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Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Riot narrative heading in wrong direction

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Ill considered words and gestures ramping up repression

It’s OK talking and acting tough if you are getting results that matter to the rest of us, but David Cameron’s performance in the House of Commons yesterday, whilst good for his own authority as PM, does not portend well if he actually means what he says.

The overall impression that Cameron saved the country from burning down by returning from holiday early might look great to some but there is a lot of discomfort behind the headlines. Talking of tracking down and punishing the rioters would be fine if that is what he actually meant, the courts so far have sent out very mixed signals with some lenient sentences and some heavier sentences, but what is apparent is the lust of ordinary people up and down the country to lock young people away and throw away the key. Cameron latched on to this as he abandoned his “hug a hoodie” attitude promising jail terms for those convicted of involvement in the riots and looting, yet surely what we really need to see is armies of strictly supervised young people working at least 40 hours per week in their communities putting right the damage that they have caused. Surely this will have more productive long term benefits than locking them away for foolishly stealing bottled water, in six months some of them may even be on their way towards learning a skill or a trade!

Cameron talked of legislating to increase the sentences available to magistrates, instead of thinking about toughening up referral orders where offenders may only be required to work a few hours per week in the community, and what did he mean by a review of dispersal rules to give a “wider power of curfew”? Something which perhaps might be a terrible burden on the innocent and unaffected. He made pretty overt and open criticism of the Met Police’s failure to deal with the initial outbreak of violence in Tottenham, perhaps unfairly without first praising the bravery of the individual officers who faced that first unruly mob, and it is already coming back to bite him as sections of the police feel rather slighted and Sir Hugh Orde rounded on politicians and the Home Secretary in particular.

On taking office as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher immediately had the police on side with a 40% pay increase, David Cameron does not have that advantage, he faced increasing frustration in the House of Commons yesterday over future police budgets and this argument is now spreading into the wider public forum, his only counter balance is to offer more powers to the police which always carries the risk of repressive policy which does not convey the “consensual policing” that many regard as the cornerstone of British law enforcement. Talking of closing down or restricting the services of certain social networking sites is dangerous and unnecessary,  it is not the services at fault it is the users. Conservative MP Louise Mensch has waded in with this:

“Common sense. If riot info and fear is spreading by Facebook & Twitter, shut them off for an hour or two, then restore. World won’t implode,”

Yet we baulk at the suggestions that other countries such as Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or China take such oppressive action to censor the internet, those few small hours certainly would represent the thin end of the wedge and lead us down a darker path! Paradoxically it might even prevent the emergence of real community spirit evidence by the “broom army” in London. The whole concept of censorship and the choking of information is not something that I welcome, it is inherently not the British way and will damage good journalism (and yes we have to acknowledge that some of the news coverage fed the ambitions of the rioting crowds for a couple of days) resourceful journalist made very good use of Twitter to get around London, Manchester, and Birmingham to cover events and some of their stories and pictures have led to the identification of suspects and consequent arrests.

So we heard a few knee jerk reactions yesterday, the dust is settling, the politicians can resume their holidays, the magistrates will continue to confound, but has this emergency session of Parliament really changed the game? Well, yes it did a little, but not for the common good.

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Written by curly

August 12, 2011 at 10:44 am

Hacked off by “The Torygraph”?

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Gilligan guns for Sovereign Strategy

Andrew Gilligan, the former BBC journalist who was at the genesis of the Blair/Campbell “sexed up document” story, had a right good go at Sovereign Strategy the lobbying company headed by former South Tyneside councillor and MEP Alan Donnelly and current council leader Iain Malcolm in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph. In a curious article he exposed many of Sovereign Strategy’s tactics in raising cash and then passing on amounts of it to the Labour Party nationally and locally, the main two points of his piece are that (a) the lobbyist is working with the Hacked Off campaign to keep the phone hacking story in the news, and (b) that News International don’t like the firm and he repeats a whole string of allegations made by The Times and The Sunday Times over recent years.

