Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Verdict

I was going to grit my teeth and buy the Sun, if only to see how they coped with this new phase in their turbulent life. In the end I didn't, so can only refer everyone to what seem like intelligent and fair-minded reviews from the New Statesman's Steven Baxter and the Guardian's Roy Greenslade.

I wasn't completely devoid of tabloid enlightenment however, as I did pick up a copy of the Star on Sunday, mainly to see how the Guido Fawkes bloggers fared in their new incarnation as dead tree press columnists. And the truth is - poorly. Their blog fizzes with uncovered tales of political derring-do, points fingers all over the place, racks up a variety of evidence to keep politicos and others on their toes - even today, the day of their great columnar awakening, they've given a pretty comprehensive kicking to Ken Livingstone over his tax avoidance measures. But on paper? Bland, utterly bland. Confined to a narrow column (nothing like the spreading words of Sally Bercow - Sally Bercow for goodness sake - which covers a whole page) they have produced little to distinguish them from the likes of the lamentable Ephraim Hardcastle. A nudge-nudge piece about two un-named Labour front benchers who are really close, a diary-esque piece about David Miliband watching football in a box next to some of Cameron's Etonian mates, some tired stuff about pugilistic Eric Joyce and a typically OTT but not very interesting comment from Tory MP Desmond Swayne (or 'Dessie' as they call him). All very uninspired, the sort of stuff that eventually made Nigel Dempster such a laughing stock. I just hope for their sakes that the real reason for accepting the Desmond coin was simply to prove that the internet is far more alive with political insider news than anything that appears in a Sunday paper. Otherwise, if they want to preserve their reputation they should get out of the paper media brothel as quickly as possible.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sunday Media Wars

I remember having a look at the last edition of the late and unlamented News of the World. Online. I couldn't quite bring myself to buy it. It was a lamentable read. I had evolved some vague notion that the demise of a newspaper was inherently a bad thing, but reading through the stories of that final NoTW and their survey of past triumphs was a depressing trawl through a litany of tawdriness and banality that had been raised to levels of shrill, trumpeted, hysterical would-be importance. It represented, it seemed to me (and I don't think I'm unduly judgmental) the apogee of humanity's lowest common denominator, and it was with a sense of relief that I reflected we would see it no more. It was, at least, one less collection of nasty, malicious pieces of paper folded into a malevolent single whole.

So forgive me for not joining in the general excitement at the Screws' resurrection tomorrow in the form of the Sun on Sunday, whose first front page exclusive concerns Amanda Holden's heart stopping for 40 seconds. Let's just remind ourselves what sort of paper it is that is about to extend its reach into Sundays. One of its former editors, and the subsequent chief executive of its parent company, was indeed briefed by police on the phone-hacking investigation that centred on her newspapers. 10 former Sun journalists have recently been arrested in a new investigation of corrupt payments to public officials by journalists. The wider realm of its parent company remains under siege too. The singer Charlotte Church has finally received a substantial payment of damages for the phone hacking she experienced - another 150 cases are said to be lining up. And the Leveson Inquiry has gradually but systematically exposed the miserable, amoral intrusions into private lives conducted by that company's papers' (and other's) reporters, to say nothing of outright lies being peddled. Meanwhile, no-one is anticipating the new Sunday paper to sell particularly well in the city of Liverpool, still smarting from its less than charitable coverage of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Hardly a dream history for a new publication.

Even so, the launch has inevitably occasioned much publicity and, of course, wary responses from the papers who still occupy the red-top market. One of these, the Daily Star Sunday, is currently hoping that a court injunction will finally be lifted preventing it reporting on the private life of a teenage rugby player who just happens to have a cabinet minister for his mother. Hollow laughter must surely have accompanied that paper's risible claims that their story was of 'national importance'. The Daily Star Sunday hasn't hitherto been noted as a brave champion of serious investigative journalism, and this latest murky foray doesn't look as if it is going to redress the balance.

But the DSS has a further trick up its sleeve, at least for the politically knowing. They have recruited 'Guido Fawkes' as a columnist. Herein lies a supreme irony; for years the Guido Fawkes blog (originally written by former Conservative Student Paul Staines, now joined by a more recent former Conservative Student, Harry Coles) put out its snippets of gossip, libertarian rantings and investigative scoops online, regularly crowing over the demise of the 'Dead Tree Press'. Not quite so dead yet, it seems, that the canny writers of the country's premier political blog don't still want a piece of dead tree action. As a fan of the blog, though, I do wonder now what they're keeping back from their online material in order to have something fresh for one of the Porn King's Sunday titles. And can they really compete with the brilliant literary genius of Jordan, recruited for a Sun on Sunday column?

