Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas

A happy Christmas to those who visit the blog.

Especially to the bewildered souls who wonder why more of my graffiti art is not on here (wrong Banksy, sorry)

Have a good break all of you.

Apparently 10am tomorrow morning is the optimum time for the family arguments to kick off. So, eyes on the clock, stiff drink in hand and let's try to stay civilised until 10.05am.

Have a good one, eat a bit too much, drink a bit too much, go out for a good walk and fall asleep in front of the TV. It's Christmas, them's the rules.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Media Guardian web article

I attended a debate organised by the Family Justice Council on Wednesday which discussed proposals to open up the Family Courts to greater press scrutiny.

It was a lively event, and I was one of a very few voices there raised in support of greater access.

I've written a piece about it for the Media Guardian website, which you will find here

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You know you're getting old when....

Something you remember writing like it was yesterday appears in the publication's 'Looking Back' column.

Richard Williams, ex-assistant editor of the Daily Post and now Wales director of RNID e-mailed to say he'd been back up north and picked up a copy of The Leader, as it is now having dropped Evening from its title, and there in the Looking Back page was a piece I'd written 20, Dear God, 20 years ago. There had been an earth tremor in North Wales and I'd done a backgrounder on it. I remember the day it happened and suggesting the piece to the Leader's features ed.

Richard has said he'll send it up to me, I'll scan it in and put it on here when it arrives.

Richard, incidentally, was another of the losses to journalism Trinity Mirror managed to achieve in recent years. He was one of the most talented editors I worked with with a real, and all too rare, feel for what readers are interested in and knew how to keep a paper in touch with its community. He was one of a number of really talented journalists who flourished on the DP under the editorship of Ali Machray, which is worth a blog post in itself(to follow soon). He left journalism when he was editor of the South Wales Echo.

TM's loss is RNID's gain.

The newspapers I love

When introducing myself to students or training delegates for the first time I'll describe myself as an inky-fingered old hack. This is literally true. When I started work on the Evening Leader back in 1988 the reporters still bashed away at old 'sit-up-and-beg' typewriters, on two sheets of folio paper (half A4) with a sheet of carbon paper between to produce a 'black' copy. The carbon paper would deposit its ink on your fingers and anything else you touched afterward.

When I started in journalism there were just two papers I wanted to work for. The first was the Liverpool Daily Post. I had grown up in North Wales reading this paper, where despite its 'Liverpool' title, it was the region's paper, a respected and trusted title, a serious newspaper. The fact that it was produced from Liverpool mattered little as most of North Wales looked to Liverpool as their major city, far more so than Cardiff because of simple logistics.

I ended up on the Post after four years on the Leader, and worked at the paper from 1992 to 1999, first as a reporter, then chief reporter, night news editor and finally night editor.

I did not take the well-trodden path from the regions to shifts on Fleet Street in hope of a permanent contract, so never looked like fulfilling my hope of working for the other paper I loved The Guardian.

I began reading that back in college, persuaded to give it a try, I kid you not, by the TV ad campaign back in 1984ish, featuring the likes of Harold Evans and Edna O'Brien.

When I went to University College, Cardiff (as was) to do a  journalism course, such was my devotion to the paper that one of my fellow postgrad hacks, Steve Busfield, gave me a badge of the Guardian masthead.

Steve made it onto the Guardian, where those of you who Twitter can follow him as @Busfield. I did not.

But then via a circuitous route that saw me go into training and media law, I ended up as co-author of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists and as such able to write about that niche subject. So for the past couple of years I've been filing contributions to Media Guardian on the subject. The pieces, though small, give me disproportionate pleasure. To get my name in what I regard as one of the world's great papers gives me as much of a buzz as getting my first front page on the Evening Leader back in 1988.

Still a hack then, just not so inky-fingered.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Guardian article (on the PCC)

I've contributed to a piece in Media Guardian today, on suggestions for PCC reform.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

PCC (Slight Return)

Baroness Buscombe has pre-empted the collective response heading her way. Reported here on Roy Greenslade's blog.

