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Archive for August, 2011


BBC’s Tripoli coverage outclassed by Sky News.

I know, for many, criticism of the BBC is virtually sacreligious, but it’s on nights like these that I find myself wondering what the TV licence money is actually spent on. On hearing of events in Libya – where the rebels have surged into Tripoli, and it’s rumoured that Colonel Gaddafi has been killed – I instantly started hopping between Sky News and the BBC News channel. The juxtaposed images were incredibly different. On Sky News, Alex Crawford is in the middle of nighttime Tripoli, wearing helmet and body armour, reporting live on events as they happen. Gunshots ring out all around her.

Meanwhile over on BBC News, they’re showing some video footage – apparently from earlier in the evening – of rebels jauntily heading towards the capital. Occasionally, when they can, they’re speaking on the phone with Tripolitan residents, most of whom have no idea what’s going on. As I type, they’re going to the weather…

For an historic event of this enormity and consequence, it’s frankly a disgrace that our national public service broadcaster – and the world’s largest broadcaster, at that – should be so behind on a story. Sky News deserve to pick up – and keep – huge numbers of new viewers tonight.


The mystery of being blocked by @Ken4London.

Whilst having a casual browse on Twitter earlier, I happened to notice that I was no longer following @Ken4London – the account run by Ken Livingstone’s campaign team. Contrary to my initial assumption, it seemed I hadn’t mistakenly unfollowed Ken after one too many bottles of Rioja the other night – I had, in fact, been blocked. Hardly the most liberal way to deal with opponents, I thought, but then I had been reasonably forthright in my views on Ken when his ‘Boris is Hitler’ remarks came out the other day.

Anyway, I expressed my derision at the blocking and suggested I’d take it as a badge of honour. I thought nothing more of it. A couple of hours later, Simon Fletcher, Ken’s Chief of Staff, piped up…

Very nice of him to get in touch – and I’m very pleased that they “like to hearing from” (sic) me – but some of that explanation doesn’t add up. Firstly, how did he know of the “others”? There’s no way to see who you’ve recently blocked, short of going to various individual accounts and seeing if you’ve blocked them. Given it seems no one else had complained of being blocked, and given I was the only person he informed of the awful error, we can reasonably assume that there were no others.

My second query relates to his claim that my blocking was “by mistake”. Given we are told that the account is written by multiple people in Ken’s team – including, at times, Ken himself – it seems unlikely that Simon can be sure my blocking was accidental. Even if he hadn’t blocked me personally, he surely can’t guarantee that no-one else had. As much as I love the idea, I’m doubtful that he phoned Ken and asked “By the way, did you block Boris Backer on Twitter?”. Realistically, the only way Simon could guarantee – as he did in subsequent tweets – that my blocking was by mistake is if he is actually the only person who administers the account. If that’s the case, presumably the tweets directly ‘from Ken’ – invariably packed with somewhat queasy faux-affability – actually have to go through Simon first. Perhaps that vetting process was drawn up when his team realised Ken was periodically going to go off the rails and make contemptible comments like comparing his main opponent to Adolf Hitler.

Lastly, is it really likely – regardless of the truth of any of the above speculation – that multiple people were blocked ‘by mistake’? To block one person by mistake seems very careless indeed, given the quite conscious action it requires. The blocking of multiple people by mistake would surely be the result of some sort of rabidly furious frenzy.

The truth is out there…


Quote of the day: Ken Livingstone.

“I’m going to write a book about my gardening experience in London, and set up a small business to put gardens in for people who want small, manageable wildlife.”

(Ken Livingstone, when asked what he would do if he doesn’t regain the mayoralty next year. The use of “I’m going to” rather than a conditional “I would” is an intriguing freudian slip.)


Boris is Hitler, says Ken.

