Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Glasgow, FOI and Equal Pay



Here's an FoI request I submitted to Glasgow City Council a little while back asking for the minutes of GCC's Corporate Management Team.

Tune in again tomorrow to read all about the City Council's response which make senior officials look quite ridiculous if you ask me. 

We are still a long way from culture of 'openness and transparency' when it comes to the City Council's WPBR pay arrangements.

   

Annemarie O'Donnell
Chief Executive
Glasgow City Council



Dear Ms O'Donnell

FOISA Request
I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. 
  1. Please provide me with the minutes of Glasgow City Council's Corporate Management Team (CMT) for the period between December 2006 and December 2016. 
  2. I suspect these minutes may well be available online, as they are routinely in other Scottish councils, in which case I would be happy for Glasgow City Council to provide me with an appropriate internet link/s so that I can peruse the relevant documents for myself.
  3. If there are any issues about inspecting the minutes online, please explain how I can access and peruse 'hard copies' of these documents from within the City Council's archives.
In any event, I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards


Mark Irvine 

Glasgow - Number Crunching



Stefan Cross QC explains the background to the 'number crunching' which is now underway in connection with the pay data supplied by Glasgow City Council. 

Up till now A4ES has been working with incomplete and inadequate information, so it's been a bit like doing a jigsaw with only half the pieces and all the corner pieces missing.

The situation is beginning to improve, but slowly and I think it's fair to say that we're a long way from being out of the woods yet.


So keep your eye on the blog site because there's no room for complacency until the job is completed.

   

IT AIN'T EASY CRUNCHING NUMBERS

there have been quite a few posts from folk suggesting that working out what they are “due” should be easy. Just take comparators hourly rate and deduct claimants hourly rate and hey presto.

Oh that it were so. Unfortunately not.

First some numbers from the incomplete data so far received.

There are 302 separate columns for every single person representing 302 individual pay codes. There are 12 lines for each year so 3624 individual pieces of pay data for each comparator. There are at least 156 comparators so 565344 pieces of pay data just for the comparators.

There are 10000 claimants many with multiple jobs, both concurrent and consecutive or both. Every person is different. Because of NSWP and WCD even people with same jobs have different pay. Some people have multiple contracts for the same job. The results are different if you combine them or take them separately. What about 2 different jobs plus more than one contract totalling over 35hours?

Of those 302 pay categories we have to remove non gendered pay. What is an is or is not non gendered has to be agreed. Eg normally overtime is not gendered but here it most definitely is.

Then working out which comparator is the best for which job is a massive task. Some of those pay elements are better for some jobs but not others. Some people doing same job might want different comparators eg based on whether they do or do not do overtime/work more than 35 hours.

Then there’s EDC and the job changes. The council has so far failed to be open about what happened. Men were either promoted or regarded. Can you still use him if he’s now a higher grade? This is an issue being appealed by another council in England.

Only when we’ve navigated all this can we even get hourly rates which have to be agreed.

Conclusion: as the song goes - it ain’t easy it’s heavy, or something like that


Stefan

Labour Bullies



I see that Kezia Dugdale's partner (Jenny Gilruth) has accused Labour of 'bullying' over the threat to discipline its former Scottish party leader for daring to appear on the TV programme 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here'.

Now as I said the other day, thesis quite ridiculous especially as the party turned a blind eye to Gordon Brown doing his own thing after stepped down as Labour leader after losing the genera election in 2010.

In Gordon's case, 'doing his own thing' meant accepting a lucrative contract at the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University for 70 days a year which presumably did not include his travelling time. 

As I recall, there was not a murmur of protest from 'leftist' MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn or Dennis Skinner at the time, yet Kezia Dugdale's decision to take a month or so away from her day job at the Scottish Parliament is met with howls of angry criticism.

  

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15671479.Kezia_Dugdale_s_partner_accuses_the_Labour_Party_of__bullying_/


Kezia Dugdale's partner Jenny Gilruth accuses the Labour Party of 'bullying'


Kezia Dugdale's partner accuses the Labour Party of 'bullying'

KEZIA Dugdale's partner has accused the Labour Party of bullying the ex-leader over her decision to take part in 'I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!'

