Tag Archives: Liverpool

Esther McVey, “5’s Company” and me

I first met Esther McVey, the current Minister for Disabled People, when I was booked to perform my routine on Channel 5’s bizarre afternoon programme, 5’s Company, some time in 1997. This show had 5 presenters, which was a recipe for disaster in my mind. I had been asked to do about 5 minutes worth of stuff. Not an easy task for someone who was once known as one of the circuit’s three sweariest people, which also included such illustrious company as Bob Boyton and Jerry Sadowitz (apparently there was a ‘book’ on which one of us said “fuck” the most in any given week). After spending some time cleaning the salty language from of my material (which was never vetted, by the way), I left all the political material intact.  It was risky to be sure.

After my first spot on the programme, I was invited back a year later because someone had pulled out. It was on this occasion that I met McVey in the wings, who said (or words to the effect) to me, “I didn’t like your stuff about the Conservatives”. I paused, looked at her and replied, “You’re a Scouser”. “Not all of us are left-wingers”, she snapped back. “In which case, you’re rather unusual”, I quickly retorted. That was the last time I ever said anything to McVey’s face. Since then, I’ve been tracking her career and so wasn’t surprised to discover that she’d been elected as Tory MP for Wirral West. The Wirral, once in Cheshire, is where Scousers tended to go once they’d made it big. I’m not so sure that’s the case nowadays. I mean, have you seen what Birkenhead looks like these days?

Scouse Tories are as rare as unicorns and to this day I can only count them on one hand. There’s Steve ‘Shagger’ Norris, Edwina ‘Eggs’ Currie, Stephen McPartland MP and Kit Shitehouse Malthouse, who is one of Bozza’s deputies. I only became aware of McPartland the other day when he rose to speak in The Commons. That’s a total of 5 Scouse Tories in the public eye. That isn’t many for a metropolitan county with a population of 1,380,000. But then if you look at Scotland, you’ll see a similar picture.

Here’s a clip of McVey on 5’s Company being used by ventriloquist Scarlet Ray Watt as his ‘impromptu’ assistant. Doesn’t he look a little like Eddie Murphy?

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Hillsborough: the truth at last

Liverpool is a unique city in many ways. It is a city that is divided by football but also united by it. My family is like a lot of Scouse families: we’re split between the red and the blue halves of the city’s footballing divide. I’m a Liverpool supporter, so was my grandfather, my mum and one of my aunts who’d married a Kopite. The others, my uncles (one of whom played for Tranmere) and aunt, are/were Toffees.  You’d always find Blues and Reds at Prenton Park on Friday nights to watch Tranmere Rovers before going to their respective side’s matches the following day. What other city would you find supporters from rival sides getting on so well? Only in Liverpool. Hillsborough affected not just the city of Liverpool but the rest of Merseyside.

It was 1989 and I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree at Newcastle Poly. I’d gone to the Student Union bar with some of my friends with the intention of watching a cracking tie. Within minutes of the kick-off it was obvious that something wasn’t right, the camera had panned to the Leppings Lane stand and we could see people clambering over the bars at that end of the ground. After a lot of end-to-end action, police and officials appeared on the pitch and the match was stopped. Within minutes we got the news that people were being crushed to death. I started sobbing; it was uncontrolled sobbing. I told my mates that I could have been there. I could have been one of those supporters who’d been crushed. I felt the unfolding tragedy. I can still feel it today.

In the days that followed, stories emerged in the press that pointed the finger of blame, not at the police’s lack of crowd management skills, but at the fans. The Sun, as we know, was the worst of the lot, with its editor, Kelvin Mackenzie, standing by its front page splash.

Mackenzie was unrepentant. In the years following Hillsborough and the subsequent Taylor Report, he repeated his  version of the ‘truth’ on each and every occasion when he has been asked to retract his lies. To this day, no one on Merseyside buys The Sun. Mackenzie has apologized but it’s 23 years too late. We don’t want his apology. He can go to hell.

Today, the truth behind that tragic day has been revealed when documents were released which includes letters of complaint to the Press Council , the local press agency story from which The Sun’s ‘truth’ was derived (Tory MP Irvine Patnick was also a source), the coroner’s reports and the shocking revelations that 41 of the 96 victims could have survived and the 3.15pm inquest cut off point that sealed the fate of the unfortunates.

Thatcher also believed the lies told her by a senior office of the Merseyside Constabulary.  Many documents and CCTV footage have mysteriously disappeared leaving plenty of unanswered questions. What was Bernard Ingham’s role in all of this? As Thatcher’s press secretary, Ingham was a master practitioner of journalism’s dark arts. He accepted the police’s version of events and went on record as saying,

“You can’t get away from what you were told,” Ingham said. “We talked to a lot of people; I am not sure if it was the chief constable. That was the impression I gathered: there were a lot of tanked-up people outside.”