Just when one imagined it impossible for Ken Livingstone to reach greater levels of depravity, it was today reported that he has compared Boris to Hitler. He’s described the mayoral contest as being a battle between good and evil – akin to Churchill and Hitler. He’s also said that anyone who doesn’t vote for him will go to hell. The full quote – as reported by Total Politics’ Amber Elliott – is as follows:

“It’s a simple choice between good and evil – I don’t think it’s been so clear since the great struggle between Churchill and Hitler… The people that don’t vote for me will be weighed in the balance, come Judgement Day. The Archangel Gabriel will say, ‘You didn’t vote for Ken Livingstone in 2012. Oh dear, burn forever. Your skin flayed for all eternity.’”

I’m not going to over-analyse the quote, because it largely speaks for itself. It’s just contemptible. What I will add is that it can’t be dismissed as an out-of-character aberration. It comes just months after Ken compared Boris’ Chief of Staff to Serbian war criminal, Ratko Mladic. It comes just weeks after he declared Boris and everyone in City Hall to be “evil”. And, lest we forget, it comes six years after he was suspended from office, pre-appeal, for comparing a Jewish newspaper reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Such comments display an abhorrent flippancy towards incidents of mass genocide, and a willingness to say absolutely anything, regardless of taste or class, to get one over on his opponents. The electorate awaits, Ken…


Funding and thought: Boris leads riot response.

Now that the London riots have ended, Boris’s role as mayor changes from leader of the embattled to leader of the recovery. The time for expressing shock and solidarity – as important as such expressions were – has passed. The recovery needs to take two forms. Firstly, a rebuilding operation is required in order to repair the physical damage caused by the riots. Secondly, a more philosophical, but ultimately policy-driven, look needs to be taken at why the riots occurred and what we can do to prevent them happening again. I’m pleased to see that Boris has taken a lead on both.

He has created a £50 million fund to help local businesses and improve town centres and high streets damaged by the riots. This is on top of the £50 million Outer London Fund which he announced a couple of weeks ago. Boris has also committed to ensuring that contracts for the work are awarded to as many local businesses and employ as many local people as possible. This will all be a huge, tangible help to those who have been most affected – improving business prospects, providing employment and regenerating areas in which people live and work. That’s practical leadership.

The other form of recovery requires more philosophical leadership. Boris’ article in today’s Telegraph is a decent contribution to the required analysis. He argues that whilst many of the rioters were driven by greed, by a desire to be noticed, and by a desire to fit in with their gangs, an overwhelming majority of rioters were simply people from lower socio-economic groups who feel that they’ve been left behind and that the world holds nothing for them. That seems a reasonable explanation – and is certainly a lot more cogent than Ken Livingstone’s deluded view that the riots occurred because of bus fares, the rise in tuition fees and bankers’ bonuses.

If Boris is right in his analysis, then he is right too in highlighting the importance of apprenticeships and mentors – both of which he has invested in heavily over the last few years – in helping people get out of the deprived ruts that they find themselves in. He is also right to state how crucial literacy is if people are to avoid getting in those ruts in the first place, and we are reminded that he and Peter Andre launched a new literacy project just a few weeks ago. Similarly important is how we deal with last week’s offenders. Boris is keen to enforce restorative justice, bringing rioters face-to-face with their victims to apologise, and making them perform community service in order to earn back their free travel – as per the Payback London scheme which was launched in 2009. None of these are knee-jerk reactions to the events that unfolded last week; these are policy initiatives, launched well before the riots occurred, which are now proving to have been remarkably prescient.


Quote of the day: Heidi Alexander.

“Some argue that this week’s riots are just the direct product of Government cuts. I don’t buy that, it’s too simplistic. Yes, some youth centres have closed, yes, young people are angry about tuition fees. But the people out rioting on Monday are, by and large, not the people who use our youth clubs nor, I suspect, are they the people who will be re-evaluating a university education as a result of increased tuition fees.”

(Labour MP Heidi Alexander suggests Ken Livingstone is wrong to blame the London riots on Tory cuts.)



Join the Boris Backers Fantasy Football League.

To mark the opening day of the Premier League season, I’ve set up a fantasy football league for Boris backers. Head over to the Premier League site, and use the cod1074096-370320 to join the league.

Just think what a month next May could be. Get Boris re-elected on the 3rd, then be crowned champion of the inaugural Boris backers league on the 13th. They’d be heady times indeed.