She says: "My point was that, as there is already pressure to increase regulation of the internet, it is important to make clear that this must not lead to some form of statutory interference.

"Rather, a system of self-regulation (such as exists by the PCC for newspapers) would be more appropriate, if any bloggers wished to go down that route."

Hmmm. And the advantages to bloggers of such a route would be what?

Remember the newspaper industry signed up for the PCC facing the loaded gun of statutory regulation.

Despite what Baroness Buscombe says, there is no impending statutory regulation of blogs and so no perceived need by bloggers to run into the regulatory embrace of the PCC or anything like it.

Why the PCC could never regulate bloggers (and shouldn't even try)

There has been much chatter about Baroness Buscombe's comments on Ian Burrell's Blog regarding the PCC and regulation of blogs.

She is quoted as saying the PCC should "consider" whether the PCC should seek to extend its remit to the blogosphere (Burrell's quotation marks intact there, just on the word consider).

Cue righteous indignation from, among many, Iain Dale, a collective response which had attracted a couple of hundred signatures at the time of writing this, and a more sceptical view from Guido Fawkes' Blog.

I don't know just how seriously this has been considered by the Press Complaints Commission. But those who think it has any likelihood of becoming a reality misunderstand just what PCC is and also cannot really understand the nature of blogging and the internet.

To appreciate what is onvolved you have to go back to the birth of the PCC. This was the late '80s early '90s, there was a widely-held beliefe among some politicians that the press, particularly the then tabloid press, was out of control. David Mellor, minister of state for culture memorably said that the press were 'drinking in the last-chance saloon.'

There had been a circulation war raging between The Sun, Daily Mirror and The Star and the tactics employed to outdo one another gave ammunition to those who believed there needed to be statutory regulation of the press.

The then regulatory body - The Press Council - had been discredited, its adjudications ignored by papers, and even attacked in print by the same papers. It was seen as offering little or no protection to those who found themselves in the pages of the papers.

The Calcutt Committee of Privacy, in its report to Parliament, stopped short of recommending statutory regulation of the press and its recommendations were accepted - self-regulation was to be given a last chance.

So how does this relate to bloggers? Well, if you look back at when the PCC was established there was a political will supporting its establishment and remit - indeed many wanted to go further and have it on a statutory basis. There was a demand for what it was going to do.

Where is the demand, political or public, for the regulation of bloggers by the PCC?

Of course, it might be coming from some quarters of the newspaper industry who see bloggers breaking stories and doing things they think they can't. But as for politicians or the public - nothing of any note. The idea that any politician is going to alienate 10m plus bloggers by putting the PCC in as their overseer is ludicrous.

Furthermore, the PCC is a self-regulatory body, not statutory. Bloggers would have to sign up to be regulated by it and I can't see that happening any time soon.

To be imposed upon bloggers it would have to be put on some sort of statutory footing (cue squeals of outrage from the newspaper industry who would fight that tooth and nail) And they would have a very hard time making the logical case for statutory regulation of bloggers whil retaining self-regulation of newspapers.

But just how would it impose its will upon something as mercurial as the blogosphere?Overseas hosting would mean evasion of its clutches would be a simple matter. Blogs would spring up and disappear before any adjudication could be made, no matter how 'fast free and fair' it might be.

Also, what makes the PCC think it has the capacity to govern so large and diverse a group as bloggers?

If they think they can do it, they'd better start recruiting now.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Lowry, Salford and The Pitmen Painters

Off to The Lowry in Salford Quays, Manchester, at the weekend to see a production of The Pitmen Painters.

Written by Lee Hall, he of Billy Elliott fame, it is based on the true story of a group of miners from Ashington, who, inspired by a WEA lecture, took up painting themselves and became a feted artistic group.

It was a good production, funny, poignant, moving at times and definitely worth seeing. Hall has great fun with the language of the miners and the confusion it causes to their tutor. One memorable line to the bemused tutor being: "Ye dee dee ort deen't ye?" Trans: "You do do art, don't you?"