UPDATE: I mentioned above the fact that the Sun on Sunday appears to be splashing with a seriously uninteresting story about over-exposed and under-talented celeb Amanda Holden. Alastair Campbell has just tweeted his belief that this must surely be a phoney front page, with the real one emerging in the second edition.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Republican Merry-Go-Round After Arizona

It must be difficult presenting yourself as a man of firm principles when your past political career has sadly had to see those principles compromised in the interests of 'teamwork'. That at least seemed to be Rick Santorum's problem in the latest primary debate, hosted by CNN. The current newest challenger to Mitt Romney's putative crown had a poor showing in the debate, unusually having to defend moderate actions to, of all people, the Great Inconstant himself, Romney. It's a mean debate when Mitt Romney, of all people, can have a go at you for being responsible for Obamacare (admittedly by association - Santorum once endorsed former Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who famously defected to the Democrats and helped Obamacare pass the Senate).

The website Politico has put together Santorum's "Five Fluffed Lines" in this video, and reports more broadly on the debate as a whole here. Their view that the night was Santorum's to lose - and he did - is challenged by the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz in their round-up here. Whoever might be deemed to have 'won' or 'lost' it, however, it certainly hasn't laid the Republican nomination anywhere near to its resting place. The show goes on. Happy Mr. Obama. No wonder he allowed himself to be prevailed upon to sing a couple of blues lines!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Republicans' Right-Wing Repeating Fix

With Newt busily self-destructing, its been time for alternative right-wing darling Rick Santorum to come to the aid of the party again. Current polls show him tie-ing, or even slightly leading, the Mittmeister, as Republican activists continue their desperate search for someone, anyone, other than the safe, flip-flopping establishment choice. Because America, you see, really wants a red-blooded right-wing president who will start rolling back the evil liberalism of anti-christ incumbent Barack Obama and deal with those pesky Iranians and ally unthinkingly with the innocent much put-upon Israeli government. And that, interestingly, is exactly what the average Republican activist thought back in 1964, when another great liberal, Lyndon Johnson, was facing election as heir to the martyred Kennedy.

To get into the mood for the politics and history group's forthcoming Washington Tour, I have just started reading Rick Perlstein's much praised "Nixonland", his analysis of American politics in the era of Nixon between 1964 and 1972, and he comments thus on the Republican response to the Johnson presidency in the 1964 election year:

"The Republican Party spent the year of the liberal apotheosis enacting the most unlikely political epic ever told: a right wing fringe took over the party from the ground up, nominating Barry Goldwater, the radical right-wing senator from Arizona, while a helpless Eastern establishment-that-was-now-a-fringe looked on in bafflement."

Going on to describe the Goldwaterite ideology, and the enemies they believed they saw in common with the majority of American people (most notably the liberal 'consensus' of Johnson that was a symbol and substance of America's moral rot) he then notes the consequence:

"And so in November 1964 Lyndon Johnson won the grandest presidential victory since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's in 1936."

Now as it happens I think the Republicans will, despite themselves, nominate Establishment choice Romney as their candidate. I think they have managed such a level of fratricidal hatred that his nomination will still result in an Obama victory, although not on the scale of 2008 and possibly without a significant coat-tail effect in the two Houses of Congress. Nevertheless, Perlstein's historical point serves to suggest that the Republicans haven't lost their visceral right-wing core and that their search for another Goldwater, who might just be able to win, will continue long after the votes of 2012 have been counted. The Tea Party is merely the latest manifestation of the ground-up takeover to which the GOP now seems peculiarly subject and it won't always produce wackos and light-weights who will put off the average American voter; one day, they'll get their Goldwater ideologue with Reagan presentational skills.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

What On Earth Does Murdoch Know?

He's one of the most powerful men in the western world with his Bond-villain like dominance of the media, and he hobnobs with the visible and invisible power brokers on several continents. So what is it that Rupert Murdoch knows which inspired this chilling tweet earlier today?

