Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Friday, 21 December 2012

You have a choice...

... between reading my verdict on the Leveson Inquiry for Press Gazette, or remembering the dark side of Christmas for the Daily Mirror.

Alternatively you can read both; it's not like you're busy, after all.

Have a good Christmas and I'll speak to you soon.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

We're watching you.

I WAS on a mini-roundabout in Plymouth when my phone beeped.

The traffic was jammed so I looked at the text message, which said that Nasty Nick had left the Big Brother house.

Even though it was twelve years ago, even though it was utterly trivial, that news seemed so momentous at the time that I can still remember where I was, what I was doing, and how I pulled over to excitedly ring my friend and find out what she knew.

That was the first series of Big Brother, when those taking part had no idea anyone might be watching them and it felt like half the nation was fascinated by Nasty Nick's underhand voting tactics, Melanie's flirtations with Andrew and Tom, Darren's terror of the chickens, lesbian ex-nun Anna (A lesbian! On telly!) and scouser Craig doing it all to raise money for a cousin with Down's Syndrome.

For those who have forgotten, the events of that series were splashed on by the country's most popular newspapers almost every day. Even though no-one had seen such a thing before, it had phenomenal ratings and 10million people tuned in to the final.

This was the start of modern celebrity, and they didn't all like it. Andrew emigrated to Australia, where I walked into a wall when I spotted him in a Sydney street about a year later. Darren disappeared, Sada reportedly turned to waitressing, Melanie did some presenting and naked body-painter Nichola released a single and is, well, keeping busy (NSFW).

In the years that followed, the contestants were of such interest to the public they could guarantee newspaper sales spikes. When a girl famed for saying "I love blinking, I do", left the second series the bidding war for her first interview hit £200,000.

That's not done for fun - it was because the newspapers and magazines bidding expected to make more than that in extra sales and advertising. Agents and publicists pile in and drive it as high as they can, and editors weigh up the bid with what they get out of it.

Not any more. A while ago a friend told me how they answered the newsdesk phone on a national paper to find the latest Big Brother evictee on the other end, asking politely if they were interested in his story for £200.

"Sorry mate, you'd need to pay us," he was told. "Who are you again?"

Big Brother today is not something anyone is going to excitedly text me about, much less make me remember where I was when it landed. It doesn't provoke newspaper bidding wars, is seen mainly as a vehicle for the mentally-frail and fame-hungry, and draws less than a million viewers.

Earlier this week it was reported the latest series was Ofcom's most-complained about TV programme of the entire year. This stopped me in my tracks, because whatever it had done I hadn't noticed even though it had pushed Philip Schofield's use of Google into second place.

It turned out a contestant called Conor McIntyre had threatened to punch and sexually assault a female housemate, Deana Uppal, sparking more than a thousand complaints. In all 2,088 complaints were lodged against the show, which when it is watched by so few is quite an achievement.

Now, that's obviously a shocking bit of telly, and worth complaining about. But had it happened in an earlier series it would be national news - today, few of us know anything about the people involved and care even less.

The one part of the brand which still commands some interest - and a couple of million viewers - is the celebrity version, because mentally-frail fame-hungry wannabes are easier to loathe when they made their Faustian pact decades earlier.

We've had Vanessa's meltdown, Les Dennis looking sad, George Galloway in a leotard, Jade Goody horrifying everyone, Sly Stallone's mum and Vinnie Jones. It's never done much to reinvigorate a failing showbiz career, but it has given one or two people a slower descent into obscurity.

In recent weeks there has been much talk of convicted domestic abuser Justin Lee Collins being offered and then turning down a place on the show, which sparked a fair bit of anger, an online petition from relatives of the woman he harassed, and some much-needed publicity for the show.

But it's now clear he didn't have a cat in hell's chance of appearing, not because he was an aggressive, bullying abuser recently notorious for being convicted of the same, but because the show's producers had someone else in mind.

Step forward Jim Davidson, a comedian who in his heyday made Bernard Manning look thoughtful and, if his third wife Alison Holloway is to be believed, would make Conan the Barbarian look like a pussycat.

Her claims were quite devastating, and the man recently apologised for his racist and homophobic jokes and admitted his abuse of drugs and booze as part of an effort to reinvent himself.

He's got a right to do that, if he wants to. People are allowed to change their ways. He's not been convicted of abusing Alison, so we need to be nicer to him than to Lee Collins who was accused of doing less physical damage.

But that doesn't mean we have to like him. There are plenty of people who, despite the absence of a criminal record, consider him and his views beyond the pale, and it's unlikely many of the mainly-young CBB audience will warm to a fat, middle-aged old git even if they're ignorant of his reputation.

That he's on the television at all leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, but there is one positive to be gained from this washed-up old toad entering the Big Brother house, aside from the possibility they might just lock the door once he's in and call it a day.

It is that, in the absence of any woman taking him to court, of any rumours being proven to be true, or of him saying something of the kind he used to and getting arrested for it, it might just be possible to savour the deserved demise of an unpleasant showbusiness career and see it finally nailed into its coffin.

When there has not been any other kind of justice, the sort where a once-national star is reduced to a less-than-popular show and ringing up newspapers offering his own story for a handful of tenners is the best that we are left with.

Big Brother has turned from widespread and innocent fascination with human behaviour into the minority sport of malicious celebrity schadenfreude. It is a shame we cannot watch people without wishing them ill, but if we have to watch anyone then people who deserve a bit of ill are, I suppose, the best contestants.

So I will watch, and if it all ends badly for him I will not bother to remember where I was when I heard about it.

More phut-phut than boom-boom, sunshine.





Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Silly (adj.): Absurd, ridiculous, irrational.

WELL, I'm confused.

I knew where I was when we were plebs. I was quite happy to be one of the proles, a peasant, a pain in the posh boys' backside.

Whether we like it or not humans do want to know their place. That's why newspapers use the ages, jobs, and a description of the houses and cars of people they write about - so that The Reader can label the person, and slot them into the 'Just Like Me', 'Just Like My Sister' or 'Just Annoying' categories we don't like to admit we all have.

Knowing your place doesn't mean you're happy with it, or that your place is better or worse than someone else's. It's just a mechanism for working out who we do and don't like, and the Plebgate scandal did that quite nicely.

When Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell left work in September and got angry with police officers who wouldn't open the Downing Street main gates for his bicycle, there weren't many people on his side.

An uppity cyclist is easy to dislike. A suited man in bicycle clips is a pleasure to mock. Anyone other than a witch with a basket on the front of their bike is frankly a joy to poke fun at.

On top of that this was a top Tory, a rich, privately-educated millionaire ex-banker, angry at being made to follow the rules everyone else has to abide by. For us plebs, this was karma at work in the land.

He effed and blinded at the officers guarding the gate, and two days later parts of the police log of the incident were released reporting he had called them "f***ing plebs", said "you don't run this f***ing government", "best you learn your f***ing place", and finally "I'll have your f***ing job for this".

Well. It was already brilliant but when they heard those details, both the peasants and the papers rubbed their hands and waited for his inevitable, and highly pleasurable, fall from grace.

He handled it badly, gave a carefully-worded apology, admitting swearing but denying use of the word pleb, and hoped it would all die down.

It didn't, for the simple reason that after years of opposition and then government by people from very privileged backgrounds and public sector cuts we all felt like they thought we were plebs. It fit into our categories for people.

The PM called in the CCTV footage of the incident, and pronounced it inconclusive. Then a few days after the incident an email from a member of the public appeared to back up the police claims, and Thrasher Mitchell's demise became merely a matter of time.

He hung on for a while, but when the MPs he was supposed to discipline rebelled, his position became untenable. Some even said they had been victim to similar, sweary tirades.

And now Mr Mitchell says the whole thing was rot.

He has been able to get the CCTV footage, journalists have tracked down the 'member of the public' who now appears to be a serving police officer, and someone's been arrested. All, it is clear, is not quite as it seemed.

So where does that leave us plebs? Adrift, to be frank. We no longer know for sure whether or not we are plebs, or whether 'they' think we are plebs, and whether we ought to like the posh banker boy. There is even the unpalatable possibility that we plebs ought to say sorry to the chap with the bicycle, and that he's actually been quite hard done-by.

But one part of that story falling down does not erase the rest of it, any more than a tile slipping off a roof makes your house collapse. Sometimes it could be a sign the whole thing is shoddy, and other times it is just one, easily-fixed tile.

Mr Mitchell still admits swearing at police officers. That's still something most of us would get nicked for, if we did it.

