Fancy a flutter on the budget?

Seems Alistair Darling’s historic budget announcement this week hurt more than just earners of more than £150k/year – the bookies also took a battering.

Don't much fancy your tie, Darling
Don't much fancy your tie, Darling

Last Monday, the BBC printed this story highlighting how you could make some cash out of the budget no matter what drastic measures Darling announced. Ladbrokes were taking bets for everything from tie colour to phrases used in the speech. A black tie? 25-1. Using the word ‘sorry’? 14-1.

So how did they fare? Not so well according to Labrokes spokesman David Williams: “We lost a few grand on the tie. When we first saw it, we knew we’d be in for a nightmare. One man rung up claiming that it had a grey stripe, and he bet £20 on a grey tie at 16-1. So we thought, for the sake of £320 we’d let him have it. We normally do these for a bit of fun, but this one really bit us in the bum.”

By the looks of the Chancellor’s tie, anything from green to blue to brown could have paid off. His speech clocked in at 51 minutes, which didn’t cause a great upset, but the main relief for Ladbrokes came with the omission of the word sorry. “We would have lost £53,000 if he had said sorry,” says Williams, “So we’re not sorry that he didn’t say sorry.”

[gambleaware.co.uk]
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HIGNFY: So sharp, so relevant

Barack ObamaFriday night saw the return of Have I Got News For You? and it’s hard to think of a time when this show has ever been more relevant or important. This latest series in a long line of successes comes complete with new titles, featuring Barack Obama shooting hoops.

Series 37 kicked off with Frank Skinner at the helm. Bouyed by his recent welcoming into the world of journalism via his Times column, Skinner delivered his lines with the dry composure which has been the hallmark of some of the best HIGNFY hosts. The Beeb could do a lot worse than to pick him as the new permanent anchor.

Rotund funny-woman Katy Brand put in a suprisingly intellectual turn on Ian Hislop’s team: “You’re not actually allowed to take a picture of the police or film the police, or even look at the police because of the Anti-Terrorist laws.” Someone has been doing her homework. Paul Merton’s reply? “That’s gonna knock the stuffing out of The Bill, innit?”

But the real highlight came when Hislop laid into the token politican and Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Alan Duncan MP, for his second and third homes. As Hislop put it “I’ve been doing your second-homework.” A truly no-holds barred grilling of the would-be Tory home secretary and a fine example of just why we love Penfold.

What with the world-summits, political scandals and police bust-ups of late, Friday nights have been yearning out for the return of HIGNFY’s unique brand of dry, witty satire. God knows I’ve missed it, and you can tell by the zeal with which Hislop stove into Duncan that he’s missed it too.

Last night’s episode can be viewed on BBC iPlayer for the next 6 days, here.

UK Aware 09: The great, the good and the green

This weekend saw the UK’s only green and ethical living expo come to the Kensington Olympia 2. What better opportunity to try out my new found multimedia skills? Please let me know what you think of my first attempt at video blogging.
(I categorically refuse to say vlogging. Ever.)

The atmosphere in the exhibition hall was buzzing. Around 100 stalls promoted ethical banking, fair-trade foods and clothes swapping, to name but three good causes. You could almost feel the self-satisfaction of punters and stall holders alike.

However, I was very disappointed to find out that the Tesla Roadster, the star attraction, was not on show. The organisers declined to name the motoring journalist responsible for its absence.

Later when I approached The Ecologist magazine, they were very cagey and refused to go on the record about the recent choice to go on-line only, although they did confirm that the new site will have a subscription area to ensure future revenue. Seems like some troubled and uncertain months lie ahead for this invaluable publication.

Overall, the event was exciting, inspiring and packed with innovation. Many thanks to Ed Franklin, James Lloyd and Ptolemy Elrington for their contributions. Please visit their sites and support their fantastic green products.

G20: Protesters strike back

Just when I thought the G20 protests would get swept under the rug, the events of this week have re-stoked the fires of dissent and unrest. The alarming second post-mortem on Ian Tomlinson revealed that the 47-year-old newspaper seller died of internal hemorrhaging not, as was previously thought, a heart attack. Reports suggest that the officer involved could face the charge of manslaughter, so this is definitely one to keep an eye on.

This seems to have garnered genuine public interest and the Evening Standard’s splash yesterday ‘What Have You Got To Hide?’ pours further scorn on the tactics of the Metropolitan Police. It seems this one is not ready for a rug sweeping just yet.

Nicola Fisher does seem to be milking her altercation for all it’s worth and her decision to hire Max Clifford does raise serious doubts about her real motives (as if you need reminding, this is the man who juiced the last days of Jade Goody). Hugo Rifkind acerbically dissects Fisher’s anti-capitalist credentials in a typically witty column for The Times.

But the really impressive footage to arise this weekend comes from Climate Camp in the City. At 9 minutes 50 seconds, this professionally-edited documentary pushes the upper time limit of YouTube, but it is well worth a watch as it wonderfully encapsulates the mood at Climate Camp and exposes some disgraceful police behaviour to break up the protest after dark.

For those of you who don’t have 10 minutes to spare, the highlights are:

4:50 – An officer is clearly seen smacking a protester across the head with his shield.
7:49 – An officer punches a protestor in the face.


