Monday, November 12, 2007

Divi Dave: Mr Cameron's Co-Operative Misappropriation

New Facebook Group Is Divi Dave the Poshest Pioneer? continues the story of the Tory grab for Co-operative Values and rush to Run Down Manchester. Over at Manchester Confidential Jonathan Schofield joins the blast with an analysis of just how wrong the Tories are.

Good stuff. But we're still lacking a publication or even a single mainstream media reporter proactively prowling the corridors of power. Sitting through hours of dull committee meetings. Ferreting out the stories. The sort of "Town Hall Watch" provided in East London by Trial by Jeory with a Banksy story and a blast for a useless committee too.

Ted mostly communicates with bloggers back channel but the fact he is ground zero of the Respect-SWP explosion has brought him some prominence of late.
He has recently revealled and on being challenged backed up splinter-Respect overtures to both Lib Dems and Labour in Tower Hamlets. And according to this splash at Hold The Front Page motor mouth Ted has been on the East London beat for just a couple of years.

The Manchester Evening News possibly wouldn't run some of Ted's nitty gritty detail stories if they got them. The late lamented City Life's "Citizen" column covered the territory well until the GMG take over, but then less so. Most of the politically interested blogs are somethingly partisan.

Covering more than twenty local authorities in and around the City of Manchester the editorial stance appears to be that niggles and rucks within political groups - even in the bigger authorities - are almost without exception "too parochial". The local free papers, also owned by GMG, often affect a similar disdain in the other direction. This makes for a strange news or at least gossip defecit. None of them spend the time looking under stones for stories. Press releases set the agenda.

Dave Ottewell's useful blog would probably be the place to find these kinds of stories if the paper did carry them at all.

Dave was a busy boy yesterday: Poppies, Card Fraud, and Ken and Blair.

This last being perhaps the most debateable. But this is a sort of cutting edge in a local print media that is mostly owned by one company, mostly seriously under-resourced in both scribblers and snappers, and which has been quite robust in dealing with (i.e. seeing off or buying up) potential competition.

The Guardian Media Group also have interests in much commercial radio and are the owners too of the ITV-lite type of "Community TV" that is Channel M. At the time of the City Life closure I was told in no uncertain terms by representatives of the Scott Trust - the ultimate owners of a big slice of Manchester's media - that the local management rule. With or without reference to the Trust's ideals.

GRAPHICS: Pioneers and Bullingdon Boys juxtaposed at Facebook Divi Dave group. Banksy added the Council name and logo to some new work. Just hours after Ted Jeory reported a clampdown. Some conflicting views on the Banksy menace then emerged at the authority. Making as well as breaking the news. Photo: M BrooksRob Logan, East London Advertiser.


Kerron said...

I know you are not a fan of sticking up for John Leech per se - but you may be interested in this story just for the double standards of Iain Dale:

Chris Paul said...

Thanks Kerron I'll take a look. I have always said that I'll be happy to catch Leech doing something right for a change. Had a near miss with cluster bombs once. But Willie Rennie was a bomb salesman in a previous life and Leech was on his coat tails.

Anonymous said...


I do have other things to do on a Sunday...

My blog is not supposed to supplant the work I do for the paper. It's various other stuff - comment on general issues (particularly at the weekends), backgrounders, and - yes - stuff that isn't appropriate for the paper. Not for any political reasons but simply because it is too "niche" for a general audience.

There simply isn't a political story that I'm aware of that SHOULD have been in the paper that hasn't been.

I generally don't "do" gossip because I apply the same standards to my blogging as to my reporting - fairness, accuracy, and so on. Many, many times the stuff I see I blog is borderline defamatory (often it goes over that line), unfair and one-sided.

I pick stuff up from blogs, as from other sources, if it is likely to be of interest to a general audience and/or it is of genuine importance.

You can also rest assured that despite my hectic schedule there is not an agenda published by Manchester council in the last few years that I have not read. Most of my stories come from these, or tips, or FOI requests, or myriad other sources, official and unofficial, printed or not.

I would estimate that substantially less than one quarter of my work has anything to do with press releases, despite the dozens I get every day. Some press releases alert us to things of importance - it is then for us to critically assess and research what they claim.

To take a couple of recent examples of stories I've been involved with: there was no press release on the goings on at Parrs Wood. There was no press release on figures that showed people were, for the first time in years, more likely to be victims of crime in Greater Manchester than anywhere else in the country. There was no press release on AGMA's moves to introduce majority voting.

I'd like to get around more; wouldn't we all? It doesn't mean I'm not talking to people.

I'm on a week off. It's 2am. And guess what I've done today? Read a string of agendas. Taken calls from a number of senior councillors. And submitted three FOI requests.

If there's a particular ruck you think needs mentioning, I'm happy to discuss.

Chris Paul said...

You are the exception that proves the rule Dave.

