SubScribe: 2017 Google+

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Election day anger: a valedictory rant



I'm just off to the polling station. My cross won't make a jot of difference. The defending MP took 58% of the vote last time and won't be dislodged.
The parties I have voted for in the past have always come a poor third, fourth or fifth, so I'm used to having my voice drowned out electorally. Not only that, I colluded in this state of affairs, having backed first-past-the-post in that other referendum everyone has forgotten about.

But this time, as the shock jocks are paid to say, I'm angry. I'm bloody angry.  I've been bloody angry for 13 months. And I'm fed up with it.
Like that nice Mr Farage, I'd like my life back. I want to get back to "normal", for my head to stop spinning, to stop this constant feeling of nausea, anxiety, impotence.

But it's not going to stop. The chances are that this time tomorrow Mrs May will be leaning on her Downing Street lectern, claiming that the country is behind her. She may or may not be able to resist reciting "strong and stable", but there will certainly be platitudes about  "getting the best deal" with Europe and governing for all the people.
She won't (get the best deal). She can't (govern for everyone).
She can't because - regardless of whether she scrapes home, increases her majority or wins by a landslide - she won't have even half of the country behind her.
Which is, again, as it always was. You have to go back to 1931 to find a party (the Conservatives, as it happens) elected with more than half the popular vote.

So why the anger now?

Because the whole country's life has been on hold for too long. We've been in limbo since early 2015 and will remain so for at least another couple of years. And then? Catastrophe? Or a land of golden opportunity?
And if it's the latter, what price will we have paid over those years of water-treading uncertainty?

What's more, much as I'd love to see the back of May, the situation could be even worse if she doesn't get her way.
The chances of Corbyn winning outright are remote, but there might just be a hung parliament. And that would mean more confusion, more distractions with yet another party leadership contest - for surely May cannot survive if she fails to increase her majority - and inevitably another general election.
Does anyone, of any political persuasion, think that Britain is in a good place?

We didn't need to be here. And that's what makes me angry.


First of all, I'm angry with David Cameron.
Not so much for calling the EU referendum - yes, it was more about herding party cats than about Europe - but for making such a hash of it. For failing to build in requirements for a  minimum turnout and a decent majority either way, for failing to realise that a simple in-out question wouldn't cover all eventualities, for failing to sort out the basics in Parliament before going to the people, for failing so comprehensively in the campaign itself, and for failing to show any statesmanship in running away the moment the result went against him.

I'm angry with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. 
For putting personal ambition above principle in the full knowledge that whatever happened, they'd be all right Jack.
I'm angry with David Davis for his sheer incompetence. For thinking that it's ok, as our chief Brexit negotiator, not to have costed the various possible outcomes or to have considered what might happen if we don't get what we want.

I'm angry with voters' apparent punishment fetish.
The way they "punished" Nick Clegg for doing what any little party would do and taking the opportunity to put at least some of its ideas into practice by going into a coalition. And then "punishing" him again over tuition fees. "We can never trust the LibDems again after that."
What? After generations of broken promises from the two main parties, the LibDems are cast into oblivion over one issue? Fair enough, if that's what you think. But if you're a grieving Remainer, don't try that argument here.
Because there would have been no referendum if those punishing voters hadn't thrown Clegg and his MPs out.

I'm angry with Labour.
Having chosen the wrong Miliband and been soundly defeated in 2015,  it decided not to draw on its recent experience of how to win, but to go in the opposite direction and pick someone even more left-wing, a man whose entire political history had been characterised by disloyalty to the party leadership.
And what did the party do when MPs said they couldn't work with him and polls suggested that the overwhelming majority of voters could not stomach him as prime minister?  It re-elected him.  With a bigger majority.
Hundreds of thousands of Labour members voted him in.  It's their party and they can die if they want to. But what about the millions of centre-left Labour voters left with nowhere to go?
Yes, parts of the manifesto have had wide appeal, Yes, Corbyn has been attracting great crowds. But crowds can be deceptive. Look at Kinnock and the wildly applauding masses in Sheffield in 1992.


I'm angry with Corbynistas.
For vilifying their party's most successful leader, for making Blairite a term of abuse.  Forget the three election wins, just remember the war. A war that any Conservative Prime Minister would have joined.
OK, the "I'm with you whatever" blank cheque promise to Bush is damning, but who really thinks Bush wouldn't have invaded without us? That war would have happened with or without Blair's blessing.
British lives on the line? Yes. That's what we do. What we've always done. After all we're a world power, a player in the big game. Ask any nationalist. Would we have stood aloof while the French and the Canadians et al did their bit?

I'm angry with Corbyn.
For not seeing all of this. Or, even worse, for seeing all this and carrying on regardless.

I'm angry with Remain-supporting MPs in the last parliament.
For forgetting that they were put there to use their judgment and do what is in the best interests of the country. For plagiarising the Nuremberg defence: just following orders from "the people" on Brexit, even though it wasn't a majority of the people and even though they believed that minority to be wrong (I'm not angry with the Eurosceptics. They are what they are and have always been).
An honourable exception should be Ken Clarke. But I'm angry with him for standing on a Conservative ticket behind a woman who expects blind obedience, rather than breaking out on his own or working with people who might together achieve what he believes in.


I'm angry with the media.
For the lies and distortion and incestuousness.
The Mail, Sun and Express, in particular, for their demonisation of vulnerable people. For using immigration as a weapon to win Brexit.
All papers are entitled to their opinions, to campaign for causes they believe in. It's the unbalanced reporting that angers me and shames my trade.
The way they focus on Corbyn's behaviour 40 years ago and ignore May's responsibilities as Home Secretary and Prime Minister all this decade.
The skirting round stories that are positive for Corbyn (hospital car parking charges) or uncomfortable for May (dementia tax). The Express had a "crusade" about hospital parking, but didn't feel the need to tell its readers about the Labour policy. The paper cares about inheritance taxes, house prices, the diseases of old age. So how did it respond to the Tory care plan? By finding  a "cure" for Alzheimer's.
The sheer hypocrisy of relentlessly banging on about the risks of electing Corbyn, after the way they screeched "Project Fear" when anyone dared suggest there were risks attached to Brexit.

I'm angry with the Mirror.
For the failure until the last minute to engage in the referendum debate - as limp-wristed an effort as Corbyn's - or to live up to its glorious campaigning history in this election. It's not the Mirror's duty to match the right-wingers for nastiness. It can't compete with their readership. But it could try a little harder along the way, instead of just turning up at the end like John Terry in his Chelsea shirt.

I'm angry with broadcasters, especially the BBC.
For giving UKIP and Farage so much unwarranted airtime over the past five years (funnily enough I'm not angry with Farage. I think he is an obnoxious piece of work, but, like the Eurosceptic MPs, he is what he is and has never pretended to be otherwise).
For allowing the Press to set the news agenda, day after day. That is what gives the Sun and the Mail their influence. They sell to barely 3m people between them, but their news values permeate every outlet.
The BBC and ITV are bigger than both of them. They should make their own judgments.
And they should dump those press reviews: we can see what's on the front pages when we go to the supermarket. There might be some value if they were to spend some time discussing arguments put forward by columnists who had more than ten minutes to consider what they were writing. But do listeners of the Today programme need to be told at 6.10am that the Daily Express is splashing on immigration again?


I'm angry about Brexit (had you guessed?)
About the ugly effect it has had on our society. About the way common sense has been thrown out of the window. About the way nationalism has been rebranded as patriotism, so that by worrying about the future of a UK outside Europe you are suddenly doing the country down.
About the way that voicing concern has become almost treasonable: "Time to silence the EU whingers" as the Express so charmingly put it.
About the way that MY freedom of movement is being taken away. About the way that OUR children could lose their rights to work and study abroad - on the say-so of people with no wish to leave their armchairs, let alone the country.


