29 July 2016

Crossed points - how railway companies are still taking passengers for a ride


Railway companies are not moving fast enough to deliver fairer ticketing


When planning rail journeys, I've had to spent longer than should be necessary through having to check a few rail websites to ensure I get the most suitable ticket. It's frustrating that I can't be confident enough to just enter my details and buy.

You can't be sure that you are getting all the train and ticket price information you need from even the authoritative websites, such as the National Rail Enquiries website (run by the Association of Train Operating Companies - ATOC), or at the train operating companies own individual websites as well as on the websites of third parties. Government can get energy companies to now offer understandable and complete price information; why can't similar happen with rail?

Hidden Trains

Rail websites - including NRE and the train operating companies' own sites - don't list some trains. Read the exchange (from the bottom) that I had on Twitter last month with NRE about this problem:


This week, The Times has run a series of articles reporting about this 'hidden trains' flaw, as well as about other problems such as how rail companies won't tell you how you can save money by splitting tickets. That's when you buy a ticket, say from London to Coventry and from Coventry to Manchester, that might be cheaper than a ticket from London to Manchester. You can use these split tickets on the same train, as long as it stops in Coventry and with no need to change at that intermediate station.

In response to this negative coverage, the rail industry appears to have realised it needs to make some conciliatory noises. But are they moving their position as much as they are suggesting? 

Airline style ticketing  

In today's Times, there's a further article about rail fares and which has a misleading comment that is attributed to the Rail Delivery Group - RDG (a rail trade body - Network Rail and the train and freight operating companies). It's announcing as new - and with a fanfare - something that has been long established: Airline style ticketing.

This pick 'n' mix style ticketing, that is proclaimed in the article, has been here for a long time. Look at this example from the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) website, for a trip from London to Manchester and back, today, with outward travel during peak time and return travel off-peak.


You can buy the Anytime return for £322 but it's cheaper to 'pick 'n' mix & buy an Anytime single (£166) out & an Off-peak single for the return (£41.20) for a total of £207.20. But it's no big deal - most people know that's what you do; buy two differently priced singles rather than buy a peak return ticket if you are only travelling during the peak period in one direction. So this is hardly the "better and more transparent" deal that the RDG claim.

(I wonder whether Airline style pricing - dynamic pricing where prices constantly change to reflect demand - may ever be widely used for rail in the UK?)

Unpublicised tickets
 
I was pleased to see the RDG stating in today's article that "Passengers would be given the option of slower, cheaper trains". But will all the 'hidden' trains be publicised? That's the issue covered in the tweets above but let me give more detail:

Look at these screenshots from NRE and London Midland websites for travel this morning from London Euston to Perry Barr. 

Note how the 0749 London Midland train is not listed by NRE. It's a much slower journey but it has only the same single change (at Birmingham New Street station) as the faster journeys that include Virgin Trains (London to Birmingham). But this alternative by London Midland only is £36 cheaper. 


Unnecessary delay?
 

The RDG also say today that "most of the changes it was suggesting required government approval." Really? What's to stop NRE listing the hidden trains on their website straightaway?

6 March 2012

Daggers - on the pitch and on the terraces

Dagenham and Redbridge FC 1 – Bradford City FC 0

Saturday 3 March 2012

Travelling through Dagenham it's no longer possible to orientate by the prominent pubs that used to punctuate the repeating pattern of uniform housing.

The pubs are gone. Now it's only passing the shops stuck to the stations that gives you a sense of movement. 

And going down road after road of off-white and pebble-dash ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ you can't imagine you're on your way to a football club that's only twenty years old.

When you get there, nothing about the place gives you any impression of modernity. Dagenham and Redbridge FC play in a former factory football club site that has been used as such since 1917. Backing onto an industrial estate, the ground is also next to some of that flat, scrag-end land that passes for open space around here. I bought the programme complete with an ad for a firm of pawnbrokers with photos of the World War One medals that they'd be happy to take off your hands.

I went to the game because I thought it might my last chance to watch the club that cannily bears the name of the borough where I live whilst Dagenham and Redbridge are still one of the ninety-two.

It was good to be back in a ground that you can walk around, at least along the two terraced sides. The site, and the walk around, reminded me of Millwall’s Old Den. Both tattered grounds were situated alongside the scruffier end of the motor trade.

At the Daggers' ground, Don Autos and Boston Garage Equipment both have ads. Diamond Cars, a minicab firm, sponsored this match. The programme had a picture of bloke, with a car hood up, mending the car engine. The auto repair place, next to the stadium, had vehicles out front with sprayed on notes like ‘airbag deployed’ or ‘boot will not open’.

A benefit of the anaemic history of the Daggers means that it's unlikely that there will be any similar ‘upgrading’ to their stadium as happened to the Lions. Millwall’s New Den is designed for everything save any way of retaining atmosphere. Dagenham and Redbridge FC's Victoria Road oozes Seventies football. 

