Telegraph vindicated by MPs’ expenses blackout

House of Secrecy (photo: Fleet Street Blues)
House of Secrecy (photo: Fleet Street Blues)

When we look back on the main British news stories of 2009, the MPs expenses scandal will undoubtedly stand out. It will take a lot to eclipse the bombshell that hit Westminster in May. The latest twist in this story seems to have sealed the reputation of both our current crop of MPs and The Daily Telegraph. On Thursday morning, the long-awaited publication of the MPs expenses in full showed how perfectly justified The Telegraph were in paying to have exclusive, advance access to the expenses documents.

The story broke whilst I was on work experience there, and I had mixed feelings about the revelations, not least because they spiked a couple of my stories. For me, the public interest in publishing the expenses early seemed to wane in relation to the potential financial gain of such a scoop. The Commons Fees office had long promised to publish the expenses in June and if the information was going to come into the public realm anyway then the only real reason the Telegraph could have for buying the documents would be the monetary windfall from getting the scoop out there first.

Whilst the financial boon of the story cannot be denied, yesterday’s official publication confirms, once and for all, the public interest argument in The Telegraph’s decision to buy the expenses documents. If they had not shelled out thousands of pounds for this story, then the full details of the scandalous expenses may never have seen the light of day. On reflection I can now give my unreserved praise to The Telegraph for breaking the story of the year with consummate flair and timing, and for bringing a truly important story into the public realm.

I would rant further about what this tells us about the avarice and secrecy of Westminster, but Matthew Parris at The Times does a far better job than I ever could. The fallout is still continuing and the MPs responsible are being made to look less and less trustworthy every day. We will only know the true extent of the impact after a general election, which can’t come soon enough.

Ferrero Rocher – may contain nuts

There are many reasons why people read this blog. Some are just curious and stumble across it by the suggestive WordPress tags above. Many are loyal friends, press-ganged into reading by Facebook statuses and/or Twitter updates. Judging by the number of views of my CV, some may even be potential employers.

The most fascinating of all are people brought here by random Google searches. Some popular results which have lead people to my blog include:Ferrero Rocher

Chris Jefferies, Journalist (fair enough)

Jimmy Carr, Jade Goody, sick joke (one I’m particularly proud of)

Ferrero Rocher (sorry, what?!)

It seems that, despite my effort to ridicule Robert Mugabe and his taste in the cheapy dinner party chocs, they are still massively popular amongst Google searchers, with this image query bringing me hundreds of hits over the past few months. So in the spirit of overpriced chocolate that gets stuck in your teeth, I have great news:

Ferrero Rocher have been cleared of Hazlenut fraud

The relief must be palpable across Europe, since Ferrero are also responsible for the hazlenut deliciousness which is Nutella. Had this case gone the other way, I’m not sure how the French would have coped.

trufflesA fantastic example of an obscure angle being milked to lighten up the business section, (much like this blog post, you may say), so I salute the Beeb for their ingenuity. And they are not the only ones who were taken in by this nugget of a story, with The Times and The Scotsman following suit. So you can rest safe in the knowledge that Ferrero are not being dishonest in the hunt for nutty perfection.

Except for the fact that Rocher are tacky, unfulfilling and unimaginative. If you’re going to a dinner party and want to impress, take some time and make these instead.

The London Tube strike shows that RMT have lost touch with reality

Tube Strike crowds at Canary Wharf Underground Station (Twitter user @hey_dahl)
Tube Strike crowds at Canary Wharf Underground Station (Twitter user @hey_dahl)

Everyone knows how we British love a good queue, but over the past two days, scenes like this (left) have stretched London’s patience to the limit. I have had the good fortune of being largely unaffected by the Tube strike, but the extent of the disruption is clear to see and woefully avoidable.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, in his usual magnanimous manner, has chimed into the debate today in The Times by arguing that if he were still in charge he would have placated the RMT union and avoided the two-day total strike. However it only takes a glance at the current levels of pay and demands to realise that Bob Crow has lost touch with reality and this strike deserves to be met with harsh sanctions and little sympathy.

Let’s deal in facts for a while:

Tube drivers earn £40,000/year on average, 25% more than nurses for a 35 hours week.

