Monday, 30 November 2009


George Orwell would be delighted to hear this. MPs on a Commons committee have criticised politicians and civil servants for their poor usage of English. It often makes as much sense as the picture [right]. They said much language in reports was misleading, vague, euphemistic and full of jargon. It’s exactly the kind of thing Orwell criticises in his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ and that was written over 60 years ago. He said: “If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.”

I’m fed up of reading jargon too. I come across lots of it as part of my degree course, because I’m often attending council meetings and court cases - as well as reading the official reports before and after. It’s no surprise that many people feel disillusioned with politics as it is often simply inaccessible to those who do not understand words and phrases such as: “rollouts, step changes, public domains, fit for purposes, stakeholder engagements, across the pieces, win-wins, level playing fields and going forwards”. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

Let’s take an example. A recent 'Recession to Recovery' report on the Sheffield City Council Cabinet website said: "Cabinet is asked [with] regard having been had to the City Strategy, and to the Secretary of State’s issued guidance on the use of the well-being powers, to agree that, if successfully implemented, the various measures proposed in this report would be likely to promote to some extent at least the economic well-being of Sheffield in general and in particular those persons resident in the city who are directly or indirectly assisted by these measures.”

Say again? I’ll have a go myself. How about: "Cabinet should consult the City Strategy and Secretary of State, then use this report to benefit Sheffield's economy and residents.” If you can do better, please have a go. I am no angel in avoiding jargon, but I certainly try to. I’m pleased the committee have brought this issue up, and hopefully some politicians can be taught how to write in a style that does not need to be decoded.

* * *

I know two people who work on the Worksop Guardian and their work is about to become a lot more expensive to read on the internet. Owner Johnston Press has announced it’s going ahead with plans for an online paywall and trying to generate serious income from their website.

This is something of paramount importance in media circles at the moment, and we await to see how Rupert Murdoch implements the idea at The Sunday Times shortly. The Nottinghamshire paper will be one of six to charge £5 for a three-month subscription, along with the Ripley & Heanor News (Derbyshire), Whitby Gazette (Yorkshire), Carrick Gazette (Ayrshire) Southern Reporter (Selkirk), and Northumberland Gazette.

There are many questions that should be answered for Johnston during this experiment. Will people pay the money? Will it improve advertising? Will it affect printed circulation? Will it be rolled out nationally? Will it create more jobs? So many things to find out. The concept of local papers having niche content is certainly something that will help them. I’ve always thought specialist paper websites like Media Guardian and the Racing Post are much better suited to online payment, as they hold specific information which you often cannot find anywhere else.

It is the same with local news and I admire them for having a go and seeing what happens. I don’t like to say it, but the future of local news could depend on how this goes. I really hope it works. Maybe it’s time to buy some Johnston Press shares?

* * *

Living 300 miles away in Essex usually means I don’t get much of a chance to see Newcastle United play at home. Despite being a loyal fan of the Toon Army for over a decade, I haven’t seen them at St James’ Park (or should that be the @ St James’ Park Stadium?) for almost five years. Over that time I’ve probably watched over 150 matches involving Southend (my other team) and the Toon Army away from home.

But living 130 miles away in Sheffield makes it a little bit easier and I made the trip to Tyneside on Saturday to see a comfortable 3-0 win against Swansea City. It was the 24th football match I’ve seen this season and definitely the best atmosphere of any so far. Well, a Barnet v Southend friendly on a Tuesday night really doesn’t compare.

The wonderful thing about Newcastle is that everyone in the city is so passionate about football. As soon as I got off the train with a friend at 1pm I could feel the excitement in the air as fans got ready for the match. It helps that the Magpies are top of the league at the moment, but the wonderful supporters in the north-east have always been one of my favourite elements of following Newcastle.

They absolutely love their football, and the difference in the city’s feeling between the return of Kevin Keegan and relegation just shows what it means to them. I might have lived most of my life in Essex, but Newcastle is such a special place to me. I think it’s because it’s tucked up in the corner of England and has its own unique culture. And you can’t beat an obese Geordie with his top off in the pouring rain. Magic.

