Monthly Archives: October 2009

Consider The Poppy

So I’ve been called a ‘twit’ and accused of getting my “online knickers in a twist” for expressing disapproval of Adam Crozier, the Chief Executive of Royal Mail, who yesterday appeared on the Andrew Marr show to talk about the postal strikes.

I wasn’t making a political point, or expressing disapproval of his interview, though he seemed weak and evasive to me given it was his first interview on the situation for weeks. I was merely pointing out the fact Crozier wasn’t wearing a Remembrance poppy.

This year’s Poppy Appeal was launched on 22nd October. The British Legion says people can wear poppies at any time – all year round if they like – but it considers the appropriate time to be during “Remembrancetide”, the period from the appeal’s launch (22nd October this year) until Remembrance Sunday (second Sunday in November, which this year is the 8th).

The BBC, meanwhile, has no specific policy on poppy-wearing, saying it is “a personal decision”. Andrew Marr, for example, had made a personal decision to wear a poppy.

But should it be a “personal decision” if you are the Chief Executive of Royal Mail? In World War One, 85,000 postal workers fought in France and Flanders and the other theatres of war. 8,500 of them died. So shouldn’t Mr Crozier, as a figurehead of Royal Mail, respect the sacrifice of people from the government-owned organisation he leads by wearing a poppy?

I happened to be on Twitter at the time of the Marr programme, before going out canvassing, so I tweeted this:

Royal Mail’s Adam Crozier is not wearing a poppy on Marr. Bad form.

I did a quick search to find out how many postal workers died in the World War One and tweeted this:

Royal Mail’s Adam Crozier not wearing a poppy on Marr. 85000 General Post Office staff fought in the WW1 alone and 8500 lost their lives.

I returned from canvassing later to find this response from a Lambeth resident called @Jason_Cobb.

@CllrMarkBennett Poppy or no-poppy – Not about “bad form” but personal sentiment. The wearing of a poppy is not a PR move.

Had I suggested it was anything to do with PR? No. I expressed my view for the reasons set out above. So I tweeted back thus:

@Jason_Cobb How DARE you suggest I think it’s anything to do with PR. Personal sentiment irrelevant. 8500 people from org he leads died.

Twitter’s140 characters is sometimes not enough to be able to express a point, so I added:

@Jason_Cobb And consider the sacrifice of people who died in war to allow you the freedom of ‘personal sentiment’. Or was theirs a PR move?

To which @Jason_Cobb responded:

@CllrMarkBennett And how *dare* you interpret my tweet in the immature way you did. Twitter is great in context. This aint one of ’em.

So it’s immature to clarify my point?

I actually quite like Jason Cobb’s general outlook on life and have no desire to fall out with him. People like Mr Cobb often say they want politicians to say what they think, want politicians to engage with new media, and then get all upset or have a spasm of high-mindedness when we express a view they don’t like, or we dare to answer back. 

Having lectured me for immaturity, Mr Cobb has since blogged calling me a ‘twit’ and said I responded to him with a “misguided and failed misinterpretation” of what he said. Consider the trio of negatives in that statement – it would appear to me that a misinterpretation that is failed and misguided is actually a successful interpretation. Ah, the English language.

He goes on to say, with all the condescension he can muster:

 “Twitter is great at many things – context ‘aint one of them … the wonderful shiny new frontiers of 2.0 can trip up any in-experienced local politician that thinks a throwaway 140 character message is going to help them get elected next time round.”

Inexperienced doesn’t need to be hyphenated, but I’ll overlook that because his chosen adjective is not accurate anyway. He might know this if he took the trouble to find out, rather than make specious assumptions. Does he seriously think I am hoping Twitter will help me get elected? The answer to that is: I was out canvassing three times over the weekend, not sitting at a computer.

What is this context he’s talking about? I explained the context, I expressed my view. He expressed his, I chose to respond defending my view. Perhaps he could explain what he means by context. But wait, he then goes on to say:

“Of course there’s a danger of falling into the trap of thinking that all of these online missives are actually of any relevance. They’re not. They’re simply the modern interweb manifestation of rotten eggs being thrown at the people who deserve them the most.”

Ah, there we have it. All politicians deserve the rotten egg treatment.  That must be his context! How refreshingly original.

