Kevin Maguire joins the foxhunting set

Posted on September 25, 2012

Kevin Maguire – one of Westminster’s most amiable lefties, even if he is a Mackem – never normally misses a chance to take a potshot at the ranks of the Right. Over the years, the Countryside Alliance has been a regular target, with a stream of hunting puns flowing from his pen.

So it was no surprise to see him join the Andrew Mitchell fray yesterday:

But wait a second, that cardboard copper looks rather familiar. Whose stand at the Lib Dem conference could that be?

Ah yes…

Perhaps Kevin’s not such a city boy after all?

The Daily Mail owe me a new keyboard

Posted on September 13, 2012

The Daily Mail has a horrifying quite remarkable interview with Edwina Currie today, written by Jan Moir on the back of the paper’s serialisation of her diaries. It’s simultaneously vomitous, unintentionally hilarious and fascinating in the same way as those videos uploaded to Youtube where a teenage skater breaks his arm trying some ill-advised stunt.

I’ll put a health warning on this – only those possessed of a particularly strong stomach or a particularly weak imagination should read the whole piece. In the interests of public safety, I’ve read it for you, and picked out some of the most, err, memorable sections:

Got to say it: the 65-year-old former junior health minister is looking good. Her sausagey, brunette curls are as bouncy as ever, her skin is excellent, she oozes the same indestructible confidence of yesteryear, even if she is worried about her weight.

“Sausagey”? I’m not sure that comes across quite as the compliment it was seemingly intended to be, Jan. So now we are greeted by an image of Edwina Currie whose head is adorned with long bags of ground-up meat, like some kind of butchershop Valkyrie.

‘Was I sex-obsessed? Well I certainly wasn’t cupcake-obsessed, let’s put it that way.’

Good to know – but having ruled-out cupcake obsession, does that inherently rule in sex obsession? Or just leave open the door to obsessions with sheds, magpies or petrol tankers?

Elsewhere in the book, she is constantly measuring others up to herself and finding them wanting. No one is quite good enough. Ex-husband Ray is dim and boring. Norman Lamont is sly and self-indulgent. Libby Purves is fat and tatty. Paddy Ashdown is not very bright, Michael Portillo is unpleasant, Michael Howard is oily and Ann Widdecombe is aggressive.

But other than that, the 90s were great.

‘I am quite a fan of David Cameron. He understands duty. He’s got charm, he’s emollient, he’s got a face like a nicely creamed baby’s bottom.’

Like a what? I’m sure Downing Street will be if not delighted, then at least utterly bewildered and slightly troubled by that.

On her first date with former murder squad copper JJ — after he had appeared as a guest on her Radio 5 Live show — she found herself well and truly locked up in the jail of love.

Alan Partridge has found a gateway into the real world, and he is writing under the pseudonym “Jan Moir”.

‘I don’t regret the affair with [John Major]. I don’t do regrets,’ she says. And even after all this time, a glazed and faraway look creeps into her eyes when she thinks of him, rather like a panther eyeing a crippled vole that’s just appeared on the horizon.

Trust me, even the panthers and the crippled voles are cringeing at that one. What does it even mean? It’s hard to imagine what kind of “faraway look” a panther adopts when it spots a crippled vole appearing on the horizon. Perhaps it’s a look that says “wow – check out that vole, it’s totally knackered”, or a lingering regret that without any opposable thumbs it can’t film this for LOLs with other panthers at a later date. Or, more probably, simply a look that says “Roar, miaow, roar”.

‘John Major was a sexy beast. I think his history shows that. He was 19 when he was living with a woman who was 33. Believe me, I did not have to teach that man anything.’

And there it goes – my lunch, vengefully returned from its rightful place, all over the keyboard. I’ll be sending the Mail an invoice.

Mehdi Hasan airbrushes the Stasi from history

Posted on June 21, 2012

To say the new edition of the New Statesman gives Angela Merkel both barrels would be an understatement. At the hands of Mehdi Hasan, the outgoing Political Editor, the German Chancellor gets the full Rasputin treatment – poisoned, shot, beaten and then thrown into a freezing river to ensure the job is done.

The cover splash describes her as “Europe’s most dangerous leader”, while inside the magazine Hasan’s article is headlined with the claim that her “mania for austerity is destroying Europe”. The piece itself takes the verbal assault even further, arguing that Merkel’s refusal to support a Keynesian solution to the sovereign debt and Eurozone crisis “has brought the continent, and perhaps the world, to the edge of a second Great Depression”.