Set Ed Miliband on the rioters.

For all the talk of water cannons and plastic bullets, I wonder whether the government have yet considered setting the Leader of the Opposition on the rioters. Who would mess with this?

[Hat-tip: Awkward Ed Miliband Moments.]


Boris’s re-election odds improve.

I’ve said before how highly I rate the betting markets when trying to predict the outcome of political events. Betting odds are the result of objective forecasts made by people for whom it pays to be correct, whereas opinion polls – or other less scientific readings of public opinion – simply show people’s current views, often at times of high emotion.

With that in mind, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the London Mayoral Election odds in the last couple of days. Lefties have been beside themselves with excitement since the weekend, telling anyone who’ll listen that Boris has responded badly to the London riots - under the apparent (glorious) misapprehension that Boris could have single-handedly prevented the carnage if he hadn’t had the temerity to be on his summer holiday when it all kicked off. That’s not how I’ve seen it at all. He returned from his holiday promptly (remember we didn’t realise how big an issue this had become until late on Sunday night, and he was on his way back by Monday afternoon – no mean feat, given he had to arrange a flight from around 5,000 miles away), and within hours of his return he was out in the community, meeting people, thanking volunteers and supporting emergency workers. Both yesterday and today, as he’s toured London, he’s been met with cheers from members of the public. Even yesterday’s “heckling” was actually some distraught Londoners asking, quite reasonably, where on earth the police had been – it certainly wasn’t the backlash against Boris that lefties tried to paint it as.

Anyway, I digress. Today is the first day that the London Mayoral betting markets have moved since the riots, and they show Boris to have improved his odds of being re-elected next May, with William Hill having cut him from 4/9 to 2/5. At the same time, they’ve lengthened the odds of Ken being successful – from 13/8 to 7/4. They’ve also shortened Boris’ odds of becoming the next Tory leader, making him the clear favourite. He still has a huge amount of work to do – a city to lead in a truly dark hour, millions of people to reassure, a monumental clear-up and rebuilding project to orchestrate, and no doubt a huge investigation to heed the results of – but the signs are that he’s got it right so far.


Boris returns, brandishes broom, thanks volunteers.

Within hours of returning early from his holiday, Boris was this afternoon out on the streets of London, meeting local business owners and residents who have been so hugely affected by the riots in the capital over the last couple of days.

At one point, an interview he was giving in Clapham was interrupted by chants of “Where’s your broom? Where’s your broom?”. Boris looked over, bemusedly, to see a huge group of volunteers behind a police cordon waiting to begin cleaning up the mess. He grabbed himself a broom and headed over to speak to them…

“Can you hear me? Good afternoon everybody. Can you hear me at the back? I just want to say thank you to everybody who’s come out here today to volunteer to help clean up the mess of last night. Thank you. You are the true spirit of this city. You represent the people of this city, not the looters and the thugs who did so much damage to London business last night.

I want to say personally how deeply sorry I am, and how much I regret the damage that has been sustained by businesses in this community. And I want to say to the rioters and the thugs, and to those who committed robbery and violence last night, that it’s time we heard a little bit less of the sociological justifications for what is, in my view, nothing less than wanton criminality. I hope the people recognise that they will face the full force of the law, and they will face punishments they will bitterly regret.

And I ask anybody who has the faintest vestige of sympathy with these people to ask yourselves, what is the good, in times of economic difficulty, in raiding and destroying businesses which are the lifeblood of our community, and that give people jobs? Where is the sense in that? There is no logic in it, and I appeal to everybody to resist it and to help us to bring these people to justice.

And in the meantime, I want to thank all of you for coming along today. Thank you for issuing me with this broom! I know that you’ve been waiting here for a long time to come and sweep up the streets. I’ve been talking to the borough commander and his police here – there are forensics they have to go through, but I’m told it will be imminent. Any minute now, you will be allowed to come through and begin the process of clearing up. Thank you very much everyone for coming along today, and thank you for sticking up for London, and for the innocent, hard-working people of this city.”

You can watch it here.