Thursday, July 31, 2008 

Scum-watch: Yet more pathetic BBC bashing.

Never missing an opportunity to attack the BBC, the Sun is fuming over the £400,000 fine imposed by Ofcom for various fixed phone-in competitions which no one had a chance of winning:

ONCE again, the BBC is fined for conning viewers.

Ofcom’s ruling should shame everyone in the Beeb’s management.

In a private company, heads would roll. Instantly.


If the leader writer had so much as bothered to bring themselves up to speed on what shows were fined and for what, they would have noted that Ric Blaxill, the 6Music head of programming resigned last year after it became apparent that he had been complicit in one of the deceptions that took place on Russell Brand's show. The most high profile casualty of last year's series of "fakery" scandals was Peter Fincham, the controller of BBC1, who resigned after the "Crowngate" hoo-hah. It's perhaps worth noting that both Blaxill and Fincham, having resigned from their jobs in public broadcasting were swiftly recruited by private sector broadcasters, with Blaxill going to the digital radio station Q Music, where he is programme director, and Fincham to none other than ITV, where he is director of programming.

In fact, it's instructive to look to ITV and see what their response was to the fakery scandals which consumed them last year, for more than one reason. Not only did this private company, which the Sun claims would have instantly called for heads to roll, not sack anyone, despite Michael Grade saying that zero tolerance would be imposed, but it defended to the hilt Ant and Dec after it was revealed that they knew nothing about the underhand methods used on their Saturday Night Takeaway show on which they were executive producers.

There is of course, as almost always with the Sun, a huge conflict of interest here. BSkyB, itself around 39% owned by News Corporation, the Sun's parent company, has a 17.9% stake in ITV. As well as being in competition with the BBC through its satellite and digital service, it is in direct conflict now also due to its stake in ITV. Even before this was the case the entirety of the Murdoch press has taken every opportunity it can to attack the BBC, but now it has an even wider commercial reason to do so.

The BBC’s reputation for honesty and integrity is now in tatters.

Yet this isn’t a private firm. It’s paid for by you, through the licence.

Which means no one carries the can, and the buck stops with no one.


Completely untrue, as the Ofcom report and the resignations show. In fact, you could more accurately say this about ITV. No one there has carried the can, the buck has stopped with no one, and it directly profited through the flawed phone-ins, something which the BBC did not. Not only did ITV deceive and take for granted their viewers, it also effectively stole from them. The muted reaction to the original revelation of how ITV took £7.8m from its viewers deceptively was almost entirely ignored in comparison to the BBC's transgressions, which profited them nothing and were mostly always only gone through with to keep the show going.

Snooty intellectuals at the BBC treat viewers with contempt.

That’s why they lazily faked competition winners.


If the BBC are snooty, lazy intellectuals, what does that make their counterparts at ITV and Channel 4 then, who didn't just fake competition winners, but profited from their viewers' failure to be able to win as advertised? I'm pretty sure that makes them fraudsters.

Rivals like GMTV faced massive fines for their errors. Yet the Beeb gets away with a tiny £400,000 fine.

Because, as Ofcom accepted, although those who phoned in on some of the programmes did lose their cash, the BBC didn't receive any of it. Other shows indicted were Sport Relief and Comic Relief, where the money went to charity in any event. GMTV by comparison was fined £2 million because viewers spent up to £40 million on competitions they had no chance of winning. At least with GMTV two executives did resign, unlike those at Channel 4 or ITV.

It’s high time the BBC lost its divine right to YOUR cash.

And was forced to fight with its competitors to survive.


It's high time that the Sun got its facts straight, started declaring its conflict of interests, and stopped moaning when such innovations as the BBC iPlayer show their rivals' programming up for what it is: complete and utter unmitigated crap. In a straight fight, there's only one broadcaster who would win, and it would not be Sky.

P.S. This post makes up the first proper entry on the Sun - Tabloid Lies dedicated blog, set-up by Tim from Bloggerheads. Other contributors will be soon be revealed also.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008 

The Miliband tendency.

This was probably one of those days when the great British public, those who aren't sunning themselves or wisely ignoring the news completely, find themselves remarkably disengaged by just how insular and geeky political reporting and machinations are. The government's foreign minister writes an article for an national newspaper. Article is deeply average, but because there's not a lot of news around and because the media are desperately looking for evidence of a plot to unseat the Supreme Leader, article is bigged up until it is most certainly the setting out of a stall for a leadership bid. Pandemonium breaks out on the streets as the country tries to take in the massive implications of this latest development. The law lords ruling on the dropping of the SFO inquiry into the BAE slush fund for comparison, unless I missed it, didn't even make it onto the News at 10 on the BBC.

Admittedly, the said article doesn't so much as mention Gordon Brown, and the press conference this afternoon with Miliband himself fending off question after question about its provenance will have done nothing whatsoever to reassure Brown himself of Miliband's true intentions. Jeremy Corbyn probably accurately summed it up, saying:

"Look at the timing, and look at the article itself. We are right at the start of the holiday season, and it is hardly a deep and thoughtful essay."

To which you can only reply, quite. For if this is Miliband's unofficial start to his own leadership campaign, it's certainly a deeply underwhelming one. There is not that much that is startlingly wrong with it; there just isn't anything that's spectacularly brilliant about it.

In fact, its contents can be summed up thus: we [New Labour] must not assume that we've already lost, even if the polls show that we're going to be annihilated; we must stop boasting about how brilliant we've been, but nonetheless all our wonderful success occurred under our former leader, Mr Blair, who I just happened to advise until I became an MP; even though I've just said that we must stop boasting about how brilliant we are, that Mr Cameron's wrong about us being a broken society because look how crime's dropped and how all these other things for which I haven't provided evidence for have dropped since we entered power; now, that Thatcher, she was pretty good wasn't she, inspired Mr Blair, and both of them were radicals while Mr Cameron is just a lightweight; Cameron, he hasn't got any policies, except for ones fairly similar to our own, and highly reminiscent of how we won in 97, decontaminating his brand whilst being suitably vague; that's enough Tory bashing for the moment, now we have to prepare for the upturn even though the downturn still hasn't hit properly yet; something about the public services; The Tories just don't get it do they?; oh, and finally we won by offering real change, change which our current leader isn't offering, so get ready to vote for me instead!

It's hardly Kennedy, is it? Not sub-par Obama class, even. Miliband does, it must be said, deserve credit for finally saying something against Cameron and their broken society nonsense, but it's nowhere near strong enough, nowhere nearly powerfully argued enough, and without any real background to emphasise the point. He's also right that the Tory belief that everything can be magically solved by either involving the voluntary sector or the private sector is completely unrealistic, but it gets lost in the general weakness of the argument. If this is the best that Labour has to offer, it's hardly going to cause Cameron to lose any sleep.

In any case, Miliband isn't going to win the leadership through fighting the Tories, if that is of course what this is the opening salvo of. He'll do that only through making the case that he can learn the lessons of the Blair and Brown years, the mistakes and the successes, and at the moment he only seems to have taken the positives from the Blair era and the negatives from the Brown era. As undoubtedly a Blairite and not a Brownite, that isn't surprising, but if there is one thing that Labour needs, it's someone who can either unite both wings, or can tell one wing once and for all that they can go and swivel, and if they like being right-wing so much, they can join the Tories and reign in perpetuity if they so wish.