MSP Jenny Gilruth defended her girlfriend's stance amid threats to suspend Ms Dugdale from the party.

Last night she tweeted: "I see Scottish Labour have developed their own unique take on the final day of #Antibullyingweek. Huge props, comrades! #TeamKez.


Scottish Labour - Everyday Sexism



Twitter was quick to highlight the threat from Labour’s new Scottish leader, Richard Leonard, to consider suspending his predecessor Kezia Dugdale over her decision to appear on the 'I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here' programme.

Now I've never agreed with MPs or MSPs just swanning off for weeks on end doing exactly what they please, but if you ask me the Kezia Dugdale row smacks of sexism and doubt standards.

Because no one in the Labour Party took Gordon Brown to task when he took up a 70-day a year job as a visiting lecturer to the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University, after Gordon stood down as party leader.

So Richard Leonard's first act as leader seems likely to entrench the ugly, petty factionalism which has bedevilled Scottish Labour for years.

  

Where's Gordo? (27/09/17)


"Where's Gordon Brown?" I asked myself the other day because the part-time Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seemed not be to at the Labour Party conference in Manchester after intervening in the independence referendum to promise Scotland 'home rule', federalism and more powers than you could shake a shitty stick at.  

At first I though Gordo might have flown to Abu Dhabi where he is reportedly contracted to spend 70 days a year at the Abu Dhabi campus of the New York University where he has a second job as a 'distinguished global leader in residence' (DGLIR). 

Now when I first heard Gordon's grand title, DGLIR, I thought that he must be have some personal image problems because why you you call yourself that or allow anyone else to give you such a ridiculous title?

Anyway that's another matter for another day, because soon afterwards I read a report that Gordon was at the United Nations in New York where he has a third job as a special envoy on educational matters, which also uses up a lot of his time in far flung places and foreign travel.

We are only eight months away from the next general election and the big question is will Gordon resign his Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath to concentrate on the non-parliamentary interests which take up so much of his time?

I don't know to be honest because he doesn't confide in me, but if he were to ask my advice I would tell him to step down and let someone else pick up the baton because MPs at Westminster are supposed to be full-time, not part-time representatives, of course.

 And if his name was Nadine Dorries rather than Gordon Brown the Labour Party at Westminster would be kicking up a great fuss.

Rampant Sexism (9 June 2014)


I doubt I would vote ever for Tory MP Nadine Dorries, but nonetheless I deplore the fact that she appears to be getting singled out for 'special treatment' - as a result of her high profile absence from the House of Commons.

According to the following report from the BBC, Nadine Dorries faces an inquiry from the Standards Commissioner following her participation in the television programme - I'm A Celebrity....Get Me Out of Here'.

Now the reasons for this inquiry have not been published, but I can't imagine the row is over the payment of a fee - because MPs of all parties in the House of Commons regularly receive fees for doing extra-parliamentary work - huge amounts of money in certain cases.

So the only grounds for complaint that I can see is not that an MP is being paid a fee - but that the MP is being paid their normal salary when they are clearly not in a position to carry out their normal duties - in other words they are getting to eat their cake while being allowed to take an extra slice home in a 'doggy bag'.

In which case there are other 'offenders' and far worse 'offenders' in the Westminster Parliament than Nadine Dorries - and it does seem rather odd, to say the least, that a bolshy woman MP is the only one to face a formal House of Commons inquiry. 

Nadine Dorries faces 'I'm A Celebrity fee' inquiry

Ms Dorries has said that when she receives a fee she will declare it according to Commons rules Continue reading the main story

Tory MP Nadine Dorries is facing a inquiry from the parliamentary commissioner for standards.

The probe is understood to concern her fee for her autumn appearance on ITV's I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here.

A spokesman for commissioner Kathryn Hudson said she had decided to pursue a complaint received earlier this week.

Ms Dorries, who recently suggested she had not yet received an appearance fee and would obey Commons rules if she did, said she was being "hounded".

The Conservative MP has yet to declare any fee from the reality TV show in the Commons register of members' interests.

In a recent appearance on the BBC's Sunday Politics programme, Ms Dorries said she had not "personally" benefited from going into the jungle.

She said she had a company and added: "When I benefit personally from that I will have to declare it to the register."

