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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Sun and Scottish Sun’s opposite views of SNP can serve Murdock’s commercial interests

Today’s revelation that The Sun in London and The Scottish Sun have radically different voting advice for readers presents Murdoch watchers with a difficult analysis to make.

The Sun says: Vote Tory to stop the SNP running the country.

The Scottish Sun says: May the 7th be with you: Why its time to vote SNP.


Presuming that Rupert Murdoch is still taking an interest and talking to his editors regularly it is reasonable to assume that the hid not object to either of today’s front pages.

His Twitter account does not help much as he seems not to have tweeted since April 26 when he said, Tweet responses interesting. Maybe I guessed 10 too many Cons, but either way Scots probably will hold the balance.

Through this we know he is following the election.

Some years ago when Wordblog was dedicated to the media, I argued Murdoch did not influence election results but was very good at predicting what would happen. His business benefitted if leaders believed he had helped them win.

This would be an explanation of today’s divergent views from his papers in England and Scotland. Cameron is likely to have the most seats in England and Sturgeon in Scotland.

But like so many things in this election it does not make complete sense. Could he have bought the analysis that depriving Labour of seats in Scotland is increasing the chances of a Conservative UK government? He would have probably got that view from his people in London.

My guess is that the opposed views of the two papers is calculated to further his commercial interests in the UK.



The mystery of Labour’s ‘limpness’ in responding to austerity

Paul Krugman, the Nobel prizewinning economist, pinpoints the great mystery of the past five years of British politics and this election campaign, in a Guardian article, headed The austerity delusion, today. He writes:

It has been astonishing, from a US perspective, to witness the limpness of Labour’s response to the austerity push. Britain’s opposition has been amazingly willing to accept claims that budget deficits are the biggest economic issue facing the nation, and has made hardly any effort to challenge the extremely dubious proposition that fiscal policy under Blair and Brown was deeply irresponsible – or even the nonsensical proposition that this supposed fiscal irresponsibility caused the crisis of 2008-2009.

Why this weakness? In part it may reflect the fact that the crisis occurred on Labour’s watch; American liberals should count themselves fortunate that Lehman Brothers didn’t fall a year later, with Democrats holding the White House. More broadly, the whole European centre-left seems stuck in a kind of reflexive cringe, unable to stand up for its own ideas. In this respect Britain seems much closer to Europe than it is to America.

This quote is towards the end of the long – nearly five-and-a-half thousand words – read which is closely argued and academic in tone, with charts.

While Krugman’s analysis is convincing and his general view that austerity is not the way out of the financial crisis is supported by the majority of economists, he fails to present his argument in a way which will enthuse the man (or woman) on the Manchester Metrolink.

Confronted with a controversial economic issue someone in a group will eventually come out with the old saw, “If you lay all the economist in the world end to end, they will never reach a conclusion.” It is too easy to dismiss the argument of an economist.

Supporters of the small state, the real motivation for austerity according to Krugman and many others, will often describe the banking crisis as a “market malfunction”, as if it was akin to a “wardrobe malfunction” which exposes a celebrity nipple.

Why Labour has been so ineffective in confronting Osborne and his policies is a puzzle. I suspect it is because they have treated it as an economic argument rather than the vision of the sort of country we want to live in.

The success of the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru has been largely because they have a vision which is not that of Osborne and Cameron. They want to expand the state, not contract it and are not ashamed to say so.

The effort of reading Krugman’s long read before voting is worth it.



Does Russell Brand face a £80 ‘fine’ for not registering to vote?

Russell Brand could be “fined” £80 for not registering to vote. That is if he has had one of those letters from his electoral registration officer inviting him to register.

The civil penalty – like a parking fine – for not registering, after being invited to do so, can be imposed by the local registration officer. So, I am wondering, if Brand has decided that is a price worth paying before announcing he had not registered..

Today attention is on his interview with Ed Miliband which is less a populist gimmick that it seems and for which the Labour leader has been attacked by Cameron.

The labour campaign managers have taken a political risk by exposing their leader to what must be an unpredictable interview. But taking that risk can only to him good when there has been so much criticism of team Cameron’s tight control of media exposure: refusing debates and even banning the Guardian from a list to a nursery school.

Neither will the Labour managers have failed to take into account the late surge in voter registration by younger people.  Nearly 50,000 people under 24 registered on April 19 alone (Independent).

