What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

June 29, 2007

Reshuffle predictions - how did I do?

Well, not too bad. Five ‘direct hits’ (right person, right job) and 12 ‘indirect hits’ (in the cabinet, but in a different job).

Caroline Flint, Hilary Armstrong, Lord Kinnock and Liam Byrne were the ones I tipped for the top who didn’t make it.

Prime Minister: Gordon Brown
Deputy PM: Jack Straw No-one appointed (though is Straw de facto)
Chancellor: Alastair Darling
Home Secretary: Alan Johnson Jacqui Smith (well, no-one else saw that one coming either)
Justice Minister: Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary: David Miliband
Health Secretary: Caroline Flint Alan Johnson (a safe choice)
Education Secretary: Hilary Benn Ed Balls (children and skills) and John Denham (university and skills) - I’ll be interested to see how long it is before Balls’ tone-deaf touch lands the Government in hot water.
Work & Pensions: James Purnell Peter Hain
Culture Secretary: Hazel Blears James Purnell
Defence Secretary: Peter Hain Des Browne (a lucky survivor)
Environment Secretary: Douglas Alexander Hilary Benn
International Development: John Denham Douglas Alexander (who will combine running Labour’s election campaign with promoting the interests of the Third World. Hmmm.)
Trade & Industry Secretary: Hilary Armstrong John Hutton
Leader of the Lords: Lord Kinnock Baroness Ashton (shame, it would have been fun to see Neil back in the thick of things).
Communities & Local Government: Hazel Blears Ruth Kelly
Devolved regions: Jacqui Smith Des Browne, Peter Hain, Shaun Woodward (A mistake, I thought, not to bring these roles together.)
Transport: John Hutton Hazel Blears
Commons Leader: Harriet Harman
Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Ed Balls Andy Burnham
Chief Whip: Andy Burnham Geoff Hoon
Duchy of Lancaster: Ed Miliband
Without portfolio: Liam Byrne

June 25, 2007

When opinion polls go bad

For the last few months, no opinion poll of voting intentions worthy of the name has been complete without the inevitable tagged-on question, ‘And how would you vote if Gordon Brown were Labour leader?’ To which the answer of Labour-inclined voters has invariably been: less likely than if Tony Blair were still Labour leader.

Anthony Wells, at the indispensable Polling Report website, has recorded the figures of the pollsters’ beloved anticipatory question. None of the 26 polls conducted since David Cameron became Tory leader have projected a Labour lead on the presumption that Mr Brown succeeds Mr Blair. The average Tory lead in the nine polls conducted in 2007 would suggest Mr Cameron should be some 10.5% ahead the moment Mr Brown formally moves into No. 10.

This has led to all sorts of silly speculation in the media that Mr Brown is a vote loser for Labour. And it has sparked an amusingly unmerited degree of triumphalism among Tories, who somehow imagine they will cruise to a general election victory merely by virtue of having elected a leader who manages, in contrast to most of his colleagues, to look and sound relatively normal.

Yesterday’s opinion poll in The Observer, showing a 3% Labour lead just as Mr Brown accedes to the premiership, has poured a bucket of cold water over the heads of those who, rather foolishly, had taken too much to heart the pollsters’ misleading findings.

As opinion pollsters will be the first to point out, their findings present only a snapshot of public opinion. Moreover, the question they ask to solicit the public’s views is a hypothetical one: how would you vote if there were a general election tomorrow.

Those who are asked the question (1) know there isn’t actually a general election tomorrow; and (2) have not been subjected to a month-long election campaign which will, in many cases, alter their voting intentions before they finally cast the only ballot that actually counts. This inevitably distorts the findings in quite unquantifiable ways.

To add, as the newspapers who commission the polls insist the pollsters do, an extra layer of hypothesis - how do you believe you will vote in an imaginary general election when a man who is not yet Prime Minister becomes Prime Minister - is a step too far.

