Merry Christmas

December 24, 2006

The Daily will now be taking a well-earned break, and we’ll be back at some point next week. In the meantime, a Merry Christmas to you all!


Second silly season at the Guardian

December 24, 2006

Christmas is always like a shorter version of the summer silly season for the media, but the usually more sensible Guardian seems to have gone slightly overboard in its efforts to fight the malaise this year.

First of all was their seven-month infiltration of the BNP. It was interesting, but the relevation that the BNP are racist is hardly the scoop of the year. Perhaps a seven-month infiltration of the Vatican and exposé of Papal Catholicism is scheduled for next year.

The fascists’ techniques for encrypting emails, secret rendez-vous and the like are interesting for those of us who actively fight them on a regular basis but unlikely to be compelling for the average reader. Perhaps the most damning factoid – that the membership list includes an assessment of the racial background of the members – was only mentioned in passing.

And what we really wanted was a big list of all the middle-class members that the BNP had apparently recruited. Instead, only a few particularly noteworthy individuals were thus exposed, though the inclusion of a member of the London Tourist Board who wanted to keep out foreigners was certainly a highlight.

Overall, you couldn’t help but suspect that the investigation had been brought to its conclusion to a deadline, despite not getting quite as much as hoped, in order to fill up pre-Christmas front pages.

Even worse was this weekend’s front page headline “Religion does more harm that good – poll”. This was a poll conducted by the Guardian, again an example of the media trying to generate news rather than report it, in advance of the Christmas lull in order to fill up headline space.

But the poll did not actually ask “Does religion do more harm than good?” The headline was instead a logical and linguistic contortion designed to disguise the fact that the Guardian had asked two different questions – whether religion causes division and tension; and whether it is a force for good. Unsurprisingly, there was a majority for both propositions, but a larger majority on the first. But that does not actually add up to evidence that most people think “religion does more harm than good”.

We don’t want to get in to a debate about religion at The Daily, but we do object to the abuse of polling data in lieu of hard facts. You expect poll manipulation from politicians, but the journos are meant to scrutinise it rather than join in themselves because they can’t be bothered to get any real news.

A note to the Guardian – if we wanted to read made-up stories about polls rather than proper news, we’d buy the Independent.

Young Labour battle commences

December 24, 2006

The biennial battle for the yoof spot on Labour’s NEC is ready to kick off in the New Year, bringing a nostalgic tear to this correspondent’s eye for some of the hilarious antics through which previous elections were stitched up by the powers that be.

This year’s “official” candidate is Stephanie Peacock, whose main claim to fame is her public defence of top-up fees on these grounds: “It’s only fair that if you use a service you should pay towards it.” Let’s hope they don’t let her anywhere near the rest of our public services.

Standing from the moderate wing of the party is young trade union activist Daniel Carden. The Daily hopes he mounts a credible challenge, if just in the hope that there will be some entertaining constitutional contortions by Labour Students’ fixers in their efforts to stop him.

Nice guy of the year

December 22, 2006

It’s been mentioned elsewhere, but The Daily feels obliged to make an early call on the first of our 2006 annual awards, with Richard Littlejohn’s absolutely extraordinary article on the Suffolk serial killer eviscerating all competition in the “nice guy” category.

For those who have not yet read it, Littlejohn declares that “the deaths of these five women are no great loss. They weren’t going discover a cure for cancer or embark on missionary work in Darfur.” The latter reference turns out to be his chance to make a joke about the missionary position. Tasteful. The last time The Daily checked, Littlejohn’s CV did not include advances in medical science or relief missions in Africa. Should he ever be brutally murdered, we conclude that it would be no great loss either.

Littlejohn dismisses blaming the pimps – apparently the women “were on the streets because they wanted to be.” Confusingly, he immediately declares that they were actually on the streets because “because even the filthiest, most disreputable back-alley “sauna” above a kebab shop wouldn’t give them house room” before finally deciding that they were on the streets because they were addicted to heroin.