Taking the risk and using a channel more likely to be watched by younger voters may pay dividends for Miliband.  As I writer (8am , April 29) more than 200,000 people have watched the YouTube trailer.

If hyperbole fails try meiosis. Cameron finds economic news ‘less exciting’

The economic news today — GDP growth in the UK falling to the slowest rate in three years (Daily Telegraph) — was so bad David Cameron must have realised that the hyperbole he has been using was inappropriate. So he gave meiosis (use of terms that gives impression that something is less important than it is) a go, describing the news (BBC) as “less exciting” than the previous quarter.

Throughout the campaign Cameron and Osborne have been talking up the Conservatives economic success. While economists have been casting doubt on their claims (Two thirds of economists say Coalition austerity harmed the economy) most people seem to have believed them. Labour has signally failed to alter this belief.

I wonder who dreamed up the idea of dismissing the very bad GDP figures as “less exciting” but the intent was clearly to dismiss the figure as less important than it really is.

The Literary Devices website defines meiosis as,  “a witty understatement that belittles or dismisses something or somebody, particularly by making use of terms that gives impression that something is less important than it is or it should be”.

Is this playing with words or simply political rhetoric?

Moors murder backs UKIP, the transgender lesbian candidate and more election news at Mail online

The Daily Mail online did not become the most visited English language news website in the world but failing to understand what its readers want. So I took a look this evening at its UK home page to see what it is saying about the election.

I needed to scroll down some way to find the first reference: Ian Brady, the Moors murder supports UKIP.

A lot further down there is a much bigger story (in space allocated) with the heading: At last, some election passion…love triangle of sex-change candidate and lesbian lovers. And who do they represent? The Liberal Democrats, of course.

Just under that there are six small links to election stories.

What more is there to say?

‘An election of closed doors and closed minds’

My headline is part of the introduction to yesterday’s Observer media column by Peter Preston, former editor of the Guardian. The closed doors hide politicians who are refusing to the meet the electorate and the closed minds are found if you, “wade through the digital comment at the bottom of so many election pieces and you stumble into web swamps heaving with hate”.

Preston points out that in 2010 national newspaper day sales were 10.9m: now they are 7.6. In the same period membership of political parties has shrunk from 1.3% of the electorate to 0.8%.

He writes:

And a combative Guardian piece on Tory NHS performance from a former deputy editor of the Indie (and Cameron speechwriter) prompts one reader to howl apocalypse: “I don’t like mendacious tracts in my newspaper of choice requiring me to weave through them like someone avoiding dog shit on the pavement.”

“Ian Birrell should be writing for the SunMailTimes,” snarls another, who actually takes the name “Hatetories”. Apparently today’s version of democratic freedom means avoiding reading something you don’t agree with.

This, he suggests, is a change. Once Conservatives represented 20% of the Guardian readership and when the Sun “won it” for John Major in 1992 fewer than half its readers voted Tory.

I have looked at the comments in the Guardian a few times recently and have been shocked that so many bigots apparently read the paper’s website. It would interesting to know how many of the commenters buy the paper or its digital edition and how many of them are not paying but contributing indirectly by boosting page hits and advertising revenue.

The Guardian, like the Daily Mail with its hugely successful website, had an interest in attracting everyone including bigots.



Time to break the political logjam and promise a federal UK and voting reform

Another weekend in this long election campaign and the waters are looking increasingly stagnant as the opinion pools show no significant change. It is going to take a very bold move to break the logjam.

With economics and spending options limited by the positions taken by all the parties having failed to give any clear advantage, immigration nastily tied up with proposals for an EU referendum and limited scope in foreign affairs, there is little left other than the constitution.

The prospect of the SNP taking almost all the seats in Scotland in this first-past-the-post election, means the time for a more proportionate coming system may have arrived. It would mean a loss of Westminster seats for the SNP, but they could hardly object to a system more akin to that used to select MSPs.

For Labour it would promise more Scottish representation at Westminster. The Conservatives are bound to suffer from the current single seat constituency boundaries which give a mathematical advantage to Labour, so there is an advantage for them too.

Both Ed and Dave should promise that their first Queen’s Speech should include a commission on a more equitable voting system.

Allied to this Labour should promise that whatever the outcome of this election, its Scottish wing would have a relationship with the England and Wales party more like that it has with Northern Ireland’s SDLP. The aim would be to detoxify the brand north of the border and allow it to provide stronger opposition to the SNP.