Strong stuff, but not necessarily a surprise – I doubt I will ever be surprised to learn that Mehdi and I don’t always agree on economics.

(The one element of their coverage that I sympathise with is their portrayal of her as the Terminator – though while this is intended to imply she’s destroying everything, I prefer to interpret it as saying she has been sent by the children of the future to stop 2012’s politicians running up crippling debts that they will have to pay off.)

But he then goes further, shifting from hyperbole to the downright ridiculous.

“Merkel is the most dangerous German leader since Hitler.”

Yes, let’s read that again: The. Most. Dangerous. German. Leader. Since. Hitler.

To Hasan’s credit, he does acknowledge the risk of fulfilling Godwin’s Law (“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”) up front.

But that’s not what bothers me – it’s the historical ignorance, wilful or otherwise, involved in making such a claim.

Let’s consider the proposition: who were the other German leaders since Hitler?

To be charitable, we’ll start by assuming he really meant “The most dangerous German leader since the Nazis”, given that Hitler’s two immediate successors were Josef Goebbels and Admiral Donitz, who even Mehdi must surely recognise were pretty dangerous. I guess “since Hitler” simply sounds catchier.

And after Donitz? Well, there were the Chancellors of West Germany – Adenauer, Erhard, Kiesinger, Brandt and Schmidt – all a rather inoffensive bunch overall.

Then there was Helmut Kohl, who oversaw the reunification of East and West Germany.

He was followed by Gerhard Schröder, not a dangerous man per se (though if the New Statesman thinks Merkel is dangerous for her attempts to solve the Euro crisis, surely some blame should be allotted to the man who led Germany into the Euro in the first place?).

If we accept Mehdi’s core belief that austerity in the face of a sovereign debt crisis is dangerous, then perhaps Merkel is indeed the most radical of that list. But that list is only half the story.

Somewhere along the way he seems to have forgotten (or ignored, or absolved?) the leaders of the entire other half of Germany between 1949 and 1990. That is to say, the GDR, commonly known as East Germany.

Those men – Erich Honecker, Walter Ulbricht, Egon Krenz and plenty of others in the confused hierarchy of single-party East Germany – were truly dangerous.

Under their authoritarian regime, the Stasi spied on East Germans on a scale and with a rigour that even the Gestapo never reached, with some estimating that they gathered over 1 billion pages of information on a population of 16 million people. Thousands were tortured, murdered, kidnapped, beaten and even allegedly irradiated to induce cancer for the simple “crime” of not supporting the regime.

They attempted to run a prison state, constructing the Berlin Wall and killing those who tried to flee to freedom.

If domestic terror and oppression isn’t enough to qualify them as more “dangerous” than Angela Merkel, perhaps the run-down of their international activity might bolster the case. Among their crimes abroad you can count: setting up Idi Amin’s secret police, funding neo-Nazis in West Germany, providing supplies and a safe haven to Carlos the Jackal, and sponsoring the murder and bombing campaign of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. There are plenty more crimes where those came from, too.

So it seems Mehdi’s charge against Merkel is just plain wrong.

This isn’t a flippant point, it matters that these crimes are remembered, rather than brushed aside for the convenience of bringing a shocking-sounding charge against someone the New Statesman disagrees with on economic policy.

The real problem with Laurie Penny

Posted on April 30, 2012

It can’t be easy being Laurie Penny.

For a start, being the self-appointed voice of the young must be a heavy responsibility – particularly when so many of the young keep thinking things you don’t agree with.

Then there’s the difficulty of carving out a media career in New York, a place somewhat less vulnerable to the British Left’s obsession with appointing new Messiahs of the Media every 6 months or so.

Even when you give in to the temptation to abandon your RiotGrrl anti-paternalism and write a traffic-hunting piece swooning over a Hollywood star who, you claim, saved you from death-by-traffic, irritating bloggers crop up pointing out that your story bears remarkable similarities to the plot of a Natalie Portman film.

Now, having inherited the seat left vacant by Johann Hari’s ignominious demise as the previous pen-wielding star of the young left, people start snooping around suggesting you have perhaps polished reality or even made things up to fit your articles. There’s even a hashtag, #pennygate, set up a couple of weeks ago by the guy who brought Hari down.

I must confess that as all of these things pile up, I can’t get too excited about whether Laurie is the new Johann or not. There is speculation, there are undoubtedly people hunting through her past works for fabrications or plagiarism, and who knows if they will find anything.