The public which answers this question knows full well that what they are really being asked is: what do you think of Gordon Brown? And those who are sceptical about him will take the pain-free opportunity to voice their objections in their answer. This, too, distorts the findings in quite unquantifiable ways.

Finally, you must factor in the statistical fact that opinions polls can only predict with 95% probability to within a margin of error of +/-3% the headline figures which the newspapers will brandish on their front pages with cast-iron certainty. So the Observer poll which I’ve used as evidence in this article may just as well point to a Tory lead of 3% as it does a Labour lead of 3%. Or it could be one of the 5% of opinion polls which is complete bollocks outside the margin of error. You pays your money, you takes your choice...

Like many observers of the British political scene, I expect Mr Brown to enjoy a poll bounce over the summer, and that Labour will continue to be tied with, or build a small lead over, the Tories. How long this lasts will, rightly, depend on the success or failure of Mr Brown’s government.

In part, this will be because Labour has, contrary to all the pundits’ predictions (including my own), accomplished a bloodless transfer of power. It will also be because the media, believing their own rogue polls, and the Tories, believing their own anti-Brown propaganda, have so far lowered expectations of our PM-to-be that he cannot help but clear the low hurdles he has been set.

Indeed, so successful has this ‘dampening down’ strategy been, it’s almost tempting to believe that Mr Brown, a man of native political cunning, may secretly have commissioned some of those polls himself.

June 24, 2007

Wheelie bin wars, 'live' on YouTube

Of course, the real reason why the Lib Dem city council distributed wheelie bins throughout Oxford was as part of our ‘recycling revolution’. But the people of Headington are an inventive and subversive lot, as befits this Arezzo to Oxford city’s Florence.

So it was wholly in character that one of the highlights of yesterday’s Highfield Residents’ Association should be that newest of traditions, the wheelie bin tag-team race. Happy viewing:

The second highlight, at least for me, was the unveiling of the latest community notice-board by that most distinguished of personages, Oxford’s deputy lord mayor. Though I successfully lowered the tone by joining in the rain-sodden limbo dance.

All captured here:

Reshuffling the decks on the Titanic

Everyone else is playing the 'who's up, who's down' game ahead of Gordon announcing the new membership of Team Brown... so I thought I'd join in:

Prime Minister: Gordon Brown
Deputy PM: Jack Straw
Chancellor: Alastair Darling
Home Secretary: Alan Johnson
Justice Minister: Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary: David Miliband
Health Secretary: Caroline Flint
Education Secretary: Hilary Benn
Work & Pensions: James Purnell
Culture Secretary: Hazel Blears
Defence Secretary: Peter Hain
Environment Secretary: Douglas Alexander
International Development: John Denham
Trade & Industry Secretary: Hilary Armstrong
Leader of the Lords: Lord Kinnock
Communities & Local Government: Yvette Cooper
Devolved regions: Jacqui Smith
Transport: John Hutton
Commons Leader: Harriet Harman
Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Ed Balls
Chief Whip: Andy Burnham
Duchy of Lancaster: Ed Miliband
Without portfolio: Liam Byrne

June 21, 2007

Can an Independent win the US Presidency?

In years to come, many books and theses will come to be written about the2008 US Presidential election, the most open in 80 years, since neither the serving President nor Vice-President is contesting the position.

For those of us living through it, and especially for the political geeks among us who can enjoy watching an election without being directly involved, it’s a fascinating spectacle.

Six months ago, I made the (what then seemed risky) prediction that then Republican favourite Senator John McCain would fail to secure his party’s nomination. Unless he can perform a pretty remarkable turnaround, his last chance to become President is fast slipping through his fingers.

It just goes to show how those who lead the field at an early stage need to watch their step, as the photo (right) attests.

I have a small wager on Mitt Romney, former Republican governor in liberal Massachusetts. Though he currently trails in national polls, behind both Sen. McCain and Rudy Giuliani, he is ahead in the three states which vote first in the primaries, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, and has been consistently raising more money than either.