I'm angry about foreigners.  No, not like that.
I am angry because our politicians pay court to foreign press barons and nondoms, offer sweeteners to foreign companies, and allow our water, electricity and railways to be run by foreign businesses answering to foreign shareholders.
But I wouldn't be angry about that if they didn't at the same time tolerate and even encourage the press narrative that people who come from Europe to work hard and contribute to our society are either spongers or job stealers, swamping the NHS, schools and housing.
I am angry about the constant cry that we need to leave the EU so that we can "control our borders" and keep criminals out. Especially since most immigration is from outside the EU and there are provisions to control migration from within the community that we - Mrs May, actually - have failed to implement.


Most of all - today -  I'm angry about Theresa May.
I'm angry that a mediocre but opportunistic politician without any vision or charisma has run a Me, Me, Me presidential campaign that is likely to be successful.
 A woman who (like Corbyn) paid lip-service to the Remain campaign, but kept her distance because she could see that she might inherit the big job from Cameron, whichever way the vote went.
A woman with so much respect for parliamentary democracy that she called this very election because "not all of Westminster" had "got behind Brexit". Opposition? Good grief! What a notion.
A woman who says the thing she's learnt from this campaign is that she likes meeting voters - when the only voters she's met have been clutches of admirers in closed rooms.
A woman whose main claim to power is that she isn't someone else. A woman who refuses to put a price on her policies, then accuses the opposition of not being able to afford their costed ideas.
A woman who says Brexit will bring endless opportunities, but can't give an example of one;  a woman won't tell us what she aims to get out of the negotiations with Europe, yet expects us to trust her over those who do say what they want.
A woman so lacking in statesmanship that she uses an international forum - G7 - to criticise her domestic rival; a woman who thinks that promising to be "bloody difficult"  is a good way to start negotiations; a woman who further helps her cause with election-meddling charges against those she hopes will cut her a good deal.
A woman so confident of Britain's future outside Europe that, desperate to be "first in the queue", she rushes to pay homage to Trump five minutes after the inauguration, clutching a state visit invitation like an ingenue surrendering her virginity on her first date.
A woman who continues to suck up to that American president, even when his reaction to a terror attack in London is to traduce the elected mayor - who happens to be Muslim - while the Europeans she plans to shun illuminate their landmarks with Union Flags in sympathy and solidarity.
A woman who tries to score political points on the back of those attacks - notwithstanding the fact that she has had personal responsibility for anti-terrorism and policing for the past seven years.

Enough! There's more. But enough, as the lady famously said, is enough.

I am angry because I am frustrated, impotent. Angry because we are today faced with a choice between two incompetents. Because the world is laughing at us and we don't seem to care; we're just going with the flow. The people spoke on June 23 last year and democracy means never being allowed to change your mind or have a rethink. Or at least it does these days. Instead we must do the electoral equivalent of sending good money after bad and reinforce the power base of our maladroit prime minister. Like the Turks, we're being asked to vote for dictatorship. She won't tell us what she's going to do, but we're expected to be grateful and not ask awkward questions. Everything will be fine. Theresa's wonderful.

I am also ashamed.
Because this feeling of helplessness is new - even though I am neither more nor less helpless than at any time before - and I realise that that is the way it has always been for millions of people.
Many of them will have voted for Brexit to "get back" at the powers-that-be who rained austerity on them: the politicians who were careful not to raise income tax -  which the poorest don't pay - but who were happy to introduce new indirect taxes, such as levies on insurance premiums, that even the poorest couldn't avoid.
These are the voters who will give Mrs May her mandate and then pay the price of another five years of Tory Government; the price of Brexit. They are already paying - higher food bills, higher transport costs - thanks to the fall in sterling that has had such a brilliant impact on share prices.
Then there are the old who dreamt of a Britain "like it used to be" - all soft-focus dappled-light poppyfields and comely young gels in puff-sleeved frocks freewheeling down the lane on bicycles with a basket at the front. They will be entered into a health lottery: cancer or heart attack? The NHS will take care of you; Alzheimer's or disability? You must pay, but we'll take an IOU with your home as security.
And when we have left Europe and all those foreigners have gone, will life be better for the old, the sick, the disabled, the poor? No. It will be worse.
And our tabloids will be there to blame them for their plight.


So that's why I'm angry. And that's why it's probably time to give this blog a rest.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Dementia tax life stories: a portrait of the future

This is fancy. But not, I think, fanciful.

Photograph from Disability Direct, Derbyshire 


Caz is in her fifties. Divorced, she lives with her teenage son in a rented flat. She has a minimum-wage job at the local school that just about keeps the pair of them fed and clothed.

Caz has two brothers, Graham and Michael, both happily married with young families of their own, in reasonable jobs that pay the mortgage.

Their mum died a few years ago. Their dad, now 85, still lives in the family home he bought when he first married 60-odd years ago. It’s nothing special, but the mortgage has long been paid off and, with the housing market boom, it’s probably worth between £250,000 and £300,000.

Dad had been managing ok on his own, but he suffered a stroke a couple of months ago.  He seems to have recovered better than the family feared physically, but the children are worried about his mental state. He seems to be more forgetful.

It turns out that a form of dementia is quite a common side-effect of stroke.  Dad insists on staying at home, but the council is sending people round to look after him. They call in two or three times a day to get him up and dressed, give him some lunch, and put him to bed. He doesn’t really want to go to bed at 7 o’clock, but what can you do? The children all have jobs and their own families to look after. Caz’s son Liam is doing GCSEs and can be quite stroppy. She’s got more than enough to cope with, but she still tries to go round to see her Dad every couple of days and she texts and calls daily. Graham and Mike both ring the old man every week and visit at least once a month to take him out for a drive.

It becomes clear that Dad’s condition is deteriorating, so the family have a conference. The boys obviously can’t give up their jobs, but the Prime Minister has introduced a new policy that gives people the right to take a year’s leave from work to care for a relative. They decide that if Caz gives up the flat and she and Liam move in with Dad, they might be able to manage on the carer’s allowance of £62.70 if she can find some part-time bar work.  They might have to dip into dad’s savings to top up, but that’s fine. That’s what they’re for.

No one expects Dad to live long after the stroke. But he does. He becomes more frail and more forgetful. Caz gets increasingly frustrated and she’s soooo tired. Liam is still stroppy. He’s doing A levels and wants to go to uni. The prospect of fees and student loans and huge debt terrifies Caz, but she admires his ambition and work ethic.

Caz didn’t go back to work after her year of unpaid leave was up. She just couldn’t leave Dad and, anyway, things at the school had changed beyond recognition. Some teachers had lost their jobs and the cuts were biting.

Mike and Graham still come to take Dad out for a pub lunch or to the cricket, but they don’t call as regularly as they used to.  They’re relieved that Caz is there to look after the old boy, but don’t realise how much work is involved. They think that because the carer still comes round, she is getting all the support she needs. To be honest, she’s not as much fun as she used to be. Snappier, somehow, so they tend to avoid seeing her as often as they did. There’s always an excuse, though they prefer to see these explanations for their absence as “reasons”.

The family knows that a bill is racking up for the care the council provides, but they don’t realise that there will be interest to pay as well. They are just glad that they haven’t got to move Dad out of his home and that they are able to defer the payments.

Dad dies shortly before Liam is due to graduate from uni.  His cash savings have long been used up on living costs, but he has a few treasures: his long-service gold watch, the diamond engagement ring he bought Mum, a collection of first-day cover stamps. He leaves the ring to Caz, the stamps to Mike, the watch to Graham.

