Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Shameful Act

The Times carried a well argued leader column on the Litvinenko Inquiry the other day which made the case that President Putin is pursuing a completely hard-nosed strategy in relation to Russian interests.

In other words, a strategy that does not shy away from the cold-blooded murder of an irritating Russian exile in the shape of Alexander Litvinenko, with the leading suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, now firmly ensconced as a pro-Putin supporter in the Russian Duma (Parliament). 

Now it is very difficult for civilised countries to respond adequately to this kind of barbarism because the UK was never going to respond in kind or take some kind of military action over the death of just one man.

But Litvinenko's deliberate poisoning and terrible death was shameful act that ought not to be allowed to go unpunished in a just and civilised world.      

The Litvinenko Inquiry

The belated announcement of an inquiry into the murder of the Russian exile demonstrates the failure of appeasement

Nearly eight years after the Russian exile Alexander Litvinenko, his body ravaged by the effects of radiation poisoning, died in a London hospital, the government has finally announced a public inquiry. Over that time his widow, Marina, has fought an obstinate, heroic and often lonely battle to get some public accounting for the manner of her husband’s death. Now, virtually in the last days of this parliamentary term, the home secretary has given belated effect to a demand that was supported by the coroner of the still pending inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death and ruled to be justified by the High Court.

The manner of the timing of the announcement, coming five days after the shooting down of MH17, has led to suggestions that the inquiry is a punishment for the Russians. The government has denied this, but in some ways it might be preferable if this cynical interpretation were true. At least it would mean that the inquiry was not the result of the coalition having run out of options and finally being forced to accede to a basic demand for justice and accountability.

The Litvinenko case, and how Britain and others responded to it, is not just important in itself. It was a harbinger of the position that the international community finds itself in now as it attempts to deal with Vladimir Putin’s transformation of his country into what can only be described as a semi-rogue state.

Mr Litvinenko, should anyone need to be reminded, was a man who had made enemies among the shady strata surrounding the Russian elite. In November 2006 he was poisoned while he was having drinks in a London hotel. The agent was polonium 210, and the radioactive trail clearly implicated a Russian national, Andrei Lugovoi. Mr Lugovoi had returned to Russia, and the Russian government resisted British calls for him to be extradited. Instead it suggested, ludicrously, that he be tried in Russia. Subsequently the untried Mr Lugovoi was elected to the Russian parliament where he sits even now, lending his vociferous support to Mr Putin.

We reported earlier this year that Sir Robert Owen, the coroner of the pending inquest, had seen documents that, in his words, “establish a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state”. And part of the problem with any investigation is that it might well hinge on information coming from our own secret services and implicating Russian officials.

But what was clear in 2006 and is horribly evident now, was that Russia did not consider itself bound by the same rules of behaviour that bind the countries of the West. When Britain’s demands for extradition were refused, and after we had expelled four diplomats, Russia responded by hounding the employees of the British Council using quasi-judicial means.

In 2011, after four years of coldness, David Cameron went to Moscow full of rosy-cheeked optimismto mend fences and thaw hearts. We would agree to disagree about Litvinenko and in the meantime we would resume friendly relations, and, not least, friendly trade relations.

So Mr Putin got what he wanted and Britain abjectly failed to get what it wanted. There has been no trial, as yet no inquest and, until this week, no inquiry into the murder of Mr Litvinenko. What lesson the Russians learnt from this and other episodes has been clear in the past few months. Mr Putin expects to be able to behave with impunity, right up to and including invading the territory of his neighbour, in the expectation that the West will moan for a few months and then shut up and trade.

Now, as the bodies of the MH17 victims travel westward and fighting consumes Donetsk, it must be obvious that this strategy of effective appeasement has been a moral and practical failure.

More Fruitckaes

UKIP has more than its fair share of fruitcakes and loonies as this report from the BBC shows with yet another of the party's MEPs hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In this case ex-MEP, Nikki Sinclaire, has been charged with money laundering and fraudulently claiming expenses.

Ex-MEP Nikki Sinclaire charged with money laundering and misconduct

Nikki Sinclaire lost her European Parliament seat in May this year

Former MEP Nikki Sinclaire has been charged with money laundering and misconduct in public office.

Ms Sinclaire, 45, who represented the West Midlands for UKIP, then as an independent, will appear at Birmingham Magistrates' Court on 17 September.

She is accused of making false and dishonest submissions for travelling expenses and transferring the proceeds of fraud through a bank account.

She said she "strongly refuted" the charges and would be defending herself.

The offences allegedly occurred between 1 October 2009 and 31 July 2010.'Ludicrous allegations'

Ms Sinclaire was elected as a UKIP MEP in 2009 but was expelled from the party the following year in a row over its membership of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy grouping.

