Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Future NI Health Minister in Pride furore

I'm heading off to Belfast's Pride Parade on Saturday, but this week is one full of events. yesterday for example the LGBT community went to Stormont to debate with the parties about issues that concern them in Northern Ireland.

Well one party was hardly surprising in its absence even though this year the LGBT Community had gone to them and met in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings itself. However, it was the way in which future Health Minister Jim Wells turned down his invite to be the DUP. In a text to one of the Pride organisers he said:

"I understand that you contacted my Kilkeel office regarding what is termed a 'Belfast Pride' debate.

"As you are probably know I find the behavior of those who take part in this march totally repugnant.

"I do not thereforee wish to be association in any way with this event.

"My position on this matter will not change in the future and I would politely suggest that any further requests of this nature will be a total waste of your time."

Now there was no inappropriate behaviour at the Long Gallery Pride on the Hill event yesterday. There were questions about teen suicide, adoption, sex-education in schools all of which have some connection to a health portfolio. All things that you'd expect a future Health Minister to want to engage with all sectors about their concerns, if not now at least in the future. But as you can see from the comments above perhaps not.

In clarifying his comments to the Irish News Mr Wells comments included this:

"The parade is repugnant - the costumes they wear and the way they behave during it."

I was planning on wearing my kilt on Saturday. I hope my knees are no more repugnant than the pipe bands who march with the Loyal Orders or take part in band competitions across Northern Ireland. My behaviour will be to walk along with the LGBT Lib Dems in Northern Ireland and out friends, aslo the Greens, Alliance Party and SDLP. Even the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor will be at the head of the parade. Are our walking, possibly keeping in beat with the music repugnant?

There are of course people in Northern Ireland who find the activities of certain other parades to be repugnant. But the DUP will defend the right of these to walk where they want, how they want to the hilt.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thoughts and Prayers for Norway

I posted the following this morning on my own blog in both Norwegian and English here is just the English bits.



I'm trying to comprehend what has gone on in Norway yesterday. A car bomb I can comprehend, I am from Northern Ireland, the shooting dead of 80 young people at a political camp is something I am trying to get my head around: though I probably never will, and probably cannot get close to understanding

The only way I can even attempt to think of the impact is to think of all the politically active members if Liberal Youth I know and thinking that maybe as much as one in four of them were wiped out in one horrendous afternoon at Activate. But even that is something that is hard to take in.

Or maybe one of the summer campaigns I have been on, thinking that a large number of the people on those teams were enjoying an afternoon in the sun and then a large proportion of them being suddenly wiped out.

I'm typing this as I listen to the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg giving a second press conference this morning is harrowing. He says that some of those close to him were victims in the bombing, and that some of the young people on the island were also known to him. He cannot give out more details at the moment, no doubt as family members are still all to be told as well as the police are dealing with the situation.

Yesterday was the darkest day in Norwegian history since the Second World War. The people of the UK stood by them now and no doubt we will again today.

 My thoughts and prayers are with all in Norway at this time. Those who have lost dear ones. But also everyone who cannot believe this has happened in their peaceful country.

Those young people were hoping for and working for a brighter future. Everyone in the world should take up their torch and ensure that we acheive that in their memory. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Murdoch: What Should Have Been Asked On Tuesday!

Sara Ibrahim puts forward the issues that Rupert Murdoch should have been tackled with



When the drama subsides over shaving foam pies and Wendy Deng’s physical defence of her husband, the question will remain can Murdoch senior be convicted of any wrongdoing? The original purpose of Tuesday’s culture select committee summons to the Murdochs was to see if their complicity in the telephone hacking scandal could be established. Certainly this had been a personal mission of the Labour MP, Tom Watson, who had prophetically warned people of the wrongdoings at News Corp. The occasion was seen as an unprecedented opportunity to humble the press baron who had been considered omnipotent.

What happened was very different from what the committee intended. If Murdoch senior was keen to have a mea culpa moment he did it without accepting any blame. Any good lawyer could have told you that this would be his intention. Undoubtedly from a public relations point of view, it was better to elect for short term discomfort and admit to being ‘out of touch’ than risk being embroiled in long term legal actions. Whilst it wasn’t palatable to watch Murdoch use his son James as a human shield during the questioning; it was shrewd. For those watching with any real interest, it ought to have put paid to the notion that Murdoch was a shrunken version of his former self without real power.

