Category: press


OK, so the weird weather and infrastructure crisis exacerbated by the Galbraithian combination of private affluence and public squalor is being monitored by the local newspaper using a web platform for 140-character snarkfarts and cat photos, and their robot air force. That, you know, provincial newspapers just have at the back of the newsroom. This is basically a Bruce Sterling novel, isn’t it?

Hunt, through a non-sexist prism

So, did ya ever want to know social network analysis metrics on the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport’s special advisers during the spring of 2011, as Rupert Murdoch’s interests in the UK feverishly lobbied Jeremy Hunt and his staff and we raced towards the epochal eruption of Hackgate? ‘Course you did.

In June, 2011, Adam Smith, Hunt’s special adviser and the man who took the fall for his boss, attained a gatekeepership score of 1.42 – that is to say, people who lobbied him achieved a 42% greater improvement in their influence as measured by weighted network degree than the average lobby achieved. He did this on a personal weighted network degree of 0.175, which is piss-ant. His score on the West Point GREEDY_FRAGILE metric, which calculates how much more or less centralised the overall network would be without him, is -6.21635100991e-06.

In May, 2011, his colleague Sue Beeby achieved an even higher gatekeepership, 1.56, and the month before, she was actually the most powerful gatekeeper in the system after excluding the Scottish and Welsh Offices, at 1.928 on a network degree of 0.0875, and a GF of -7.92399753226e-06.

Who was getting this access? The answer is in Smith’s case, “big sport”, the FA, the ECB, and the RFU, although the Rugby League did manage to see him too. It turns out Beeby is far more interesting. In the first 6 months of 2011, she saw The Times 37 times, the Sunday Times 37 times, and Sky TV 8 times.

She also met “sports journalists”, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, the English Cricket Board, and a PR company called Good Relations which only occurs in the dataset 5 times, all meeting her in March of that year. In the aggregate, the vast majority of influence going in here came from Murdoch.

She moved on with Hunt to the Department of Health, and lists herself on LinkedIn as a Conservative Party press officer. I don’t remember there being anywhere near as much fuss about her, though, as there was about Smith.

(Inspiration, of course, here.)

Update: ICM economy question

Update: in this post, I wanted to know which questions were asked in an ICM poll. ICM has now released the full tables. The question was:

You may have seen or heard that Britain slipped into a new economic downturn during the last quarter of 2012. Which do you think was the single most important reason for this?”

The crossbreak shows that 29% think “debts the Labour government racked up to fund unsustainable spending” are responsible for the double dip, 23% cuts, 21% the banks, 16% the eurozone recession. Breaking this down by party is telling; 53% of the Tories, who were 29% of the vote, blamed Labour, or to put it another way, half the people who think that do so because they are Tories. 44% of the 9% of the respondents who claimed to be UKIP did so, and a third of the 13% Lib Dems.

My point here is that there are not many people in that 29% who will ever vote Labour, as most of them are core Tories or ‘kippers. That said, 31% of the DE social group blamed Labour, which is evidently a problem.

The Project 3.0 – where are we going from here?

Adam Bienkov has an excellent piece out on Guto Harri, Boris Johnson, and the Murdochs. Harri was one of the alternative candidates to Andy Coulson for the No.10 press job, of course, then he worked for Johnson, and now he’s off to work for Murdoch.

Bienkov points out that there is an increasing tendency for the survivors of The Project, 2.0 to rally around Boris Johnson’s City Hall. Partly this is the long-standing Murdoch procedure of hopping on the bandwagon and then pretending to have been the horse all along. The Shower Jobby has won something recently and that’s more than any other Tory has.

At the same time, I think I notice a slight change of tone from Harri. Rather than admitting error, there’s a swing back to denialism and whining.

It’s also true that Boris Johnson’s career as mayor has been a preview of the future that the national-level Tories had planned for. Bienkov:

Under his guidance, Johnson has fought against Labour’s stereotype of him as a swivel-eyed Tory

Well, you could say the same about David Cameron’s late-property boom designer cupcake Conservatism. The operational art is more interesting. However cupcakey the warm words, Johnson’s media and political management relied on positively Ukrainian oligarch politics. When the opposition on the London Assembly wanted to ask questions, the Tories walked out and rendered the assembly inquorate. Every time. Harri dealt with Johnson’s blabbermouth side by simply refusing interview requests or press questions. I’ve said before that London politics is not poorly reported, it is not reported. This suited them right down to the ground. The capstone was the appointment of Sarah Sands as editor of the Evening Standard, which was submitted to Johnson (or possibly Harri) for prior approval.

Meanwhile, Harri put in huge amounts of effort to threaten the BBC London operation with a campaign from “friendly newspapers”. Let’s not be too naive here. The ones he means will be the ones who now employ him and he was probably already on a promise. This is well worth reading.

If you wanted information, you had to rely on the blogs and the problem there is that the fuckers, you know, them out there, just won’t do it.