She remained in the European Parliament as an independent before forming the We Demand A Referendum Now Party in 2012, but lost her seat in elections held last May.

She was originally arrested on 22 February 2012 and has since been on police bail.

Three other people were also arrested but will face no further action.

Ms Sinclaire said: "I am disappointed that the police have chosen to charge me with the above offences without questioning me on them, after a two-and-a-half-year investigation.

"The charges relate to my time as a UKIP MEP when I was under the guidance and oversight by the party in the Parliament. This will prove pivotal in resolving the matter.

"During my time as an MEP I put in more than £120,000 of my salary into the cost of my work activities.

"It was also me, who in 2010, drew the attention of the West Midlands Police, to irregularities I discovered had taken place, without my knowledge, in my UKIP office.

"I am certain I shall be found innocent of these ludicrous and unfounded accusations."

More Fruitcakes and Loonies (6 June 2014)

The dust has hardly settled on UKIP's success in the recent Euro elections before yet another fruitcake jumps out of the woodwork - one who will be representing Wales in Brussels and who presumably ran on the general UKIP ticket about the terrible threat that immigrant workers pose to the UK.

Yet according to this story in The Independent, Nathan Gill has been employing immigrant workers for years while insisting that his business practices were not inconsistent with his party's anti-immigration policies.

It's a crazy old world right enough and even crazier when you think that Nathan will now be heading off to Europe to make a handsome living and exceptionally generous expenses from a parliament he doesn't even believe in.

Except when it suits his interests to do otherwise - on this evidence at least.  

Ukip MEP Nathan Gill employed ‘dozens’ of immigrants and ‘kept them in bunkhouses’

New MEP says it is not ‘hypocrisy’ and that he actually envies the amount of ‘spending money’ they had after being paid £200-£300 a week

By ADAM WITHNALL - The Independent

A newly-elected Ukip MEP has admitted his businesses employed “dozens” of workers from eastern Europe and the Philippines who were kept in “bunkhouses” – but insists this is not inconsistent with his party’s anti-immigration policies.

Nathan Gill, elected to represent Wales in the European elections last month, ran a number of care homes and other family businesses providing services for Hull City Council and brought employees in from overseas.

He conceded “this could look bad” for a politician who campaigned on Ukip’s anti-immigration message, but insisted that the family firm had been unable to “find local workers to do the jobs”.

And he said that the party had “never said it wants to stop all immigration – it wants to limit the numbers”.

As director of the various businesses, Mr Gill oversaw the employment of dozens of people from Poland and other new EU countries and others from the Philippines.

He said that they were kept in bunkhouses as “temporary accommodation… until they could get something more permanent”.

He told the Western Mail that he actually envied the quality of life he provided them, saying: “We charged £50 a week inclusive of electricity to people who would be earning between £200 and £300 a week. I wish I had that proportion of spending money left after paying my mortgage.”

Mr Gill said it was “not at all easy to get work permits” for the Filipino employees after demonstrating “the lengths we had gone to in trying to recruit local labour”.

But he also said that he was sure there “would have been no difficulty” getting permits for the EU workers “if that had been necessary” – as it would be under Ukip policy.

He said: “My focus at the time was to employ people who would enable us to fulfil as a business the care contracts we had. I can see how this could look bad, but it’s a case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’.

“If we hadn’t employed people from overseas, we’d have been called racist. The fact that we did employ immigrants is leading to charges of hypocrisy. But Ukip has never said it wants to stop all immigration – it wants to limit the numbers.”

Twitter users did not seem convinced, with one describing it as an example of Ukip “telling us to do one thing then doing another”. Another described it as “unbelievable hypocrisy”.

A spokesperson for Welsh Labour called for Mr Gill to apologise and said: “That Nathan Gill cannot see the hypocrisy of his actions is totally unbelievable. This is hugely embarrassing for him given only two weeks after he was elected on an anti-immigration platform.”

Balls Up

The BBC reports that the former head of children's services in Haringey Council, Sharon Shoesmith has been awarded £680,000 as a result of her unfair dismissal claim in which the Education Secretary at the time, Ed Balls, played a key part

If you ask me, Ed Balls, now the Labour shadow chancellor, owes the taxpayer an apology for his heavy handed intervention in the case.

Because as Secretary of State he had no right sticking his nose in where it didn't belong, not least because his motives were all about politics and had nothing to do with child welfare.        

Baby P boss Sharon Shoesmith secures £680,000 payout

Sharon Shoesmith said she "did not recognise" the amount being reported

The former head of Haringey children's services Sharon Shoesmith has been awarded £679,452 following her unfair dismissal claim.