It’s true that Laurie is almost unique among journalists in always happening to overhear the quote that perfectly and precisely proves her point, regardless of whether she’s in the middle of a riot, trapped in an alley by the EDL or having her bum pinched on a sweaty dance floor. Indeed, I questioned a couple of years ago whether all of her quotes, which tend to read like a poor Grange Hill script, are genuine. Maybe she’s just immensely lucky, all the time; maybe she has remarkable hearing superior to that of ordinary humans; or maybe there’s something more scandalous to it.

It would be interesting to know, but even if the worst was proved it would not be the most fundamental problem with her journalism.

The problem with Laurie is far more important than that.

Laurie’s journalism is flawed because of her worldview.

There’s nothing wrong with biased journalism. Whether you read the original gonzo journalists or, you believe truly balanced journalism is an impossibility, bias has plenty going for it. It is human nature.

Laurie’s worldview suffers not because it is biased, but because it is so hypocritical and so inconsistent.

For an investigative commentator who paints a picture of herself as a kind of war correspondent on the streets of London and New York, she has a remarkable dedication to double think. On Planet Penny, everything is a bit topsy turvy.

Those who loot shops are excused, having been forced into their crime by a wicked society; those who go to work or stay at home watching TV are bad, and by daring to enjoy the fruits of their own labour are personally responsible for forcing those looters to nick flat screen TVs.

Those who use violence against the police are protecting themselves and epitomising the beautiful flame of youthful rebellion; those policemen who hit back are not protecting themselves or others, they are simply autobots carrying out the personal orders of David Cameron/Rupert Murdoch/Andy Coulson to smash what is beautiful.

Those who are on the Left are well informed, have made their own minds up and base everything on evidence; those on the Right just think what they are told by their parents and have obviously never read any history. At worst, the Left are just keen on serving good; at best, the Right are genetically incapable of disobeying the master class.

Those are just some of the peculiar distortions that she embeds in her work. We can also consider the factual distortions inherent in her argument.

Take, for example, the idea that the West is at war with itself. To read Laurie’s work, you’d think every family is riven by violent generational hatred, every student is planning the downfall of the state, every relationship is one of power struggles, and every Primark lies empty because its ethos is so corrosive to the human soul that anyone entering a shop immediately tears at the hair and vomits uncontrollably.

This is, put simply, balls.

But you knew that, because you only need to hold up Laurie’s picture of the world next to the reality that you see every day to realise there is a remarkable discrepancy between the two. As much as she may hate the idea, most families are pretty happy, most people would like a successful career, most consumers enjoy the ability to buy new ipods or to prettify their house. Whisper it, most people are even willing to believe that their partners really do love them, rather than viewing them as foreign ambassadors negotiating a temporary inter-gender armistice.

I suppose it must be deeply frustrating to have to struggle every day to uphold an ideology that, no matter how strongly you promote it, keeps running up against inconvenient fundamental human emotions like aspiration, pleasure, loving one’s family and that kind of thing. Laurie has let that frustration disconnect her writing from reality.

In short, the problem with Laurie isn’t that some of her reported quotes or experiences may (allegedly) be untrue. It’s that all the things she asserts so strongly about human nature are untrue – and no journalism course can set that right.

Trenton Oldfield and the Suffragettes – those similarities in full

Posted on April 11, 2012

In the aftermath of his wrecking of the University Boat Race on Saturday, maritime Marxist Trenton Oldfield has done an insightful interview with the Independent in which he modestly claims to be the modern-day ideological descendant of the Suffragettes – and in particular of Emily Davison, who died after throwing herself under the King’s horse.

It’s quite an ambitious claim – let’s check the similarities…

  Suffragettes

Insufferable and Wet

Cause

Votes for women. “Fighting elitism”.

Personal link

Denied the vote. Err, private school and the LSE.

Supporters

At least half the population. Laurie Penny. Himself.

Method

Hurling oneself under a dashing horse. Swimming towards two boats.

Target

The King. Rowers.

Personal Cost

Loss of life. Damp beard. Widespread disdain.

Outcome

Full voting rights for women. Mockery.

 

Oh.

The Suffragette slogan was “Deeds not Words” – if you judge Trenton Oldfield by the former or the latter, his was a belly-flop of a protest.

A response to Will Self: Twitter’s glorious anarchy is to be admired

Posted on March 29, 2012

Last week, I found myself forced to buy something from a newsagents in order to get change to access a station toilet. Browsing the shelves, I happened across the New Statesman – Britain’s most absorbent weekly political publication, and chose that.

