real information to impart about the background to the policy discussion. They gave him about 30 seconds before they cut him off.

Monday, May 21, 2007

NuLab. And SMERSH.

Tom’s asking about the origins of the term ‘NuLab’ as a piece of hilarious satire on the term ‘New Labour’

I always thought that it was intended as a bit of cut-and-paste cyberpunk, derived in the same way as ‘Megacorp’ and its many cousins listed here.

To my eye, in one phrase, it is intended to imply a dystopian surveillance-heavy post-totalitarian state in which all powers are handed to a private corporation of one kind or another.

For the most part, this view only really survives in weblog comments boxes that actually believes that the current government are engaged in a project to abolish democracy and replace it with a megacorp type of entity. And, such bloggertarians identify themselves by their repeated use of the term NuLab or its derivatives.

Perhaps the nearest parallel could be Smersh. Remember them? Sinister leader? Underground bunker? Lots of faceless apparatchiks wearing orange jumpsuits?

It also reminds me of my favourite Euston Manfesto-related joke. When it was first published last year, a fair amount of the comment implied that it was a shadowy Smersh-like conspiracy, funded by Mossad with evil genius Norm pulling the strings and stroking the cat (n.b. that is not intended as a disgusting euphemism. Sorry Norm).

I pointed out* to an unamused group of Eustonites that the difference between us and Smersh is that we make other people wear the orange jumpsuits.

*I'm sure it was my joke. If it wasn't, I hereby claim it without apologies.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rebuilding trust. A fools errand.

Shuggy on Gordon Brown's pledge to 'rebuild people's trust in democracy'
"Now call me an old cynic if you must but could one of the reasons that people 'feel powerless' is because they are really rather powerless - with regards to basic democratic stuff like who governs them, for example?"
He then turns to Hillary Benn pledging to join the army of 'listening' politicians:
"Let the debate begin. Let us discuss ideas. Let us talk straightforwardly about the future we want."

Ooh, ooh - can I go? I'd like a future where you lot talk less shite, please.
Thing is, I think that Shuggy IS being an old cynic here, bless him.

Of course politicians will always promise to listen, and always pretend to be doing it already. But if they actually *do* start listening, they will find themselves on a fools errand, because there isn't really much by way of a decent conversation going on anywhere (outside of the usual rarefied little circles - and even then, it's mostly poisoned by The Ideology of Applied Adolescence(tm)).

And if they are tempted to get involved, they are massively disincentivised from doing so by….
  • A spectacularly dishonest journalistic profession that usually strikes a fine balance between misrepresentation and simplification
  • Single issue pressure groups that target anyone who displeases them
  • Political parties who worry about reflected ignominy
  • Our old friends, the constipators and the other poky little fingers of permanent government
And the circles in which these conversation happen are very rarefied anyway.

To illustrate this, last night I met a bloke from Messagespace. This is a marketing widget that the high-volume political bloggers use to make a bit of money from ‘advocacy advertising’. He gave me a number (that I now completely forget - prompt??). It is the number of visitors that political blogs get each month.

The only thing I do remember about it is that it wasn’t very high. And even allowing for the logic of ‘The Long Tail’ and the fact that most page impressions on political blogs aren't on high volume sites, ours is not a large inclusive conversational culture. Listen, and you will mostly hear people talking bollocks.

Now I understand that the world doesn't end with blogging. But this surely illustrates something that most people who work in politics have suspected for a long time. That the vast majority of the population are usually shy of any contact with the smallish political class, and that the twain never really meet.

So, politicians only really have the option of listening to the usual suspects (again!), or dabbling in the dark arts of opinion polling (boo!) or focus groups (boo!). Or, of course, they can try and start a conversation of some kind – in a way that won’t completely blow up in their faces (trans: spin).

Constipator of the Year: New nomination

Remember this blog’s regular beef about our permanent masters and their obsession with stifling all valuable political discussion? The constipators?

Last night, Derek Wyatt MP (speaking at a New Statesman New Media Awards event, doubtless shortly to be blogged here) reported that the Sergeant at Arms had written to MPs telling them that the £10k they have to spend on web-communication can’t go an websites that have any political content.

So the Sergeant at Arms – another nomination for ‘Constipator of the Year

In the meantime, my limited grasp of the legal issues behind this leaves me convinced that it would be open to challenge. I've not seen anything convincing that wouldn't be beaten by a reasonable defence that claimed that there is no marginal cost to adding political content to an existing website that is paid for out of taxation on the condition that it is non-political.

And I've not heard anyone argue - convincingly - that allowing politicians the ability to communicate directely with the public is the same as giving them an advantage. In many cases, the very idea scares the shit out of them. Thus 'constipators'.