I am just curious as to what Gillligan was hoping to prove or achieve:  so long as we have the type of democracy which involves close links between the press and politicians we will always have professional lobbying firms, and pressure groups working around the fringes or deep within the heart of politics beavering away at ensuring certain issues of interest are prominent in the minds of politicians. Presently, we expect and hope that the relationships between journalists of News International and leading politicians, from all parties, are kept under the closest possible scrutiny until Parliament and the courts have all reached the end of their deliberations. I assume that Gilligan also wants to see full transparency amongst those trading blows during this process, but there will be many other groups and companies similarly involved in gaining privileged access to government ministers who will fall below the radar, and some of these will undoubtedly be supporters and financiers of the Conservative Party.

I just wonder what the effect of articles such as this will be on the revenues of lobbying companies now being bleached by the sunlight, as businesses in the north-east discover that £5000 fees paid to the North-East Economic Forum, which is a very useful body for gathering opinion and strategic regeneration ideas,  is drip fed to the Labour Party to the tune of £160000 over the past nine years, with an additional £41000 personally coming from Alan Donnelly?

It would be interesting to hear either Alan Donnelly’s or Iain Malcolm’s opinion on Gilligan’s surgical excisions into their business. Are they well and truly Hacked Off?

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Written by curly

July 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

“Rocky” Cameron rolls with the punches

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PM emerges bruised from the debate but not battered.

Haven’t done a “pea roast” for a while so I thought I’d throw a couple in today.

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, I’ve been doing a gargantuan research into the analytics of this blog which has now been running for six and a half years, a lot has changed over that time in terms of readership and demographics along with a huge increase in the amount of blogging, micro blogging, social networking,  and the platforms which carry such content. Suffice to say that this blog either needs to keep up with the pace of change or close completely in advance of a new offering. There certainly will be changes over the coming months, the first of which will be a total overhaul of the sidebar links, many of which are now dead, followed by a complete alteration to the style sheet and template. Sorry it has taken so much of my time but it has been a necessary journey.

I managed to catch the first hour and a half of yesterdays debate in the House of Commons and the Prime Minister’s statement about the phone hacking affair, a debate in which he was seen to come out fighting and defended himself reasonably well against MPs lined up to beat him into submission. This was no “humble pie” moment, but a tough fight, Cameron had his back against the ropes and had to take on all comers, he was expecting a heavyweight onslaught from Ed Miliband but the Opposition Leader appeared to have lost some weight, or focus, and only managed to pepper “Call me Dave” with middleweight shots to the midriff, however it was enough to strengthen the nerve of his corner who sent in wave after wave of bruisers to rough up the PM. Cameron didn’t hide away, he stood in the ring for what seemed like 38 rounds and after the fight was roundly applauded by his supporters, including what looked like a 13 year old schoolboy journalist Daniel Knowles.

So a success for David Cameron, but Ed Miliband is not too unhappy either. The Parliamentary Labour Party seems satisfied enough with the few hits he has landed over the past fortnight. In fact, I just spotted him in Strangers’ Bar with (I think) David Miliband with a broad grin on his face. So both leaders are going into recess as secure as they could reasonably hope to be. Everyone’s a winner – everyone but Rupert Murdoch anyway.

The South Shields MP David Miliband must have been pleased, nobody mentioned his partying with the Murdochs!

The party, held two weekends ago, reveals the extent of the couple’s connections on both sides of the Commons.

As a jazz band played in the landscaped gardens of the £6  million property, Mr Freud, who was wearing leather trousers, greeted guests, including Education Secretary Michael Gove and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey. They drank champagne in the company of former Labour Cabinet Ministers Peter Mandelson, David Miliband, James Purnell and Douglas Alexander.

He’d also be pleased in knowing that news of his other work for US corporations was well and truly buried by yesterday’s cream pie bun fight as he continues treading the path created by his mentor Tony Blair.