And when the brass band started playing Gresford - The Miners' Hymn commemorating the disaster that still resonates in Wrexham, you'd have to be an unfeeling soul not to get a lump in your throat.

But then came the touch that for me detracted very slightly from a great play. As the play finished the slides that had shown us the miners' works of art, turned to text, informing us that their hopes of a "University of Ashington' had not been realised. Their pit had closed in the early '80s, and that Labour had abandoned its commitment to workers' ownership of the means of production.

It was just a bit clunky, a bit like a great big hammer blow of political pointmaking, when so much had been concealed before in the story itself.

I don't need a subtitle at the end of the play to tell me the socialist miners of the 1930s and '40s might feel betrayed by the way the Labour movement has abandoned its principles.

I'm slightly suspicious of plays, films or books which tell a story and then rather clumsily say: "Right, here's the moral and here's how you should think about it." Let people decide for themselves having seen it.

Having said all that, it was still a great production and worth catching on its UK tour. It's on at Sheffield's Crucible this week.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Cameron has got me confused

I don't think the teaching of history, so often the cause of hand-wringing by those sections of the press who retain a devotion to the memorising of dates, has got so bad that we have forgotten who won World War II.

And even if the state sector lets its young charges do double glue-sniffing rather than list the King and Queens of our great nation, I suspect Eton would make sure its pupils know who was victorious.

So, that's why David Cameron's assault on the Human Rights Act has me a little puzzled.

You see, because it is based in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights is therefore confused with all things European by those swivel-eyed sections of the media who cannot hear the word Europe without having an attack of the vapours.

The slight historical problem for Mr Cameron is this. The convention was brought into being by the British, to afford our poor European neighbours the same common law rights we had enjoyed for centuries and had just defended from the beastly Hun.

It was born in the smoking ruins of Europe and a central role in its drafting was taken by DAvid Maxwell-Fyfe, a Conservative, and a brilliant lawyer whose cross-examination of Hermann Goering is considered to be one of the greatest in legal history.

So, the ECHR, a Churchillian scheme to stop the Europeans sending each other to the gas chambers again, and drawn up by a Conservative lawyer. What's not to like about that if you're a Tory?

It must be because it's in Strasbourg. Perhaps if it had been sited in Bognor they'd be more comfortable with it. Maybe if it had been called the British Convention on Human Rights for our European Neighbours, they could have lived with it.

The Human Rights Act is nothing more than a restating of convention rights in English law. To repeal it will mean that UK courts no longer need to take the HRA into account. But, we are still signatories to the ECHR, so Strasbourg would still remain as a court of ultimate appeal on human rights.

Unless of course Cameron plans to withdraw from the ECHR. An unthinkable proposition that would put us on a par with pariah regimes such as North Korea.

And not, I would suggest, a fitting way to treat the legacy of Winston Churchill.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Simon Kelner's farewell to the Neath Guardian

Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of the Indy and Independent on Sunday, started as a trainee on the Neath Guardian.

Here in an article printed in its last edition he remembers the beginning of his career and mourns the closure of his first paper. Reprinted in Roy Greenslade's Guardian blog

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Bravery of The Sun

Courageous move that by The Sun, backing the Tories, or rather, abandoning Labour.

How upset Labour  are depends on where your bullshit detector points between Harriet Harman's, rather tepid "we're all angry but we won't be bullied" rant; rumours that Brown berated Sun execs with a four-letter tirade and Labour spin that it doesn't really matter.

Look, Labour, or rather Tony Blair, would not have courted Rupert Murdoch the way they did if it didn't matter. But perhaps they were taking the Sun Tzu approach of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer. Either way, after the paper's declaration in 1992 that "It's the Sun Wot Won It" when John Major defeated Neil Kinnock with a little help from his friends at Wapping who exhorted the last person to leave Britain if Kinnock won to turn off the lights.

But that was 17 years ago, when the internet was just being born and things have changed in the way people relate to newspapers.

