Sunday, 31 July 2011

Osborne flagship policy ‘a total flop’

A flagship £1billion government scheme to promote growth and jobs in the private sector is set to cost more to administer than it has paid out to support small businesses. Mr Osborne used his first Budget last June to announce a "National Insurance holiday" which he said would benefit around 400,000 new business start-ups outside London, the South East and the East of England.

The scheme which exempted new businesses from up to £5,000 of employers' National Insurance contributions for each of the first 10 employees they hired in their first year of operating - saving them up to £50,000. Ministers hoped the holiday would help create around 800,000 new jobs over three years and said it could end up seeing £940million paid out by The Treasury.

However, since its launch last September just 5,137 firms have benefited, helping to create just over 10,000 jobs, according to figures supplied by David Gauke, the Treasury minister. With an average benefit per business of £2,000, that means around £10.3 million has been paid to companies – less than the £12 million the Treasury says the scheme will cost to administer.

Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, said: "George Osborne hailed this flagship policy last year saying it could create 800,000 private sector jobs. But it's turned out to be a total flop."

The Sunday Telegraph

Friday, 29 July 2011

Vidic presents Manchester United’s new mascot


Christmas comes to Harrods

Mrs and Father Christmas taste the twelve ice creams of Christmas at the opening of Christmas World in Harrods yesterday. Yes, the twenty-eighth of July ffs.
  92 91 93

This localism bill will sacrifice our countryside to market forces

The government's 'sustainable' new planning policy invites corruption and will sink us in urban sprawl, writes Simon Jenkins in the Guardian

With parliament in recess the government this week sneaked out the most astonishing change to the face of England in half a century. A "national planning policy framework" replaces all previous regulation and encourages building wherever the market takes it, crucially in the two-thirds of rural England outside national parks, green belts and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Farms, forests, hills, valleys, estuaries and coasts will be at the mercy of a "presumption in favour of sustainable development". The "default response" to any planning application is to be "yes".
The word sustainable should never appear in an act of parliament. It is a weasel word, an adjective not qualifying a noun but lightly dusting it with vague political approval. Sustainability is the sort of Blairism that gave us downsizing for sacking and humanitarian intervention for war. The only sustainable meadow is a meadow. Sustainable development is a contradiction in terms. It means development.

The localism bill now before parliament is a straight developers' ramp. Drafted by the local government secretary, Eric Pickles, and the business secretary, Vince Cable, it stresses business and "national economic policy" over conservation at every turn. It is the outcome of intense lobbying by the construction industry. Pickles and Cable are mere purveyors of building plots to the capitalist classes. The words development and business occur in the bill 340 times, the word countryside just four.

The bill and addendum breach the core principle of planning, that the long-term use of land, the scarcest of resources, should take precedence over an owner's right to profit. That is why there are no bungalows on the white cliffs of Dover and no wind farms on the Chilterns. It is why, when you look out over the Severn valley, you do not see Bristol merged with Gloucester.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership – yeah, right

The committee on standards in public life has been sidelined at the time we need it most, writes Peter Preston in the Observer.

Take a few fine words. Say, selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. Then wonder where you've heard them before. Ah yes! They're the seven principles of public service, as promulgated by the committee on standards in public life, the standing commission of the great and good set up by John Major – in a "cash for questions" tizz – in order to sweep Britain's grubby cupboards clean. And, by and large, from the founding chairman Lord Nolan to the current chief Christopher Kelly, that's been done: local government has been a sight less seedy and scandal-prone.

48 Paul O’Grady

But pause, there's something missing here. Another squalid crisis; more dilemmas, this time involving prime ministers, top policemen and big, bruising newspapers; a judicial inquiry into almost everything anybody can think of; and no mention, start to finish, of the committee supposed to keep us safe. Where are honesty, openness and the rest when we need them? Come to think of it, where is Sir Christopher Kelly?

One dead bat answer suffices. His committee is toiling over a mammoth report on political party funding, due to be delivered in the autumn. Perhaps David Cameron doesn't want to distract it by lobbing in Andy Coulson? But on closer examination, such defences don't wash. The watchdogs are being allowed to fade from sight. Governments can't abolish "standards in public life". Think of the horrendous headlines. But letting a mist of obscurity drift over them is politics by the playbook.

