Desmond buys Channel Five – time to expand Tabloid Watch?

With the news this weekend that Richard Desmond has bought Channel Five, perhaps the time has come to expand Tabloid Watch to include TV as well as some of the iffier stories in UK newspapers.

For those who haven’t already discovered it, Tabloid Watch is a fantastic blog exposing stories in “tabloid” newspapers which are inaccurate or just plain made up. I put tabloid in quotes as many of the entries are about the Daily Mail or (Desmond’s) Daily Express, and even the Daily Telegraph, as well as more traditional red tops.

Recent stories exposed as incorrect include reports that the Red Arrows have been banned over health and safety fears (they haven’t), that the EU will ban selling eggs by the dozen (they won’t) and endless stories about Muslims and immigrants.

It’s also worth pointing out, as Private Eye does regularly, that despite the high and mighty opinions taken by the Daily Express, Richard Desmond owns a string of pornographic television stations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it might be seen as rather hypocritical.

And finally, on the subject of tabloids, if you haven’t already seen The Daily Mail Song by Dan and Dan, go and have a watch. It’s one of the best comedy songs I’ve heard in ages, and I’ve even taken the time to transcribe the lyrics, a copy of which now lives in my guitar case. “It’s absolutely true because I read it in the Daily Mail…”

Sky News presents live budget coverage from… Hebden Bridge!

Lib Dem Hilary Myers

Today’s live coverage of the budget on Sky News came from… Hebden Bridge! It was well worth watching, and not just to hear the Labour candidate Steph Booth describe herself as Cherie’s “wicked stepmother”. The coverage centred on the fact that Calder Valley is a swing constituency. The reporter interviewed local business owners, residents, financial experts, and made a lot of poor jokes about the only floating voters around being ducks.

Of course they also interviewed the three main PPCs. Lib Dem Hilary Myers came across very well, pointing out that the budget would do little to help close the gap between rich and poor, which has widened under the Labour government. She was also disappointed that there were no plans to help the environment, such as those proposed by the Lib Dems to promote green jobs.

Steph Booth
Labour's Steph Booth

How about the others? Craig Whittaker rambled on about helping businesses while completely ignoring the general public. Steph Booth was constantly ribbed for being Cherie’s stepmother, at one point joking that she was the “wicked stepmother”. Perhaps she reads Lib Dem John Beacroft-Mitchell’s blog? Another local character putting in an appearance was David Fletcher, owner of Innovation, and the man behind the controversial Garden Street development, which is currently on ice having been refused planning permission. He didn’t seem very impressed either.

In the end, though, I think it was the presenter that missed the point, constantly asking whether the Tories will take this seat off Labour. Well, of course they will. It’s what else happens that will be interesting. From figures available on Wikipedia, the number of votes for both Labour and the Conservatives has steadily decreased since 1997. Labour now have no borough councillors anywhere in the constituency. Is it time for them to drop into third place?

Electronic patient records – are we getting the whole story?

Letter written to the Hebden Bridge times today, following an article they published, which looks like it was heavily based on a government press release.

In response to the article “New records will help patient care” published on 25 February, I am writing to express serious concerns that myself and others have about the new system of storing medical details on a central government computer system.

Currently medical records are stored by each GP practice and can only be accessed by staff belonging to that practice. The new system changes this so that certain information is held on a central system and can be accessed from anywhere. The placing of information onto this new system is being done with “implied consent” which means if people do nothing your information will go on. However, it is possible to opt out.

The system will initially be storing details of allergies and prescriptions. However, in the future other information may be added such as blood test results, or letters from specialists.

A British Medical Association press release dated 1 March 2010, entitled “Patients are not being adequately informed about electronic patient records”, protests that the new system is being rolled out too quickly without sufficient consultation with patients.

The government has an extremely poor record on storing data and has lost discs and memory sticks containing confidential data on a regular basis. Will the system even be secure? The equivalent system in Scotland has already been broken into, and the medical records of Gordon Brown (amongst others) were hacked.