When the value of his estate is calculated for probate, the treasures – probably worth about £5,000 between them – are included. There aren’t really any other assets other than the house, which is valued at £300,000.

Social services need every penny they can get, so they are soon on the family’s case, seeking payment for years of care.  The final account comes as a shock.  But if you think about it, three visits a day for five years is bound to cost a lot.

Fortunately, Mrs May has promised that no one should be deprived of their last £100,000, so they’re let off some of the bill.

They sell the house. It doesn’t raise as much as they’d hoped, but that’s life. It wasn’t worth holding out for more as they’d have had to give the extra to the council anyway.

The estate agent’s bills, legal fees, house clearance people are all paid. The three children take their mementoes and then share out the proceeds of Dad’s estate.  They come away with £30,000 each.

The boys’ careers are still on track. But Caz is now approaching 60 and has no home.  Her inheritance might be enough for a deposit on a flat, but without a full-time job who would give her a mortgage? And where will she find a “proper” job? For now she’s still doing shifts at the pub and is back in a rented flat . Liam is threatening to come back and live with her while he tries to find a job.

So that’s fine then? After all she’s got £30,000 in the bank.

The man who lived next door to Dad died last summer. He had cancer, poor chap. But he was well looked-after to the end.  The house has just been sold. It fetched £325,000. His son is buying a new Range Rover and his daughter is planning to build an extension to her house. The rest will make sure that the grandchildren don’t come out of uni with too much debt.

Thank heavens for Mrs May’s fair society.




Sunday, 21 May 2017

Dementia tax or fair play on social care funding? How the papers changed their tune



There is a perception that greedy baby-boomers are responsible for any and every economic ill; that younger generations are suffering while they cruise into the sunset on the profits of successive housing booms, their steamer chairs cushioned by generous final-salary pension schemes.
It's true that some older people are very comfortably off, thank you.
Others are in no fit state to go cruising. Or even to walk to the corner shop alone. Hundreds of thousands of them need round-the-clock care to ensure that they don't harm themselves in a fit of independence - like trying to make themselves a fried egg on toast (having forgotten that they had lunch half an hour ago).
If our cruisers overindulge themselves at the captain's table to the extent that they become obese and develop type 2 diabetes or have a heart attack, they will be looked after by the rest of society, through the NHS. Likewise if they smoke too many after-dinner cigars and develop lung cancer. Never mind that they were given clear and frequent warnings of the consequences of their lifestyle, they will be looked after and they won't have to pay.
Not so the chap who might set fire to himself frying an egg, the chap who might end up on a bus to the next town without the fare instead of 200 yards down the road at the paper shop. It's not his fault that he's ill. He did nothing to bring on his condition, there were no steps he could have taken to avoid it. But he's not "ill" ill, so he must pay to be looked after. And if he can't afford to pay now, he (or his more compos mentis relatives) should be comforted by the fact that he won't be forced out of his home - that will be his family's fate after his death, when they will be asked to settle the debts, with interest.
Just as we have come to accept that people with mental illnesses need and deserve better treatment on the NHS, we are slamming the door on people with a different disease of the brain, essentially because they can't be cured.
This is what Theresa May sees as creating a fairer society.

The Sun, May 18, 2017

If one partner in a couple living in an £850,000 house gets cancer, they will receive all the treatments and palliative care they need as they see out their days in their own home. They can then leave the property to their children free of  inheritance tax.
If one partner in a couple living in a £150,000 flat has Alzheimer's, they should also be able to see out their days in their own home. But then their offspring will have to surrender up to £50,000 to cover the care bills. At least the remaining £100,000 will be below the inheritance tax threshold. Hurrah!

The Labour party has labelled this policy, outlined in the Tory manifesto, a "dementia tax". I'd call it a vulture tax. Purists have pointed out that it isn't strictly a tax at all: the money isn't going into a pot for the common good, it is being used to pay for goods required by the person shelling out - like buying knickers at Marks and Sparks as one Financial Times commentator put it. 

Except we can choose whether to buy our knickers from M&S; we can choose to get them somewhere cheaper - or not to wear knickers at all. If you have dementia, you don't have choices about how you spend your money. You don't have choices about anything.

And, too often, nor does your family. Stretched social services departments may offer the "care" that racks up those bills to be settled after death, but in thousands of cases there will be relatives at their wits' end doing most of the heavy lifting, unpaid, giving up their own lives to look after shadows of the people they love - who may not even recognise them half the time. Relatives who have to listen to the same sentence being repeated over and over. Relatives who don't get a full night's sleep because they always have half an ear open for the wayward foot on the landing, nostrils perpetually sniffing for the dreaded whiff of smoke. Relatives who may very well also be of advancing years, possibly with health problems of their own, who could do with a bit of looking after themselves.

And if they aren't that old? Working-age daughters (rarely sons) for example? Well, Mrs May is offering them the opportunity to forsake their contact with the outside world and take a year off work (unpaid) to look after their Aged Ps, in exchange for a carer's allowance of  sixty-odd quid a week and a probably insurmountable boulder across their career path.



Looking after our elderly is a big issue for society - especially for one that is as fixated on youth as most Western democracies are - and as we see more people living into their 90s and getting their royal telegrams, it can only get bigger.
Successive governments have cut grants to local councils, who are responsible for social services, and the result has been a greater burden on the NHS as people who don't need to be in hospital for their health - having recovered after a fall, for example - are kept in because there is no one to oversee their convalescence at home. Politicians can argue til the cows come home about which budget should be used to pay for looking after people who can't look after themselves, but the fact is there isn't enough money to go round.

In the 1960s council house jam-jar economy, if there wasn't enough money in the milkman's pot, you'd raid the one for electricity. If robbing Peter to pay Paul didn't work, you'd have to try to find extra work, or economise and have another day on bread and dripping.
The same choices face the State: it can choose to spend more on Peter than Paul, it can cut back, or it can look for a new source of income. Governments (particularly Conservative ones) are terrified of taxing people, especially directly through income tax. Opinion polls may suggest that people would be willing to see the basic rate rise by a penny or two to help the health service or whatever, but no Chancellor has dared do so for a generation. Instead the rate has progressively fallen over the past 40 years from 33% when Thatcher came to power in 1979 to 20% today.
This doesn't mean taxes have fallen. Far from it. It means that Chancellors have had to become more inventive in finding ways of raising money. Rich people or big businesses might seem a good place to start. But the general public is seen as more fruitful - not least because there are more of them and there's less risk that they'll take their talent, enterprise or jobs elsewhere. So we see higher purchase taxes and new levies - such as insurance premium and flight taxes - that are not only difficult to avoid, but which also appear to be just part of the price. That way the seller or service provider, rather than the Exchequer, is seen as the villain.

The Times, May 18, 2017

So where to look when you're trying to find billions to pay for the care of old people? Mrs May is so confident of victory next month that she is willing to alienate her most reliable constituency: the grey vote. At the moment about 300,000 people who receive care in their own homes would suffer from the regime she proposes, a tiny proportion of an electorate of 45 million or so. But the whole reason action is needed now is that those few hundred thousand will become millions very soon. The arch-Conservative Bow Group, which described the proposed measure as the "biggest stealth tax in history", estimates that 70% of elderly people will require some form of care before too long.

The rules as they stand state that those with more than £23,250 in savings have to pay for their own care costs. If they are in a residential home they may have to forfeit their own property to pay the bill, but if they live in their own home, then its value is discounted.
An independent inquiry recommended in 2011 that people should contribute to their care costs, but that they should not have to pay more than a total of £35,000. David Cameron accepted the principle and agreed to introduce the policy from 2020, but with a higher cap of £72,000.
Mrs May has thrown that idea away and settled instead for a "floor" rather than a ceiling. Your last £100,000 will be protected - more than four times as much as before - but that sum includes the value of your home, even if you are living in it.