If not motors, then the building trade is the other theme of Victoria Road. The ground has a ‘Traditional Builders Stand’ as well as ads for roofers and for a college course that teaches how to hang a door. Daggers aren’t going to attract too many Arsenal or even West Ham fans squeezed by ticket prices.

The overwhelmingly good-natured crowd included many children, and their mums and dads, who were attending as part of a cheap entry promotion - a total of 3,041 including 345 in the Bradford end. These numbers were double that of their at home five-nil humiliation by Cheltenham a fortnight previously. It was a bright, spring-like day. 

Daggers bore the name of West and Coe, undertakers, on their shirts. A hospice was the match’s charity of the day. With just one season in League One, and their recent bumping along the bottom of League Two, the club must be facing the possibility of being despatched to non-League after just five years. But with Dagenham winning up North against tough Morecambe in the week, would today see a further resurrection and movement from being second bottom in the league? 

Bradford City were all in black as befits their recent history. It is one hundred and one years since Bradford won their only honour, the FA Cup. It is eleven years since they were in the Premiership. Now, as the lowest ranked of all ex Premier sides, they may well be the first of their former peers to go down to the Conference.

First half

The game stopped just when it started because of a foul by Bradford City, who saw their Matt Fry booked. But City started well; workhorse Kyel Reid was knocking in cross and after cross from the left-wing. He was nearly rewarded after ten minutes where, with the Daggers keeper beaten, only a goal line kick away by Jon Nurse stopped City from opening the scoring. Later Reid demonstrated a feisty overhead kick to stop the conceding of a throw-in.
 
And then, five minutes before half-time, Reid, a graduate of the West Ham Academy (so maybe not too far from home) seemed more influenced by his now Northern base and momentarily dropped the Association code and delivered an excellent rugby league conversion over the crossbar.

An unwelcome interval

The half-time interval featured ‘Sign Up Against Racism Day’ with a phalanx of dignitaries posing mid-pitch with their pens. They included the Chief Executive of the local council, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (who have the naming rights for the ground) as well as a Tory prospective parliamentary candidate (for the local constituency that was maybe only won by Labour last time because one in nine voters cast their ballot for the BNP) and the Head of Public Affairs at Canary Wharf.

The latter must have felt that he had never travelled a longer ten miles than that between the glistening totem towers of the future of British capitalism and the industrial elephants’ graveyard that is Dagenham, complete with the near carcass of Ford, once Britain’s biggest industrial site. 

He really need not have bothered. Nobody from the crowd that I could see paid any attention as they took part in this signing ritual. The event was not too far distant from the actions of prim Edwardian matrons from the Temperance movement coming to the East End to lecture locals about the evils of the demon drink.

It's wrong to abuse the patience of the crowd to deliver what are now hegemonic views on race, or climate change, or whatever. Just because there's a captive crowd of a few thousand doesn’t mean that they're there as your audience. 

Not content with this half-time proselytising, the Daggers programme also carried a council ad suggesting people should ‘Celebrate St George’s Day’ as if a local authority can spark genuine festivities in such a manner. 

World War Two Britain saw endless lectures about saving waste food for pig swill or bathing in just a couple of inches of water. But something happened by the Sixties that made these patronising lectures, even with often useful messages, a cause of irritation to many. People realised they no longer had to listen and they switched off. It's a cause of regret that football fans today seem resigned to accepting that they can’t just watch a ball be kicked about but also have to be ‘educated’ at the same time.

This top-down approach doesn't work and this official ‘anti-racism’ has some strange outcomes. No presumption of innocence for John Terry; Luis Suarez found ‘guilty’ by a previously unknown court of the land, the Football Association.  

And the news about this match being part of ‘Daggers Against Racism Family Fun Day’ found little echo at the interface of the Dagenham and the Bradford fans on the terrace. I saw the aftermath of the nasty racist abuse of a group of twelve to fourteen year old Asian Bradford fans by Daggers supporters, who were aged in their late teens and early twenties. I saw the line of stewards and cops separating the few bigots and some Bradford fans and then the continuing invective being jabbed by a few Dagenham and Redbridge supporters over the thin line of security guard yellow and police black.

It's interesting how Bradford City have many Asian fans, albeit from a city that maybe has a majority Asian population. That's in stark contrast to West Ham, located in the heart of overwhelmingly Asian Newham, which has a fan base that's very nearly all Essex whites. It's this multi-racial Bradford support, a grassroots approach, that will really ‘kick racism out of football’ a lot better than the organisation with the same name ever will. 