Now, where has the toast of VDARE and former policy wonk to the Jobby, Anthony Browne, ended up? At the British Bankers’ Association. Surely useful. Is that an improvement over the Met as a place to store spin doctors?

The Project 2.0: confirmed

My mental model of the whole Murdoch/political complex, as I’ve said before, is that there have been two projects, The Project 1.0 and The Project 2.0. The first was the original use of “The Project” as Peter Mandelson introduced the phrase – the Blairite settlement, under which there was a transactional, bargaining relationship between the Labour Party and the News International hierarchy. People like Mandelson and Alistair Campbell achieved fame because they managed the terms of this relationship. The second, The Project 2.0, is the far closer and to my mind more dangerous relationship that developed between the Conservative Party, News International, and the Metropolitan Police in the late 2000s.

The differences are that in the Project 2.0, personnel from News International, for example Andy Coulson and Neil Wallis, were integrated into the structure of government, specifically the political/press management network radiating out from Downing Street in parallel to the operational/policy one radiating from the Treasury. Further, the principals understood the relationship in terms of one with common goals, common ideology, and a common culture. Nobody in the Labour Party ever imagined Rupert Murdoch was on their side.

Here’s Peter Mandelson.

Mandelson believes relations between government ministers and journalists are, in essence, a “trade”. Journalists want favourable access to news and ministers want good coverage of policies, he says.

Now here’s the famous text from Rebekah Brooks. Make your own mind up. I think it’s pretty clear what the aims of the Project 2.0 were – eliminate OFCOM as a force in affairs, damage the BBC as far as possible, convert Sky News into a Fox-like talking points channel. Jeremy Hunt and James Murdoch said as much at various junctures. This of course dovetails with other Conservative strategic initiatives like boundary changes, an anti-union party funding reform, and making it harder to get councils to run voter registration.

So you can see two broad strategies. One was to manage Murdoch tactically, hope the good times kept rolling, and redistribute City taxes via the national institutions like the NHS and the in-work benefits aspect of the Revenue, schoolsernospitals and the shadow welfare state being considered more respectable and Murdoch-compatible than wages. (Exercise: how often did the Sun mention wages and how often petrol prices?) Hopefully, voting Labour would be a habit, and erosion of the core vote would be compensated by floating voters gradually sticking to the shore.

The other was to integrate Murdoch fully into the core executive, pursue a strategy of re-engineering the electoral landscape, remove the countervailing institutions in the media. The police aspect is interesting – was the original point of the elected police commissioners plan to create electoral campaigns that the media could win for the Tories? In that case, why such emphasis on influencing the Met? Or was that a legacy that had to be dealt with?

Both of them seem to have gone bust. The Blairite one was undermined by the economic crisis and then finished off by the final collapse of the relationship. The Tory one has been knocked off course by the failure to get a proper win in 2010 and then holed by the great Murdoch crisis. Where are we going from here?

Request for blog

Here’s a role for a blogger that I don’t think anyone covers. The Whitehall blog. It’s a truism about British journalism, going back to Anthony Sampson if memory serves, that the newspapers cover Westminster politics obsessively but they hardly cover Whitehall at all. When they do, their service is even more conventionalised and less penetrating than usual. Partly, this is because the civil service is better at discretion than the politicians. But it’s not exactly unknown for officials to brief the papers, now is it?

For example, I have an impression that there is a shift of power and influence going on. David Cameron and Francis Maude’s biggest personnel decision so far has been not replacing Gus O’Donnell with another civil servant in the same role. O’Donnell combined the roles of Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, as most of the postwar top officials did. He was the heir to the apostolic succession of the popes of bureaucracy.

Cameron and Maude decided to split up the job, separating the top job in the Cabinet Office, which controls the central government’s policy-making secretariat and also the Joint Intelligence Committee machinery, the role of Head of the Home Civil Service, which acts as the senior pro for civil servants, and the role of the official responsible for the prime minister’s personal staff. Taking forward a trend that was already going on in the Blair/Brown years, this job was cut out of whole cloth, creating a Prime Minister’s Office with the new domain name and a Permanent Secretary for the PMO to lead it. This job was entrusted to O’Donnell’s heir apparent, Jeremy Heywood.

You guess that one of the reasons for this was to dilute the power and influence of the top civil service. All politicians are suspicious of it, and Tories especially. Why did the civil servants go along with it? Well, a big New Labour obsession was the idea that the traditional divide between policy-making and operational civil servants was pathological. Rather than a strict, and class-associated, divide, they wanted the top civil service to be closely concerned with “delivery”. The institution didn’t like it, and having a long memory is its business.

