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On bombs, no-growth strategy, sexist Sky commentators, Murdoch and phones, evil Mail

Posted on 25 January 2011 | 8:01am

Just as politicians say that terrorist attacks won’t change the way we go about our business – they do – so the media will always allow a major bombing to shift its agenda. That is not a criticism. An outrage of the kind we saw in Moscow yesterday is clearly genuinely newsworthy, and a reminder that for more extreme terror groups, any high profile target will do, the bigger and deadlier the better.

It meant that a number of very high profile stories suddenly slipped down the agenda, no doubt to the relief of, among others…

– David Cameron, George Osborne and Vince Cable following outgoing CBI boss Richard Lambert’s rather splendid denunciation of the Tory government’s non-growth strategy.

– Rupert Murdoch and his senior executives, with the  phone-hacking scandal stench  growing, and with the Crown Prosecution Service now taking a fresh and tougher look at investigations woefully mishandled by the police.

– And Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys whose sexist comments about a linesman led to their suspension.

An explanation if I may about my tweet yesterday on the last of these, in which I wondered if Andy Gray’s pursuit of the News of the World – he is taking them to court for phone-hacking- may have been a factor in Sky’s actions against him. I was not defending the sexist comments. Far from it. It is one thing to say a lineswoman made a wrong call (which the lineswoman in question, Sian Massey, did not; indeed she gave a very good account of herself). It is another to say women can’t understand the offside rule.

But as the comments were not meant for public consumption, and given how important Gray and Keys are to Sky’s football coverage, I think the Sky of pre-phonehack sensitivities, with Murdoch not in town, might have tried to tough it out with an on air apology and a reprimand.

The Russian bombing led to a Newsnight discussion on phone-hacking being dropped. I had been planning to make the point that in some respects the focus on Andy Coulson had become a sideshow, that this really was a bigger and more serious story about press standards more generally. Where has that useless body the Press Complaints Commission (motto ‘by the press for the press’) been in all this? Nowhere, as ever.

Yesterday someone sent me a couple of links to reports from a less useless body, The Information Commissioner, on the unlawful trade in personal information. You can take a look here and here. The second one – go to page 9 – reveals that when it comes to unlawful information gathering the Mail is way out in front. No wonder they are way out in front, alongside News Corp, in willing this away.

But this cannot now be willed away. Reputable newspapers and journalists have a vested interest in making sure it doesn’t. MPs who have been wary about getting involved need to put aside worries about being targeted themselves and act in the public interest in pursuing the truth on illegal journalistic activity more widely. They are right too to press on Cameron’s poor judgement in becoming socially entwined in what Gordon Brown called ‘the North Oxfordshire set’, and in particular in socialising so closely with James Murdoch shortly after stripping Vince Cable of powers over the BSkyB takeover. The police need to get their act together and rebuild a reputation that has been badly hit. The CPS need to follow through on the changed attitude signalled in some of the papers today.

As for Richard Lambert, he was a fine editor of the FT and an impressive director general of the CBI. Even if the yesterday’s speech was partly about getting himself noticed amid suggestions he may be the next head of the BBC Trust, he was  spot on in saying the government obsession with cutting the deficit has blinded them to the need for a strategy for growth. I don’t imagine this was his intention, but he helped open a door for new shadow chancellor Ed Balls, for whom it will now be easier put growth at the centre of the politico-economic stage.

News does work in funny ways sometimes. No pun intended. Well, maybe a bit.

  • Anonymous

    You’ve certainly covered a lot today; excellent blog. I wanted to say that though Gray’s and Keys’ comments were not meant for public consumption that in itself makes it worse as they made positive comments about Sian Massey as she walked out on to the pitch on Saturday, yet behind her back they were outrageously sexist. I had to smile when one or both of them disputed her actions on the goal and then it was proved she was 100% correct! I would not have been happy with an on air apology last night (though I hope there is one at some stage) and I think suspension is the way forward but I hope it is extended for several months otherwise these 2 men have got away with it and we can’t have that. We have to kick racism out of football and sexism out of football. I’ve wondered why the Press Complaints Commission exists; it doesn’t do much at all. As for the phone hacking scandal I am sure Mr Coulson knew everything is about to hit the fan and that’s why he chose to sidle out on Friday

  • What sums the Gray/Keys story for me.. the Guardian have had to apologise for reporting sexist comments attributed to Townsend from twitter but failed to verify the account was actually him. Is this the level of reporting we’re now at?

    The comments were wrong but I still can’t get my head around how off air Sky Sports footage ends up aired on Sky News in full subtitled glory.