Dagenham and Redbridge FC made a strong statement condemning the racism after the match. But the Daggers’ fans, at the time of writing, have made near 200 posts on a forum that are mostly expressing disgust at this incident but also suggesting practical ideas about how to oppose such bigotry.

Second half

From late in the first half and for most of the second, Dagenham and Redbridge were dominant.

Bradford’s Deane Smalley, looking all the world from the back like a pause button, with his number 11 on his black shirt, was inexplicably not pushed until the sixtieth minute when he became the first of his side to be substituted.

And then, seventy minutes in, came the only goal. Preceded by a dummy, Daggers' Matthew Saunders hit the free kick straight into the net. The scorer then immediately hobbled off with his left leg in pain and was carried round the pitch in fireman’s lift. With the Dagenham crowd now chanting for the first time, their team immediately got in close again with good cross by Nurse.

And in the last minutes, Daggers’ Brian Woodall was briefly one on one with City’s keeper until his lack of pace gave retreating Bradford defenders time to catch up and so forced the Dagenham player to shot square, directly to the goalkeeper.

One-nil to Dagenham and Redbridge was a fair result for a contest that saw Bradford fail to profit from their early promise in the game. The Yorkshire fans roughly shook the pull-out tunnel entrance cover from above as their team left the pitch.

Clive Power

29 September 2011

Labour Conference sketch

A political party eats itself not when arguing, but when it isn’t fed

Ed Miliband & Justine Thornton, Labour Conference, 2011
With three years or less until it again has chance of power, you would have thought that Labour would be engaged at its present conference in some debate about where it wants to go. And you may also expect that it would be seeking some insight into why it came off the road. 

But watching Labour's Liverpool gathering over the last few days I have the impression that many delegates think they are driving solo - up for their own political X Factor audition, rather than discussing how best to get those Xs against a Labour candidate’s name. 

The conference watchwords have been ‘anecdotes, advice or accomplishments’ - do you want to know what the NHS was like in the 1990s; would you benefit from some personal public health pointers or would you be interested in knowing about the fab school/hospital/charity that the speaker leads? 

So the plan for the event appears to be: you can do politics and discussion elsewhere; at this conference we are going to educate and inform you. 

The theatre of dullness

On Monday, the delegate from Maidstone & the Weald - sixteen-year-old Rory Weal - was one of very few with any vigour. He was rewarded with a paternal hand on the shoulder from Miliband for his speech about how his family has been saved from penury by the welfare state, but without him mentioning his father, a former millionaire property developer. I wish I could lay money on Weal's political future.


At Labour conferences in the past more delegates were like Weal - providing political theatre and never shy about the limelight. And those from the socialist redoubt constituencies, like Islington North, used to provide many fireworks. Yet the present day delegate from that place was quite so underwhelming that my pen expired when trying to record her name. 

Other speakers also made politics-free contributions. During the time spent on the Education and Skills 'debate', Andrew Chubb, an Academy head from East Yorkshire, took the opportunity to deliver his standard speech - a munificent personal testimony about the successes of his school - and which he is doubtless repeating around now to the parents of his next year’s prospective intake. Maybe Labour conference is the place for sales propositions; it might help the connected take their school, or other brand, national.  

Only many delegates should more carefully check the timings of their own pitches, like I expect Chubb would have done several times. Several less polished speakers, who had clearly spent time penning their surgically crafted phrases, ended up just throwing them away. Over their allotted time and flustered they spewed them out, staccato, over an irritated Chair telling them to ‘wind up now’. 

I wonder if many of these speakers were surprised that these signature soundbites that they used were identical to those delivered by others from the conference stage? Maybe these texts were bought on arrival at Lime St Station, in ‘Key Conference Phrases’ Lucky Bags. 

Pfff went Pzazz 

Pzazz this party conference didn't possess. Whether good or bad, Labour leaders have been bereft of any rhetorical flourish since the time of Kinnock. Miliband just hasn’t got it.

Most delegates didn't even aspire to memorability. Despite the well into middle age profile of most of them, many appeared not to have any of the gumption or presence that should have winnowed the ranks of those climbing from council chambers or union branches. They had little historical or other political knowledge outside immediate issues and will borrow, willy-nilly, a useful sounding phrase from a scrapbook of political terms. 

So in the ‘Prosperity and Work’ discussion, any lingering members of the ‘red shirt, red tie, red socks, red underpants’ brigade must have been startled to hear, from Tony Burke of Unite, that what was needed was an “Alternative Economic Strategy”. But no, it wasn't the return of that centre piece of Labour policy from 30 years previously, but just a random phrase that the union man had chanced upon.  

The key speakers 

And the star turns? The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones (looking like a member of the Cambrian branch of the family of the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley MP) spoke like his speech had been written by the ‘Visit Wales’ PR team. 

