Saturday, 30 July 2011

Prince Andrew Retires

Sits Vac: English prince, Andrew Windsor, is retiring from his role as UK trade ambassador. Some of his family have been criticised as work-shy inadequates, shameless spongers on the public purse, but not Andrew. Finally though, after a punishing career with Britain's interests at its heart, he's hanging up his Frequent Flyer platinum card.

Only Britain would appoint a man who's never worked in a business, much less run one, as an international trade envoy. But at least no-one could accuse Andrew of staying office-bound. In 2006 he travelled from Windsor to an event seventeen miles away by helicopter, which cost around £6,000. Andrew's overseas travel tab for the previous year was £355,942, a reduction compared with his usual bill perhaps because he'd just been censured by the National Audit Office.

It's difficult to judge the worth of Andrew's career in monetary terms because unlike all other salesmen since the dawn of time, he never had any financial targets to meet. So did he make a contribution in some less tangible way, batting for British business behind the scenes, smoothing the way for an export revolution?

Well, not really. A glance at Andrew's port-stained resumé reveals he'd have been fired ages ago if it weren't for mater. WikiLeaks tells us American diplomats thought him "cocky" and "arrogant", a view supported by our own Simon Wilson, former Deputy Head of Mission in Bahrain. Wilson said: "He was mainly memorable for a childish obsession with doing exactly the opposite of what had been agreed in pre-visit meetings with his staff." Others have described him as "a little difficult to warm to", "not too bright", "a guileless buffoon", and "an embarrassment to the country."

Andrew particularly enjoyed his business trips to the Middle East, and got on well with repressive rulers of corrupt regimes; he numbered among his favourite overseas contacts Saif Gaddafi and Azerbaijan's dictator, Ilham Aliyez. He also grew chummy with billionaire convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, sometimes taking Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie along to meet his friend. But now he believes it's time to put his feet up, have a well-earned rest.

As to who might step up to fill Andrew's shoes and thereby safeguard the future of British exports, it's easy: look no further than The Apprentice.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Royal Family Update

Recently, several members of the British royal family have featured in the news. Let’s see what they’ve been up to.

The Queen, Elizabeth Windsor, has expressed concern that her family’s widely felt to be out of touch with ordinary British people. Through a statement dictated to her private secretary at Buckingham Palace and issued on swan-skin vellum through her press office, she's insisted the royals are just like any other family. Several are out-of-work and living on state handouts, others are unemployable or senile. At least one is gay but reluctant to come out, while infidelity, divorce, pointless partying and binge-drinking are all rife. Mrs Windsor’s said to be “satisfied” that her family’s behaviour completely reflects contemporary British values.

Recently too William and Kate Windsor received £2,000 compensation, following a failure of the in-flight entertainment system during their return from the United States. To spare impoverished British taxpayers millions of pounds W an' K had vowed to fly with a commercial airline, but were distraught when they “weren’t able to watch any films at all.” To make amends, toadying British Airways hurriedly showered the fairytale couple with complimentary duty-free vouchers. Other passengers were compensated with reduced-price cheese sandwiches.

Meanwhile Charles Windsor, whose unearned allowances have just been greatly increased, has visited an air base to see step-son Harry. Adopted ‘Captain Wales’ is learning to fly the Army Air Corps’ Apache helicopter, though it’s admitted he won’t be involved in any combat missions. Since the Apache’s only used for front-line duties his training's pointless, though as Harry giggled: “Saying you’re a helicopter pilot’s pretty flash when you’re pulling the birds!”

The plucky lad, anxious to prove himself to Uncle Charles, took the Prince for a short spin in his state-of-the-art machine. Afterwards Windsor, himself a rotary-wing pilot who trained in the sixties, grinned ruefully and said: “My chopper skills are well past their sell-by-date. Today the helicopters I flew would be considered hopeless anachronisms, out-of-date relics undeserving of … oh, wait a minute …”

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

OMFGate: Call The Police!

Interesting testimony today from recently-resigned Metropolitan Chief Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson. He's just given evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on the phone hacking scandle and his professional relationship with Neil Wallis, the former NOTW executive employed last year as an adviser to Scotland Yard's senior officers.

The top bobby said he much regretted the fact Wallis had been hired by the Met. Perfectly believable. But he also said: "I had no reason to connect Wallis with phone hacking, I had no reason to doubt his propriety; nothing had come to my attention." The real message: my people failed to alert me to any sensitivity surrounding Wallis.