Monday, 23 November 2009


I interviewed Nick Clegg last month and he seems a very pleasant chap. One of the more genuine politicians out there, you might say. I was mildly surprised to read today that there is a chance he could form a Lib Dem-Tory coalition at the next election. His party could help Labour or the Conservative Party to get over the finish line if neither gets enough seats to form a government, and latest polls suggest it’s getting closer between the two main parties. I feel the idea of Clegg helping David Cameron would not go down too well with some of Clegg’s party’s activists. The Lib Dems are very strong in Sheffield, currently holding the city council, and have a much bigger presence on campus than any other right-wing group. I cannot imagine most of them would be immensely pleased if Dave and Nick lead our country together.

The election battlefield is starting to intensify at the moment and it’s getting exciting. Cameron and Gordon Brown were both criticised by the Dean of Westminster Abbey for trying to compete for photo opportunities at a Remembrance Day service and have since apologised. Labour are stepping up their high-speed rail proposals with a timetable, costs and precise route due to be released before the next election. The Tories have said they need an “emergency budget” within 50 days of being elected into power. But whilst all this is going on, Clegg actually has a vital role to play, as he could determine who gets into power. The Lib Dems will have the choice of who to form a coalition with, and we could see the bizarre situation of having a left-wing party combining with a right-wing party in government. I can’t wait for Prime Minister’s Questions...
PICTURE: The Times

* * *

I think a full investigation into the expenses of judges and magistrates could prove to be very interesting. The Independent revealed some of the first details today, and there must be more to come. The public outcry following the Telegraph’s MPs’ expenses files was understandable as MPs are public figures who are well-known in their local communities. However far less people come into contact with judges - it’s mainly only those working in the legal profession, those who come in front of them in court and journalists. If I asked you to name five judges in the country, I bet most of you couldn’t. But almost all of you would know the names of five MPs at least.

The wigs worn by judges are symbolic of the fact that there is still a big barrier between the legal profession and the general public. I think the justice system in this country is very good - I’ve observed many court cases as a journalist already and have never seen an unfair trial, in my eyes. But because so few people come into contact with judges - and they’re seen by many as people with wigs and robes entrenched in an archaic system - as more details come out about their expenses, it could stoke huge public anger. But I’m not suggesting anybody is a crook. Let us wait for the Freedom of Information Act to work its wonders over the next few months.
PICTURE: Judiciary Service

* * *

What an awful decision the officials made yesterday to allow Paul Scharner’s goal for Wigan against Tottenham. It was a blatant handball from the replays I’ve seen. But hold on a minute. Nobody’s talking about that handball because Spurs won 9-1. This is the second-biggest winning margin in the Premier League’s history, eclipsed only by Manchester United 9 Ipswich Town 0 in 1995. Many congratulations to them as well. But it’s interesting how a refereeing decision goes relatively unnoticed when it has no impact on the game. I’m obviously drawing parallels here to Monsieur Henry last Wednesday [pictured] when his handball - “the ‘main’ of God” (or) “the hand of frog” - put France through to World Cup 2010 at the expense of the Republic of Ireland.

In both cases, a video replay would have proven the mistake and disallowed the goal. This argument has for some time made me in favour of video replays in football. But I was chatting to one of my friends on Saturday, who is a match official up to Conference South level, and he explained why video replays are a bad thing. I have to say that he’s changed my mind on the subject. He argued that if you implement replays at the top level of football, then it suddenly becomes a different game. The rules are the same at every stage of the football pyramid - whether it be Essex Senior League or Football League Championship - but replays will give certain teams in higher leagues an advantage. And the game loses its beautiful platform of everybody playing by the same rules - Chelsea or Concord Rangers. I think the introduction of video-replays would only serve to widen the gap between the top and bottom tiers of football - and for that reason, it’s a bad thing, unless we can work a technology that is affordable at every level. But I would prefer it if referees didn’t make any mistakes. Ideally.
PICTURE: Daily Telegraph

Monday, 16 November 2009


The latest ABC newspaper circulation figures have been released and decreases are slowing up, which is good news. Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday continue to be the only papers showing a year-on-year increase. They are up 20% and 3%, which shows that Jordan is still a British treasure. Or, at least, people just like reading about her latest exploits with that cage-fighter chap. But aside from the Star titles, everything is still falling. Worryingly for Guardian Media Group, The Observer is down 19% and The Guardian down 12%. But elsewhere the Telegraph is doing very well on the subscription front, with over 320,000 copies being sent out, and this is providing a solid funding base on which they can better predict their medium-term income.