With the most modest properties in most parts of the country being valued at more that £200,000 and most at much more, it is perhaps unsurprising that a government might want to tap into that wealth. But it won't be the only one. With such a vast equity pot there for the grabbing, the sharks will soon be circling. Councils struggling to recruit care workers won't suddenly find a new pool of staff, but you can bet that agencies will spring up to offer their "services" at suitably high rates (most of which won't be passed on to the people actually doing the job). Insurers will start marketing care policies full of caveats, exclusions and get-out clauses at extortionate premiums. And what about equity release schemes? Will they die the death or flourish as canny oldsters mortgage themselves to the hilt and hand the proceeds to the kids in the hope that they'll do the right thing by their parents, having denied the state its share?

We can be certain that the rich will find ways to protect their children's inheritance - they always do - while unscrupulous financial service providers can be relied upon to dream up new schemes to take money from the less well-off and the less savvy. May's intention may be to protect the less well-off, but it will be those who were encouraged to buy their council houses so that "wealth" could "trickle down" through the generations who will end up paying. Indeed, this scheme could well ensure that the "wealth" trickles nowhere but into the pockets of bankers and businessmen.
And just as the cap on tuition fees led to virtually every university charging the maximum, so this huge pot of gold will lead to higher charges rather than any improvement in the care provided.

There will also be individual tales of woe. Under the present regime, a family can't be required to sell their home to pay care fees if there is someone under 18 or over 60 living there. The Conservative manifesto now says only that the home is safe while the person being cared for or their partner is in residence.
There are many instances of people in their 80s being looked after by relatives in their 50s or 60s. What happens to them when the house has to be sold? Will they suddenly be rendered homeless with a share of £100,000 (they may have siblings wanting their cut) to put a roof over their heads when they are too old to get a mortgage? Listen to this disabled woman in tears of worry in a call to Nick Ferrari's radio show this week.
There will be many such cases. This isn't an attack on "wealthy pensioners" but on whole families. As Mrs May says, the old people won't lose their homes. Middle-aged people who have spent years caring, unpaid, for their parents - as "dutiful" children should - will.



And what of uncaring relatives? People can do nasty things when large sums of money are at stake. It sounds melodramatic, but it's not hard to imagine bullying, violence and even the misemployment of pillows as expectant and exasperated offspring watch their inheritance vanish in a haze of incontinence pads and warmed-up lunches.
Then there's the other side of that coin: the increased risk of suicide among people who fear becoming a burden on their loved ones without the possibility of being able to pass on the family home as a "thank you" from the grave.

Come on! If you've got the money, you should pay your way. There are millions out there who don't have £100,000. Yes, but there are millions more who do have that sort of money tied up in property. Quite ordinary people who don't earn very much. People with adult children still living at home because  depressed wages, zero-hours contracts and the fierce competition for jobs mean they can't afford to get on the housing ladder. People who see, rightly or wrongly, their homes as the legacy that will allow their children finally to make a start on their lives in their thirties. They may be healthy now, but they will worry. And if they are astute, they will find ways to beat this scheme. The golden goose will lay few eggs.

Then other ways will need to be found to finance the care required. If dementia isn't a "proper" illness to be treated via the state, maybe people with other conditions associated with old age will be told that they, too, must cough up. Like a washing machine guarantee, "normal wear and tear" could be excluded: A new hip,  knee replacement, cataracts? You're old, it's only to be expected. If you have the means to pay, you must. Of course many already do by choice, but we're entering the realms of  buying our healthcare on the never-never and it is the very future generations Mrs May is trying to be "fair" to that will have to foot the bill.


The strangest thing about this whole policy is the fact that a much gentler version that would have spread the burden far wider was put forward in 2010 by Labour's Andy Burnham. His idea was a 10% levy on people's estates, on top of inheritance tax, to pay for social care. The policy was rejected by his own party as a vote loser - but still used as propaganda by the Tories, who produced a gravestone poster to hammer Gordon Brown.
Burnham nevertheless returned to the idea in subsequent years, suggesting that the tax could be as much as 15%. That would mean that someone with a £500,000 house would have to pay up to £75,000 towards a general care fund. If that policy were introduced today, the total bill for a single person's estate, including inheritance tax, would be a maximum of £145,000. Under the May plan, the maximum would be £400,000.
Right-leaning newspapers, which are constantly carping about levels of inheritance tax, hooted with derision at the Burnham plan. Here's the Daily Mail leader from March 11, 2010:

What is so grotesquely unfair is that, once again, people who have worked hard will be the ones who suffer, while those who have spent a lifetime on benefits and have not saved to buy their own home, will pay nothing....Of course, there are no pain-free solutions to the enormously-costly problem of providing dignified care for the elderly. But why on earth taxes like National Insurance cannot cover it is another matter altogether.
Once again it is hard to avoid the conclusion that while the poor and the very rich will avoid (or find ways of not paying) this tax, Britain's hard-pressed middle-earners will be made to pick up the bill

This week they have almost all accepted the May scheme as sensible. Here's the Mail leader yesterday:

With a clear ethical - even Christian - tone, this vicar's daughter took the riskier option: to be unremittingly honest with the public about the great challenges this country faces, to spell out how she intends to confront them and to promise only what she can deliver....
Nowhere is her approach clearer than with the issue, shamefully dodged by her predecessors, of social care for our elderly.
Yes, homeowners will see assets they have built up over years whittled away by care costs. But the system will at least be made fairer: no one will lose their homes, and no family's nest egg will fall below £100,000.
Times change, needs must. But would they have been so sanguine had the idea come from Jeremy Corbyn?
And is it really fair? If we can all chip in to educate our children, to defend ourselves, to police our streets, is it too much for us all to chip in to look after our old people? As the Mail asked seven years ago: why on earth can't taxes cover the cost? It doesn't have to be income tax or national insurance - though it could be. It could be a wealth tax, a property tax, an inheritance tax. But why should those unlucky enough to need this particular sort of care be the only members of society that society won't look after?

The Express, Mail, Telegraph and Sun - all rooting for May - didn't trouble to explore alternative options, but instead  emphasised the promise that people wouldn't be forced to sell their homes during their lifetime and the quadrupling of the amount of savings they'd be allowed to keep.
The Mail, to its credit, ran a Q&A spelling out who would be worse off on the day the story broke (the day before the manifesto was published) and a full page of criticism on the day after. The Sun also carried a spread asking if this were an "Alz tax". The Express and Telegraph offered no detailed explanations and scant reporting of the objections - which were many, including, as mentioned earlier, from the Tories' own Bow Group.

Sir Andrew Dilmot - who conducted the review commissioned by Cameron - was withering, saying the proposal showed a "less than full understanding" of the problems. People would be left helpless and alone with no control and no means of protecting themselves against care costs. Jan Shortt of the National Pensioners Convention described it as a Frankenstein's monster of a plan that  bolted lots of bad policies together.
Ms Shortt, as you'd expect from someone in her position, went on to note the means-testing of the winter fuel allowance and the end of the "triple-lock" pension guarantee - both of which will be far more palatable for most people than the care policy.