And whatever original thought had been inputted into his address must then have been overwritten by the software they must use to make sure all the key phrases to go in, and for the requisite number of times, into all the speeches of the leading players. “We can make that future a reality” said Jones, with maybe a hint of embarrassment.  

What are the political problems in Wales? What contribution or changes to Labour party policy is the leading Welsh member suggesting? If the First Minister knew, he wasn't inclined to say. “Thanks very much for that inspirational speech, Carwyn” replied the Conference Chair, without even a smidgen of irony. 

Or Ed Balls? Looking very sharply dressed, he read out what had been given out, and well reported upon, hours before he walked up to the rostrum.

Apart from that it was hard to tell whether Balls was more animated expounding his revisionist views of the tasks of the Labour Party (“Working night and day to make savings and cut bureaucracy”) or puckering up to kiss Harriet Harman after his speech, when she was still far across the stage enroute to greet him. 

And so on to next week’s Conservative party conference. With autumnal foreboding over both the economy and the Euro, as well as the compromises with the Liberal Democrats, can that event possibly be as apolitical as Labour’s

Clive Power

(photo - NCVO via ww.flickr.com/people/ncvophotos. Some rights reserved by NCVO.)

23 August 2011

Out of the range - a Cowboy Noir round-up

Set in Southwest USA, 'Cowboy Noir' cinema shows that smalltown or wide open settings can be as close as crowded cities

Cowboy Noir
Watching Kill Me Again (John Dahl, 1989) once more, I was reminded how much I like a certain group of films.

These films appear to be a genre, but it had escaped me if anyone had identified them as such. I was going to call them 'Cactus Noir' but a little digging meant I found out they have already have a name – Cowboy Noir. 

A Cowboy Noir film may well start with a sap rolling into a small town. When travelling there he will be hitchhiking a ride, driving either a stolen car or one running out of gas, or be ticketless on a train.

After he arrives, one of his first stops will be at a bar. The guy behind the counter will either ignore him, despite him being the first customer of the day, or silently appraise him as a contender for a con he's considering.

The atmosphere in a Cowboy Noir is languid. They would have no need of a thermometer that goes below 75. If the film isn’t based on a Jim Thompson book, it 's from not far away. Actors called Walsh - J.T or M. Emmet are often in supporting roles.

Right from the get-go, the guy knows he should drink up and move on, even if has to tackle the surrounding desert on foot. But he never does, because the femme fatale walks into that bar or his his motel or just bends over in the street, right in front of him, to re-tie a strap on her strapless sandals.

And from early on you know he’s not going to walk away from the forthcoming heist, scam or murder into which he is being ensnared. He won’t walk away, even though it’s clear to all (including him) that it will end with his mugshot in the newspaper that will report his conviction or killing, whilst she gets over the border.

The Cowboy Noir films have some roots in the 40s films where the femme fatale is first seen approaching the frosted glass door of a private eye’s rundown office. But these movies eschew San Francisco or New York for some small town in South West USA.

After Dark, My Sweet (James Foley, 1990) is one of the best. There are several points in the film where you just will Jason Patric’s sap character to move onto to the next town but, a kidnapping and  murder later, it’s clear he's only going to be leaving that town if its cemetery is full and they have to bury him elsewhere.

Cowboy Noir films seem to have the ability to get the best out of actors who you may think should have only ever made it onto the small screen.

Nicolas Cage raises his game considerably in Red Rock West (John Dahl, 1992).
Don Johnson delivers in The Hot Spot (Dennis Hopper, 1990). Johnson here avoids the usual fatal bullet or knife and ‘escapes’ to a life, not with the woman he loves, but alongside the femme fatale who is going to make every moment from then on feel like he is living under the gun.

Kill Me Again (John Dahl, 1989) is perhaps the runt of the herd. Neither Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Val Kilmer nor Michael Madsen can really lift the film although Whalley-Kilmer (all the way from Stockport to sandy deserts) flounces around in Film Noir style dresses. Unusually, the sap (Kilmer's character), gets to keep the money after Whalley-Kilmer’s character has made the usual about turn and taken up again with the thug (Madsen's character) whom the sap saved her from in the first place.

Some films bubbling around the edge of the genre include The Last Seduction (John Dahl, 1994) which has many of the features, but not the location as well as both The Getaway (Roger Donaldson, 1994) and Blood Simple (Joel Coen, 1984) which both have the location but with plots that may be beyond the limits of the genre. Grifters (Stephen Frears, 1990) glitters brightly but in a neighbouring constellation. 

Clive Power

(photo - Philippe Leroyer, http://www.flickr.com/photos/philippeleroyer/3410179696 Some rights reserved by Philippe Leroyer.)