Not that newspapers had as much impact as they would have you believe if you take account of this study which states that while papers might hold some sway over individuals, it would be wrong to overstate their influence on the outcome of elections.

A view echoed by Alistair Campbell, who writes on his blog: "...people will make their own minds up. What a daily paper urges them to do will figure marginally if at all in that judgement, and provided Labour continues to defend the record, take the fight to the Tories, and set out the forward policy agenda with clarity and vigour, the battle ahead can still be won."

My point is that back in 1992 The Sun might get away with claiming its part in the Conservative victory. But now, in a political scene no longer dominated by print media, where 24-hour news and internet sources are far more likely to break political news than The Sun is, it's a brave move for a dead-tree outlet to claim as much influence as it does.

Of course, if the gamble pays off then it will no doubt run a suitably self-adulatory headline the next day. But what if they don't?

What if the economic recovery is just round the corner and its effects are felt before the next election? What if the electorate decides that on balance things are looking up and they don't want to gamble on the Tories?

The Tories will weather it of course and hope to be back next time. But for the paper that backed them and failed to get Cameron into Downing St it could be far more devastating. An unmistakable sign that the paper had been emasculated and its political influence was at an end.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Neath&Port Talbot no more

On BBC Wales this morning talking about the closure of the Neath and Port Talbot Guardians, which have been announced by Media Wales, a division of Trinity Mirror.

The company has blamed the economic downturn for the closures, which will result in the loss of 13.2 jobs (who's the .2?)

One might forgive the company this sad decision, had it, during the times of massive profits, ie five years ago, invested in its newspaper operations to make them a more attractive proposition to readers and advertisers. Now, in a time of not-quite-so-massive profits, decisions to close loss-making operations might have been justifiable.

But let's just look at what the senior management of this company have done in the good times to equip Trinity Mirror for the bad times that now afflict them.

Their 'big idea' was to send in the time and motion men. Blokes with reams of paper, who surveyed every inch of the business looking for fat to trim so that it could post the even-bigger profits its shareholders demanded.

Every newsroom had a visit from these people. Who came up with stunning ideas like: "Rather than check, rewrite and add to press releases, why not just cut'n'paste them into the paper, saving time and money?" Brilliance like that is beyond price.

As a result newsrooms were slashed. Not through redundancy, but by non-recruitment of trainees and non-replacement of staff. A gradual process of attrition that has left these places understaffed and lacking in experienced reporters.

And that was in the times of plenty. Ad revenues were good, circulation was in a gentle but manageable decline. These businesses were very, very profitable.

Then the bad times come round and what's their big idea now? More cuts. This time redundancies which, understandably, have been seized by some veteran journalists who were the heart and soul of these operations. And who can blame them leaving newspapers where their knowledge, contacts and expertise are treated with such contempt by national management?

Now we get closures, such as the ones announced in Neath and Port Talbot.

But here's the thing. Not so long ago the BBC was planning a network of ultra-local TV output. The regional newspaper industry squealed for all it was worth at a plan which they said was using the licence-fee to duplicate services they were already providing. The BBC's plans were abandoned, to the delight of the newspaper industry.

That argument holds water as long as you are not closing newspapers. Where are the people of Neath and Port Talbot going to get their news now? (Incidentally there are 130,000-plus people living in Neath and Port Talbot, if you can't run a profitable newspaper there then one wonders where you can run one at all)

From TM's 'digital platforms' - I don't think so. From the Western Mail? - can't see it getting down to the nitty-gritty of parish pump stuff from Neath somehow.

If TM cannot or will not give local communities the service they want, then I hope the BBC's ultra local plans are revived and this time the protests of newspaper corporations are ignored.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On the radio, again

On BBC Radio Wales tomorrow morning, 8.45am, talking about the closure of the Neath&Port Talbot Guardian.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On the radio

On BBC Radio Wales tomorrow morning (Wed) talking about why the Evening Leader is no longer an evening paper.