The biggest constitutional change would be to accept that the United Kingdom is on its way to becoming a federal state. Ed Miliband should promise that if he was Prime Minister he would include in his first Queen’s Speech a constitutional commission on federalisation. He has nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

For David Cameron this step would be harder as he has already promised English Votes for English Laws. But it is not too late to row back from this mad suggestion that Westminster should have two classes of MPs, a divisive message if there ever was one.

These proposals would probably be seen by many as kicking the issues into the long grass. Yet if the next fixed-term parliament could achieve a national consensus of governance it could yet go down in history as a great parliament.

Here are some links to thoughts on a federal UK. The topic has been missing from the election debate and only the first link is to an article published during the campaign:

Conservative Home: It’s a federal Britain or bust

Huffington Post: What’s the Problem With a Federal UK? England!

New Statesman: Union does not mean uniform

The Spectator: A federal UK? Home Rule all round? We have been here before.

The Atlantic: Should the United Kingdom Become a Federal State?

The Federal Trust: A federal way forward

Daily Telegraph: Keep Scotland in the UK – and give all the nations much more power

London School of Economics: A federal future for the UK: the options

Conservative Home by Peter Duncan: It’s a federal Britain or bust

EVEL is silly. Let’s have an English parliament in Tamworth

The idea of EVEL (English Votes for English Legislation) and the resulting chaos of two classes of MPs sitting in the same chamber is so ridiculous that it is hard to see why anyone would take it seriously.

Of the four countries of the union, three already have their own parliaments. Only England does not. Evel recognises the anomaly but dodges recognition of the fact that the United Kingdom has become a federal state.

That leads to the difficult question of where to site the English and UK parliaments: It would not be a good idea to have them in the same city, let alone the same building.

We could build a new federal capital which is not in the territory of any of the states as has happened with Washington DC, Brasilia and Canberra. That does not look practical for the United Kingdom but the City of Westminster could be declared a federal territory.

That would leave the political capital adjacent to the business capital in the City of London.

Then there is the question of where the English parliament should sit. My suggestion is Tamworth, the historic capital of Mercia, the largest kingdom of what was to become England.

It is also geographically central, has good communications with motorways and the proposed route of HS2 passes close-by. Birmingham international airport is only 18 miles away by the M42. It is already the sixth busies international airport and East Midlands airport is only a little further away.

The problem with Tamworth, as the English capital, is its association with the Conservative party. Sir Robert Peel was the town’s MP for good slice of the 19th century and his 1834 Tamworth Manifesto is regarded as the founding document of the modern Conservative party.

But that objection could be overcome: much of the legislation he saw through parliament in his two ministries would be accepted now by all shades as good.

His first stint at prime minister did not go well for reasons every politician today will recognise.  In 1834 he formed a minority Tory government but the Whigs made a compact with Irish Radicals that outvoted the government. Peel’s first ministry lasted 100 days. He did not return to power for six years.


Armenian genocide centenary: a personal reason for remembrance

Today marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide. It ceased to be a remote historical event for me the day I discovered, in the National Archives, that my father’s job at the end of the First World War was feeding survivors.

I was looking for evidence of his part in the rapid advance from Gaza to Aleppo in the last weeks of the war. The war diary of his unit, a horse train supporting the cavalry, is fairly colourless but after the capture of Aleppo it records day-after-day “feeding refugees”. It was chilling to realise what this meant.

Refugees in Aleppo

Refugees in Aleppo 1919. Source: Armenian Genocide Museum

Although the fall of Aleppo was described as a British victory there were few British soldiers there: mostly Arab and Indian units with a few Australians. Pierre Grant-Adamson, my father, who had gone to South Africa in the Boer War, was given a commission by the army there in 1917 to facilitate his return to the UK. He was quickly commissioned in the British forces and sent to Egypt.

I recall him expressing hatred of the Turks and the atrocities they committed but no reference to the Armenian massacres. I was a child and too young to ask the questions I now wish I had. I assumed they were atrocities of war.

Now, I wonder if it was his experiences in Aleppo that led him help and support Jewish refugees in the late 1930s.

It must have been traumatic to be brought face to face with the suffering of the tens of thousands of Armenians in Aleppo. After the initial killings in 1915 and 16 women, children and surviving men were drive out of their homes into the desert. The Syrian city and the camps beyond it were the place where many arrived.