18 August 2011

Harriet Sergeant's Spectator front-cover article “These rioters are Tony Blair's children” is riven with inaccurate statistics and ill-founded claims

When facts are fiction, conclusions drawn from them are cant  

(These rioters are Tony Blair's children - Spectator 13 August 2011)

cross-posted to Liberal Conspiracy


Spectator magazine - child unfriendly
Adding some tinder to the bonfire of ill considered comment about recent events, Sergeant (a fellow of the Centre for Policy Studies [CPS]) uses her article to state her opinion that the riots were “not about poverty or race” and that “unless we understand the causes of this anarchy and the role that government has played, how can we put it right?” 

I think that the dubious ‘facts’ throughout her article mean anyone reading it for an understanding of the riots will be ill-informed as well as ill-equipped by it to 'put anything right'. 

Looking at her claims in detail (in the order that they appear)

1. The source for her claim that “A full 63 per cent of white working class boys, and just over half of black Caribbean boys at the age of 14 have a reading age of seven or below” is presumably what she wrote in her own CPS publication of 2009, ‘WASTED’ [i]

In this, she stated “63% of 14 year old white working class boys have a reading ability of half their age. Over half, 54% of 14 year old black Caribbean boys have a reading age of seven” but also that “White working class boys are most at risk of under-performing with 63 per cent unable to read and write properly at 14 compared to 43 per cent of white girls from a similar background. Black working class boys do not do much better. Just over half of them, 54 per cent, can not read or write properly at 14”. 

Note “have a reading age of seven or below” only appears in the first of the two passages quoted above from ‘WASTED’. 

‘WASTED’ gives the source of the second these claims as a report in the Daily Mail [ii] on 13 August 2007. The Daily Mail article refers to an unnamed Bow Group report but makes no mention of comparison to seven year olds just stating, as in the latter passage in WASTED, that “White working-class boys were found to be most at risk of under-performing, with 63 per cent unable to read and write properly at 14.” 

Indeed elsewhere in the Mail article, it is reported that it is just “one in five (14 year old) boys has a reading ability of a pupil half his age.”  

I have no idea about the veracity or not of the claim in the Spectator article about so many boys having a reading age half their actual age but I note that a report in the (London) Evening Standard [iii] on 13 August 2008 about the last SATS results for 14 year olds (which were a way of measuring literacy and which were abolished for that age in 2008) that states that “More than one in five (of 14 year old) boys - 21 per cent - have a reading age of nine.” 

2. I think Ms Sergeant must have been very unfortunate that the 14 year old boys that she interviewed, and who had dropped out or had been excluded from school’ “only turn(ed) up to school to sell drugs or stolen goods.” It surprises me that they did not ever turn up to do things like meet their siblings there or their friends still attending their school. 

3. Her claim, possibly originally known from late 90s research, that “half of the prison population has a reading age below that of an 11-year-old” has been displaced by a more authoritative statistic from 2008, given by Edward Leigh MP, as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, who reported that “nearly 40 per cent (of those in custody) have a reading age lower than that of a competent 11- year old.”[iv] [v] 

4. Between 2001 and 2009, 12 teachers were ‘struck off’ from teaching for incompetence, not just “suspended”. Being stuck off can be permanent, or for a fixed period.[vi]  

5. Sergeant wrongly states “of the 1.8 million new jobs created over the Labour years, 99 per cent went to immigrants”. Rather the number of those in the workforce who were born abroad was equivalent to 88 per cent of the number of extra workers that there were in 2010, compared with 1997 [vii].  

6. The unemployed get money designated for council tax and other things but I am not aware of anything for “utility payments” as the author appears to be stating. I understand that it is possible that small sums may be taken directly from benefits to pay towards debts owed on utility bills but this isn’t any extra money for the person claiming benefits. [viii]  

7. I wonder how current is her claim that “the catering trade alone has recruited 10,000 workers from outside Europe to work in kitchens or as porters or back of house staff”? Sergeant also uses this statistic in her CPS publication WASTED but I see the same statistic was used in the Daily Telegraph [ix] on 14 February 2005.  

I thought that Labour’s ‘get tough on immigration’ persona, in its latter years in government, had meant the end of some working visas for such workers and so there may well have been a reduction from the reported 10,000 non-European catering workers, but I do not know the current number of such workers (or how European is defined here: EEA +CH + ?)  

8. I would be interested in the source of her statistic that “49 per cent of British parents did not know where their children were in the evenings or with whom. Some 45 per cent of 15 year old boys spent four or more evening a week hanging about ‘with friends’ compared to just 17 per cent in France.”  