The waiting list to be a Tube driver is over 18 months.

Bob Crow, head of the RMT union, is demanding a 5% pay rise for all drivers and a promise of no compulsory redundancies.

Britain is dealing with a painful recession, bringing with it deflation and job losses.

How on earth can anyone believe that this callous and greedy strike is justified? (We’re back into opinion now, in case you missed that seamless segue.) It seems like a brash solution, but why not just fire the striking drivers and give their jobs to the un-unionised folks on the waiting list? That may be the least left-wing thing I’ve ever said, but in times like these it is simply boorish not to realise how lucky you are. A £40k/year job pushing buttons and sitting down all day is not to be taken for granted. Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, brilliantly explodes RMT’s argument in this article for The Times’ Thunderer column.

Perhaps voting out Bob Crow as leader of RMT would have a similarly desirable effect. His popularity is at a predictable ebb, according to this Comment Central poll, but he cannot take all the blame. Every striking driver has to take a long hard look at their reasons for letting down the entire city.

A quick Twitter search shows that one of the main upsides of the Tube strike seems to be that many Londoners have escaped the rat-race tunnels and taken in the delights of over-ground travelling in the capital. I am, by no means, suggesting that London’s businesses and industry could survive without the Tube network, but it is refreshing to be reminded of the joys of walking and boat travel, even if the buses provide a less than desirable alternative.

By 7pm tonight the latest in a seemingly endless series of strikes will be over and business as usual is meant to resume on Friday, just in time for a weekend of maintenance work. Oh, how I love living in the city!

Albums of 2009: Surprises and let-downs

Six months in and 2009 is looking like a great year for new albums, with so many coming out right now that my wallet can’t quite keep up; new records from Frank Turner, Placebo and Taking Back Sunday* are all on the horizon.

As a result of this veritable musical glut, I pondered the idea of doing a top 10 of the year so far, after my tutor Jason praised my top 20 list for last year. Instead, I thought I’d branch out and list my five biggest surprises and five biggest let-downs of the year so far, as powered by Myspace and my favourite new application, Spotify. So here they are, in no particular order:

brakes5 Surprise packages:

Brakes – Touchdown
A fantastically well-written album from a band who have grown beyond bizarre 1-minute tracks about porcupines and pineapples to produce some genuine indie-pop gems.

New Found Glory – Not Without A Fight
Florida’s finest return to what they do best; chugging riffs, massive choruses and enough energy to light up the national grid.

Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
The jury is still out on this 18-track rock opera, but you have to admit (drab lead single aside) it certainly is surprising!

Fake Problems – It’s Great To Be Alive
An explosive third record from this Florida Quartet which makes you feel exactly what it promises. The thunderous vocals and uplifting melodies are simply irresistable.METN

Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing
I’m including this as a surprise, mainly because I’m astonished they they managed to top their fantastic debut, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child. METN is an astonishingly diverse record with crushing riffs and moving acoustic moments. I am giddy with excitement about seeing them at Reading Festival!

5 Serious let-downs:

Maxïmo Park – Quicken The HeartQTH
Not a patch on their first record, with the synth-led approach failing to deliver any big hitting tunes, but may prove to be a grower. See my live review on inthenews.co.uk here.

Hundred Reasons – Quick The Word, Sharp The Action
This turgid effort from HR is inexplicably getting a re-issue, albeit with B-sides as bonus tracks. Admit it boys, this was not your finest moment; move on and write some new material!

Thursday – Common Existence
After talk of an ambitious triple-record, for Thursday to come out with this samey record is quite a let-down. Chunky riffs abound, along with the odd flourish of inspiration, but it’s not quite up to their usual high standards.

Flight of the Conchords Series 2

Something of an inevitability, given how long they had to write material for the first series. I’ve Got Hurt Feelings and You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute are particular highlights, but there is nothing to rival Business Time or The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room).

conoroberstConor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band – Outer South
A muddled second solo record from the former Bright Eyes man, who seems to have lost his sense of quality control. The MVB are afforded seven of the 16 tracks to exercise their vocal talents and none of them are particularly memorable.

As always, any thoughts/recommendations on any of the above are most welcome.

*I know New Again is out today, but I haven’t got it just yet. Steady on!