Saturday, May 23, 2009 

Weekend links.

Story of the weekend remains expenses, but it's rather branched out, since the Telegraph (apparently) succeeded in getting Nadine Dorries and her wacky (as described by the Tories themselves) allegations about the Barclay brothers removed from her website. The Barclay brothers are notoriously litigious and prickly about their privacy, but to be taking such nonsense seriously and deeming it so potentially wounding that it has to be removed by legal means is a spectacular own goal. Dorries had quite obviously just ruined her image as a victim following the Damian MacBride debacle; now she has it back once again, and can even rely on her allies to proclaim her the latest free speech martyr. From a newspaper which has in some instances (such as over Brown's cleaner, where it was apparent that he had done nothing wrong) got the wrong end of stick over the expenses information handed it, it rather sticks in the claw that it's reacting in much the same way as the MPs it's exposing.

Elsewhere, not to big myself up or anything, but there's my latest post over on the Sun Lies concerning the paper's Baby Peter coverage, Alan Thomas on Lib Con calls for an election, with some interesting comments below it, Craig Murray defends Dorries' freedom to blog, Paul Linford has his latest column, Flying Rodent returns with a majestic post on expenses, Mr Eugenides adds to the Dorries comment, as does Rhetorically Speaking, Freemania sees a gap in the gate market, and Daily Quail notes the Mail's lovely coverage of a former front page superstar.

In the papers, Matthew Parris says kick them, but not necessarily out, Janice Turner also defends MPs to an extent, considering their work load, while Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Graun does almost the opposite, Deborah Orr talks how prison is not the place for those who wish to do harm to themselves, Chris Mullin attempts to argue that not all MPs are at it, while Andrew Grice also wonders if Westminster justice is fair.

Worst tabloid article of the weekend has us going full circle, as the Independent reprints Dorries' ravings, sans the Barclays stuff. Nice work if you can get it.

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Friday, May 22, 2009 

Scum-watch: How much more hysterical can the outrage get?

Emotional pornography in today's Sun leader:

But today, when Judge Stephen Kramer sentences the three monsters involved in Baby Peter's death, he will have to consider more than the failings of organisations meant to protect vulnerable children.

He must also send out a message that depraved brutes, like the trio involved in this baby's horrible end, have no place in a civilised society.

It is hard to think of a punishment that fits this particular crime without reducing ourselves to the level of the guilty.

The judge must reflect that even the wildest animals care for their young.

They do not leave them screaming for protection like Baby Peter, as they slowly and sadistically destroy their bodies.

His evil mother, her sadistic child-rapist boyfriend and the paedophile lodger all face 14 years behind bars. The boyfriend faces life in jail for the separate rape conviction.

All of them must now get the maximum sentence possible. With no remission. Not a single day.

The Sun really should get an award for such writing: no other newspaper so successfully dehumanises those convicted of crimes. It doesn't matter that it credits those responsible for Baby Peter's death with intelligence and planning which the evidence the court received hardly backs up, or indeed that even the baby's father detected nothing wrong with him despite seeing him only the weekend before he died, which perhaps provides an insight into the other failings; it really has just gripped hold of the outrage that surrounded this case, for both right and wrong, and is squeezing every drop that it can from it.

Predictably then, it's already launched another petition calling for the sentences handed down to be lengthened, despite all being sentenced to indeterminate sentences, with the paper seizing on how the mother could out within 3 years, the boyfriend within 8 and the lodger within 1, although to call that unlikely would be putting it lightly. It's also reopened the comments for the first time since they got out of hand, and they are also, wholly unsurprising. They also echo the Sun's dehumanisation:


Death penalty should be brought back for these three animals.

they should be locked up for life !!!! and for him bring back the electric chair, save our taxes !!!thats disgusting.If I were in charge they would all get the death penalty.& I would flick the switch or stick the needle in.********.

These 3 individuals are so sick and twisted. As a mother to a baby boy myself, I get so emotional and upset when I hear any of this story. A life sentence is too good for them. Why waste tax payers money? Bring back the death penalty for such evil monsters! We can only hope their lives are made a living hell by fellow inmates.


the person who thinks the sentences were reasonable is obviously no beter than those three who should rot in hell

Can't believe this is happening in Britain in 2009.

The justice system was better 100 years ago.

Protection for the evil, is that what the British justice system is all about.

There is no chance for children born into evil like this, if if this is the punishment they get.

Quite how the Sun's leader tomorrow will go one up on today's sense of fury will be difficult, but it doubtless will.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009 

The wonderful world of Nadine Dorries.