The CCTV doesn't look like a serious confrontation, but we all know it's possible to have an argument by hissing and Mr Mitchell seems the sort of buttoned-up individual who would huff and swear rather than scuffle or gesticulate. The video is, as it always was, inconclusive.

It does prove bits of the police log were wrong - there were no "members of the public" who were "visibly shocked", in fact there seems to be just one bloke who was mildly interested. It makes you wonder how much of it was embellished in a similar way, but at the same time coppers aren't the best writers. Logs are all about proceeding northwards and Caucasian males, and an officious plod might well decide that one earwigging tourist constitutes a shocked member of the public.

The corroborating email seems to be fiction, but it's more than likely it and its writer will be examined in court in due course and that's the only place where we'll find out why and how it was written. If it gets to trial he's entitled to a fair one, even if police and politicians are leaking about it for their own ends, and just because it is false does not mean the central accusation is as well.

The truly damaging thing about the Plebgate scandal is not the detail of what was said - although of course, without that, it's the Gategate scandal - but the way it was handled.

Mr Mitchell admitted swearing at policemen as though it were acceptable, and it's not. He fudged an apology while looking as apologetic as an irate duke who's caught a serf touching his boot, and just as as livid. People have demanded he get his job back but he's still a silly, angry, uptight man who refused to walk his bike through a gate and swore at a copper - that's the basic reason he lost his job, and it hasn't changed.

The CCTV doesn't show a damn thing more now than it did then, and the government had this email and spoke to the person who wrote it at the time, without finding out he was apparently a policeman.

Let me say that again - the GOVERNMENT couldn't find that out, and they employ him! Did it not cross their minds to put his name into the computer? Does this mean they don't have a computer? Could I write a letter and pretend to be the Queen and they wouldn't know any different?

It's really easy to spot a copper. They tuck their shirts in, and have short hair and shiny faces. I can spot one twenty foot away in a darkened bar when I'm hammered. If the people running the country can't do better then I wouldn't trust them to run a tap.

Policeman are not really a political bunch, either. Rank and file officers regard politicians as something  they'd rather avoid, like a week of night shifts, and the chances of some bothering to conceive a conspiracy in order to "toxify the Conservative party" as Mr Mitchell dramatically claims are slim at best.

Which leaves us with the conclusion that something distasteful and pleb-like probably happened, was more a hissy fit than a rant, got backed up by someone who should have stayed out of it, and people on all sides are using it to score points. The police have wound up arguing with the government, and that's always messy, especially when the Prime Minister's chums are due to stand trial soon.

And it's all embellishment, really - everything here is decoration on top of the main point, which is that a silly man did a silly thing and was made to look too silly to do his job. That hasn't changed.

It might not have happened to the rest of us, but then the good thing about being a pleb is that you can get away with being silly.

If you run the country, on the other hand... well. You can argue the point, but once silliness sets in the more you fight it the sillier you look, like a businessman who slips on a banana skin and then slips on it repeatedly every time he tries to get up.

Let the courts and time clear Mr Mitchell's name, if needs be. He'll never get to the truth for the simple reason he won't want to see it - which is that he'd be a lot happier if he was a pleb, just like us.
It's only an insult if you mind.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Setting the world to rights.

THE Queen attended a Cabinet meeting today, and promptly dissolved the Government.

Her Majesty announced a return to an absolute monarchy with herself in control of all the arms of state, saying: "Anything is better than this shower."

Her first move was to order social services to place Romeo Beckham in care after it transpired his parents had allowed the 10-year-old to take part in an international modelling campaign wearing specially-adapted adult clothes to make him look like a proto-Declan Donnelly.


She said: "Even I've heard about Macaulay Culkin. It can't end well, get the poor mite out of there."

The Queen listened to a long lecture on the economy, the right track, the wrong track, deficits and borrowings from her Chancellor Gideon Osborne before growing exasperated and sending him to his room without any tea.

In his place she installed personal finance expert Martin Lewis, who issued every citizen with a series of money-off vouchers and pledged to make the banks pay annual bonuses to each customer. The move was greeted by an influx of people opening new bank accounts and was given a cautious welcome by the City as a result.

Pippa Middleton's bum was granted Grade-II listed status and declared a national monument, while Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins was installed as Minister for Drinking Culture, Media and Sport.

Prince Philip suggested marrying Pippa to grandson Prince Harry "to keep it in the family and distract the plebs", and the Queen is believed to be considering the match.

Gay marriage was outlawed in case Prince Edward had any bright ideas, the police officer arrested over leaking details of the Plebgate scandal was made an OBE, and Universal Credit reforms were extended to include a slice of cake for all the poor people once a week.

A group of ne'er do wells was rounded up by vicious corgis and loaded into a container for shipment to America, in order to cement the special relationship and provide target practice for disaffected  youths.

Abu Qatada and Ian Brady joined domestic abusers Jim Davidson, Dennis Waterman and Justin Lee Collins for the long and inevitably fatal sea voyage, while the likes of Helen Flanagan, Keith Vaz, and Geri Halliwell were placed in internment camps for re-education. Gary Barlow was told to be quiet.

The Queen immediately cancelled a contract allowing disgraced Olympic security firm G4S to run a phone line helping to explain benefit reforms, and called a halt to plans to charge people who run out of money to use 'budgeting products' designed by the private sector.

Her Majesty went on to make a public address, saying: "I've put up with this crap for long enough.

"I didn't mind Churchill. I tolerated Eden. And don't get me started on Wilson and Blair.

"But in recent weeks it has come to my attention that things are entirely posterior-about-face. First they showed me all my gold, and then they took it away.


"Next I was invited to a Cabinet meeting and as a token of their regard I was given some place mats.

"I told them that I have entertained heads of state for 60 years and I have banqueting accessories coming out of my bloody ears. I said never mind the last queen got India and the one before her had America, never mind I am used to getting diamonds and racehorses, but if they couldn't manage that a simple pair of gloves would at least be useful. They said I could have a bit of Antarctica, and looked at me like I was the idiot!

"To add insult to injury they simpered about changing the laws of succession so Wills' daughter could claim the throne, without apparently noticing firstly a woman was already their boss and secondly without me there were 21 men and two women at the table and it's them who need to change.

"What a bunch of cretins. We're better orf without them. Happy Christmas to all in my Commonwealth. It's mine! ALL MINE!"

 "Dave. This is my house now."

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Newtown massacre...

... is the topic of today's column, which can be read on the Daily Mirror website here.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Today...

... I've turned Foxtradamus to make some predictions about what will happen after the end of the world next Friday, which you can read on the Daily Mirror website here.

Basically, it's bad news for Justin Bieber.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A Tory Christmas Carol.

'TWAS the night before Christmas, when all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring, because they can't afford gas;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that some presents would simply appear;

The children slept benefit-free in their beds
While visions of sexting danced in their heads;
And mamma in her onesie and I with cheap booze
Had just settled down for a long winter's snooze,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from the sofa to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Fell over the tree and smashed my head on the sash.

The moon shining down on the cold icy ground
Showed the six recycling bins 'pon which I frowned
Then, what should my starry eyes see,
But a miniature Bentley, and eight bitching MPs,

With a publicly-funded driver armed with a stick,
I knew in a moment it was Iain Duncan Smith.
More rapid than eagles his outriders they came,
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name:

"Rant THRASHER! Rave DORRIES! Gnash, GOVE and GIDEON!
Smear, GRAYLING! Lie, STUPID! Spin, BONE and PICKLES!
To the top of the stairwell! To the top of their wall!
Now smash away! Smash away! Smash away all!"

Like publicly-funded gravy trains can fly,
And if meet with objection do rant live on Sky,
So up to the rooftop the MPs they flew,
With the car full of that damned Duncan Smith too.

And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof
Their prancing and pawing and a series of 'OOF's.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Down the cold chimney IBS came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all garnished in diamonds and loot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a millionaire, which he was for a fact.

His eyes - how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up in a grin,
A happier rich git you never have seen.

I was hungry and tired, so gritted my teeth,
And stopped myself killing him with our Lidl Christmas wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was self-righteous and plump, a right annoying sight,
And snuck out some figures on a cold Monday night;
He said that to help people like us more,
He was taking £137 a month from the hard-working poor;

He spoke not a word but went straight to his work,
Took all the stockings and taxed my beer, what a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up our dead chimney he rose;

He sprang to his Bentley, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like they'd sat on a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight:

"Universal Credit will help you be more independent,
And will simplify the benefits system by making it redundant,
Paying fewer people less with one simple move,
Teaching you all that there's nothing you can prove,

"If you're sick, sacked or caring, I don't give a toss,
If you're part-time or parents or widowed - you're dross;
I'll stop all your money, disabled or not,
And if you don't die I'll just let you rot.

