Political Scrapbook want to have their pasty scandal and eat it

Posted on May 30, 2012

I’m a fan of Political Scrapbook – acerbic and witty, they embrace a tone of blogging that many of their fellow travellers remain snooty towards. Today, though, they’ve struck a bum note.


Revealing eagerly that:

“Throughout the controversy over George Osborne’s “pasty tax”, huge donations were made to the Conservative Party by the owner of pasty firm Ginsters – sparking a row over whether the donation may have been in support of the tax on hot pasties (Ginsters are known for cold snacks) or to protect their emerging line of heated snacks.

Mark Samworth, who heads Samworth Brothers which owns the Ginsters brand, gave £100,000 to the Tories, between the announcement of the VAT change in the budget and the government’s volte face on Monday.”

they conclude “could this be an emerging “cash for pasties” scandal?

As John Rentoul might say, this is very much a Question To Which The Answer Is No.

The awkward thing about the Scrapbook story is rooted in the fact that they are not the first to allege these donations were dubious and related to the pasty tax.

They suggest today that Mark Samworth was giving money to the Conservatives to buy a u-turn over the pasty tax, on the flawed assumption (presumably from people who’ve never eaten a Ginsters) that his pasties are all sold hot. In fact, Ginster’s products are mostly sold cold.

Amusingly, that fact was the reason given by the Labour Party as recently as Saturday – crucially, before the u-turn took place – when they alleged that he was, err, donating to the Tories in support of the pasty tax, on the basis that his business is based on selling cold pasties.

Which is it? Was he a fan of the tax, donating to say thanks, or an opponent of it, donating to get it overturned? At the moment, Political Scrapbook and the party they support have managed to allege both.

In fact, Ginsters mostly sell cold pasties – a business model that benefits from the pasty tax – but had recently expanded into hot food, a move that would suffer from the tax. Cutting the tax may hit their core business, but raising it apparently hits their expansion plans, so there’s no clear motive either way.

Those who seem obsessed with hammering Samworth whatever happens need to make their minds up – he can’t be alleged to be buying influence on both sides of the same debate. Apparently, they’ve decided he is a target and will shift their conspiracy theories 180 degrees to fit the latest set of events, regardless of what they’ve previously said.

It seems that when it comes to seeking out wrongdoing, Political Scrapbook on this occasion want to have their pasty scandal and eat it.



Interestingly, since I first made this point in a comment on Political Scrapbook this morning – a comment which they still haven’t published – they’ve changed their text (without posting it as an update) to add in the following:

– sparking a row over whether the donation may have been in support of the tax on hot pasties (Ginsters are known for cold snacks) or to protect their emerging line of heated snacks.

That wasn’t present in the original post, suggesting that to at least some degree they’ve realised the illogical and unfair allegations they were making, but don’t seem willing to apologise to Mr Samworth or confess the error to their readers.

Invasion of the superblogs

Posted on July 15, 2011

I wrote when Iain Dale closed his personal blog about the potential future for the blogosphere as the balance of power shifted. As well as the upheavals in the mainstream media, the last couple of weeks has seen the first big change in the UK blogosphere for some time: the arrival of the superblogs.

With the launch of Huffington Post UK and Iain Dale and Co we’re experiencing the first tests of whether group blogging will succeed, and whether it will replace or complement the more atomised blogosphere that we’ve seen to date. My personal view is that it will be complementary – an online equivalent of the mainstream media which can afford to provide more regular and broader updating than individual blogs, but inevitably lacking the personalised character and focus of individuals (like yours truly).

For that reason, I’m pleased to say I will intermittently be contributing to both HuffPoUK and Dale & Co – writing about politics for the former and about media and culture for the latter. Needless to say, this blog will remain my focus, and the location of the vast majority of my writing. My first articles on each superblog have gone live this week, so please give them a bump by rating and commenting if you’d be so kind!

Here they are:

Iain Dale & Co: “Science Fiction should be abolished”

Huffington Post UK: “A new English politics is emerging – but which party will harness it?”