Ms Shoesmith was sacked after a damning report into the 2007 death of Peter Connelly, known as Baby P, who was subjected to months of abuse.

The payments, previously established to be a six-figure sum, were confirmed in the London council's accounts.

But Ms Shoesmith told the BBC: "This is not a figure I recognise."

She added: "I have made a confidential agreement with Haringey that prevents me giving the actual figures."

However, the council's draft accounts for 2013-2014 show Ms Shoesmith was awarded £377,266 for salary, fees and allowance, £217,266 in compensation for loss of office, and £84,819 for employer pension contributions.
Peter Connelly died in August 2007 at the age of 17 months

Peter Connelly had more than 50 injuries, despite being on the at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over eight months.

Baby Peter's mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend, Steven Barker, and his brother, Jason Owen, were jailed in May 2009 for causing or allowing the child's death.

Baby Peter timeline

  • 3 August 2007: One-year-old Peter Connelly (Baby P) found dead in his cot 
  • 11 November 2008: Peter's mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker and his brother Jason Owen convicted of causing his death 
  • 13 November 2008: Ed Balls orders inquiry into role of the local authority, the health authority and the police 
  • 8 December 2008: Ms Shoesmith is sacked with immediate effect 
  • 22 May 2009: Connelly, Owen and Barker all get lengthy jail sentences 
  • 15 September 2010: Ms Shoesmith asks a House of Commons committee why the police and health services had not also been made to take responsibility 
  • 27 May 2011: The Court of Appeal rules in favour of Ms Shoesmith 
  • Oct 2013: Ms Shoesmith agrees a six-figure payout with Haringey Council 
  • June 2014: It is revealed Ms Shoesmith was awarded £679,452 in compensation. 
Ms Shoesmith was sacked in December 2008 by the then children's secretary Ed Balls.

She claimed she had been unfairly dismissed and the Court of Appeal ruled in her favour in 2011, saying she had been "unfairly scapegoated".

Haringey Council previously revealed it had spent £196,000 fighting Ms Shoesmith's case for unfair dismissal.

The compensation package is more than the minimum suggested by senior judge Lord Neuberger in the 2011 ruling.

He gave the opinion Ms Shoesmith was entitled to a minimum of three months' salary plus pensions contributions, which would have amounted to about £33,000.

However, last year a government source told BBC Newsnight the cost to Haringey Council could be as high as £600,000.

In a statement, the local authority confirmed it had reached a settlement with Ms Shoesmith.

It said: "The terms of the settlement are confidential. We are unable to comment further on this matter."

Kerry Underwood, an employment lawyer, said confidential settlements like Ms Shoesmith's "should not be allowed" when they involve public money.

Such payouts should also be subject to extra scrutiny, he added.

"When local authorities are cutting back hard then it should go back to tribunal or court to be approved," Mr Underwood said.

"That would not cost a lot of money, it would be a relatively short hearing."

Heads Must Roll (14 December 2013)

I read this piece in the Independent some weeks ago when the news first broke that the former senior official of Haringey Council was entitled to a six figure payout - as a result of prejudicial comments and decisions of the former Secretary of State, Ed Balls.

A basic tenet of natural justice is that a person must be allowed to understand the details of any alleged wrongdoing and an opportunity to defend themselves - before any decision about their culpability is reached.

So I agree with Archie Bland - in his rush to judgment Ed Balls is largely responsible for the subsequent mess and his actions cost the public purse a pretty penny - despite all his bluster about doing the same thing all over again. 

Ed Balls &Sharon Shoesmith: Accountability is vital in public office – but it has to work both ways

Luckily for the Shadow Chancellor, Shoesmith is an easy target

By Archie Bland

Shortly after receiving the Ofsted report into Haringey Council’s handling of the Baby P affair, Ed Balls held a press conference to talk about Sharon Shoesmith. Balls, at the time Secretary of State for Children, said that the report had blamed her for failing in her duties to oversee her department. He didn’t actually have the power to sack her, he explained; that was for Haringey Council. But what he could do was ensure that she that she was removed from her post as director of children’s services. Were you surprised, a Channel 4 journalist asked, that Shoesmith didn’t offer her resignation when she saw how damning the criticism was? Well, Balls explained, that would be a bit tricky. Since no one had informed her of the news, she didn’t actually know about it yet.

That much, at least, was accurate: Sharon Shoesmith first found out that her life was being destroyed when Ed Balls talked about it on television. Only then did she receive a phone call from the council. To view this as unfair, you don’t need to think that she did her job well; you don’t even need to think that getting rid of her was wrong. All you have to think is that, if someone is being charged with something reprehensible, they have a right to defend themselves before a verdict is passed.