"You should be rich, don't you see,
Because then just like loan sharks you'd be totally free!
No taxes, no trouble, and an unmandated right
To shout: 'STUFF CHRISTMAS YOU PLEBS, AND HAVE A GOOD NIGHT!

Balls to you all.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Time waits for no man.

IT'S so easy to forget the date sometimes.

I mean, you always know what day of the week it is, or at least roughly which bit of the week you're in. Even if you wake up face down in a field wearing a clown costume you can tell this must be the weekend, or a Monday morning because Monday mornings are always bad.

But if in the future someone invented time travel and misprogrammed the flux capacitor so that they found themselves in Reigate right now, they wouldn't know what year it was.

They could wander around and work out from the temperature it was winter, and from the clothes it was some point after petticoats went out of fashion, but if they picked up a newspaper (completely ignoring the date printed on the front) and had a little read they wouldn't know when they were.

On the one hand it seems to be the 1970s, with football hooligans wreaking havoc, tossing coins at mixed race football players, being racist and generally making the beautiful game the kind of war zone we all thought was long past.

Elsewhere it looks like some time before Magna Carta, because a man convicted of rape who served his sentence and should have been released in 2002 has, instead, been in jail ever since. Stuff Habeas Corpus, we now lock up people for the crime of being from a country we think we're too nice to send them back to.

Then we've got children playing the age-old game of 'you show me yours and I'll show you mine' apparently infected by something not unlike the plague of 1348 with an epidemic of sexting sweeping the nations' schools and perverting everyone under the age of 12.

On top of all that the ruling class are lining their own pockets and writing their own rules about how that is allowed while at the same time demanding everyone else be open, transparent, genuinely accountable and independently regulated.

The government are trying to bring in a spy network that would have made Elizabeth I raise her eyebrows while outlawing the poor in a way she'd have been quite impressed by. Gropey men who may have earned slap from a grown woman in 1982 are being investigated by police probing a paedophile scandal no-one, but no-one, has yet been able to explain.

A Muslim man who's not been convicted of anything has been forced to leave his home, new census data is going to be used to herald the end of Britain as we know it and there seems to be serious discussion about whether gays are human beings.

I get confused about what year we're in all the time, so heaven knows what a misdirected time traveller would think. I suppose if you take an average it's probably somewhere in the 17th century, although whether it's before we revolted or after we decided to cancel all the fun I couldn't hazard a guess.

But then if we're feeling the effects of Puritanism before we've had the Civil War that would mean we're going backwards through time, which would at least explain Ashley Cole.

Unfortunately Einstein's not here to explain how that would work, and as we've long reversed past the time of his birth he's not about to reappear and help us figure it out. In fact science-wise we're probably about to start relying on plants.

So what do we do? Give up, and drift about on the sands of time as history endlessly repeats itself, pundits reheat the outrage they first served up a decade ago, and people wail and wheel from one disaster to another like peasants unable to scratch their own name in the dirt?

It's a radical thought but we could always tell ourselves it's the 21st century, and wise the hell up.

We could decide that if our children need mobile phones it's up to their parents to turn off picture messaging on the account which they're in charge of. Sexting's only an epidemic if children are paying their own bills; until then, it's just parents being inept.

We could wonder why children talk about sex earlier than they used to, and perhaps the answer would be because the adults all talk about it more as well. If you want the offspring not to look at porn, ask for or send pictures or treat each other as objects then it might be an idea to see how much of that seems to be normal to adults, and whether it is quietly noted by smaller people.

We could start acting like football is a fairly simple game, that it's not for racist, stupid, drunken, coin-throwing, pitch-invading, swearing and abusive idiots and that it would, frankly, be better without a lot of the footballers, too.

We could prosecute MPs whose actions seem to most people to constitute fraud, only lock up criminals proved beyond all reasonable doubt to deserve it, chillax about skin colour and realise that the definition of marriage has changed significantly over the years along with procreation. By law churches have to marry anyone who asks, with the right to opt out in cases such as divorced couples, and gay marriage would be no different. If they want to marry and the vicar wants to do it no-one from the 21st century gives much of a toss.

But then all that would involve acting like grown-ups, travelling in a forward motion, evolving as a result of our mistakes and getting wiser every day.

The fact we've been doing that quite successfully for millions of years appears to be no reason to continue, even though as a direct result we have fountain pens and Hob Nobs and drugs that stop cancer.

There may be some things about the modern world you don't like, humanity, but the trouble with going backwards is that eventually you reverse into the swamp on your hands and knees.

 Rather you than me.













Monday, 10 December 2012

My guide on how to survive...

... the Christmas party season, using science and eggs and Olympic-style training techniques, can be read on the Daily Mirror website here.

Remember to limber up first!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Today's blog...

... is about why wealth and fame are not all they're cracked up to be, and can be read on the Daily Mirror website here.

Sweet dreams x

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

I'm a Royal - Get Me Out Of Here!

IT'S TWINS!

It's a boy! It's a girl! She's eight weeks, six weeks, ten weeks gone! He's tense, he wears trainers, he smiles. It'll last for two weeks or the whole pregnancy, she doesn't want an army of nannies but might have one or two, newspapers have chosen the godparents and bookies have picked the name!

We've known Kate is pregnant for about five minutes and despite the fact the embryo has fewer cells than Lewisham nick it's already driven the planet dotty.

Several people have announced they knew she was pregnant when she cut her hair. Others presume that Kate would want or appreciate the congratulations of convicted girl band thugs. And apparently her greatest challenge won't be the vomiting or the childbirth, it will be what to wear for the next eight months.

I'm sure we can all imagine her, propped up in a hospital bed on a drip but with still-glossy hair, flicking casually through swatches and planning her wardrobe, with occasional breaks for a ladylike retch into a silver spittoon held by a bewigged footman.

COME ON. She's green at the gills, terrified and no-one's done her hair for a week! She can't keep water down, is barely used to the idea of being pregnant herself and if she's managed to focus one eye out the window to see the TV cameras outside is probably coming to terms with the fact that her plumbing will be a matter of international fascination for the duration.

In her shoes I'd be weighing up hysterectomies and running off to live in a cave somewhere.

And don't go blaming all this bonkersness on newspapers. Yes, there's been more words written about something which hasn't even drawn breath yet than are probably in all of Shakespeare's plays, and yes a fair number of them are barking mad, calling for Charles to step aside, predicting what the 22nd century will be like and agonising over who gets to pick the heir if it's twins and there's a Caesarean.

But stick your head into any pub, coffee shop or office and much the same insane speculation is going on. Have a look at the internet, if you dare, where chat forums and comment boards which at the best of times are a psychoanalyst's nightmare have managed, somehow, to get more mad.

This is a nation which, by and large, disdains the idea that one person can be born better than others. Black or white, rich or poor, the British prefer a spot of equality, the right to speak and be heard, and think those who rise above the common herd need to earn it.

Yet here you all are getting feverish about a baby which if it survives will be the scion of a German-Dutch ruling dynasty which genuinely believes, if you read the small print, to have been chosen by God, enjoys immense unearned privilege, and that they own all the swans.

If you want mad, that's a reasonable definition right there. Another would be a nation of grown-ups going along with the whole thing, and a third would be arguing that we should pick the most suitable member of the family to wear the crown because the next one in line isn't pretty enough. Monarchies don't work that way!

At the same time a man of quite reasonable privilege himself is going to stand up in the House of Commons today and announce more spending cuts because he's got his sums wrong. We'll be told that people who don't work and live off the state are abhorrent while at the same time the Duchess of Cambridge should be applauded for producing someone who's going to spend their whole life on benefits.

Now, let's not be mean. Good luck to the little sprat because it's going to need it. Maybe the monarchy will implode before it gets to rule and maybe he or she will be the greatest figurehead our nation's ever known. Kate's a sweet enough girl, although I wish like hell she'd had a job and a life and an opinion or two to call her own.

No the problem here is billions of people - not just Britain but all over the planet - thinking this is firstly wonderful, and secondly part of their own lives.

It's not wonderful a woman without any obvious character traits - positive or negative - is held up as an example for others to follow. It's not amazing the only thing people can think of to write about her is what she will wear or do with her hair. It's sad, it's depressing, it's teaching young girls that what they do and think doesn't matter.