There are several key facts to remember when looking at Murdoch’s role in New Corporation. News of the World had the highest circulation of any Sunday paper in the UK in 2011 before its closure. Murdoch’s suggestion that it was financially an insignificant part of his coverage hide the fact that it was the most widely read and arguably most influential paper in his journalistic stable.  Secondly, the Murdoch family have 40% of the voting rights in News Corp despite owning only 13% of the shares. This means that the Murdoch family have real and effective control over the company. Murdoch senior can put his stamp on the company in terms of what investments he wants to prioritise and what values (or lack of them) he wishes the company to follow.

Why is this relevant? For any mud to stick to Murdoch senior it needs to be established that he knew what was happening or wilfully turned a blind eye. Tom Watson was tactically sound in ensuring that Murdoch senior had to address his questions head on. What Watson didn’t do was to get Murdoch to accept in public that he was ultimately in control. Given the facts this should have been doable. It should have been the first point that was put to him. That Watson thought this was the case was evident but Murdoch needed to concede it. Without establishing these key points for all his eloquence Watson allowed Murdoch senior to set out his defence that he wasn’t to blame.

Hopefully Watson will get another chance to question Murdoch in the committee and next time, see that he is not only humbled but accepts responsibility.      

 Sara Ibrahim is a barrister; specialising in commercial and business law, personal injury, and insolvency and corporate recovery. This post has also appeared on the Left Foot Forward blog

Cameron's Achilles Heel Over Hackgate

Did the Prime Minister discuss BSkyB or not with any member of News International?
And if so, and if there was nothing salacious going on, why be so coy about it? Surely the sooner this is dealt with the better

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Murdochs in Parliament

Yesterday saw one of the more fantastic moments in Select Committee hearings in recent Parliamentary history. Queues outside Portcullis House and helicopters carrying media personnel flew overhead, and in homes and in some public places with a TV, people watched as one of the most powerful men in the World and his son arrived to be grilled by the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee.
Many of talked about Rupert Murdoch's frailty and lack of grasp of detail on how his company worked, combined with James Murdoch's filibustering answers, giving long statements and using up time without mentioning much, although some gems were mentioned. Under Tom Watson's forensic questioning, and the questioning of other members of the Committee we found that, among other things:


  • Rupert Murdoch claims not to be in touch with the finer points of what his newspapers do, although he did talk with News of the World Editors once a week. He did not know about Select Committee hearing in 2003 with Andy Coulson and Rebekah Wade, although I am surprised if that is true that no one told him, am also surprised he did not ask probing question of Editors on how they got their stories, given Murdoch's reputation for going into forensic detail on the minutiae of things. Either Murdoch is losing his grip or he is playing with terminological inexactitudes



  • That they are not sure of News International are still paying Glen Mulcare's fees. I would have thought their lawyers at least would have been quick to find that one out. Just how much of a labyrinth is this company?



  • That Neil Wallis advised Andy Coulson when he worked for David Cameron. All in all, this does not bode well for the Prime Ministers' reputation, even if nothing can be stuck on him



As I said in one tweet, it's what we don't know and how much News Corp is hiding that begins to concern me, and given what was said, whether in cover up or out of ignorance, it shows there is a lot of untidiness in this vast media empire, or shoddy practices.
This would have been the main story today, but for the fact that at about 4:30PM, two hours into proceedings, one foolish individual decided to throw some foam at Rupert Murdoch, the Committee room had to be cleared and the rest of the proceedings take place with only committee members, the Murdochs, and their entourage present. Like the hacking into The Sun and The Times websites, this kind of behaviour is not only wrong, it puts the perpetrators on a similar level to those they accuse of wrongdoing if accused are guilty of wrongdoing. It also raises questions about Commons security and I now doubt I'll be allowed into the building with a deodorant in my bag as I have before (The reason I say this is because I am usually asked to take it out of my bag and show them when it goes through X Ray).
Shortly we shall be seeing Prime Ministers' Questions, how that goes is anyone's guess but I feel that whilst we have learned much I am not sure if there is much to go on and a corner may well have turned.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tories and News International

