Tag Archives: David Cameron

Hold your head up high

Everyone who knows even a little about the Hillsborough Disaster knows the name Jon-Paul Gilhooley. Whether because he was the youngest victim, aged only 10 years old, or because of his younger cousin, another little Huyton lad who didn’t die young and grew up to be Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool captain has spoken of the effect of losing Jon-Paul on his life and that of his family:

It was a difficult time to know that one of your cousins had been at the game and had been tragically crushed. Seeing the reactions of his mum, dad and family helped me drive on to become the player I have developed into today.

For me, Jon-Paul Gilhooley’s name always stands out on the Hillsborough memorial, not because he is more important than any of the other 96 people who were killed, but because I was one year older than him on that sunny day in April when Liverpool fans came from all over the country to watch a football match and not all made the return journey. For a city and many beyond it, life would never return to how it was.

As children at the time of Hillsborough, we saw our fathers and mothers – always so together and in control – left grief-stricken and powerless in the face of police and politicians’ lies. We learnt to hide our anger at playground taunts and jokes because we had to prove we were better, weren’t hooligans in embryo as they said we were. Even young Liverpool fans knew not to trust what it said in the papers, years before the Leveson Inquiry.

We saw inquests run in a way to bring shame on the worst totalitarian regime, witnessed a report by a senior judge confirming what we all knew, ignored by those that had called for it. Watched private prosecutions falter, allowing the senior police officer on duty at the ground that day to retire and spend more time with his pension. Through it all, we heard the chants from the ignorant at the other end of the ground, telling us: you did it, if it wasn’t for you we could stand, more of you should have died, you killed them.

The high-profile idiots get the media attention: the unrepentant ex-editor, the Prime Ministerial wannabe, the quiz show panel member. All prepared to use the hidden evidence and official obstructions to sound controversial and elevate their own notoriety. But actually, far worse are the everyday morons who say it to your face. One of the first conversations I had on arrival in Japan was with a fan of some no-mark club who told me ‘there were hooligans at Hillsborough though, weren’t there.’

Now imagine hearing that, hearing that you are wrong, to blame, paranoid or mawkish for 23 years, even as you try to mourn. As you try to recover from the loss of your child, parent, cousin or friend. That has been life for the Hillsborough families since the day of the tragedy.

So emotions on Tuesday were heightened. By midway through the morning here, with the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report still hours away from release, a number of news reports had already brought tears, especially this one telling of a family coping with the treatment of their seriously ill son, injured at the disaster. It seemed incredible that the families were moving closer to getting the answers they deserved, after so many setbacks.

It was afternoon in Japan when the first reports began to come through, at first shocking news – worse than even imagined – about blood alcohol tests done on Jon-Paul Gilhooley and the other child victims. Then it all followed swiftly, the Prime Minister apologised, then Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, South Yorkshire Police, so many apologies that after 23 years with none, the head began to spin. Even the S*n and its ex-editor tried to get in on the remorse,  offering too little too late.

If in fact it ever resided in Wapping, ‘The Truth’ belongs to us now.

Too many years have passed for this to really count as a victory. The Prime Minister spoke of new evidence but later amended his statement to acknowledge that all of this information had been known at the time, but deliberately concealed. It didn’t feel like a day for vindictiveness, but I felt glad that the PM at the time, Margaret Thatcher, was alive to see the scheming she must have approved fall so completely apart. I hope someone showed her the headlines.

Of course, the campaign doesn’t end here. Now the evidence is revealed, there must be reviews, reopened inquests, amended death certificates, fairer inquiries and hopefully, prosecutions to come.

But they did it. They did it for you: for all of the 96. Your mums and dads, brothers and sisters, cousins, wives, husbands, loved ones, friends – even your children – some of whom were only tiny when you were killed. They fought for you and never gave in, these ordinary yet somehow superhuman people took on the whole establishment and got them to admit what we all knew. They lied.

As our song tells us: at the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky. So long cherished as an idea and a shared goal, on Tuesday 11 September 2012, the clouds finally parted.

Justice for the 96.

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Phone hacking: the end of the beginning?