How then go things with the expenses of Ms Nadine Dorries MP, who at the weekend was facing questions concerning her allowances? Like Margaret Moran, the Labour MP for Luton South who is facing the possibility of being in a who's the more repellent fight with Esther Rantzen at the next election (Rantzen, despite everything, easily wins) after she claimed the additional costs allowance for a house in Southampton, as well as claiming for the treatment of dry rot at the property, she faced allegations that she was using the second home allowance, not to claim for a house in London but instead for the one in her constituency, which she claims she spends less time at than her digs in the Cotswolds.

Unfortunately when you're an MP that blogs about the mundane things in life, this tend to leaves a trail which might not be to her advantage. Tim points out that she has talked plenty about her time spent in Woburn, but not so much about her bolthole out in Chipping Camden. This could be because she's only recently been spending more time at the latter, and also because she "didn't want her constituents" to think she wasn't dedicating enough time to them, in her rather feeble defence, but it certainly raises questions for the internal review body which is going through the Conservatives' expenses claims and considering whether or not they're squeaky clean.

Meanwhile, there's another hole in her defence regarding other properties which she claims rather emphatically that she does not own:

I've finished going through all my receipts and thought I had better make some things crystal clear:

I do NOT own a home in South Africa.

I do NOT own a home from which I receive a rental income

That sadly isn't what the register of members' interests says:

DORRIES, Nadine (Mid Bedfordshire)

8. Land and Property
House in Gloucestershire, from which rental income is received.
Holiday home in South Africa.

This could just be Nadine's unfortunate forgetfulness. In response to a Mail on Sunday article last weekend, she wrote:

Have an article on me today which is just a joke. I haven't owned a holiday home in South Africa or owned a home in the Cotswolds since marriage split. As I have said over and over, I rent two homes. They probably got that information from the register which I probably havent up-dated but they really should have just asked me, they phone often enough!

Is it really their fault when you've forgotten, presumably, not to update the register for two years, which is when Dorries' marriage ended? Despite the publicity, Dorries has still apparently forgotten to correct this oversight: the register was last updated yesterday, and still has Dorries down as not just having two homes, but four. If it stays like it much longer it might again be worth wondering whether she's telling the whole truth.

You would forgive embattled MPs who haven't done anything wrong descending into conspiracy theories to explain just what has befallen them over the last couple of weeks. Sadly, for Nadine, such flights of fancy are a natural reflex, whether it's over a photograph she claims shows a baby thrusting its arm through the womb despite the surgeon himself denying that was the case, or over how her amendment aimed at reducing the time limit in which to have an abortion was defeated by a government whipping operation, despite the vote being a free one. Even by her standards however, the rumour mill she claims to have overheard at Westminster is a furiously operating one:

The Telegraph are uncovering a few cases of fraud, but not enough, so they are more than slightly embellishing some of the stories. I write as a case in point.

Enter the Barclay brothers, the billionaire owners of The Daily Telegraph.
Rumour is that they are fiercely Euro sceptic and do not feel that either of the main parties are Euro sceptic enough. They have set upon a deliberate course to destabilise Parliament, with the hope that the winners will be UKIP and BNP.

A quick online check of the Barclay brothers and their antics on the Island of Sark is enough to give this part of the rumour credence.

Another rumour is that the disc was never acquired and sold by an amateur, but it was in fact a long term undercover operation run by the Telegraph for some considerable time, carefully planned and executed; and that the stories of the naive disc nabber ringing the news desk in an attempt to sell the stolen information are entirely the work of gossip and fiction.

These rumours do have some credibility given that this has all erupted during the European Election Campaign and turn out is expected to be high with protest votes, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, or should I say the Barclay brothers.

Now, if this is all a power game executed by the BBs, how would they do that?
It is a fact that these men are no fools and are in fact self-made billionaires.
I would imagine and believe that if any of this is true, they know the British psyche well enough to whip up a mood of public anger, hence the long running revelations in the DT.

Where do I get this from? Well, at heart I am just a cheeky scouser. I like to go into the rooms of the faceless and nameless in Parliament, sit on their desk and ask pertinent questions like: who are you? What do you do? I've made friends with one or two. One in particular I am very fond of. He is a mine of very astute information; and whilst in his office yesterday, we chunnered over the 'what is this all about?' question.

He reckons this is all a power game. That the British public are being worked like puppets by two very powerful men. Whipped up into a frenzy to achieve exactly what they want.

His very poignant words to me were “if any of this conjecture is true, Parliament will become full of racists, fantasists, and has-been celebrities. We will be rendered impotent and may never again regain the authority to withstand the pressure, opinion and whims of the overtly wealthy.”