However it was good to be reminded by the PM that the vast majority of the phone hacking outrages happened some years ago whilst Blair, Brown, and Miliband were running the ship on to the rocks, as we recalled Rebekah Brooks statement the previous day that she’d been invited to Downing Street about six times a year by the last Prime Minister but so far not once by Cameron. The PM also got in a great right hook at Ed Miliband by reminding him that since Coulson is no longer in government employ, the only person with an ex News International hack working for them is the Leader of the Opposition!

As a “judgement day” fight it lived up to it’s billing, the referee had a great deal of work to do much of it in keeping the baying hoards quiet, some just wished that Bercow could manage to be a little more even handed and hush the Labour benches too. Miliband the middleweight could be judged to be both effective and dangerous in the opening rounds but he soon ran out of steam, the fact that he still has a former News International employee working in his corner will not have helped, but fortunately his troops ensured that Cameron took a number of body blows particularly about those conversations hinged around the BSkyB takeover, he kept ducking and diving to evade the shots whether they were “inappropriate” or not! One wonders why his corner men did not give him a better briefing on Labour’s tactic for this manoeuvre,  surely it would have been far better for him to tell the ringside spectators that yes it was inevitable that people came to him and discussed the proposed deal, that’s just what we expect major companies to do with Prime Ministers, but actually I listened and fobbed them off, I told them I have no say in the matter, go and see Jeremy Hunt instead! Instead he stood there trying to parry the blows to the ribs round after round after round until with the final shot he just let out an anguished sigh! It was an unedifying end to a long fight.

Many will judge this fight as a draw and look forward to a rematch after the summer recess, Cameron’s judgement is still under question today and he needs to reveal the name of the company employed to vet Coulson on behalf of the Conservative Party when in Opposition, Miliband needs to get on with publishing the long list of contacts between himself and executives on News Corporation and News International, he also needs to consider if he should continue employing former Times man Tom Baldwin. Cameron scored his best shots by reminding the House that the priority now is to clean up the mess and revarnish the reputation of British journalism (for surely the phone hacking scandal can not be exclusive to News International), and to weed out those corrupt police officers who have been allegedly prepared to take bribes in return for information. He was adamant that the police investigation and the judicial enquiry must be allowed to go wherever the evidence leads them.

Miliband may think his summer holiday will be a cool breeze but he needs to ensure that Labour’s time in The Sun doesn’t leave him with nasty burn marks, whilst Prime Minister Cameron will head off to the coast still in a sweat, but with a dark cloud continuing to hang over him.

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Call Tom Watson to the Select Committee too.

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Was the Security Service involved in the hacking scandal?

As the story about Rupert Murdoch’s News International continues to evolve with more resignations and revelations one small written piece in Iain Dale’s latest platform seems to have evaded Fleet Street (for now) and it involves Gordon Brown’s lieutenant Tom Watson with his cleverly worded question to the Prime Minister earlier in the week. Former Tribune editor Mark Seddon writes:

So when earlier in the week, Watson asked the Prime Minister if the terms of the Inquiry into the Press would also include “rogue elements in the security services”, my ears pricked up. I have been wondering for some time how this level of serial criminality, this bugging and hacking from the Windsors to the Dowlers had seeming failed to register with our rather expensive intelligence services in MI5 and MI6. It seemed astonishing to me for instance that an officer in the Royal Protection Squad could happily flog private Royal contacts without anyone knowing. It also seemed surprising that no one seemed to know of the repeated attempts to access intensely private information on Gordon Brown. Some 4,000 people – probably far more – had their phones hacked, and no one knew what was going over in MI5?

