Tag Archives: Private Eye

On homesickness

Who that has not suffered it understands the pain of exile?

– George Orwell, Burmese Days

To be quite honest, having travelled back on average once a year for the slightly more than four years so far spent outside the UK, to call it ‘exile’ is to overstate the case slightly. In these days of free internet calls and the journey not taking three weeks by boat, it is a bit daft to consider oneself banished far from all the good things of home.

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Can’t be trusted in the sweet aisle, clearly…

That said, a relative bought a print of the Albert Dock and Three Graces in Liverpool for my wall in Japan and there are some mornings it is difficult to look at, the ache from not being able to walk into the frame is too much. Missing the city as if it were an old friend is a strange feeling – the flesh and blood should have a bigger call on the emotions than bricks and mortar – but as I have been exploring this festive season, there is just something special about the Pool of Life.

Missing it too much, however, can feel like a betrayal of the other city I call home. Life in Tokyo is great, if not without its minor annoyances, just as would be the case with anywhere. The trick that homesickness plays is to mask all the deficiencies of home, while throwing a shadow over all the benefits of away. Then you are in danger of becoming one of those awful bores, lacking any sense of perspective, that have been plaguing expat life since at least the Thirties:

He had forgotten that most people can be at ease in a foreign country only when they are disparaging the inhabitants.

– Burmese Days (of course!)

The flip side of that is that, since returning, I find myself looking at my fellow shoppers, diners and train passengers wondering which of them ‘looks a bit UKIP’. A recommendation from brazzo70 in the comments on this post to check out Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe 2014 underlined all the ways in which the home country is leaving me behind (who in the hell commissioned Tumble? Danny Dyer in Eastenders? Nigel Farange appearing on anything? WHY WASN’T I CONSULTED ABOUT ANY OF THIS?)

 In an attempt to stave off the next bout of pining, measures have been implemented to bridge the gap. A Christmas present to myself was an annual subscription to Private Eye, so from later in the month you can expect to hear howls of outrage from my direction about a week after the original story first breaks. I also managed to register to vote as an overseas voter: this is open to all who left within the last 15 years and were registered before they left. Watch out, David Cameron!

All I need to do now is arrange for regular shipments of Maltesers…

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Pocket-picking time again

They say everyone has 20:20 hindsight, but with each new report that is released it becomes clear that the only sensible response to the financial crisis that began in 2007 is:

are you taking the piss?

Because it is increasingly apparent that, yes, in fact, they are.  Governments across the globe are expecting the poorest and those most in need of help to pay for the clear up while the bankers skip off to the Cayman Islands with suitcases full of our cash and an entreaty that the blame culture must end:

There was a period of remorse and apology; that period needs to be over

– Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, quoted in Private Eye No 1280

If nothing else, you have to admire their chutzpah.

A reasonably well-connected friend told me back then that the credit crunch was being talked into existence.  I wasn’t sure I believed her, worrying that certain banks were too big to fail and about what might follow if they were allowed to collapse and take millions of ordinary worker’s savings, pensions and mortgages down with them.  In my naivety I might have expected an ounce of fucking gratitude for the largesse we showed in saving the bankers from the abyss.  Not a bit of it, if it was given at all it was begrudged and now, apparently, it’s over.

Instead of remorse, what we get are lectures from the decks of their super-yachts, moored off the coast of the latest tax haven, on why the need for austerity has added hospitals to the list of things now to be considered luxury items.  As noted by the Anarchist Writers:

it is hard to tell whether the Con-Dems stupidity is driven by class interest, incompetence, ideological blindness, economic illiteracy, or a Machiavellian wish to use crisis to pursue market-fundamentalist social engineering. Probably a mishmash of all with the incompetence, ideology and illiteracy helpfully deepening the crisis which can be used as an excuse to impose neo-liberal dreams and ensure the rich get richer

Clearing the deficit at a speed that terrifies most economists certainly seems to be their obsession, the gloss of prudent financial management given to an ideological mission to roll back every advance the working class has won for itself over the last 60 years, while allowing the looting of the global economy to continue unchecked.

Why should we break our backs stupidly paying tax?