But the man who might upset all calculations is New York’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has just renounced his Republican affiliation, and seems set for a crack at the White House as an independent.

This will place my New York friends, mainly Democrat-sympathising, in a quandary, as Mayor Bloomberg is highly rated by them as one of the greatest mayors the city has know - a social liberal with great business acumen who runs the city on a pragmatically consensual basis. That he won re-election as a Republican in New York with a 20% majority attests to his bipartisan appeal.

Might 2008 be the election when both Republicans and Democrats find themselves having to sit it out for (at least) four years?

How now Brown cowed

So, who did leak the story of Gordon Brown’s approach to the Lib Dems? Iain Dale reckons it was Paddy Ashdown who spilled the beans to Guardian editor Alan Rushbridger:
The interesting thing here is that the whole thing is Paddy Ashdown's fault. If he hadn't leaked the offer to Alan Rusbridger on Tuesday evening, the whole sorry series of events might never have come to light.
Fellow blogger (and former lobby journalist) Paul Linford repeats the allegation here. These are the only two places where I’ve seen this rumour spread, and in neither case do they substantiate why they believe it was Paddy wot leaked it.

To me (and, come to that, the BBC’s Nick Robinson) it seems pretty clear the only person with something to gain from leaking this news was Team Gordon. So why heap the blame on Paddy?

What should Ming have done?

I have to admit my first reaction to yesterday’s Guardian story - reporting that Gordon Brown and Ming Campbell had discussed Lib Dems taking up cabinet positions in Mr Brown’s first cabinet - was horror. Nor was I as convinced as fellow Lib Dem bloggers appeared to be that the story was nonsense peddled by shit-stirring Guardianistas.

As further details have seeped out - like a stranded oil-tanker leaching effluence - I’ve reflected a little more on the chain of events, at least as far I can trace them from the press reports, and thought: what would I have done if I were in Ming’s shoes?

Apparently, Ming and Gordon met on Monday, following a letter sent by the Lib Dem leader to explore further what our Prime Minister-in-waiting intends for his proposed constitutional convention. The party leaders do meet from time to time - as is quite proper - to discuss such matters behind closed doors. It was, let’s remember, following Ming’s meeting with David Cameron that the silly suggestion that Greg Dyke run for Mayor of London on a joint Lib Dem / Conservative-sponsored independent, anti-Ken ticket was first broached.

At their Monday meeting, Gordon raised with Ming the possibility of some senior Lib Dem peers - Lords Carlisle, Lester and Baroness Neuberger, for instance - taking junior ministerial roles. Now I guess Ming could have dismissed this out-of-hand, said it was absolutely impossible, no-go, no way. Perhaps, and with hindsight, it would have been cannier.

But it doesn’t strike me as that unreasonable for the party leader to want to think it over, to take soundings from others in the Lib Dems. This, it appears, is what Ming did.

And those soundings left him in no doubt that the Lib Dems would not contemplate any kind of approach from Gordon, which in any way smacked of ‘coalition’ - at least not until there’s a deal on the table which sees considerable progress towards achieving key Lib Dem policies.

It is characteristic of the love of hyperbole of Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, that he could describe these shenanigans on BBC Radio 4’s Today as “breaking the mould of politics in this country”. Nonsense. Ad hominem (or ad feminam) changes are inevitably temporary. Structural change - to our political institutions, our voting system, and so - is an essential pre-condition of any attempt to transform Britain’s political torpor.

The question then remains: who leaked these discussions to the press? I think it’s pretty clear it wasn’t the Lib Dems, as the party (including senior figures, like Vince Cable and Nick Clegg) were clearly caught on the hop.

So it was a henchman in Team Brown. This could be someone who wanted to kaibosh the deal. Or it could be a mischief-maker, keen to show-off Gordons ‘big tent’, and willingness to stretch out a bi-partisan hand - only for his endeavours to be snubbed by those petty partisan Lib Dems. Either way, it shows Gordon and his acolytes in a poor light, willing to sacrifice serious discussion of important issues in order to win a day’s headlines.