That’s what employment law says, and that, accordingly, is what the appeal judge who agreed that she was unlawfully dismissed concluded. Now that she has agreed a compensation deal and the terms have been leaked, many people have taken a different view; chief among them, perhaps, is the very same Ed Balls. The six-figure payout, he said, “leaves a bad taste in the mouth”. Faced with the same situation, he said, “I would do exactly the same thing again today.”

Let’s be clear: in order to avoid the payout, the extent of Ed Balls’ responsibility was to make sure that Shoesmith was asked to give her side of the story first. This is not rocket science. Even if you don’t know the law, it seems like the sensible thing to do. The cost to Balls would have been, perhaps, a short delay to his display of machismo. In these circumstances, to blame Sharon Shoesmith not just for the death of Peter Connolly but for the payment she received seems like a stunning sleight of hand. And to say that you would do “exactly the same thing again” just seems stupid.

Luckily for the Shadow Chancellor, Shoesmith is still an easier target: the idea of anyone being compensated after the death of a child on their watch will always feel indefensible. But as the 2011 judgement makes clear, when Ed Balls said that the report blamed her, he was massively overstating the case. In fact, the report had no such remit, and did no such thing: as Lord Justice Kay put it, a joint area review like the one that Balls ordered from Ofsted is designed not to “identify culpable individuals… the aim is to see the picture in the round”. Shoesmith was only personally criticised in a subsequent meeting.

This is not exactly a watertight standard when you consider how obviously the Secretary of State wanted to sack someone. After all, in the days after commissioning the report – and asking for an exercise that would normally take five months to be finished in three weeks – Balls had demanded that it be clear “in its attribution of responsibility” and find “definitive evidence on which the minister can act”. Then consider the media climate at the time, and in particular The Sun’s petition, signed by many thousands, demanding Sharon Shoesmith’s dismissal – a petition that Balls praised in that same press conference. Taking all this together, it is hard to see that the woman had a chance.

Is a payout on this scale appropriate? Should Shoesmith be giving it all to charity? I don’t know. But I know that the woman has lost her job in circumstances which have made it very difficult to find work in the same field again. I know that she and her family received reams of hate mail, an onslaught that Ed Balls did little to discourage with his personalised attacks. And I know this: very few of the people criticising her so viciously have ever done anything so noble as to devote their lives to working with children. This is the grim situation we find ourselves in: one where the people doing the very hardest, bravest work are the ones who leave themselves most open to vilification. How many young people, wondering if they have a vocation in social work, will see a case like this and conclude that they would be better off in sales?

To all of this Ed Balls and his cohorts will reply with one word: accountability. That the Ofsted report did not blame Sharon Shoesmith, so Balls’ case went, was besides the point: “It was for her to ensure that the systems were in place. It would be no answer to say ‘I delegated’.”

Accountability, its true, is vitally important in public office. But Lord Justice Kay put it well: it is a “deeply unattractive” proposition, he wrote, “that the mere juxtaposition of a state of affairs and a person who is ‘accountable’ should mean that there is nothing that that person might say which could conceivably explain, excuse, or mitigate her predicament. ‘Accountability’ is not synonymous with ‘heads must roll’.”

If you were thinking hard about accountability, you might see a lack of it in the way that Ed Balls has handled things. In court, his defence against the point that Shoesmith should have been allowed to make her case was that he had assumed, mistakenly, that she would have already done so during the inspection. But accountability, to listen to his very own argument as applied to her, means that ignorance is no defence. It was, surely, for Balls to ensure “that the systems were in place”.

Ed Balls will not accept accountability. Instead, he, and nearly everybody else, will continue to vilify a social worker for the death of a child. To do anything more thoughtful entails more troubling questions about human nature, and shared responsibility, and the horrors that cannot be erased by a witch-hunt.

Waste of Public Money

If it were not such a serious matter, you could laugh at the cheek of two murderers abusing human rights legislation to argue that they had a 'right' to vote in Scotland's referendum on independence. 

One thing's for sure, the two people murdered by these two men won't get a vote in the referendum or any other future election, denying them their human rights on a permanent basis including the most important one of all - the right to life. 

What a terrible waste of public money and not least because three judges in the Court of Sessions, Scotland's highest civil court, has already thrown the case out on its ear.   

Scottish independence: Killers seek referendum vote

By Reevel Alderson - BBC Scotland

The two prisoners believe they should be allowed to vote on Scotland's future

The UK Supreme Court is to be asked to overturn the ban on convicted prisoners being able to vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

Two killers, serving life sentences, have already had their case rejected by judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

They claimed the voting ban infringes their human rights.