Ingham was asked about the Taylor report and said rather tellingly,

“I think the police are a very easy target.”

We now have the truth about what happened on 15 April, 1989. What we now need is for those responsible, and I include The Sun and Kelvin Mackenzie for their smear campaign, to face justice. The liar Patnick should also be stripped of his knighthood.

Then perhaps we can get some proper closure.

Justice for the 96!

Don’t buy The Sun!

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Filed under Football, Media, News Corporation, Society & culture, Tory press, Yellow journalism

The riots and why calling in the army is such a bad idea

Yesterday, I heard a lot of people calling for the army to be deployed on the streets of London. Some have even demanded that looters (and others) be shot on sight. Such calls are made without a single thought for the consequences and the implications of troop deployment.

In essence, it is the duty of the army to protect citizens from an outside invader. It is not their job to act as police. In countries, like Syria or Bahrain, where the army is routinely used as a an ersatz arm of law enforcement, innocent bystanders are killed and the governments in those countries rule with an iron fist. Civil liberties are curbed or suspended altogether and curfews are imposed. Anyone who disobeys a curfew is shot on sight. Is this what we want? Not even the French government orders the army onto the streets. It has the Compagnies de Républicaines de Sécurité or CRS to deal with serious cases of civil unrest. Anyone who knows the CRS will tell you, they are not to be messed with. However the CRS has come in for a great deal of criticism for their indiscriminate use of force. They have also been accused of institutionalized racism. In addition to the CRS, the French state can call upon the services of the Gendermerie Mobile. Do we want this sort of thing on our streets?

The other issue is that those who have called for the army to be deployed on British streets ignore the fact that the army is currently engaged in Afghanistan, fighting a war with no end. But would troops fire on their own citizens? Those of us who lived through the years of the so-called ‘Troubles’ will know that the army, by and large, saw the Catholics of Northern Ireland, not as citizens, but as enemies. The deployment of troops was initially greeted with relief and even joy. Within a couple of years, that had changed and the army was seen for what it was: an repressive arm of the state. Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972, saw 26 unarmed civilians and bystanders killed by the trigger-happy soldiers of 1 Para. Is this what those who call for the army to be deployed on our streets want?

There is another dimension to this, those who demand the army be sent on out on the streets are effectively demanding their own oppression. They may as well demand that their civil rights be suspended and internment without trial be introduced. How can soldiers tell who is a looter and who is not? Is there a code?

In 1911 Winston Churchill sent troops to Tonypandy. Striking miners were shot and killed. In the same year, troops appeared on the streets of Liverpool during the transport strike. Innocent bystanders were shot dead.

Those who demand that the army be called in are like turkeys voting for Christmas.


Filed under History, London, riots

Murdoch: hoist by his own petard or playing a long game?

My work took me much longer to finish than I expected, hence the long gap between blogs. A lot has happened over the last couple of weeks. Events in the phone hacking scandal have moved very quickly: no sooner than we hear of one revelation, another comes along within hours to take its place. Needless to say, Murdoch’s minions have overstepped the mark and acted criminally. Phone taps normally require a court order. The News of the World thought that it was above the law. It wasn’t.  Now the rest of News International and its parent company, News Corporation are under suspicion. The Sun and The Times have both been accused of phone hacking and in the US, it was believed that one of the News Corp companies hacked into the phones of those killed in the Twin Towers attack of September 11, 2001.

The News of the World is no more. No doubt it will be replaced by something just as vile. In many respects The Sun and the News of the World are the same paper. They both print the same kind of gossip and sleazy scandal and both papers believe that they have the right to intrude into people’s private lives.

I had originally begun drafting a blog a couple of weeks ago. My angle on this was the city of Liverpool and how The Sun and NotW had been boycotted by Scousers. The people of Liverpool have known for a long time what News International is capable of doing.  In the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, The Sun made up a story about Liverpool supporters urinating on the dead. Kelvin MacKenzie, then editor of the paper, refused to apologize and even went so far as to rub more salt into the wound by standing by the ‘story’. To this day, the sales of The Sun and The News of the World on Merseyside are the lowest anywhere in the country. No self-respecting Scouser, red or blue, would contemplate buying such a vile rag.

Many of us have known for some time that Murdoch media and the government enjoy a close relationship. When Cameron hired Andy Coulson as his press secretary, Coulson was already up to his neck in shit.  But what we have seen is that the relationship between the Tories and the Murdoch media is somewhat closer than a mere business arrangement; these people meet socially. Cameron, Rebekah Brooks and Coulson have  broken bread together. Indeed Cameron, Coulson and Brooks live rather close to each other.  They are even referred to as the “Chipping Norton Set”.

The Murdoch press may not be able to inject its views into the heads of its readers but it is an opinion former and its views are taken seriously by many people. British politicians work to please the Murdoch press and will do their utmost to avoid upsetting papers like the The Sun, a paper that can ruin lives and careers at the drop of a hat.