The Express - for whom pensions and Alzheimer's are go-to splash topics - might have been expected to balk at the proposals. But now that there is no prospect of Nigel Farage ever running the country, nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of May's re-election. While the Sun and the Mail have both felt emboldened by the prospect of a landslide to question various Tory policies, the Express has simply skirted uncomfortable issues. It declined, for example, to report Corbyn's plans to end hospital car parking charges - even though it had run a "crusade" against them itself.
Its first report on the means-testing of the fuel allowance said that "all but the least well-off" would lose the payment. Within a day that had become "the wealthiest pensioners will lose". The social care initiative was fanfared on Thursday as "May's plan for a fairer Britain" and the follow-up the next day was a single-column story headlined "PM blasts critics..." Everything must be given the best possible gloss.


The paper may like to protect its readers from unpalatable truths, but the people running it cannot be unaware of the impact these policies will have. And so, this morning, it produced possibly the most cynical front page of the campaign so far - and with the Mail leading that competition, that's quite an achievement. Its main headline: "Alzheimer's cure hope".
Some German researchers have looked at a protein associated with Alzheimer's in a test-tube. They don't know yet know if what happened in that test-tube replicates what happens in the brain.
The journey from initial research of this kind through to developing treatments and the outside possibility that they will produce a cure is a thousand miles long. That headline was irresponsible. But was it more than that? Was the Express being cynical or am I? For I suspect that when execs realised what that manifesto pledge meant - forget your worries about inheritance tax, if you have dementia, we'll bleed your children nearly dry - the order went out for the health reporters to "find" an advance in Alzheimer's research.
And lurking in the turn was a panel headlined "One in three stroke patients fall victim to dementia", which simply served to emphasise how big the problem is going to become and how many more people are going to be affected.
If the Express is right about what its readers care about, then it should in turn care enough about them to examine issues thoroughly and honestly instead of telling them half the story and "reassuring" them with quarter-baked science reporting.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Kelvin MacKenzie the fall guy?


Kelvin Mackenzie column 14-04-17

How did it get in the paper? And on this Hillsborough anniversary weekend?

1: Because, after the Ipso rulings on cockroaches and hijabs, the Sun believes that it can be as obnoxious as it pleases?
2: Because no sub or backbencher dares question star columnists?
3: Because there are no subs left?
4: Because comparing a man to a gorilla is a mild insult by Mackenzie's standards?
5: Because no one in Liverpool reads the Sun, so they wouldn't notice?
6: Because the editor is incompetent?

Why has Mackenzie been suspended?

1: Because he wrote something offensive?
2: Because the Merseyside police are investigating something that he wrote?
3: Because the Mayor of Liverpool objected to something he wrote?
4: Because of the Sky takeover bid?

Last July, Kelvin MacKenzie managed to insult an entire religion with a few ill-chosen words. More than 800 people complained to Ipso after he criticised Channel 4 for allowing Fatima Manji to appear on screen in a hijab in reporting the terrorist murders in Nice.
Did The Sun or News UK retract? Not a bit of it. The article was cleared as "fair comment" by the regulator's complaints committee, Mackenzie crowed about his victory, and Trevor Kavanagh - who sits on the Ipso board - injudiciously weighed in with another pop at Manji in his Monday column.

Last Friday, MacKenzie managed to insult an entire city with a few ill-chosen words. Hundreds of people complained on Twitter after he likened the Everton footballer Ross Barkley to a gorilla and said that drug dealers were the only people in Liverpool to earn his sort of salary.
This time the Sun's initial bullish response that its columnists were known for their robust opinions was swiftly overtaken by a statement from parent company News UK saying that MacKenzie had been suspended over his "wrong and unfunny column". As in the past, it also noted that the columnist's opinion did not reflect the "view of the paper".

Ross Barkley note


Which brings us to the first question: how did such a piece get into print?
Did no one look at it?
Of course they did. But tinkering with top writers' copy tends to be a dangerous strategy on virtually any title (Giles Coren wrecked a Times sub's career over a two-letter word), and Sun subs are probably inured to MacKenzie's personal offensiveness.
An insider says that the procedure for Mackenzie's golden prose is for it to be sent to both features and news backbenches (features to get it into the paper, news for cross-reference purposes). It is then subbed, revised on the middle bench and lawyered before returning to the backbench for the final revise. The editor sees the column at the beginning and end of this process.

Unlike the attack on Manji, MacKenzie's note was not overtly racist. Could he have been expected to know that Barkley's grandfather was born in Nigeria? Even if he did, he didn't allude to his race at all; he was simply rude about the footballer, questioning his looks and his intelligence. And being rude about people's appearance and intellect is stock in trade for tabloid columnists (take a bow, Sarah Vine). Editors believe that is what sells papers.
Nor was there anything particularly nasty about the page layout, matching two pairs of eyes in line with the start of the piece. (The web version was far more egregious, with picture researchers digging out a photograph of Barkley in "gorilla" pose with a side-splittingly witty "missing link" caption.)


Online version of Mackenzie comment

The real problem was not that he insulted Barkley, but that he insulted the whole of Liverpool. Again.

Can there be anyone on the paper who doesn't understand the problems involved in even straight reporting of the city, let alone the perils of publishing a gratuitous - and demonstrably unjustified - swipe at its people?
Why did no one in the extensive chain of command question it? Well, in spite of all the executive assessment of the material, it is entirely possible that the first person to read the column properly was the sub.  They may have just ticked it up without thinking - if the paper can traduce all Muslims and all migrants with impunity, why not all Liverpudlians?
Or they may have dared to ask someone higher up: "Do we think this is ok?" and been told to get on with it and stop asking awkward questions.

And where in all this was Tony Gallagher? Editors may not read every word in their papers (though Andrew Neil did at the multi-supplemented Sunday Times), but any editor worth his salt makes sure that he sees certain pages: the leader, the splash, the big columns. With a loose cannon like MacKenzie on the staff, Gallagher would be a fool not to keep a close watch on what he was writing, even when on holiday - which he may well have been, given that it's Easter.
(Remember Rebekah Brooks's phone hacking trial testimony about how she kept tabs on what was going in the paper while she was away? Every editor I have ever worked for has been exactly the same. Control freakery is part of the job description.)
So Gallagher was either negligent in not checking on his columnist or incompetent in not recognising that the note was beyond the pale.
Unless he wanted rid of the man occupying a rather splendid top-floor office at the Baby Shard, courtesy of his friend Rebekah, and deliberately allowed him the rope to hang himself. But that would be a dangerous strategy, since whatever any contributor writes, it is the editor's choice - or judgment - whether to publish and, if it comes to it, be damned. It is, after all, the editor, not the reporter, who carries the can when a libellous story appears in print.


Which brings us to the second question: why the suspension and the statement disowning MacKenzie as though no one else had anything to do with publishing the offending article?

The Sun page 2, 15-04-17

The News UK statement, reported on page 2 of the Sun on Saturday, says that the matter will be "fully investigated" when MacKenzie returns from holiday, but what is there to be investigated that requires his return? Imagine the conversation:

"Why did you write such a horrible piece?"
"Because that's what you pay me for."
"But it was really nasty."
"So why did you put it in the paper? Writers write, editors are supposed to edit. I didn't choose that gorilla picture on the website."

News UK knows that the Sun will never be accepted in Liverpool. The suspension and apology will change nothing. A paper that has made clear its scepticism about "race crime" incidents  is unlikely to have been influenced by the mayor's complaint or a police investigation. Brazening it out is always the default position in the face of such challenges.

Except that, just at the moment, it is important for its parent company to be seen as a responsible news organisation. The O'Reilly furore at Fox News in America and Europe questioning Murdoch's suitability to take full control of the TV network he founded are making life quite difficult enough, thank you.
It is hard not to conclude that, just as an entire newspaper and its staff were sacrificed in a doomed attempt to save the Sky takeover after the hacking scandal in 2011, this time it is MacKenzie who is being tossed to the wolves.