And while it's understandable other expectant couples, or parents who've had the same worry at such early stages, would identify with a high-profile pair experiencing the same gut-churning fear it doesn't mean you know them.

It's the fact people identified so closely with, and took to their hearts, the young Princess Elizabeth when she became queen at 25 that meant her family was seen as our family, with all the attention and gossip about private matters which comes with it. Her coronation was the first to be televised, she speaks to us all at Christmas, we got invited to her children's weddings and watched their divorces unfold.

There were daughters-in-law we liked and some we didn't, there are grandchildren who seem more worthwhile than the others, and with a Royal Family treated like a soap opera not just by newspapers but on television, at their own public appearances and by millions of obsessed fans all over the planet we have created modern celebrities from an outdated system of, face it, tyranny.

That celebrity, and the crazed flower-chucking, name-squealing, fainting delight that it brings to many, is probably the only reason we still have kings and queens at all. We would no more choose to get rid of the shiny-haired, white-toothed rich people we enjoy imagining we have something in common with than we would have decommissioned Dallas had that decision been ours to make.

Kate is no different to Pam Barnes - seen as being a bit common and upstart by the family of oil barons she married into, but from a pretty wealthy family herself well above the common herd, and more importantly a sweet heroine until you wonder why she was so thick as to get involved with the Ewings in the first place.

The difference is that a real soap opera can be turned off, we can obsess about the actors who play the parts in the knowledge they have sought and exploited fame, and they can't do us any harm. A royal family consists of people who don't always appreciate the attention and who didn't all choose it, and they can't turn it off any more than we can.

They talk to prime ministers, fire off letters to members of the Cabinet, and manage to send half the planet mad with a wave of their hand.

Perhaps that's all fine if they're overseen by a kind Miss Ellie but anyone who gave JR that kind of power would have to be insane.

And the thing with babies - and monarchs - is that you don't get to choose.

You get what you're given.




Monday, 3 December 2012

Consume or try.

IT'S that time of year again.

The season when we are urged to spend money we don't have on things we don't want while eating food we don't like and living with the people we don't like enough to live with all the time.

But before we get to enjoy the hot waft of partially-digested sprouts, the forced jollity of an exchange of slippers (with the receipt, just in case) and quite possibly the driest roasted meat it's possible to be faced with, there is the festive shopping spree.

Not that the spree is of anyone actually shopping. No, the spree that always sprays at this time of year is the PR blitz of businesses talking themselves and their products up as much as possible so people will buy them.

The 'must-have toy' fetish; the 'ONLY TWENTY DAYS LEFT' terror.

Let's forget the fact we've had a double-dip recession, all the new jobs the government's been crowing about are part-time and thanks to exceeding our borrowing again we're about to face more public sector cuts and a tax relief raid on pensions.

Let's entirely ignore the past two years in which we've been told repeatedly that as a nation we've lived beyond our means, as individuals we've relied on an inflated housing market, credit cards and loans, and let's spend, spend, spend.

For today is Cyber Monday, or Mega Monday, or whatever other name PRs wish to give the first Monday of December, when if you believe the hype £10,000 will be spent online every second visiting 115million stores and spending £465million.

Let's not notice the fact that Visa - which administers the majority of UK credit and debit transactions online - says its customers will be making 6.8m transactions, which means either online shoppers buy less than 10 per cent of what they look at or the hype is, er, just hype.

And let's especially not notice the entirely-unrelated-to-the-hype recent scandals about how the biggest online shopping giants don't pay all the tax their customers might imagine they do, and that there have been calls to boycott Amazon and eBay as a result.

The two things are probably entirely unrelated, like sprouts and peas. Just because they're round and green doesn't mean they spring from the same branch. The same is true of tax-avoiding corporations winding up the PR campaign to make them sound popular after several months of bad publicity, because to be frank they do the same thing every Christmas.

Not linked at all - just very convenient, like shifting your head office to Luxembourg.

It's all a matter of jurisdictions and theoretical, nominated thingummybobs which means it's not the company's fault if they pay less than you might expect - it's down to the way the system is organised.

Like Amazon generating between £2billion and £3bn a year in sales in the UK but paying no corporation tax in this country, and eBay paying about one fiftieth of the tax it probably owed (but we don't really know for sure, because they don't tell us). Not their fault, but ours for not picking politicians prepared to tear up the tax code and start again.

And if they make billions - well, that's our fault too. It's because it's too dark, cold and busy to go to the shops and actually walk around them, interacting with other human beings, sniffing the roasted chestnuts and returning home victorious with the booty we have personally checked wasn't broken, would actually fit and was the right colour, or had to fight a granny to get our hands on.

We'd far rather sit at home on a branded laptop looking at the top three search results from the biggest firms and buy something which takes zero effort or thought and is delivered to the door pre-wrapped. All we have to do is shuffle from the sofa to pick it up, stick it under the tree and if it's broken, too pink or too small we'll just send it back in the New Year at our own expense.

And because of that the gravy and the potatoes and the brandy butter sit on our backsides and bellies and we expand while the High Street is starved, with one in seven shops which do pay corporation tax boarded up and 32 closing down every day, their staff on the dole and the tax receipts winking out of existence as warehouses sprawl across industrial estates and we sprawl upon the sofa.

Christmas, unless you're about seven, is hell on a stick to start with. It's farts and fights and fannying about with fruit, and it really doesn't need to be made any worse by contributing to our own financial woes by giving what little cash we have to people who give us a more convenient but unutterably more drab shopping 'experience' at the expense of giving us anything much in return.

When we all get fat and stuck in our chairs like the human exiles of Wall-E, remember that when we need the help of the welfare system it won't exist if our corporations all shift online and headquarter themselves in the Cayman Islands, and if we keep clicking that's exactly what they'll do.

We won't get a state-funded rocket ship, flying chairs or personal TV screens. We'll just get left on that sofa, with only the pizza delivery man to chat to.

Stuff Mega Monday like it's a turkey you really resent. Write a list, get off your arse, and get down the shops.

Granny will get the Lego set if you don't.


Friday, 30 November 2012

Today the internet...

... itself comes under scrutiny by me for the Daily Mirror which you can read here.

Have a nice weekend, and lay off the cat videos.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Not news.

HELLO, and here is a round-up of today's news from approved newspapers.

* The war in Afghanistan is going well, with Taliban insurgents being killed alongside young children who were being inducted into their evil regime. American troops are seen rescuing a duck from a well, which they have christened 'Mustafa' as part of their hearts-and-minds campaign. A budget analysis of the billions spent so far show all soldiers have had adequate kit and equipment, but public sector-supplied spanners have rocketed to £500-a-pop and the Defence Secretary is threatening to seek new spanners from private suppliers he is friends with.

* A girl has gone missing. We can't tell you anything else.

* A man has been arrested and held for questioning for three days over murdered Bristol architect Joanna Yeates, police said at a press conference. Detectives were unwilling to comment on why they later released him without charge, but thanks to the police everyone knows who it was.

* Journalists repeating unsubstantiated claims that the 1989 Hillsborough disaster was a cover-up orchestrated by senior police officers have been jailed. Calls for an independent inquiry by relatives of the dead were described as "baseless" and "grossly defamatory" by civil servants from regulator Ofpress, who gave evidence against the journalists.

* A man was arrested outside Scotland Yard during an unauthorised protest in which he alleged the Met Police were institutionally racist. The man, who was black, racially abused white officers involved with the Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor murder inquiries, which have never been resolved. He was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

* There is no news about phone-hacking, which doesn't exist.

* A statue was unveiled today to the late Sir Jimmy Savile, who was smeared after his death as a paedophile. The majority of false allegations were reported in the tabloid press, which caused 300 people to be charged with wasting police time. The statue was unveiled by Jonathan King, the pop impresario, who said he was glad never to have experienced the slurs of "child abuse fantasists and journalists".

* Pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge topless on holiday have been printed, as is possible in all countries with a state-regulated media.

* Dean Gaffney has become a brand. We're very sorry about this, there's nothing we can do.

* A very rich man today won a big-money libel action at the High Court in London. Lord Dibdob says he was devastated at allegations he shot foxes on his country estate, and will separately sue animal rights campaigners for invasion of his privacy, trespass, and illegal journalism for videoing him without his permission. Lord Dibdob said the 17 foxes he was seen firing at over six hours while drinking brandy as they were tethered above his ha-ha were put down on the medical advice of his nanny.