So, apart from asking the Murdochs, Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, various other journalists et al, perhaps the Commons Select Committee for Culture Media and Sport ought to request that Tom Watson appears before them next week. It would seem that he may have important information to share with them. If it is possible that members of MI5 or MI6 had helped journalists in their search for information to get a story at any cost then surely if it were proven, News International and News Corporation could not possibly pass any test that verifies them as a fit and proper organisation to hold a broadcast licence either here or abroad! They certainly ought not to be though of as fit and proper to take over BSkyB at any time in the future, irrespective of all the apologies offered this weekend.

If the Select Committee and the Judicial Enquiry find that this organisation has wormed its way into both the police forces of the UK and its Security Services, along with using its influence to manipulate politicians of all parties, then I’m pretty sure that public opprobrium would be so intense that shareholders might move to break up the company.

Although many will see Tom Watson’s moves as little more than “the revenge of Brown”, ultimately he may have done his country a great service.

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Written by curly

July 17, 2011 at 10:20 am

Phone Hacking

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“To listen to your messages press 1

To listen to your messages again press 2

To save your messages press 3

To delete your messages press 4

To allow an investigator to delete your message press 5

To send your messages to a newspaper press 6”

It should not take you long to decide NOT to have this newspaper in your home this weekend!

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Written by curly

July 6, 2011 at 8:01 am

Ryan Giggs named in House of Commons

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John Hemming MP challenges super injunction by naming Ryan Giggs in House of Commons
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1st collector for Ryan Giggs named in House of Commons
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How does the government really intend to deal with the issues that these super injunctions have thrown up?

With “contempt” being shown by many thousands across the UK and the rest of the world, The Scottish Sunday Herald publishing Gigg’s picture on its front page yesterday, and now every newspaper, the BBC and other media outlets rightly reporting the proceedings in Parliament, the law has really been made to look an “ass”. Any law which does not have the popular consent required to legitimise it, or which fails to be adjusted in line with the national character, must be seen as a bad law. Let us be clear, nobody is denying that there are good uses for injunctions which prevent certain actions, but there must be clarity, openness, honesty and transparency, the courts must be open in the majority of cases for the press to report freely. A “super injunction” is little more than a gagging order sought by those with very deep pockets, who now look increasingly silly as they enrich certain legal firms in the sure knowledge that they and the courts have no power at all to stop people openly gossiping. Our journalists, newspapers and broadcast media deserve to be able to report freely, we are NOT supposedly living in state controlled conditions just yet!

Dominic Grieve’s response to John Hemming’s question was as flaccid and powerless as the decisions made in the High Court, the government’s Law Officers need to find a far more responsive approach which fits with what a modern society requires.

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Written by curly

May 23, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Heffer to seek new pastures.

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Telegraph associate editor moving on, calls for a general election.

Simon Heffer is a highly opinionated journalist of the old school, a man of letters and eloquence, he carried his pen like a sword at the Daily Telegraph where he flew the standard on behalf of its recently bewildered traditional readership. He shall be a bit of a miss to those who sought some inspiration and “attitude” from the voices of the centre right , I guess that leaves us just a handful of politicians espousing the “right” messages such as John Redwood, the ageing Lord Tebbit, and the rising stars Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell, and the occasional offerings from Fraser Nelson writing as editor of The Spectator and Jeff Randall at Sky. Heffer has announced that he is leaving his post at The Telegraph, after 25 years, to “complete a major literary project”, in an internal email to colleagues he added:

“I’ve decided not to talk to anyone about my decision, except to say it is entirely amicable and it was time I moved on. And I shan’t, I think, be entirely outside the confines of Fleet Street.”

Heffer never hid his disdain for the soft centrist policies of David Cameron either as Leader of the Opposition or as Prime Minister, he mirrored the views of his readers  over the direction and strategies chosen by the new “modern” Conservative leader and was suspicious about the coalition agreement from the very start raising concerns over its ability to deliver on its promise to eradicate the structural deficit by the end of this Parliament. He was also a robust defender of the English language and its use and nuances in journalism, he rigidly stuck to a style which was never quite “florid” or colourful in the manner of Littlejohn, but certainly plain, direct, and fastidiously correct. His style notes were so good the The Telegraph published them regularly either as reminders to their own journalists or as inspirational short essays to other aspiring writers. Perhaps he was wanting to be seen as walking in the footsteps of the great W.F. Deedes, I think his Lordship  would have admired the contribution that Heffer made to political journalism and commentary in these Isles during his long tenure at The Telegraph.

