Friday, 22 May 2015

Tabloid Secrets

I was most interested to read this book, largely because the News of the World, whatever you thought about it, was a phenomenon. I think that's the right word. There never was another paper quite like it. I used to read it regularly. Even in the fairly short time since the paper closed, at the behest of its owner, well I won't bore you with why that happened, but there was phone hacking and a whole bunch of stuff, and I suppose the brand finally became tainted, the dead-tree press has become less relevant, and less important to people's lives, and perhaps as a consequence, people have become more credulous.

My grandfather, a butcher by trade who was of Welsh heritage and worked in the Harrods food hall in the last years of his working life, used to read the Daily Mirror. He read it every day, and was highly sceptical about what he read there. He thought the government mostly lied to the people, and that most of the papers copied out their lies most of the time. He was probably right. He used to like the News of the World too, but my grandmother wouldn't have it in the house because of its raunchy content, and because she thought reading it might give my grandfather "ideas" - what sort of ideas, she never said, though my brother and I used to try and persuade her to.

My parents used to read the Daily Sketch, and later on The Times. Most of the rest of our family thought they were getting above themselves for reading the "Top People's Paper", as it styled itself at one time. My father was fairly sceptical about what he read too, but less so than my grandfather had been. He used to wonder aloud about what was "meant" by what was published. He knew there was another message there under the headlines, but he wasn't quite sure what it was. My mother very rarely commented on the news. When the Profumo affair broke I was nine years old, and my parents got their "information" about it from the newspapers they read. I remember their rather clumsy attempts to use coded language when they talked about that story in front of their children. I think they were trying to avoid one of us asking "What's a call girl?"

I read newspapers when I was younger, to my shame the Guardian at one time, poisonous racist rag that it is, and I read The Times on line sometimes now - I get bored and let my subscription lapse, and then I start again - but newspapers aren't part of my life any more. I use public transport every day, and you never see people reading newspapers on there any more. Freesheet giveaways, maybe.

Neville Thurlbeck, sometime news editor and chief reporter on the News of the World, describes the old Fleet Street and tabloid reporting as a "vanished world", and so it is. Twitter and so on have more or less put paid to it. And we are all the more gullible as a result. Retweet something when you have no idea whether it is true or not, which people do every day in their millions, and where in all that is knowledge? There used to be a saying up north "some folks'll believe owt" I think it was, perhaps regional linguists can correct me (I'm from London and the South). And so they will.

If you read this book expecting to discover the vanished dark arts of story-getting, you will be disappointed, although the blurb tells you that is just what you will get. No. It gives you background on the chasing around that goes with breaking a tabloid story, David Beckham's affairs, that sort of thing. And as such is good fun, and rather interesting. I remember a lot of stories from the NotW (I was even in one once, the headline was "Woman On Top"), and it would have been great to find out some of the back stories, but most people are more interested in David Beckham than they are in some choirmaster being caught out fiddling with a choirboy. though they shouldn't be.

Of course, there was "the one that got away". A senior politician, whose sexuality was not what he made it out to be, allegedly, but who was never exposed. If he had been, the political landscape would have been "radically altered", we are told. Well, who might THAT be, then?

I think this book is rather a valuable contribution to the history of the media. Journalists, other than very pompous ones who think themselves historians and so on, don't usually write books that make a contribution to the sum of human knowledge. This one has.  

Friday, 8 May 2015

two blues in Reading

is this 1992 all over again? It has been suggested that it is. A Tory leader, slightly unexpectedly to be Prime Minister again when the polls said he probably wouldn't be - a Tory leader the people don't exactly loathe, as many of them did Thatcher, but don't warm to either - a Tory leader, however many of his party do loathe, cordially or otherwise - and Europe the Big Issue. The only difference seems to be that John Major didn't know to begin with how much of an issue Europe was for his backbenchers and members, and David Cameron does know. Well, 1992 was a tragedy for those of us who were Labour activists at the time, but after all it was 23 years ago, and surely things must have changed since then? Not for the Tory backwoods, it seems. A referendum on membership of the EU there shall be, we are told. A profound mistake. Cameron surely knows this, but has to do it anyway. If the UK leaves the EU, will it leave the Council of Europe too? (Google it, ffs.) The European Convention on Human Rights? Will it have the choice?

Both Reading's Conservative MPs were re-elected yesterday. Not a surprise. Victoria Groulef in Reading West was the better prospect for Labour, and there is no real evidence that the Reading party bigwigs put any effort or resources into Reading East, so nothing has changed there since approximately 1993. As recently as Tuesday this week the Reading Evening Post told us (so it must be true) that former MP for Reading West Martin Salter had personally written to everyone in Reading West asking them to support Victoria Groulef. Must have cost him a hell of a lot in stamps. Because he'd have to have paid the postage personally, and then it would have to have been declared as a donation, or - oh, please yourselves. However, getreading's @LindaAFort tweeted that Martin Salter had started briefing against Groulef during the night: this was confirmed by BBC South. Both used a picture, now mysteriously vanished from their Twitter feeds, showing Groulef leaving the count alone, apparently in tears, with a number of Labour councillors with their backs to her. All that is now to be found from that time from the sainted Linda Fort is "Labour's Victoria Groulef is now nowhere to be seen after looking close to tears". Well, yes. that's what the Reading boys are like, people. Victoria should have expected it.