* A separate attempt by animal rights campaigners to sue Lord Dibdob has failed to raise any public funds to pay for a court action and has been shelved. Calls for Legal Aid to be introduced for defamation actions were rejected by government ministers, who said poor people don't matter.

* Members of Parliament have voted for a new expenses and payment regime which evens out unfairness in the system. The new regime, hailed as more transparent and open than ever before, means all MPs will be paid an undisclosed seven-figure salary enabling them to live in a five-bedroom apartment within a mile of Westminster, complete with staff, furniture and food. There is an improved pension package too after a number of MPs barricaded themselves in the Commons bar and demanded better terms and conditions.

* Moves are afoot to make the internet illegal. Computer and smartphone sales dropped off after new laws were introduced demanding everyone with internet access consult a lawyer first, but judges say a "determined underclass" persist in surfing the "blackmarket net" with unapproved information disseminated among young people with devastating consequences, leading to depression, alcoholism, and underground journalism which can be highly addictive.

* And finally, Hugh Grant has been publicising his new film 'OH CRIKEY' in which he plays a new father who tries to make the world a perfect place, with unintentionally hilarious consequences. In one scene his character tries to gag and blindfold everyone in Britain in case they swear. "It's what any reasonable person would do," he laughed.

And that's today's approved news. If you want unapproved news, we can't help you!

Sleep well.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Love me like you used to do.

WHAT would you do if you could turn back time?

Ban Cher from singing about it, maybe. Right a wrong, say something you never did, stop a loved one dying.

Me, I'd go back to the point where I could find the individuals primarily responsible for causing the phone-hacking scandal (and who I won't name, because their convictions should be water-tight if and when they happen), tie them up in a basement somewhere and explain, before they start, why they should behave better.

I'd point out the hundreds of journalists who lost their jobs for something they'd never done; the thirty thousand or so print journalists in local and national papers fighting to restore reputations all tainted by association; and the fact people are threatening closing time at the Last Chance Saloon.

Perhaps I need to have more things in my life outside work, but I'm not a person who indulges in personal regrets and if I could just persuade those few irks to do different perhaps it would help improve millions of lives rather than just mine.

If they had been more thoughtful, we would never have heard again from Paul McMullan, a man who left Fleet Street in the same year I arrived in it and was regarded as something of an unusual specimen even by the oldest hands with the inkiest souls.

If they had been better, Milly Dowler's family could be angry with Levi Bellfield for killing their daughter, for his defence barrister for dragging their sex lives through a public courtroom, and with Surrey Police which mishandled the murder inquiry from day one, briefed journalists the father was responsible, and failed to investigate the News of the World in 2002 when its staff told officers they had listened to her voicemail.

We could have been spared the sight of Jonathan King being listened to by one of the nation's top judges as though he were a reasonable man instead of a pervert sentenced to seven years after exploiting his celebrity to bugger young boys.

We would not have had to listen to politicians in search of votes furiously demanding an inquiry, then before it's even published a report furiously denouncing it after realising it might suggest something which would cost them votes.

And more importantly than anything else, the 20 to 30 million people who read a newspaper in this country every day would not face the prospect of those newspapers needing to be officially approved in some respect before they're allowed to read them, something which at its unimaginable worst could damage and harm every single person, business, and institution in the country.

But we have had all those things, and there's not much we can do about them now. Campaigners against the Press demand and get personal meetings with the Prime Minister to fight their case, foreign journalists are pointing out the Press in other countries follows our model and any regulation will be seized on by tyrants, and just about everyone gets to shout the odds apart from people like me.

Oh, editors get to write leader columns and columnists get to pontificate. I mean your average foot-soldier - the person who is not management, not an award-winning pet of the boss, just a hack who gets out of bed every day to do something others dislike because they think someone ought to - doesn't get a say.

A normal journalist, whether it's local or national newspapers, has to have a degree of anonymity if they are to do their job properly. They need to sit unobtrusively in council meetings, pubs, car parks, and courtrooms. They need to take note without being noted themselves, and you can't do that if you're on the evening news fending off Steve Coogan.

So it's down to the figureheads to earn their money and do the speaking for all of us, and a few have. There are others who can't be bothered, perhaps because they're happy to take the money and glory of an industry they do not wish to admit being part of, and perhaps because they're so far up their own ivory tower they can't see what it's like for the plebs.

I cannot speak for others: but I'll tell you what I reckon.

I reckon the Leveson Inquiry was a mis-timed bit of theatre which was supposed to look at the culture and ethics of an entire trade but shone a light mainly on the bits which were old, screwy and defunct. I reckon it accepted opinions as fact, didn't ask the right questions and I'm pretty certain several people misled it.

I reckon most of us, journalists and civilians alike, wanted an inquiry which would explain how and why Milly's phone, among thousands of others, was hacked. Personally I'd like to see the journalists who commissioned the work, the person who did the deed, the phone companies which enabled it, the police who failed to investigate it, each hauled up in front of Robert Jay and torn a new one.

That didn't happen, because for the first time I can think of the inquiry was held before the associated court cases. That mis-timing reduced Leveson to looking at everything but the one, glaring mistake which caused such public disgust we got the inquiry in the first place.

The court cases are taking their sweet time, so perhaps this was the quickest way; but it is inarguable that because of the speed at which it was organised we may never get the answers we all want.

Three witnesses from phone companies spoke about a few dozen hacking victims and they've now improved their security. But for how long did they know security was flawed, how come the police say there's thousands of hacking victims, and how much have they been sued for? Private detectives told Leveson they need regulation, and the report Surrey Police is delayed until at least the end of the year and maybe 2014.

Some evidence was honestly given, but nevertheless mistaken. Kate McCann talked about the upsetting experience of being driven through a scrum of photographers outside her home after her daughter Madeleine disappeared. She said they had intentionally tapped on the car windows with their camera lenses, frightening her two other children, to get them to look up and snatch a picture of tear-stained faces.

I don't doubt that was the impression Kate got, but as most photographers are freelance and buy their own kit which costs more than £20,000, they're unlikely to smack a moving car with it.

I've never seen a snapper treat their camera with anything but tender loving care. I've seen scrums where the blokes at the back surge forward and the bloke in front get shoved against a car, and it inevitably leads to a smashed lens and a very angry photographer. Scrums, when you've got police press officers and your own media liaison to keep everyone in line, shouldn't happen. If they did there are more than just the snappers to blame for those tear-stained children.

Charlotte Church spoke about how she came to distrust all her friends, and that stories about her could "not have come from any other area" but phone-hacking.

When she said that I was sitting next to a pal who worked on a different newspaper. We looked at each other, laughed, and shared the names of half a dozen of Charlotte's friends who sold stories to hacks. One even sold a yarn about how she was feeding fake stories to friends to see if they could be trusted. Anyone who did hack her phone was just throwing time and money down the drain.

Ann Diamond said she'd been told to watch out for eavesdropping bugs in bunches of flowers delivered by journalists after the cot death of her son Sebastian in 1991. I'm sure she was told that, but in 1991 the battery pack required to run a listening device for more than ten minutes would have been the size of a house brick. The bunches of flowers were given to express sympathy and try to get a story, not hide something which would have weighed half a stone.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers announced she had decided for herself what public interest was, and the senior police officers who socialised with newspaper executives were not asked about the one thing senior officers generally do, in my experience, which is exploit those links to corrupt the truth.

It was originally reported George Osborne would not be cross-examined. When he did appear he was not asked about his links to a dominatrix which appeared on the front of two newspapers. A prime opportunity to ask a politician about his relationship with the Press and exposure of his private life which were the principle areas Leveson was supposed to be looking at; but for some reason no-one did. Isn't that odd?

They're all minor points perhaps, but when they add up it formed a misrepresentation which, had a journalist been responsible for it, would have called for a clarification at the very least.

A few glitches aside, the inquiry could have had an argument about what it is or is not reasonable to report about celebrity private lives, the report could outline where privacy ends and secrecy begins, it could resolve what to do about the internet, our 13th century libel laws which mean only the rich can protect their reputations and it could define the public interest.

It bet you it won't do any of those things, which is a shame because if it did it could clean up a lot of mess. But that wasn't the aim - the inquiry was always intended to be a quick bloodletting, kicking the Press while soothing the powerful, with a result which doesn't change too much.

And now we've got everyone mouthing off about what that result should be, before we actually know, and without taking notice of a few basic points.

No extra law could make the hacking of Milly Dowler's voicemail more illegal than it already was.

There is no way that a missing girl, whether in Walton-on-Thames or Portugal, would not get blanket media coverage and the sense of intrusion that involves.