Stephenson also told MPs he'd been advised by a senior Downing Street official not to risk compromising David Ca
meron by disclosing to him information about the phone-hacking scandal. He said he was unable to name the No.10 aide but his number two, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who's also just resigned, would definitely know. Yates is the man who threatened to sue the Guardian after the newspaper originally broke the hacking story. Let's hope that as he leaves the Commons the Chief Commissioner doesn't fall down the stairs.

Meanwhile, today's appearance of the Murdochs and Head Cowbag before the Commons media select committee may prove something of an anti-climax, if cathartic. Having had days to prepare, they'll get through it; they're hardly li
kely to notify the committee of anything which could subsequently incriminate them. Rather than trying to tease out the truth through such enquiries, it might be more effective simply to let their loathsome empire whither under the furious heat of continuing public revulsion, before the judge-led drains-up swings into action.

In other news, yesterday former NOTW reporter Sean Hoare was found dead at his home. Hoare was the first named journalist to allege that the paper's one-time editor Andy Coulson had known about the tabloid's hacking. But the police have said his death isn't suspicious, so that's the end of the matter. It's good to have the case solved so quickly; at least there won't be a long investigation eating into the police's reduced resources, recently cut again following the NOTW's closure. But on the other hand, think of the surprise savings on senior officers' salaries.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

OMFGate - Rebekah Brooks Arrested !!

Sunday afternoon: a nice big roast, feet up with a glass of wine, perhaps a go through the papers. Unless you're Rebekah Brooks, arrested by the strange method of appointment at midday today, on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption.

Ms Brooks was lifted by detectives from Operation Weeting - Scotland Yard's investigation into mobile interceptions by News International - accompanied by officers from Operation Elveden, the enquiry into allegations of naughty payments to police. Hers is the tenth collar the Yard has felt since the fresh investigation into phone hacking was launched in January.

But sadly, today's arrest has quickly cast serious doubts over whether Brooks will be able to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday along with former boss Rupert Murdoch and son James . It's unclear to what extent she'd be able to answer questions if she did appear, without compromising the police investigation into her vile past - which of course may come to nothing.

So the timing of Brook's arrest seems deeply unfortunate, to be sure. Perhaps she still has influential friends in high places. Or, she's torn the hard drives with details of others' wrong-doings from ex-NOTW machines, and put them in a nice safe place. Either way today's events smack of the establishment closing ranks. Mere conspiracy theory? You decide.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Rebekah Brooks: Until We Meet Again ...

Rupert Murdoch's 'fifth daughter' and formerly Fleet Street's most powerful woman has stepped down as chief executive of News International, claiming her position had become untenable. But over the last few days what's kept Rebekah Brooks in post? Only her possible use by the Murdochs as a firewall to protect them. Once Brooks was no longer effective in that role, retaining her became pointless.

Nonetheless with customary disregard for the truth, in her resignation statement the spaniel-coiffed schmoozer thanked Murdoch for his wisdom and kindness; son James was acknowledged as an inspirational leader who'd shown her loyalty and friendship. No great burning of bridges, then. But not quite as cosily Elizabeth Murdoch, set to be given a seat on the board of father's News Corp empire, said Brooks had "completely fucked the company." Talk about bringing them up in your own image.

In a gleaming new strategy meanwhile, Rupert and James have assumed a contrite stance; they've apologised widely for the NOTW's methods, and agreed to grovel before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. But all may not be as it seems. The Murdochs' move is akin to some American TV evangelist caught embezzling his mad church's income, who throws himself on viewers' mercies in a show of weeping repentance - and retains his position.

Meanwhile rival Associated Newspapers, owners of the delusional Daily Mail, are preparing to fill the vacuum left by the News of the World by launching a similar low-market rag (not too similar, presumably) in a couple of weeks.
Columnists will include Kelvin MacKenzie, while names under consideration for the new tabloid are similarly uninspiring: The Sunday, or The Sunday Lite. Can't wait for a sub-Mail-esque take on the Sabbath; I wonder who'll be appointed editor?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Murdoch: Withdrawal Symptoms

News Corporation has withdrawn its attempt to acquire complete control of lucrative satellite broadcaster BSkyB. When Rupert Murdoch arrived in London a few days ago, his overriding concern was to contain the groundswell of censure against his papers and so ensure the BSkyB bid survived in some form. The NOTW became his sacrificial lamb. Now, his strategy's in tatters.