Companies House records show she became a director of a limited company called Averbrook in October last year, shortly before going onto the show.

In response to the complaint, Ms Dorries told BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins: "I'm a backbencher not a minister. My personal finances are my business and nobody else's and if I choose to take money from the company then I will declare it immediately to the standards commissioner."

Later, she took to Twitter to add: "If I haven't declared anything, it's because I haven't earnt anything. I must be the most hounded MP in parliament.

"Journalists, when the standards commissioner concludes the investigation and says there was no case to answer, will you give it prominent coverage?"

The Conservative Party suspended Ms Dorries following her TV appearance, but reinstated her last month.

Suspending Belief (28 November 2012)


I received a very helpful reply to my recent letter to IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) about the payment of MPs' salaries and expenses - while they're off swanning about in the Australian jungle somewhere.

See post dated 22 November 2012 - 'Money For Old Rope'.

The answer is that IPSA is only the administering body when it comes to the MPs' payroll - any decision or instruction to cease payments to an individual 'honourable' member - must come direct from the House of Commons.

In other words MPs just make up the rules to suit themselves - and MPs like 'Mad Nad' Dorries continue to be paid even while suspended - unless the House of Commons instructs otherwise.

Which I imagine would take a vote on the floor of the House of Commons - or a decision from the Speaker of the House that a member should be suspended without pay.

What puzzles me is how an MP can be suspended with pay - if they are clearly unable to do their job?

And in the case of Nadine Dorries that particular point was clearly unarguable - though we may now hear more now that the MP for Mid-Bedfordshire is back in the country.

I heard a Labour MP on the TV the other day gleefully sticking the boot into Nadine Dorries and the Conservative Party - over the 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here' debacle.

At one level I have no problem with heaping derision on this particular MP - but what I would like to know from the Peoples' Party is:

'How can Labour make fun of Nadine Dorries and the Tory Party while they turn a blind eye to Gordon Brown's absence abroad for 70 days a year - at the Abu Dhabi Campus of the New York University?'

Now that really is the politics of the madhouse - if you ask me. 

Rampant Sexism (12 November 2012)

Image result for Lion rampant

The Conservative MP for Mid-Befordshire - Nadine Dorries - swans off from the House of Commons for up to 30 days to take part in a celebrity TV programme - which is made in some remote part of Australia.

Result - she gets 'pelters' from all quarters and deservedly so - including from the Deputy Labour Leader - Harriet Harman - while standing in at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs).

Ms Harman famous for her support of equalities issues even made a lame joke at Nadine's expense - something about the Tory MP having to deal with all kinds of snakes and toads - before she even arrived in the jungle.
So why is the row in the House of Commons so sexist?

Because lots of other MPs swan off when it suits them - including Harriet's Labour colleague and former Prime Minister - Gordon Brown.

Except Gordon is away from his day job for much more time than Nadine Dorries - 70 days a year (every year) in one job alone - at the New York University in Abu Dhabi, for example.

Yet no one says a word - or makes jokes at Prime Minister's Questions.

Maybe they'll start doing so now.

I certainly hope so because it would be a breath of fresh air - and thoroughly deserved.

Putin's Patsy



Camley's cartoon in The Herald addresses the risible claim that Alex Salmond is really 'using' Russia Today rather than allowing himself to become a 'patsy' and trophy presenter for the Kremlin controlled broadcaster.

  


Putin's Patsy vs Putin's Puppet (17/11/17)



Iain MacWhirter rides to Alex Salmond's rescue in this piece for The Herald with the assertion that the former First Minister is no 'puppet' of President Putin.

Well, yes, but no one ever claimed that Wee Eck was taking orders or instructions directly from the Kremlin.

The point is that Salmond is more of a 'patsy' than a puppet; his value lies in giving credibility to a propaganda TV channel and rogue Mafia-state where journalists and critics are regularly harassed, murdered even, by the forces of the state.

The fate of Alexander Litvinenko is a good example.   

Most of Russia Today's output has little to do with events in Russia itself since the channel is preoccupied with attacking the west, notwithstanding Putin's attempts to cosy up to Donald Trump.

So giving Alex Salmond editorial control of a half hour chat show is a small price to pay for his propaganda value to the wider RT network and its worldwide output. 