I am not subscribing to one paper at the moment as I enjoy reading a different one everyday, but I can see this being a key business model as we come out of the recession and people start to get larger disposable incomes. Meanwhile, the London Evening Standard have had a 469% circulation increase, but of course the paper is now free. I doubt it will have too much impact on the nationals as they are all morning papers, and the Standard continues to set the evening agenda with little competition in print now thelondonpaper and London Lite have disappeared.
PICTURE: Taradel

* * *

The government’s plans to give power to the Financial Services Authority for cancelling any pay deals which reward undue risk-taking are a dangerous idea. Former chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland Sir George Mathewson is right that it interferes with contracts “between willing participants”. Bankers are still about as popular as MPs at the moment - just try being a journalist or traffic warden, I tell them - but that is no excuse for such a draconian measure as this. If this is a sign of things to come in the shake-up of the FSA, then I am concerned.

Everyone needs to take the blame for the recession - consumers, producers, bankers and regulators - and telling banks how to pay their staff is not the best way out of this. If a banker takes a big risk and makes a big profit then he should be rewarded for it. The decisions of stockbrokers can make millions of pounds for corporations quite easily, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with them getting a share of this profit. Banks need to work with the FSA to ensure they don’t come up with any more ideas like this.

* * *

Regular readers of my blog will know that I think the train fares system in this country needs a big shake-up. It’s too expensive and too difficult to find the cheapest ticket. Today, the two main lines going through Sheffield - East Midlands and Crosscountry - announced increases of around 2 per cent. But there was good news on the Southend to London lines - National Express East Anglia and c2c - that fares will be frozen or reduced next year.

This is in contrast to some lines around the country where unregulated fares are increasing by up to 16 per cent. But as Peter Slattery, of the Southend Rail Travellers’ Association, pointed out, we should not be surprised by a price freeze, because inflation has fallen. In fact, a reduction would have been nice. But it’s good to know National Express are avoiding last year’s mistake of putting fares up significantly. Everyone can do with the extra change at the moment.
PICTURE: The London Daily

* * *

The weather can always make for an interesting game of football. Arguably the best moment of the season so far happened at Gigg Lane on Saturday when Danny Nardiello's shot for Bury beat Notts County goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but stuck on the goal-line as it was so wet and muddy. Schmeichel raced back to his line and picked up the ball from the puddle with the grin of a Cheshire cat. The video is well worth a watch on BBC Sport:

It reminded me of when Southend played Barnsley in The FA Cup third-round almost three years ago. The game had started off normally, but by the second-half it was getting ridiculously wet. However as Southend were 1-0 up, all of the home fans wanted the game to carry on. I don’t think Barnsley fans particularly wanted to come back to Essex again for another try either. The ball was splashing about, managers were checking which players had taken their Pool Frog 2 swimming badge and it was very funny indeed. But in the last minute, a free-kick bounced into the Shrimpers area and was handballed into the net by a Tyke. Replay on a Tuesday night in Yorkshire. Oh dear. At least we won the second game 2-0!
PICTURE: Sky Sports

Monday, 9 November 2009


We’ll find out tomorrow what the winners of Friday's £90m Euromillions jackpot are going to do with their money. What on earth would you do with £45m? A couple in South Wales and a group of office workers from Liverpool have got that wonderful decision ahead of them. As has been widely reported in the media, £45m is a similar fortune to that of footballer Michael Owen or DJ Chris Evans - both of whom have worked very hard to achieve that wealth. I would feel a little bit guilty if someone handed me a cheque for £45m after I’d bought a £1 ticket and so many others had lost, but I’m sure I wouldn’t mind that much. ‘If you don’t buy a ticket’, as they say...