Also more than apparent is that Labour continue to underestimate both Cameron and the Conservative resurgence. As addressed previously, for a while you could call Cameron a shallow salesman without any policies, but it simply isn't accurate any longer and just won't wash. Miliband is wise enough to realise that the attack has to be harder, but he doesn't seem to have recognised yet exactly what the Conservatives are doing, which is bizarre, because it's exactly what Labour was doing in the run-up to 97, when Miliband was none other than Blair's head of policy. Despite my dismissal of it last year, I've been devouring the Alastair Campbell diaries (which sums up just how sad I am, really), and what you can instantly note is that either Coulson or someone in the Tory camp has been taking notes right from it. The difference is that unlike New Labour, the Tories, rather than being positive, as they were with "things can only get better," Britain deserves better and other vacuous soundbites which didn't do down the country but rather the party of government, has decided to be negative but still keep with the same overall message. Britian is broken, things are pretty grim, but the Conservatives, rather than the washed-up and out of ideas Labour party are the only ones that can fix it. The New Labour victory was built, exactly as Cameron is doing now, on "decontaminating the brand", which came through Clause 4 and removing almost anything truly out and out left-wing from the agenda. The Tories are doing the same, but are throwing out the right-wing message now because they're confident enough that they'll win in any case.

There, for all to see, is Labour's biggest failure, and also its betrayal. In being so desperate to win, they abandoned their core and are now reaping what they sowed. The Conservatives, realising what they did wrong, have learned from that mistake. First make yourself electable, but don't become so obsessed in doing so that you forget what you're actually for. Miliband is right in one thing, which is that it is still feasibly possible, if remote, that Labour can win the next election. It'll just take far more courage and real change, not just the phony change so far offered by both himself and Brown, for that to happen.

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A victory for the arms dealers, the kleptocrats and the government.

It's been buried thanks to the oh so exciting David Miliband article in the Grauniad, but the House of Lords today made a ruling which will potentially affect the rule of law and justice in this country for decades to come. Overruling Lord Justice Moses and Sullivan, who had came to the decision that the Serious Fraud Office had acted unlawfully in dropping the investigation into the BAE Systems slush fund, after the Saudis threatened not just to withdraw their co-operation on counter-terrorism, but also specifically made the chilling comment "that British lives on British streets" were at risk were it not be stopped, the law lords have very narrowly decided that the SFO director was acting lawfully.

Unlike Moses and Sullivan, the law lords have taken the view, like the government, that such threats are either a "matter or regret" or a "fact of life". It doesn't matter how outrageous the threats were, how if they had been made by a British citizen that he could have been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, as both the attorney general and Robert Wardle followed the correct procedures in deciding to drop the case, the Royal Courts of Justice were wrong in declaring that the initial decision was unlawful.

Legally, this can be understood and accepted. It however frightfully ignores the much larger, bigger picture: that the UK government was to all intents and purposes being blackmailed by one of its supposed allies. That is of course if we accept that the threats were to be followed through, which in itself is by no means clear. Even if the Saudis had withdrawn their counter-terrorism co-operation, all such information is now pooled between the main intelligence agencies, meaning that the CIA for one would have forwarded it on to MI5/6 as a matter of course. To give the impression that this threat was more real than it was, the Saudi ambassador expressly made the statement that "British lives on British streets" were at risk if the inquiry was not dropped. Rather than tell the Saudis to get off their high horse and make clear that due to the separation of powers such an investigation could not be called off by politicians, the government meekly gave in, as Moses and Sullivan initially ruled. Robert Wardle, the director of the SFO, had little choice but to cancel the inquiry, as it was clear if he didn't the politicians, including the attorney general, would go ahead and do so anyway.

It takes a moment to digest exactly what sort of precedent this sets. This ruling more or less means that any foreign power, whether an ally or not, can threaten our national security whether directly or indirectly in any case where one of their citizens or otherwise is being tried or even investigated, and we the citizens can do absolutely nothing to challenge the government if it decides that such threats are serious enough to drop that investigation or trial, as long as they have acted appropriately, as the law lords decided Wardle and Lord Goldsmith had. Say that by some miracle or another that the man accused of murdering Alexander Litvinenko, Andrei Lugovoi, was captured and to be put on trial. Russia wouldn't even have to necessarily threaten violence to stop the trial, all it would have to do is threaten to sever ties on helping with national security, or to not pass on information it has on terrorist activities, and the government could therefore conclude that as more lives than just one are being threatened, it would be perfectly lawful for the prosecution of Lugovoi to be dropped.

In practice, it's unlikely that such an extreme case would ever occur. No, what instead is apparent here that from the very beginning the government wanted the SFO inquiry into the slush fund dropped, not because the Saudis were making threats, but because BAE themselves wanted it dropped. It's been established time and again that BAE may as well be a nationalised company, such is the power it has over ministers. The Guardian's expose which initially altered the authorities to the slush fund connected with the al-Yamamah deal was severely embarrassing, even if it didn't have New Labour's fingers all over it. It proved what long been suspected: that BAE and the government had provided the Saudis with massive sweeteners so the deal went ahead, potentially over a £1bn in bribes, which enabled Prince Bandar to buy a private jet, and which was also spent on prostitutes, sports cars and yachts among other things. All of this is helped along through massive public subsidy: up to £850m a year. In other words, we are directly funding the Saudi royal family's taste in whores and vehicles, while its people suffer under one of the most authoritarian, discriminatory and corrupt governments in the world. Despite everything else, it really is all about the arms deals and the oil. The government got its way because it realised it could rely on the spurious defence of "national security". Moses and Sullivan didn't fall for that. The law lords don't either, and one of them, Baroness Hale, even made clear that she was very uncomfortable with having to overrule them, but had little legal option other than to.

The government response to the initial ruling, which understandably horrified them, was to completely ignore it except to appeal against it. There doesn't seem to have been any reaction today either. The groups that brought the initial challenge, CAAT and Corner House were far from silent:

Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House said:

"Now we know where we are. Under UK law, a supposedly independent prosecutor can do nothing to resist a threat made by someone abroad if the UK government claims that the threat endangers national security.
"The unscrupulous who have friends in high places overseas willing to make such threats now have a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card -- and there is nothing the public can do to hold the government to account if it abuses its national security powers. Parliament needs urgently to plug this gaping hole in the law and in the constitutional checks and balances dealing with national security.
"With the law as it is, a government can simply invoke 'national security' to drive a coach and horses through international anti-bribery legislation, as the UK government has done, to stop corruption investigations."

Symon Hill of CAAT said:

"BAE and the government will be quickly disappointed if they think that this ruling will bring an end to public criticism. Throughout this case we have been overwhelmed with support from people in all walks of life. There has been a sharp rise in opposition to BAE's influence in the corridors of power. Fewer people are now taken in by exaggerated claims about British jobs dependent on Saudi arms deals. The government has been judged in the court of public opinion. The public know that Britain will be a better place when BAE is no longer calling the shots."

This ruling, as if it needed stating again, is far, far more serious than last week's involving Max Mosley. The media however on this case, with the exception of the Guardian or Independent fully supported the government's craven surrender, and will do the same over today's decision. When it personally affects them and their business models they will scream and scream until they're sick; when it potentially means, however spuriously, that "lives are at risk", they jump straight behind the government, and, of course, the money. Such is how democracy in this country works. The rule of law, justice being blind and everything else associated always comes second.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008 

Reality television, self-destruction and Jodie Marsh.

It's been alluded to in the press a few times of late, but it's worth dredging up here yet again as an example. In the very first episode of I'm Alan Partridge, in a desperate attempt to get a second series of his chat show, Knowing Me, Know You, Alan pitches a variety of brain dead concepts for programmes at the commissioning editor, including, most famously, Monkey Tennis. First shown back at the tail-end of 1997, in those intervening 11 years the idea no longer looks so absurd. In fact, if you set it up like the idea that if you give enough monkeys enough typewriters and enough time they'll eventually write Shakespeare, but instead give them enough racquets, enough balls and enough time, compared to Big Brother it would be exciting beyond belief. Will the monkeys ever play a rally, serve an ace or master the backhand smash? Tune in tomorrow just in case they do!