Which is why I'm happy to agree that while Alex is no puppet of Putin - he definitely fits the bill of a 'Putin Patsy'. 

  


http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15661144.Iain_Macwhirter__Salmond___s_decision_is_foolish__but_that_does_not_make_him_a_Putin_puppet/

Iain Macwhirter: Salmond’s decision is foolish, but that does not make him a Putin puppet

BY Iain Macwhirter - The Herald


Russian President Vladimir Putin

SHE knows what you’re up to Vladimir, so you’d better clean up your campaign of media disinformation double quick. I’m sure the Russian President is shaking in his jodhpurs at Theresa May’s warning in her Guild Hall speech, which sounded a bit like a head teacher giving S4 a lecture on cheating in exams.

There’s no evidence that the Fancy Bears or other Russian-based hackers have been at work in UK elections, as they have apparently in the US, spreading fake news and Trump memes. But the Prime Minister said that Mr Putin is “seeking to weaponise information” directed at Britain, “by deploying its state-run media organisations”. She presumably means the Edinburgh-based Sputnik news agency and Russia Today, the English-language TV news channel, which in 2014 had around 100,000 UK viewers, and which is about to host a programme presented by our own Alex Salmond.

The implication is that Scotland is being used as an ideological beach head in the Kremlin’s information war. Scottish politicians from Ruth Davidson to Patrick Harvie have been hastily distancing themselves from RT and Sputnik, for which they have given interviews in the past. They don’t want to be collateral damage. But the former First Minister is made of sterner stuff and insists he is not peddling a Kremlin line. So where does Russia Today come from?


Sturgeon vs Salmond 'Stushie" (15/11/17)



Here's the official statement from Scotland's First Minister responding to the news that Alex Salmond had secured a lucrative contract to present a chat show on Kremlin controlled Russia TV.   

  

A Big Boy Did It...... (14/11/17)

Image result for a big boy did it and ran away + images

'A big boy did it and ran away', seems to be the underlying message from the former justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, who tells The Herald that had Westminster offered Alex Salmond a big international job, he may well not have hitched his wagon to the Kremlin controlled TV channel, Russia Today.

Sounds more than a tad ridiculous, if you ask me.    

  

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15659121.MasAskill_blames_UK_Government_for_Salmond_s_Russia_show/

MasAskill blames UK Government for Salmond's Russia show

By Tom Gordon - The Herald
Alex Salmond on RT

A FORMER Scottish cabinet secretary has blamed the British Government for Alex Salmond’s decision to join a pro-Kremlin TV channel.

Kenneth MacAskill said the UK should have found the former First Minister a job on the “international stage”, rather than let him waste his talents on a “Russian propaganda” outlet.

The former Justice Secretary said there were “more than enough international agencies with whom the UK has sufficient leverage to have obtained a senior position”.

Double Standards and State Violence (13/11/17)


State violence by the Guardia Civil in Catalonia sparked widespread condemnation during the recent referendum on independence, and rightly so.

Even people who boycotted the referendum were shocked at the unnecessary use of force by this state controlled Spanish police force.   

Yet in the current controversy surrounding the broadcaster Russia Today, the most extreme form of violence from President Putin's Russian state - the cold-blooded murder of Alexander Litvinenko - is being quietly brushed under the carpet.

No wonder Alex Salmond's latest career move is causing such a stir.


  

Kremlin TV (12/11/17)

Image result for alex salmond + russia image


Here's an opinion piece for Kremlin TV on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a high profile critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Now a judge-led public inquiry concluded that the Russian state was behind the poisoning of Litvinenko with radioactive polonium, yet Kremlin TV insists this was all down to anti-Putin propaganda.

No wonder Alex Salmond's latest career move is causing such a stir.

  

https://www.rt.com/op-edge/330022-alexander-litvinenko-pawn-uk/

Alexander Litvinenko: Just another pawn in their game


John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1


Alexander Litvinenko © Vasily Djachkov / Reuters

The sight of retired British judge, Sir Robert Owen, shuffling from a dark ante room into an international press conference in London to pronounce that Vladimir Putin ‘probably approved’ the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was pure comedy gold.