Whilst I can partially sympathise with the police who must have had one of the hardest days of their careers, the assaults shown here are simply indefensible. In my last post, I called for a bigger stick to beat the police with. I think the protesters have found it.

The Metropolitan police haven’t seen the back of this one yet.

G20: Some perspective on Ian Tomlinson

Police tactics over G20 have been widely criticised
Police tactics over the G20 protests have been widely criticised (Photo: chickyog.net)

Imagine you shove someone in the street and they fall to the floor. By the letter of the law this is assault and you should face prosecution for your actions.

Then imagine that the same person has a heart attack over an hour later and dies. You would be incredibly unlucky, but you would not be liable for manslaughter.

As simplistic as it may sound, this simple scenario needs to be kept in mind when assessing the case of Ian Tomlinson. I am not one to pull punches when it comes to criticising the Met police and I was not in favour of the kettling techniques used during the G20 protests. But to compare Tomlinson to Jean Charles De Menezes is simply ridiculous.

I am pleased to see that the Guardian tracked down and published the footage showing the assault on Tomlinson, and as a result the incident has been reported to the IPCC. The following material has come to symbolise the frustration of the thousands of protesters caught in the kettle:

But lets not get carried away. This will not be an albatross around Sir Paul Stephenson’s neck like De Menezes was for Ian Blair. As far as the IPCC is concerned, I find myself thinking cynical thoughts: “If they didn’t take any significant action over shooting an innocent man to death, are they really going to act over a man who was shoved to the floor and died 85 minutes later?” Most likely, this investigation will drag on for months and will be resolved quietly after the public has long forgotten about it.

The media has performed a great service in bringing this evidence to public attention, as Morwenna Coniam argues, but blowing this out of proportion would be a gross disservice to the Metropolitan police, despite their many shortcomings. It seems that many are trying to use this incident as a stick to beat the police with, but it’s just not a big enough stick.

Tomlinson was an innocent man who got caught up in the action, but he is no De Menezes as the police attack cannot be clearly linked to his death and a second post-mortem will surely confirm this. Despite the advances in citizen journalism, it’s a shame that no-one has found a more relevant example to illustrate the full extent of the violence that occurred on the streets of central London last week.

G20: The view from the frontline

Firsr damage at Threadneedle Street
First damage at Threadneedle Street

Violent, anarchist protesters grabbed headlines yesterday by smashing their way into a branch of RBS on Threadneedle street, effectively stealing Barack Obama and Gordon Brown’s thunder. Whilst this certainly got people’s attention, it is hardly the most effective way to convince the G20 to listen and act responsibly on the climate and economic crises.

At the frontline the atmosphere was electric – crowds pushing, chants erupting out of nowhere – not dissimilar to a heavy-metal gig or a music festival. It was hard not get swept up with the call and response: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

But it didn’t have to be like this. Had the Metropolitan Police not pursued such stubborn ‘kettling’ tactics on the protest at the Bank of England, the damage could have been mitigated. Admittedly, there were several thugs who were intent on violence, but their ire was spurred on by the thousands of peaceful protesters who had been trapped in this small part of the square mile.

Police surrounded the main area, blocking all the exits by standing shoulder to shoulder and refused to allow protesters to leave “until the protest was over” for fear of the various London protest groups combining to form a riot, but the frustration of being penned in one area for hours without food, water or toilets is enough to make borderline dissidents turn to violence. Such controversial ‘kettling’ practices were only deemed legal in January.

Helicopter hovers over the G20 protest
Helicopter hovers over the G20 protest

Police stood by in full riot gear, but remained calm to the rising tide of anger. Photos were taken from rooftops and helicopters hovered ominously. The basic tactic seemed to be: “Let them loot and smash all they want, we’ll arrest them later.” After half an hour of unbridled window smashing, egg throwing, smoke-grenade lobbing and curtain ripping, 24 police horses were brought in to force the crowd back. In our modern times it is humbling to see such graceful creatures and their composure amidst the chaos. Melanie Reid has written an excellent column about this over at Timesonline.

Eventually an exit was opened, but there was no mass rush to escape. Rather, the disinterested protesters were left to find this back-door on their own. The majority of the protest was peaceful and colourful; full of dancing and accompanied by music from Billy Bragg and Get Cape. Wear Cape Fly. However, without a powerful enough PA to address the entire crowd, the event lacked focus or guidance.

A campaigner talks into a kinetic energy-powered PA at Climate CampClimate
A campaigner talks into a kinetic energy-powered PA at Climate Camp

Over at Bishopsgate, the Climate Camp protest was a much more peaceful affair. The hippie atmosphere provided a welcome relief and the level of debate and discussion was far more intellectual.

One speaker used a PA system powered by kinetic energy from a bicycle and invited passers-by to play climate change Top Trumps. If meaningful global change is going to come from direct action and protest, this seems like a much more likely source than the aggressive anarchist tactics which were unleashed at Threadneedle Street.

I took all of the above photos – to see more and two video clips from this protest, visit my Flickr stream page. My partner-in-crime Abby Edge has a lovely slideshow of photos she took on the day and some great analysis over at her blog, Grassy Roots.