Linda Fort also tweeted overnight "Former Labour councillor John Howarth said he predicted Labour's loss at the General Election a couple of months ago". That would be early March or so, then. Now usually I avert my eyes when Howarth tweets anything, as I have a sensitive nature and he seems to like tweeting revolting photographs of glutinous carb-rich meals, but I have taken the trouble to look back, and he has tweeted nothing of the kind in the last three months. So, perhaps he wrote it on his political blog? Nope. He doesn't write anything much on there. On 5th January he said Labour was "hanging on". Then nothing until 29th April, when he said Miliband was looking "more plausible". And - that is it. Silence. It was all lies.

I think I shall pay more attention to Linda Fort in future. She is often the bearer of delightful news, such as that Martin Salter is about to become a TV presenter. My first thought, as I am sure was yours, was that he is to replace Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear, Salter being a notorious petrolhead and lover of the blacktop and all things motorised. But, sadly, no. Still, nearly as good. He is the new presenter of a show called "Fishing Britain". You can find it on YouTube here. It's not actually about fishing, it's about Martin Salter. He tells us he's been to Argentina and he's going to a place he coyly calls "the foothills of the Himalayas". So there you are, fans, it's not all politics, the delights just keep on coming. He shakes hands with someone in a shop! He walks past the camera wearing an anorak! This is cutting-edge home video  television. If you miss it, you miss out.

Now, in newly Tory Britain, wish the new MPs well. It's not an easy job. I was doing it back before social media, when all we had was email and letters. This is what the people said they wanted when they voted, so give it to them, please. A better Britain. Er...

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Reading Evening Post says vote Martin Salter

You can see the whole piece from His Master's Voice (including the picture if you can bring yourself to) here, but I shall do a little light fisking below. For a local newspaper which is not supposed to have a party political affiliation to press a candidate's case in this way, and to ask no questions, awkward or otherwise, is more than disgraceful, it is corrupt. But the Post under the editorship of Andy Murrill, the graduate of a Kent secondary modern, was ever thus. Not Labour, but Reading Labour. Not Reading Labour but what the corrupt little clique at its heart tells it. Not the clique, but What Martin Salter Wants. Here is some of the text anyway. My fisking in red.

Former Reading West MP Martin Salter has written to thousands of constituents there are no constituents, idiots. We are in a General Election campaign. Parliament is dissolved. There are no MPs, and therefore no constituents. Even if there were, whose constituents would they be? to ask them to join him in voting for Victoria Groulef . Who bought the stamps? About £40K's worth by my calculations - an expensive vanity publication by anyone's standards.

Mr Salter, who represented Reading West from 1997 until he stepped down in 2010, has come out of retirement to campaign for Ms Groulef saying he wants local people to have an MP who fights long and hard for their constituents. Unlike his own 13 years of treating Reading West as a personal vanity project, funded by the council tax, during which he spent most of his time in Reading East anyway

He has agreed to work with The Labour candidate – should she win the General Election – to rebuild an efficient, responsive local constituency service. How exactly? Answering the phone in her constituency office? Or gurning for the cameras? Tell us, do. Or didn't the Post ask that question? Or did they just copy out Salter's press release? Tell me it ain't so.

Mr Salter wrote: “I want an MP with passion and principles who will work for us all without fear and favour. Victoria will be that MP and I back her 100 per cent. As ever, Reading West will be a straight fight between Labour and the Tories. I hope you will join me in electing Vicky on May 7th and give Reading West back the type of MP you deserve and have not had for five years.” ME! ME! It should have been ME!

Drawing on his successful lobbying for funding to rebuild the Royal Berks and build a new hospital at Prospect Park, Mr Salter has deep concerns about the long-term safety of the NHS in Conservative hands Illogical, Captain. Why would successful lobbying (if there had been any, but there wasn't) lead to concerns about the NHS? and is pleased Ms Groulef has already proved to be a champion for better health services.

She this is Victoria Groulef, do try and keep up. She is the Labour candidate for Reading West. You didn't think this press release newspaper article was all about Martin Salter, did you? Oh.  has raised awareness of the lack of understanding of relatively unheard of medical condition leaving aside the poor subbing, which medical condition?, which included a debate in Parliament noting her advocacy, and closely worked with local small businesses to produce Labour policies such as a small business rates freeze and cut. So Victoria wrote the policies in Labour's national manifesto relating to business, did she? Really?

Mr Salter, who still lives in Reading West, served for 12 years as a Reading borough councillor and deputy leader of the council before becoming an MP. He currently works for the Angling Trust as their national campaigns co-ordinator. That makes him how important, exactly? Nowadays?