The lesson that should be drawn from this is quite clear: Ming cannot trust Gordon (or at least Gordon’s friends) to keep private discussions private. Which means any chance of a post-election deal between Labour and the Lib Dems is now an even more remote possibility than it was before.

Gordon may have scraped a battle victory by firing on the Lib Dems while our backs were turned. But he may not be smiling after the next election when he’s lost his majority.

June 18, 2007

Sterling-eating surrender monkeys

Tim Hames’ rather silly column in today’s Times - exculpating Tony Blair from the cataclysmic disaster that has been the Labour/Tory Iraq policy - deserves to be fisked. Here’s hoping someone has the time. I’ll restrict my wonderment to this staggering statement:
Not to have supported the United States in [Iraq] would have been seismic. It would have entailed a complete reversal of British foreign policy and a dash to become more deeply enmeshed in the EU. This would have necessitated, at a minimum, euro membership that British voters would rightly not have tolerated.
This is the first time I’ve seen the Murdoch press explicitly link opposition to the Iraq war without a UN mandate with a desire to join a single currency. But perhaps I’ve just not been looking hard enough.

June 14, 2007

That Broon meme

With thanks to James Graham for 'tagging' me (why is the 'blogosphere' so afflicted with such infantilising terms?):

2 things of which Gordon Brown should be proud.
  1. Giving independence to the Bank of England.
  2. Having been on watch during a broadly benign economic cycle.
2 things for which he should apologise.
  1. Bank-rolling the Iraq war without a murmur of dissent.
  2. An obsession with centralization, targets and complexity which has undermined public services and made the lives of the poor much harder.
2 things that he should do immediately when he becomes PM.
  1. Introduce fair votes for all local and national elections in the UK.
  2. Scrap ID Cards, and strengthen Freedom of Information.
2 things he should do while he is PM.
  1. Oversee a comprehensive decentralization to local communities of power over public services and the taxation necessary to pay for them.
  2. Vigorously oppose protectionist interests wherever they exist, and unashamedly press for free and fair world trade as the best means of lifting the poorest out of poverty.
My turn to tag: Jonathan Calder, Cicero, Alex Wilcock, Andy Mayer, David Rundle, and Liberal Review.

June 13, 2007

Thank goodness for…

… the letters pages of the local press.

A correspondent from Abingdon, who finds himself bemused by which bin is collected when these days, has devised the perfect system by which to remember, and has kindly passed on his plan to readers of the Oxford Times.

Get a small container and in it put one card for each collection for a fortnight. In our area that means two green cards, two ordinary cards and one brown card. Write on the top of each card the type of collection, the day for collection (and the evening before to put it out in case the collection comes early). Then put each card in order, one on top of the other, and when the waste bin for the top card has been dealt with, put that card at the bottom of the pile. This leaves the next collection, with its appropriate day, signalled clearly on the top.

We leave the cards in their container on a shelf by the kitchen door. It's a very simple idea, but for me it works.

Obviously the basic idea has many modifications; the cards could be put on rings and just flicked over; the cards could contain any relevant details of the type of waste that is, and is not, appropriate for that particular collection; the container could even hold details of Bank Holiday changes etc.
Now why didn’t I think of that?

The letter is headlined, 'Recycling cracked'. I think we can all guess what the sub-editor was implying.

June 12, 2007

The truth about recycling, according to the Economist

One of the questions that’s - quite reasonably - asked by recycling-sceptics is: prove it’s more environmentally friendly to recycle than to throw away, given the respective consumption of energy in both processes.

So I was particularly interested in a long feature in this week’s Economist, The truth about recycling. It’s worth reading in full, but I thought I’d fillet it a bit… First, here comes the science:
… the Technical University of Denmark and the Danish Topic Centre on Waste conduct[ed] a review of 55 life-cycle analyses, all of which were selected because of their rigorous methodology. The researchers then looked at more than 200 scenarios, comparing the impact of recycling with that of burying or burning particular types of waste material. They found that in 83% of all scenarios that included recycling, it was indeed better for the environment.