Although Supreme Court rulings normally take several weeks, it is understood judges will rule quickly in this case.

Lawyers acting for Leslie Moohan, 31, and 46-year-old Andrew Gillon will argue the Scottish judges including the Lord President, Lord Gill, were wrong when they ruled the ban on convicted prisoners voting did not infringe European Human Rights laws.

The judges said although the European Court has made rulings on prisoners voting in national and local elections, it had made no decision concerning referenda.

The right to vote in the referendum on September 18 is detailed in the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act passed by Holyrood in 2013.

It says: "A convicted person is legally incapable of voting in an independence referendum for the period during which the person is detained in a penal institution in pursuance of the sentence imposed on the person."

'No such right'

Issuing the Court of Session judgement, Lady Paton said: "We take the view that there is no clearly identifiable common law fundamental right to vote in the UK and certainly not a clearly identifiable common law fundamental right to vote in a referendum.
"Thus, in our opinion, no such right is contravened by the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013."

If the Supreme Court decides prisoners are to be allowed to take part in the referendum, they would have to apply for a postal vote by September 3, or nominate a proxy.

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said no arrangements had been made to help convicted prisoners vote.

But he said: "Prisoners on remand, awaiting trial are allowed to vote in any case.

"But many will not, because of course they would not have expected to be in prison on the day of the referendum, and therefore won't have registered for a postal vote before they were arrested."

He said the SPS had provided special courses and material for young offenders aged between 16-18 who would be eligible to vote for the first time if they are released in time for the referendum.

The two men behind the appeal are both serving life sentences for brutal murders.

Blanket ban

Gillon was jailed in 1998 for the murder of his friend, Gary Johnstone, 25, who suffered repeated blows to the head with a spade in Bathgate, in West Lothian.

Moohan was ordered to serve a minimum of 15 years after murdering father-of-two David Redpath, from Peterhead, at a hostel in Edinburgh in 2008.

Convicted prisoners in the UK are banned from voting on the basis that they have forfeited that right by breaking the law and going to jail.

Successive governments have wanted to maintain that position but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has said a blanket ban on prisoners voting is disproportionate.

Last year, the UK government conceded that it would have to change the law to allow some prisoners to vote.

Paperback Writer

Damian McBride, Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, has drawn attention to a paperback version of his 'Power Trip' book with a description of the Labour Party as a "great, steaming pile of fudge".

The original hardback version of Power Trip was serialised in The Mail and the paper has leapt upon McBride's assessment of the current Labour leadership with gusto, which is hardly surprising with a general election only months away.  

'No clear idea' and a 'steaming pile of fudge': Ed Miliband under extraordinary attack from Gordon Brown's key aide who warns Labour election plan is 'totally dysfunctional'

  • Labour leader failing to communicate with voters, Damian McBride claims
  • Former spin doctor says Mr Miliband has no persuasive policies
  • Also attacked Labour's refusal to apologise for its record in office 
  • Today's attack comes in updated version of McBride's tell-all memoirs
  • He was spin doctor for Gordon Brown but quit over a plot to smear Tories 

Ed Miliband’s ‘totally dysfunctional’ leadership tonight comes under extraordinary attack from former Labour spin doctor Damian McBride.

In an updated version of his sensational tell-all memoirs, Mr McBride warns Labour has ‘no clear idea’ of who it is trying to appeal to and a ‘great, steaming pile of fudge’ instead of key policies.

He says Mr Miliband, with whom he worked for years in the Treasury, has ‘managed to blend the worst of Tony Blair’s “me against the world” isolation with the worst of Gordon Brown’s “they’re out to get me” paranoia.’

Savaged: Labour leader Ed Miliband, left, has come under extraordinary attack from former Labour spin doctor Damian McBride, right, whom he accuses of having no idea who his targets are, or policies to tempt them

In an apparent swipe at Ed Balls, another former ally, he says Labour has yet to persuade voters that ‘we’ve learnt our lesson’ by admitting where ‘the last government screwed up’.

The shadow Chancellor has resisted all advice to concede Labour’s mistakes during its 13 years in power.

Mr McBride concludes: ‘Labour currently has no clear idea who its target audience is, no positive messages to communicate to anyone about why they should vote for the party, no policies which will persuade them, and is being run in a totally dysfunctional way.’

His latest explosive intervention will infuriate his former colleagues, who are this week seeking to shut down leadership speculation by launching a ‘summer offensive’ highlighting the differences between Labour and Conservative policies.

Over the weekend, Mr Miliband launched an attempt to turn his ‘weird’ public image on its head, insisting he was not interested in a politics should not be ‘an ugly person’s showbiz contest’.