Commentators have been writing the obituary for reality television for almost as long as it has existed. At the weekend, supposedly prompted by the fact that Australia has cancelled Big Brother and that ratings for the show have fallen to 3 million (which is in fact the fairly average amount the show has been getting for the last couple of years) Rachel Cooke in the Observer went to investigate its health. While her article covers all the bases and is one of the better pieces on the genre's continuing lifespan, the most fascinating part is the interview with Jodie Marsh, who along with Jordan and Kerry Katona (both of whom existed prior to their forays onto reality television, but whom vastly improved their profiles due to it) is probably the other most recognisable female face which the shows have bequeathed us.

Marsh is a conundrum for the simple reason that unlike so many others who have attempted to shoot to fame on the coat-tails of the latest invasive camera show, she is quite clearly of above average intelligence. She could, if she was prepared to put effort into it, be something far other than the sum of her current parts, which include comedy sized breasts (paid for by one of the weekly one-handed lads' mags), comedy sized lips (courtesy of a Five show) and an apparently unfixable nose, which she broke whilst playing hockey at school. Instead, she's plunged herself into the world of reality television, not because she wants to just be famous, although that's part of it, but because she wants to be rich.

The trouble is that Marsh is a walking example of the maxim that money can't buy you love or real friends. It doesn't help that, judging by this interview and past ones, she seems to be thoroughly unpleasant and self-absorbed beyond belief, but again, that also hasn't prevented others from rising up the greasy pole. No, what overwhelmingly hits you reading the conversation between her and Cooke is the fury which seems to be sitting just beneath her skin. Also apparent is that this all too overwhelming anger is not just directed against those who have either slighted her or who she's worked with and thinks have taken advantage of her, but also against herself. The woman who formerly boasted of the fact that her breasts were real while Jordan, her erstwhile rival's, were not, has since had those same implants inserted into her already generous bosom. How else can you describe her decision to continue with such programmes as "Jodie Marsh: Who'll Take Her Up the Aisle", the inference being that not just will the husband she's looking for take her hand in marriage, but also be allowed to, as James Joyce's wife once begged her husband, "bugger [her] arseways," fitting neatly into that very modern, pornographic obsession and fetish that anal sex, probably because of the power it gives the male whilst giving the female none of the pleasure, is far superior to stuffy normal vaginal intercourse. It's hard not see, without getting too psychoanalytical, that Marsh's behaviour is self-harm on a scale which is far beyond what we usually associate with those who cut or otherwise hurt themselves, either as a cry for help or to "help", as they see it (and I include myself in this) with getting their pain out, while also providing all too vivid physical wounds to go with the mental ones.

Some will doubtless look at Marsh and feel that the blame rests purely on her own shoulders for the way she's lived her life. She has entered freely into the shows she's taken part in, knowing full well that she will be used just as much as she uses the producer's money afterwards. Unlike the aforementioned Jordan and Katona however, the difference between them and her is all too obvious to see: while both of them have been advised and have agents which have steered them reasonably effectively, with Katona a customer of Max Clifford, Marsh has for one reason or another relied purely on her own wits. They have ensured that their clients have not become the victim, or the one who is primarily being used; Marsh instead has made a whole host of terrible decisions, and has been fed on parasitically instead of making the deals that the others have.

In this, Marsh is perhaps the summation and ultimate tragedy not just of reality television, but of the way the tabloid media and culture works. Bullied at school, as she sets out in the interview, she sought solace in the thought of becoming famous, as none of the woman on the front pages of the men's magazines could ever be accused of being ugly. She then swiftly contradicts herself, making clear that no one should judge her on how she looks; yet it was her desire not to be that led her onto those self-same magazine covers. After all, how could she not be beautiful? She is little less than a walking fuck doll, the supposed male fantasy: blonde, large breasts, even if not real, luscious lips, and with a mind as filthy as a dirty protester's cell. Yet none of these things have made her happy. None of these things have brought the real success she craves. And very few men except a former boyfriend of Jordan's seem to want to go near her.

Perhaps, apart from her own bad decisions, the real reason why Marsh has not achieved the success of her rivals is that she embarrasses those who have made the rest of them. They're the ones who have set-up the rules, created the celebrity culture, and shoved all of this down our throats, yet Marsh's chutzpah and path of self-destruction is too much for them. She is simply too much; she's tried too hard, and she's followed all the rules far too closely. She is, in short, a monster of their own creation, and that repels them.

I'm not one of those indulges the view that this part of our culture instantly means that we have an entire generation of Jodie Marshes waiting in the wings to join her once they reach the required age. What is of concern however is that those who have grown up with reality television and what some call the raunch culture have not yet reached their coming of age, so we do not yet know what the overall effect will be. While I disregard the view that watching violence encourages violence, as it is hardly ever provided as aspirational, what is clear is that there is peer pressure amongst teenage girls, bullied perhaps like Marsh was, to look like the young women on this week's Zoo or Nuts, to act almost purely as their walking fantasies, indulging their every whim. As the National Post article I linked to at the weekend said, how did we know when first embracing "low culture" that it would become the only culture? It's not entirely true of course; there are other role models, other cultures, other trends. It's just that it's this one that seems so prevalent, and the one which is undoubtedly the most pernicious and troubling. Jodie Marsh, in her misery, is a warning, and might well be reality television's real lasting legacy.

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Holidaying in your own misery.

I do realise that it's the silly season and that means that almost anything is far game when it comes to filling up the newspaper, but is it possible we could do without the fatuous, shallow or attempting to be humourous analysis of just what Gordon and Sarah Brown and David and Samantha Cameron are invoking through their choice of dress and poses? Yes, they're partially to blame for letting the photographers take the shots in the first place, but they're probably doing it with the proviso that they then fuck off and leave them alone for the rest of their holiday.

It's almost enough to make you wistful of the days where the Blairs denied the publication of where they'd gone on security grounds. Their two-fingers up message to anyone who thought it was tacky to stay with one of the biggest political crooks of all time, or to make use of the Cliff Richard villa was at least fundamentally honest; we don't care what you think and we'd rather you left us alone for at least a couple of weeks a year. You can't help but get the feeling this might yet be repeated once the Camerons are safely in 10 Downing Street.

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Monday, July 28, 2008 

Brown should go with dignity.

It seems almost perverse, only slightly more than a year after he finally took the job, to be suggesting that it is already time for Brown to relinquish it, but events have swung both so swiftly and decisively against him that is quickly looking as though it's the only option remaining. Governments which are beset by in-fighting and plotting, and that is undoubtedly what is now happening within the Labour party, on a scale probably not even seen during the days of the supposed September letter writing plot against Blair in 2006, do not last long, and despite "big beasts" such as John Prescott and others calling for the plotters to take a holiday, that is clearly not what has happened.

Brown faces essentially three options. The first is that he decides to stand down now and allows a leadership contest to take place, without the need for bloodshed or the sort of fallout which many argue destroyed the Conservatives almost up until the election of David Cameron, even if they did subsequently win the 1992 election after Thatcher was forced out. The second is that he is overthrown, or forced to go, probably through either Jack Straw or Geoff Hoon telling him that he has lost the confidence of the party. The third is that he toughs it out, and whether or not he develops a strategy before the Labour party conference for fighting back, the end result will almost certainly be defeat at the next election.