Welcome to the post-Truth world, Kelvin.

The Sun's Hillsborough slur



PS: News UK may have suspended MacKenzie, but it still ran a full-page ad for his comparison website in Sunday's paper.


A Spokesman Said advert 16-04-17

A Spokesman Said website
The advertisement in Sunday's paper, left, and the
"about us" page  of the A Spokesman Said website

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Press v Google - or pots v kettles

Google front pages March 2017

You could almost touch the schadenfreude as big-name advertisers walked away from YouTube after finding themselves appearing alongside extremists.
 "At last!" proclaimed a Daily Mail leader hailing the "fightback against web anarchy". Google (which owns YouTube) rightly stood accused of profiting from hatred, it said:

Day after day, the already deeply tarnished reputations of the filth-peddling, tax-dodging terror-abetting internet behemoths sink lower into the mire.
For many years, Google, Facebook and Twitter had wilfully turned a blind eye to poisonous content, it continued. But now the day of reckoning had arrived. The BBC and Whitehall had pulled their ads. And when banks, supermarkets and Marks & Spencer joined the exodus, there was more from Dominic Lawson on the "utter shamelessness of the filth-peddling web giants".

For The Times, which set the ball rolling with an investigation by Alexi Mostrous, this was the "shaming of Google", which should now face up to its responsibilities. The alternative was "an unacceptable role as an accessory to barbarism".

The Mail and the Murdoch stable hate the internet giants because they think they are stealing their revenue and readers. Having had the field to themselves for more than 200 years, newspapers resent the interlopers. Free marketeers all, they just can't stand competition. It's the same as their gripes against the BBC (publicly funded left-wing propaganda - just look at that anti-Brexit Countryfile with the farmer saying he'd go under without migrant fruit pickers) but writ larger.
Essentially, their cry is "It's not fair!"

Murdoch titles dominate the British print media and his Sky channels dominate the satellite television market. The Sun and Times reach 31 million people a month, according to the National Readership Survey, and figures from the British Audience Research Bureau suggest that the Sky channels between them achieved a total audience of about 8 million last week. The Mail is the most successful news website in the world and its print and online offerings now reach 29 million a month. But they want more.

Murdoch not only wants full control of Sky, but he wants the opposition nobbled. Having moved into BT's world of telephones, he started complaining - through his newspapers - that it was anti-competitive for BT to have control of the cabling. And when a deal was reached with Ofcom for Openreach to be hived off as a separate company under the same umbrella, that still wasn't enough. He wants an enforced sale.
The "respectable" argument is that BT is failing to invest enough in improving broadband speeds - a view that SubScribe wholeheartedly endorses - but it's hard not to notice that BT Sport has been outbidding Sky for key football rights.

The fight with Google goes back even further, with Murdoch threatening in 2009 to remove his newspapers' content from the search engine in a row over free access. That was followed in 2014 by News Corp's appeal to the much-derided European Commission for action to combat what it called "a platform for piracy". Then came the furore over tax in January last year. Mostrous, who had been honoured for his work on celebrity tax avoidance in 2015, was again on duty for The Times, showing how little tax Google paid and how the Government had failed to get as much as other European countries out of the company.
It was a legitimate investigation - if a bit rich from a paper whose parent company had previously managed to pay not a penny of UK corporation tax on billions of pounds of income over a period of 11 years.

The Times inside coverage

The latest assault is also a valid inquiry - the speed with which MPs and big businesses responded proves as much - and it has thrown up three distinct strands:
  • the content itself;
  • the algorithms that place advertisements alongside extremist videos;
  • the fact that money generated by the ads goes to the video makers and so funds extremism
One of the biggest beefs of the Mail and the Sun is that the internet is not regulated. British newspapers, they say, are subject to the toughest regulatory system in the world. They invest money in journalism and strive for accuracy, but their very existence is being imperilled by people like Gary Lineker who can reach millions with a tweet that turns out to be misinformed. And don't get them started on fake news. (Well, actually, they’ve already started with the News Media Association’s submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry saying there should be a government investigation into Facebook and Google – but “don’t bring in any new rules for us”).

The Mail warmed to that theme in its leader on Saturday, accusing the web giants of ruthlessly invading the privacy of their users by gathering and exploiting personal information, going on: "Meanwhile, endless fake news and blatant libels are spread with impunity around the world."
Impunity? They must have short memories in Kensington, for only days before the Mail Online's own columnist Katie Hopkins had to pay libel damages and costs over a tweet.

Mail Google coverage

For a technophobe who does not use a computer, Mail editor Paul Dacre seems remarkably well-informed about the "vile" material all over the web and its malign effects on society. His newspaper has run hundreds of stories on the subject and appears to be of the opinion that all such material – porn, fanaticism, body-shaming - should be removed. Yes, some of it is execrable, but wouldn’t that be censorship, an attack on free speech?

The advertisers seem more concerned about their good name than about removing content from the web. They don't want to be associated with inappropriate material. If Google cleans up its algorithms, they'll go back.
Then there's the notion that advertisers and their customers (and, in the case of Whitehall and the BBC, the taxpayer) are inadvertently funding hate because a proportion of the fees they pay ends up in the hands of the people producing the page on which their ad appears.
The papers say this adds up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. Google says it is "pennies".
[SubScribe can attest to the fact that Google is not exactly generous in sharing the proceeds of web ads with the page producers, but then again SubScribe does not get millions of views, so please click on an ad or two!]

So the Mail could be said to be in favour of the ad boycott to force the removal of material that spreads hate and fear.

Wait a minute. Funding hate? Ad boycotts? Material that spreads hate and fear? Doesn't all that sound familiar?
For the past eight months a group called Stop Funding Hate has been trying to persuade household names not to advertise with the Mail, Sun and Express while they continue to run so many anti-immigration stories. It chose those three papers because they were called out by the UN for the tone of their coverage. The organisation - which has just raised more than  £100,000 through a crowd-funding appeal to expand its work - argues that it is not good for companies to be associated with such a material, that the newspapers are profiting from spreading hate and fear, and that by advertising with the newspapers, advertisers are effectively using their customers' money to fund those hate messages.
This is what the Mail had to say in a leader about that:

A more malicious threat comes from Left-wing campaigners who seek to blackmail firms into withdrawing advertising from newspapers with which they disagree.
Particular targets are those, like the Mail, which voice public concerns about mass unrestricted immigration and the wanton waste of taxpayers' money on overseas aid, while the elderly and vulnerable suffer at home.
But with fair-minded companies refusing to be bullied by groups such as Stop Funding Hate, this assault on free expression can also be overcome.
Thus far, only Lego and the Body Shop have shown tangible support for the SFH campaign. Most other advertisers, including some that have pulled away from Google, have responded along the lines that they have no say in what appears near their ads.
But their reaction to the Google "scandal" proves that they think they do - or at least that they do not want to be seen next to material that runs counter to their brand image. That is exactly the judgment SFH is asking them to make about the newspapers.

Let’s be clear:
  • It is censorship for campaigners to ask advertisers to influence the mindset - as opposed to the specific content - of newspapers.
  • It is not censorship for the Press to demand that Google removes material from its platforms.
  • It is not censorship for advertisers to seek to influence what appears on Google’s websites.
Come on! That’s obtuse! You know that a radical cleric who has been banned from the country preaching jihad is far more dangerous than a newspaper telling you that migrants take all new jobs - even if the 120pt splash caps heading and story are wrong. One is a threat to Western democracies, the other is an honest mistake made in the rush of getting important information across to readers who need to know. And newspapers own up and correct their errors (months later, in 8pt on page 2 or 32).