It was also a travesty of justice, given the seriousness of the crime and the implications of yet another barrage of anti-Russian and anti-Putin propaganda it has unleashed across the Western media. Yet further proof that for Western ideologues Russia under Putin’s leadership can never be forgiven for refusing to stay on its knees after the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Britain had more motivation to kill Aleksandr Litvinenko than Russia, brother claims

Mr Litvinenko was an agent with Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB, prior to transferring his loyalties to Britain’s MI6 in London in return for a fee. This is not to say that his murder was anything other than despicable or heinous - or that those responsible should not be brought to justice. It does, however, help to place the crime in its proper context. In the murky world of intelligence agencies and spies bad things happen. Mr Litvinenko was in about as deep as it gets and had to know there were people out there with an interest in ending his career. Whether some of those people were working for the Russian government remains a matter of conjecture - and now more than ever as a result of Sir Robert Owen’s findings and the deeply flawed legal process that preceded them.
A history of unexplained acts

The British legal and political establishment has form when it comes to ‘flawed’ official inquiries, cover-ups, and farcical legal proceedings. Among the most questionable of those concerns the unseemly suicide of Dr David Kelly in 2003. Kelly, a biological and chemical weapons expert with ties to British intelligence, found himself embroiled in controversy when he was revealed as the source of British journalist Andrew Gilligan’s explosive expose of the ‘sexed up’ dossier on WMD in Iraq, which the Blair government had instructed its Joint Intelligence Committee to draw up as part of its argument for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Kelly revealed to Gilligan, then working at the BBC, that the dossier’s findings had been purposely exaggerated to suit a particular agenda – i.e. in favor of war – and was therefore tainted. This specifically relates to the claim in the dossier that Iraq would be able to prepare and launch a chemical weapons strike against the UK within 45 minutes. It was an assertion Kelly claimed had been added by the government to the dossier, rather than the product of the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee. In other words it was a fabrication.

When the story broke, Blair’s press secretary, Alastair Campbell - who was directly responsible for overseeing the dossier, as well as the man accused of adding the ’45 minutes’ claim to the final draft that was read out in the Commons by Blair prior to the vote on Britain’s participation in the war - went on the offensive, demanding to know the identity of Gilligan’s anonymous source inside the intelligence community.

Dr Kelly’s identify was subsequently revealed, leading to him being questioned by the police and hauled before a House of Commons Select Committee to be grilled by assorted MPs live on national television. A day later, after leaving his home to go for his regular walk in the countryside, he was found dead, reported to have opened up one of his wrists with a pocketknife and taken an overdose of painkillers.

The ensuing Hutton Inquiry into Dr David Kelly’s treatment and death was itself shrouded in controversy, concluding that there was nothing suspicious about the doctor’s death, or his treatment leading up to it, and that he did in fact take his own life. As with the Litvinenko Inquiry, the Hutton Inquiry’s proceedings were conducted in secret with its findings tantamount to a whitewash according to various experts and those who were close to the story, most notably various medical experts skeptical about the official cause of death.

Among them were the paramedics who found Kelly’s body and claimed that the official cause of death was not consistent with the amount of blood found at the scene. No matter, as per the Hutton Inquiry and a medical inquest afterwards, the case remains closed with the evidence involved in the case locked away in a government vault somewhere and marked off limits for the next 70 years.

The murky and inherently dirty world of intelligence

The point in relaying this event in such detail is not to deflect from the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. It is to understand the murky world of intelligence and how a British establishment that likes to present itself as clean and unimpeachable is up to its neck in subterfuge and a record of dodgy legal proceedings that have consistently failed to satisfy the ends of justice.

The murders of human rights lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson in 1989 and 1999, respectively, by loyalists during conflict in the North of Ireland have always carried the strong suspicion of British collusion about them, which subsequent inquests and investigations have failed to dampen. Meanwhile, the official cause of death concerning MI6 operative, Gareth Williams, in 2010 is so outlandish you wouldn’t find it in the pages of a bad spy novel.