I confess, and I hope Mehdi Hasan and Laurie Penny will forgive me, that I had never bought the NS before. It’s never really fallen into the “interesting enough even if I disagree” or the “so effective an enemy I can’t miss it” categories.

Leafing through, I found a piece by Will Self, gaunt king of the art of using obscure words just to show off, critiquing Twitter. In pursuit of payment and his disdain for free media – sorry, new media – the article is not on the NS site, though it can be found here.

There have been numerous attempts to bemoan Twitter, some (such as attacks on the mobbish nature of some debate) with good reason. As Self is a clever man, if not often a correct one, I thought I would explore his case.

The article resided in the “Critics” section of the magazine, alongside reviews of books, theatre and other arts. I was surprised, therefore, to find Self declaring that he had never, ever actually looked at Twitter.

How odd. Have the NS film reviewers watched the films in question? Or do they simply guess, informed only by second hand rants and uninformed assumptions?

For that matter, can their book reviewers read? Do they need to, if not having experienced the subject of your review is apparently a qualification for penning it?

Perhaps the New Statesman’s Editorial team would accept my tourist review of the surface of the Moon. It would be gripping, vivid and heartily opinionated. It would also be lacking foundation and essentially made up – on which counts, judging by Self’s piece, it fits their criteria perfectly.

There is of course a reason why reviewers tend to prefer to experience a thing before writing its review. Without doing so, they cannot start to assess or understand it.

All of which explains why Self’s “review” is wrong on the detail, mashing up Twitter terms with irrelevant references to Farmville and Facebook pictures.

But it also explains why his assessment of Twitter’s social impact is mistaken.

Twitter, he posits, is the same as a 1970s dinner party, full of people who want to show you holiday slides and drone on incessantly. No advance, no improvement, just a “new home for old bores”.

I won’t pretend Twitter has revolutionised the quality of human conversation. There are undeniably boring accounts – Katie Price and Polly Toynbee, to name two.

However, unlike being stuck at a dinner party, users are not forced to listen to anyone. Indeed, as well as tuning out the undesirable, they can listen to whomsoever in the world that they might wish.

Had he ever used Twitter, Will Self would know that it’s not a dinner party at all. It’s a supermarket, where you can put whatever you like in your basket and leave what you don’t like on the shelves.

And this is where Twitter brings its real value. As well as instant access to any famous person of their choice, anyone can become famous on the merit of their thoughts and content.

In so doing, the platform is a leveller – indeed, it’s a Leveller with a capital L. Now anyone can rise, if their content is good enough, and anyone can fall, regardless of their fame.

There are many other aspects of Twitter which one can find beautifully new.

The productivity and even genius that springs out of its utter chaos is inspiring.

The speed with which a great mass of people can learn, influence each other and act is terrifying.

Forcing oneself to be concise but clear is a refreshing mental exercise, and a great way to rediscover the reach of the English language. This whole article, for example, is written only in tweet-length sentences of 140 characters or less, an enjoyable test in itself.

Most important is its impact on the way our media works and what it produces. Twitter gives equality of opportunity to those outside the old commentariat elite. It allows people to tailor their media intake for themselves, and for free. It prizes real value over the conjuring of a pompous façade. Bit by bit it is pulling down old, sputtering stars and raising up new ones. For all those reasons I not only love it – I realise why Will Self loathes it.

Thank you

Posted on September 14, 2011

Total Politics have started to publish the results of their annual Blog Awards, based on votes from the blog-reading public. I’m delighted to say that this blog has been voted Number 5 in the rankings for Right Wing Blogs, up there with the big beasts and full-timers of the political blogosphere. Thank you to each and every one of you who voted for CrashBangWallace, I’m really chuffed and will do my best to live up to the ranking over the next 12 months.

Here’s the Top Ten (with last year’s ranking in brackets):

1 (1) Order Order

2 (3) Conservative Home

3 (4) Spectator Coffee House

4 (26) Archbishop Cranmer

5 (81) Crash Bang Wallace

6 (5) Daniel Hannan

7 (-) The Commentator

8 (18) Talk Carswell

9 (17) EU Referendum

10 (10) James Delingpole

Guardian runs adverts from tax avoidance experts

Posted on September 06, 2011

The Guardian’s view on tax avoidance by others is well known – they regularly and deliberately conflate tax evasion (a crime) and tax avoidance (not a crime), and take the position that everyone should go out of their way to pay as much tax as possible. Regardless of how whether you pay what the law demands, the Guardian will be the final and ultimate arbiters of whether you pay your “fair share”.