I started work on the Leader as a junior reporter, back in 1988.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You do get a whizzy button though

In the past week or so some of the blogs I read have started sporting a new button.

The button boasts their ranking in the various categories of the blog awards run by totalpolitics.

There are all sorts of categories - Welsh blogs, MP blogs, media blogs, Scots blogs, etc, etc.

The recipients of awards and a shiny widget for their blog are perhaps justifiably proud. I say perhaps, because if you take a look at the awards section it explains how the voting was sorted out and quite openly states that 'more than 1,500' people voted in the awards.

One might argue that 1,500 people is a respectable sample and not far off the size of sample that might be taken by a polling organisation to determine who might win a general election (usually their sample size is 2,000 or more) Therefore, a proud winner might argue that though the number of voters is small, it is representative of the blogging public and therefore quite an accolade.

That might hold true for something like MP blogs or, maybe, media blogs, where there are a lot of people voting in those categories. But how many voted in the Wales categories for instance? Those voted to the top in there might find they have attained their position on a very sparse sample indeed.

Naturally, if you cast your eye rightwards you'll see no button on this blog linking you back to totalpolitics, and so this post might be accused of vintage sour grapes. Maybe. But firstly, I did not engage in the shameless vote-garnering that some blogs did. Secondly, even if I had, I'd never be in the running for an award, the blog isn't active enough, and it's now a selection of random meanderings posted on a less than occasional basis. You would have to be very short of candidates indeed to vote for this in any poll.

But more than all this, why, when the blogosphere is supposed to be this free, anarchic, random, chaotic, joyous rabble, do people buy into blog awards run by anyone? As soon as your blog gets an award its become part of the establishment, respectable, and you should have the decency to shut it down.

One of the strengths of blogs is their freedom from the restraints felt by the dead-tree press. So why seek validation from a blog award system voted on by so few people?

If you are any good, people will visit your blog, you shouldn't need spurious blog awards to make them do that.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hello to The Hindu

Thanks to what I assume is a Guardian syndication deal my piece on Twittering jurors appeared shortly afterwards in The Hindu

Monday, August 10, 2009

Media Guardian article

Occasionally I write pieces for Media Guardian on law.

I've got one in today on Twittering jurors.

Friday, August 07, 2009

RIP John Hughes

John Hughes, creator of the Bratpack teen movies of the '80s has died, aged 59.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off was a favourite of mine, but others included The Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, and he wrote Home Alone.

When he hit upon a winning plotline, such as Pretty In Pink, he wasn't averse to reversing the roles and remaking it, see Some Kind of Wonderful.

Ferris was his greatest creation though, his philosophy being: "Life moves pretty fast and if you don't stop and smell the roses once in a while it might pass you by."

Monday, August 03, 2009

Gravity sucks

Never underestimate how slippery a muddy hill is.

Never overestimate the amount of grip semi-slick summer tyres will give on said hill.

Never underestimate the chances a rock will come into contact with your knee when you go arse over elbow on hill.

Never overestimate your pain threshhold when you get two inches of North Yorkshire's finest sandstone inserted into your knee joint.

Never underestimate your ability to carry on biking to get home when you've no mobile and no choice.

Never overestimate the amount of time it gets taken to get seen in casualty if you walk in actually bleeding (they don't like it on the floor).

Never underestimate just how painful 'irrigating' a wound can be - my, my it smarts.

Never overestimate your ability to walk afterwards.

Some tendon and nerve damage, but I'll live to bike another day. Worst injury I've had in 12 years of mountain biking, so pretty lucky really.

Quotations (slight return)

A postscript to the post below.

David Jones has now added a link to this blog, to his own. Which should do this one the power of good in site traffic.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Theatrical quotation

It's a well-known, and derided, practice by theatres to selectively quote a review for the purpose of their playbills.

So a reviewer's comments such as "quite how this pile of drivel made it onto the stage is utterly amazing" becomes "utterly amazing" for the playbill.

When I said that David Jones MP was 'smart, acerbic and writes a very good blog' before going on to point out that those commenting on his blog were a bunch of roaring buffoons, perhaps I should have anticipated what would happen next.