To make matters worse, Ofcom, the British communications industry regulator, is now deliberating over whether Murdoch is a "fit and proper" person to continue owning his existing 39% share of BSkyB. If it decides he isn't, it would be another huge blow to News Corp.

Vince Cable must be pleased with the outcome. Last December, against a background of ministers insisting they had no right to interfere in Murdoch's bid, the Coalition's Business Secretary was appointed to oversee the process. But Cable was stripped of the job after being secretly recorded by journalists saying he was against the acquisition and had "declared war on Rupert Murdoch." Quite a turn-around.

Yesterday, David Pillsbury finally appointed Lord Justice Leveson to lead the hacking enquiry, with powers to call media proprietors, editors and politicians to give evidence under oath. The investigation will begin as soon as possible and be in two parts - an investigation of wrongdoing in the press and police, and a review of press regulation. It's anyone's guess what this drains-up probe could reveal but for sure, it won't be pretty.

Later today, MPs will decide whether to summon News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks to answer questions on the phone-hacking scandal. The Commons media committee also wants to question Murdoch and son James, but as they aren't UK citizens they can't be forced to appear. Of course, they could attend voluntarily.

Even worse for Murdoch, his troubles are no longer confined to Britain. News Corp's methods are coming under scrutiny in America, where Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller is calling for an investigation into claims that relatives of 9/11 victims may have been hacked by the News of the World. The allegations migrated to America via articles published in Britain's Daily Mirror, and were also raised in Parliament by Labour member Tom Watson.

Things were bad enough for Murdoch when scandal was threatening just his British operation. Now, will his wider empire be affected?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Murdoch To Be Kicked In Slats

Britain's MPs must feel it could have been worse. For years they've been puppets of Rupert Murdoch's ghastly News International media empire, obliged to kiss his ring; now their longest, sharpest knives will be out. Today should provide a pleasant diversion from the longer-term ramifications of the NOTW/Sun/Times debacle.

In a surreal twist for British politics, cross-party unity will be absolute as Murdoch faces the humiliation of a unanimous Commons vote for the withdrawal of his BSkyB bid. On top of that, David Pillsbury will announce that a judge is to oversee a root-and-branch enquiry into telephone hacking, which will also examine the relationship between NI and the police.

Nick Clegg's spokesman had a go at capturing the driving sentiment behind this. Of the coming vote he said: "It represents an extraordinary unified statement of the will of the people." What he really meant was, by riding the continuing wave of public repugnance at NI's methods the politicians have finally been able to temporarily unite, and kick Murdoch where it hurts most. After years of his omnipotence, it's safe to say that with two exceptions there won't be a wet eye in the House.

But the fun will really begin when the parties debate who knew what and who did what, prior to NI's bubble bursting. Will MPs behave solely in the interests of the people who've been harmed by NI, or will political capital come into it?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

News International: What A Muddle!

News that the Sun acquired details from the medical records of Gordon Brown's disabled son, Fraser, adds to the tsunami of emerging evidence confirming News International's complete moral bankruptcy. On Radio 4 this morning Brown said: "They told me they had a story about Fraser's medical condition - I was in tears but there was nothing I could do about it."

This comes on top of Brown's suspicion that his phone had been hacked during his time as Chancellor. His bank account details too may have been tampered with, this time the suspect another NI publication, the Sunday Times.

Last autumn Brown wrote privately to the Metropolitan Police asking whether his phone had been hacked. By January this year, as his enquiry entered the public domain, the Met still hadn't replied. A possible reason for the police's vapid response? Possibly, senior Met officers feared aggressive investigation and splashy articles by, guess who, The News of the World. It appears the NOTW had evidence that one officer padded his expense claims and was involved in extramarital affairs, while another used frequent-flier miles accrued during his work to go on personal holidays.
And so on.

With the NOTW gone, while Murdoch waits for a verdict on BSkyB perhaps he'll acquire a taste for newspaper-closing. Old-fashioned print's in decline, while the Sun and the Times produce only a tiny fragment of the wealth generated by Fox and Sky. Murdoch's other paper interest, HarperCollins, may also come under scrutiny.