Certainly if boys are out so often hanging around, I would have thought they must be doing a lot of revision with their friends during this time because 65.4 per cent of boys obtained Grades A* to C in the GSCEs in 2010 [x] 

9. Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe, not Europe.[xi]  

10. I do not know if “Since 1997, a single mother of two children has seen her benefits increase by a staggering 85 per cent”, as Sergeant writes, but I do know that inflation between 1997 and 2010 was 41 per cent.[xii]


Updates

1. From the discussion about this article at Liberal Conspiracy:

a)  I agree with Damon (5) that lists of facts and figures (as in my article) are dry to read but I also wish that more articles in the independent media were the result of research and referenced the source of their facts and figures. Opinion pieces can be good to read when well-written, but I’m tired of the multitude of blogs that are just venting.

The author of the Spectator article is a regular talking head and is widely published in the conservative media. She is also a fellow of The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS).

The CPS describe themselves as “one of Britain’s leading think tanks” and with “an outstanding record of influencing government policy”. They claim a whole list of measures that they proposed and which the Coalition government have enacted including “Abolition of school quangos”,” Reform of the Children’s Plan” and “Abolition of the Serious Organised Crime Agency” all of which is stated “have their roots in papers published by the CPS.” 

It is such a CPS paper, WASTED, by Sergeant, that forms the basis of some of her incorrect facts in the Spectator article. A paper that also has insufficient sources, like simply “The Daily Mail” of a certain date’. It is alarming if such research really does help determine government policy. 

A few years ago I was impressed with the fact-checking of the Economist, when one of their journalists came back to me checking a couple of figures, amongst a lot of information that I had given for his research for an article. These figures were not quite as robust as others, but also very obscure, and it reflected well on that publication that they discovered this and wanted other sources – they did not run with those figures in the end.

As a subscriber to the Spectator, I will be writing to the editor asking him why they do not appear to fact-check and why I should believe anything they write which make uses of statistics or similar in its analysis or arguments.

Clive Power, 19 August 2011

b) Mr Power writes:

“Sergeant wrongly states “of the 1.8 million new jobs created over the Labour years, 99 per cent went to immigrants”. Rather the number of those in the workforce who were born abroad was equivalent to 88 per cent of the number of extra workers that there were in 2010, compared with 1997 [vii].”

Quickly read, this might suggest that Sergeant had written 99 where she should have written 88. That would be a serious mistake but not a significant one. I assume that the number of those in the workforce who were born abroad includes many who were already in work in 1997?

George Brennan, 21 August 2011

c) Yes, she has converged two figures and also done this inaccurately. The workforce increased by more than two million between 1997 and 2010 and it so happens that 88 per cent of that figure (not 99 per cent) happens to be the number of “non-UK born” workers in Britain in 2010.

As well as getting the percentage incorrect, it’s also completely wrong for her to state that either 99 per cent or 88 per cent of the “jobs created over the Labour years… went to immigrants” because, as George Brennan states,“ the number of those in the workforce who were born abroad includes many who were already in work in 1997”.

Sergeant’s error with the percentage may relate to her saying the workforce increased by 1.8 million jobs (not 2 million) from 1997 to 2010. It could be that the percentage error is “a serious mistake but not a significant one”, as George states, but to write (as she does) that just about all new jobs between 1997 and 2010 were taken by immigrants is both a serious and significant error.

Thinking it through – how likely is it that 99 per cent (or 88 per cent) of workers at Sure Start centres throughout the country in 2010, as an example of new jobs created during the Labour government, came from abroad?

Unusually the Daily Mail gives the relevant figures but again with the same ‘misunderstanding’ (being generous) about the migrant part of the workforce summed up in their provocative and wrong headline “Migrants took 9 out of 10 jobs created under Labour.”

Clive Power, 21 August 2011

2. Further and excellent analysis of the fake “A full 63 per cent of white working class boys, and just over half of black Caribbean boys at the age of 14 have a reading age of seven or below.” 'stat' by PaulB in A made-up statistic.

3. Compare tone of Harriet Sergeant 2011 Spectator article comments about employment with:

"Today's immigrants are not taking jobs from British workers but rather doing jobs that otherwise would stay vacant: between the spring of 2002 and 2006, migrant workers found 740,000 jobs, while the number of jobs taken by British-born workers remained steady." (Leading article, Spectator, 5 April 2008).   



 



[iv] Edward Leigh MP - Committee of Public Accounts: Press Notice: Publication of the Committee's 47th Report, Session 2007-08 http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-archive/committee-of-public-accounts/pacpn081030/ 

[v] Half of the prison population has a reading age below that of an 11-year-old’ is often accredited to ‘The Moser Report’ [A Fresh Start - improving literacy and numeracy] [DfEE 1999, ref: CMBS 1 http://www.lifelonglearning.co.uk/mosergroup/] although that report contains no such claim. 