Liberal Conspiracy and the confession that wasn’t

Posted on March 15, 2011

Nick Clegg gets enough trouble from the things he does say (remember this?), but now it seems the good burghers of Liberal Conspiracy have started to deliberately misinterpret what he says as well.

The Left’s obsession at the moment is the artificial distinction that the Coalition’s cuts were “ideological” rather than practical. For them, perhaps, ideology is divorced from reality – it would certainly explain a lot about their views – but very few people would hold an ideological view that they didn’t think was practical.

The illogic of their position aside, it is this line of attack that has led to either a misunderstanding or a deliberate deception over at Liberal Conspiracy today. “Nick Clegg admits cuts were a political choice” blares their headline, claiming they have uncovered

Two interesting things here – first the admission that the speed of deficit reduction is a ‘choice’, in contrast to the Government’s usual ‘no alternative’ line.

Second the admission that the cuts were ‘not forced on us by the bond markets’ as in Greece and Ireland.

So what did the Deputy Prime Minister say to apparently blow his supposed cover? Well, in his speech to Lib Dem Spring Conference he announced:

[Cutting the deficit] has meant making difficult choices.

But at least they have been our choices…

Not forced on us by the bond markets as they have been in Greece and Ireland.

And the risks of delay far outweigh the risks of swift action.

The problem is, Liberal Conspiracy’s interpretation of these comments just doesn’t stand up.

Their first charge, that he said the cuts are a “choice”, is a total misinterpretation. Clegg says that cutting the deficit “has meant taking difficult choices” – ie that with deficit reduction being essential, they then had to choose which spending cuts to make. That’s no confession or change of line – it’s a reasonable acknowledgement that picking the specifics of cutting isn’t easy.

Their second charge is equally flimsy. Saying that those choices weren’t “forced on us by the bond markets as they have been in Greece and Ireland” is clearly about the timing of the spending cuts – either they would inevitably have to happen due to the collapsing confidence in Britain’s solvency or, as Clegg says in the previous half of the sentence, they could be the Coalition’s choices taken with greater consideration rather than in a panic.

This is a total dead-end for those who want to oppose the Government’s spending and tax measures. The opinion polls aren’t going to swing based on a theory of the philosophy behind the fiscal direction, they will rest ultimately on whether the measures work – will the pain be worth the gain?

The genius of Tumblr

Posted on January 14, 2011

Tumblr photoblogs are one of the glorious, niche pleasures of the internet. My favourite is still probably the hilarious “Kim Jong Il Looking At Things” but there’s a new kid on the block which is a close second.

I present for your delectation, “Awkward Ed Miliband Moments” – which, among other classics, gives me an opportunity to repost this:

New Year Stat Prawn

Posted on January 09, 2011

My apologies for the very light posting over the last few days – as those of you who follow me on Twitter will already know, I’ve been knocked for six by a nasty bout of the flu. While I’m not fully back up and running yet, I am improving, so the blog should get back to normal soon.

Given the passing of the New Year, I thought this might be a good time to review the Stat Prawn for December and for 2010 as a year (well, as a five-and-a-half month year, since I launched this site in July 2010).

I had thought December might turn out to be a quieter month, given the holidays and all the shopping-panic, but not a bit of it:

Pageviews: 22,927
Visits: 19,565
Absolute Unique Visitors: 12,860

That makes December the second biggest month so far in terms of Visits, and the biggest (by a factor of almost 20%) in terms of Absolute Uniques. A nice Christmas present.

For 2010 as a whole, this site enjoyed:

Pageviews: 122,701
Visits: 98,706
Absolute Unique Visitors: 43,198

I didn’t know what to expect when I launched CrashBangWallace back in July, but I admit I’m really pleased with that traffic for the first five-and-a-half months. Granted, I’m nowhere near Guido’s audience size (who is?) but I’m fortunate that there is a readership out there who are interested in my take on things.

Despite the flu’s best efforts, I’m aiming to do even better in 2011 – and I hope you’ll return often to see how I’m getting on.

