Saturday, 14 May 2016

Democracy At Your Expense

Last year I contacted the Electoral Commission about full disclosure of all election expense submissions. Admittedly between 2010 and 2014 the rules had been changed to allow photocopies, but the charges are set by the local authority and can run into a significant amount of expenditure.

Date.....:  30/04.2015
I am a...:  a member of the public
Comment/enquiry type:  candidate/party spending/funding
After the 2010 General Election, I tried to check the election expenses for the local and national campaigns.

This involved me only being able to view them under strict supervision and only allowed to take notes. Photographs and photocopies were banned. I was there for 6 hours.

It would be good for democracy if the submitted election expenses for all election candidates were published and accessible on the internet post elections (EU, GE and local). It shouldn't be a onerous task to scan them.

However, if cost is an issue, the ban on being allowed to photograph or photocopy the submissions would help ensure that they can be scrutinised on a proper basis. It would seem that the current system is designed to make this as difficult as possible.


Thank you for your enquiry.

Please see the last page of this guidance document.

Councils are required to offer copies of candidate spending returns in exchange for a fee.

Councils must by law make the spending returns available for inspection at the council or another location. However there is no provision in law stating that councils can or must publish spending returns online. If you would like a change of law in this area, I suggest you contact your local MP

Maybe the time has come to try this again.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Underneath The Petal

The Joy Formidable - Underneath The Petal

Underneath the petal I lay down
Caught myself a shadow, followed a cloud
All of these things that pull you away
All of these things that make you change
I'll play you a song as sweet as can be
These notes in the dark are for you and me

Come while the day is still ours and make me yours
Before the sky gets flooded, darkness falls
Why does this bad blood flow at the end
Surprises like oil then sits on a bend
Makes me think you're standing in my light
It's hard feeling beaten when your hearts become silent

Underneath the petal, it's all mine

That search for something more
When it's already in the stone
We'll be alright now
We've got our own way
And it plays around like thunder on a clear day
Underneath a promise I fell down

You looked so much happier than you do right now
Those drowning eyes won't carry me
That stranger's way won't make me leave
Underneath the petal, it's all fine
Underneath the petal, it's all mine

Coming up, look around
I'm going back, crossing off what's in front of me
I'll stay here, leave the world at my feet.

Saturday, 1 November 2014


Goth at the BBC was pretty good after all the campaigning. 

Just a few quibbles:
  • Bela Lugosi's Dead wasn't the first goth single. The Staircase Mystery came out 5 months earlier and is the fully formed goth 'sound'.
  • With The Cure's Oxford Roadshow and Riverside performances in the vaults they chose the ungoth-like "The Walk" from TOTP. Go figure! Also incorrectly labelled as their first post-'dissolution' single. That was "Let's Go To Bed".
  • A stretch to include Depeche Mode as goth (and I'm a fan), but hey, they are in that ball park in the States so I'll let the BBC off.
  • Strawberry Switchblade labelled as "goth-lite". The album was over-produced (albeit still good), but their John Peel sessions quite happily started them off in the goth-folk arena inhabited by All About Eve.
  • Talking of which, where were All About Eve?
  • Not P J Harvey's gothiest number but good to see her included.

Overall thumbs up and good to see "Beauty of Poison" get an outing 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

It's Just The Ticket

None of you are likely to buy The Gooner, so here's a piece I've written for it on the subject of Premier League ticket prices:

It's that time of year when that annual piece of lazy journalism comes around like clockwork. Yes, the BBC's Price of Football survey.

Of course, at one level, they are correct. In absolute terms Arsenal has the most expensive season ticket. Yet whilst I'd expect that sort of simplistic analysis from a news editor looking for a cheap headline, I demand better from Robert Peston, a Gooner and the BBC economics editor, who chose to do a half-baked analysis of his own.

Bemoaning his lot, and in an attempt to illustrate that consumer choice in a free market doesn't apply to football, he clumsily wrote: "I suppose I could have defected to Spurs or given up football altogether." Well, far from me to contend that the two are basically the same option, a mere 2 seconds with a calculator would have shown him that Spurs highest price season ticket works out to £90 per match whilst Arsenal's is £77. Exactly which London club is doing the ripping off and forces you to watch football on a Thursday night?

It's not fair to blame the BBC alone. Other media outlets on the back if it wrote easy 'why-oh-why' opinion pieces comparing Arsenal to Barcelona and Real Madrid, willfully ignoring the fact that they have stadiums 40-66% bigger and are both effectively state financed clubs.