Last night Conservative MP Nick De Bois sat in the Commons Chamber, sitting, listening, and not taking part. That is until the proposal was made for Cathy Jamieson MP to sit on the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee. Then De Bois stood up and shouted object, which he is entitled to, but the following questions do arise.
Du Bois sat in the chamber for a while until the proposal was made, so clearly he came in to object. It's a surprise because Jamieson is a former MSP who is also a former Scottish Minister for Justice. Her expertise would have been invaluable with today's grilling of  the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks. Contrast that with Nick De Bois being, from what I have heard, connected with one of News International's stable companies.
The Conservative Party seems to be being uber protective at the expense of a criminal investigation. They know that with News International in the firing line and Associated Newspapers facing difficult questions, their most aggressive supporters in the media are facing a roasting which could damage hem. They also are aware that there is now a possibility this could bring down the coalition and with it, a general election where the Tories could face defeat. Take Iain Dale's comments, which led Tim Montgomerie sending him a tweet to hold firm.

“@TimMontgomerie: @IainDale Let's avoid feeding any idea DC acted improperly. Let's keep calm, clean the press, fix the police and return to the econ mission.”

Tim later blogged on the issue, taking the first sentence of his tweet to heart. Writing some of this on my iPhone I cannot cut and paste for a straightforward fisking so please bear with me. The link to Tim's post can be found here.
Whilst I agree with him about News of the World hackers and that Labour failed to do anything on it's watch (Something which shames me as a Labour activist and I suspect I am far from alone there), the fact remains that Cameron was warned repeatedly about Coulson and was offered enough evidence by the Guardian. He ignored evidence, maybe out of fear, which could damage him and his Party. That was a gross dereliction of duty.
I also find it incredible that Tim says that the Conservatives only made one or two mistakes with News International. So Thatcher's altering media monopoly laws which allowed Murdoch greater control and all those social events Cameron and other cabinet ministers visited, hosted by News Corp, was not among them then!Bear in mind the latter took place whilst Murdoch's bid for full control of BSkyB, adjudicated by govt, was underway.
Then Tim goes into a rant against the BBC. How often do we have to hear this tiresome rant from right-wing Tories who have more than enough bias towards them in the media.The BBC is subject to rules and regulations on bias which the Murdoch papers are not. Secondly the BBC is not subject to a criminal investigation. On both those counts Tim is a bit off the mark.
Walaa Idris, a Conservative pundit who I regard as a friend, then waded in and, honest of her, said the Tories had to "circle the wagons", but she made her mistake by saying that Cameron asked for the investigation to go where it leads and commending him for it and yet complained when that meant investigating the PM.
Make no mistake, the Conservative Party know that this could see them in real trouble and, criminal investigation or nt, this cannot happen where they are concerned. I think many Tories are blind to that fact, I just hope the Parliamentary Party does not realise who unpleasantly cynical they are being unless it's to say sorry

Monday, July 18, 2011

Travel Poverty and the “Big Society”

I’ll never forget a conversation I once had with my Great Auntie Elsie. She was bemoaning the fact that people at church wanted to stay around afterwards to chat over coffee.


“Maybe they want to catch up on the week’s events “ I said naively “and see how people are”.

“But in my day” she said “you knew what kind of week people had had because you were with them all week.” Elsie’s late husband had been a coal miner in the Whitehaven coalfield before he’d been prematurely invalided with a bad heart. She touched on a world where your work colleagues were also your next door neighbours. And they were also the people sitting next to you in church. Such closeness bred a powerful sense of community and solidarity – something our modern world can’t even begin to emulate.

Today I live in southeast Hertfordshire. I share an office with people from Surrey, Sussex, northwest London and Hackney. I don’t know most of the people who live in my block of flats, I see the same faces on the train platform and in the train carriage but I have no idea who they are. I suspect they work in offices across London.

Such a world didn’t come about by accident. It came about initially because London’s middle classes sought a rural idyll to return to after their working day in the City. Then the working classes moved out in the wake of the Blitz. In the later decades of the twentieth century, it became a necessity because living in central London became impossibly expensive. But the rapidly increasing cost of travel is creating a “catch 22” for many people – especially minimum wage workers working in the City and West End. Some are able to survive because they live with family; others live in cramped conditions sharing rooms with other lodgers.