Bringing home the bacon: The Labour leader tried to confront his inability to match his camera-friendly rivals, which culminated in the above image of him struggling to eat a bacon sandwich

He made a high-risk speech last week in which he tried to confront his apparent inability to match David Cameron’s camera-friendly manner and poise – saying he hoped voters would look beyond ‘photo opportunity’ politics.

Opinion polls suggest that Mr Miliband is a drag on his party’s fortunes and is way behind Mr Cameron on most ratings of leadership.

Mr McBride, in the paperback edition of Power Trip, his account of his years working for Gordon Brown and eventual downfall, published this week and serialised in the Daily Mail, insists he believes Mr Miliband will go on to win next year’s election.

But having pulled his punches in his references to Mr Miliband and Mr Balls in the original version of the book, in the latest chapters he is unsparing about what he sees as their mistakes at the top the Labour Party.

He says Mr Miliband’s policy measures, such as a promised energy price freeze and rent controls, are ‘populist enough but rarely stand up to scrutiny’. Mr Balls’s, meanwhile, are so wonkish they ‘go entirely unnoticed in the pub’.

‘If Labour currently has central, underlying messages that it is trying to communicate to the electorate about itself, its policies, and its leader, the best you could say at present is that it’s not quite coming across,’ Mr McBride writes.

Learned their lesson? Mr McBride said that shadow chancellor Ed Balls has yet to persuade voters that Labour has learned from the past

Resistance: Miliband and Balls, pictured above, have staunchly resisted calls to apologise for Labour's legacy

‘If the message is ‘We’re not the Tories or the Lib Dems, and you hate them’, that may work

up to a point, but it won’t do much for those people who would happily express their antipathy by voting for UKIP or just staying at home, let alone those who hate Labour as well.

'Even the ‘cost of living’ argument – for which read "Those Tory toffs haven’t got a clue what your life’s like" – relies on the electorate accepting that Labour has some better appreciation of those realities.’

Mr McBride says Mr Miliband and Mr Balls ‘badly need to develop and stick to some underlying messages’ that will make people positively want to back Labour next year.

‘The starting point is a simple one: "We’ve learnt our lesson". From George Bush to [disgraced RBS boss] Fred Goodwin, admit where the last government screwed up, and explain why next time will be different,’ he urges.

‘That will also give Labour the licence to talk about the many good achievements of its time in office, and to point out that it’s the Tories who are now blindly repeating the mistakes of the past, especially on the economy.’

He warns Mr Miliband that he is still surrounded by many of the same advisers who attempted to address Mr Brown’s ‘image problem’ during his troubled stint as prime minister.

Grin and bear it: After his attempt to turn attention away from his 'image problem', Mr Miliband was confronted with cartoons comparing him to Wallace, of Wallace and Gromit fame, by the BBC's Andrew Marr, left

They continually advised Mr Brown to counter the negative perceptions of his character by showing a ‘softer side’, Mr McBride says.

‘Ed’s advisers will tell him to be pictured doing the everyday things that normal people do to show he’s not ‘weird’; they’ll arrange opportunities for him to look all serious and statesmanlike to counter the perception that he’s not Prime Minister material; and conversely, they’ll urge him to crack jokes with Graham Norton or shed tears with Piers Morgan so that we can all begin to see the ‘real Ed’,’ he writes.

‘This will all be a colossal mistake. Not just because it leads to bad photos with bacon sandwiches, but because the blatant artifice of the whole effort risks throwing away the most important commodity any successful modern politician must possess: authenticity.’

Mr McBride advises Mr Miliband to present himself as ‘a Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage-style outsider, the opposite of the carefully-manicured modern politician designed by a committee of PR advisers’.

'Blatant artifice': Mr McBride warned Mr Miliband against taking image advice from Gordon Brown's old team

He also urges the Labour leader to ‘start involving, consulting and using the whole of his team – not just his small circle of like-minded advisers and trusted shadow ministers, but all of his shadow Cabinet, all his most talented backbenchers, and all of the variously talented staff employed by the Labour party, 99 per cent of whom could currently be forgiven for asking themselves: ‘Should we all go home?’’

Mr McBride’s book dominated last year’s Labour party conference, lifting the lid on a toxic culture of spin and feuding at the heart of New Labour.

He was forced to resign as Mr Brown’s special adviser in 2009 after he was linked to a plot to smear Tory MPs via an anti-Conservative gossip website. The emails included fabricated slurs about the politicians’ health and private lives.

Seagull Eating Rabbit

In case anyone doubts the authenticity of the 'seagull eating rabbit' article I posted the other day, here's a live action version of the foul beast in action from YouTube.  