Of course. the Premier League has its own state funded clubs: Man City and Chelsea. Man City is a wholly owned subsidiary of the United Arab Emirates and Chelsea partially financed by the Russian government, both of whom worked out that 'commercial' deals can be used to drive a coach and horses through UEFA's fair play regulations. I'll try to be objective here - clubs like Man City are cheating when the Council of Europe can call their £400m naming rights deal for the Etihad an "improper transaction".

So what's to be done?

I've heard enough to know that some fans would prefer Kroenke to 'open his bloody wallet' but dodgy non-commercial loans from owners and spending shareholder capital on the revenue account is the path of madness for any business, ask Leeds and Portsmouth. However, it is reasonable to ask, with two revenue streams outside the club's control, why is the other one lagging so far behind our competitors?

Football has three major sources of revenue: Commercial, Broadcast and Matchday. The mix of these streams is what determines the character of a club. Arsenal has the highest dependency on matchday revenue of all the Deloitte* top 20 clubs by quite some distance, hence the high ticket prices. Broadcast money in general is linked to performance but it is commercial revenue that is holding Arsenal back.

Yet in some quarters, generating commercial revenue is a dirty word. A certain fanzine (no names no pack drill), refuses to use the words 'Emirates Stadium', when the shirt and sponsorship deal brings in nearly half Arsenal's commercial revenue. The cost of merchandise is also attacked as ripping off fans, but Arsenal's prices are 10% lower than the twin Manchesters, so the club aren't maximising the profit here. No, I'm, not trying to give them ideas!

The purity of the 'true' fan is a joy to behold, but it doesn't pay Sanchez's wages. If the Sky deal in the 1990s has taught us anything, it is that broadcast money goes straight into the pockets of the players and their agents. Any attempt to offset matchday revenue by robbing the broadcasting revenue pot will lead to an inevitable decline in status as other clubs are left free to spend it on players.

If this does seem that I'm trying to defend our ticket prices or make a case for 'like it or lump it', I'm not. You see, Arsenal does have an option to generate more matchday income without cross-subsidy from other revenue streams - safe standing areas. Although Arsenal would require a 93,000 capacity stadium to match Bayern Munich's cost levels, a move in this direction would allow upward pressure on ticket prices to be reduced.

It would be clearly impractical to convert the whole stadium but if the seats behind the goals became safe standing, using Bayern's figures, we could see a 20% cut in ticket prices in those areas and generate a secondary spend uplift of £1/2m a year from the extra fans.

However, there is one obstacle, it is currently illegal. Yet politicians sensing a 'cost of living crisis' bandwagon and free air time on the BBC have condemned ticket prices on the back of this news without proposing a single constructive thing to help. Typical was shadow sports minister Clive Efford MP who said the "inflation-busting" increases "just cannot be acceptable". Well, agree to allow safe standing you muppet or shut up if you have nothing to contribute but hot air and platitudes!

Arsenal has very little wriggle room unless commercial revenues are seriously increased or the capacity can be tweaked. A full hearted backing to limited safe standing areas from the board would go some way to answering their critics.

* Figures used are from Deloitte's All to play for Football Money League 2014 so will exclude recent deals.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Tough at the Top

It's the age old tale of the perils of leadership.

After a period of unparalleled success not seen for decades, things start going wrong. A series of campaigns fall short of the mark and you see yourself being overtaken by upstarts with huge amounts of overseas money backing them and unlimited resources.

Still, a combination of talented individuals and collective resilience keeps everything together with the effect of punching well above your weight.

However, it's not long before the seeds of discontent are sown. Key team members with an overinflated opinion about themselves start talking about leaving because they can see no hope of future success and the press eagerly join in on the feeding frenzy because they've never liked you anyway.

Then just when you think you have weathered the storm, you are faced with a massive set back. A bad defeat gets the tongues wagging and commentators start talking openly about you not being able to even finish in fourth position.

So what to do? Panic!

The leader must go. Things must change before it was too late. Time to abandon the principles that got you to where you are now and throw the baby out with the bath water and start again.

That's because when things go wrong and it is all too easy an option to blame the man in charge.

But enough bleating on about Arsenal. It turned out nice in the end. Champions League football and the FA Cup. Maybe not all we could have got, but if you can't sink another oil well or fraudulently set up a sponsorship deal to pay for the team, what did anyone expect? If you think you are doing it right, keep calm and carry on.