Of course it's all a question of scale. There are some really bad people on the web advocating some really nasty stuff. We can see how lives could be put at risk, so it's an easy call for M&S to say it doesn't want to be shown alongside real people with real guns and bombs (as opposed to the ones in Homeland).
It's harder to take a stand against a stream of prejudicial headlines, especially when those headlines are delivering the very Middle England readership it wants to talk to. But there is evidence from a number of respected sources, not simply lobbyists, that lives are being blighted - and possibly endangered - by some of things printed in our newspapers. A lot of blind eyes are being turned.

Richard Wilson, who set up SFH, is encouraged by this week's developments, saying:

We think it's brilliant that there is now a serious discussion about hate speech and about the responsibility of advertisers to acknowledge their role in it. Obviously this is a major concession from the previous position of insisting that any suggestion advertisers should consider these things was an abuse of free speech. Even the Mail now accepts that advertisers do have to think about this and act accordingly.

The Mail would naturally argue that that it does not print "hate speech". But here's a thing.  In listing obviously offensive and extremist videos from "terror groups, neo-Nazis and homophobes", the Mail reported:

An investigation by The Times found that the Home Office, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force all had advertising promotions placed beside video rants from 'shock-jock' Michael Savage, who infamously told one gay caller he should 'get Aids and die'.

The often-offensive Savage Nation podcasts pull no punches, but they come with a health warning of "adult content, adult language and psychological nudity", and they are sufficiently mainstream for the presenter to have been inducted into the radio hall of fame last November.
If it is reasonable for advertisers not to want to be associated with his output, what about the output of a woman (Katie Hopkins) who calls refugees cockroaches or a man (Kelvin MacKenzie) who thinks it's outrageous for a newsreader wearing a hijab to report on a terrorist attack  - both "vindicated" by the toughest newspaper regulator in the world?



Postscript:


In taking the Google story on from the Times's findings, the Mail also reported that Google, Facebook and Twitter had been "branded morally bankrupt for hosting thousands of images showing youngsters how to starve themselves or self-harm". It helpfully reproduced a photograph of a thin young woman. There is a real problem of mental health issues among teenagers and pro-anorexia sites exacerbate it. The Mail has written a fair bit about the tyranny of fashion and size zero models, but it would never do anything to make women worry about their body image, would it? This collection was taken from half - yes half - of yesterday's "sidebar of shame".


And one last thing:


The Mail also reported  concerns about Google's "political clout" and its "cosy relationship" with Whitehall, as evidenced by  figures showing that the company had at least 27 meetings with ministers in the 17 months after the 2015 election. There was also a "revolving door" that had seen at least 26 Whitehall staff hired by Google in the past decade.
Murdoch made a similar point in January last year, when he tweeted that Google was infiltrating Downing Street and the Obama White House.


Those Google meetings included one with David Cameron and another with Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. Over the same time period, executives of  News Corp held 20 meetings with senior government ministers, 18 of them with the Prime Minister, Chancellor or Culture Secretary. Murdoch attended seven. His chief executive, the former Times editor Robert Thomson, was at eight.

Pots and kettles.


SubScribe has analysed coverage of immigration and related issues over 2016. You can read about the front pages here and about the white-top inside pages here.






Monday, 20 March 2017

The Sun piles on the agony for Lizzie Kelly


Last week Lizzie Kelly became the second woman to ride in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Her horse fell at the second fence.
It's the sort of story that would get decent coverage on the back  pages and a sentence or two in the news report of the race. It is, after all, one of those events that transcend the sports section.
The Sun found a better line, however. It could "reveal" that some intimate videos of Kelly had been leaked and had been doing the rounds during the festival.
A reasonable story. Except...
First the heading: "Girl jockey sex vid agony".
There is no evidence that Kelly was agonised. The Sun clearly hadn't spoken to her to gauge any reaction. Instead, it "believed" that she was aware of the leak - which "a source close to the jockey" said had been doing the rounds for a year. Nor could it be sure about her boyfriend: it "understood" that she had set up home with another jockey.
Then there's the photograph. If you want to illustrate a story about a woman apparently distressed by people ogling revealing pictures of herself, of course the best way to do it is to show her naked.
The portrait of Kelly on a horse simulator was taken by The Times's award-winning photographer Marc Aspland as one of a series of carefully posed nudes entitled "My Sporting Body". Other subjects included stars of  rugby, tennis, judo, weightlifting, swimming and golf. They can all be seen, with commentary, on The Times's website here (if you can get behind the paywall), where Aspland explains:  "From rugby players to Isle of Man TT riders, by stripping the athlete of their kit we were able to show how many years of hard work has given them the perfect physique for their sport."
The Sun report mentions the feature, but not the rationale.
We can be pretty sure that neither Kelly nor Aspland intended the photograph to be used as a "come on" to readers who might think that it was a still from a sex video. But, as The Times's sister paper, The Sun presumably didn't need to ask permission to print it.
Shoddy work.



On the same page, the Sun showed its class again with a photograph of a man in a recognisable pose by the wheel of a lorry. Oh those Cheltenham headline writers, such wags.

Friday, 17 March 2017

British Press pays homage to Emperor Dacre


Daily Mail covers itself in glory
The Daily Mail covers itself in glory

It's nice to win prizes. We may say they don't matter, that they're not the reason we do whatever we do, but a bit of recognition is always welcome.
Last Tuesday, The New European was presented with the Chairman's Award at the British Press Awards. Newspapers cannot "enter" this category, the prize is in the gift of the judges and is awarded only when they want to honour something special (though they do manage to find a winner most years).
As an occasional contributor to The New European, I was delighted by their decision - as was my Twitter feed. This, of course, is the Twitter feed of a snowflake Remainer. Those who move in other social media circles will have been less enthused. Michael Gove was among them, tweeting:

Well, for a start, Michael, the Press awards are open only to national newspapers (although the London Evening Standard is also allowed in) and the two publications you mention are periodicals.
And for what reason? Because it was innovative. Because editor Matt Kelly was astonishingly quick off the mark in identifying a potential market, astonishingly quick in getting the first issue on to the news stands, and astonishingly quick in securing the services of far better writers and bigger names than this blogger to move things along.
In a year that had seen the birth and death of The New Day, here was a print success story to celebrate. The Trinity Mirror group, with all its resources, managed to keep its baby alive for only three months. Archant, a far smaller local newspaper group, did not expect its little one to survive for more than a few weeks, yet it's now a strapping seven-month-old showing every sign of reaching at least one birthday. It is very good at what it does.

Matt Kelly
Matt Kelly of The New European

Once Kelly had left the stage with his trophy, having had a pop at Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and a slightly ungracious joke about coming back next year for the Cudlipp "prize we really wanted", it was time for the big one - the "best picture" of the Press industry's Oscars. This is what the judges had to say:




In the seismic year of Brexit, the battle for No.10 and campaigning journalism, the winner had its finger on the pulse of the national conversation. Not only did it shape both the agenda and the narrative, it reflected the temper of a large part of the country in a year of political upheaval. It was a must-read across the political and public spectrum and its strong and provocative voice never wavered.
From crusading reports on press freedom to Brexit, the Sepsis scandal, the madness of drivers using mobile phones, wasteful foreign aid spending, betrayal of Afghan interpreters, the harm caused by ‘plastic poison’ and the battle to end the witch-hunt against British troops, the conviction of this paper’s commentary and campaigning in 2016 was only matched by its energy. It is also never afraid to have a strong opinion.
It is the job of a newspaper to hold power to account and to forensically question and probe those who act in our name.
The decision of the judges was that it dominated the narrative and produced agenda-setting and stand-out coverage in 2016.
The Newspaper of the Year for 2016 is the Daily Mail.