And this is a lesson for our times. The committee started with a rush of reports that made a difference. But in 2000 a Cabinet Office review pronounced the "ethical environment" cleansed. Now the committee could step back, go quiet, stop making waves. But enter, as the next chairman, Sir Alistair Graham, a master wavemaker. He took on No 10 over crucial questions (such as whether Tony Blair, prime minister at the time, was ministerial misconduct supremo of last resort) – but he lost. He started to deliver annual verdicts on New Labour Britain. He found sleaze seeping back, and promptly failed to get reappointed.

You Gotta Have A Gimmick - from 'Gypsy'

If you're gonna pump it, pump it with a trumpet ...

Amy Winehouse

1983 - 2011

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Ying Tong Song - The Goons

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Murdoch Public Relations Exercise 1 – 0 Parliament

Do not be fooled for one minute by Rupert Murdoch's new friend, Humility. Less than a week ago, Murdoch told the Wall Street Journal that News Corp had made only “minor mistakes” in handling the crisis that had forced the closure of the News of the World and scuppered its bid for British Sky Broadcasting.

Then somebody with a lot more business sense than him decide to bring in Edelman, the largest independent PR agency in the world.  Within two days, Brooks had resigned, Murdoch apologised to the Dowler family and full page 'apology ads' appeared in every major newspaper in the country. Murdoch even interrupted his son's first answer to say that this was the "most humble day of my life". He later went on to say: "I would like to say just how sorry I am and how sorry we are to particularly the victims of illegal voicemail interceptions and to their families."

However, the constant slamming of his hands on the desk in front of him showed a man irritated by having to explain his actions to someone, a man used to being in charge and getting his own way. At one point his wife, and very own Charlie's Angel, leant forward to try and curtail him. Edelman had probably warned him about this prior to the hearing.

"I was absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed when I heard about the Milly Dowler case two weeks ago," he told MPs. In fact he was so shocked, appalled and ashamed by the news that he didn't think to apologise until ten days later. On the instruction of Edelman, presumably.

Sadly, the 'comedian and UKUncut member' only served to advance Edelman's good work further by giving Murdoch the chance to continue heroically with the hearing, jacket off, shirtsleeves showing, in full view of the watching millions. It's hard to believe but Murdoch had actually managed to cut it with the sympathy vote.

Moment of the Day: was obviously when Mrs M, having sat through the entire proceedings resembling an oriental tribute to Princess Diana’s fashion sense, proceeded to throw the Edelman Finishing School pamphlet out the window and completely chavved it. Class, as they say.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

NHS services to be opened up to competition

More than £1bn of NHS services are to be opened to competition from private companies and charities, including wheelchair services for children, writes Randeep Ramesh in the Guardian

The government will open up more than £1bn of NHS services to competition from private companies and charities, the health secretary announced today, increasing fears that it will inevitably lead to the "privatisation of the health service". In the first wave, beginning next April, eight NHS areas – including musculo-skeletal services for back pain, adult hearing services in the community, wheelchair services for children and primary care psychological therapies for adults – will be open for "competition on quality not price".

If successful, the policy, known as "any qualified provider", would see non-NHS bodies allowed from 2013 to deliver more complicated clinical services in maternity and "home chemotherapy". Admitting that the government's initial plans for competition in the NHS were too ambitious – and stung by criticism by Steve Field, the senior doctor called in by David Cameron to review the government's reforms, that the proposals were "unworkable", Andrew Lansley has slowed down the roll-out of competition in the health service.

The health secretary said his plans would now "enable patients to choose [providers] ... where this will lead to better care". Critics, however, warned of "huge dangers lurking in the plans". The trade union Unison said that "patients will be little more than consumers, as the NHS becomes a market-driven service, with profits first and patients second. And they could be left without the services they need as forward planning in the NHS becomes impossible."

A spokesman for the British Medical Association questioned "the assumption that increasing competition will always mean improving choice. The ultimate consequence of market failure in the NHS is the closure of services, restricting the choice of patients who would have wished to use them."

Sunday, 17 July 2011

John Whittingdale’s Facebook friends include Elisabeth Murdoch and Les Hinton

By Jane Merrick, Brian Brady, James Hanning and Andy McCorkell of The Independent

The MP who will lead the attack on Rebekah Brooks and Rupert and James Murdoch this week over their roles in the phone-hacking scandal has close links with the media empire, it is revealed today. John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport committee, admitted he was an old friend of Mr Murdoch's close aide, Les Hinton, and had been for dinner with Ms Brooks.