Yeeessss, or it could just be that a minor official who was a civil servant has just become fantastically wealthy after he saw the opportunity to copy a hard drive containing all the expenses details, as outlined by the Wall Street Journal, Sunday Times, Mail on Sunday and the Guardian. Or are they all in on this conspiracy as well, masterminded by two gentlemen on an island, presumably stroking white cats in a sinister manner? Wouldn't it have been rather easier for the Barclays to just get the Telegraph to support UKIP, rather than the Conservatives, therefore pressurising the party to become even more Eurosceptic than embark on such a fantastically complicated and fiendish plot to forever bend the whim of parliament to them? Still, helped to distract from her own predicament for a while at least.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 

Election chaos.

Gordon Brown didn't exactly cover himself in glory when he said that calling an election now would cause "chaos", which he elaborated on later to mean, rather disingenuously, that it would cause chaos for the public services to suddenly have to adjust to the Conservatives' planned cuts.

It isn't an entirely unjustified claim however. Half of the reason why the Conservatives are able to call for one is because they know it isn't going to happen. The Tories are no more ready for a snap election than the other political parties are, although they are probably the most well prepared, able to rely for direct funding to specific constituencies on Lord Ashcroft, something which neither the Liberal Democrats or Labour can compete with. None of the parties have manifestos ready to go, although they probably exist in draft form. More pertinently, the parties don't have the policies to even go in the manifestos; the Conservatives have come along further in the last year on specifics than they had previously, fleshing out their law and order stance, but we know next to nothing on what they do intend to cut faster and further than Labour. There wasn't a problem with that when we were still a year away from an election, but if Gordon Brown were suddenly to decide to just get it over with and follow Cameron's demands, that suddenly looks less like political sense and more like not knowing what they actually plan do if they suddenly find themselves in office.

There's little doubt that were there to be an election tomorrow, the Conservatives would sweep the board, which makes the Sun's claims, which is more or less hand in hand with Cameron in demanding an immediate ballot, that Brown has more to gain than lose in calling a vote even more hilarious. He has everything to lose, as is obvious. As horrendous as everything currently is, in a year it's still feasible, if unlikely, that the economy will have recovered sufficiently, the MPs that abused their expenses removed from their posts or disciplined and the reforms that are hastily being agreed will have bedded in enough for the anger to have diminished and for some to consider that perhaps they'd still rather vote Labour after all. One of the reforms that should be considered on a wider scale to help with re-engaging the public with politics should be fixed-term limits, removing the ridiculous and unfair advantage the governing party has in being able to call an election when they feel like it, but until then the ball is in Gordon Brown's hands.

As attractive the idea is of the public being able to cast their judgement on MPs immediately is, the cynicism behind the proposal from the Conservatives is clear: they're asking for one both because they know they won't get one, while also knowing that if they do, they'll be the ones to take full advantage. Also as righteous as much of anger currently descending on politicians is, actions taken in anger are often rash. An election should never be fought on a single issue, as one now would be. Far better to give all the parties a further chance to flesh out not just the specific reforms to our political culture which are now undoubtedly needed, but also their policies in full. An election now is the worst of all possible worlds.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009 

Scum-watch: More on Alfie Patten.

It's a real shame that the revelation that the Sun's story concerning Alfie Patten has been shown to be completely wrong isn't getting the attention it deserves, with the continuing row over MPs expenses overshadowing it, because the account of what actually seems to have happened continues to worsen.

In what seems to be a growing pattern of newspapers promising payments for stories only to later then renege on the details, it now appears that the Sun did not pay Patten's parents any money for the story. Whether this was because they had no intention of doing so, knowing that it would breach the Press Complaints Commission's code if they did is unclear, and it has to be said we are relying on the distinctly unreliable Max Clifford for the allegation that the paper had promised a large sum of money for the story which it then failed to stump up (his claim that he stopped the coverage seems to be erroneous; social services got a court order which definitely did stop it). The Guardian does however confirm that the paper has now promised that it will set-up a trust fund for the child itself, which distinctly suggests that considering that Patten will now presumably have no involvement with the bringing up of the child, no payment is going to be made to either him or his parents.

Clifford, for once, does seem to be on the side of justice in this case. In a previous interview with the Graun, he said that he had started representing the Patten family because of the tabloid mob which was trying to desperately get their own side of the story, trying his best to curb the excesses they were resorting to. Whether if they had gone to him first rather than to the Sun he would hold the same view is questionable, but when even Clifford thinks that a story should never have been published you ought to sit up and take notice.