One of his final articles lambasted the performance in government of Nick Clegg and his fellow Liberal Democrats and called upon the Prime Minister to consider metaphorically a quicky divorce to seek a new mandate from the country in a general election, Heffer considers that the time is about right with a number of factors that I see coming into the equation: Liberal Democrat fortunes are at an all time low they have lost their mandate, the new Labour leader Ed Miliband has spectacularly failed to spark interest amongst the electorate generally in England, more so in Wales, and disastrously so in Scotland, the effect of the reductions in planned departmental budgets will not begin to be felt until later this year and into next year, and the planned legislation for a five year fixed term Parliament would fail (for the moment) too.

I believe more strongly than ever that Dave should call a general election. His partners have lost the confidence of the country. There is open dissent in his Cabinet. Collective responsibility is breaking down. The Lib Dems seem on the verge of civil war. The Tories would win many Lib Dem seats if they went to the country now. Ed Miliband is damaged by his support for AV. He lacks the wholehearted support of his party. Labour has been badly wounded in Scotland. There simply won’t be a better chance of a Conservative victory than now.

The Right of the Tory party must mobilise and assert itself now, for I fear Dave is more minded to make concessions to his partners than to follow the instincts of his own people. After all, he plainly dislikes most of his notional supporters, and the Lib Dems serve the useful purpose of protecting him from them. But he should learn from Nick Clegg what happens when a leader chooses to fall out of step with his party. Dave is on a perilous course if he does not work out why his party’s own vote held up so well, and seek to take his party further in that direction

Having unexpectedly gained 81 council seats in the local government elections last week as the Liberal Democrats were almost decimated, it must be a tempting thought to those of a more traditional Conservative instinct to agree with Heffer, even in South Shields I met Tory supporters who were less than enthusiastic about the coalition agreement and quite a few who were angry at the government’s apparent acquiescence to the general drift of European policies. On the other hand, I did not find anyone in South Shields who were thirsting for another general election.

So how do readers vote?

Would you favour a quick ruthless general election decision to determine if one or the other of the major parties might secure a working majority, or would you view such a strategy as a terrible breach of trust between David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg?

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Cllr. David Potts needs a moderator

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Twitter comments unacceptable

On the one hand Cllr. Potts, the Leader of the Conservative group on South Tyneside Council, announces that he intends to divorce his political opinions from his Twitter account, yet on the other proceeds to launch an intemperate personal attack on David Miliband the South Shields Labour MP. Whilst you will all appreciate my political abhorrence of most things socialist, especially within this little borough where the majority stay at home during local elections, you will find that my opposition is generally penned in acceptable terms that most will understand, and often with a wry streak  of humour. I detected a slight taste of mischief making in Andy Hughes report in the Journal, as the former Shields Gazette journalist continues to take a close interest in the online affairs of one or two of the borough’s politicos, however, my own guess is that without Hughes interest this story may well have been buried away within the millions of “tweats” cascading on to the internet every day.

I tend to agree with those contacted by Hughes, Cllr. Potts should withdraw his remark, offer a fulsome apology, not only to Miliband but also to his party colleagues for the embarrassment he has caused them, and to consider more carefully his online remarks in future. He should also get on with creating a new Twitter account, if that was his intention, and try to remember that politics is about the promotion of ideas/ideologies and representing the common interests of his constituents in Cleadon Village and East Boldon. He should endeavour to forget the personalities in South Tyneside (despite some of the savage personal attacks against him recently) and concentrate on presenting an effective case for believing in Conservative principals within South Tyneside. If the Conservative led coalition does eventually manage to get some sort of a grip on the economy with its runaway public spending and ever increasing debts, then they will need people like Cllrs. Potts, Milburn, and Wood to support and defend its actions as when they affect us here.