Indeed, undoubtedly whoever leads the Labour party will be defeated at the next election. The only question remaining is how heavy that defeat will be, and whether it will crush the Labour party to the extent which New Labour crushed the Tories in 1997, or if the polls are accurate, potentially even more devastatingly. While we can only surmise and caveat predictions for what will happen, under Brown the party's defeat threatens to be as catastrophic as that suffered in Glasgow East. This wouldn't just be a disaster for the Labour party or the left in this country, but for democracy itself. The only real opposition to Blair for his first two terms was from his own backbenchers, and eventually, the media, and it wasn't so long ago that commentators were denouncing the elective dictatorship which the first past the post system essentially provides to those who win by a huge margin. Under Cameron the presidential style of government could be even more profound and autocratic; few of the Tory backbenchers seem likely to raise much protest at whatever their policies will be once in office. The one main sticking point might well be the area which so plagued Major: Europe.

In the interests not just of the Labour party itself, but in the balance of power then, Brown's resignation now would be welcome. There are still a few good reasons for why he should fight on, though. Beyond a shadow of a doubt there is no instant successor, or by any means any suggestion that they would necessarily do any better. None of them, whether they be David Miliband, Alan Johnson or even John McDonnell have either the profile or the support within the party itself to quickly become the presumed next in line. Then again, how many could have named David Cameron prior to his decision to run for the Conservative party leadership? While both he and George Osborne were lined up as being the next big things by Michael Howard, the big money to begin with was on David Davis, with his apparent failure to connect with the audience at the Conservative party conference, or more cynically, the media, considered to be the final blow to his campaign.

Another good reason is that Brown standing down would suggest once and for all that the Labour party has stopped caring about the running the country and is instead again fully back in in-fighting mode, further wrecking its opportunities. While there is a good chance of this taking place, and some again link Major's final downfall to his decision to stand down from the leadership and fight to be re-elected, could Labour really fall any further? The drift that has become impossible to ignore over the last few months has become all encompassing, and Brown shows no signs whatsoever of being able to turn it around. His last remaining defence seems to be that he is still best placed to bring the country through the economic downturn, and while this seems, after his "no more return to boom and bust" soundbite being well and truly exposed to be laughable, it still probably rings true with many. Stability rather than uncertainty, even if the stability is akin to a table with three legs, is always preferable.

Lastly, if Brown did stand down, whoever became the next leader would almost certainly have to call an election far sooner than the 20 months down the line which is currently envisaged. Not only would Labour be at an immense disadvantage because of its lack of cash, but a snap election would probably not give the party's fortunes as much of a chance to recover. One either next spring or next autumn could still see the credit crunch biting, and with Cameron remaining in the ascendant.

There is though one remaining reason for why Brown should go now. For both his own sake, and for the sake of his dignity. Despite all the jibes against him, and all the endlessly unamusing insults which fill the messages boards and comment sections, Jock/Bottler McBroon and worse, his departure now would be seen as tragic rather than pathetic. He would be the aspiring leader who once he had got there simply found that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and that with events conspiring against him, he simply couldn't manage to be the successor to Blair that so many hoped he would be. Blair himself said it was not ignoble to want to be prime minister, and while it might well be strange and weird, it certainly isn't. Furthermore, we've seen what happened as a consequence of Blair's refusal to go: the collapse in Labour support which Brown hasn't been able to bring into check. Brown must not now repeat that same mistake. Unless he wants to be remembered, increasingly, like John Major now is for tucking his shirt into his underpants and shagging Edwina Currie, he should recognise his weakness and let the next generation take over. Failure with dignity is not ignoble; failure without it most certainly is.

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How tabloid journalism works part. 94.

It's the silly season, it's a Sunday, and you haven't got anything approaching a front page story. Do you a: put in the effort and attempt to find a new angle to the problems facing Gordon Brown? b: continue to go on alarmingly about the moral decline in society because a rich man who enjoys being spanked has won a court case or c: turn the most innocuous addition to a social-networking site which just happens to be a rival to the one owned by your own proprietor into a super splash?

There's just no contest if you're a Sun "journalist", is there? I'm not on Facebook as I don't have any friends, but even I know there's a whole plethora of "poke" applications, such as giving one of your friends a virtual sexually transmitted disease, as well as literally dozens of similarly hilarious things. There isn't however at the moment a moral panic about STDs, but there certainly is about knives. "TEENS VIRTUALLY KNIFE EACH OTHER ON INTERNET" still doesn't quite cut the mustard though; no, you have to go the classic tabloid route of getting a quote from an organisation or an individual who has suffered through whatever it is you're railing against. Hence the Scum made a call to the uncle of murdered teenager Robert Knox, and what do you know, he's disgusted by it:

“The stupidity of having this on their site is unbelievable. And they deliberately use the street term ‘shanked’, which is even worse. They are targeting the kids who are on street corners carrying knives.”

Yes, of course "they are" gramps; keep taking the pills. This brilliant quote however gives the paper their headline:
Shank’ website is aimed at the kids who carry knives.' And voilà, where there was previously no story, have we now got one for you!

To call this pathetic, shoddy and disingenuous journalism is to put it too lightly. Not even in the wildest of imaginations can anyone begin to claim that this glorifies or is likely to encourage anyone to commit a crime involving a knife; it's nothing more than a joke between friends. It does however serve another agenda, which is the Sun's continuing low-level campaign to run story after story which is either critical of Facebook or an article expressing horror about something that's happened relating to it, while the paper never deigns to mention its humongous conflict of interest. Indeed, when probably the biggest bad news story of them all to do with social networking websites was released last year, involving the number of sex offenders who had profiles on one of them, the Sun strangely didn't run with it. It couldn't have possibly been because the site was MySpace instead of Facebook or Bebo, could it?

Still, perhaps it was worth it for this comment, which is either a quite brilliant piece of satire, or something rather more frightening:

Some of you appear to be missing the point - young people are becoming acclimatised to knife crime as a normal part of life, the more it is treated like a bit of a joke the more it becomes subconsciously acceptable.

We have a group here in Sheffield petitioning to get the Sheffield United's nickname changed from 'the Blades', knife crime should never be associated with fun. Also we want the swords removed from the badge, it's only a matter of time before it progresses from knife crime to sword crime.

Probably even more hilarious though this weekend was the former Archbishop of Canterbury writing in the News of the Screws that the other victim of the Max Mosley judgement was public morality. On the same page as Carey's bilge you can read such enlightening and moral stories as "RONALDO: Blonde had sex with Cristiano in hotel room" and "VICE: Student had sex with 3 men while high on valium." Such reporting is not of course salacious, sensationalist or purely to make money out of other's behaviour, however depraved, but obviously to shame them into altering it.

You can far more effectively make the case that the News of the World for decades has been coarsening the public sphere with its warped sense of what is and isn't newsworthy, or indeed, that its practice of "public interest journalism" has directly led to the celebrity culture which Carey would doubtless decry, but none of this is of any consequence when you're doubtless being paid a hefty sum for only slightly more than 250 words. Perhaps even more humourous than this humbug though is those that have taken it seriously: witness Dave Cole doing such. You have to wonder whether even Carey was pretending to be troubled. The reality is that it is not Mosley, judges or the HRA or ECHR that are "dangerous or socially undermining" as Carey puts it. Dennis Potter never put it better:

I call my cancer Rupert. Because that man Murdoch is the one who, if I had the time (I've got too much writing to do). . . I would shoot the bugger if I could. There is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press. And the pollution of the press is an important part of the pollution of British political life, and it's an important part of the cynicism and misperception of our own realities that is destroying so much of our political discourse.

The same can be said of the deeply immoral but "moral" Daily Mail, the same Daily Mail that thinks nothing of going after lower-class targets that have just lost their daughters, but which sympathises so deeply when life deals "their people" a bad hand. There is only one freedom in which Murdoch and the Mail truly believe in, and that is the freedom to make money.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008 

Weekend links.