The Independent on Sunday has also learnt that Mr Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth, seen as the future saviour of the company, has also met Mr Whittingdale a number of times. Among her 386 "friends" on Facebook, the only MP she lists is Mr Whittingdale. He is also the only MP among 93 Facebook "friends" of Mr Hinton, who resigned as chief executive of Mr Murdoch's Dow Jones company on Friday. It is also understood that the MP for Maldon was invited to Mr Hinton's wedding reception in 2009 but declined to accept in light of the committee's ongoing investigation into hacking.

While there is no suggestion of impropriety on the part of the Tory MP – an aide to Margaret Thatcher when she was prime minister – the disclosure will fuel the sense that all the key players in the scandal are inextricably linked as members of the Establishment. It follows revelations that senior police officers, including Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, had dinner with senior executives from News International.

"These are people who I've met," Mr Whittingdale said last night. "I've only met Elisabeth Murdoch a couple of times. Les, I've known for about 10 years, and I've been for dinner once or twice with Rebekah. I wouldn't say they are close friends but you can't do the job I've done for six years without having them as acquaintances. It doesn't suggest close intimacy."

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Googie Withers

1917 - 2011

Murdoch, like Napoleon, is a great bad man

by Conrad Black [yes, that Conrad Black]

Rupert Murdoch is probably the most successful media proprietor and operator in history. There is no possible argument about his boldness, vision and skill of execution in conquering the British tabloid market, leading vertical media integration by uniting film studios and television stations, cracking the US television triopoly, being one of the great pioneers of satellite television and founding a conservative-populist American news network. (It was to reduce News Corp’s dependence on Roger Ailes’ Tea Party Fox News Network that he was so eager to spend £8.3bn ($13.3bn) buying all the shares in BSkyB and laying hands on all its income.) It must also be admitted that the Wall St Journal is the only quality product Mr Murdoch has ever bought and actually improved.

He was sometimes very fortunate, especially when Margaret Thatcher exempted his satellite telecasting from regulation (though she was just repaying the favours of The Sun); that his bid for MGM was unsuccessful just before his near-mortal financial crisis in 1990; and that British Satellite Broadcasting was so ineptly managed by Granada and others that it collapsed into his arms 20 years ago. But luck is a small part of the explanation for his success.

It is unlikely that Mr Murdoch, his son James, or Les Hinton committed crimes (Mr Hinton is a very decent man). Discerning people should not be impressed by the process familiar to me and other victims of it, of hostile media solemnly citing law professors and retired prosecutors and sources who spoke on condition of anonymity (usually tendentious fantasies of the journalists themselves), to comment on the Murdochs’ legal problems. No one should begrudge The Guardian, the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and others their fun at his expense, nor take it too seriously. He is, as Clarendon said of Cromwell and the British historian David Chandler updated to Napoleon “a great bad man”. It is as wrong to dispute his greatness as his badness.

Murdoch-bashing has, until very recently, generally been a disreputable activity, chiefly engaged in by the envious, the far-left and the commercially uncompetitive, all almost incapable of disinterested comment – but not always. It is, on this subject at last, a time for truth. For decades Britain’s establishment professed to despise Mr Murdoch but appeased and grovelled to him, (“I thoroughly disapprove of Rupert, but I quite like him,” was the tedious refrain), as when it became clear that most of opinionated London expected him to prevail over The Daily Telegraph in the price war that he launched in 1993. It is a matter of some pride to those of us at the Telegraph then that he did not. As I commend a robust response to the British, I shall not practise unilateral verbal disarmament myself.

Hospital wins right to challenge closure of children's heart surgery unit

The Royal Brompton hospital in London has won permission for a judicial review of what it argues are "fundamentally flawed" NHS plans that threaten to close its children's heart surgery unit. The hospital stands to lose its unit under proposals to reduce the numbers of hospitals carrying out children's heart surgery from eleven to six or seven. Experts agree that children will be safer if heart surgery is concentrated in fewer, larger units where surgeons are more experienced.