Williams’ body was found in an MI6 safe house in London. His remains were in ‘advanced state of decay’ when they were found inside a duffel bag padlocked on the outside. Yet to this day we are still expected to believe there were no suspicious circumstances involved, that Williams somehow padlocked himself into the bag and took his own life as part of some lurid sexual activity posited by various media sources, much to the distress of his family.
Just another pawn in their game

Returning to Mr Litvinenko, the extent to which the British media has acted as an unquestioning echo chamber for Sir Robert Owen’s assertion that Putin ‘probably approved’ of Litvinenko’s murder has been staggering. It merely adds to the long list of crimes that the Russian President is alleged to have been responsible for over the past few years.

Litvinenko Inquiry: ‘Probably’ is not evidence

Indeed, if his depiction in the West is to be believed, Putin makes Don Corleone look like a petty bag snatcher by comparison, with Russia under his watch guilty of everything up to and including climate change, you could be forgiven for thinking.

It is silly and reckless, redolent of the Cold War mindset which remains entrenched among men and women for whom the only relationship Britain and the West can ever enjoy with the most populous country in Europe is either as a deadly foe or a vanquished one.

Alexander Litvinenko was just another pawn in their game.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.


Is Wee Eck's ego out of control? (11/11/17)


Is Wee Eck's ego out of control, is Alex Salmond bigger than the SNP, is Russia Today a Kremlin mouthpiece, is Donald Trump a dangerous narcissist?

  

Kremlin Mouthpiece (10/11/17)Image result for alex salmond + russia image


Alex Salmond hits a new low with the news that Scotland's former First Minister is to host a 'chat show' on the Kremlin-backed TV channel Russia Today.

Russia's interference in America's presidential election has managed to destabilise the west and the EU through the election of the volatile narcissist Donald Trump, and the same thing may have happened over the Brexit vote as well.

Is Wee Eck's ego completely out of control - is Alex Salmond 'bigger' than his party, the SNP? 

I think we're about to find out.

  

Russian Comedy Act (14/10/17)


'Kukly' was a highly popular Russian TV programme, allegedly inspired by Spitting Image, which poked fun at the country's political establishment, like all good satire does, but the host station (NTV) was forced to close down in 2002 after pressure from President Putin and the Kremlin

David Aaronovitch uses his regular column in The Times to explain why this is not funny and why Russia's subversion really matters in western democracies.

  

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/comment/russia-is-laughing-at-subversion-of-the-west-nr360g32r

Russia is laughing at the subversion of the West

By David Aaronovitch - The Times

Actor Keith Allen is bringing satire to the Putin-backed RT channel but he should ask himself why it really wants him


I must have met Reuben Falber around the time that he last took money from the Soviets. From 1958 to 1978, every few months, the rather unassuming man with the thick spectacles who was the assistant general secretary of the British Communist Party would brush up against someone from the Russian embassy outside Barons Court Tube station or on Hampstead Heath, and come away heavier to the tune of one envelope full of used banknotes. Only three people in the Communist Party knew about it. When the news came out after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was some consternation. My dad, who had worked as a full-time party official for 20 years, was genuinely astonished.

You wouldn’t do it that way now. The old propaganda methods all belong to the past: leaflets from planes, front organisations putting out your line, crude cartoons in lurid pamphlets, subsidised but obvious fellow travellers. These days you would use the weight of your western opponents against them. You would ask yourself what their anxieties and vulnerabilities were, and seek to exaggerate and exploit them. Disruption and disorientation are easier to invoke than acceptance of a party line coming from Moscow.

This thought came about partly because of the report we carried this week about how the actor Keith Allen is to host a hard-hitting new satire series on the RT TV channel. This follows a summer in which a double-decker bus manned by Allen and others and sponsored by RT travelled to five cities in the UK to discover new satirical talent, whose first quality, according to Allen, was that it should be “angry”.

Working with Allen will be the film-maker Victor Lewis-Smith, who said that “the first question Keith Allen and I asked is ‘Can we satirise Putin and Russia? Because if not, we’re out of the office now’.”

Lewis-Smith and Allen have teamed up to make angry art before. Their 2011 documentary Unlawful Killing, which was shown during the Cannes film festival that year, claimed that the Princess of Wales was murdered and that there had been an establishment cover-up.