If you wanted an example of how skewed and completely disoriented British politics is at the moment, you could do worse than examine today's Sun leader:

IT will take more than a seaside ice cream to cheer up Gordon Brown this weekend.

Sitting on his deckchair, the PM will be wondering if the tide is going out on his Premiership.

Labour’s sensational defeat by the Scottish Nationalists in Glasgow East is bound to whip up more “Gordon must go” hysteria.

For sure, Mr Brown has his back to the wall. But no one is ready to publicly challenge him and step into his shoes.

With the economic climate, there will not be an election for almost two years, however much the Tories demand it.

Mr Brown should recharge his batteries during the holiday. The workaholic PM needs a clarity of vision for the country on his return.

Have a good break, Gordon.

which is almost craven in its sycophancy to a dying political leader, and compare it to the Grauniad's, which you would expect to be closer to the Sun's:

Those who hold Labour's future close to their hearts may not thank a newspaper for concluding that the way forward is problematic and the decisions finely balanced. But that is the truth. The case for loyalty is strong and the case for change impressive too. The worst thing would be to sustain public loyalty and private disdain for a man who seems, right now, to turn everything he touches to lead. It is not in Labour's soul to be brutal to leaders, and nor, at this point, should it be. The risk of change still outweighs the gains - if only because the advantages could prove illusory while the dangers are real and apparent. It can seem every article about Mr Brown preaches the need for him to find energy, clarity and vision. Such demands may be commonplace, but that does not make them wrong. Mr Brown's government is crying out for a renewed sense of purpose; he can best secure that by developing an agenda that reflects his genuine passion for social justice. If he is to remain in charge, he owes his party and the country that much.

Also worth rereading now is Martin Kettle's piece from July the 4th, alerted to me by Anthony Barnett, which now seems prescient and far more powerful than it did then.

Elsewhere, some of the links shamelessly stolen from Mike P's far superior newspaper round:

Torygraph - Millions of profiles from DNA database passed to private firms

Matthew Parris - Labour is lucky. They can ditch him now.

Pauline Kael & trash cinema - Not long before she died, Pauline Kael remarked to a friend, "When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture." Who did?

Deborah Orr - New Labour has only itself to blame

Also worth noticing apart from the main piece on Glasgow East is Orr's comments on the loathsome Tony Parsons:

Parsons is not wrong in saying that women who have breast implants inserted for vanity – generously he excludes women with "genetic defects" or a mastectomy – are likely to be "insecure, neurotic or nutty". But he also describes his many sexual encounters with silicone-stuffed women, and how disappointing to the touch those mammaries prove to be.

This can only suggest that Parsons is himself attracted to women who are "insecure, neurotic or nutty". No wonder he's unaware of any female repulsion against breast butchering. It can only be down to the company he prefers to keep.


Indie - Sorry, says dominatrix who betrayed Mosley

We'll get it right next time - Ballad of East Glasgow

OurKingdom - The lessons of Glasgow East

QuestionThat - Who's Off-Message?

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Friday, July 25, 2008 

To oblivion or half-way there.

The response by Gordon Brown and the top of New Labour to the catastrophic by-election result in Glasgow East would be comical if it wasn't so deeply sad. It truly is a purest example of the clichéd deer in the headlights - a party that simply has no idea what to do except to keep on doing what it's currently doing. Witness Brown yet again inform us all of how he feels our pain. Witness Des Browne laughably suggest that everyone unite around Brown, as if that wasn't they've been doing, or to suggest that no one votes for disunited parties; they're not voting for you at the moment either though, are they?

The loss of Glasgow East is a terrifying prospect for New Labour because it indicates that the perfect storm which can irrevocably destroy the party is potentially gathering momentum. In Wales and Scotland, Labour is not to any great extent being pressured by the Conservatives; the Tory vote was actually down half a percent last night on the general election. Instead, they're fighting against either the nationalist parties, which are undoubtedly to the party's left, even if their nationalism is parochial and self-serving, and the Liberal Democrats, who despite their apparent recent shift to the right, are still far preferable on most factors to Labour. In England however, the party faces the prospect that despite everything, it isn't right-wing enough. It has to be remembered that the Tories won the popular vote in England in 2005. It was hardly likely to improve upon that next time round, and indeed, it's now staring disaster in the face.

We can take the idea that Labour faces collapse too far, especially when just dwelling on by-election results which are never going to be indicative of what's going to happen two years down the line, and Brown today dropped a huge hint that he will be waiting possibly the full 24 months before having to call the election. At the moment though the picture is utterly bleak: even in the worst of times, Labour should have managed to hold on to seats such as Crewe and Nantwich and Glasgow East. They are overwhelming Labour's rock. For them to be giving Labour such a kicking is a warning that the party, unless it changes its way dramatically, is facing utter oblivion.

The party however has absolutely no idea where to go from here. In fact, it seems to be perversely enjoying the hammering it's receiving. Why else would the party have let James Purnell stand up on Monday and deliver his kicking to the "undeserving poor"? This was a constituency in which a significant percentage of its voters are either dirt poor and in work or dirt poor and out of work. Both, potentially, face becoming the guinea pigs of Purnell's plans. Meanwhile, they can see that despite the regeneration that has occurred in their area under Labour, it's the SNP that are actually in government in the devolved parliament, and what's more, they've abolished prescription charges, they've abolished tuition fees, they haven't introduced the vagaries of the market into the health system, and they haven't tried to appease the very worst imaginings of the right-wing press at every available instance. Come now, who would you have voted for? The only real surprise is that the margin of victory was just 365 votes: that is undoubtedly down not to the national party, but to the efforts of the local party and also Margaret Curran herself. The blow has been so much the harder because Labour had been playing up so much the fact that they were certain they had it in the bag. Not for the first time, it seems that someone can't count.

Perhaps the reality is finally hitting home: it doesn't matter how many relaunches you have, however many times you feebly suggest that you feel pain for the people who you have continuously either kicked in the teeth or not done enough for, or however many changes in policy the unions or Neal Lawson suggest, Labour is simply not going to win the next election. The mood of the country, and that includes the different perspectives in Wales/Scotland and in England, has changed. Again, this isn't by any means all Brown's fault, he's simply picked up the poisoned chalice, however much you can blame him for not putting something aside for the inevitable downturn. He also can't do anything about the so-called "credit crunch", or the rising prices of fuel or food, which the SNP so opportunistically but understandably focused on. Getting rid of him will do nothing to save the Labour brand. The only thing he can do now is what News International is over Max Mosley: limit the damage. It doesn't matter now how much he potentially pisses off the right-wing press, what does is that he makes certain that Labour are not destroyed for a generation because of both his and Blair's mistakes. That does involve listening to the unions, to stopping the attacks on those that can least defend themselves and even, as Tony Woodley suggests, evicting the Blairites. Make clear to everyone that if you're going to go down, you're not going to take everyone with you. That now, apart from ensuring that the slowdown doesn't turn into a deep recession, should be Brown's priority.

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Woman E breaks cover.

Somewhat astonishingly, Woman E of the Max Mosley case has come out of the shadows to give an interview. Even more astonishingly, she's given it to Sky News. Potentially sensational is the fact that not more than two weeks after she was meant to give evidence in court, an appearance which she apparently cancelled as a result of being "mentally and emotionally unfit" to do so, is that although she is tearful during the interview, she seems more than happy to be setting the record straight as she sees it.