So would £45m bring me happiness? I might give £5m to Southend United - they need it more than most, despite thankfully avoiding administration today - and probably £5m to my church. Maybe a nice pad in central London and Ferrari will set me back another £5m. I’m dreaming now, but there’s still £30m left. I might give mum and dad a few quid too! But although I would never have to work again, I don’t think I’d want to sit around all day doing nothing. Journalism and the media is where I want to be - whatever happens. And I don’t even play the lottery.

You often hear stories about lottery winners who want to carry on working, and it’s that sense of career fulfilment and a wish to make the most of life that would keep me going. Angela Kelly, who won £35m in August said: “My win has enabled me to bring a great deal of happiness to my friends and family, which has in turn made me very happy.” She’s probably right. By giving your money to other people - and spending a bit on yourself whilst trying to continue your normal life - you will get the most satisfaction from a lottery win. An interesting thought for the day indeed...

* * *

It’s usually the little things that get blown out of proportion which make the headlines in politics. The Sun has recently been a watchdog for the government - even more so since it switched allegiance from Labour to Tory - and today’s revelation that Gordon Brown misspelled the name of a soldier killed in Afghanistan is a good story for the paper. Jamie Janes [pictured, MOD] - not ‘James’ as the PM referred to him both in Parliament last month and in the letter to his mother - was killed in October. His mother, Jacqui, claims the letter was a ‘hastily scrawled insult’, which doesn’t consider that the PM’s eyesight is poor and he writes with a black felt-tip pen to help him see. But he should not be making spelling mistakes - especially on the lad’s name.

The mother has said it was "disrespectful" and an "insult" to her son, but as Business Secretary Lord Mandelson pointed out today, it’s ridiculous to suggest Mr Brown intended to show any disrespect to the boy or his family. It was simply a mistake and I agree with Lord Mandelson. The PM has lots of important things to do with his time, and whilst it’s good that he writes to bereaved families, he does have a country to run too. This should not be blown out of proportion - yes, a soldier has died, and everyone is grateful for the sacrifice he has made for us, but Mr Brown made a few spelling mistakes and suddenly there seems to be a witch-hunt against him. The BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, put it perfectly: “The reason this is a story is because of the widespread sense of doubt about the continued value of British forces fighting and dying in Afghanistan.” It’s nothing to do with Gordon Brown’s spelling and handwriting at all.

* * *

On the subject of war remembrance, I was at Hillsborough on Saturday to watch Sheffield Wednesday v Queens Park Rangers, where a one-minute silence was immaculately observed. It’s quite surreal to be high-up in such a massive stadium when everything falls silent [see Anfield, pictured]. This is why I think we should have silences for all remembrance - whether it be for a former player or club director, or anyone else significant. I have a bit of an issue with ‘a minute’s applause’ because I don’t think it’s as powerful as silence.

Football grounds are noisy places during games at the quietest of times, so it’s much more poignant to absorb a lack of noise before a game. The recent Bobby Robson tributes were comprised of a minute’s applause - and some fans even chanted ‘There’s only one Bobby Robson’. Whilst this was obviously not meant to be disrespectful to the legendary man, I just feel the recent obsession with applause and chanting for one minute is not the right way to remember people. An observed silence is the best tribute.

* * *

What on earth is Nottingham Forest's safety officer Alan Bexon thinking? His idea is that home and away fans can sit together in the family stand at their home game with Doncaster Rovers on November 28 at the City Ground [pictured]. Mr Bexon said: “We sincerely hope the idea will catch on and lead to us eventually getting back to a situation where there is no need to segregate fans. Football has evolved since the days when hooliganism was at a peak and we believe the initiative could be a step in a very positive direction.”

Now it’s certainly true that football has moved on since the troubled days of the 1970s and 1980s, but putting home and away fans in different areas is surely a no-brainer. I love going to away matches with Southend and Newcastle because you get some great banter - as I mentioned on the blog last week - and it’s what helps make football special. The idea that one day we would never have segregation is unbelievable - not because it will never be safe enough, but because fans value being amongst their own. It’s their community and family - and they don’t always like the neighbours.