 Dacre was there to collect the award and make a brief acceptance speech commending his "brillliant" journalists and an industry which had "still got a hell of a life in it", before compere Nick Ferrari ordered everyone to the bar.

SubScribe, watching the event on a streaming service, certainly felt in need of a drink. A paper that bends and distorts facts to its will; a paper whose stock in trade is to invite readers to hate or mock people trying to go about their daily lives; a paper so cocksure that it deliberately sets out to make its core readership of middle-class women feel guilty or inadequate. This was what the newspaper industry held to be the shining example of our trade?

Many journalist colleagues, mostly of the broadsheet persuasion, were equally perplexed. As one said:


How the pernicious, mendacious, xenophobic Daily Mail, a publication that produces disgraceful front-page headlines like 'Enemies of the People', won Newspaper of the Year in last night's British Press Awards is quite beyond me.
Others, mostly of the pop persuasion, came back to argue that - unlike most news organisations these days - the Mail invested in journalism, paid people decently, understood its readers, and actually exercised a great deal of rigour in making sure that what it printed was right. As SubScribe has frequently pointed out, accuracy is not the same as truth or balance, but diligence in making sure that you can defend what you say is a start.

Nobody would deny that the Mail is the most polished newspaper to come out of what used to be Fleet Street. It - or rather Dacre - does have the knack of knowing exactly what will strike a chord, which battles to fight, which stories will amuse. From conjuring up imaginative picture spreads out of nothing  to telling the Government what to do, it does everything it does better than anyone else.
Look back at the citation and its list of campaigns. Brexit? The Telegraph, Express and Sun all campaigned every bit as vigorously. Mobile phones? The Sun was there first. Foreign aid? The Times and the Express have been there, done that. Afghan interpreters? Ditto. And so it goes on. But no one campaigns quite like the Mail,  and it certainly achieves results - most notably, in SubScribe's opinion, on charity cold-calling.

Daily Mail 16-03-17

Only this week it was claiming victory - by applauding its readers' contributions to the defence fighting fund - in the battle to get Marine Alexander Blackman's murder conviction overturned. Blackman had, the paper said, been hung out to dry by top brass. It was to be hoped that no other soldier would be charged with murder for a battlefield killing.
Blackman was the first serving soldier to be found guilty of murder on active service after shooting a dying Taleban insurgent. Video footage taken from helmet cameras provided evidence that he knew exactly what he was doing and that he knew it was wrong. He even said: "I've just broke the Geneva Convention."
We can only speculate on how the Mail might have reported the case had the roles been reversed and it been a British soldier on the ground with an Afghani standing over him, gun in hand. What we do know is that when Blackman was first convicted by a court martial, the Mail endorsed the murder charge it later denounced, writing in a leader that nothing excused or justified the sergeant's actions:




The Army - which has such an admirably proud record of treating detainees with humanity and respect - had no option but to bring a prosecution against him for murder.
His conviction yesterday, while deeply saddening, affirms Britain's unyielding commitment to the Geneva Convention - no matter how grievously our soldiers are provoked.

As time goes on, more information comes to light, understanding of the complexities of a situation grows, views may change. It is not, perhaps, unreasonable for the Mail to adjust its stance in such circumstances. The same might be said about its attitude to child refugees - a call for compassion last April to leader column silence on the ending of the Dubs scheme last month. Maybe people were taking advantage, maybe there were better ways to help.

The thing is, though, that while the Mail allows itself to reverse ferret (and is punctilious in admitting as much when its new opinion runs counter to its prevailing argument), anyone else who does so is a hypocrite to be reminded of what they said earlier.

This "one rule for us, another for the rest of the world" attitude is pervasive, but was most sharply in focus during the referendum campaign and its aftermath. The Mail's coverage was relentlessly one-sided - as was its right, as an independent newspaper - but it had a constant eye out in case anyone or any organisation that "ought" to be impartial strayed towards the Remain side of the argument. The BBC, always a target (publicly-funded, unfair competition) was commended for its "surprising balance" - which meant that any time someone said something that might help the Remain cause, someone else had to put forward a Leave counter-argument. Since there were lies told on both sides, this may have been balanced, but it was far from informative.
So it was, too, with the Governor of the Bank of England, the IMF, the CBI, the Treasury, even the head of the NHS: all should have taken a vow of silence while the Mail should be free to say whatever it liked.
Once the battle had been won, it was the "will of the people" - as interpreted by the Daily Mail - that should hold sway over unelected Eurocrats and judges. Oddly, it seems the unelected editor of the Daily Mail and the unelected Prime Minister should also hold sway over elected MPs.
Mail 04-11-16

Freedom of speech is a vital democratic right for a free Press that "holds those in power to account", Freedom of speech for those who hold a different view from the Mail - celebrities with opinions on refugees, in particular - is another matter. They can, of course, say what they like, but they'll be pilloried for it. And if they suffer because trolls and stalkers have been worked up into a lather by intemperate columnists, well, the Mail doesn't condone such behaviour - but nor will it take responsibility for it.

These are the sorts of things that make people dislike the Mail and make some journalists uneasy about the honour bestowed on it last Tuesday.
 About a million and a half people buy the paper every day, ten times as many look at its website. But that leaves some 50 million who don't. The vast majority of those will be ambivalent about the Mail; many thousands actively detest it - but how many of those ever look at it? I don't care for East Enders, but I don't watch it. I've made my decision on the basis of what little I've seen and heard about it. Hardly an informed judgment. The same could be said of the non-reading Mail haters.
The only real evidence we have is those people who do buy the paper and stick with it. Paul Dacre is clearly giving them something they like - or at least tolerate.

So by what measure should we be judging which newspaper is most deserving of prizes? The quality of the journalism? And how would you assess that? By the amount of effort that goes into it? Its readibility? Its relevance to its audience? The impact it makes? Its business model and ethos? Its politics? If papers are free to campaign for justice for poppy sellers, are they not also free to campaign to secure the election of the political party they favour?
We like to say they have a duty to inform, to present facts, but most "facts" are subject to interpretation. There are experts in every field with differing opinions; there is no absolute truth.
Where many of us take issue with the Mail - and also with the Express and Telegraph, though they are not under discussion here - is its ability to play down or even ignore inconvenient facts. But aren't the Guardian and the Mirror just as partisan on issues close to their hearts?
 Interestingly, it seems that the Mail's closest rival for the crown this year was the i - the paper that tries hardest to be impartial, but which just doesn't have the same confident swagger.

Maybe it all comes down to that swagger: to the lesser children in the playground sucking up to the classroom bully. More likely it is simple admiration for someone who has come up with a viable commercial model in a declining industry.
If so, the same could be said for The New European. A hat was tipped to its "brilliant roll call of contributors", but the prize was really for its "unusual success - the counter-intuitive story of a new print launch in a digital age". Like the dog walking on its hind legs, the accolade was not so much for the excellence of its journalism as for the fact that it existed at all.
Those of us who admire The New European and sometimes despair of the Mail would do well to remember that both are partisan, opinionated papers with a direct connection to a dedicated readership.
The Mail is mean and shouty and cruel. It is not a good role model for budding journalists or students of ethics. It is certainly not a good advertisement for responsible, compassionate journalism.
But, yes, after an initial gasp of dismay, SubScribe suspects that by most measures, the Mail probably was THE newspaper of 2016 - rather as it was inescapable that Time would name Trump its person of the year. It virtually governs the country, for heaven's sake.
So as the Emperor Dacre was duly crowned, plenty in the crowd were cheering.
But there are many more of us on the sidelines muttering about his clothes.

Paul  Dacre
Emperor Dacre accepts his due

*Photographs from The Society of Editors