It's perplexing that Sky has snatched up the interview for the obvious reason of the links between the satellite broadcaster and the News of the Screws, all ostensibly controlled by Murdoch himself. Even more mystifying is that she deals a further hammer blow to the News of the World's story, making clear that there was never going to be a Nazi theme, but rather a German theme, as the original emails and contact between Neville Thurlbeck and Woman E's husband made clear. It's very rare indeed that the Murdoch media potentially attacks or undermines another section of it, although it is not entirely unprecedented.

There can only be one reason as to why it's decided to do so in this instance - damage limitation. Michelle (as she is now being referred to) has an explosive story, and if she were to take it to the BBC, or God forbid, one of Murdoch's main tabloid rivals, they could have absolutely gone to town. As it is, Sky, rather than Michelle, is the one in control. This can be seen in the way that Sky has given the News of the World ample room to defend itself against Michelle's charges, and Kay Burley does grill her rather intensley on what the differences are between a German prison scenario and a Nazi one, although without landing a blow.

Even so, the News of the World must still be furious. Perhaps it could be said that they're only reaping what they've sown, in first offering Michelle £20,000 and then only paying her £12,000. What's clear is that they've used her just as much as many other of their targets have been. What it most certainly also does is ask questions about why Michelle did really decline to give evidence: she may well have been "mentally and emotionally unfit" then, but was it an eventual fit of conscience on her behalf also, or the Screws' continued failure to "take care of her", as it were?

It will also reopen the conspiracy theories, as also mentioned is the fact that Michelle's husband was an MI5 surveillance officer. Was his offering of the story to the News of the World not his first involvement with the paper? Did MI5 really not know about Michelle's double life, as she claims? Or was his resignation over the fact that with his cover blown, they were likely to investigative whether he had also previously approached the newspaper as a source?

To see just how strange Sky's decision to get the interview is, even if as a damage limitation exercise, you only have to look at today's Sun to see what Murdoch's own response is. The article on the ruling is hilariously biased, hardly mentioning any of Eady's findings but focusing almost solely on his comments on how Mosley did to an extent bring the troubles on himself, and Myler's own response to the ruling. The Sun dedicates its entire leader column to it also, claiming laughably that the ruling will affect the Sun reader's right to know. It also disengenuously repeats the lie that this is an EU law interfering in British affairs - the European Convention on Human Rights was drawn up far before the Common Market even existed, in 1950, and was voted into British law by the Commons in 1998. It hoightly demands the right to print what it thinks is in the public interest, not what a "lofty and privileged" judge thinks is. This of couse completely ignores the fact the Sun is signed up to the Press Complaints Commission code, which also states that the sort of investigation that the Screws used are only valid when the public interest is being served. If Mosley had gone through the PCC and not the law courts, he would probably still have reached the same result, going by the evidence, although that isn't certain.

Michelle's decision to go public now also completely opens her up to potentially huge retaliation by the Screws on the Sunday. She still might regret going public, and while we have learned little more than we did yesterday, it does suggest that the Murdoch press are running terrified of the consequences of a story that it must have believed would only be a nice little earner.

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In praise of... the death of Peter Andre and Jordan.

Whichever Grauniad leader writer was responsible for this Pseuds Corner-worthy abortion on unusual names ought to hang their head in shame:

Celebrities Peter André and Jordan mixed up their mothers - Thea and Amy - to come up with Princess Tiáamii for their daughter, achieving a neat feminist counterbalance to patrilineal surnaming (though they may not put it that way).

It's already bad enough that you've had the desperate luck to be born into a family of such complete and utter cunts, but being given a name which is going to haunt you long after they've shuffled off this mortal coil (hopefully in the most violent and painful way imaginable) really perhaps ought to open them up beforehand to legal action.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008 

Eady lays down the law.

Some, when hearing that the privacy suit brought by Max Mosley against the News of the Screws was to be heard in front of Mr Justice Eady, were confident in predicting that Mosley would be the victor, purely on the grounds that Eady has been one of the judges at the forefront of creating a privacy law through the precedents set by various rulings, especially since the introduction of the Human Rights Act, with its right to a private life having to be balanced against the right to freedom of expression. It's certainly true that his rulings involving Khalid bin Mahfouz are deeply worrying, concerning as they do information which has in no real sense even been published here, leading to the introduction in the United States of the Free Speech Protection Act, so angered they have been by Eady's rulings that have prevented legitimate investigations into Mahfouz's links to terrorist funding from being published.

Ratbiter (who may or may not be Nick Cohen, if anyone knows for certain please drop a comment in) in yesterday's Private Eye opened his piece by mocking Eady's supposed impartiality. However deserving of criticism Eady is for some of his other work, reading in full his judgement today (PDF) ought to show that he had no option other than to rule in Mosley's favour.

It's indisputable, going through, to come to any other conclusion than one which involves the News of the Screws being deeply in the wrong and that their defence was a complete shambles from the get go. When first contacted by Woman E's husband, the prostitute who filmed the S&M session for the Screws, there was absolutely no mention made of any Nazi connotations. Simply, the husband had a story about Max Mosley. Neville Thurlbeck, rang the husband back later in the day without ever making a recording or notes of his meetings with either Woman E or her husband, which is undoubtedly bad journalistic practice to begin with. Woman E's husband regaled Thurlbeck with how Mosley had been involved with his wife, who was a dominatrix, for the best part of year. All of this is recalled from paragraphs 148 onwards, but this one (152) is worth quoting in full:

Mr Thurlbeck asked Woman E’s husband when she would be likely to be attending another of the S and M parties and whether she would be prepared to wear a hidden camera. The original intention was to expose in the News of the World the Claimant’s interest in sado-masochism and his use of prostitutes and dominatrices. There had up to that point been no mention of a Nazi or concentration camp theme. The husband enquired whether there would be “something in it for us” and Mr Thurlbeck indicated that the News of the World would make sure he was paid. No discussion of actual amounts took place at that stage.

It was only afterwards, in a second call, that Thurlbeck claims that Woman E's husband told him there was to be a Nazi theme at the next session with Mosley and the four other women. Again, he didn't make any note or recording of this, but his statement to the court ran like this:

“[The husband] said that this was fascinating because [his wife] had told him that the Claimant had ordered a German theme, that there would be a German-speaking dominatrix at the sex party (in addition to [his wife]) and that the dominatrices had been asked to wear military uniform. [His wife] had been told all of this by a woman whose name was [Woman A] who [the husband] told me was the senior prostitute/dominatrix. From speaking to [the husband], it was apparent that it was [Woman A] (rather than [Woman E]) who liaised directly with the Claimant regarding his instructions for the sex parties. [Woman A] then arranged the parties and their themes."

As Eady later notes:

It is perhaps curious that, at this stage, when giving his account of what he had been told previously, Mr Thurlbeck should omit any reference to a “Nazi theme”. Again, it rather suggests that “German” may have simply been glossed into “Nazi”.

Furthermore:

I am prepared to accept that Mr Thurlbeck and Mr Myler, on what they had seen, thought there was a Nazi element – not least because that is what they wanted to believe. Indeed, they needed to believe this in order to forge the somewhat tenuous link between the Claimant and his father’s notorious activities more than half a century ago and, secondly, to construct an arguable public interest defence. ... The belief was not arrived at, however, by rational analysis of the material before them. Rather, it was a precipitate conclusion that was reached “in the round”, as Mr Thurlbeck put it. The countervailing factors, in particular the absence of any specifically Nazi indicia, were not considered.

When Mr Myler was taken at length through dozens of photographs, some of which he had seen prior to publication, he had to admit in the witness box that there were no Nazi indicia and he could, of course, point to nothing which would justify the suggestion of “mocking”
concentration camp victims. That conclusion could, and should, have been reached before publication. I consider that this willingness to believe in the Nazi element and the mocking of Holocaust victims was not based on enquiries or analysis consistent with “responsible journalism”.