Now what puzzles me is why seagulls are a protected species, but not the poor, harmless bunny rabbit.

I know which one I'd get rid of given half a chance.

More Fookin' Seagulls (28 July 2014)


Here's a terrible image which will do wonders for my campaign to rid the country of its dreaded seagull menace - a photograph of one of these vile birds attacking, killing and then trying to swallow whole a poor innocent, little bunny rabbit.

I rest my case.

More Fookin' Seagulls (8 July 2014)

The BBC reports on a nasty incident in Easter Ross (in the far north of Scotland) which seems to have involved the shooting of seagulls.

Now I'm sorry to hear that a person appears to have been injured as a result of the incident, but for a moment I was encouraged to believe that the authorities had at last seen the light on the need to tackle the menace of these foul birds.

Woman shot in face in 'row about seagulls' in Balintore
A woman has been shot in the face by an air rifle following an argument in Balintore, Easter Ross, in the early hours of Sunday.

It is understood she had been involved in a row about the shooting of seagulls.

The woman was taken to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

Police stationed in Alness and Tain were at the scene for several hours and are continuing their inquiries into the incident.

A report will be sent to the procurator fiscal.

More Fookin' Seagulls (1 June 2014)

After so many setbacks in my campaign against Fookin' Seagulls, some good news at last - the High Court has sanctioned a cull of these dreadful creatures in the Ribble and Alt Estuaries.

Now I don't even know where the Ribble and Alt Estuaries are, but who cares?  

The point is that someone has listened to reason at long last and concluded that these birds are a dangerous menace not an endangered species - and that such enlightened thinking will now make its way, irresistibly, northwards towards Glasgow. 

RSPB loses case to stop seagull cull on Lancashire coast

The charity said Defra had set a worrying precedent for bird conservation

By KASHMIRA GANDER - The Independent

The High Court has upheld a ruling to cull lesser black-backed seagulls in the Lancashire coast, a day after campaigners said they fear the Government plans to trap and kill beavers in Devon.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) argued that by sanctioning a cull in the Ribble Estuary by an aviation firm, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) set a dangerous and unlawful precedent for bird conservation in the UK.

It launched the case after Defra granted British Aerospace Systems (BAE) a licence to cull 552 pairs of breeding less black-backed gulls and herring gulls in the Ribble and Alt Estuaries Special Protection Area last May.

This was in addition to permission BAE was given to cull 500 pairs of Herring Gulls and 200 pairs of less black-back gulls at the same site.

The charity said that it understood BAE had explored all other avenues, and must cull the birds in order to stop them posing a safety risk by getting sucked into jet engines.

But it said it was particularly concerned that the Secretary of State thought it was acceptable to lose up to a fifth of a breeding population at a protected site.

However, Mr Justice Mitting ruled that the charity’s claims were “unfounded”, and dismissed the RSPB's application for judicial review. He also ordered that the charity pay £10,000 in legal costs.

A beaver mounts a log (Getty Images)

The ruling comes a day after campaigners told The Independent that Defra was considering culling River Otters in Devon - a consideration the department said should be on the table, but has no current plans of implementing.

Responding to the judgement, the RSPB said: “This judgment is deeply worrying as we believe it fundamentally misinterprets the law as it relates to protecting birds.

“The judge appears to condone the Government writing off part of why the Ribble Estuary is important for nature conservation without compensation measures and, as such, sets a deeply disturbing precedent for our most important sites for wildlife – we are urgently looking at our options to appeal this judgment.”

BAE said in a statement after the ruling: “We believe that a reduction in the gull population will reduce the risk of a bird strike incident on or in the vicinity of Warton aerodrome, and therefore will ensure the safety and well-being of local residents, aircrew and employees.”

Fookin' Seagulls (25 May 2014)

I was sad to read this BBC report which deals with one of my greatest pet hates of all time - Fookin' Seagulls. 

Now to be honest I blame the bureaucrats and politicians for making a protected species of this horrible pest and if you ask me, these could birds are nothing but a blight on our inner cities.

So why are they offered special protection, as if they're on a par with Golden Eagles and Ospreys? 

And while I can understand that it's difficult to hold a particular building owner responsible for a specific attack, I do think there should be an obligation on all property owners to prevent seagulls from nesting on their roofs - which is where the problems start.

I take my hat off to Cathie Kelly for highlighting the problem, maybe one of these days our councils and politicians will do something other than wring their hands. 

Cathie Kelly loses seagull swoop injury compensation bid 

Cathie Kelly raised an action for damages against the owners of the building

A woman who claimed she was hurt by a swooping seagull has lost her legal bid for £7,000 damages.