If I were one of the other two Tory councillors in South Tyneside, I’d be taking some sort of action to persuade David Potts to moderate his language and online behaviour, I’d be rather concerned and anxious about what future comments from my “leader” might lead to. A group need to play as a team, and the team captain is normally the one that provides the inspiration, direction, example, and leadership for the others to follow, but there must be question marks over the direction of Cllr. Potts political thoughts at the moment.

I’m having a bit of fun ribbing David Miliband this week, I don’t know if he can cook or not (or if it is worth £1000 to find out), I’d like people to ask the serious questions about how committed he is to his constituency, but we can do this in a light hearted way, we can disagree without being disagreeable. If Cllr. Potts wishes to join in the fun that’s all well and good, but he must remember that some of the best comedians kept it clean and didn’t need to resort to the “Chubby” Brown material.

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Written by curly

January 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm

South Shields – a dismal place?

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glasshouseJoan Smith, you need to visit your mother more often!

Some years ago, when he was still a junior minister, David Miliband offered to send me a copy of South Tyneside’s cultural strategy. I was astonished and excited: my mother lives in Miliband’s South Shields constituency, which I visited frequently as a child, and I remember it as a rather dismal place with lots of fish and chip shops and a dingy slot-machine arcade. I’ve been back plenty of times since and now it’s even more run-down……….

South Shields was never in the same league as Hastings.

Beauty of course is in the eye of the beholder, and unfortunately Hastings simply cannot compete with the natural beauty of our remarkable northern coastline, nor our broad flat spacious sandy beaches, or our miles of open green space on The Leas and our wonderful sea front public parks. Hastings has it’s cliff face and a narrow pebbly beach with ornate colonnaded Victorian buildings and one or two smart inviting hotels, it’s closeness to it’s history is not nearly as intimate or as old as ours (think of Bede), it is indeed more memorable for its traditional English pier which was sadly destroyed a few days ago. I have visited Hastings, it is nice of course and it is closer to the traditional expectation of a seaside resort being more compact than South Shields, but I could find just as much to feel dismal about it with it’s tacky gift shops, candy floss atmosphere, amusement arcades, and keep off the grass signs.

I have been relatively excited by some of our new developments that have happened recently in South Shields but seriously disappointed at the snail’s pace at which we introduce changes and improvements. Redevelopment at the Ocean Beach Amusement Park has been welcome, the South Marine Park is a real gem now, the Littlehaven Hotel was an excellent addition to amenities, new housing along the riverside has been a boon (although the fledgling plans to build a marina at the old Velva Liquids site might have been a bigger plus if they had been pursued), the plan for the regeneration of Rekendyke is a good one but so slow in progress, but Ms. Smith is essentially right in asserting that we need to make the very most of our relationship with the sea and our beaches, to which I will add our maritime heritage.

The new swimming pool promised for the Pier Head area will be a massive improvement and add to the amenities available for use in all weathers, but we do, however, need to add more and I see scope for additional hotels (the Gypsies Green proposal was excellent but a major disappointment that it ran into opposition financially and politically), a maritime and shipping museum on underused Port of Tyne land at the Pier Head incorporating the Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House would also prove to be a draw as would the relocation of the Westovian’s Theatre to this area. I also see scope in the future for development opportunities in the North Marine Park and would love to see  a “community glass house” growing exotic plants and perhaps cactii and trees tended by school groups or allotment associations in the area occupied by the former Parks Department building. In the South Marine Park I’d like to see further development of the Lakeshore Railroad station that might include the Tourist Information Office and static displays illustrating the history and renewal of the Victorian park all within a station building constructed along Victorian designs with a waiting room and small cafe. I’d like to see greater links between the Littlehaven beach and the Arbeia Roman Fort, although any buildings ought to be confined to the beach facing frontage below the park’s heights. I’d like to see some really bold moves to relocate the football pitches on “the Dragon” to the Gypsies Green area with the co-operation of the National Trust, to allow an expansion of leisure facilities, perhaps including another stab at attracting a hotel/conference centre surrounded by retail units (go see the far end of Hartlepool’s marina for an example of the style which I prefer).