Based on this study, WRAP [the Waste & Resources Action Programme, a non-profit British recycling company] calculated that Britain's recycling efforts reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions by 10m-15m tonnes per year. That is equivalent to a 10% reduction in Britain's annual carbon-dioxide emissions from transport, or roughly equivalent to taking 3.5m cars off the roads.
The question then to be asked is: if it’s worthwhile doing, is this something which can be supported by the market? (Ie, is there a profit which will enable a company to benefit society while benefiting its shareholders.) The answer appears to be: no.
… most kerbside recycling programmes are not financially self-sustaining. The cost of collecting, transporting and sorting materials generally exceeds the revenues generated by selling the recyclables, and is also greater than the disposal costs. Exceptions do exist … largely near ports in dense urban areas that charge high fees for landfill disposal and enjoy good market conditions for the sale of recyclables.
So, we have here a system which reduces Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions, but which cannot turn a profit - something I guess most of us would regard as market failure, and, therefore, a candidate for government action.

Then there’s the question of China - does all our hard recycling work simply end up in Chinese landfill? This seems harder to assess. On the one hand,
Pieter van Beukering, an economist who has studied the trade of waste paper to India and waste plastics to China: “as soon as somebody is paying for the material, you bet it will be recycled.” In fact, Dr van Beukering argues that by importing waste materials, recycling firms in developing countries are able to build larger factories and achieve economies of scale, recycling materials more efficiently and at lower environmental cost. He has witnessed as much in India, he says, where dozens of inefficient, polluting paper mills near Mumbai were transformed into a smaller number of far more productive and environmentally friendly factories within a few years.
… factories in developing nations may be less tightly regulated, and the recycling industry is no exception. China especially has been plagued by countless illegal-waste imports, many of which are processed by poor migrants in China's coastal regions. They dismantle and recycle anything from plastic to electronic waste without any protection for themselves or the environment. The Chinese government has banned such practices, but migrant workers have spawned a mobile cottage industry that is difficult to wipe out … Because this type of industry operates largely under the radar, it is difficult to assess its overall impact. But it is clear that processing plastic and electronic waste in a crude manner releases toxic chemicals, harming people and the environment—the opposite of what recycling is supposed to achieve.
And, finally, there is a sting in the tail for the UK. Perhaps the first product many of us got used to recycling, usually at the local supermarket before kerbside collections took over, was the green bottle - this country is, after all, the biggest importer in the world of wine (1 billion litres a year):
But with only a tiny wine industry of its own, there is little demand for the resulting glass. Instead what is needed is clear glass, which is turned into bottles for spirits, and often exported to other countries. As a result, says Andy Dawe, WRAP's glass-technology manager, Britain is in the “peculiar situation” of having more green glass than it has production capacity for. Britain's bottle-makers already use as much recycled green glass as they can in their furnaces to produce new bottles. So some of the surplus glass is down-cycled into construction aggregates or sand for filtration systems. But WRAP's own analysis reveals that the energy savings for both appear to be “marginal or even disadvantageous”.
But as the success of recycling in this country is measured by the Government not by the energy saved but by the total tonnage of recylables collected there is a perverse incentive for local councils to continue to invest in bottle recycling!

Fisking Tony Blair

I’m usually a fan of Tony Blair’s speeches. They combine rhetorical, oratorical oomph with persuasive, linear logic.

So his speech today to the Reuters Institute on ‘public life’ was a disappointment. It’s not that what he said was wrong, it’s that much of it has already been said before by many media commentators:
  • “The media world - like everything else - is becoming more fragmented, more diverse and transformed by technology.”
  • “… the forms of communication are merging and interchanging.”
  • “The news schedule is now 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
Yawn. All this is true, and the acceleration of blanket media coverage is certainly changing the world we live in, and not always for the better. ‘Twas ever thus.