That leaves a couple of questions. The first is “Did it work?” The second is “Who of the three won?” The answers seem to be “No” and “Heywood”, as far as I can make out. I get the impression that the civil service has regained some influence in killing off the sillier ideas, and I think Steve Hilton’s sudden exit from Downing Street is pretty much entirely down to them. Hilton’s title had been upgraded from director of strategy to director of implementation, pretty clearly suggesting that he would be pissing in Sir Humphrey’s pool. That was before his brilliant idea to sack everyone they couldn’t fit in Somerset House (he may or may not know that half of it is King’s College law school and quite a bit more is an art gallery these days). And Heywood was personally insistent on getting rid of Hilton, something I think we can all “shudder a grateful amen” to. Generally, he seems to be on the rise, suggesting that not only has the system seen off the minister, but also that closeness to No.10 beats institutional bulk and headcount.

Now, what I want is this kind of stuff but with more links and goats and stuff, every week. All right? The traditional answer to this is that someone tried, back in the 1970s, but the pushback was dreadful. Well, that’s another way of saying that it’s the sort of thing that only dirty hippies would do, and that’s precisely what blogging is for.

Your inbox is over its size limit

Does anyone else see a parallel between the Murdoch e-mail timeline and some of the recent new information?

For example, the meetings with Cameron regarding the Sun coming out for him seem to have happened not long before the new policy of “eliminating in a consistent manner across NI…emails that could be unhelpful”.

More tellingly, just as the lobbying campaign for the BSkyB deal peaked in December 2010, with the push to get rid of Vince Cable, the barrage of meetings with Hulture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and the secret meeting in Oxfordshire with the Prime Minister, there seems to have been a surge of activity. This was the moment when three different NI executives lied publicly about the e-mail, Scottish editor Bob Bird claiming that it had disappeared in India, solicitor Julian Pike saying that it had all been deleted in June, and CIO Paul Cheesbrough saying that everything since September 2007 was gone.

Actually, the spring of 2010 (i.e. the election run-in, the crisis, and the decision to bid) was busy, too. There was a large deletion at HCL in April, management were interested in the matter and were badgering for more e-mail to be destroyed, and Pike seems to have thought it important.

All mayors are not the same. All columnists, however…

Rebuttal is futile, but sometimes it is necessary, and at least you can help people update their lists of people to ignore. Here’s Zoe Williams wilfully misleading the readers.

From two completely different sources – Ted Reilly, a road safety campaigner, and Alice Bell, a lecturer in science and society and part-time Sack Boris campaigner – I heard astonishing things about air quality in London. They say it correlates, not vaguely but absolutely precisely, with the traffic volume, that it is the largest threat to public health after smoking (seriously!), and that once you get any distance from its source – 20 yards – it vanishes.

In other words, if you pedestrianised major thoroughfares from 8am til 8pm, if you dropped speed limits, if you made public transport cheaper, if you consolidated deliveries to the periphery and got one provider to bring it all to the centre (“We used to call it the Royal Mail,” Reilly remarks, erm, wryly) you could do as much for the health of London as the person who discovered that smoking caused cancer.

Economically, it comes up repeatedly in living wage analyses that the cost of transport is not just a pest, it changes people’s lives. The tube has become a luxury, a young professional’s option. For someone with two separate cleaning jobs, most likely the only way to make that work economically would be by bus. Say that adds an hour (it’s probably more) to the commute, that will ricochet into that person’s stress levels, their parenting, their mental health, everything.

The mayor, whoever it is, can do a lot more with the powers he (or she, ha!) has than Boris Johnson is doing, or Ken Livingstone is suggesting. But it is also worth considering that, paradoxically, if they had more power, we would probably hate them a lot less.

Strangely, one mayoral candidate has in the past dramatically cut public transport fares, imposed a tax on motor vehicles in central London, and set up a low emissions zone to restrict how much poison lorries can emit in the city. That would be Ken Livingstone. I put it to you that someone who is unaware of congestion charging or Fares Fair shouldn’t be writing about London politics.

Another mayoral candidate gave up on the low emissions zone, abolished the western extension of the congestion charge, and put up the fares. That would be Boris Johnson. I put it to you that someone who is unaware of this hasn’t been paying attention and shouldn’t be writing about London politics.

On page three of Ken Livingstone’s manifesto, he explicitly promises to cut public transport fares by 7% immediately and reduce pollution. The next eight pages consist of nothing but public transport. Page 8 contains the following quote:

Faster, greener, more efficient freight
I will ask TfL to look seriously at the possibility of more freight consolidation centres for London. This would mean deliveries are taken to hubs and aggregated together before being taken into central London, saving on costs and cutting traffic.

The next page is about cycling, and the one after that about the necessity of investing in public transport in order to reduce pollution.

Page 66 is devoted to air pollution, including the creation of clean air zones with much lower speed limits and a ban on idling cars around schools, and the issue of smog alerts by SMS (something Boris Johnson directly refused to do). I could go on.

The sad facts are that a lot of journalists, Zoe Williams included, are evidently just fine with the largest threat to public health after smoking so long as their petty personal elite vendettas, the ego wars of media London, get took care of.