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Moir Is Less

I’ve been out leafleting in my ward and meeting constituents for much of the day, so I’ve come home to Twittergeddon over the Jan Moir article appearing in the Daily Mail today promoting a vile innuendo about the death of the singer-actor Stephen Gately, a gay man whose untimely end is something the Mail can’t comprehend as a human tragedy. Moir has presented it instead as a tragedy of morals, a tragedy of celebrity life and a tragedy of being gay. What a callous and stupid woman.

I’ve read the article (online, observing the changes of headline and the removal of advertising) and Moir’s puppety statement (Paul Dacre pulls her strings) in which she says:

“In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.”

Arrogantly put, Miss Moir. (I’d say Ms Moir but the Mail doesn’t approve of that kind of political-correctness-gone-mad, and I read on her website that she lives with her boyfriend so she’s probably not married. Hang on – presumably the Mail doesn’t approve of that kind of thing either. Note to Mr Dacre: One of your lady columnists appears to be living in sin, sin I tell you. Please explain).

Whether the Mail likes it or not, the internet does exist and has a valuable purpose – the democratisation of news and information. The debate has moved from the newsprint pages to allow people an immediate ability to agree and disagree on the issues of the day, via Twitter for example. Gone are the days where a debate would meander along for a few days on the letters page, and that is all to the good. The debate moves faster and stronger now and can no longer be controlled by editorial barons like Mr Dacre. You and your paper are not what you were, Mr D, and it’s my sincere hope you will both become less and less with every day and month.

Miss Moir affects shock that anyone could have thought her article had ” homophobic and bigoted undertones”. Of course not. They were overtones, typical Daily Mail homophobic and bigoted overtones, clear as a clanging bell. Just read the last line of the whole article: “The ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see.” 

The post-mortem on Stephen Gately has shown death by natural causes. Gately’s mother has spoken of a hereditary heart condition (Moir seems to suggest that the poor woman is kidding herself) that was probably the cause of his death aged 33. Not enough to satisfy Miss Moir. She suggests there was a rushed post mortem, perhaps a cover-up. 

She then goes on to state, with all the confidence of one who knows the damage they want to inflict: “Another real sadness about Gately’s death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships. Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages.”

 

Actually, for the information of Miss Moir and those of her opinion, it’s not tolerance LGBT activists call for. ‘Tolerance’ suggests LGBT people are yours to patronise from above. ‘Understanding’ suggests we are somehow socially deficient, at a permanent disadvantage as human beings.

 

We want equality and equal rights as human beings and citizens. Same-sex relationships are every bit as valid as heterosexual marriages, and heterosexual relationships in general.

 

Moir goes out of her way to take a sour potshot at the ‘happy ever after myth’ of civil partnerships. Are ‘heterosexual marriages’ 100% successful? Perhaps she doesn’t know that, as she is not married to the man she lives with. But she doesn’t tell Mail readers that. Oh no. 

 

I doubt the many, many complaints that have gone to the Press Complaints Commission will get very far, but they have been worthwhile  – as with Twitter – as an expression of public contempt for poison pen journalism like Miss Moir’s.

 

She also makes a living, when she isn’t a paid extremist for the Mail, as a restaurant critic.  She’d better watch out from now on for any gay waiters. I’ve known several over the years and if people aggravate them … well … who knows what might end up in the soup? 

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Betty Blue

L1000289Yesterday brought the news that one of the Labour councillors for Brixton Hill, Betty Evans-Jacas, had defected to the Conservatives. Lambeth Tories have made a squeaky fanfare of this, with a statement that only showed, if anything, that Betty would say anything to get into the Conservative group, which numbers 6 (and now, obviously, 7). 

Betty allegedly said: “After years of agonising over the failure of the leadership of the Labour Party in Lambeth to listen to the residents, faith organisations, and business of Brixton Hill and Lambeth as a whole, I have decided to become a member of the Conservative Party under David Cameron.  I believe that under his leadership, I will be able to fulfil all of my duties as a Brixton Hill ward councillor.”

Twaddle. If there is any borough in London that listens, at length, to its residents, faith groups and businesses, it is Labour Lambeth. I know this because I am a Cabinet Member and I see how hard Labour councillors work to keep in touch with the views of residents. 

I suspect that Betty is actually speaking about herself – her demands for extra allowances were not listened to because they were immoral, particularly given her reputation as an absentee in Brixton Hill. Leader of the Council Steve Reed explains here. Missing surgeries is hardly a good example of listening.