It’s not just minimum wage workers who get caught in this “catch 22”. My 30-something colleague pays £650 per month for a room in Hackney – supposedly one of the country’s poorest boroughs. I pay less than that for a flat in Hertfordshire but I need to factor in the cost of the season ticket - £2,200 per year. In fairness, mine is cheaper than comparable routes. It is £2,600 from Harlow, £3,000 from Stevenage, £3,000 from Hemel Hempstead and £3,000 from Crawley. Move further out and I could find cheaper property but I could pay £5,000 from Wellingborough or £6,600 from Rugby. That is more than half the annual salary of someone working fulltime on the minimum wage. As I have sat (or stood) on overcrowded commuter trains I can’t help but think that someone somewhere is making a killing out of unsuspecting commuters – a modern day “rack rent”.

As Tory Housing benefit changes start to bite and foreign oligarchs continue to push central London prices to stratospheric levels, increasing numbers of London’s poor and middle classes will be moving out in search of more affordable housing. They will be met with travel prices increasing at well above inflation, whether that is annual season tickets or the price of petrol and car insurance.

Some people will respond to this by taking drastic action. A young father in my village cycles to his office at London Bridge. It’s a 50 mile round trip he makes 5 days a week, but for most people living outside London’s inner suburbs, cycling is not a realistic option.

What we could see is the creation of a whole new class of workless and working poor: the “travel poor”. Those priced out of the job market because they cannot afford the cost of travelling to work; those who calculate that they are better off on benefits than they are in work once the cost of travel is factored in.

This is a serious social problem – a “ticking time bomb”. Without concerted government intervention to reverse these trends, we are likely to see an inexorable decline in the quality of life of the poor and middle classes across the south of England. This quality of life is only made poorer by fractured communities made up of strangers living next to each other. Without the sense of solidarity that enabled communities in previous generations to endure all manner of suffering and hardship, and without the support system that biological extended families can provide, many individuals and families will suffer in silence, at a loss to know to whom they can turn. In this context, notions of the “Big Society” are, at best black comedy, and at worst, black propaganda.


Rachel Stalker is Women’s Officer for the Hertford & Stortford CLP and is an active member of the Christian Socialist Movement.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Podcast Interview With Jamie Reed MP

Click here to listen to the interview I gave Jamie Reed MP last night at Portcullis House, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Great conversation and worth a listen

Interview With Jamie Reed MP

Last night I held a podcast interview with Jamie Reed the Labour MP for Copeland which will be uploaded here later this morning. In the interview:


  • He states that it's likely that all MP's had their phones hacked
  • We discuss the actions of some of the national newspapers in the aftermath of the Cumbria shootings
  • He states that the way some of the media behave is like "a modern day McCarthyism" and that might change
  • "It's not just Murdoch"
  • The irony of how libertarians actively supported News International 
  • How he had a lack of support from the PCC following his complaint regarding the way some newspapers behaved in the aftermath of the Cumbria shootings
  • How he feels the government have supported Labour's motion because it lacks anything substantial to reply to at Prime Minister's questions later today and that Cameron is on the ropes
For more, listen to the podcast interview which will be uploaded here later this morning

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gordon Brown's Allegations Against News International

This is extraordinary and just when you thought it couldn't get any worse it does. If true, then it adds fuel to the accusation that News International, and indeed some of the culture around our tabloid press, are a malign influence on British life. When the Murdoch Empire collapses, which I am increasingly confident it soon will, I hope a debate starts in this country about whether we want a regulated media built along Reithian lines, or a sensationalist bullying media, that in truth has more tight, albeit malign, regulation from it's owners, built along Northcliffe's style of journalism

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Buy Last News of the World or give £1 to charity of your choice

Apparently the last edition of the News of the World this week is giving all the proceeds to good causes.

May I suggest one final thing, instead of buying it, donate £1 the cover cost to the charity of your choice, if you can claim gift aid on the donation do so, it turns your contribution into £1.25 which is far more than the News of World would be giving up of your pound.

One recommendation would be the Royal British Legion or Help for Heroes in light of recent revelations.