But Mr Blair’s analysis is just that - a cross-section of how things currently operate, with no conclusion, no proposal for how either the media or politicians can or should change things in the future.

There is a brief round-up of regulatory measures, either current or forthcoming - a vague (albeit quite correct) plea to the media “to re-assert their own selling point: the distinction between news and comment” - and that was it.

I was left thinking - is that really all you’ve learned about the interaction of the media and politics after a decade as Prime Minister? I’ve gleaned most of that just from browsing MediaGuardian.

There was one paragraph of the speech, though, which I’d like to highlight for being utter bilge. It’s classic Blair-speak, the invitation to his audience that he is taking them into his confidence, combined with the suggestion that he is being almost recklessly dishonest. In reality, it is totally disingenuous:
I am going to say something that few people in public life will say, but most know is absolutely true: a vast aspect of our jobs today - outside of the really major decisions, as big as anything else - is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity.
What on earth is he talking about? This isn't a secret. It is a truth universally acknowledged that media management is a huge issue across all professions - show me an organisation or institution that doesn’t have someone whose job is concerned with communications. An hour after Mr Blair concluded his talk, an e-mail pinged into my inbox inviting me to a conference:
Planning for and Reacting to the Worst: From student binge drinking deaths and athletic scandals to campus violence and natural disasters, campus crises seem to be in the national news each week. To be prepared for the inevitable, your institution should have a comprehensive plan that is tested and ready for execution at the most inopportune times.
Two points where I do agree with Mr Blair, and which, even if not original, are worth re-emphasising:

1. The Independent is a juvenile pile of toss, a travesty of its founders’ intentions. Its self-consciously screaming, preaching, preening front pages are a lamentable development in a supposedly quality paper, and one which has been curiously imitated by its more popular rivals. By selecting just one news item to lead the front page - and always SHOUTING about it - the supposedly serious press is increasingly giving up on showing the range of urgent and important news items which daily compete for our attention, and making a choice for us lest our delicate brains be confused by the arrray of stories on offer. It is a peculiarly British trait, and deeply unattractive.

2. “… it is rare today to find balance in the media. Things, people, issues, stories, are all black and white. Life's usual grey is almost entirely absent. ‘Some good, some bad’; ‘some things going right, some going wrong’: these are concepts alien to today's reporting. It's a triumph or a disaster. A problem is ‘a crisis’. A setback is a policy ‘in tatters’. A criticism, ‘a savage attack’ NGOs and pundits know that unless they are prepared to go over the top, they shouldn't venture out at all.” No journalist should lightly dismiss these words. Mr Blair is 100% right, and the trend he describes is a deplorable one for the quality of discourse in public life today.

Update: my boss, Tim Gardam, has written an in-depth analysis of Mr Blair's speech here. Well worth reading. (And, no, I'm not paid to say that.)

June 10, 2007


In case you think this blog's been comparatively quiet of late, here are two of my recent Lib Dem Voice offerings:

Top of the Blogs: the 'Golden Dozen' #16

A stench that starts at the very top

As previously mentioned, I'm taking my foot off the throttle of this blog just now - though I doubt I'll be able to resist posting here from time to time.

The Lives of Others

I’m by no means an anti-intellectual, inverted-snob - still, I won’t pretend that I was wholly enthusiastic about popping to the cinema to watch a German-language film on a Saturday night. A subtitled political drama about censorship in pre-Wall East Germany sounded like a little too much hard work.


The Lives of Others (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) is a stupendously good film - so strong I can now comprehend why the Academy gave it the Oscar for that absurd lumpencategory, Best Foreign Language Film, even over and above Guillermo del Toro’s truly remarkable Pan’s Labyrinth.

The multi-layered themes build to a cracking finale. Is it about the power of art to transform? Or of power to corrupt? Or is it simply a tragic love story? Whatever, it’s scorchingly well-written, with stellar performances from inter alia Ulrich Muhe and Sebastian Koch.