Of course, as the rich and the corporations they control demand and get ever more lenient tax regimes, some idiot has to be found to make up the shortfall.  Guess who is in the frame?  So work becomes more and more like this, with the sting of a reduction in take home pay and the removal of services your taxes used to cover.  Remember who you’re working for:

But don’t fear!  We still have a gazillion pounds to spend on the Olympics, millions more to set up the organisation to monitor MP’s expenses and a few quid left over for some really nice chairs.

I wonder what will be our tipping point, what will see us head for the streets, when Mubarak is estimated to have accumulated 40-70 billion dollars from his reign in Egypt, an astronomical sum but one dwarfed by the quids our rulers have handed over to their mates in the pin-stripes.  Maybe it’s time to start building the barricades?

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Press Freedom 1, Pampered Millionaires 0

All publicity is... what now?It is possible that you are reaching the stage of having no further interest in any of the details of just how appallingly John Terry can behave towards the women daft enough to sleep with him. You may be struggling to see how such knowledge can be considered ‘in the public interest’ rather than ‘stuff I’d rather not know about, cheers’.

However, it is important not to be overly distracted by the finer points of ‘he say, she say’ in this sad case and to recognise that putting tougher conditions on the ‘super-injunctions’, used to spare celebrities’ blushes as well as to point attention away from scandals we really ought to hear about, is something to be applauded.

The same laws that keep us from knowing about the damage caused by the illegal dumping of toxic waste are then called into play by the great and the good to protect their liberty to behave as complete sex-pests. If Judge Tugendhat is rolling back some of the Eady craziness (and that’s by no means assured, he has out-eadied Judge Eady in other judgments) this should be roundly perceived as a 24-carat good thing.

Tabloids being tabloids, they will always care more about the salubrious than the sublime. The News of the Screws didn’t earn that nickname from Private Eye by carrying out numerous investigations into corruption in local government, after all.

So, if you need to, hold your noses over Terry’s sad and tawdry affairs. What matters less is him being caught out: instead it is the lifting of a particularly onerous legal measure, that he was pushing his luck to try and hide behind, which is the important factor.

Even if you won’t see that splashed across the NotW’s front page.
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The Rewrite Squad

So today The Times struck a blow for openness and honesty in public life, with a blistering exposé of… an anonymous detective constable who had been writing an often amusing blog about the trials of modern policing.  Blogger ‘NightJack’ had taken the newspaper to court, seeking an injunction to prevent the publication of his identity, but was unsuccessful in his High Court action.  The full judgment can be read here.

The Judge was clear that the action failed because

blogging is essentially a public rather than a private identity

[at paragraph 11],

and, while I can sympathise with NightJack, it is difficult to see how the opposite could be true.  Whether you anticipate being read by your mum and a few mates, or aspire to a readership of the entire population of the British Isles, when you put your witterings up in a corner of the global interweb, you are ‘in publishing’ baby, maybe not on the scale of Condé Nast, but certainly according to the language of the libel laws.

And once those thoughts are out there in the wide world, you have no right to try to stuff the genie back in to the bottle, as the judgment also notes,

if the allegations and observations made by [Night Jack] were themselves contributing to a debate of general interest, as he undoubtedly thinks they are, I cannot see why the proposed publication in The Times would not be worthy of the same classification.

[at paragraph 23]

So having published, it is not up to you how far the dissemination goes.  Blogs are built on links and if a more popular site links to yours and the debate goes global, well, hey, isn’t that just the beauty of the internet?

Of course, it is also obvious that when writing about one’s day job, any organisation will be less than sympathetic to attention brought to bear on exactly where they are going wrong.  The witness statement from NightJack’s solicitors explicitly mentioned the fear that

identification as author of the Blog might have an adverse effect on his working relationships

No shit, Sherlock.  The Judge outright rejected this piece of deduction, stating at paragraph 28:

I do not accept that it is part of the court’s function to protect police officers who are, or think they may be, acting in breach of police discipline regulations from coming to the attention of their superiors.