Three questions for the future of the blogosphere

Posted on December 20, 2010

It’s a measure of Iain Dale’s huge success as a blogger that his departure from the blogosphere has led people to question the very future of political blogging itself.

A blog is dead, but blogging will live on – there is no reason inherent to blogging why the medium itself should die out, unless Government sets out to destroy it. Twitter is a complementary not competing medium, offering an outlet for snap reaction, jokes and debate but not providing space for longer analysis.

The real questions over the future of blogging are about its form and freedom. To my mind there are three essential issues about what may lie ahead.

Who will blog? With the departure of Iain, Tom Harris and Will Straw it’s clear that some of the first wave of big bloggers are moving on.

There is a natural churn in any industry or hobby – but to have churn, new must come in as old departs. This blog is still a relatively new arrival on the scene, but I confess I can only think of a couple of other new political bloggers. Of course that may be because i haven’t found them yet, not because they don’t exist. Which brings us on to the second question:

How will the blogosphere function? The right wing blogosphere has developed – utterly organically – an infrastructure. Three main hubs (Iain Dale, ConservativeHome and Guido Fawkes) pull together the blogging that’s out there and transmit traffic to blogs further down the food chain.

One of those hubs has been removed, though I know Iain has expressed an interest in keeping the Daley Dozen feature going.

It’s not particularly healthy for any sector to be so reliant on so few hubs. The Big Three didn’t set out to build a monopoly – nor could they if they wished, given the way the Internet works. All three have in fact gone out of their way to provide a ladder for smaller blogs to garner extra readership through regular linking.

Really it’s down to the rest of us to work harder to build a new infrastructure in Iain’s place – either through a scrap that results in the emergence of another big beast or, more likely, through greater cooperation and linking between a number of medium-sized beasts.

The third and final question is the long-term and ultimately fundamental one. Who will control the blogs?

Iain’s departure is at least in part because his blogging has generated other work, such as his LBC show, which has ended up taking over his time. The ConHome team have long been able to work as essentially full time bloggers, while Guido seems to be taking the middle road of overseeing the blog while Harry Cole becomes News Editor. In the States, the professionalisation of blogging is best seen in the growth of the Gawker Media network.

This an understandable shift. Iain felt he had the choice between blogging and making a living in his dream job. Guido has strengthened his position enough to be able to afford to employ Harry but as a result has a business that consumes much of his time.

My concern is what this means for smaller blogs. On the plus side it means there is hope that at least some people can make a living from blogging.

On the down side, I fear this professionalisation may have unintended and perhaps inevitable consequences.

Look at the history of newspapers. When printing first became relatively cheap and widely feasible, in the 17th Century, it was an anarchic, free speaking and hugely popular industry that leant itself naturally to scepticism of power and authority.

The pamphlets produced were of varying accuracy and quality, but the public were free to decide what they liked. Ultimately, the pamphleteers’ radicalism was one of the driving factors in the English Civil War and the birth of the libertarian movement in England. The parallels with the recent history of blogging are obvious.

But the pamphlets eventually changed. Essentially, they became modern newspapers. Writers were able to become professionals, and quality improved – but regulation tightened its grip, and eventually a turgid morbidity set in. 300 years on, those weaknesses led blogs to become appealing, necessary and successful.

So maybe we’re seeing a similar shift taking place online (only faster, given the speed of modern technology). Professionalisation of the blogosphere is market-driven, so there’s little we can do about that. What we can and must do to escape the eventual fate of the pamphleteers is resist regulation. Hazel Blears has already led calls for the regulation of blogs, and I’m sure more such voices will follow – keen to stamp out a source of uncomfortable criticism and scrutiny.

There is a danger that as leading bloggers become professionals, Government will use  the shift as an excuse to regulate what they can portray as an industry. Only by nipping that in the bud will hobbyists, spare-time bloggers and potential stars of the future be able to keep going. As with any market, to ensure competition and innovation the barriers to entry must be kept low.

If some bloggers are able to become professionals, then good luck to them – but to keep the medium relevant and therefore alive it must remain open, cheap to do and above all free to speak as it wishes.