The Sun, predictably, still sees no shame in what it has subjected a 13-year-old boy to as a result of both their greed and his parents' initial attempts to gain financially from the situation they seemed to have found themselves in. There is no apology in today's paper, and no editorial comment defending their reporting of the story, which is even more pathetic than if they were bothering to defend their journalism. There is however, remarkably, a comment from the paper's agony aunt attached to the main piece on the story, headlined "[K]ids who are given no sense of values". A more applicable headline would be "Journalists who are given no sense of values", as quite clearly Rebekah Wade, a woman who has repeatedly campaigned supposedly on the behalf of children, such as for Sarah's law, saw nothing wrong with paying (or rather, not) for a story about teenage pregnancy when they hadn't bothered to even ascertain the basic facts or to give even the slightest thought to what the publicity they were about to come under would do those involved's already fractured psyches.

The not paying for the story or paying less than promised is not just a Sun technique, but is now seemingly increasingly a ploy used by all the tabloids. Most recently the Sunday Express apparently refused to pay for their exclusive about Jacqui Smith's husband claiming for watching two pornographic films on expenses, which came from the same source whom has since sold the full details to the Telegraph. Prior to that, the News of the World paid a lesser sum than promised to the dominatrix who secretly filmed Max Mosley taking part in an orgy, for which he subsequently successfully sued on privacy grounds. Most indefensibly, the News of the Screws also, despite signing a contract with Iraq veteran Justin Smith for an interview, worth £15,000, then tore it up and said they would "only pay £1,000, £1,500 tops".

These are the same people, it's worth bearing in mind, who are currently raging against members of parliament for their expenses fiddles and lies. Despite everything that can be justifiably thrown at MPs, none of their claims have directly affected individual lives; when newspapers renege on deals and use and abuse the likes of Alfie Patten, they care nothing for the damage they leave in their wake. The only way we will get the root and branch reform that is required in all areas of our political culture is not just through a general election, as the Sun is calling for, but through the throwing out also of the media barons that have done just as much if not more to coarsen and diminish our representatives while also thwarting reform that threatens them as much as it does those with their noses in the trough. Any reform that focuses only on parliament and not on the media also is doomed to failure.

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Monday, May 18, 2009 

Scum-watch: The truth about Alfie Patten emerges.

You might recall I made a rather cryptic post at the end of March regarding a truly reprehensible piece of journalism which had appeared in the Sun being proved to be wholly inaccurate. If you didn't manage to work it out, I was referring to the Alfie Patten story, the 13-year-old who at 12 while looking 8 had apparently impregnated his girlfriend, although whether that's an adequate description of her is uncertain. There was at the time wide speculation that Patten was not the father (mostly incongruous that someone who looked so young was capable of being a father), and this was confirmed when the Mirror briefly put an article up on their website suggesting that was the case, in breach of an apparent court order, resulting in it disappearing within a matter of hours.

The Sun itself is now, without a hint of shame, "revealing" that Patten is not the father, presumably meaning that either they are now breaching the court order or that it's expired/been overturned.

It was always doubtful that the Sun's story was in the public interest, and I argued that even if it was, there are times when even if something is in the public interest, it shouldn't necessarily become public knowledge. In a case such as this, where the paper didn't even attempt to deny that it had paid Patten's parents for the story and where it was also clear that neither the parents or the paper had any real interest in the well-being of either the baby or the baby's juvenile parents, but rather respectively their own personal enrichment and their sales, with the Sun boasting of how its completely inaccurate article had resulted in it shooting to the top of the internet newspaper rankings, the Press Complaints Commission really ought to come down like a ton of bricks.

Equally clearly, the Sun has breached the PCC's code concerning children, especially the fourth clause:

iv) Minors must not be paid for material involving children’s welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

It was arguable that even if Patten was the father, the effect on him from being thrust onto the front page of the nation's biggest selling newspaper was hardly likely to prove conducive to him being fully involved in the child's upbringing. Now that it turns out that Patten was not the father, there simply isn't an argument: if his parents hadn't gone looking for money, and if the Sun hadn't been looking for the latest terrible example of Broken Britain, then he would still probably have had to deal with learning that he was not the father after all, but not in the full public glare. This is the sort of thing which scars people for life: newspapers know this all too well, but Patten is the sort of individual who may as well not exist except as a commodity, someone to be used and abused and then forgotten about.

The Sun, naturally, had already featured the claims of the boy who has turned out to be the real father. As Peter Wilby noted at the time, usually those who fear they might have been the one to have knocked up a one-time girlfriend deny everything. Seeing that there was potentially money to be made, at least two and as many as six claimed they were the father. Again, without the slightest irony, the paper quotes the boy's father as saying:

He has broken down in tears at the thought he might be the father. He thinks his life has been ruined by this.

He might well be right. Patten's life though undoubtedly has been, and a baby and her parents have got off to the worst possible start imaginable, all thanks to the greed and shamelessness both of their own parents and of a newspaper that quite clearly has no morals whatsoever.

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