Death and the maiden

A lasting tribute.

(er... ta Dave)

Yukky hippy positivism where cynicism normally reigns

A few months ago, we disposed of our car by driving it into the back of a bus.

And - even before that - we'd started making an effort to walk the kids to school instead of driving. It is now usually the most pleasant thing that I do all day, and I'm glad we've reorganised ourselves a bit to do it.

Next week is 'Walk to School Week.' If you have kids, and drive them to school, you should try walking for a change. You may be pleasantly surprised.


Sorry about that. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Found this

In the absence of anything substantial here, go visit Pat Kane, who - it seems - has a weblog. It's called 'The Play Ethic', and his 'Soulitarian Book Club' post would be a good place to start.

And also, the next big thing: Little things.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Seen around the place

Over the water, Mr Sarkozy is rumoured to be making overtures to a Franco-Eustonite Socialist Party member in his search for his next foreign minister.

I don't know how I missed this article on social software and the quality / quantity of public participation first time around but it's worth a look:
"...patterns have emerged where low threshold participation amounts to collective intelligence and high engagement provides a different form of collaborative intelligence."
Maybe his first state visit could be to Zimbabwe - with a discreet little Saturday night special?


Yes, MooTube.

The way things will always be.

I ended the 1980s convinced that Tony Benn was in the pay of the dark right-wing forces. From the viewpoint of democratic socialism, he seemed to have an unerring ability to adopt the most strategically inconvenient and divisive positions on anything.

He was either being paid by MurdochThatchaReaganCIA, or - perhaps more plausibly - he was indicative of the problems that the far-left will always have in a developed democracy.

They are a constituency that is easy to appeal to if you have slightly demagogic tendencies and an eye for the combination of the ideological elegance and political unpopularity.

So, while I'd happily sign up to many of the demands of the Labour Party's far-left (not the entryists from democratic-centralist parties, obviously), the far-left is a political club that it is just pointless to join.

Here's Stroppy on the inelegance of the leadership challenge from the left.

Stroppy: Get used to it. Every opportunity will be missed. Every chance to show discipline will be scorned. Every alliance will explode in recrimination and personal antagonism.

That's the left for you. It's always been like that.

Sorry about that now.

*Update* - there is the Oaten precedent to worry about though.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Recursive loops

At the risk of casting you into a vortex of mutual referring links, I think you should read this.

And, on the recursive loop theme, I commented on this the other day.

The following piece of bloggertarianvision appeared in the comments:
"You forgot about the decimation of our civil liberties, the end of the English Legal System, and the betrayal of everything for which our ancestors fought and died."
Or maybe (hopefully) it's sarcasm - the highest form of intelligence I'm told?

If so, apologies to Antipholus Papps. He appears to be an accomplished practitioner of the art.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Buy a share in a football club. £35 each.

One of the earliest posts here looked at this.

Five reasons

I bin tagged. A while ago as it happens, but I’ve not been looking at my inbound links as closely as I could. And fom a new blog as well. (New to me anyway. Have a look, whydontcha? Beware, though. There's a level of reverence towards Van Halen that should carry a custodial sentance in my view).

The question: Five reasons why I blog.

The first one is the old standby:
  1. I don’t know what I think until I read what I’ve written. I think it was E.M Forster said that first, but I like it. Writing here (where someone may read it) stops me from being too self indulgent, and the ‘publish’ nature of it means that I make more effort to make sense..
  2. By responding to posts on other weblogs here, I think that I help to encourage a better quality of writing. I’m inclined to think that the excessive or exclusive use of comments boxes is for trolls (unless you have a good excuse for not having your own blog)
  3. I want to learn about how to interact and argue with people in a constructive way – without completely avoiding profanity. That would be denial of my own nature.
  4. I have a particular perspective that – as far as I can see – no-one else shares very closely. If I keep expounding it here, one day, someone will pop up and say that they agree with everything that I say. I doubt it though.
  5. You meet some good people if you persevere.
I’m not going to pass this one on – I think it’s probably done the rounds by now. If you’ve seen in here and want to do it yourself, please do – and put a link in the comments here.

Just supposing

I saw this 'just supposing' piece by Peter Preston the other day but forgot to point to it at the time.

Ignore the fuckwits in the comments, obviously...

And, as it's Friday, Col has found this from Lost That Loving Feeling:

Dwelling on past glories? Moi? I'm looking forward to the big game of the season tonight.

Against Yeovil. Mmmmm.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Lib-Dems

Harsh. But fair.

(Adrian's latest.)

Like one of Stuart's tackles

Europe Day

9th May. Europe Day! Yay.