Of course, certain people will want to have their records on the system. For example, anyone with an ongoing medical condition or serious allergies should speak to their GP before considering opting out.

However, if you opt out now, you can opt in again at a later date. It is much harder to get off the computer system once you’re on it.

This new system moves control of my information from medical professionals to the state. It will be open to hundreds of thousands of people, not just doctors. I will be opting out of the system to protect my data, and I would urge people to make sure they have a full picture of what will happen before making their own decision. Opt out forms are available from www.nhscarerecords.nhs.uk.

Save 6 Music – by listening to it

The BBC Trust today admitted that the stories leaked last week – that 6 Music and Asian Network would be recommended for closure – were true.

BBC 6 Music is the only radio station I’ve encountered that is focused solely on good (non-classical) music, with a particular emphasis on up-and-coming singers and groups. The entire station is essentially a continuation of the work done for many years by the late great John Peel.

The DJs are extremely knowledgable about the music played, and regularly have bands into the studio to perform live and talk about the music, continuing a tradition that goes back to the early 60s when the Beatles (amongst others) would come in to perform on the light programme. There is no time for the tedious light-hearted “banter” engaged in by the likes of Jonathan Ross or Terry Wogan on Radio 2.

My favourite show, and the reason I have a DAB aerial stuck to the front of my house, is Marc Riley’s weekday evening show. Not only does he play great music, but he has a fantastically subtle dry sense of humour, not unlike that of Eddie Mair. And he has the best jingles. I also enjoy Lauren Laverne, Craig Charles’ Funk ‘n’ Soul show (yes, that Craig Charles!), and Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour (when it’s on).

A quick look through my iTunes ‘purchased music’ list reveals that I’ve bought music from Voluntary Butler Scheme, King Creosote, The Loves, The Poems, Pete and The Pirates, The Wave Pictures, Half Man Half Biscuit, XX Teens, Vetiver, Wild Billy Childish and Beans on Toast – all as a result of hearing them on 6 Music. I’ve also seen several of these groups live. Most of these are new groups who get vital exposure on 6 Music. Radio 1, Radio 2 and the commercial stations simply won’t take the risk of playing anything other than safe music designed to appeal to a middle-of-the-road audience and advertisers.

Lib Dem spokesperson Don Foster has said that 6 Music and the Asian Network are being used as sacrificial lambs. He’s absolutely right – if cost savings need to be made, there are plenty of other places that they could look. I would suggest that taking a long hard look at TV channels BBC3 and BBC4 would be a good start.

So what can we do to help save 6 Music? Well, of course, comment on the BBC Trust’s consultation. But most of all, listen to the station, and if you like it, tell your friends. It’s been very poorly advertised up till now, and hopefully the listener figures will take a big jump as a result of this week’s publicity. You can listen on Freeview (TV), DAB (radio) or online. Anyone listening live online will be counted by the BBC’s servers, so why not listen while browsing, or check out some old shows on iPlayer.

Hopefully together we can persuade the BBC to reverse this decision.

Edit 3 March 2010: Join the Facebook campaign to save 6 Music. Also don’t forget to complete the BBC Trust’s consultation. Tell them what you think!

Youth in Hebden Bridge – not all bad news!

The young people of Hebden Bridge have not had the best of press recently. This week, The Times published an article alleging (without statistics) that the town has one of the highest suicide rates in England. This follows a previous article in the Independent on Sunday, and a general perception amongst certain sections of the population that youngsters in the town spend most of their evenings drinking and taking drugs, leading to dependency, social meltdown, and eventually death.

Whilst there certainly are young people drinking and taking drugs in Hebden, in my experience it’s not much worse than anywhere else. The smell of grass on the town’s streets – and I don’t mean the freshly mown variety – is no worse than in suburban Cheshire where I lived before moving here.

However, there is a bit of a problem with things to do for under-18s. There is very little provision in terms of live music, as the local live music club (Trades Club) has a policy of not hosting performances by young rock bands or DJs, and not allowing under 18s to Friday or Saturday night gigs. There is not really anywhere for young people to go with lighting and shelter. There is a youth club one night a week but that’s not for everybody. We do have an excellent cinema but on the surface of things that’s about it.