However, the proposals put forward by the 'Safe and Sustainable' NHS review, run by a joint committee representing all primary care trusts, have outraged the Royal Brompton, which is one of three hospitals in London undertaking this very specialised surgery and the only one earmarked for closure in the capital. Their services would be merged into those of Great Ormond Street and the Evelina children's hospital.

The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust has now been granted permission to proceed to a full judicial review later this year by Mr Justice Burnett at the high court. It argues that the process leading to the public consultation (which has just ended) on a number of different closure options was fundamentally flawed.

"This is extremely good news, first and foremost for patients," said Bob Bell, chief executive of the trust. "We have always supported the principle that all babies and children who undergo heart surgery deserve the best possible care, but decisions about the future of such vital services have to be made on the basis of sound, objective evidence and the decision-making process must, of course, be entirely transparent. These conditions were not met by those responsible for this review."

However, the trust did not succeed in getting the reorganisation stopped in its tracks. Mr Justice Burnett said it "is desirable for the joint committee to continue its work of improving paediatric cardiac surgery for the nation". It was with "some hesitation" that he agreed that the Brompton had an arguable case, he said.

The Brompton claims that the decision to reduce London centres from three to two was not based on any evidence, but was an attempt to ensure London shared "the pain of closure" with other units around the country. The trust also argues that it was not represented on the decision-making body, while the other two London centres were. It says its results are very good and that closure of the heart unit would have a damaging impact on its other services, including adult heart surgery.

Hospital reorganisation plans are invariably hard fought and the Brompton is not the only centre to campaign against the proposed closure of its children's heart surgery unit, but it is the only one to take legal action. Others have sent in mass petitions and MPs from Leeds succeeded in obtaining a debate on the floor of the House of Commons. There have been 70,000 responses to the public consultation exercise, including 20,000 text messages.

Jeremy Glyde, programme director for 'Safe and Sustainable', said: "The rationale for change is supported by medical experts, professional associations and leading national heart charities. Pooling expertise will help the NHS make further improvements to patient outcomes and deliver a truly excellent service." An independent panel would now look into the Brompton's claim that other services would be damaged if the children's heart unit closed, Glyde said.

Monday, 11 July 2011


Saturday, 9 July 2011

End of the rainbow

Sam Allardyce: Thatcher killed football

West Ham boss Sam Allardyce has accused former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of destroying homegrown football talent. The Hammers' manager says Thatcher's Tories "undermined the game" by stopping teachers' overtime for taking extra sports lessons after school. "Since Margaret Thatcher stopped teachers being paid extra money for coaching sports after school, all sporting activities have diminished on a competitive basis. Thatcher killed football, no doubt about it."

Allardyce said the Tories' policy has produced "a lesser quality of players" and "unhealthy" kids. "This was a working class game but it's only at private schools where the children get the sports opportunities I had - and even then a lot of them don't play football, it's mainly rugby. Despite putting in place all sorts of advanced academy systems at clubs we are only producing half the players the school system used to. Our [West Ham] youth trainer, Tony Carr, is fighting to find the next Ferdinands and Lampards with one hand tied behind his back."

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Shard, London Bridge

Rising above the London skyline

News of the World - Memorial Edition

Steve Bell, the Guardian

Thursday, 7 July 2011

News of the World: Yesterday’s news

Here’s a round up of Wednesday's main developments:

• The prime minister has bowed to pressure to hold at least one inquiry into illegal phone hacking at the News of the World. But he and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg are wrangling over the membership and status of that inquiry and a possible separate investigation into the future of media regulation. Clegg has called for a judge to take charge but Downing Street disagrees.

• The scandal intensified with the revelation that the families of members of the armed forces killed in Afghanistan and Iraq may have been targeted by a private investigator who hacked mobile phones for the News of the World. Officers at Scotland Yard investigating the allegations have contacted relatives.

• Scotland Yard has told the chancellor, George Osborne, that his name and home phone number appeared on notes kept by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and former News of the World reporter Clive Goodman. A spokesman for the chancellor said there was no suggestion his phone had been hacked.

• Rupert Murdoch has said that Rebekah Brooks will stay as chief executive of News International. In a statement, he said that she will be in charge of the corporation's efforts to restore its reputation.

• London mayor Boris Johnson has said that he wants the Independent Police Complaints Commission to play a role in investigating the Metropolitan police's failure to conduct the first phone hacking inquiry properly.