News of the World to fold

On that basis I am not continuing the petition

Latest on News of the World Petition

I had a phone conversation with Tesco's in Baldock this afternoon and they have forbidden me to petition outside, let alone inside their store. Therefore I have resolved to use the High Street in Baldock instead between 10:30AM and 11:00AM and 12:15-1:15PM this coming Sunday. If any of you have similar problems I suggest you do the same if possible

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Podcasts on the petition calling for News of the World boycott

Here is a link and a PS to my podcast going into detail on how to go about using the petition on Sunday



Petition Calling for a boycott of the News of the World

We the undersigned wish to register our disgust at the appalling news that has taken place regarding phone hacking at the News of the World. We feel that there needs to be a full investigation and a change of culture in how some aspects of the media behave. To that end we will a) boycott and encourage others to boycott the News of the World b)call on advertisers to do the same and c)call for a full no holds barred enquiry into this matter. We believe that the way to hold an organisation to account is via their income and we work to that end to make our point. This petition will be sent to the Press Complaints Commission
at Halton House, 20/23 Holborn, London, EC1N


NAME................................CONTACT DETAIL............................................POSTCODE.


















1.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Days of Reckoning for News of the World

What shocks me about the latest revelations about the News of the World is that I am shocked. I have enough cynicism about some aspects of tabloid journalism and indeed aspects of News Corp's empire to expect bad behaviour, but this is something so low that I fear if I had been asked to hack a victim's phone or did of my own volition, I would have not just felt bad, I would have gone somewhere and been physically sick and shaking with fear, bit maybe that's just me!
This goes far. It seems clear, increasingly so, that the phone hacking scandal is widespread and that if Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson didn't know about it they were among the most incompetent editors in the UK! I am increasingly of the view that it isn't if, it is when Rebekah Brooks will resign/be sacked.
But this culture is partly down to the attitudes of the UK public. We knew that they were salacious publications firing off tittle tattle and intruding into People's private lives in a way we would hate if it happened to us. Some buy these papers on excuses like "It's for the crossword!", that sounds like a couple around 1938 saying; "I only visit Germany because Bavaria looks pretty!" Moral responsibilty is highly important and we all have our role to play. I am/will be playing mine by encouraging people not to buy the News of the World until yet not only apologise, bit change as well and lead by positive example. I hope you will do something similar

Saturday, July 02, 2011

David Dunsieth and Oliver Napier voices of reason lost

This week in Northern Ireland we have learnt of the passing of two great voices of reason. The first was the broadcaster David Dunseith, the second was founder and first leader of the Alliance Party Sir Oliver Napier.

Even in the depths of the trouble Northern Ireland did possess voices of reason able to stand up to the voices of extremists from both sides. At Ulster Television and later the BBC Dunseith was one of those who got the voice of the people and the opinions of the people put to the political leaders. He also wasn't a journalist who could be easily walked over by any of the politicians irrespective of reputation, even getting feisty with the Rev Ian Paisley if he failed to give direct answers to the questions put.

He started the Talkback programme on Radio Ulster which allowed people an open forum to discuss the controversal issues of the day. Often getting people discussing, if not directly at least in the same programme issues that they were avoiding face to face discussion on. He also had that dry Northern Irish sense of humour that he could deploy when required to lighten an potentially explosive situation.

On the political side Oliver Napier was one of the founders of the Alliance Party. Picking up on what he saw as sectarianism within the Ulster Unionist Party in 1970. Raised a Catholic but able to talk to Protestants in those dark days of the 70s, believing even then that Catholics and Protestants could work together to achieve a peaceful non-sectarian society.

Napier was appointed the Legal Minister and head of the Office of Law Reform in the 1973 Assembly. In 1979 he stood in the predominantly Unionist seat of Belfast East in the Westminster elections, against a young DUP candidate Peter Robinson and the defending Vanguard turned Ulster Unionist MP Bill Craig, another 70s party leader to died this year. Napier came only 928 votes behind the future First Minister in third place. Until Robinson lost to Naomi Long in the same seat last year, this was the closest any Alliance candidate had come to winning election to a seat at Westminster.

The current Alliance Party leader, and in a mirror of the 1970s Minister for Justice in the Assembly, David Ford said this morning:

"Oliver was a statesman and a visionary. His vision was of a united Northern Ireland and he put his heart and soul into bringing that about.

"He was ahead of his time but the vision he had is demonstrated in all the excellent work being done to improve community relations in Northern Ireland."

People now talk of a shared future as something that they are working towards, not simply as a piped dream. But these two luminaries in media and politics were leading the way in getting people to think that way, even though for a lot of the time it looked like it could never and would never come.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Mars Hill Now Podcasting

Click on link to the first one here: http://t.co/sNakBhq


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