Here's the Schuman Declaration from the 9th May 1950. If, like me, you're a Labour Party supporter, today is a good opportunity to go and pick an argument with a Tory. I'm going to the pub now to find one of the bastards. Not hard in dear dirty London.

Or, failing that, I'll settle for a sentimentalist nationalist who believes in the better yesterday of social democracy in one country*. Obviously, I prefer arguing with Tories though.

*Phrase nicked from memory from Panderson's stout blog.

Cool Britannia Eh? EH??!!??

I’ve seen Paul Linford’s blog a few times, and he seems a decent enough skin, but if you look at this piece, you can see a fine example of journalistic groupthink.

I don’t think that I could reasonably be accused of being a Blairite, but I do think that this is a spectacularly churlish post from a soi-disant left-leaning writer.

Taking it point-by-point…

The Northern Ireland peace process was a ball that was thrown underarm to John Major very gently and he still dropped it. Blair led a Labour Party that was historically more inclined to be agnostic about Unionism and – at times – sympathetic to Irish nationalism. Having promoted devolution elsewhere, and what with not having ‘Unionist’ in the party name, being there at all helped. Getting Labour elected and secured for three terms was, in itself, a massive contribution. A Tory government with a small majority would have fucked this one up in a trice, so simply by keeping them out over two elections was ample contribution.

More to the point, the view that Blair made no difference simply isn’t shared by most of the protagonists in the Belfast agreement and subsequent developments either. Not a good number one for a damning ten-point post.

Things can only get better, surely?

Nope. On devolution, ‘reluctance’ is an odd word. Like Euro-federalism, devolution has built-in creep about it. Don't start that particular cart from rolling if you think you might want to get off. It was a potentially explosive thing to try for a party that isn’t the ‘natural party of government’ in the UK. It remains a minefield and I doubt if any other political coalition would have done it any quicker (or with any more enthusiasm) than Blair has done – without it blowing up in their faces.

That he balked at the idea is understandable, when you think about it. There are plenty of politicians who have rowed back on ideas that looked attractive to their predecessors in opposition, and the fact that Blair went ahead with it at all should reflect with some credit on him. This is the greatest constitutional change* that this country has gone through since…. well, probably the introduction of universal male suffrage, or the 1911 reform of the Lords. But of course, in journoland, it was someone else’s idea that happened without a control freak leader having much to do with it.

Cake. Eating it. Yum yum. Yawn.

Minimum wage. Given that most of the criticism of Blair is based around his huge centralising tendencies and his effective abolition of cabinet government (“sofa government, eh? Eh? EH??!!??), criticising him for adopting a policy that he wasn’t wholly supportive of is a bit rich.

Not that the minimum wage is a policy that is universally recognised as a good thing on the left either. Personally, I think it creates as many problems as it solves. But to use some device to entirely divorce Blair (bad!) from the minimum wage (good!) is the sort of bollocks that we’ve come to expect from activist Tory journalists like Nick Robinson. And he is, I think we can all agree, a bit of a See You Next Tuesday, isn’t he?

Low unemployment, etc. I’ve the same objection to this criticism as I do to the previous point. This country has never enjoyed the level of economic stability that that it has done since 1997. To just dismiss this as something that reflects in no way upon the Prime Minister of this period is just… well…. stupid. Stupid, stupid stupid. And if Blair can't claim any credit for any economic competence, then surely he can't be condemned for anything that has the treasury's fingerprints on it, can he?

London government. Well, I guess you can work out where I’m going with this by now. By establishing an assembly and a mayoralty that was elected, Blair was – at worst – an objective ally of Livingstone. I can now understand why he wasn’t prepared to endorse Ken’s candidature. Fixing the electoral college was no doubt a mistake, but Ken spends far too much time lionising anti-semitic queer-killing misogynistic apologists for suicide bombing for my tastes.

Being pro-devolution means that you risk challenging the power of central government. Something that NO OTHER PRIME MINISTER HAS DONE IN THE PAST CENTURY.

For fuck’s sake, Paul. For fuck’s sake.

On the question of inequality, I think that this is – up to a point – a valid criticism. There is undoubtedly a thoughtful post in the paradox of having a government that has managed to successfully and quietly increase tax revenues, massively increase public spending, heed many of the demands of Unions and pro-equality pressure groups and still fail to reduce inequality.

But, by the logic of the previous point, surely this should reflect badly on Gordon Brown – not Blair? *Choking on that cake by now Paul?* The stealth taxes were often the wrong kind of taxes on the wrong people I expect. But Paul Linford’s post is not such a piece.