To add fuel to the fire, David Cameron's given a master-class in ducking the entire News International issue by simply not going to the Commons to make a statement, much to Miliband Minor's grateful joy. But Glen shouldn't shout too loud; he was part of the Blair regime which slavishly courted News International.
What a muddle!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

News of the World: See You Soon!

This morning the News of the World hit the stands for the last time, ending its 168-year history with the headline "Thank You and Goodbye." In a hand-wringing editorial, the News International tabloid apologised for the phone-hacking scandal which has led to its closure. But the row's far from over.

As owner Rupert Murdoch headed to London to take personal charge of the situation, it was reported police would be questioning his top British executive, Rebekah Brooks, as well as bailed Andy Coulson. Meanwhile for Prime Minister David Cameron it's decision-time about who to be chums with.

Inside its final edition the NOTW's greatest moments were listed, from the Fake Sheikh's entrapment investigations to a controversial campaign against paedophiles. But more prominent was the odious, grovelling apology intended to wipe the slate clean in the readership's mind and prepare for the launch of its successor, the Sun On Sunday.

Occasional campaigns for the public good merely provided a smoke-screen for the NOTW's core business: selling tittle-tattle, much of it fictitious, through muck-raking and relentless spying. That's nothing to do with any moral imperative, it's simply about increasing print-runs. Even on the paper's final day, under the pretext of allowing readers to snap up a souvenir an extra two million copies were churned out. After the recent outcry, wouldn't it be ghastly if the public actually bought these.

Clearly News International thinks they will, additional
sales revenue offsetting the recent collapse of the paper's advertising stream. Murdoch's made the best of a bad situation. He's slimmed a sizeable overhead, scared the shit out of his remaining UK employees and - though they may not yet realise it - lined up two expendable senior executives to take the heat if necessary.

Since Brooks and Coulson are close friends of David Cameron, a possible linkage to arm-twisting over
control of broadcaster BSkyB won't have escaped the canny Aussie's notice. In the circumstances a nice bit of business, and everyone loves a story of triumph over tragedy.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

News International: House of Horrors

It seems the News of the World, long-suspected of phone-hacking to further its gutter-press journalism, may be about to face retribution. Over the last few days, each fresh allegation of eavesdropping has caused widespread horror and disgust, while many in public and political life are calling for a root-and-branch investigation into the tabloid's methods of obtaining information. The NOTW's owner, News International, is currently preparing its defence.

Among the most terrible of the apparent crimes is the hacking of Milly Dowler's cellphone. The 13-year-old vanished in 2002 and was subsequently found murdered. Before her body had been discovered NOTW reporters hacked into her voicemails, deleting some to ensure space for any new messages which might arrive. But the changes, detected on the missing phone by
police, were interpreted as suggesting Milly could still be alive. The false hope and subsequent dispair experienced by those close to the case can't be imagined.

It's also alleged phones were hacked belonging to the parents of murdered Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Further targets for the NOTW's reptilian staff have apparently included families of servicemen who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as relatives of people murdered in the 7/7 London bombings. To assist its hacking, the NOTW is alleged to have bribed police officers with cash payments.

Such is the groundswell of revulsion at the NOTW's methods that many of its big advertisers have summarily moved their accounts elsewhere, including Sainsbury's, O2, Asda and Virgin. Unsurprisingly, they've been joined by the Royal British Legion.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of News International, is publicly backing the company's chief executive Rebekah Brooks - a former NOTW editor - and has appointed her to head up co-operation with coming police investigations. This may prove akin to receiving a set of pilot's goggles from Emperor Hirohito, and Ms Brooks is facing increasing calls from outside NI to step down.

In turn, Brooks is attempting to wash her hands of the crisis. Currently she seems to be saying she was on holiday whenever any of the alleged hackings took place, and so didn't know what was going on. Bearing in mind she controls a pan-European communication company, the argument's not terribly persuasive.

News International is no stranger to scandal. Fines for indecency, lawsuits alleging anti-competitive business practices and libel claims are a fact of life for the company, which has been able easily to absorb any financial inconvenience.
But public fury and the allegations of police complicity will ensure the clamour continues for an investigation at the highest level.

And how will David Cameron deal with the outcry? He's long had close personal associations with Rebekah Brooks and of course Andy Coulson, his former PR chief and past NOTW editor. Now we see widespread, determined political lobbying for a thorough enquiry; will the muck raked up affect only Murdoch's empire?