When she was ill, as she was, seriously – to the extent that the Lib Dem ghouls were leafleting in expectation of a by-election – her Labour colleagues covered for her. When she was not ill, her Labour colleagues found themselves covering for her. She has been a gross disappointment, and she has lost many more friends in the Labour Party than she will ever gain in the Conservative Party, particularly when they realise the baggage of financial embarrassment she brings with her. It will be a dead end for her and a dilemma for the Conservatives.

It’s ludicrous to think, as she appears to, that David Cameron will somehow enable Betty to ‘fulfil all [her] duties as a Brixton Hill councillor’. She has shown no inclination to fulfil those duties as a councillor of any party, which is why she was replaced at a selection meeting last week.

She has been judged shrewdly by her Town Hall peers, Labour Group, over the years since 2006, and at every group election she has failed to be elected for every council post she has stood for – all of which have involved allowances. Now this grasping would-be politician has failed the people who voted for her in Brixton Hill. She should be ashamed.

Labour Group is not ashamed to be rid of her. Her valueless, shifting political mind suits the Tories.

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Daily Mail Dale Fail

It’s always interesting to observe the off-balance reaction of Conservatives when they are attacked by their own side, particularly around issues of sexuality. But on this occasion, I have some sympathy and respect, and I don’t think the reaction is at all off-balance. It’s the attack that’s way off-balance, and it’s no surprise to see it emanating from that bastion of all that’s putrid and poisonous, the Daily Mail.

Tory blogger and political publisher Iain Dale has blogged about a diary story in the Daily Mail which, on the face of it, draws sneering attention to the fact he is a gay man seeking to enter elected politics.  The Ephraim Hardcastle diary has this to say:

“Overtly gay Tory blogger Iain Dale has reached the final stage of parliamentary selection for Bracknell, telling PinkNews: ‘I hope any PinkNews readers who live in Bracknell will come to the open primary on October 17 to select their new candidate. You don’t even have to be a Conservative to attend.’

“Isn’t it charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause?”

Dale has written to the editor, Paul Dacre (see p 721 of Alastair Campbell’s diaries to read about my brush with Dacre). He has also made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. Dale rightly complains about being described as “overtly gay”. What does overtly gay mean? militant? flamboyant? predatory? dangerous? camp as Christmas?

Dale says on his blog “I’m afraid I have had it with the Daily Mail and their particular brand of hate”.

Well said, though I would have to agree with his pessimistic view that he’s unlikely to get anywhere with Dacre or the PCC. Dacre after all, as well as editing the Mail, is Chair of the Editor’s Code of Practice Committee, which ‘reviews and revises the voluntary code of standards overseen by the Press Complaints Commission’. When he was elevated to that giddy height, he said “I am a passionate supporter of the principle of self-regulation, Press Freedom and a Code which reflects both the concerns of newspapers and needs of the public which it serves.”

Or in other words, he believes that papers should be able to print whatever suits their agenda. Fair enough for papers to have an agenda, but in this case, the Dale diary story is typical of the Mail’s “brand of hate”. The subtext is: here is a homosexual with the effrontery to want to stand for Parliament, he’s obviously trying to get others of his sort to infiltrate the selection process in Bracknell, let’s try and ‘queer’ the pitch, guffaw, guffaw. 

The Mail should be ashamed but of course it won’t be. When I was a press officer, of the Labour persuasion, I regularly had to deal with Mail hacks who seemed to have long ago crossed the line of fair reporting to glory in inflicting misery and damage on people in politics. I was the defender, so to make my job more difficult and theirs easier, they would call at times that would make it all but impossible to sort out and present the facts – late at night, last thing on a Friday afternoon, twenty minutes before the paper went to bed, you get the picture. Even when the facts were presented to the sneering voice on the other end of the phone, they rarely appeared intact in the story, or an inaccurate story appeared despite having been doggedly knocked down for not being accurate or not a story at all. 

I don’t share Iain Dale’s political views but he has a right to them. He also has a right to be respected as a person of experience and character who wants to serve people as an elected politician. His sexuality should not be imposed by others as the issue that defines his candidacy, it should be his values and his policies. 

I was born very near Bracknell and know it well. Obviously I would like to see Labour winning there, but that doesn’t stop me wishing Iain Dale good luck in the open primary, particularly if unfair obstacles are being set up for him, as seems the case. I hope none of his fellow candidates in the primary are engaging in smear tactics. Primaries are a positive attempt to break away from the backstabbing and backroom dealing that only contributes to cynicism about politics, so it would be depressing to see such behaviour creeping in. It should be for the people of Bracknell to make their decision in the primary and then their choice in the general election, not narrow-minded Daily Mail journalists.

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