Cathie Kelly said she stumbled on steps as she tried to escape the "terrifying" dive-bombing bird outside the Ladyburn business centre in Greenock.

She said the building's owners had not taken sufficient care of her safety.

A judge at the Court of Session rejected her case after hearing that it was not possible to say where the gull responsible for the attack came from.

Landlords Riverside Inverclyde (Property Holdings) disputed Mrs Kelly's claim that it did not take sufficient care of her safety.

The court heard how a nearby rubbish dump was a magnet for gulls which nested on the old Victorian school building in Pottery Street.

Aggressive gulls

They were said to become aggressive when they had chicks.

The judge was told of people dashing in and out of the Pottery Street building using umbrellas and how garages in the vicinity flew helium balloons to protect their cars from droppings.

Mrs Kelly, 59, from Glasgow, claimed there had previously been patrols using owls and hawks to try to get rid of the menace.

She said that she stopped for lunch on 17 June last year and planned to head for a nearby burger van to buy something to eat.
The court heard seagulls nested on the old Victorian school building

She said it was impossible to see through the stained glass of the door as she went outside.

"I walked out the door and I barely got to the bottom of the steps and this gull came for me at full speed, wings outstretched, coming right for my face," she said.

"I realised I would never get to the van so I had to get back into the building for safety."

Mrs Kelly said: "It was screaming at me. I was terrified. I thought it was going for my face.

"I couldn't look up to see it because it was right over my head and I really thought it was going to hurt me. I was shouting but it would not go away."

The court heard how as Mrs Kelly turned to go back inside her left shoe came off and she stumbled onto the steps.

"I was badly winded and I was in instant pain. It was very painful," she said.

'Shaken and distressed'

Court papers said the incident left Mrs Kelly, who worked for CVS Inverclyde, "shaken and distressed".

She was off work for two weeks. then took to carrying an umbrella to protect herself as she made her way to and from her office.

Experts on gull behaviour told the court that the birds were "free wild creatures" protecting their young - but where a chick was found was no indication as to where it had come from.

In rejecting Mrs Kelly's claim, the judge said the crucial question was whether the attacking gull came from the LBC building and this could not be known.

Seagulls Don't Drink or Smoke (22 July 2011)

Seagulls are my least favourite creatures in the world - by a mile.

To my mind they are the vermin of the skies - and for the life of me I can't understand why they are a protected species.

Now my grievances against gulls are many, varied and deeply held - so let's get a few of their worst characteristics on the record.

Seagulls are highly aggressive, territorial birds that live in towns and cities these days - they  make their living by plundering people's rubbish - and by robbing their smaller avian cousins such as magpies.

Seagulls are not possessed of a lovely call or birdsong - instead they squawk and screech raucously - at all hours of the day and night - and without any regard to their neighbours or the noise pollution by-laws.

Worse still - if they have a chick - the ugly, fledgling bird follows its parents around for weeks on end - whistling incessantly as it begs for food.

In Glasgow these foul creatures spread rubbish everywhere littering the streets - crapping on everyone as the go - and seem to live on a diet of chips and half-eaten kebabs.

But they don't drink or smoke - as far as I can tell - so maybe that's the secret of their longevity and success.

As soon as I become Prime Minister - or even the leader of Glasgow City Council - I am going to campaign for a new law to rid us of these pests.

In a humane fashion of course - even though the demons inside me want to exact a terrible revenge.

What's needed is a policy and plan for removing their eggs - replacing them with false eggs - because the birds are too stupid to know any different.

And before you know it - a whole generation or two of gulls get wiped out - and peace and calm is restored to our city centres.

Fookin' Seagulls

I published an article from the Hidden Glasgow web site recently - which had some interesting, if somewhat restrained, things to say about the menace of urban seagulls.

See post dated 6 August 2011 - 'No Mean City'.

But this article also had a number of readers' comments - which made me laugh my head off at the time - and help illustrate why Glasgow is such a funny, crazy place to live.

Even though the city has more than its fair share of seagulls.

Remember - the context of the 'discussion' is how to get rid of these killer birds. 

Re: Fookin seagulls

by crazygray23

purchase a bird of prey, seagulls are scared shitless by them.

Re: Fookin seagulls

by Doorstop

Yeah, I'm popping out to ASDA this morning for a spare Eagle, a replacement Buzzard and a half a pound of Sparrowhawk.

Re: Fookin seagulls

by Reenie Bujman

I'm going to dress up as Wile E. Coyote and use a giant Acme vacuum cleaner to hoover them out of the sky.
(It's quiet on the ward this morning...)