  • Guest

    It’s funny isn’t it……Just as Coulson said something about when the spokesperson needs a spokesprson…etc etc……the story now rushes headlong into who can achieve the greatest spin. I say that however, not negating the Moscow atrocity of course, although one thought has struck me this morning.

    Civilian casualties, collateral damage and the fact that professional armed forces are also expected to lay down their lives for a cause, if need be.

    As for Murdoch and co….. unless they have ambitions to bomb any dissent off the face of the planet, he really isn’t that important.

  • Chris lancashire

    Wondering what this growth strategy of yours looks like. We have 0.5% base rate, a competitive exchange rate, venture capital readily available and government spending slowly returning to sanity. Admittedly we could do without Harman’s loony legislation and meddling with the retirement age but, that apart, business really doesn’t need much more other than government to keep out of the way. No doubt you and Balls think we should throwing more public money at business. Business doesn’t.

    • Robert

      In Tory Britain no need for gas and air, no epidurals, no paracetamol when the contractions start, eh? Chris?

      Just take the pain.

      Tory on the economy not just the NHS.

      Not nice.

  • Andy Bell

    I note that culture secretary, Jermey Hunt, says he feels the News Corp proposed takeover of BSkyB “may operate against the public interest in media plurality”. A clear piece of spin to cover what has been an interesting few days for the world of Murdoch’s empire and interests.

    I would be amazed if the bid was rejected by the relevant boards and committee’s. Would be interesting to see the battle between the BBC and a true News Corp produced BSKyB.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Here we go. UK economy shrinks 0.5%! Much feared double-dip recession could be on the horizon.
    The Tory-led government´s ideologically-driven reckless gamble aiming at smaller state has been proven wrong. People voted for change – now they are getting a big change to their living standards.
    Labour left a growing economy with the deficit £10bn below the forecast. Labour would have halved the deficit in four years without risking the recovery. But the voters rejected the credible Alistair Darling plan.
    53% of Britons believe that the Tories are competent on economy. But they had no answers when the financial crisis hit Britain. They then got the recession completely wrong. Why to believe that they now have the right answers?
    George Osborne has boasted that he has no Plan B. He, of course, has once again been economical with the truth. In reality, Mr Osborne has been counting that if things go wrong as they now have done, the Bank of England would come to his rescue with a new round of quantitative easing (QE). QE means creation of electronic money through buying gilts.
    But the BoE cannot now do this because inflation (3.7%) is so high. As a matter of fact, the BoE will be forced to raise interest rates this year putting the recovery and 8m homeowners at further risk.
    It seems that the only macro-economic tool Mr Osborne will be left with is to slow the pace of fiscal retrenchment thus proving that Labour has been right all the time when it has been saying that the cuts are too big and too fast.
    Interest rates are currently at 0.5%.
    Britain´s public net debt is £889.1bn (59.3% of GDP) not including bank bailouts. Year ago it was 52.2% of GDP. So the debt is rising fast, and there is doubt whether the government will be able to reach its deficit target of £149bn.
    With VAT at 20% and oil prices $100 a barrel, inflation could reach 5% this year. But there is little sign of wage-price spirals.
    Mr Osborne is a growth-denier. Growth is the best way to reduce deficit – not drastic cuts. We need a credible plan for growth and jobs.
    Britain´s economic policy has been in the hands of ideological amateurs who believe that Britain was like Greece, governments are like households and that there has not been a global financial crisis. Instead they blame everything starting with Icelandic volcanoes on Labour.
    The time has arrived for the Tory-led government finally to admit the truth. The official figures already tell it!

  • Nicky

    Backing up the concerns of Sir Richard Lambert, a ‘Red Flag Alert’ was issued by Begbies Traynor (the UK’s leading business recovery specialist).

    They say that:

    the number of companies in these two sectors [ie the final quarter of 2010] suffering financial distress has risen by 18% over the last quarter, to over 33,000 … the number of UK companies facing ‘significant’ or ‘critical’ financial problems has risen to almost 148,000, the first year on year increase for seven quarters. In addition, those facing ‘critical’ problems alone are now struggling with nearly £53 billion worth of liabilities.

    And yet Vince Cable is still trying to defend the idiocies of this government’s economic policy! I noticed yesterday, however, that he did refrain from using the ‘Labour’s mess’ mantra. Perhaps even he realises he can’t get away with that one much longer. Perhaps it’s something to do with Ed Balls’ very good mythbusting article out yesterday (in the Mirror and on his website) about how the govt is systematically lying about Labour’s economic record.

    Despite the media’s entrenched anti-Labour bias, I think the message is beginning to get through that this govt haven’t a clue.

