Politics.co.uk Blog

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

In response to Leo McKinstry and the Daily Mail

So there I was enjoying my Christmas, in fact I'd just been to the cinema, to see Avatar before you ask and yes it was rather good, when I was confronted with the front page of yesterday's Daily Mail on the Tube.

Now there are plenty of things I find offensive in this world but I suspect the Daily Mail comes very near the top of the list. Mostly because I am unable to escape it and its racist, bigotted downright stupid uttterances and the people that work for it.

Here's the peach of a sentence that was plastered just underneath the masthead of yesterday's paper:

"A country that reveres such junkies as Kate Moss has no right to lecture China on its drugs policy".

Let's leave aside the Kate Moss reference. Oh, don't get me wrong I hope she sues the Mail. She'd win in a heartbeat but she's a big girl and can take care of herself she doesn't need me to defend her.

That leaves me with the rest of what might laughably be referred to as an opinion peice by Leo McKinstry, who when he's not defamining Kate Moss is claiming that Akmal Shaikh was not mentally ill, had a checkered financial history, sexually harrassed women and a multitude of other crimes which ultimately led to his death.

One quick listen to the "pop song" Shaikh recorded should tell amyone that the man was barking mad but I suspect McKinstry didn't bother with doing even the basic research that would have led him to have heard the song.

McKinstry reckons the British government could learn a thing or two from the hardline approach of China to crime and human rights. If we gave less regard to human rights we'd have less crime, he argues. He also accuses Labour of downgradging the classification of cannabis and cocaine. Oh and this beauty: execution is actually compassionate because you are protecting the majority of law abiding citizens from the scum that take drugs and commit crime. There are few times when I lift my eyes to heaven and thank God but on this occasion I did just that and thanked a non-existent deity that Leo McKinstry is nowhere near the reigns of power.

I know the trend is to ignore the Daily Mail. For some reason everyone seems far more concerned about The Sun because, of course, The Sun gives us hard news rather than just celebrity gossip these days. I think the tactic is a bit odd as, well, its like dealing with the school bully: ignore him and he'll go away.

Me, I'm far too concerned about the Daily Mail and I can't ignore a newspaper that had a once glorious history as the first tabloid newspaper in Britain which truly represented the working classes and which has utterly lost its way in the desperate pursuit of circulation.

And part of my concern is the number of women that read the Mail. See, it used to be that the Mail's readership was largely female, middle-aged and most likely to vote Tory at the next election. You know the type: the blue rinse brigade. Well hell if the Mail can let Mckinstry call Kate Moss a junkie because she was once caught on camera snorting cocaine I reckon I can get away with defaming an entire section of society. I'm not Rod Liddle, I'm just making a sweeping generalisation I'm sure any Daily Mail reader might appreciate. Anyway, it's not these women I'm concerned about: they're the hard core of the Conservative vote anyway. They're also usually married to men that read the Telegraph and whatever the Telegraph might think of the Mail it can hardly pretend it and the Mail aren't cut from the same cloth.

No, my concern is the casual Daily Mail reader that could be influenced by the newspaper because the Mail is so rabidly right wing these days. It's like our version of Fox news. I suspect that Rupert Murdoch is actually pretty envious of the Daily Mail as it has taken the ground he would love one of his newspapers to take. The only problem being that if say The Sun did take that sort of stance on issues and concentrated less on the celebs it would lose more readers and he can't afford that at the moment. And if you're wonderinjg how I know this, well let's just say I have my sources.

I do think however that long term this self appointed guardian of British morality is - thankfully - fighting a losing battle. After all, look at the reaction to Jan Moir's article about Stephen Gately recently; although she wasn't sacked more's the pity. And I suspect had Mckinstry written his article at any other time than the Christmas holidays he would have been jumped on by the bleeding heart liberals that he hates so much just as quickly.

I would also question how is it that Leo McKinstry is a jobbing journalist? No seriously, how does this man get work? Especially when there are so many good journalists out there struggling to get work at the moment. From a purely journalistic point of view this is one of the most poorly researched commment pieces I've ever read. He claims that government policy on drugs has led to an increase in crime because it's not tough enough on offenders. If he'd bothered to take a look at any evidence at all then he'd know that it's because drugs are illegal that we have some crime rates at the level we do. There is a great deal of evidence that supports making drugs legal, taxble and controlled because that would cut crime by anything up to 50%. Don't believe me? That's fair enough but have a read of the piece by my colleague Ian Dunt, who put the case for legalising drugs much more eloquently and in a much more thoroughly researched comment peice than I suspect McKinstry is ever likely to be capable of: The case for legalising drugs.

McKinstry even tries to make the case for the death penalty comparing 1950's Britain with Britain today and claiming that there were only 180 murders a year in the 1950's compared to around 900 a year today. Of course, he claims the death penalty was responsible for the low murder rate in the UK in the 1950's. It had nothing to do with the reduced male population under the age of 40 thanks to the Second World War. And of couse, the death penalty works fantastically well in the United States doesn't it Leo? Oh yes and let's not forget the British government was wrong to ask for clemency for one of its own citizens on death row.