While disregarding that there was a public interest argument in Mosley being exposed for variously, the allegations of criminality, i.e. that the level of the S&M was such that Mosley himself was being assaulted, dealt with from paragraph 110 onwards and "depravity and adultery", from 124 onwards. He does however agree that if there had been a Nazi theme then it would most certainly have been in the public interest for Mosley to be exposed, which he sets out in 122 and 123.

In case you missed the Screws' original publishings of the allegations against Mosley, they're summarised from paragraphs 26 onwards. In the Screws' hyperbolic style, they don't pull any punches whatsoever, describing Mosley as a "sex pervert", and in the next week's paper as a "vain deviant with no sense of truth or honour."

Eady's decision might have been different had Woman E given evidence. She however, for the supposed reason that she was "mentally and emotionally unfit" to do so, did not appear. Neither, as a result, did her husband, who just happened to work for MI5, from which he has since resigned. If she had, she may well have contradicted to a believable extent the evidence given by all the other dominatrices involved, as well as Mosley himself. As Roy Greenslade argues, Eady may well have been justified in halting the hearing there and then, such was the weakness of the case and the evidence given by the Screws' editor Colin Myler, and the reporter, Neville Thurlbeck. Instead, piece by piece, and devastatingly, Eady picks apart the idea that there was a Nazi theme, beginning from paragraph 44 onwards. Some choice parts are:

There was a suggestion that some of the women were wearing Nazi clothing, but Mr Thurlbeck himself ultimately recognised in a memo, after publication, that what was worn was simply “foreign uniform and ordinary blazer”. He had been addressing in the same email the rather incongruous possibility of a “Nazi blazer”. As the Claimant himself pointed out, if there had been a desire to create a Nazi scenario it would have been easy to obtain Nazi uniforms online or from a costumier. The uniform jacket worn by Woman E had been in her possession before either the 8 or 28 March gatherings were organised and had not been obtained specifically for that purpose. It was there to be seen in a photograph on her website which Mr Thurlbeck inspected.

In the first scenario, when the Claimant was playing a submissive role, he underwent a medical inspection and had his head searched for lice. Again, although the “medical” had certain unusual features, there is nothing specific to the Nazi period or to the concentration camps about these matters. Moreover, no German was spoken at this stage – not least because Woman B appeared later, in time only for the second scenario.

Mr Thurlbeck also relied upon the fact that the Claimant was “shaved”. Concentration camp inmates were also shaved. Yet, as Mr Price pointed out, they had their heads shaved. The Claimant, for reasons best known to himself, enjoyed having his bottom shaved – apparently for its own sake rather than because of any supposed Nazi connotation. He explained to me that while this service was being performed he was (no doubt unwisely) “shaking with laughter”. I naturally could not check from the DVD, as it was not his face that was on display.


The first scenario begins with the words “Welcome to Chelsea” and the Claimant uses
the nom de guerre “Tim Barnes”. One of the “guards” is referred to as “Officer Smith”. These factors lend no support to the Nazi role-play allegation; indeed, they would appear to be inconsistent with it. Moreover, the use of the word “facility” is neutral. It is after all an English and/or American word and has no especially Nazi connotations.

In the second scenario, the young women “victims” wore horizontally striped pyjamas. That may loosely suggest a prison uniform but, yet again, there is nothing to identify the clothing as of the Nazi era. Photographs were introduced by Mr Price, for what they were worth, to show that the uniforms worn in concentration camps tended to have vertical stripes. Pictures were also produced to show a group of people running in the recent London Marathon wearing “prison” costumes. These too had horizontal stripes; yet no-one would imagine that they were in any way making reference to concentration camps or “mocking” their victims (as the News of the
World alleged of the Claimant). I was also referred to the invoice for those particular costumes which were obtained for £11.91 each from a “joke” supplier. I did not find any of this evidence especially helpful, since what matters is the simple fact that prison uniforms worn for S and M role-play do not in themselves echo concentration camps or involve “mocking” the victims.

The use of German on 28 March, in the second scenario when the Claimant was playing a dominant role and Woman B was also present, was said to be largely to please Woman D rather than at the Claimant’s request. Odd though it may seem to many people, as does much fetishist behaviour, I see no reason to disbelieve Woman D’s explanation. In any event, she had been interviewed on a weblog at the end of February when she made exactly the same point. So it was plainly not made up for this litigation. In any case, it is clear that the Claimant threw himself into his role with considerable enthusiasm.


Although Mr Thurlbeck thought the use of German highly significant as one of the Nazi indicia, it is noteworthy that neither he nor anyone else thought it appropriate to obtain a translation before evaluating the material for publication. It contained a certain amount of explicit sexual language about what the Claimant and Woman B were planning to do to those women in the submissive role, but nothing specifically Nazi, and certainly nothing to do with concentration camps.

There was, of course, plenty of spanking, and references to “judicial” penalties, but the only passage which is relevant for this purpose relates to an occasion when one of the women was lying face down on the sofa while being given intermittent and rather lack-lustre strokes with a strap. There seems to be some sort of game involving rivalry between blondes and brunettes. At one point, the dark-haired woman lying on the sofa raises her head and cries out “Brunettes rule!” Within a moment or two, a voice from off-camera can be heard (accepted to be that of Woman A, who is indeed blonde) gasping out words to the effect “We are the Aryan race – blondes”.

Not surprisingly, this has been fixed upon by the Defendant as being a reference to
Nazi racial policies. It is said that the reference to “Aryans” cannot bear any other interpretation.

When asked about this, the Claimant said that he had no recollection of any such
remark being made and, indeed, that it was perfectly possible that his hearing aids would not have picked this up in all the excitement. This naturally invites a certain degree of scepticism, although there is no doubt that the Claimant is a little deaf (as emerged during the course of his evidence) and does wear hearing aids.

What is clear, however, is that the remark was unscripted and that it occurred amid a
good deal of shouts and squeals (of delight or otherwise). One had to listen to the tape several times to pick out exactly what was going on and indeed nobody had spotted “Brunettes rule!” until the middle of the trial. It is also clear that there was nothing spoken by the Claimant on this occasion which reflected Nazi terminology or attitudes. There is no reason to suppose that it was other than a spontaneous squeal by Woman A in medias res.

It is probably appropriate at this point to address another remark from time to time used by Woman B. She uses the term “Schwarze” when she is acting out a dominant role in relation to one or more submissive females. The suggestion was that she was pretending that they were black and racially abusing them. She explained, however, that in German the word is used to refer to a dark-haired woman (or brunette) – such as herself. She said “I am a Schwarze”. It had no racial connotations, so far as she was concerned. Although Mr Warby invites me to reject this, since the German word could also refer to a black person, I see no reason to disbelieve her. It seems more natural to interpret her remark in context as referring to the woman’s dark hair (which she had) rather than to dark skin (which she did not). Mr Warby also submitted that
the references by the two women to blondes and brunettes are not connected. Since they occurred within seconds of each other, I believe that is unrealistic. In any event, it could hardly be suggested that the blondes were accorded any more respectful treatment (as “Aryans”) than the brunettes. One of them is abused as a “dumb ass blonde” (in German) and the spanking is indiscriminate in this respect.

All of this is of a piece with how we know the News of the World operates. Truthfulness and accuracy coming second to huge splashes. Just in the last few months the paper has paid out damages to Cherie Blair, Katie Price and Peter Andre and Robert Murat, all for inaccurate or completely untrue stories. For years it's given not just house room but the front page on numerous occasions to Mazher Mahmood, who has now also on numerous occasions been exposed as being a fantasist, who uses entrapment to snare his victims before ruining their lives. His splashes on the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot were of his own imaginings, while the same was true of the so-called "red mercury" plot, in which all of those on trial were acquitted.