Any British couple made suspects in a foreign country or reported on as suspected killers by a foreign Press will see those claims repeated here like the McCanns did, and any man's personal proclivities announced in a public court of law will become public knowledge just as Bob Dowler's were. And there is no law which can make the loss of your daughter any easier to deal with.

More rules would not make the treatment of Chris Jefferies much different. Police wrongly arrested a short, skinny, older man physically incapable of strangling the tall, athletic girl whose killer they were hunting and held him for three days over New Year when there was no other news.

Several papers broke the law in reporting it in such a way as to make him sound guilty, but others still used his picture and details for days which, as Lord McAlpine claims, even if you are proved innocent leads some people to think you were involved anyway. Pictures and names of people arrested in high-profile murder cases and confirmed by the police cannot be made illegal.

Because of this scandal, we already have better corrections, a more careful Press, and more threats against journalists when they displease people, too.

The only thing more rules would change is that people would be too scared to tell journos things their bosses would rather they didn't. Like leaking details of the phone-hacking inquiry, for example, because with more state control we wouldn't have heard any of this.

More rules about what you can't say can only make it harder to tell the truth. Leveson's aim was not supposed to make that more difficult than it already is.

A friend of mine rang today and said: "Honestly, what a waste of time and money. What's it going to change? We're not all phone-hackers. They should nick the bad ones, bang 'em up, and let the rest of us get on with it. How hard can it be?"

And in the absence of a time machine, I can't see a better option. For you or for me.






Monday, 26 November 2012

Think on.

THE problem with the thought police has never been that they think too much.

They don't have a uniform, or a warrant card, or rules. Its members join in whenever they feel like giving someone a shoeing. And the only way you can identify the thought police is their lack of any actual thought.

They don't ponder the rights and wrongs of a situation first. They don't seek a consensus of opinion so they know they're in the right. They just get out the truncheons and wade in, policing all over the place like Gene Hunt on a bad day without at any point engaging brain.

That's why three foster children in desperate need of a loving family were taken from a Rotherham couple who voted for a political party that social workers didn't like.

That's why a white woman who'd fostered half a dozen children and raised four of her own successfully was told she'd never be able to adopt a black girl she'd looked after from the age of two months.

It's why a narrow group of individuals want millions of people not to be able to read popular newspapers they disapprove of; it's why we give £270million in foreign aid to Rwanda even when the UN thinks the president's a warmonger; it's why calling someone Australian is apparently now racist.

It's why idiots on Twitter are subjected to 3am police raids, why Facebook posts can land you in jail, because thoughts that just aren't fashionable are somehow considered 'bad thoughts'.

There are no rules against any person voting for anyone they fancy in this country, nor reading any newspaper, associating with people of different race or religion, or writing thoughts which go against the grain on Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else.

A social worker - and anyone else for that matter - may support whichever political party they fancy, from BNP thugs to the stinky hippy Socialist Workers.

A white person may have babies with a black person, or become a step-parent, and raise children of a different racial background to either of them without the state intervening and taking them away because their ethnic mix doesn't 'colour match'.

You are allowed to walk to the paper shop and pick up whichever one takes your fancy, panders to your needs best or interests you without a self-appointed campaigner telling you that your choice doesn't meet with their approval.

But you and I can do all those things only so long as we conform to the general fashion. If you do it in such a way that does not meet with mass approval then you'd best do them with a bag over your head and not shout about it or you'll be beasted by Twitter, Hugh Grant or social services whether it's merited or not.

Social conformity is one of the many things which keep human beings generally in line - it's why we don't all put our clothes on backwards, walk around naked or burn the neighbours' house down. It's a good thing, most of the time, to try to fit in socially.

But individual conformity, forcing someone to fit in mentally on pain of prosecution or persecution, is always a bad idea and not so much the thin end of the wedge as a giant leap towards state control of the very thoughts in our heads. The King of Bahrain jails people for being rude, and these days so do we.

If you make the mistake of voicing thoughts which do not comply with the fashionable view you will be told that you're narrow-minded by people so narrow-minded themselves they can't bear the thought of you thinking differently to them.

If they stopped to think for a minute, they'd realise that's not freedom. It's how every totalitarian regime ever to scar the Earth began, and it's a really bad idea. Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if the thought police got their way.

Whether you like UKIP or not, if no-one voted for them there wouldn't be a debate about immigration and there's no reason not to have the debate about how much is a reasonable level and how much is too much for a small island to cope with.

If no-one was able to look after children of a different cultural background to themselves that would logically mean that inter-racial relationships were illegal and all nurseries and schools had to segregate different ethnicities among pupils and staff. I'm pretty certain they tried that in South Africa and it didn't go down well.

If you could only read a newspaper that met with the approval of the state and never kicked the powerful up the bum or entertained a living soul with a funny picture it would be called Pravda and, what's more, your taxes would be used to pay for it.

And if you can't refer to the country someone is from without breaking the law then we can't say who the Queen is Queen of, mention that Billy Connolly and porridge oats are Scottish, and we won't be buying English Breakfast Tea any more either.

The thought police didn't use to matter much, but there are more thoughts expressed these days and they are easier to see and hear. There are on social media, on comments below internet articles, and handed out on 24-hour news channels in discussion of the stories of the day.

Because we see more thoughts than we are used to we are taking more offence at the slightest thing without stopping to think whether we need to bother.

The thought police, you see, are not just dippy social workers or over-aggressive coppers; they're you and me, the general public who kick off whenever something upsets them without stopping to wonder where it will lead.

Too much policing and not enough thought leads, always, to a society where everyone thinks the same and if they don't they're too scared to say so.

It ends up that there are no fashions, no passing trends in thought or politics or anything else, just the suppression of every single sort of difference and criminalising of things which someone, somewhere, thinks is not the norm.

The fact is, it's normal to be different. It's normal to be imperfect, to think for yourself, choose your newspaper and vote how you please without someone telling you it's wrong.

It's not normal to shut down other people's mental processes, and nor is it free. Not only is it expensive paying for all those jackboots, the cost to our society as a whole is we lose all the imperfections which are what force us to be free and fair in the first place.

Now, there's an unpleasant thought.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Gideon's financial wizardry...

... is the topic of today's post which can be read on the Daily Mirror website here.

I recommend having an aspirin and a strong drink on hand before you read it. Possibly also a punch bag.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hysterical.

NOW, don't get upset, girls. It's only rape.

It's a sign you're attractive, you're wanted, that you can fit in, and have male approval. It's because you dress a certain way, drink too much, go out too often, or because your menfolk don't stop you doing those things.

It's not your fault, of course, but it's just a bit of fun. You like it really. And if you're a bit too young or a bit too troubled well, you've got to learn the lesson sometime. And we'll look after you, and we won't hurt you more than we absolutely have to, if you're good and don't tell a soul.

Because if you do tell anyone they're not going to believe you. Not you, from the children's home, nor you, whose parents don't pay much notice. Not you, who the police are already fed up with, nor you, who had a drunken row with her boyfriend and walked home through the park on her own.

Even if you're white, middle-aged, middle-class, speak the right way to the right people and were stone-cold sober wearing sensible shoes and corduroy while walking the dog one winter afternoon, no-one will think it possible a whole gang of people raped, stabbed, beat you and left you for dead.

People think that sort of thing just doesn't happen, because it doesn't get reported and when it does no-one believes them. So when you run off screaming to the police they'll write it down because they have to, then roll their eyes at each other about another silly girl who's got herself in a pickle. If you've been sensible enough not to scrub all sign of him away and there's a bit of forensic evidence the geeks might mess it up or drop it, and if it gets as far as a jury you'll be accused of lying, whoring, stupidity and mental illness.

Much better, when you're raped, to pull your knickers back up, go home and get on with things. Tell yourself you were stupid to get in that situation, and he was only doing what you gave him the opportunity to.

Maybe after a few years pass, you grow up a bit, have time to think, and worry that man will do it again to you or to someone else or learn that he already has, so pluck up the courage to complain, the very government of this noble country of ours will tell you it is the fantasy of an ovary-driven, inferior mind.

When 2,409 children were found by the Deputy Children's Commissioner (who's a woman) to have been sexually abused by gangs in the space of just 14 months - and that these figures were grossly under-reported and many police forces did not bother to keep proper records - official spokesmen (who are men) dismissed it as "hysterical" and "highly emotional".

They told journalists it was "difficult to overstate the contempt" with which they regarded the claims by the report's author and, by extension, the children who said they were raped.