According to McKinstry;

"The hysteria over Shaikh's death penalty echoes the preposterous outcry in 2002 over another British man who was executed by a foreign government.

"A career thug, drug addict and alcoholic, Tracy Housel was put to death by the U.S. state of Georgia for raping and killing a woman, Jeanne Drew, whose body was so badly battered she could be identified only by dental records."

Did you maybe forget the fact that China is still a totalitarian state in which the vast majority of the population keep their heads down because "justice" is swift and merciless? Since when did China stop being a one party dictatorship Leo?

Not to mention the fact that he has the cheek to criticise the government for working on behalf of two British passport holders. I really hope that one day you find yourself in a foreign country - maybe Dubai or Saudi Arabia - up a certain creek without a paddle, just your passport and the desperate need for help from the British government you seem so keen to condemn. Oh except I forgot, you'd expect help from the British embassy - you're white.

And let there be no mistake. The death penalty is not compassionate to anyone. But then I'd love to see whether you had the guts to pull the trigger, administer the lethal injection or strap another human being into the electric chair. I suspect you're full of....... hot air, you're the kid at school who would egg someone else on to do something then do a runner the moment you spotted the teacher coming round the corner without warning your mates.

Tell the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four or any number of people that have suffered a miscarriage of justice that the death penalty - which would have taken their lives for crimes they didn't commit - is compassionate, you prat!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Why journalists hate expenses

It's not just MPs who are sick of stories about their expenses. Journalists aren't particularly keen, either.

This was a trend detectable within the Palace of Westminster a long time ago. "I don't care," one moaned in August, as he recalled the weeks of rooting through forms for titbits of unallowable allowances.

Since then the scandal has dragged on. Most hacks had got over the trauma of this scandal to end all administrative scandals.

Today it has come back to haunt them, with devastating effect.

Most appeared at their desks, bright and early this morning. Up popped the claims on parliament's website. They got to work, rooting - in electronic form - through the forms all over again.

By mid-afternoon most have a glazed look on their eyes, a numbed sort of blankness. There have been some corkers unearthed - the best is undisputably a bell-tower refurbishment - but most are utterly exhausted.

The hacks have had enough. And, in even more bad news for MPs, they're determined to take it out on their elected representatives.

At lunchtimes the atrium of Portcullis House, where MPs gather for coffees and meals, was filled with the sound of little children singing Christmas carols.

None expressed the slightest flicker of interest. All hunched past, absorbed in their own world of expenses ordure.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Brown's karaoke clampdown

The prime minister's temper is infamous along Whitehall, but his criticisms come in many forms. Sometimes an item of stationery whizzing through the air is the preferred method of censure, so scurrilous types report. Sometimes the criticism is of a more jovial kind.

Formula One champion Jenson Button has, perhaps, received the lowest level of criticism possible. Gordon Brown's spokesman helped elucidate what this would entail in his Monday morning lobby briefing for journalists.

The prime minister, we were told, was due to present Button with an award at the British Racing Drivers' club. He was to congratulate Button and "gently tease him" over his rendition of We Are The Champions in the immediate euphoric aftermath of his World Championship victory.

Brown in avuncular mood is always worth savouring. So long as Button doesn't become a civil servant and make any disastrous blunders with Treasury figures he should be alright. It doesn't seem likely, does it?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

MPs go clubbing

It's not a joke. Officials at the Home Affairs select committee just confirmed to me that its members are planning on going clubbing as part of their investigation into Class A drugs.

Media reports that they were taking soundings on where to go are only half true. They're not, because they already have. Who provided the advice? I asked. 'The staff here, and the police.'

Now the police make sense if you're looking for the most druggy club in London I suppose, although, if that's the case, why did they ask their staff as well? On the other hand, if they're just looking for a fun place, I can understand why they might ask their young staff members – but not why they'd ask the police.

The police are literally the very last people you ask for directions to a fun night out. There's my mother of course, who - as far as I know - has never been clubbing in her life, but the shortlist is, well… short.

I once met a bloke called Ketamine Pete, who only allowed fruit, water and ketamine to pass through his body. They could give him a ring.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Brown romps home

Gordon Brown is getting better and better.

The prime minister won today's exchanges with David Cameron hands down. When the leader of the opposition made a decent point, Brown made a scathing one. When Cameron trotted out the same old soundbites, Brown came up with new ones. Best of all, the PM looked like he was having a good time.

It's a fascinating tradition, and about the least predictable shift you could possibly have imagined. Is this the same prime minister who was forced into a last-gasp emergency reshuffle back in the spring? As one lobby colleague said, "it's only one poll". But it seems to be doing Brown a world of good.

If the momentum continues to shift in this way we might end up with a much more interesting election campaign than many feared.

As George Osborne signalled in his speech to the Conservative conference, it looks like the fight for power will become deeply personal. Fortunately for Labour, it seems Brown is prepared to give as good as he gets.