Having spent the weekend taking journalism’s weak pulse, it would be remiss not to at least glance at the chart of  the biggest media story of my lifetime.  Especially since yesterday saw further revelations from the parliamentary select committee and the preliminary inquiry hearing into phone-hacking by UK newspapers.  Again, I offer my apologies to everyone who reached saturation point with the whole affair long ago.

That seems to be a fairly natural reaction, as at more than one point this summer, it seemed the revelations were coming too quickly to grasp.  Yet things started slowly, as they often do, with actor Sienna Miller receiving a payout in the case she had brought against News Group, publishers of The Sun and The News of the World (NOTW), over claims they had hacked into her mobile phone’s voicemail messages.  As part of the settlement they admitted unconditional liability.

And there it might have rested, one more tale of how vile the British newspapers can be to those they consider fair game because they are deemed to have courted fame for one reason or another.  Interest might certainly have waned, were it not for continuing disclosures of the hacking of phones belonging to murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, relatives of service personnel killed in Afghanistan and even those who surely, they didn’t need to hack at all.

The NOTW defence that these practices were limited to one rogue reporter, Clive Goodman, jailed for hacking the phones of Buckingham Palace staff, were never particularly convincing.  As occurred to many, what editor would be so un-curious as to the sources of such rival-busting scoops?  That argument was further blown full of holes by a Guardian story detailing payouts of over £1m to settle three cases that threatened to reveal how widespread phone hacking was.  As the Guardian very delicately pointed out:

The evidence also poses difficult questions for:

• Conservative leader David Cameron’s director of communications, Andy Coulson, who was deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World when, the suppressed evidence shows, journalists for whom he was responsible were engaging in hundreds of apparently illegal acts.

• Murdoch executives who, albeit in good faith, misled a parliamentary select committee, the Press Complaints Commission and the public.

• The Metropolitan police, which did not alert all those whose phones were targeted, and the Crown Prosecution Service, which did not pursue all possible charges against News Group personnel.

• The Press Complaints Commission, which claimed to have conducted an investigation, but failed to uncover any evidence of illegal activity.

For confirmed political junkies, this was the effect of pure grade medical stuff being applied directly to the receptors.  Like one of those stoned conversations you hear at the end of a long night, when you feel the truth of every jibbering, over-indulged word from your companions.  Except now it turns out that was all true and ‘they’ really were all in it together

Within quick succession, the NOTW was closed and News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks resigned, leaving commentators to ponder what it could possibly all mean.  Was News International unravelling after so long in control, or were these calculated moves to head off further scrutiny, especially the perceived threat of UK investigations spreading to the US?  How far Brooks’ departure could help to avoid this scenario remains to be seen.  Given Murdoch Senior’s skills as a political operator, it is surely premature to write the company’s obituaries.

Especially since, as an excellent article in the New Yorker noted, the tabloid culture dreamed up by Murdoch has taken over British newspapers so completely that old distinctions between tabloid and broadsheet have been pushed aside in the race to the bottom.  While readers may be shocked at how far journalists went, within that culture, it is less surprising:

If your attitude toward the lives of others is that of a house burglar confronted by an open window; if you consider it part of your business to fabricate conversations where none exist; and if your boss treats his employees with a derision that they, following suit, extend to the subjects of their inquiries—if those elements are already in place, then the decision to, say, hack into someone’s cell phone is almost no decision at all. It is merely the next step. All that is required is the technology. What ensues may be against the law, but it goes no more against the grain of common decency than any other tool of your trade.

So while there is certainly more to come from News International and James Murdoch is likely to face more awkward questions, the newspaper readers of Britain should not lose sight of the key questions around what else these ‘rogue elements’ were up to and what the effects on the country’s democratic institutions were.  The fallout of the scandal perhaps offers the best chance in a generation to create a fairer, more equitable society for Britain.   As Freedom of Information campaigner, Heather Brooke writes:

This is why there is collusion between the elites of the police, politicians and the press. It is a cartel of information. The press only get information by playing the game. There is a reason none of the main political reporters investigated MPs’ expenses – because to do so would have meant falling out with those who control access to important civic information. The press – like the public – have little statutory right to information with no strings attached. Inside parliament the lobby system is an exercise in client journalism that serves primarily the interests of the powerful.