An argument that the blog was being produced in the officer’s spare time was also rejected and again, it is difficult to see how any alternative conclusion could have been reached – especially given the subject matter, he may have been writing in his down time – but he was still writing about the job.  The Judge noted in the final paragraph that, in his view, there was,

a countervailing public interest in revealing that a particular police officer has been making these communications.

Following that idea through to its logical conclusion, perhaps the public should be horrified that a serving police officer has no proper arena to raise his concerns about the ‘service’ he is ‘delivering’ other than a blog page?  The tone of The Times piece was all mock-outrage about the confidentiality that Jack might have breached, with nay a mention of what happens to whistleblowers, who often find themselves drummed out of the profession they love.  Especially, it seems, in the cases of doctors, nurses and, er, police officers, we are increasingly leaving those at the sharp end of public service delivery without the budgets to do the job properly and without any means to communicate about failures and ways to improve, other than channels which may ultimately end up in them being shown the door.

It is important to note, too, that the Honourable bloke on the bench in this case was that friend to Private Eye, Mr Justice Eady, who despite his reluctance to extend the protection of English law to members of Her Majesty’s police force, has no qualms about using it to assist such worthy candidates as the son of the president of Congo-Brazzaville, chiropractic practitioners and Saudi bankers.

Of course, the NightJack exposé wasn’t the first time brave investigative journalists fearlessly exposed the crooked, black hearts beating behind the anonymous masks of some of the best known bloggers.  The writer of ‘Girl with a one track mind’ was also at the rough end of some sensationalist reporting by The Times and The Daily Mail, following her shocking crimes of being a woman who both enjoyed sex, and wrote about it.  Interviewed after the event, the writer said that she used a pseudonym to

ensure privacy for oneself and others, not because I had any shame

I imagine it is the second part of that sentence that convinced the Fourth Estate that they had a moral obligation to publish her name, birth certificate and mother’s profession in order to protect public decency from the wanton hussy.

Similarly, the identity of the writer of the Guido Fawkes political gossip site was exposed on Newsnight, following some rather bizarre attempts by that program to cloak his identity, a strange move when it could be argued that he already had quite a profile for racy goings-on and his real name was something of an open secret amongst journalists.

However, it is perhaps significant that each of the writers mentioned was enjoying a measure of success when exposed.  The Girl had seen extracts from her book serialised in The Sunday Times shortly before, which had helped to send it to the top of the Amazon pre-ordered paperbacks charts.  NightJack had recently won the Orwell Prize for political writing in the blogging category and Guido had been getting up the nose of more than one political grandee.  It is very easy to argue, especially in the case of The Girl, that The Times had danced the typical routine of building her up to tear her down, all in the noble interest of selling papers, of course.  Would the same paper have outed NightJack if he hadn’t been awarded the prize?  It is impossible to say.  However in recent months, it has become clear that there is a last-ditch battle being fought by the newspapers against the pesky on-line media, with articles mooting paid for content and other vanguard actions attempting to stem the flow of readers away from the hard copies to the computer screens.  Attacking the blogging stars as soon as they gain a profile is one easy way to reassert authority in the face of dwindling readership figures.

There are many reasons why a blog writer would choose to hide behind anonymity: to keep some mystique; to try to avoid any kind of cult of personality building up; in an attempt to let the work speak for itself.  I hope that you will not be too shocked to learn that I never sign cheques in the name ‘Julia Smith’.  Still, I believe that the creator of Winston Smith and Julia would not censure me for it, having chosen the name ‘George Orwell’ from a shortlist of four, as he worried that publication of ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ would affect his day job as a teacher, or that unfavourable reviews would cause damage to his literary ambitions.  By the time of the publication of ‘Animal Farm’, as noted by Hilary Spurling, he had,

switched identities so completely that even his old school friends had to learn to call him George

So while it is true that The Times was probably correct in law, and it is also the case that writers should stand behind their words whenever possible, isn’t it also the truth that with this ruling all the papers have done is to take some of the fun and freedom out of blogging by narrowing the boundaries of online writing to those kept to by the now morally and financially bankrupt broadsheets?  They would tell you that it was more honest to be an E.A. Blair than an Orwell but in my humble submission, they would be wrong.

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