The film, which was not shown in Britain because lawyers insisted on 87 cuts for legal reasons, was financed to the tune of £2.5 million by Mohamed Al-Fayed. It featured the pop psychologist Oliver James asserting that the Duke of Edinburgh was a psychopath, a “more-to-it-than-meets-the-eye” cameo of stunning vacuity from Piers Morgan and testimony from a supposed close friend of Diana’s, the “alternative healer” Simone Simmons. It’s instructive to note that earlier this year Simmons reprised her role by revealing that the late princess was still regularly speaking to her and had advised a vote to leave the EU. It was a stupid film made, I believe, by a sincere man.

Keith Allen took an RT-sponsored bus on a talent search in the summer - SOUTH WEST NEWS SERVICE

Allen is a believer in establishment and media cover-ups. He has a tattoo on his shoulder of Rinka, the Great Dane shot in lieu of Jeremy Thorpe’s blackmailer, Norman Scott back in 1975. When asked why he was working with RT on the satire tour, Allen told an interviewer from the channel: “I’ll give you two words, Jonathan Pie. RT was the only place that would give him a platform and we would like to think that RT is the only place that will give us a platform.”

Jonathan Pie is the name of a fictional British TV reporter played by actor Tom Walker. He is bitter, sweary and disillusioned, not least with the British media. An example of a riff shown on RT has Pie outside the Commons. He is furious with what he is being forced to say by his bosses. “In other news, Muslims are bad, China is bad, but not as bad as it used to be, and Russia is always bad . . .”

Get it? Now go on RT’s website. As of yesterday you’ll find a little jokey spoof poll. The question is “So what will meddling, cheating, bullying bad-boy Russia be accused of next?” The options include “starting the American opioid epidemic” and “existing”. Same message. Russia is being traduced by the establishment.

Pie no longer works with RT. Politically, like Allen, he celebrates the takeover of Labour and the vanquishing of the Blairites by Jeremy Corbyn. In that sense they are both a good fit for the channel’s British profile which features George Galloway’s talk show and which, as we reported yesterday, regularly puts some of the most hardline Corbynists, including shadow ministers, on its news sequences.

But the strategy of RT, which was set up by Vladimir Putin and is financed by the Kremlin, is not to intone the line of the Russian foreign ministry. It will do that, but only as a minor part of an eclectic mix of discussion and entertainment in which its friends and enemies and its positions are often implied or disguised. You don’t get two bars of Midnight in Moscow followed by an announcement from the Praesidium of the People’s Congress of Soviets concerning agricultural production.

You get stories about how the US is “falling apart at the racial seams”, about how Russia is taking on Isis, about how Ukraine is a fascist kleptocracy, about how it’s all lies that Syria uses chemical weapons, about how refugees are bringing crime and terrorism to European streets, about state surveillance in the West, about the brave Catalan independence fighters, about why ordinary Brits want Brexit, about how the West is mired in poverty, corruption and cover-up, about vote-rigging and how you can’t trust democracy. The enemy of RT is anything that assists or argues for western cohesion. Macron is the current bĂȘte noire, Merkel is not far behind. Obama was bad, Blair was worse and Hillary is the most despicable of all. Any renegade former agent or washed-up investigative journalist running an improbable theory gets on RT. If it disrupts, it’s in.

This, I stress, comes from the top. It’s not some kind of accident, an accretion of culture and media assumptions like our own outlets tend to be. When Facebook dug down into the Russian paid ads that went out in the run-up to the US presidential election they found that they supported every candidate who opposed Hillary: Bernie Sanders, the pro-Russian Green candidate Jill Stein, Donald Trump. And their tone was a consistent negative populism, of the “it’s all going to hell because of the elite” sort.

So good luck Keith. Especially with the promised anti-Vlad gags, which could get you in big trouble in Russia itself. But you should know that you wouldn’t be there unless someone had calculated that you were doing a job for them. Someone who may have started off their own career long ago, delivering money in brown envelopes.

Mother Russia (09/02/15)

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I was idly flicking the TV channels the other day when I stopped to watch a bit of Russia Today - an odd programme if you ask me, as it seems to be much more interested the the perceived faults of western societies while having little, if anything, to say about the many challenges facing Mother Russia.  

Anyway, the particular programme I stumbled across was about the changing nature of the urban environment in the UK and how city landscapes have been changing in response to  issues like terrorism.

According to the commentators on Russia Today, major towns and cities in the UK are much less welcoming that they were years ago - apparently many areas of land which were once 'public spaces' have been privatised by big business, in areas like Canary Wharf in London, for example.  