[vi] “In rare move, GTC orders two-year ban for humanities specialist…Only 11 other teachers have been struck off for incompetence from a workforce of around 500,000 since the GTC was formed in 2001” Times Educational Supplement 16 October, 2009. http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storyCode=6025119

[vii] The Office for National Statistics ’Labour Force Survey’ http://www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/Source.asp?vlnk=358&More=Y as quoted in a written parliamentary answer to Tory MP James Clappison on 12 October 2010 (Hansard: HC Deb, 12 October 2010, c286W) and as reported in the Daily Mail on 29 October 2010 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1325013/Migrants-took-9-10-jobs-created-Labour.html

[viii] My questions to those receiving Job Seekers Allowance and to those receiving benefits paid to those unable to work because of illness or disability.



[xi] From FPA factsheet (http://www.fpa.org.uk/professionals/factsheets/teenagepregnancy) quoting United Nations Statistics Division, ‘Statistics and Indicators on Women and Men, Table 2b- Indicators on Childbearing’, as accessed by FPA on 3 March 2009.

[xii] Bank of England Inflation Calculator http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/inflation/calculator/flash/index.htm

Clive Power

(photo - Clive Power. Some rights reserved, see www.flickr.com/photos/clivepower/128058660)

8 August 2011

Reporting the Tottenham riot - how Twitter won

In its reporting of the Tottenham riot, Twitter, at its best, was faster, more accurate and went places the traditional media didn't 




Tottenham riots reporting




The news reporting of the Tottenham and Wood Green disturbances (6/7 August 2011) shows how digital media can lap its more traditional rivals in its coverage of some fast-evolving news events.

The short pipeline of digital news channels is a key advantage, but the working practices of some digital journalists, as well as the sometimes over elaborate nature of news output in the old media, are also contributing to other contenders - non-news professionals on Twitter, YouTube, social networking sites and other new channels - sometimes winning the race to first deliver stories but also, occasionally, to be the only providers of front-line coverage.

Yet where traditional media is able to adapt to digital, it is likely to be able to use its greater resources to again assert dominance.

Police cars on fire

Reading mid-evening on the BBC News website that two police vehicles had been set on fire in Tottenham, I wanted to find out what was the latest news. But I didn't want to wait an indeterminate time for an update either on that site, or on the BBC or Sky rolling TV news channels. I knew that there was only one medium that would get me live (and recent) reporting, and from many different voices - Twitter. 

Facebook is too scattergun - whose updates would you follow? How many of those would be public? 

YouTube and trawling online for still photos would similarly be hard work and only lead to images and their captions. 

Messaging via BlackBerry etc, or even emails or texts would keep you updated, but usually only if you were in the loop in the first place. This method may be a primary tool of those organising but it appears not to be (yet) used much for reporting, although the ability of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to apparently not reveal the sender of messages, as well as to transmit a message to many receivers, suggests a future as a reporting tool.

News website live feeds, such as 'live blogs', are useful but can be slow to start and whilst the best will report from lots of different sources, including from other news outlets and from independents, they do not have the variety of Twitter. And their editing process, whilst helpful in ensuring little poor content, also eliminates interesting voices and slows the news output process.
  
Choosing output 

Guessing correctly the best hashtag as #tottenham, I found a sea of posts but very few of these were attempting to report. Nearly all the Twitter feed was exclamations - from disgust to exultation and all points in-between. 

And a lot of these comments were based on a perception of what had happened, rather than what the commentator could be sure had occurred. But as the Independent Police Complaint Commission had said, regarding the death of Mark Duggan, that "We do not know the order the shots were fired. We understand the officer was shot first before the male was shot" this confusion was not surprising. 

So many tweets disagreed with the original protest that afternoon in Tottenham - ‘why complain about the shooting of someone who had fired at the police?’ But it now transpires that the bullet in the radio was fired not by Duggan, but by the police.

To make Twitter more useful to me in finding out about events, I needed to dispense with those simply forwarding (with varying degrees of honesty) what had already been reported by others. Also needing to be sifted out, as much as possible, were those fabricating ‘news’ (which could get rapidly retweeted; the frequency of which was often based on its creativity, rather than its credibility). 

Many hares were set running. Some claimed that they had heard that trouble had broken out in various combinations of Peckham, Brixton and Walthamstow and a few, falsely, claimed that they had witnessed this. Some of this fake ‘news’ attempted to gain acceptance though claiming an authoritative source. Some was rewritten, from a purloined original, but with a ‘first hand account’ angle grafted on top.

But Twitter consumes as well as conceives. There is no better rebuttal to a spurious ‘eye-witness’ tweet about disturbances somewhere, than, for a few minutes later, others on Twitter, at the same claimed location, to point out nothing is happening or even to post photos showing calm.

And another of the strengths of Twitter at rebuttal is its ability for its silence to give an opinion about what is being reported. So when the BBC broadcast an interview with somebody who said the night’s trouble had kicked off because a 16 year old girl was attacked by police at the end of the protest outside Tottenham police station, Twitter helped make me sceptical about whether there had been such an incident because I was struck by the absence of conformation of this incident online. There weren't any photos of this event (there were photos of most everything else) and no-one was claiming to be an eye-witness. 