It’s just another one of those bits of tedious cheerleading that you expect from his lousy profession. There’s more of this in the last para.

Saving the NHS – while lots of health trusts end up in the red!!!?!! Arentya sickoffit??!!?? Again, when you massively increase public spending on the NHS and still get questioned on your relative success then there is something interesting that needs saying. Something granular. Something with nuance. Something that addresses the appalling quality of public administration and the crappy politics of centralisation. Perhaps a critique of target-cultures? But no. Blair has betrayed the health service. End of.

Education? Ditto. Yawny yawn.

And the last para? The tour de force? The triumphant flourish? This little para says almost everything you need to know about the journalistic perspective. Find a range of totemic criticisms and repeat them like a mantra. It’s a form of groupthink. Sofa government eh? Eh? EH? Knoworramean? Politicisation of the civil service – a bad thing? *Discuss*. Iraq? There’s plenty to be said on that subject, but the author of a post entitled “Democracy in Iraq? We should have tried it at home first” isn’t going to add anything worth reading. And … er… the Millennium Dome? The Third Way? Cool Britannia? Eh? EH?

The most annoying thing about this is its customary laziness. Brace yourself for an article like this from about 80% of the writers who get hired to commentate. It’s just a clippings job. A series of open-and-shut moral tizzies that are wheeled out as though they prove anything.

You have a Prime Minister that you want to damn after ten years – one that has fucked up in so many ways. One that has dropped so many balls and clangers. One that is about as irritating as it is possible for any human being to be. And what do you bring up as a case for the prosecution? The fucking Millennium Dome, a handful of mixed blessings and a few almost unqualified successes.

Must try harder Paul. 0/10.

*NB: We don’t actually have a constitution, so I use the term with some levity

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

SSP Stats

From Dave's Part
"In the regional list vote across Scotland, Solidarity secured 31,066 votes (1.5%), compared to the SSP's 12,731 (0.6%). In 2003, the Sheridan-led SSP got 6.7%. So the fall in support for the far left was precipitous, anyway you want to slice it."
If there's one reason to avoid far-left politics, it is that the capacity for self-destruction makes all other involvement pointless.

A bit late, but...

Celebrate VE Day.

Like beating BNP councillors in local elections, but timesed by 50,000,000,000,000 (or more).

There, not here.

Brown's reshuffle: latest

If you want to look at the top half of naked young ladies* at work - without being told off by a bossy personnel officer, then all you need to do is go to bloggerheads and click on one of the links to a tory called 'Dizzy'.

Doing it this way, you'll have a good excuse ready. Tim Ireland explains all here. Dizzy also offers another *really* clever little fix for any miscreants attempting to visit his site.

So here's mine.

If they Iain Dale can't of the should kitchen
stand Guido and get out the heat.

There is a sentence in there somewhere. See if you can put it together?

On libertarians, there's a good piece on the confusion that they experience with the concept of coercion.

Also, Shuggy responding to Chris on referenda

It's all going smoothly in Norn Irn by the way. Now is probably not the time for those 'any government that is established by a carve-up is bound to fail just like Italy' arguments. But that time will come soonish.

Chris' 'top blogging' links (his own regular guide to the best of the blogs - at the top of his sidebar) are always worth a look (he writes some of the best stuff around and finds the best writing from elsewhere - how does he do it?)

So, via Chris, more on worries about the contribution of bloggers, and – on the same subject, the consistently excellent Gracchi notes the absence of the conversational:
“Part of politics is self doubt- part of politics is questioning your own views as much as other people's views- is realising that changing your mind is a sign of maturity and that believing you have reached a truth that you need not doubt is a great sign of arrested intellectual development. This isn't a call against principle or against argument but it is a call for tolerance- all the phenomena I listed above seem to strike against that fundamental principle underlying all democratic discussion.”
Also, again via Chris, Dan Hardie: The BNP are a problem (discounting misanthropic arguments to the contrary).

Mick Hartley: Auntie. Wife. Slave.

That's all. Come back when you've read those and there'll probably be more here by then.

*Sadly, I can't get this to work now. Perhaps Dizzy has been doing more clever code crunching?

Nick Robinson – on board ‘Project Cameron’?

When a journalist withdraws a claim because the person that they've quoted as a source has refused to corroborate their story, what is the most common explanation?

A few weeks ago, you may recall Guido Fawkes’ difficulties on Snoozenight? I mentioned it here at the time (or later than everyone else, as is my wont), as did almost everyone else who writes about politics on their weblog.

At the climax of the interview, Guido claimed to have exposed the ‘second e-mail system’ – the one allegedly used by Downing Street insiders to say incriminating things about the ‘cash-for-honours’ enquiry in the hope of avoiding detection.