Rupert Murdoch
Economic matters interesting, but shouldn't we be preparing for likely Israeli hit on Iran very soon and unknown consequences?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Uselessness of David Miliband

I have always been of the view that, hopeless though Ed Miliband may be, his older brother, David, certainly was not deserving of the Labour leadership himself. He twice bottled the chance to pursue the leadership when it meant challenging the collapsing Brown regime, and seemed to think it was his by divine right when he did finally manage to stand. In the Telegraph yesterday Matthew Norman deploys his journalistic skills to comprehensively demolish any thought that Miliband senior is some kind of eminence grise of the left. On the tactic of making would-be challenging noises and then running away, Norman writes:

"This week, Milibandroid the Elder has mostly been playing Knock Down Ginger, and the sense of déjà vu is overwhelming. It never varies. He charges up to the door and boldly rings the bell, but at the first sound of footsteps from within, he scuttles away and hides in the bushes sucking his thumb.

The pattern was set in the summer of 2008, when David wrote a barely coded article in the Guardian – well, it wouldn’t have taxed the folk at Bletchley Park – justly lacerating Gordon Brown. The moment it was greeted as the challenge to the PM’s authority that it certainly was, off he scarpered, denying any such intent.

Within a year, his close friend and Cabinet ally James Purnell resigned, laying the ground for David to oust Mr Brown by doing the same. Again he bottled it, and stayed. Now, the former foreign secretary has exposed that giant, banana-coloured streak for a third time, by way of an article in the New Statesman, and his response to the reaction it inevitably provoked. "

Norman goes on to demolish Miliband's current article for the New Statesman. This is really David Miliband's defence of the New Labour project against Roy Hattersley, who wrote of a need to return to social democracy in the pages of Political Quarterly. Actually, the real problem of Miliband's article, in which he praises his brother's leadership on three separate occasions - just so we're clear - is that it doesn't really say anything at all. It's as woolly and all-embracing as some of Blair's finest speeches without ever striking out in a clear, coherent direction of its own. If this really is the best that the heir to New Labour can produce, then the whole project is as dead in the water as David Miliband's leadership hopes always were.

NB - There is a robust defence of social democracy by Dr. Kevin Hickson on the Fabian Society blog here.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Huhne's Fall

At the Conservative Conference that was held following the formation of the Coalition government there were many, often negative, views from delegates about the need to be in government with the Liberal Democrats. By contrast, Tory ministers, enjoying government for the first time after a long spell in the political cold, were almost falling over themselves to commend their Lib Dem partners as effective and realistic ministers. Nowhere was the love-in more apparent than amongst Tory members of the Energy and Climate Change department. Charles Hendry couldn't say enough about how excellent a minister was his new Lib Dem cabinet boss - one Chris Huhne. Which was odd in a way, given that Huhne remained arguably the most tribal, and certainly most difficult, of the new Lib Dem ministers.

But then, Huhne was not intended by nature to be an easy man to get along with. He was relentlessly awkward with the Prime Minister and his top team; his relationship with his own leader, Nick Clegg, though long-lasting seems scarcely relaxed; while the acrimonious split from his wife is the direct cause of his having to leave the cabinet today.

Easy-going people do not usually thrive in the political world, which likes and needs its prickly, difficult, mercurial, phenomenally egotistical practitioners. Huhne, after all, rose far and fast in the few years since being elected. His rhinoceros skin allowed him to keep going where other, lesse figures would have surely wilted long before now. Even today, there was an air of defiance in his resignation and a clear sense of Terminator-style "I'll Be Back".

But while Huhne departs to fight his criminal charges, and confront the ghost of his failed mariage, the coalition will continue almost seamlessly - for all the 24 hour talk about this - and Huhne will learn the lesson that so many much hailed politicians have learned before him, including one of the possibly beneficiaries of his departure, David Laws. In the relentless world of politics, no-one, absolutely no-one, is indispensible, and everyone gets forgotten more quickly than they would like. Huhne's fall is no tragedy. It is simply a common political tale. Hubris brings decline brings mortality. It's just that most politicians prefer not to think this will ever apply to them.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Where's Alistair?

Fred the Shred's had a shredding of his own, as his knighthood goes into the same bin as Mussolini and Mugabe's. But this is a rather unsatisfactory form of retribution for a man who failed big-time but didn't actually commit any felonies, as the Telegraph's Daniel Knowles argues today. Knowles highlights the Goodwin travesty effectively enough, and quotes a retired former Labour minister to make the case even more appositely. Knowles even suggests that said retiree may be the one possible putative Labour leader to put the shivers up Messrs. Cameron and Osborne. His name? Alistair Darling, the man charged by Gordon Brown with clearing up Gordon Brown's mess, and still a respected figure on the British political scene. The Conservative high command must be very thankful he is indeed retired. Isn't he?