The programme also warned that UK citizens can all be tracked at will via our mobile phones as we go about our daily routine of work, rest and play - presumably by UK security services although the purpose all all this alleged monitoring was never explained.


Now having lived and worked in London during the 1980s, I immediately realised this was a load of old baloney - not least because Canary Wharf was not a lovely open public space like Hyde Park before it turned into the big commercial sector it is today. 

So, I thought to myself - "These people are talking nonsense!" - and on the screen at the time was a chap called Professor Stephen Graham who was burbling on about something or other which prompted me to 'Google' his name.

And here's what my Google search produced - a report from the BBC's web site from March 2013 which made me laugh my head off, as it confirmed all my suspicions about the kind of people who appear on these Russia Today programmes. 

"Dissociative state" indeed - that's just a fancy way of saying the man was completely drunk, off his head and out of control because why else would he be vandalising other people's property dressed in just his suit jacket and underpants?

I'll bet the neighbours felt terrorised and wished there was a bit more monitoring taking place of drunken vandals at loose in the streets of Jesmond, which I know well.

See post below from the blog site archive dated 14 December 2013. 

Newcastle professor Stephen Graham to pay for graffiti spree


A report by a forensic psychiatrist found the professor was in a "dissociative state"

Prof admits 'arbitrary' vandalism

A university professor has been ordered to pay £28,000 compensation for scratching cars while dressed in his underpants and a suit jacket.

Stephen Graham, 48, from Jesmond, Newcastle, admitted four counts of criminal damage in January.

He was given a nine month prison sentence, suspended for a year at Newcastle Crown Court.

Graham scratched the words "very silly", "really wrong" and "arbitrary" on 27 cars in Jesmond in August 2011.

'Detached from reality'

Graham, who is based at Newcastle University's school of architecture, planning and landscape, had drunk alcohol mixed with medication before he caused £28,000 of damage to cars including a Mercedes, an Audi, a Volvo and a Mitsubishi.


The cars were damaged while parked on Northumberland Gardens in Jesmond

The spree took place in Northumberland Gardens, a few streets away from where Graham lived in Lansdowne Gardens.

A report by a forensic psychiatrist, Don Grubin, for the defence, found the professor was in a "dissociative state" when he scratched the cars, and was "detached from reality".

Judge Guy Whitburn accepted his behaviour was totally out of character but said the compensation - effectively the professor and his wife's life savings - must be paid in full.

He added he hoped Mr Graham would be able to resume his career.

Julian Smith, mitigating, said his client was not merely drunk, and he showed no signs of aggression when arrested, but had a bad reaction to the medication and alcohol.

A spokesperson for Newcastle University said: "We will be considering the matter through normal university procedures. We are unable to comment further on an individual employee."

Russia Today (14/12/13)

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I've taken to watching a new news channel recently - Russia Today - which as far as I can tell seems to consist of lots of people (presenters and contributors) who admire Russia greatly - while harbouring an intense dislike of the west.

Whenever Russia today covers some remotely controversial subject, a disaffected flunkey gets wheeled out to make an unflattering comparison between Nato countries like Britain or America - and good old mother Russia. 

During an industrial dispute or strike in Britain, for example, it is normal for some left wing politico, often an academic or swivel-eyed Trotskyist, to be wheeled out to tell the viewers that their country is going to hell in a handcart.

Because the Government is useless and politically corrupt - whereas we seldom see or hear very much about life under President Putin and his friends - for example, the recent barbaric treatment of Greenpeace activists.

Anyway I dearly wish that I had watched Russia Today during the great Grangemouth debacle involving the Unite trade union, its unimpressive leader Len McCluskey and the Labour Party selection contest in nearby Falkirk - which became bogged down in allegations of vote-rigging. 

Now that would have made great viewing I'm sure, for unintended comic reasons if nothing else, but my mind was on other things, I'm sad to say.

Yet every time I watch the programme, I ask myself the same question:

Do the people who control the editorial content of Russia Today understand that a similar programme could never be made in President Putin's Russia?  

If they do, then at least we can all sleep soundly in our beds - safe in the knowledge that, whatever else, irony is not dead.