Michael White responded that the claim was unfounded*, and Guido replied that his source was the BBC’s own Nick Robinson.

The following day, following Robinson’s protests, Guido retracted.

Now, because Guido claims to be an agenda setter, any such roughing-up was bound to result in a fair degree of schadenfreude. And when you have as many vocal enemies as Guido, there is unlikely to be a shortage.

But, in the rush to gloat, are we ignoring the real culprit here? Did Guido retract because…

a) Robinson told him no such thing
b) Robinson told him ‘deniably, unattributably and in confidence’, thereby requiring a retraction from Guido.

Make your own mind up. From what I can see, Guido has since been silent on this, and we are none the wiser on the source for this (unfounded) claim. And as much as I hope that Guido is mistaken, or that he just imagined it, it just doesn’t seem that likely to me.

Now, as a licence fee payer, I hope that option b is not the case. But if Robinson were the source for this allegation (and it would not be unusual for a retraction to be based upon a refusal by a source to confirm a libellous story that they had hinted at, rather than any genuine mistake or misunderstanding), we would be left with a picture of a BBC political editor who is desperate to get a story that he can’t stand up into the public domain.

Most reporters, I would imagine, would like to hang on to seismic little snippets like the ‘second email’ story in the hope that they will be able to eventually stand it up and take the credit for breaking it. Even Andrew Gilligan didn't use a blogger in this strategic way.

Surely, only a reporter pursuing a political vendetta would do so ‘by any means necessary’, and it would be reasonable to speculate that Guido, because of his relative immunity from the libel laws (no plaintiff in their right mind pursues a ‘shoeless’ author for libel), is a useful ‘route to market’ for a political miscreant. So, surely, if you want to spread gossip, give it to Guido?

Beyond the circumstantial evidence, not a shred of proof has reached the public domain showing that Robinson did deliberately tip Guido off to this effect. But if such evidence were to be found, it could make his position at the Beeb unsustainable.

After all, because Robinson has a Tory background (though he doesn’t mention his mid-'80s role as Chairman of the Young Conservatives in the biography that he publishes on his blog), he must already be a suspect clandestine member of ‘Project Cameron.’

His idiotic sensationalism certainly makes him sound like one most of the time.

Supporters of public service broadcasting can only hope that Nick Robinson isn’t tipping Guido off though, and I expect that phone records could be examined to clear up any doubt. I would suggest that his superiors at the BBC should think about holding an internal enquiry into this – and publishing the results by way of reassurance.

We don’t want another Gilligangate, do we?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Libertarianism (3) - freedom without lavatory doors

Last post on this for now - I promise. More a bit of mood music than a point.

I met Colin Ward (mentioned in the previous post on this subject) a few times, and he once told me that there are three places where you can’t have a shit in peace. The first two were prisons and public schools. Their overwhelming authoritarian ethos ensured that toilet doors were removed in the interests of minimal man-on-man jiggery-pokery.

The third place was the anarchist household. There, the lav-door symbolised the kind of hang-ups that no truly free society could allow to go unchallenged.

In the comments the other day here, Tim Worstall cleared up my half-remembered understanding of his position. Now, I don't know much about Switzerland as an 'actually existing' model, but the one thing I do remember about it is that - when I hitchhiked through it some years ago - I was stopped and searched by the cops twice in one day, and the customs officers on the way in spent an hour pretending to fit me up for possession of weed. It's what passes for a practical joke on lonely Franco-Swiss border posts in the middle of the night.

I don't like Switzerland.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Gratuitious Forest

No good deed goes unpunished*.

Isn't YouTube a lovely thing? It allows us to thank Shilts with all of our hearts, nearly thirty years later.

Today, it has this adoration, largely of Peter, but also to those others who served:


About one minute ten seconds in is the save against Ian Wallace in the final title-winning game (away at Coventry). Shilton always said it was his finest hour. But wait until the end. Winning 4-0 at Old Trafford with a master class in the Clough method: How To Score Goals on the Break. The next time you hear anyone listing a 'ten greatest players' without including Archie Gemmill, give them a slap and show them this clip, for the reason that this wasn't a spectacular example of his playing, but a representative one.

That's all.

(thanks for the tip, Simon).

(*Insert John Lennon Airport "imagine no possessions" joke in here).

Prejudices confirmed

Apologies for the sparse posting here. Been busy. Thankfully, others have stepped into the breach.

If you want to, read Mick against sock-puppetry and on the importance of ‘owning’ what you say, and Pootergeek’s guest post from John Hack. Then read Andrew Hammel anatomising negativism in Germany.

(for the latter, ta Will)