In 1992, The Sun claimed to have won the general election for John Major’s Tories. The day before the polls opened, the Scum ran a front page that said “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave in Britain turn off the lights”. Labour lost the election but in the years that followed the Tories were battling allegations of sleaze.

Before the 1997 General Election, Tony Blair met with executives from News International. He understood that he needed to get the Murdoch media on his side in order to win. But it was a poisoned chalice, the Blair and the Brown governments found themselves dancing to Murdoch’s tune.

Yesterday, Murdoch had full page apologies printed in his papers and those of his rivals.  He’s done it again today. I suspect that his lawyers have advised him to do this, so that he can come back in a year’s time with a renewed bid for BSkyB. All he’s doing is trying to remake his image and that of his papers. As far as out politicians are concerned, they talk a good talk but they’re scared of Murdoch. They’ve done just enough to give the impression that they’re reining him in. Ed Miliband has called for a ban on multi-media ownership by a single person or group. This would be welcome. But the press cannot regulate itself properly. The Press Complaints Commission is run by the newspaper industry and membership  is not compulsory. The PCC does not have the power to sanction errant newspapers nor can it impose fines. All it can do is get the paper in question to print an apology, which is, more often than not, a single paragraph buried inside the newspaper.

I’ll leave you with this mindless drivel from LMer and professional shit-stirrer, Brendan O’Neill who blames the NotW’s demise on a “dictatorship of do-gooders”.

When small groups of professional activists help to shut down a newspaper read by millions of everyday Brits, that is not “people power”. When celebrities and well-to-do commentators help to deprive 7.5 million people of their Sunday read – and what’s more, claim to be doing it in order to save those 7.5 million people from being morally corrupted – that is not a “democratic moment”. It is more like a dictatorship of do-gooders.

Lest we forget that O’Neill’s former magazine, LM was shut down because it lost a libel case against ITN whom LM had accused of misrepresenting the Bosnian Civil War.   A “dictatorship of do-gooders” had nothing to do with the NotW’s demise; its death was caused by slipshod journalistic standards and blatant lawbreaking. I, for one, am glad it’s gone. I think that I should point out that O’Neill also writes for the Australian, a title owned by guess who?

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Filed under Ideologies, Journalism, Media, News Corporation, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Orde: “police must not be seen as an arm of the state”

We're on your side! Honest!

I’ve heard some pretty stupid stuff in my time but Sir Hugh Orde’s words, reported today in The Guardian are on a par with Boris Johnson’s ignorant realization that the tube strikes were “political”. Strikes? Political? Surely some mistake?

Police fear becoming the focus of public anger at government cuts and that repeated clashes with demonstrators risk damaging their reputation, a top officer has told the Guardian.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said it was crucial that police do not appear to be “an arm of the state” who are being used to allow the government to “impose cuts”.

It’s too late for that, Sir Hugh. Because of their behaviour, the police have earned themselves a reputation for being violent and brutal and this is not the first time that the police have faced these allegations.  The Met were involved in scuffles with protesters at a Countryside Alliance march in September 2002. At the G20 protests in April of last year, newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson – who was not part of the protests – was violently shoved to the ground by a TSG officer. Tomlinson subsequently died from the effects of this injury. The officer responsible for Tomlinson’s death did not face criminal charges.

Like it or not, the police along with the military use violence to achieve their objectives. In this way, they can both be said to be repressive forces. They are both arms of the state and act according the wishes of the state and are directly accountable to the government of the day. The police’s role is specifically domestic; the military’s can be both foreign and domestic -particularly if we consider how the army has been used historically to suppress protests and put down strikes. The Tonypandy Riots of 1910 and 1911 were quelled by the army which had been deployed there by the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill (now seen as a defender of freedom by some). Gunboats were anchored off Hull and Liverpool in 1911. In Liverpool, 3,000 armed troops together with police were deployed on the streets.  This article from Libcom says,

As the rail strike began to spread across the country, a mass demonstration in Liverpool was declared as a show of support. Taking place on August 13 at St Georges Plateau, 100,000 workers came to hear speeches by workers and leaders of the unions, including Tom Mann. The demonstration went without incident until about 4 o’clock, when, completely unprovoked, the crowds of workers suddenly came under attack from the police. Indiscriminantly attacking bystanders, the police succeeded in clearing the steps of St George’s Hall in half an hour, despite resistance from strikers who used whatever they could find as weapons. Fighting soon spilled out into nearby streets, causing the police and troops to come under attack as workers pelted them with missiles from rooftops. Becoming known as Bloody Sunday, the fighting resulted in scores of injuries on both sides.

Then of course, there’s the Miner’s Strike and the notorious Battle of Orgreave Colliery in 1984 when the police baton and horse charged pickets.

Sir Hugh should read some history before going off half-cocked.

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