Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Waking up to impact of cuts

I fear that the country is still not waking up to the implications of the Coalition government’s plans to cut back on state intervention. This applies particularly to its own supporters.
While all the headlines, quite rightly, are about major issues like housing, jobs, defence, student fees and the like, it is the relatively minor victims of the cut backs that best illustrate their impact. It is in the minutiae of daily life that the pain will be felt.
Arts organisations everywhere in the North West were today having to come to terms with reduced funding. If we cannot afford homes, public services or aircraft carriers, then how on earth can luxuries like festivals expect to get away scot-free.
A good example is South Lakes MP Tim Farron calling on the police to meet to discuss the future of Kendal Torchlight Carnival.
He says the annual event has recently come under threat, with cuts in the Cumbria Police budget pressuring the local constabulary to consider charging for their support on the night.
Apparently the event organisers may be forced to find £15,000 to secure a police presence for the evening, which helps with crowd and traffic management throughout the town. Such a cost burden would almost certainly jeopardise the future of Kendal Torchlight, an event which is organised and managed entirely by local volunteers, said Mr Farron’s statement.
He goes to say: “Kendal Torchlight is a fantastic event for people of all ages across the South Lakes and has become a cherished tradition in the town after 41 years.
“The carnival plays a major role in instilling a sense of community and culture in our area. I, therefore, urge Cumbria Police to consider these merits when finalising their decisions on cut backs. It would be a significant loss to our area and something I will not let go of without a fight.”
Mr Farron is to be commended for pledging to fight student fee hikes, but he cannot expect every organisation in his Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency to escape the effect of the cuts. His party signed up to a Government that thinks it is necessary to reduce police funding. There are bound to be repercussions.
The police have to decide their own priorities. They cannot be blamed if they think Bobbies on the beat and tackling burglaries and violence have precedence over festivals.
Football clubs have for years had to pay the policing of match days, so why should a carnival be any different?
A far better case can be made to events such as the Mintfest International Street Arts Festival, which has been shown to generated £1.6m for the Cumbrian economy. The festival, also in Kendal, attracted thousands of visitors who watched performances by artists, comedians, acrobats, dancers and musicians.
The ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) at Manchester University into the impact of the Lakes Alive events in Cumbria showed that Mintfest makes a very important contribution to the local economy. That is the sort of cost effective event that deserves to escape the cuts. And not a policeman was in sight.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Confessions of a Sunday newspaper reader

I HAVE a confession. For the first time I chose my Sunday newspaper yesterday on the basis of an advertisement for a free CD offer.
My preferred option is The Sunday Times, which has cleverly adopted the slogan “THE Sunday newspapers” and indeed has the most comprehensive and intelligent coverage of politics, sport, culture and all other subjects which interest me.
I occasionally replace it with a joint purchase of the Mail on Sunday and Independent on Sunday, partly because they give a different insight and partly as they are my best customers as a freelance journalist. Interestingly the Sunday Times has recently raised its cover price to £2.20p, which has confused customers and newsagents, but is still incredible value for money.
The Mail shouts it is 70p less expensive than the Sunday Times but this wasn’t why I chose my other selection. The reason I opted for the alternative was that The Mail on Sunday gave away a CD of Atlantic Crossing by Rod Stewart, my favourite singer. I have a vinyl version of this album but the CD would be good to have for the car.
My only reservation was that the Mail over-egged its promotion by saying it was Rod the Mod’s “Greatest Album.”
It should have been as he travelled to all the great studios in America to record it, using icons of American popular music, such as the remnants of Booker T and the MGs, including guitarist Steve Cropper, and The Memphis Horns.
But unfortunately the songs were bland, commercial and poor compared with the great tunes and interpretations of Rod’s previous masterpieces: An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down; Every Picture Tells a Story; and Never a Dull Moment.
There was a run of compositions by Rod which put him up there with the greatest. Raincoat had the premier version of Handbags and Gladrags, copied so successfully by Stereophonics decades later. Just listen to the title track of Every Picture, especially the duet with Maggie Bell from Stone the Crows, or Mandolin Wind or Maggie May. Or examine the popular poetic brilliance of You Wear It Well, off Never a Dull Moment.
In comparison Atlantic Crossing is a pale shadow. The track everyone has heard of is Sailing, which is a poor attempt to create a football crowd pleasing Anthem. A rock classic worthy of an acolyte of Sam Cooke it isn’t.
Still, I suppose “Rod Stewart’s fourth or fifth best album” wouldn’t have had the same promotional appeal.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Historical gaffe