Freedom of information laws bust open the cartel. They give everyone an equal right to access information. You don’t have to take anyone out to lunch. You don’t have to pay anyone or suppress a damaging story to maintain a flow of information. You simply ask, with the full power of the law behind you.

She also notes:

Phone hacking, that’s just touching the surface of that whole industry in personal information which is vast, huge, it’s massive

And Tom Watson, a backbench MP who as one of Gordon Brown’s henchmen had his own insider knowledge of the ‘dark arts’ and who now sits on the parliamentary committee investigating phone-hacking agrees:

I think we’re probably only about halfway through the number of revelations. I’m pretty certain there will be quite detailed stuff on other uses of covert surveillance. I suspect that emails will be the next scandal. And devices that track people moving around. That’s just starting to come out.

Unfortunately for those who are starting to get bored with phone hacking this story looks, in the tabloid parlance, to be one ‘with legs’.  A prospect which this politics junkie is relishing.

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The ‘man’ for Japan: CGI PM?

Given this story and this story, I think the next step for Japan is obvious:

CGI PM.

You know it makes sense, in these troubled financial times the savings in salary and pension alone would be worth it.  Not to mention the benefits from reduced costs for security, diplomatic visits, official cars and the like.

And given the AKB48 success, it would be all too easy for Japan to improve on Britain’s earlier attempt to make a 3D image Prime Minister, which convinced nobody:

Vote CGI PM!

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Home strange home

I have been back in the UK for eight days and so far I have been unable to listen to any soundbite or speech by any politician all the way through.  It is a sad state of affairs for a political junkie.  Maybe I could blame the dulling effects of the jet lag, or maybe it is the vacuum where the moral authority should be that renders their words so jarring.  It is difficult to stomach a bunch of people who got the taxpayer to fund their plasma TVs and duck-houses when they start blethering about zero tolerance for criminality.  It is even harder to take from former members of a club with a reputation for smashing stuff up:

Presumably the main error the rioters made was in not being able to pay for the damage at the end of the evening.

Eight days ago, Southern England looked so English from 20,000 feet up.  The fields, houses and shopping centres were so resolutely un-Asian.  Everything looked so big – people included – it all felt familiar and alien at the same time.  We sat in the garden amongst wildflowers with wine and talked it all through, concluding that a complex mix of genuine grievance, political incompetence and the desire to get new stuff had driven the riots.  That there would be no easy, knee-jerk solution seemed obvious.

So it is also difficult to believe, as Caitlin Moran wrote on Saturday in The Times about the decision to close public libraries, that my country has taken a decision to be more stupid.  But that is what it feels like when any attempt to try to understand what has gone on is painted as a justification.  The shrill hysteria of the nightly news leaves me bewildered.  And I’m left to wonder, through a head foggy with tiredness and tea, if this will ever feel entirely like home again, this fractured, fractious country of mine.

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As Nasty As They Wanna Be

Well, they managed it.  Cameron’s Conservatives – no doubt already wearying of the compassionate bit – have their ‘stealing the milk‘ moment.

Since Maggie snatched the white stuff from millions of schoolchildren way back when, condemning them to easily snapped arms and legs when they fell onto the rock-hard concrete in their playgrounds (youth of today, don’t know yer born!) her disciples have been on the lookout for their own really nasty moment.

Closing libraries, flogging forests and cutting benefits will only give you so much of a kick, after all, these are the kinds of things that most of us expect the Conservatives to do.  Where’s the buzz when you do something everyone has been anticipating since the election last May?  Nowhere, that’s where.  So you have to raise your game a little.

This should do it.  Removing benefits from cancer survivors after one year.  Simply put, if you are not on the mend after 12 months, the government thinks we can probably do without you and your weak-assed immune system malingering around.  Although perhaps, following this story, they are betting that the number of people reaching that milestone is going to be dramatically reduced anyway.  I wonder what the cancer survival rates were in the 1930s?  And isn’t it just as well TB isn’t on the rise, eh?  Oh.