As for Neville Thurlbeck, as yesterday's Private Eye (1215) made clear, his history is less than spotless also, having tricked Colin Stagg, having promised him £20,000 if he took a "truth drug" which showed he had not carried out the killing of Rachel Nickell, or lied on oath or to the police. He passed with flying colours for the reason he was completely innocent - but the NoW seized on a minor discrepancy, splashed with "I LIED ABOUT RACHEL" and denied Stagg a penny. He also completely made up a story about a naturist B&B being a brothel, claiming that the wife of the couple who owned it had offered him a "full sex session with me and my husband for £75". In fact, he offered them £75 to have sex while he watched, and seeing an easy way to get some extra cash out of a spotty moron, they accepted. Thurlbeck claimed in the subsequent story that he had declined the offer, when in actuality, as the couple's security tapes showed, he had not only watched them, but masturbated while doing so.


It comes as little surprise then to learn that Thurlbeck attempted to blackmail two of the other women involved. As Eady writes:

In order to firm up the story, therefore, Mr Thurlbeck decided that he would like to publish an interview with at least one of the participants and, if possible, contributions from all of them.

In pursuit of this objective, therefore, he sent a number of emails. On 2 April he sent identical emails to Women A and B in these terms:


“I hope you are well. I am Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter at the News of the World, the journalist who wrote the story about Max Mosley’s party with you and your girls on Friday.

Please take a breath before you get angry with me!

I did ensure that all your faces were blocked out to spare you any grief.


And soon, the story will become history as life and the news agenda move on very quickly.


There is a substantial sum of money available to you or any of the girls in return for an exclusive interview with us. The interview can be done anonymously and you[r] face can be
blacked out too. So it’s pretty straight forward.

Shall we meet/talk?”


He became more insistent the following day:

“I’m just about to send you a series of pictures which will form the basis of our article this week. We want to reveal the identities of the girls involved in the orgy with Max as this is the only follow up we have to our story.

Our preferred story however, would be you speaking to us directly about your dealings with Max. And for that we would be extremely grateful. In return for this, we would grant you
full anonimity [sic], pixilate your faces on all photographs and secure a substantial sum of money for you.

This puts you firmly in the driving seat and allows you much greater control as well as preserving your anonimities [sic] (your names won’t be used or your pictures).

Please don’t hesitate to call me … or email me with any thoughts.


Regards and hope to do business.


Neville Thurlbeck, chief reporter, News of the World”


This would appear to contain a clear threat to the women involved that unless they cooperated with Mr Thurlbeck (albeit in exchange for some money) their identities would be revealed on the following Sunday. He was as good as his word and attached photographs and also some extracts from their websites. This was obviously to bring home to them the scale of the threatened exposé.

The threat was then reinforced the same day with a further email to Women A and B:

“Ok girls, here’s the offer. It’s 8,000 pounds for an interview with one of you, with no name, no id and pixilated face. And we pixilate all the pics I send through to you this morning.

BUT time is running out for us and if you want to come on board, you need to start the ball rolling now. Call me … if you want to.

Best, Neville”

Perhaps to their credit, the two women concerned resisted these blandishments and
thus risked the further exposure he had threatened.

This is a pure example of how the journalism practised not just by the News of the World, but by the entire Murdoch stable works. You might recall that last year the sex blogger Girl with a one track mind was threatened in almost the exact same fashion by the Sunday Times, that supposed august organ, stooping to the same level as the red-top tabloids to expose her actual identity.

It's therefore completely impossible to have any sympathy for the News of the World whatsoever. They created this story from the get go, not with any great public expose in mind, but with the pure intention of making money out of someone else's private life. There can't even really be any defence provided by the fact that the women were prostitutes, because again, as Eady notes:

Another argument thought up by the Defendant, or rather its legal team, was that the Claimant had been keeping a brothel. This would not bear close scrutiny and is certainly not consistent with the evidence. By the time of closing speeches, this line of argument had been abandoned. It seems clear from the authorities that for premises to fall within the definition of a brothel it is necessary to show that more than one man resorts to them for whatever sexual services are on offer. The only man enjoying the activities in this case was the Claimant himself. He paid for the flat and Woman A arranged parties there with various dominatrices for his (and apparently also their) enjoyment. This was not a service offered to men in general. He was the only one paying, although I was told that it was a standing joke among some of the regulars that they had so much fun that they ought to be paying “Mike”. There was never any question of a business being carried on there or the Claimant taking a cut of the proceeds.

As it happens, some of the women were rather reluctant to accept the description “prostitute”. (For the purposes of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the term is defined by reference to providing “sexual services” in return for payment: s.51(2) of the Act.) Several of them offer a variety of services on their website (usually spanking or being spanked in various guises) but expressly warn that they do not offer specifically sexual services. They apparently made an exception in “Mike’s” case and threw in a bit of sex, as it were, as an “extra” between friends. Indeed, sometimes they were not paid at all. As they liked the premises and found the atmosphere relaxing and congenial, things developed from there, Indeed, although the Claimant’s sexual
activity as revealed in the DVD material did not seem to amount to very much, some of the women stayed on after the party was over and indulged in same sex action purely for their own entertainment.

Indeed, quite apart from Mosley paying the women, what seems to have united them against Woman E is both that they thoroughly enjoyed what they did with him, and also that she had broken one of the unwritten rules of the S&M scene in which they were part: that no one talks about it to potentially disapproving ears, and they certainly do not sell their stories. Woman E has apparently been ostracised from the community since as a result.

The last remaining fig leaf some will bring up is the moral issue itself. After all, Mosley was cheating on his wife, and she apparently, despite the potential slight injuries he might have suffered as a result, never had an inkling that he enjoyed being spanked and dominated. Does the exposing of it to his wife, while not justifying it any means by law, justify it in a moral sense? Some will obviously come to different conclusions on that. That his wife has apparently accepted it, and is also apparently supporting him though seems to suggest that even she might secretly be devastated, she is not to such an extent that she is thinking of leaving him.

The reality is that this has been coming for a long time. For far too long the tabloids in this country have been allowed to get away with blatant intrusions into others' privacy where there is absolutely no public interest whatsoever. Again today Sienna Miller is launching an action against the Sun and News of the World for publishing naked photographs of her, despite last year winning damages after they published, you guessed it, naked photographs of her during filming for a movie yet to be released, presumably on what was a closed set. The implication is obvious: that they simply don't care about the consequences when it potentially boosts sales as a result, or in the new digital world, leads to more one handed online clicks to their website. The Mosley case is just one particular new egregious example. No one thought the Screws was going to win, but everyone tomorrow and already online is screaming that this means the end of investigative journalism as we know it.

It's nonsense of course. These are the last wounded cries of a few select hacks and partisan publishers that know that at long last the great game may be coming to an end. This is half the reason why the tabloids so loathe the Human Rights Act: it's not because it's a criminals or terrorist's charter, it's because it has the potential to damage their business model once and for all. The facts are that they have brought it all upon themselves. Eady himself denies that this case sets a new precedent or is landmark in any way:

It is perhaps worth adding that there is nothing “landmark” about this decision. It is simply the application to rather unusual facts of recently developed but established principles. Nor can it seriously be suggested that the case is likely to inhibit serious investigative journalism into crime or wrongdoing, where the public interest is more genuinely engaged.

Sir Smacks Mosley may not have been the figure we would have liked to have triumphed over the Screws in such a way. It is nonetheless a completely warranted and welcome victory.

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