If we want to be extremely bold and dashing then why can we not set about doing “a Bridges” on King Street, all it needs is a big imagination and bags of will!

South Shields, unfortunately, is not a town which can be passed through easily, we do not sit on a major road or rail route and therefore we need to continue to attract and entice people here, however our proximity to the A194M and the A19 as well as the Tyne Tunnel makes us an ideal base for touring Durham and Northumberland with their history, cathedrals and castles, we have numerous smaller guest houses but precious few quality hotels, so there are opportunities to be grasped here. A framework and a plan is in place, and we must never be afraid to change and alter our viewpoint from time to time in the quest to exploit our natural position and resources next to the sea to grow our local economy.

In this time of recession we need to remain optimistic and enthusiastic, knowing full well that we cannot guarantee the sort of regular weather patterns that attract thousands to the seaside, therefore we need to offer more for those days in the spring and summer months when rain may arrive at any moment. What we have right now is certainly not “dismal” , but it has to be recognised that it is insufficient to reinvigorate and spark local economic growth, with some of the plans already announce we need to enthuse our leaders to push ahead harder and faster to make the changes happen, where we have fallen down in the past is self evident, great promises but slow evolution of development which has left us playing catch up with our neighbours.

What’s needed to revitalise the English seaside is a bold approach that puts the sea and the beach at the very heart of the town’s amenities. It’s an amazing fact that what people expect when they arrive in an English resort (and indeed what they get) is a dismal row of tattoo parlours, slot machine arcades and takeaway food shops. What happened to the entrepreneurial spirit that gave us piers, oyster bars, art-deco lidos and even the Brighton Pavilion? Art galleries and seaside art installations are a start, but we also need seafood restaurants, modern hotels and a range of activities including sea fishing and boat trips. Otherwise, what’s happening to English seaside towns really will turn into the end of-the-pier show.

Joan Smith is right on some of these points but if she visited her mother in South Shields more often she’d discover that the people here, with our aspirations and medium term plans, are anything but dismal.

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Written by curly

October 7, 2010 at 11:17 am

No sympathy for Moat

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PC David RathbandCase brought out best and worst in people

This is a picture of PC David Rathband, the policeman shot at almost point blank range by Raoul Moat as he sat in his police car in Newcastle, I make no apologies for including it here. PC Rathband was quite sure he was going to die and asked paramedics to tell his wife and small children that he loved them very much, let us remember now that he was a family man like many others of us in the north-east, he was only doing his job, a job which serves the public and carries, at times, enormous risks. Moat cared not a jot for PC Rathband or his family, just as he neglected any feelings at all for his former girlfriend Samantha Stobbart when he blasted her with a shotgun,  nor her new boyfriend Chris Brown who he shot dead with two cartridges in a callous deliberate act of murder.

Along with many others in South Shields I watched events play themselves out in Rothbury last Friday evening in a very public stand off covered by television news channels hoping that Moat might see the sense in giving up his weapon and delivering himself to the police, but alas events took a different turn, in a way that some had predicted when the felon discharged the weapon at his own head.

The whole episode since his release from prison saw variously the best and the worst in people from the north east and the sections of the media reporting the news, which amplified some of the tensions already existing between the public and the police. It was the actions of neighbourly well spirited people which gave the police the leads that they needed to track Moat down from Vigo to Rothbury, and it was the responsible journalists who responded correctly to Northumbria Police requests when they needed news blackouts and when they needed additional publicity to generate public cooperation. These actions undoubtedly resulted in fewer people being exposed to Moats fragile state of mind whilst in possession of a deadly firearm.