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The Simple, Angry Men Of 10 O’Clock Live

Julia hasn’t been watching a lot of UK television lately, so here’s writer Nick Bryan with a guest post on Channel 4’s latest attempt to ‘do’ politics:

Like many in the left-leaning, Twitter-abusing internet world, I’ve been watching Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live with interest. Featuring high-profile funny folk taking a swipe at the news, it seems to have launched well.

People are watching it, there are the speed bumps you’d expect from a live transmission written in a hurry, but I think it hits the mark more than it misses. Still, as the weeks go by, I start to feel they might be punching at straw men a little.

I’m not a radicalised liberal. I possess many such opinions but don’t need to take to the streets and enforce them with my fists. So although it is irritating when hardline conservatives (note the lower case C) portray all Muslims as terrorists or all disabled people as lazy, it’s also annoying when their opponents portray David Cameron as a cackling super-villain, or all bankers as snickering pigs.

At this point, I’d like to go beyond 10 O’Clock Live, as they are merely a high-profile example. If left-leaning folk want me to dislike the coalition government (and I sense that they do), explain to me properly why I should stir my venom.

Otherwise, even if I find you amusing on TV or read your column for a laugh whilst procrastinating, I’m still going to write your sincere point off as the rantings of a psychopath in the end. You mustn’t stop trying to be rational because you think most of your audience are already sympathetic.

It is possible to pull off a rant with a persuasive serious point, in fact David Mitchell did a sterling job on a recent 10 O’Clock Live, but once it spills over into raving venom, you lose your audience. Yes, I know what satire is, but putting mean words next to David Cameron’s face isn’t cunning subversion.

In fact, much like the politicians themselves running for election, you have to appeal to the centre. We live in a country where the S*n is the best-selling newspaper by far. Don’t be fooled by the disproportionate number of lefty media types on Twitter, the liberals are vastly outnumbered.

So preaching to the choir isn’t going to get your online petition up to the amount of signatures needed for anyone to give a damn. And if all this turns into a full-on hate campaign against David Cameron, it’s going to energise support for him anyway; we British love an underdog.

Be smart. Stop gibbering at me.

So what do you think? Is there a place for a good, smart funny rant at Cameron’s expense on prime time TV, or is it just pandering to the gallery? Let us know in the comments

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Indirect action

Updates to ten minutes hate have been few and far between lately, for which I am sorry, although in my defence, the situation is as yet nowhere near as bad as it was this time last year when I was studying for the qualification that would see me end up in Japan 12 months later.

That said, with the sheer number of heartening stories around at present, this is no time for a blogger with something to say about our ways of living and how screwed up they have become to be sitting on her hands, especially since recent weeks have seen successes for a couple of causes very close to my heart.

First, the fan’s campaign at Liverpool Football Club saw hated owners Hicks and Gillett finally shown the door following a series of financial mis-steps which made even the bankers despair.  Despite initial wariness, new owners NESV seem to be making all the right noises, with their recognition of the supporters’ role as the true custodians of the Club.  Union Spirit of Shankly remains committed to fan ownership and participation in the running of the club as a future aim.  All to the good.

Then, the sleeping class consciousness of the UK seems to be awakening at last.  Not quite as fond of a riot as our French, Greek or Italian cousins, a slash-and-burn approach to public sector cuts, alongside the retention of the Downing Street stylists and photographers, seems to be pushing even the most placid of British people into taking out poor, defenceless police vans.  Long may it continue.  It is good and healthy for a government to have next to no idea when its population will kick off.

And yet, and yet…

It is with a sometimes heavy heart that I read the blog updates, emails and news stories telling me what you have all been getting up to during this new Winter of Discontent.  Those that follow me on Twitter may have been noticing a higher than usual number of retweets as I am recycling other people’s news.  It is not just the physical distance you notice at a time like this, the time difference also sees my part of the world steaming ahead into the new day while you are all asleep and dreaming of new anti-kettling avoidance tactics.

So, sure, I have clicked on some links, sent my support along the line and written some words.  But is it enough?

To see what I want to see for the UK and around the world – real political power returned to the people, the space to live a free life, access to education and services for all, an end for those who seek to control and trammel life – is that going to be brought about by a few mouse clicks?  Perhaps not, which is why I am resolving to spend the rest of this year finding more ways to get more involved, if there is a way to do so from 6,000 miles away.

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