    Ed B’s defence of Labour’s record, and ability to make complex economic theory more understandable to the general public, is going to be very valuable.

    Apparently, the Tory response is that Cameron has got his people trawling through the archives to find a photo of the two Eds sitting near Gordon Brown. So, what they seem to be saying is – we’ll just stick our heads in the sand about the economy, and go for the crappy PR option based on character assassination and lies.

    It would be laughable if it wasn’t so terrifying stupid and damaging.

  • Janete

    Another blow for the Tories with negative growth figures today. Osborne’s interview on BBC 24 demonstrated why they muzzled him during the election campaign. He is very poor in unscripted situations and doesn’t seem able to handle probing questions, even fairly mild ones dished up by a cowed BBC. His strategy seems to be to plan a maximum one minute soundbite and repeat it ad nauseum. Today he managed to repeat the word ‘weather’ 14 times in 3 minutes and looked ridiculous. If the economic future of this country rests with him, British people should be very afraid.

    PS You can view the clip I refer to on the BBC website. I hope the BBC will prove their independence by also posting up Ed Balls’ far more intelligent response.

  • Go Comdave

    Erm? Hello?

  • Dave Simons

    You may have seen the article in the last but one ‘New Statesman’ in which Vince Cable tried to fit the Coalition’s economic strategy into Keynesianism. Even in this article Vince had to approve of the bank bail-out of October 2008 as enacted by Brown/Darling, and as would not have been enacted by Cameron/Osbourne, if you can believe a word they say about anything after so many U-turns. I heard Vince say the same thing before before an audience in the summer of 2010. What comes over to me about LibDems like Cable and Simon Hughes is that they seem to be on the verge of nervous breakdowns, trying to defend the policies of Tory politicians who, frankly, still think they’re trading insults in the Oxford Union or somewhere similar.

  • Sarah Dodds

    So here I am, stuck between a rock and a hard place.
    I’m coming to the end of my public sector employment that I adore (as a result of the cuts) and going it alone with a business.
    Can anybody please tell me, especially those of a right wing persuasion here, why I have any reason to smile? I am not a business woman. I’m starting from scratch and prepared to work very hard. Today, for the first time, I’m thinking it might fail. I’ve been through many emotions over the last few months as the process has unfolded. And this one is called fear.
    What the hell is someone in my situation meant to sodding well do????????????????????????

  • Teresa

    Janete I saw the interview, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, it was like groundog day.

  • Nicky

    I haven’t seen the article yet, but it certainly sounds like the former St Vince had to tie himself up in knots. It’s about time he exercised his nuclear option and walked. He’d have to grow a pair to do that, though.

  • alienfromzog

    I’m feeling quite prophetic now. Although not smug. That would be possible if I thought the government would change course. They won’t and they’re destroy the public sector and the economy in the process.

    Remember, the Tories are the ones who know how to run the economy…


  • Dave Simons

    I’m glad to hear that today you’re only speaking on behalf of ‘business’ rather than, as yesterday, ‘the world’, but I listened to Radio Four’s ‘Today’ programme this morning and it made me unable to share your optimism about neo-liberalism, which has, I think, taken a bit of a jolt as an ideology since 2007/8. The programme included interviews with the managers of businesses around London’s dockland area, and though one retailer seemed to be breaking even, the majority of businesses were down on their takings.I think they’d probably welcome some public money chucked their way. I also don’t think your definition of ‘business’ can include the farming industry, which has been, and continues to be, kept afloat by state subsidies since World War Two. If government kept out of the way of farmers they would have less paperwork to do but they wouldn’t be spreading dung and milking cows much longer eother.

  • Anonymous

    So Andy Gray has been sacked, but not his Sky colleague who happens not to be pursuing NOTW. Wouldn’t want to spend the evening with either, but it’s an interesting development. And I see I’m late in making this point because Twitter addict AC already made it.

    • Janete

      Yes, especially interesting given that Keys initiated the conversation and made the most offensive comments about the referees assistant and Karen Brady.

  • Chapster24d

    Unlike the public sector darling , in you new career what you put in you will get – good luck welcome to the real world…hats off to you for trying

    • Sarah Dodds

      You patronising bastard. You make my blood boil.
      You have no idea what I have been doing for the last 16 years, how hard I have bloody well worked, or the type of kids I have been trying to help. They are the ones being thrown on the scrap heap under a label “not worth the investment” by this utter shitheap of a Government.