Monday, 2 November 2009


I remember waking up one morning last week to the radio, as you do, and finding it rather strange to hear that an expert would claim ecstasy and LSD are less harmful than tobacco or alcohol. I thought common sense would say otherwise. But I never imagined the furore that has come out of the episode, which has seen the chairman and two members of the government’s drug advisory body leave over the last few days. More could follow shortly.

The question now is whether this is another issue of freedom of speech - following the recent mass hysteria around the Trafigura super-injunction - or if Professor David Nutt should have known better than to say such a thing. Home secretary Alan Johnston has clearly stated why Professor Nutt had to go - “not for his views” but “because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy”. This is an interesting concept. Should the government hire somebody to advise but then fire them when they question their policy?

Let’s look at Sir Alan Sugar. If he was to state that the government should think again on some of their employment and training policies, I doubt he would suddenly be kicked out as their business adviser. It’s important that people with opinions are allowed space to give those opinions, as freedom of speech is a staple part of our society. If the government don’t like those opinions, then they should sit down with advisers to find out more about why they think such things. The answer is most certainly not just to get rid of them, even if they do disagree with government policy.

* * *

I love radio. I wake up and work to Classic FM, I listen to BBC 1Xtra, BBC Radio One and Kiss 100 when I’m out and about, I tune into BBC Radio Five Live or BBC Essex for football commentary and I download a variety of podcasts from BBC Radio Four. Radio is such a fantastic addition to daily life as it’s entertaining and it's the only media where you can do something else whilst consuming it. Newspapers, magazines, television and websites require your time but radio doesn’t.

I’m a big champion of DAB Digital Radio, and have watched its development (or lack of) with great interest over the last few years. I own a personal and portable DAB radio - which cost around £150 combined around 3/4 years ago - and they were superb investments. It means I can listen to London stations in Sheffield, access extra BBC content not available on analogue and get fantastic music quality down my eardrums. I rarely look at the scrolling text function, but have occasionally used it for song titles. But, similar to when you go back to analogue TV after trying Sky HD, there is a huge difference in output.

The concern now is that although millions of people are still tuning into radio, last week’s Rajar figures suggest only 21 per cent of us use digital - less than a third of the 66 per cent who listen to AM or FM. I still think the major problem with DAB is that it is not yet widespread in cars - a location where much radio listening takes place. Additionally, the signal is pretty poor in some areas - for example, I never use my DAB radio on the train because the signal is always going in and out, and it’s not worth the hassle. So that’s two things for Ofcom to address - getting it into cars and increasing coverage. Oh, and while you’re at it, why can I only get two bars of mobile phone signal in my room in Sheffield but perfect DAB? I suppose both would just be greedy.

* * *

When is a chant not allowed in a football ground? Alex Ferguson is appealing to Manchester United fans in an open letter for them to stop singing “sit down you p*****phile” to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. A few weeks ago we had the latter say Birmingham City fans who chanted “There’s only one Martin Taylor” (in reference to the defender who broke the leg and ankle of Arsenal’s Eduardo) were “stupid”. So where do you draw the line? I go to many football matches every season - it’ll be 20 already for 2009/2010 after Sheffield United v Newcastle United this evening - and often get involved in chants against the opposition or their fans.

I think it’s part and parcel of the game that you’re going to get some friendly abuse between fans. It's in the nature of football, from my experience. Whether it’s fans waving £20 notes at Southend, singing “you’re not famous anymore” to Newcastle or “where’s your Beattie gone?” to Sheffield United - you’ve got expect a bit of banter. But calling someone a “p*****phile” without any evidence or laughing about a player whose ankle fell out of their leg a year ago isn’t so funny. I’ve been in crowds before where I haven’t joined in with one of two chants as they’ve been a bit near the mark. But the majority of it is all right. I just hope that Manchester United can set down a precedent here that the majority of chanting is OK - but a small percentage is most certainly not.

P.S. By the way, Sheffield United v Newcastle United tonight will be the first time I’ve ever see two of the teams I support playing each other. However, I will be in the away end as I’m a bigger fan of the Magpies!