THE fact that Tullie House Museum tried to play the geography card to “keep the £2 million bronze relic Roman helmet in Cumbria” should have been ridiculed from the start. But no, the media went along with it.
Cumbria, as we were all told in 1974 when it was created by the Conservative government as part of its disastrous local government reorganisation, was purely an administrative area and not an attempt to roll away 2,000 years of history.
The helmet was found, by a student from the North East of England, on farmland near Crosby Garrett, near Kirkby Stephen, which is in Westmorland.
Tullie House Museum is in Cumberland. So how can it get away with playing the “keep it local” card? It is like the British Museum trying to keep the Elgin Marbles because London is in the European Union, so hard luck Athens.
The answer is that the media have forgotten that the traditional counties still exist, on opposite sides of the Orton Scar, with a great big mountain range between them. Cumberland looks to Newcastle for its soul mates. Westmorland looks to Lancaster, Preston, Blackpool and the rest of Lancashire.
So there is no foundation for the helmet going to Carlisle. And the buyer of the helmet needs pay no attention to the emotional blackmail Tullie House is still trying to apply even now to be able to show it.
Even Radio Cumbria, the very name and existence of which is part of the attempt to re-write history, tried to point out this anomaly to a Tullie House spokesman. But to no avail. The spokesman didn’t even seem to understand the question.
There are so many officials, politicians and bureaucrats who have a vested interest in perpetuating the myth of Cumbria, mainly to play the game of grabbing funds from the European Union regional policy, that they don’t even know there are two distinct counties.
If the helmet belongs anywhere it is probably in the Museum of Lakeland Life in Kendal.
But that seems unlikely, unless the anonymous purchaser was a Westmerian who actually understand history and intends to put it on public show in the county to which it really belongs.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Cry for freedom

THERE are healthy signs that the judiciary is waking up to the very real threats to society’s basic freedoms from the flood of political interference on the media through new laws and case precedents.
Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, in a speech to the Commonwealth Magistrates' and Judges' Association Conference, said judges could not afford to be divorced from the modern media because of the media's "impact on public thinking and public perception".
He said: "One of my constant refrains is that our judicial independence and the existence of an independent press are mutually self supporting.
"I ask you to find me a society or state in which you have an independent judiciary and a subservient media, or a subservient judiciary and an independent media.
"The short answer is that the pressures that would remove the independence of the judiciary are identical to the same pressures that would remove the independence of the media."
According to Solicitor Nigel Hanson, a member of Foot Anstey's media team writing on the excellent HoldtheFrontPage web-site, he continued by endorsing the right of reporters to challenge inappropriate reporting restrictions themselves in court.
Judge Patrick Moloney QC, a circuit judge who used to be a top libel barrister, expressed concern about the lack of open reporting of the courts.
In a speech he gave to a media law conference, he said: "The time-honoured old art of court reporting, even in the Crown Court, let alone of course the County Court, is dying away."
He was subsequently reported as saying there was no point in judges making lofty pronouncements in court for the benefit of society if no one "ever hears about it because there is nobody in court to hear us say it".
Judges can always arrange for their clerks to ring the local freelance or news desk of the local media if he wants to say something of wider interest to the public and have it reported.
But the judges' comments are valid and bring to mind a string of recent judgments that have highlighted the desirability for court reports and journalism in general to contain real names and personal details so as to be interesting and readable.
In a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year Lord Rodger said: "A requirement to report in some austere, abstract form, devoid of much of its human interest could well mean that the report would not be read and the information would not be passed on.
"Ultimately, such an approach could threaten the viability of newspapers and magazines, which can only inform the public if they attract enough readers and make enough money to survive."
This was a rare recognition of the realities of the commercial media world and welcome. But it is even worse during the current inquest into the death of a barrister by “suicide by police” in an armed siege in London.
Judges, coroners and others in the judiciary need to push back far harder against misguided legislation, which can be complicated, unhelpful and badly drafted.
They need to organise the court system, and this is particularly true of magistrates, so that cases happen when scheduled and are seen through to completion so that there is a final outcome for the media to report on.
Too often lawyers, social workers, the CPS, police and others treat the courts with scant respect by not having their cases prepared in time. Delays for background reports are a further obstacle to timely and topical justice.
Justice needs to be seen to be done as well as done. In the modern world the public at large find it virtually impossible to turn up in courts to see cases for themselves. The media should be enabled to act as their eyes and ears.
This means courts and the media working together for complete mutual benefit. The real winners would be society. Police contacts used to tell me the best crime prevention of all is the fear of publicity.