• Labour MP Tom Watson has said that the police should investigate James Murdoch for trying to pervert the course of justice. In a parliamentary debate on the scandal, Watson said: "It is clear now that he personally and without board approval authorised money to be paid by his company to silence people who have been hacked and to cover up criminal behaviour within his organisation. This is nothing short of an attempt to pervert the course of justice."

• Shares in News Corp and BSkyB fell as the phone-hacking scandal put Murdoch and his bid to take control of the broadcaster under scrutiny. News Corp shares fell by 5% at one stage on Wall Street, to $17.17. BSkyB shares in London closed 2.1% lower at 827p.

• Procter & Gamble, Britain's biggest advertiser, plus O2, Vauxhall, Butlins and Virgin Holidays joined Ford in pulling ads from this weekend's News of the World.

"Recent allegations of phone hacking and making payments to police with respect to the News of the World are deplorable and unacceptable. I have made clear that our company must fully and proactively cooperate with the police in all investigations and that is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks' leadership. We are committed to addressing these issues fully and have taken a number of important steps to prevent them from happening again."

The Guardian

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Cameron returns to News of the World bloodbath

David Cameron returns from Afghanistan today to find himself in a tight spot over the News of the World phone hacking scandal. It has been revealed that e-mails handed over by News International to Operation Weeting appear to show that the PM's former media adviser, Andy Coulson, personally approved payments to the police when he edited the paper between 2003 and 2007. This could explain how the NOTW hacker-in-chief, private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, obtained the mobile telephone numbers of some of his targets.

In the latest twist in the saga, which has turned distaste at the hacking of celebrity mobiles into public revulsion at the alleged eavesdropping on the families of murder victims, the police believe the targets included Graham Foulkes, whose son David was one of the 7/7 London bombing victims. News International insisted on Tuesday night that the payments to the police did not relate to the period from 2000-2003 when Rebekah Brooks was the paper's editor, suggesting the handover of emails may be an attempt to deflect the scandal on to Coulson.

Rebekah Brooks, now chief executive of News International, continues to insist that the use of phone-hacking during her editorship is all news to her. This is despite the Guardian's claim, published on Monday afternoon, that the voicemail of murder victim Milly Dowler was hacked into on behalf of the News of the World – thus hampering the police investigation. This revelation was followed yesterday by news that police have apparently contacted the father of the Soham twins, Holly and Jessica Chapman, to warn him that his phone may have been hacked into by Glenn Mulcaire in August 2002, before the girls were found murdered by Ian Huntley. Significantly, Andy Coulson was not told by News International about the e-mails they were passing to Operation Weeting.

News International and the Conservatives

A clip from Channel 4's Dispatches - Tabloids, Tories and Telephone hacking, discussing links between the Conservatives and Rupert Murdoch's organisation.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Anna Massey

1937 - 2011

The statue of Reagan that Londoners will take to their hearts - allegedly

Condoleezza Rice uncovers a 10ft statue of Ronald Reagan in the grounds of the American embassy in London to mark the 100th anniversary of the former US President's birth. William Hague told the Americans in the audience “that the people of London will take his statue to their hearts.” I don’t know what research he’s done to qualify that statement but it wasn’t round my way.

But it’s not just the UK that has to suffer the indignation of a tribute to Ronald Reagan; Budapest also joins in the 'celebration'.

Meanwhile, Prague has to suffer the humiliation of having a whole street named after him.

I guess all things considered, we got got off fairly lightly.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Praise the Lord: Vatican budget emerges from the red

The Vatican has announced its finances have returned to profit - after three consecutive years in the red. Its report said the Holy See saw revenues of €245.2m (£222m) against expenses of €235.3m in 2010. However, annual donations from churches worldwide - known as Peter's Pence - were down nearly $15m to $67.7m.

The Pope slumming it in the Basilica during hard times

The separately administered Vatican City State also made a €21m profit due to strong ticket sales at the Vatican Museums. The Vatican lost €4m in 2009 and was also in the red in 2008 and 2007. Most of the Vatican's outlay is to cover the activities of Pope Benedict XVI and services such as Vatican Radio which is broadcast on five continents in 40 different languages.

The Vatican began publishing annual financial reports in 1981 when Pope John Paul II set out to challenge perceptions that the Vatican was rich.