However, his boastful remarks of being in a war against the police have brought out the worst in others, allowing them to express themselves by leaving flowers at the scene of his death and at the scene of his other alleged crimes, the setting up of a Facebook “sympathy” page has also allowed these deluded people to gather together to create a rather silly looking image for people from the north east. It is no surprise that Prime Minister David Cameron has criticised these moves and proclaimed that there can be “no sympathy” for the callous murderer Moat.  Personally, although I find there is some merit in Simon Heffer’s arguments yesterday, I find the “sympathy for Moat movement” to be demeaning for the people of the north east, embarrassing to witness, and likely to provide the rest of the UK with the stereotypical imaging that they like to use to portray us as “thick northerners” – and nothing could be further from the truth!

Heffer’s somewhat misogynistic views don’t help his case, neither does his description of the folk of Rothbury as being “morally sub normal” (someone needs to educate him that Moat and his small band of followers are almost without exception resident many miles away from Rothbury, and the majority of folks interviewed in the town last Friday were clearly not originally from this region), however certain passages ring true and describe better the life of Moat the monster than the anti hero, especially when recalling the thoughts of another ex girlfriend:

Moat, according to her, engaged in acts that many men and women would not want to include in their domestic lives. He raped her. He would tie her up and flog her with a belt. He throttled her until she fainted. He hit her on her spine with a baseball bat. He kneed her in the face. She described him as “a living, breathing monster”. I for one would not seek to disagree with her.

Come on folks, do you really want to belittle this region by sympathising with someone who behaves like this?

Heffer touches on a note of dissatisfaction with our police forces and he may have a very salient point after the thirteen wasted years when greater and greater volumes of legislation have been dumped upon the heads of Chief Constables, who somehow have to manage their men and women in the prosecution of laws, many of which are more difficult to understand. The pressure built during the Blair and Brown years when public services became target driven led to a different type of police force than we were earlier used to, as they became more remote and too many beat officers were tied up behind desks completing mountains of forms and paperwork, by the end of the NuLabour regime Neighbourhood policing had become a “buzzword” in some forces, and in others this community aspect was carried out by volunteer uniformed “replacements”.

The police are good at mobilising themselves for murderers, rapists, abductors of children and possibly armed robbers. They are exceptionally good, too, at catching people who commit minor motoring offences. For the vast mass of crime in the middle – theft, burglary, mugging, flouting of the drugs laws and so on – they are utterly useless. Their role extends little beyond supplying a crime number to a victim so that a claim may be made on the victim’s insurance. That part of the operation might as well be privatised and sold to Lloyd’s. It is much easier to sit in a layby and catch someone driving over the speed limit than it is to retrieve the precious possessions of a family that has been burgled, so why try? That is how the public see the police, and it won’t do.

There is much to acknowledged there, and Heffer may well have caught the public mood, perceptions are often worth more than the realities, yet the reality is that our police forces have been driven off course by the battering of new legislation and target achieving, they no longer have the time or will to build rapport and community cohesion and have been weakened by top down pressures that have resulted in better figures but poorer reputations. Cameron and May have decided that there needs to be a bonfire of vanities in respect of some of the laws passed by NuLabour, something which is long overdue but will play but a small part in the rebuilding of trust between the police and the public, a trust that can only flourish with fewer simpler to understand laws which allow police men and women to get out of stations and into communities.

Perhaps then, all together, we can begin to relearn some common values of what is right and what is wrong and help each other to become “self policing” in a manner than does not require much more than common sense and common purpose. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister along with Nick Clegg and his websites, face a huge challenge in finding those common moral values, as a quick read through the comments to Heffer’s article reaffirms that incidents such as this really have brought out the best and worst of people.

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