So forget those Terrible Threes, Pirates of the Caribbean and Spiderman, and try something brilliantly constructed, plotted, written and acted instead. Even if it is from ‘Foreign’.

June 06, 2007

Ok, so there are bigger niggles in life

But two questions are bugging me right now, as I try to live life as a cyclist who doesn't arrive in work soaked from a sudden downpour:

1) why is it impossible to buy an item of stylish rain-wear... y'know, something that doesn't look like it was rejected by Gyles Brandreth for being unutterably unfashionable; and

even if I accept I must of necessity compromise my designer trendiness, and meekly submit to doudy dryness, why do rain-ponchos only come with short sleeves? Is it too much to ask that, having sacrificed all street-cred for the sake of practical comfort, my forearms should still get wet?

If only I could get a chauffeur to drive behind me with a change of clothes, life would be so much easier.

Easy as Qwerty

A quick but public thanks to the Lib Dems' innovations team for helping make online campaigning so much easier.

A particular local issue has arisen in my ward - a proposal by the County Council to close a popular underpass. Within 20 minutes, thanks to some techno-wizardry available to any Lib Dem party member, I was able to create from scratch a dedicated web presence and online petition, Headington SOS. You can too, here.

Within an hour, 17 people have signed up... It's no substitute for door-knocking and leaflet delivery, but it's a handy alternative if you're working late at the office anyway.

June 05, 2007

Channel 4: an apology

I have in the past few weeks been rather unkind about Channel 4. In particular, I suggested its recent Dispatches programme abandoned objective reporting in favour of sensationalist editorialising.

May I therefore take this opportunity to commend Channel 4’s decision not to pull tomorrow’s documentary, Diana: The Witnesses In The Tunnel.

I do not fully understand why Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, the private secretary of Princes William and Harry, has chosen to pick a fight, and to do it in such an emotionally-charged manner. His maudlin attempts to emotionally blackmail Channel 4 are simply tasteless:
Put simply, if it were your or my mother dying in that tunnel would we want the scene broadcast to the nation? Indeed, would the nation so want it?
Congratulations to C4’s director of television and content, Kevin Lygo, for standing by the programme and its makers, and for withstanding the typical inaccuracies and hypocrisy of the tabloid press. He points out that Mr Lowther-Pinkerton’s demands, if they set a precedent, would hamper serious documentaries investigating (for example) terrorist outrages, such as 9/11 or 7/7:
where there is the entirely responsible use of archive stills or footage depicting the immediate aftermath of the tragedy but where the dead or dying are, quite rightly and in accordance with regulatory provisions, not shown or identified. This is in our view a legitimate media analysis of events which, whilst inevitably personally distressing, concerns matters of immense public interest which have been (and are likely to continue to be) the subject of on-going and extensive world wide reports and comment over a significant period.
Mr Lygo then lists the various media outlets - including The Sun, The Sunday Times and BBC’s Panorama - which have previously reproduced the images which C4 intends to show without remonstrance from Mr Lowther-Pinkerton.

To answer Mr Lowther-Pinkerton’s question directly - no, if it were my dying mother I doubt I would want such scenes to be broadcast. Which is why the decision of whether they can be broadcast should not rest with me.

Don Foster: an apology

I have in the past been rather unkind about the Lib Dems’ culture spokesman, Don Foster. In particular, I suggested his knee-jerk opposition to super-casinos pandered to illiberal populism.

May I therefore take this opportunity to commend his support of Channel 4’s decision not to pull tomorrow’s documentary, Diana: The Witnesses In The Tunnel:
"While any programme about Diana’s death will cause distress to some members of the Royal Family, there is a legitimate public interest in the event, especially from a programme which provides new insights.

"Most commentators who have actually seen the programme praise it for the sensitive way it deals with a very delicate issue.

"Editorial decisions should not be made by ill-informed media hysteria but in the public interest and within existing broadcasting codes."