Ah well, a journalist complaining about being taken out of context is beyond the pale though. But if he thinks enough of my opinion to quote me, perhaps he ought to link to my blog.

I might not agree with what he says, but at least you can find a link to what he does say here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Iain Dale's Diary and the sheepshagging Welsh

Iain Dale, famed blogger, has found 15 sheep.

They wandered onto his land and he decided to enlist his readers'  help in finding out where they came from in an amusing post.

So far, so good.

Then his readers started commenting.

It took, oooh, three posts for the first Welsh sheepshagger joke to surface. Are they, this wit inquired, Welsh asylum seekers.

"They probably originated in Wales, then were dumped after some Welsh person had his wicked..........sorry, forgot where I was for a moment :)" said another.

The smiley face makes it ok, of course. And almost inevitably one compared the find to a Welsh leisure centre.

If you are going to make sheepshagger jokes about the Welsh, and I know it's an instinctive thing with a very few English people - it's almost like the word Welsh triggers something deep within the hypothalamus (look it up Dale Diary posters) and as soon as they hear the word Welsh, they cannot restrain the word 'sheepshagger' from popping out unbidden - then at least try to make them original, how to put this...funny.

But be warned that this is what you'll get if the Tories gain power at the next election. For all the 'call me Dave' mateyness of Cameron, the legion of gofers and hangers-on that will come with them have a default setting of knuckle-dragging idiocy.

For every sane and seemingly rational, photogenic candidate they put up for election, there is a tide of braying idiots behind them that David Cameron has managed to persuade the party to keep in the backroom at least until they're in power.

Unfortunately they break loose now and again and post comments on websites like Dale's Diary and they give you an inkling of what Cameron's Britain will be like - imagine living in the Daily Mail.

Take David Jones MP, for example, smart, acerbic and writes a very good blog, but then you get to the comments section and you cannot help but think, dear God, how does he put up with such roaring buffoons?

Unfortunately, if they win the election we'll have to put up with them too.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Duck islands and plasma TVs

The list of just what MPs have claimed for has been quite interesting really and might, in the end, prove more damaging to some than others as it highlights their similarities and differences to their electors.

For instance, some Labour MPs seem to be in trouble for flipping, claiming max allowances or overdoing it on the plasma screen TVs. Margaret Moran standing out somewhat for claiming dry rot treatment on a house nowhere near her constituency.

That's going to be pretty irritating to their voters, but they can, perhaps, comprehend the desire for these things - more cash, lower housing costs, a nice TV.

Now, look at the Conservative excesses and you have duck islands and moat cleaning. For the middle class voter that Labour captured in 1997 and who the Tories need if they are to win the next election, that is another world. They have nothing in common with someone who builds 'servants' quarters' at the taxpayers' expense.

This is the sort of troughing that makes the voter want, in the immortal lines of that great revolutionary, Wolfie Smith, to line them up against the wall - bop, bop, bop.

Gordon Brown should go to the country now on a platform of greed that we can comprehend.

As for Julie Kirkbride's claims to be a mum struggling with childcare. That will only enrage those parents out there facing the same dilemma, but unable to rely on the public purse to build them an extension to help.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who is in it the deepest?

It must be an interesting time for Gordon Brown at the moment. Interesting in the Chinese sense that is.

But not entirely gloomy.

When the Telegraph broke the story it led with Labour figures, but it's been pretty even-handed in handing out the kickings ever since. After all, as its journalists delved into that hard drive, they must have been bewildered by just how much dirt there was on politicians of every party. Where do you start? Moats, mortgages, or dry rot?

It has been universally bad news for all the parties.

Gordon Brown may be in the mire, but is he as deep in the mire as David Cameron.

What's more, are voters who traditionally back the Conservatives - the party that has always associated itself with law and order - going to be more outraged and for longer, than Labour voters?