  • Chapster24d

    Total rubbish as per usual my Finnish friend….oil is $87 number 1 , no one is saying inflation will hit 5% , labour left the UK with a never seen before huge structural debt , you cannot exclude bank bailouts from your equations either.
    As the north east is a labour heartland Northern rock was saved – it should have been closed and everyone sacked…as with Alliance and Leicester and also B& B – we wasted good money after bad.
    You cannot hide Labour engineered a debt bubble from Govt down to irresponsible borrowers in the wider general public.
    Our AAA rating is at risk without a credible deficit reducing plan which would add billions to our interest payments if we lost it…don’t ignore this as it is just about the most important factor.
    Even with the cuts proposed we are going back to 2007 levels – the public sector should be reduced further.
    The 1st QTR 2010 GDP numbers will bounce back strongly and you in particular will be red-faced by the big rebound in 2011….global growth is on the move and the UK will be well placed to join in…
    And anyway – what do you care you are in er….Finland?? !!

    • Janete

      ‘no one is saying inflation will hit 5%’

      Just heard Mervin King say it!

    • Gillian C.

      Well, well, well, unless I’m very much mistaken, the poster formerly known as S Chapman has returned to this site with a different user name. Nothing wrong with that. You are as entitled as anyone else to express your opinion here on AC’s site. However, don’t you think that refering to Olli your “Finnish Friend”is a tad patronizing? I very much doubt that he is your friend or even an acquaintance. So, besides being patronizing it’s not even accurate.
      Regarding what you say in your post, I do not share your views and opinions, and so far nobody else does either. By contrast OI has 15 “likes” so far. Food for thought eh “darling”

  • Ehtch

    Yes, it has been quite a busy day. And snow, yes, nasty snow, making us broke. And Davos summit to come for the next few days – Ozzie down the pecking order of meets and greets, suddenly.

    And good luck Thurday night live on Channel 4 at 10pm Alastair. Remember, leave the jokes to the comedians – just say things like “very droll”, and, “that’s a good one, ha-ha-ha” (politely), and just do an all round general ConDem coalition bash. That’ll be what the punters want, and leave the jokes to Mitchell/Carr/Brooker. And watch yourself with Laverne – I take it you’ve seen what is going on with Sky’s footie presenters at the moment?

  • Gilliebc

    Sarah, if you can teach children (even the challenging ones) and not only keep sane but also find it enjoyable and fulfilling, then running a business is well within your capabilities.
    I expect you already have an accountant. If not, get the best you can afford. A good accountant can save you thousands of pounds and are worth their weight in gold (not literally). Also take full advantage of any free help and advice on offer. I know from my own experience when in a similar situation, I was actually quite scared, going out on a limb like that. But for me and my family it worked out amazingly well. imho there is no reason why it shouldn’t go well for you either. You are obviously confident in your teaching abilities. So just apply some of that confidence to other business-type areas. I dare say there’s a lot of red tape involved with it these days. But nothing is insurmountable.
    Keep in mind the rewards it will bring, both in terms of job satisfaction and financial benefits.

  • Gilliebc

    Sarah, I forgot to mention in my main post/reply to you, not to forget the importance of advertising, this is crucial for the success of any new business. The word “new” being the most important to use. Later on when your business is established and successful you will be able to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations. Surely you must be eligible for some sort of Grant or start-up financial assistance, I would have thought. If I’ve been telling you things you are already aware of then you’ll be fine!

  • Robert

    When Tory small businessfolk wail about red tape they sometimes mean, justifiably, they are pee’d off with the basic administration which quickly turns into a timewasting muddle.

    Sometimes this is a simple matter of book keeping.

    So – four hints:

    1…bank ALL of the money you receive – intact – keeping a record of everything that makes up a banking. Do it often and don’t jumble up money received one day with other days’ money, tempting and harmless as it might seem.

    2…avoid paying for anything in cash unless it comes from a petty cash tin with a balanced float (an imprest).

    3…speak to an accountant early on to set up a simple system that meets your needs.

    4…if someone bounces a cheque on you then do not give it them back – it’s your record!

    That way any mistakes with money will be “in the figures” and not because pound notes have gone walkabouts.

    All best wishes from all of us.

  • Chris lancashire

    No Dave and we wouldn’t have had butter mountains and wine lakes.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has said that inflation is likely to be about 5% in the coming months. Oil prices will, in all probability, be close to $100 this year. The bank bailouts are not usually included in the debt figures because the hope is that shares in banks will be sold at profit in the future. Britain´s debt including the interventions in Lloyds and RBS is £2.3tr or 154.9% of GDP. So the bank bailouts were not a drop in the ocean as the rightwing press tries to claim.

  • Sarah Dodds

    Thank you Robert. Genuine help I could do with. Patronising crap I can leave behind ;o)

  • Sarah Dodds

    Thank you to you too Gilliebc 🙂