Rape, you see, is nothing to do with rape. No no no, it's because of the colour of someone's skin, the behaviour of the female complaining, Page 3 girls' two-dimensional breasts. It's a political football, something with which it is possible for those with a cause to hit their opponents where it hurts, which is never their vagina.

Don't like Muslims? Let's bang on about rape. Don't like breasts? Let's bang on about rape. Want to bash the police because they've been irritating you? Well I've got an idea, let's bang on about rape.

Let's not, at any point, actually pay any attention to people like Teegan, raped from the age of 12 by a Turkish man who had befriended her, threatened her family, beat her and sold her on to others for £500 an hour, along with other girls whose photographs and ages were included in a special rape catalogue given to the 'customers'.

Let's not listen to Shaida, 17, abused by a family member, threatened with a forced marriage to cover up her 'shame', attacked by older men she turned to for help, then beaten for being pregnant.

Let's ignore Rebecca, 15, a virgin bullied by a gang of girls into submitting to rape by a boy in the school toilets while he filmed it on his phone.

The only contempt it is difficult to overstate is that with which rape victims are regarded by our government, judiciary, police, politicians, general public and everyone else with an axe to grind.

We have just witnessed a massive scandal, which is yet to be resolved, relating to sexual offences never reported, never acted on, and never accepted as true from as far back as 1959 and linked to hospitals, children's homes, hospitals, prisons for the criminally insane, Parliament and the state broadcaster.

And why in the name of everlasting hell do you think it took us so long to find out about it?

It's not because anyone involved was Asian. It's not because it's all the fault of glamour models or immigrants.

It's because it doesn't happen to men in suits, uniforms, and judicial robes as often as it happens to women and girls who don't have a cat in hell's chance of protecting themselves from something they should never have to protect themselves from in the first place.

It's because there are men and boys who are not ever told that they should not do those things and will get in trouble if they do.

There are millions of men who are Asian, Muslim, or look at glamour models' pictures. They do not all go on to rape anyone as a result, so to say their genes, faith or habits cause rape is illogical and based on fear, not fact.

Of the 1,514 attackers of 2,409 children, 545 were white, 415 were Asian, 244 were black, 49 were mixed race and the rest were 'other' or undisclosed. But seeing as that information came from only 20 police forces while 19 didn't bother to provide a single statistic to the report's authors those proportions cannot be relied on, and even those that did have not detailed offenders' faiths.

Men and boys rape women and girls because they want to control them. They want to subjugate them so they can prostitute them, they want to make themselves feel strong, they want to attack something they dislike - they want, and they take.

The few people who behave that way do so because the courts let men who film up women's skirts walk free. They do it because the police expected to investigate properly can't always be bothered. They do it because the Crown Prosecution Service thinks females who talk to newspapers must be lying. They do it because rape is blamed on skin, faith, drink, broken homes and broken minds.

They do it because the judges, police, politicians, spin doctors, government and yes, journalists too, propagate the idea that rape is about pretty much anything except bad men doing bad things because they damn well feel like it and are allowed to get away with it by idiots who dismiss and denigrate it rather than stare it full in the face and say NO.

Perhaps if they did that more often, then when women and girls say no they might actually be listened to. If I were raped, I think I'd deal with it myself rather than rely on the state to do anything useful.

The only hysteria about this report, admittedly a draft but no doubt published to try to shame a few more agencies into coughing up useful statistics they'd rather not for the full version, is the way in which it has been received.

The way fact, logic and common sense about rape and sexual abuse are ignored while mainly men flap about in fear at the sky falling on their heads and try to blame it on everything except the fact the institutions they have built and maintain without wish for change or improvement fail women and children on an industrial scale.

Even when the facts are plain - even when logic tells you the figures are probably worse than we know - men can still laugh it off, kick it into the long grass, or blame it on something they'd like to blame for everything.

It's sort of hysterical, really. I wish the silly, inferior-minded men would realise it's none of those things.

It's only rape.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Naughty, naughty.

JOURNALISTS are naughty. This is both a good and a bad thing.

It makes us the kind of people who persist in poking our noses where they are not wanted no matter how many times they are batted away, and in fact if you bat us away we're naughty enough to decide it must be worth persisting at.

The downside is that, trained and inured as we are to getting around obstreperous police, lying politicians, cheating love rats, criminal thugs and other ne'er-do-wells in which the ends really does justify most of our means, we sometimes behave in precisely that way when we didn't ought to and when the ends don't justify it at all.

Spotting the difference between the two isn't always easy, and even the most honest make mistakes. When a story is denied or legalled out of the paper the journalist who worked on it might refuse to accept they were wrong, pursue it long past the point of reason and will insist on their deathbed the little sod was bang to rights.

Sometimes they have genuinely stumbled upon a scandal; other times they are blind to the fact they were simply wrong.

This obsessive tendency, combined with our naughtiness, is something that doesn't earn us any friends, can lead to some stunning cock-ups, and more often than not is directed at people who are naughtier than us. So long as that happens 51 per cent of the time or more, it's a creditable deal.

There are other parts of society which cannot boast the same proportions nor offset their occasional bad behaviour against the public benefits of their continued existence.

Take Chris Moyles, for example, the recently-replaced Radio 1 DJ. You may like him or not, but it would be hard to argue the £500,000-a-year breakfast show he fronted for eight years investigated anything or stopped anyone doing things they shouldn't.

Newspapers don't do those things all the time, of course, and DJs can sometimes; but radio shows rarely come near that justification threshold of 51 per cent.

Anyway, Moyles was entertaining and maybe worth the public money he was paid by the BBC to bring in new listeners. He became a rich man and then invested in an aggressive tax avoidance scheme so the public who'd paid him didn't get quite the number of school meals and NHS bandages they were expecting from his taxes.

Well, perhaps we'd all do the same, eh? It's down to the rules and the accountants to some extent, so let's not be quick to judge.

Except that at a tax tribunal Moyles' lawyer argued that the public shouldn't get to hear about all this, as it might infringe his human rights.

The judge summarised the argument saying: "If it were to become public knowledge that he availed himself of a tax-avoidance scheme, his career might be damaged and his earning capacity reduced. He is already the focus of media interest for other reasons, much of it hostile."

He added that "adverse media comment" might "breach his right to respect for his private and family life".

Hang on. What about the human right of 62million people to a health service that's not cutting back on the bills, or street cleaners to a new broom now and again? School meals, street lights, filled potholes? And if he is so concerned that involvement in a tax avoidance scheme would be damaging to his reputation why did he, er, not get involved in the first place?

And then he hurls in that celebrity chestnut of 'privacy' when what he actually means is 'secrecy', deployed as a shield against "adverse media comment" that he's a filthy-rich hypocrite happy to earn more than he could reasonably spend and deprive an entire nation of his share of tax while the listeners who earned him that cash pay their whack and he squeals about how mean they will be to him if they know.

Well now we do know, thanks to naughty journalists and a sane judge who refused the request to keep it under wraps. Let the adverse media comment rain down upon him, and we'll await the UK Uncut sit-in on Moyles' doorstep.

But we will be waiting a while for that bit because most of the nation holds celebrities and high-profile people in a sort of unwilling awe. Their opinions about politics (Eddie Izzard), Darfur (George Clooney), media morality (Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan et other immoral al), feminism (Geri Halliwell, inexplicably) are absorbed without much thought as to whether people who stand on a stage and ask to be loved are really qualified to endorse anything other than hairspray.

X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos, for example, is a pretty and successful young woman whose dresses, hair and love life is a source of interest to some. Yesterday her dad Plato - not the Greek philosopher, but let's imagine - spoke out to defend her amid claims she had acquired a new boyfriend before he'd quite finished with his ex.

"What she says is always the truth," he said. "She doesn't lie."

But then she does employ PRs and lawyers. When she was found to have been in a sex tape sold by an ex it was at first roundly denied, with Tulisa's people saying it wasn't her, she'd never allowed anyone to film her at intimate moments, and being quite categoric about it.

Then thanks to naughty journalists it turned out it was her, she had let herself be filmed, and she sued her ex in the High Court before writing about it in her autobiography. Last week her lawyers sent out more legal letters to newspapers about her new boyfriend's ex, over claims there had been an overlap between the two women, while Tulisa was telling someone on Twitter: "Shame ur mum didn't aborted u, bet she thinks about it wen she looks at u now tho!"

At least newspapers show people how to spell.