It’s important to say that the drugs issue is not being ignored, with Calderdale MBC working together with other organisations like Lifeline Calderdale / Step 2 to help address these issues.

Back to young people, though. Just before I was elected 18 months ago, the Town Council set up a Young People’s Working Party. One of the campaigning Focus leaflets for my election (see pic) focused on the issue of youth provision and I was pleased that Hebden Royd were doing something about it. Unfortunately that incarnation of the working party didn’t really get anywhere. However, in late 2009, things started moving again. The indomitable Lesley Jones resurrected the working party and we held a small meeting with Calderdale MBC Youth Workers and a few other organisations providing young people’s services.

One of the ideas that was raised was that of auditing youth provision in Hebden Royd, and getting everyone together for a big youth day on Calder Holmes Park later in the year. The second meeting was held this week, and I was expecting the same small bunch of people. I was surprised and extremely pleased when the committee room filled up… and people kept arriving. People were literally sharing chairs and sitting on other items of furniture. Not only were there representatives of loads of local organisations, as well as Hebden Royd Town Councillors and Calderdale MBC Youth Workers, but around a dozen young people as well. I wish I’d had my camera to take a photo for the press release!

Lesley somehow managed to keep the meeting on track and we heard from the young folk there as well as the adults. They raised issues like a lack of access to gigs and sports, as well as a general lack of things to do and places to hang out. A separate steering committee – led by the young people – has been set up to plan the event in Calder Holmes Park, and will invite anyone and everyone working with young people in the area, from skateboarders to the woodcraft folk, to be a part of it. The main working party will continue to review and hopefully move forward other youth provision.

One of the groups represented at the meeting was Project X, a social enterprise recently formed to work with young people in the Upper Calder Valley. On Friday, they held a fund-raising gig at the Trades Club (no under 18s allowed!) featuring local North-African band Maghribibeat. I went along and had a great time. The main band were good but they were followed, unexpectedly, by Recorded Filth, a group of local youngsters who were much more interesting. Their performance ranged from performance poetry through rap (in both English and French) to R’n’B/soul, including a stunning version of Bring It On Home to Me. And where else but Hebden Bridge would a group encore with a comic rap about Necrophilia?!

It was a great night, and goes to show that local youngsters do much more than just hang round on street corners smoking and drinking. I am hopeful that, with the involvement of local young people, Hebden Royd Town Council can help improve youth provision in the area and hopefully prevent future generations from going off the rails.

Edit 16 February 2010: Anthony Rae has dug out some official suicide statistics for the area which do not support the sensationalist headline in The Times, although it must be stressed that the figures are so low that drawing any kind of serious conclusion is impossible. Also, they presumably don’t include any deaths due to accidental drug or alcohol overdoses.

Why start this blog?

I moved to Hebden Bridge exactly two years ago today. When I moved, I would never have predicted that I’d be elected to the Town Council in less than a year, become chair of the local branch of Liberal Democrats, and campaign organiser for our Parliamentary candidate.

One of the things that frustrates me most about the Town Council is how little the community know and appreciate about what we do. All the councillors are volunteers, and (apart from the mayor) receive no allowances. Most of us give up lots of evenings to attend meetings and events, occasionally at our own expense. The media don’t seem interested – the local newspaper print our press releases more or less verbatim, and the local news website report what we do occasionally, but I have never seen a journalist at any of our meetings, not even the budget meeting where we decide how much council tax to collect from residents. Our annual  turnover is around a quarter of a million pounds, hardly small change.

I have done my best to keep in touch with my own ward through Focus leaflets (which I’ve paid for), but they are expensive, slow to deliver, and only cover a small part of the council area. I’m hoping this blog will provide more information on what we do on a vaguely regular basis to whoever is interested. I’ll also comment on national issues that catch my eye, or that I have some involvement with.

Assuming that I follow my plan to publish articles once a week or so, and don’t just give up in boredom, I will begin to publicise the blog in early 2010. Readers’ comments are welcome!