All three reasons why the victims were on the streets nonetheless seem to add up in Littlejohn’s mind to a conclusive case that these “disgusting, drug-addled street whores” only had themselves to blame for being murdered, though he also pauses to apportion a slice of guilt to the victims’ families, and as is obligatory in a Mail article, to “gormless Guardianistas” for apparently deifying “celebrity druggies”.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, he doesn’t believe for a moment that people in Ipswich were genuinely upset at all. They only went along with a minute’s silence at a recent Ipswich Town game “for fear of getting their heads kicked in if they didn’t” presumably by the unusually violent Guardian-reading liberals who occupy the terraces of Portman Road on matchdays.

With such a typical display of seasonal cheer, goodwill and forgiveness, it’s no wonder that the Mail have been leading the charge to defend Christmas.

Colombian militia chief: the army helped found us

December 20, 2006

The Colombian paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso has gone on the record to show how the Colombian armed forces set up the right-wing paramilitary forces in the late 1980s, reports Colombia’s El Tiempo.

Speaking to judges as part of his demobilisation proceedings under Colombia’s Peace and Justice Law, the paramilitary chief said detailed some of the crucial support they were given in their early years.

In particular, Mancuso mentioned the aid given by Major Walter Fratini of the Junin Batallion of the 11th. This included both light and heavy arms and, crucially, safe conduct passes.

Monitoring organisations, such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have repeatedly shown strong links between the army and paramilitaries. However, such a frank admission from a senior paramilitary is rare.

Mancuso was a former leader of the Catatumbo Bloc paramilitary group. His confession follows the arrest and investigation of several high ranking political figures from parties that support the President of Colombia.

Despite the repeated human rights abuses of the UK still provides secret training and aid to the Colombian armed forces.

Cruddas and the bloggers

December 19, 2006

Yesterday gave The Daily a chance to join other bloggers in a conference call with Jon Cruddas.

The conversation was extremely positive, discussing the potential for the internet and blogging to be a positive new tool, not just for Jon’s campaign, but for the Labour Party as a whole.  What was also refreshing was that Jon actually listened to what all of us had to say about internet campaigning.

I think that’s one of the big differences between Jon and the other candidates – he seems to be actually listening to what people on the ground in the Labour Party are saying. That’s exactly the kind of change we need at the top of the Labour Party and this election is our chance to get it.

Ann Black vs Hayden-Phillips

December 18, 2006

Ann Black published her report of last week’s NEC over the weekend. The account shows how wide the NEC consensus was against the Hayden-Phillips proposals and how members were alarmed at the apparent double dealing from No. 10.

Party Funding: Facts and Rumours

Mike Griffiths and Hazel Blears summarised the story so far.  In the wake of the loans affair, Sir Hayden Phillips was charged with reviewing party funding.  A working group chaired by Jack Straw oversaw the drafting of Labour’s submission, agreed by the NEC and by conference.  On 16 November Hayden Phillips published an interim report posing specific questions, including whether there should be a limit on donations.  The Labour party responded in line with conference policy.  On 4 December Hayden Phillips issued more detailed proposals. 

Some were regarded as acceptable, including increased transparency, better enforcement, national and local spending limits, and state funding for purposes such as training candidates and improving feedback from Partnership in Power. 

Others were alarming.  All donations, from individuals and from organisations, would be capped.  Trade unions would no longer operate a collective system of affiliated membership through their political funds.  Instead affiliation would become “individualised”: the party would have to write to over 3 million union members, every year, explaining how their contribution had been spent and reminding them that they could choose to stop paying. 

As Hayden Phillips said, in a masterpiece of understatement, “the proposals will be especially demanding for the trade unions.  They will need to introduce new systems and new accounting arrangements”.  And for the party, the average affiliation payment of £3 a year would be entirely consumed by paperwork.  A Thatcherite dream come true.

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