Tulisa's not blessing us with her opinion on politics, the media or human rights but her use of PR and lawyers to deny the obvious is a trait displayed by plenty of those who do, who generally do more harm than good, and who also want to have more control of what the Press writes. Does it not sound like people in their position have quite enough control already?

The loudest complaints about how naughty journalists are come from people who are naughtier than us, be it misusing the law, asking for special treatment, short-changing the taxpayer or misleading the public about what kind of people they really are.

Nowhere is this fact more obvious than in the Houses of Parliament, a place where many people work hard to do their best and more than that all-important 51 per cent majority manage to do their worst.

Three years ago they were hauled over the coals of public disgust for snuffling £90million from us in free food, homes, sofas, duck houses, repaired tennis courts, pruned wisteria and mortgages.

This year they've so repaired the damage they claimed £89m while rewriting the rules so they could rent from each other for more than it cost for us to buy them houses to start with.

So remorseful are they that, a la Moyles, 51 don't want us to know who their landlords are for 'security' reasons, and others demanded a 50 per cent increase - an INCREASE! - in allowances so they could live within walking distance of Westminster and not have to commute.

I'm sorry, does commuting give you cancer? Is it something only plebs do? And if you're worried that if we know where you live we'll be so angry you won't be safe then HOW ABOUT NOT PISSING US OFF IN THE FIRST PLACE?

I don't give a toss about Tulisa, care anything for Chris Moyles and probably loathe politicians more than is healthy. But generally speaking they're all rich, all trying to bend the truth, and regardless of whether it's sex, cash or fame that's just not on.

There is no-one else who points out people who are admired are less-than-admirable; no-one else who bothers to traipse along to tax tribunals and plough through company reports; and few who can be bothered with Freedom of Information campaigns cross-referenced with the electoral roll and Land Registry. It is just us friendless hacks, by and large.

Journalists are imperfect. We do need someone to watch over us and smack our hands with a ruler now and again, and we need to be held to account for it if laws are broken, fractured or circumvented.

But until celebrities are honest, rich men pay all their taxes, and politicians grow tired of the gravy train, then naughty journalists who become dangerously obsessive and do good only slightly more often than they get it wrong are the best, imperfect, hope we all have that the truth will ever out at least 51 per cent of the time.

It's time we had a break.


* Tulisa's PR and lawyer have asked me to point out this post originally and quite wrongly claimed they had misled the public on her behalf. This was a mistake and referred to allegations made elsewhere they had issued false denials about a story, and has now been edited to remove this implication.
It was not my intention to say her PR or lawyer were acting unprofessionally and I apologise for any false impression it may have given.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Face, meet palm.

IT'S Monday. It's still not Christmas. And everything is buggered.

People being slaughtered, porn everywhere, predatory paedophiles rampant, females storming the Church of England, Special Forces heroes banged up and terrorists skipping free.

And yet at the same time all is exactly as it's always been, because Monday is the day of reheated news. Generally from Sunday, sometimes last Friday, and occasionally from about 800 years ago. Allow me to explain:

1. Missiles are flying between Jews and Arabs. This has happened suddenly, is very worrying, and kills children. Yet it has been happening in one form or another fairly regularly since 1948. That's 64 years of the same news as politicians majestically fail to fix a very tricky problem. What does this teach us? Probably that the missiles should be pointed at politicians, and not before time.

2. Children as young as 10 are being arrested for rape which the NSPCC says is "undoubtedly" linked to online pornography. Maybe, but it's also linked to other things, namely parents who do not block their children's internet use and adults who are so keen on watching porn on the internet themselves that what used to be on the top shelf is now a few taps away on a keyboard. Yet kids have always passed around dirty mags and books, and we didn't all go on to become rapists. What's changed? Only the ability of victims to make a complaint and be taken seriously, which means we have to say it's a good thing children as young as 10 are being arrested for rape. And that'll never take off.

3. Predatory paedophiles lurk around every corner. It started with Jimmy Savile, it's been blamed on being Tory, and every older man is a danger to children. Except people with paedophile tendencies form less than five per cent of the population, just as they always have. It's got nothing to do with politics or sexuality, they're young and handsome as well as old and ugly, and four per cent of them are women. The main reason this disorder features in the national consciousness more is research on it started in earnest in the 1980s, the same decade the law was changed to make it easier to report and prosecute child sex abuse. It gets talked about more often because it can be, not because there's more of it. And why do we have to define them as predatory? Is there a kinder vegetarian version which can't really be bothered?

4. Sexual assault is apparently all right if you're a bloke. Dave Lee Travis was arrested about allegations of unwelcome physical advances and later told reporters it was "cuddling" as well as "of course I have groped a woman's breasts - I'm a man... but I have never walked up to a woman and groped her without her knowing". Dave, Dave, Dave. A cuddle is consensual, groping is not. The fact she was aware of it does not make it acceptable. Although I understand his unease at being nicked by the Jimmy Savile squad 40 years after the event, it is tricky being the female in that situation. To speak out is to invite insults and accusations of petty militant feminism, but to keep quiet and shrug it off is to condone it. It's a sticky wicket for all concerned and one best avoided by, for example, not touching the breasts of anybody who's not actually snogging you back. This has always been the case, and was as true in the 1970s and it is today unless you're a QUACK QUACK OOPS idiot.

5. The Church of England is about to vote on allowing women bishops. It has taken a mere 475 years since the church was formed for its members to get around to reading the Bible and wonder whether, since Jesus apparently included a woman among his disciples, someone with ovaries is capable of talking to a higher consciousness about something other than what she did all day and agonies over her hair/bum/shoe options. The fact the church is still arguing about this might explain why only 2.7 per cent of the population still bothers with it.

6. The internet, which was set up to enable the free exchange of information, is being sued for freely exchanging too much of the wrong kind of information despite the fact the internet is used primarily to disseminate stupidity, as any search for David Icke will prove. This kind of fact-enforcement may be entirely reasonable, but it is available only to the super-rich which means that, much like the internet, it will start out well-intentioned and could wind up stopping people speaking altogether. If you're poor and someone calls you a paedophile you'll have to ask them nicely to delete it, but with libel laws which date from the 13th century you can't expect much else. There's no appetite for reforming something 700 years out of date no matter how knackered it is, but then it's rich people who'd do the reforming so perhaps it's just as well.

7. An SAS sergeant who forgot he had a gun he shouldn't have is serving 18 months in military prison. This is unreasonable, but then so is the fact that something which would be a crime in civilian life is tried by a military court which has fewer rights of appeal or guidelines for punishment. Our soldiers get treated harsher than their peers outside the services, exactly as they always have, as though they were Coronation Street actresses who toughen up with a spot of persecution. And they wonder why they have to advertise.

8. Abu Qatada is the nation's most hated man. He's been accused by unnamed security sources of inciting murder, homophobia, anti-Semitism and religious hatred. Yet he's never been charged or tried for any of those offences and is, according to our rules, an entirely innocent man who has spent seven years in jail for things no-one's been able to prove. This would be shocking if only we hadn't done the same and worse to people in Northern Ireland, Kenya and South Africa in recent history and more of our own many times for centuries. The right of Habeas Corpus, which entitles an accused to trial or freedom, was established 800 years ago in 1215 and we've been ignoring it ever since. Makes me feel like bombing a few things myself.

9. Doctors have found a gene that dictates what time of day you die, so long as you die in a bed. Thanks, but I don't want to get old and dread the arrival of 5pm every day even if I can celebrate 5.01pm with a gin. Some science is not much use.

10. If we all hate corporate tax avoidance - and who doesn't? - the only thing we can do about it is not use Starbucks, Google, eBay, Amazon and Facebook. Only that's never going to happen, and big companies have been allowed tax deals and to bury their profits overseas legally for, er, centuries. I don't like Philip Green but I do like Top Shop, which means I'm contributing to the problem with every pair of jeans. I'm not going to stop and nor is he, which means the best way you can make sure all the super-rich people pay their share is to slap a sales tax on everything or at the very least on yachts, foie gras, champagne and Bentleys. Philip Green eats more cake than the rest of us, by the look of him, and it might be the best way to make him pay his share. Pay tax, get cake. He'll buy that.

You see? Everything is knackered, nothing goes the way it should do or makes any proper sense, and nothing really changes. Before you know it a one-trick pony entirely lacking any star quality will win the X Factor, and everyone will get tetchy about it without remembering Gareth Gates, Steve Brookstein, Matt Cardle, Shayne Ward, Michelle McManus, Leon Jackson, zzzzzz...

And then it will be Christmas, and next year everything will be different.

Except on Mondays.