This extract is from a speech Randell Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1919:

All the young men… had in every single case been taken away, and the old men, the women, and the children were the people who survived to be the victims of the deportation— From the village of E 212 individuals set out, of whom 128 (60 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive; 56 men and 11 women were killed on the road, 3 girls and 9 boys were sold or kidnapped, and 5 people were missing. From the same place another party of 696 people were deported; 321 (46 per cent.) reached Aleppo: 206 men and 57 women were killed en route; 70 girls and young women and 19 boys were sold; 23 were missing. From the village of D a party of 128 were deported, of whom 32 (25 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive: 24 men and 12 women were killed en route; 29 girls and young women and 13 boys were sold; and 18 were missing. I have purposely taken not one of the many accounts which give the facts in their detail, but a summary of that which the observer found to be the outcome. If we remember the phrase that “seventy girls and young women, and nineteen boys were sold,” and we look over the page to see what that means we find how, as they passed each town, the girls or young women were in most cases paraded in front of the house of any Turkish buyer who chose to come and take them for purposes described in detail, so unutterably horrible—girls being constantly done to death by those who took them in this way—as make the records appalling to read.

The quoted material in his speech was from a report prepared for the UK parliament.

The terror for the Armenians did not end with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. In 1922 the British consul in Aleppo wrote to London about an area close to the Syrian border:

… on November 8 the Turks gave notice to the Armenians of Aintab & Marash and of the district, stretching Eastward to Birejik, that they must all leave the country in a month. This is done in pursuance of the policy that no Christians are to be allowed to stay in Turkey.

Aintab which formerly held 40000 Armenians now contains only 3000.

That the UK continues to appease the Turkish government by refusing to describe the massacres as genocide is a shame on our country. Others have classified the events as genocide and the Pope recently followed his predecessor in using the term.



Extraordinary election journalism from the Guardian

Today’s Guardian front page splash is an extraordinary piece of election journalism. It runs under a very long narrative headline:

From the Mail? In you go. From the Sun? Very welcome. From the Telegraph? That’s fine, have a seat at the front. From the Guardian? No way. Electioneering, Tory-style

Front page, April 23,

Front page, April 23,

The story is accompanied by a picture of Boris Johnson and David Cameron, at the nursery event from which the Guardian was excluded, holding up hands stained UKIP purple rather than Toy blue (but that might be printing fault). The nearest journalistic parallel I can think of is the stories which used to appear fairly regularly in regional papers, when they were banned from football matches because a team did not like their coverage.



The story, by feature writer Marina Hyde (licensed to comment), quickly broadens into an attack on Cameron’s campaign and his avoidance of meeting anyone not selected by his large team of minders. She writes (on the website the headline has become, ‘Lethal weapon’ Boris unveiled as giant voter defence shield for Cameron):

Of all the unedifying sights I’ve seen so far this campaign, the sorriest has to be Cameron’s entourage forming a protective huddle round him on a busy platform at Bedford station on Wednesday morning, while the prime minister’s eyes darted nervously about, wondering where his late-running train was. He wore the anxious air of a man who absolutely does not wish to be approached, and his fellow passengers could only have clocked it. He made eye contact with no one, and no one came up to him, until a lone woman asked for a picture. He didn’t seem to know quite what to say, essaying a half-arsed, “Fifteen days to go!” “I’m off to spend the day with Boris, which is always an entertainment …” he concluded, sounding like it was always a massive ballache.

Among the general election campaigns I have watched, 2015 is marked by the least contact between politicians and voters, other than those known to be supporters. How can it be, that politicians, who are asking to go to the House of Commons to heckle and be heckled at prime minister’s questions, are so afraid of queries from the electorate?

Marina Hyde does cast some light on how the electorate is being sidelined. she writes:

As for his [Cameron’s] vast road crew … students of political esoterica may care to know that the Tory operatives have a whole badge system going on this election. There are countless people whose job seems to be to busy themselves being busy (what was it Jaap Stam said about the Neville brothers?). Each has a small circular metal badge on their lapel. Some are yellow, some are green, some are red. There may be other colours.

Perhaps they’re medals – the purple hearts of stage management. I’d guess that they have their roots – like most desperately self-parodic elements of British life – in the petty, endlessly pointless hierarchies of a minor public school shortly after the end of empire.

The Guardian had yet to decide how, or if, it will advise readers to vote. My guess is it will be, anything to keep the Conservatives out unless the alternative is UKIP.