I suspect that most fans now think that siren calls for Wenger to go after the Villa game were premature and precipitous. Sure the defeats to City, Chelsea and Liverpool were embarrassing but the chants of "one Arsène Wenger" during the victory parade, showed we're back in love with our often frustrating and stubborn boss. It's up to him to learn the lessons and get on with it next season.

The lesson for Arsenal fans is that the long game is what it is all about. Change is often not the answer. Just ask Cardiff, Norwich, Fulham... and United! And from now on, I'll refuse to entertain the opinion of someone who is not prepared to state exactly who they want to replace the manager with before treating it as a valid arguement.

In other news: Baron "ICM" Oakeshott is an Arsenal fan. He should jolly well know better.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Ignore The Machine

Reading Chronicle promises a full investigation. Why waste everybody's time? 
We know exactly who committed the murder. It was the editor, in the office, with a computer keyboard.


You may, of course, notice that apart from the front page and other people's contributions, the paper and the editor himself says nothing.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Reading Chronic

It's interesting to see some people trying to justify the rank reporting in the Reading Chronicle by suggestion that "there is some truth' in what they are reporting.

There are also some elements of truth in the statement that the Chronicle has previously published lies as fact and refused to correct it or publish an apology despite my contacting the news editor and providing irrefutable evidence that they had published falsehoods. I was met by them with a complete wall of arrogance. That is, one may say, a statement of fact. It has happened on more than one occasion to my personal knowledge.

However, if I was then to infer from that "statement of fact" that the Chronicle had an endemic problem with factual journalism and a modus operandii of publishing unsubstantiated anecdotes as fact in order to create sensationalist stories, I would be guilty of a dangerous extrapolation which libelled their journalists, some of whom over the last 7 years I have liked immensely and have never had a problem with.

It would be unfair of me to say, based on my personal experience, that Chronicle journalists had a problem with factual reporting and libelled them by association based on something that I can prove has 'some elements of truth'.

But the Chronicle has this time gone far beyond the poor journalism for which they are famed... their report on The Cure at Reading Festival was hilariously inaccurate. They have strayed into putting their profession into disrepute.

This is part of the PCC code of conduct:

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

iv) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.
They have clearly been guilty of breaching the code by publishing a picture of a posed hooligan creating a grossly distorted picture of the truth based on information that they themselves have presented.

Typical example:
Police were called to investigate reports that Red Devils supporters had been "singing racists songs" and making Nazi salutes during the game. No perpetrators were ever identified.

I don't like travelling United fans as they are an arrogant bunch of *****, but I have never in 26 years of attending matches seen any evidence of this and I sit close to the away end at the Emirates. Perhaps no perpetrators were found because it didn't happen!

The Chronicle publishes claims of 'Racist Chanting' yet can only point to two individuals on separate occasions in their "evidence". That is NOT chanting and it is a deliberate distortion to report it as such. They claim that Reading fans were racially abusing a Millwall player but then admit that police discovered fans were calling him "fat". The Chronicle by its own admission in fact destroys its own story. The paper that ate itself.

They have apologised for the Hillsborough comments because they could be found guilty of contempt as the inquest has been reopened. They have not published an apology to Reading fans or fans of other clubs they have libelled,

I'm not pretending nothing ever happens. I've had my nose broken and been knocked unconscious after a match. I've been caught up in a certain amount of unpleasantness in Copenhagen with Galatasary fans. I've been on a bus bottled by Villa fans. Does this stop me going to football? No, because it is far rarer to have trouble after a match than it is if you go out drinking in town, or indeed delivering councillor surgery leaflets to residential properties when I have been assaulted twice.

No-one is pretending that nothing happens, with 250,000 a season attending matches there are bound to be isolated incidents. However, police records show conclusively that incidents are indeed isolated. The officer IN CHARGE of match day policing has said on BBC South Today  that this story is a gross distortion.

The bottom line is that The Chronicle's article is grossly misrepresentative and they have dug a deeper hole for themselves by issuing a weasel apology once caught and by refusing to apologise to all fans they have libelled in an appalling case of shoddy reporting. It is why I have reported them to the Press Complaints Commission.

I feel sorry for the majority of the Chronicle's journalists for having to work under such conditions.
A front page splash and multiple page article like that has to have been green lit by the editor. It is not a rogue reporter.

The buck stops with the editor. That is where the rot lies.