This is not to say Labour voters condone what's gone on, but they might not have an attack of the vapopurs so severe as their Tory counterparts when they discover their MP has been claiming for catfood.

It might not turn voters from one party to another, but it may affect the turnout. Elections are decided in marginal constituencies where parties manage to 'get the vote out'. In those constituencies it will depend how long the whiff of corruption lasts, which party it clings to longest and how much it bothers the voters in that constituency.

David Cameron might secretly be hoping he rids himself of his Julie Kirkbrides as quickly as he can, because I suspect this scandal will bother his voters and particularly his potential voters much more than it will those for other parties.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No moral authority

I have to say that not having the weekly deadline of a column to file has been a release or sorts. The blank screen staring at me at, usually, 1am on a Sunday night when I used to write it, is not something I miss.

But the past few weeks have been an exception. 

This whole expenses thing may just blow over. But then again, unless some big event - a war, a terrorist attack - comes along to divert our attention, it could colour the way people vote.

It would have been a joy to have been writing the column this last month, if only to have been working in such a target-rich environment. Never let it be said I passed up a chance to shoot fish in a barrel.

The problem Labour and the Tories have is that they have shown themselves to be so pathetically driven to claim whatever they could, from cinema systems, to moats to cat food, all at our expense.

It becomes very difficult for them to argue against public sector pay rises and for tax rises when they have shown themselves so willing to spend our money on giving themselves a very comfortable life.

Of course, there are a few voices who have commented on the irony of journalists criticising anyone's expense claims when their own are so legendarily exorbitant. To a certain extent they are living in the past. Expense accounts may still be generous on some national papers, but not all, and certainly not to to the extent they were in the past. There was a time when not only could you claim a camel on expenses, but also the cost of its burial when  it died in the course of duty (see Stephen  Glover's 'Secrets of the Press')

Indeed when I started out as a lowly junior in North Wales and mentioned to my superiors that my wage was less than generous, I was told to 'bump up' my expenses to supplement my paltry pay. OK, I didn't get my moat cleaned, but the principle is the same. Except it was never with public money, and that is different.

Gordon Brown must be hoping that events will come to his rescue and something will happen in the next 12 months to rescue the reputation of his Government.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Does anyone care about this e-mail 'scandal'?

When I started what I might loosely refer to as work, as a junior reporter on the Evening Leader, in Wrexham, the then editor Reg Herbert, who was a newsman through and through, had a phrase he would use when a story didn't grab his attention.

"That won't be read by my old aunty in Garden Village," he would say, consigning it to the spike (these were the days when papers weren't so short staffed and desperate for copy and so stories did get spiked as opposed to shovelled into the paper come what may)

I don't know whether Reg had an old aunty, but Garden Village was one of the districts of Wrexham, and his old aunty was Reg's version of the man on the Clapham omnibus.

Now, apply Reg's ruling to this e-mail scandal. Do you think come election day anyone in the country is going to cast their vote on the basis of what some spin doctor said in an e-mail to Derek bloody Draper?

No, they don't give a stuff. What will win or lose the next election is whether we're in jobs or out, whether we can get a mortgage or not, whether we've managed to avoid bankruptcy personally or as a nation. That's it.

And, as one very perceptive letter writer to the Guardian pointed out, the Tories might not have engaged in quite this depth of spinnery, but then they've always had the right wing tabloids to do it for them.

Attacking ministers' wives beyond the pale? Not if you live in the very, very odd world of the Daily Mail.

Andy Burnham's wife wore a dress that did not meet the approval of the cat's-arse-mouthed fashionistas on the Mail.

Any Tory voices raised in disapproval of this unwarranted attack? All very quiet.

Any Conservatives disapproving of the treatment meted out to Cherie Blair, Pauline Prescott, Glenys Kinnock to name but a very few over the years?

Nope, nothing, zip, nada.

This is not to defend the juvenilia aimed at Tory wives in the e-mails, but the high horses mounted by the Conservatives do begin to look a little lame when the same treatment and worse was, and is, dished out to Labour spouses day-in, day-out.