But let's just take one ward as an example. Where there is NO local paper. Where the incumbents get a LOT of column inches. Mostly unanswered.

You will remember the extraordinary resistance to the story about Marc Ramsbottom NOT stopping the flyposting from his own venue while claiming credit for stopping other venues? Area News ran the story and also leveraged a self-incriminating press statement out of Marc.

And where was the proper coverage of his suspension beyond the first announcement?

It's neat. He left just before that enquiry got underway after the best part of a year swanning about on full pay.

He may have been just a bit remiss, careless, or whatever rather than guilty of nodding through some tax evasion. But now we'll never know.

And now he works for the employer side! I believe on tribunals and sackings ... for Penninsula.

There was a hell of a carry on over the Lib Dem selection for CC in 2007 - again involving Marc. The eventual candidate was under extreme disciplinary pin down after doing what he was put up to by senior Lib Dems ... then they tried to get rid of him. This story had no MEN coverage.

I believe documents could have been produced to back up the details of the story but even without these the fact of the challenge and the scores on the doors as the incumbent survived would not be disputed.

So - lead Lib Dem councillor suspended on full pay over allegede financial discrepancy and he being their lead on Finance - very little reporting. He allegedly tries to knife one of his colleagues. There was certainly a contest when none was needed. No reporting. His double standards on fly posting. No story.

As you remember that one was spiked. You agreed it was a story, as did other reporters.

Marc wrongly claimed Sidney Street Gay Centre was being closed. I think your paper had the story of his claim but not the rebuttal. On the lap dancing club on Princess Road this media tart SAID NOTHING. But on a previous case on OXFORD ROAD it is a matter of record that at planning he tried to push for a lap dancing club opposite Pizza Hut on the old Gaumont site. In a family area. Far more incongruous than Princess Street really. That's an interesting story I think.

And so on and so forth. This is just ONE councillor.

Clearly I'm not about to blog any intrigue in the Labour Group but in the East London Advertiser I do feel that some would be printed, but no chance in the MEN. Ditto the Lib Dem group.

Where was the expose of the number of required reports submitted by councillors? Probably an issue for all three parties. But back in that ward Rambo, Rothery and Dobson managed only one third of the required in 2004 for example.

Dobson submitted only one of five. Rothery only one of five. Dobson's total reporting for the year consisted of about 12 words that weren't simply the names of committees. 24 words in all. Complete and utter disgrace.

Attendance at committees? Rothery missed HALF his in his final year. Utter disgrace.

Register of Members Interests - there's a few little things in there I can tell you. For example the detail about Marc working for Penninsula. And some things not in there. Is it really true that less than half a dozen examples of hospitality worth more than £35 affected all 96 councillors?

That's the likely cost per head of one drinks reception and a few nibbles. Never mind a sit down meal or a party or even a football or concert ticket and a beer or a glass.

When I attend Council or Exec or a Commitee which is not that often I perhaps see you there for the first section. You have plenty of other things to do as you note. But there are clearly less reporters and snappers being expected to do more.

But banter and intrigue - that would be reported in the olden days in the MEN and probably by Ted in the ELA for Tower Hamlets and which many would find very interesting - is simply not being reported.

There is not really a Full Council Report at all. The opposition always make arses of themselves in questions. They don't generally get reported. Never mind committee reports. Never mind non-libellous gossip. There's plenty.

As you know what's in the committee papers - agendas and minutes - is a tiny % of what actually occurs in these smoke free rooms.

The Press Release journalism is mostly in the local free papers that GMG own. Though I did notice one from George Osborne a couple of weeks ago saying we'd all be £50 a week worse off, increasing by £50 a week each year for the next five years, under Labour tax plans. Absolute tosh.

That was clearly a press release with no critical thought attached to its use.

There are some good efforts in the MEN - though Confidential were right about that Cocaine story not backing the lurid headlines and standfirsts weren't they? And I do think the point about the near monopoly is important.

Thanks again for engaging with this debate.

Best w
Chris P

Anonymous said...

Some fair points; a number of these are things I would have blogged on had I been running a blog at the time.

As you know I reported on the suspension but a follow-up should have been in order. That was a very good story and clearly of wide enough significance and interest for a general readership.

"I believe documents could have been produced to back up the details of the story..." Well, if so, people need to give me the documents. Or you are going to get a dull (but accurate) story.

I'm always there for exec and full council - at least the bits that are likely to prove interesting. I also blog highlights from these, including banter/embarrassment etc. It's true I get to fewer scrutiny committee meetings these days, unless there's something I (or another) need to cover. My remit is, however, much wider than Manchester city council. It always has been, really. It is a difficult balancing act.

And finally... With some notable exceptions, the accusation of reliance on press release politics is also one you can level at politicians of all stripes. I may be short of time, but I will always find time to talk about a decent story. Or just to gossip, come to that.

All the best,