However, their own affairs are less than consistent with the high standards they demand of others – as Guido has documented in the case of Polly “you should pay more tax, but why should I?” Toynbee, and their own record of careful tax avoidance through offshoring and other mechanisms.

Not content with hectoring others whilst practicing tax avoidance themselves, the Guardian has now taken things a step further – profiting by running advertising for firms of specialists who offer advice to tax avoiders and even how to deal with an HMRC tax investigation. This is a screengrab of their “Reading the Riots” web page – take a look at the ad circled in red at the bottom right:


Appleton Richardson, the advertisers in question, describe their service as “tipping the scales of justice in your favour”, will help you learn “how to play the game” and offer help to “survive a tax investigation by HMRC”. They absolutely rightly say that tax avoidance is perfectly legal, but in Guardian land it is unacceptable – how do the champions of high taxes square taking advertising from a firm like this with their crusading morals? Or is it just yet another case of Guardian double standards?

PS you’ll note that with further delicious irony the other two adverts are for Personal Injury Lawyers and, yes, a Scientology magazine. The Guardian: where Comment Is Free, but principles can be bought.

Posh loner who liked poetry but not sport “definitely didn’t do it”, confess media

Posted on August 01, 2011

You may recall a post I wrote back at Christmas about the case of Chris Jefferies, the landlord who was arrested but later released during the hunt for the murderer of Jo Yeates. The post was titledPosh loner who liked poetry but not sport ‘obviously did it’, say media. The point was that he was enduring an appalling trial by media, with papers heaping suspicion on him on ludicrous grounds which included looking odd, liking poetry (he was an English teacher), never having married, being a Lib Dem and not liking sport.

It remains the worst example I can think of of the growing trend to pre-judge cases by desperate smear.

By that point in the case Chris Jefferies hadn’t been cleared, and indeed I got a bit of flak from some for somehow supporting a killer when I wrote the piece. In truth, it concerned me a bit that I was likely to be given little quarter should he turn out to be guilty, despite the fact that I was just arguing for justice to be allowed to run its course fairly, but I pressed the “publish” button anyway. Many of the papers involved have now deleted the articles from their websites, but you can find the original quotes of their scurrilous reporting in my original post here.

We now know that Jefferies was not the killer, and instead it was Jo Yeates’ neighbour Vincent Tabak who did it.

I’m a little late writing this up but it’s really pleasing to see that on Friday several papers have finally admitted that they libelled Jefferies and have paid him an out of court settlement.

There’s a fundamental principle here that we must not forget. Even if Jefferies had been guilty, it would still have been wrong for the papers to report the case in the way that they did. Had he been guilty, they would do well to remember that their appalling coverage could well have jeopardised a trial.

As it turned out, he was innocent but his reputation was given a public beating all the same – no cash settlement can ever possibly set right the harm that was done to him.

BBC gives phone hacking 7 times more exposure than the Euro crisis

Posted on July 20, 2011

The BBC are obviously smarting from the growing number of allegations that they have covered the phone hacking scandal so much that crucial issues like the increasingly likely collapse of the Euro have been neglected.

Of course many of those allegations are made by people who are themselves uncomfortable politically with the embarrassment being caused by the hacking issue, and of course the phone hacking scandal is absolutely rightly big news. However, if the Euro was to fall over next week with catastrophic economic consequences I suspect much of the public would be wondering how it all happened so suddenly, when in reality this crisis has been brewing for months and years.

The BBC’s Foreign Editor Jon Williams (who is, by the way, well worth following if you’re on Twitter) just said:

Surprised at claim #BBC covered #hacking to exclusion of other stories. Arab Spring, Italian Euro crisis & #eastafrica drought all prominent

It may be an exaggeration to say that other stories have been excluded entirely, but if you look at the evidence it’s pretty clear they’ve been eclipsed by the hacking coverage. Here are the results of searching the BBC News site for references to “hacking”, “euro” and “libya” over the last week:

Libya: 23 mentions

Euro: 32 mentions

Hacking: 246 mentions

As I say, hacking is a huge story and it does deserve large amounts of attention – but it’s hard to claim the BBC hasn’t taken its eye off other major issues while it’s been going on.

Unlike others I don’t necessarily think that’s solely because the BBC is threatened by Murdoch; it’s also because hacking is a media-village story taking place within the world most journalists inhabit. However the BBC in particular has a Charter responsibility to consider the public interest. That isn’t served by neglecting to cover the Euro crisis properly.