There is a video on YouTube that claims to show this suppsoed incident but you can see little. It has a soundtrack of a woman protesting about an ongoing attack against a girl, but this was clearly taken after night had fallen, long after any event at the end of the protest would have happened.

My surmising from Twitter is that there probably was no such event, or, if it happened, few noticed and so it would not have been a spark. On the BBC, the 'incident' remained with the weight of an unchallenged eyewitness account.

When you dispense with what you see as tweet-chaff, the task is to identify who was worth following of those present in Tottenham. Often through having many followers, and also through many of their tweets being retweeted, those from the traditional media start with the advantage of being more noticeable on Twitter. But newer digital journalists can be prominent as well. 

And once I selected who was worth reading, I followed them until they left and then followed others, with these latter sources often obtained through having been linked to by the original journalists.

Nimble or hidebound

The older media I followed included Guardian reporter @PaulLewis; (“Just seen 20 people sprinting around #woodgreen with hands full of looted goods. Fights breaking out. Teen in stolen minicab.”); @ravisomaiya from the New York Times (NYT) (and whose live online coverage, via that newspaper’s home page, completely eclipsed the near absent online coverage on the BBC News website) and, for a while, @rickin_majithia from the BBC.

Amongst the newer media worth following were @jbardrosenberg (“Definitely further rioting in wood green - loads of shops smashed in and the wondscreen of the bus we were on #tottenham”), @counterfireorg (“Orange light is huge burning barricade to stop police advancing on protesters in #tottenham http://twitpic.com/623p6o”) and @aaronjohnpeters (“Interestingly what I saw wasn't gangs but affinity groups of 3-10 - primarily delineated along race - all with a shared purpose”). 
 
The 140 characters of a tweet can lead to pithy, fact based reporting; (@ravisomaiyaPolice charged through firewall with dogs. #tottenhamriot”), compared to that staple of rolling news coverage - repetitive, filler news. You don't repeat a tweet.

And whilst reading what those reporters had to say, I also listened to the BBC News and Sky News coverage. And I realised how little I would know if I had to rely on just the latter pair.

Both Sky and the BBC had cameras near police lines that needed to zoom, to the maximum of their capabilities, to only barely obtain pictures of running cops and flames several hundred metres away. But many of the reporters using Twitter appeared to be that several hundred metres up the road - at, or near, the front line.

So when Sky said, at a distance, that the trouble is damping down, the online journalists, a lot closer, were tweeting that it appeared to be kicking off again. 

And when Sky reported that a wall of flame was a building on fire, an independent journalist there tweeted that it was a burning barricade. 

This disparity in the news coverage only widened as the night went on. At some point, the BBC news crew was attacked by some youths when the fast moving frontline enveloped them whilst they filmed the nearby smashing of a police car. 

Many plaintive tweets went out rhetorically asking why the media were being attacked. But you can imagine why the rioters objected to being caught on camera. At about the same time, the Sky News camera was similarly put out of action.

So what did the BBC and Sky News do? They just withdrew. They spent the rest of the night simply repeating old footage and interviewing ‘experts’ who were always a very long way from the event. Even those not involved with filming, such as the BBC’s @rickin_majithia left - he tweeted that they had all been ordered ‘back to Base.’

The major media - both broadcast and print (with the exception of the Guardian and the NYT) did not attempt to put journalists on the ground like others were doing - not filming, not maybe even taking photos, but just watching and tweeting. 

So by 0230 several journalists on Twitter were reporting looting in Wood Green (2 km from Tottenham) but this was not being mentioned by either the BBC or Sky, in any of their news formats, when I went to bed at 0400.

And this lack of knowledge of what was occurring diminished the capacity of media, like Sky and the BBC, to report accurately. Earlier in the evening they were broadcasting the police saying that the situation was contained and they had no way of checking this. 

But the digital media knew better with the Guardian’s @PauLewis tweeting then, “If police indeed are saying #tottenhamriot "contained", that is absolutely not true. It is mayhem.

Future news

Occasions like Tottenham and other mass participation and multi-site news events can not be reported just by an immobile broadcast crew. Journalists need to be moving and sometimes unobtrusive.

In some circumstances they may be able to take photos and video. But even when journalists are just tweeting, it is mistaken to think that the major media can still broadcast live, or later print, news that was contradicted online at the time without the major media becoming progressively less credible. 

And independent journalists can make an impact in these circumstances. The longer that older media doesn’t adapt, the bigger that impact could be.    

Clive Power

(photo - Nico Hogg www.flickr.com/people/nicohogg. Some rights reserved by Nico Hogg.)