Saturday, January 30, 2010

I maintain, the double standards are vile

When a crime is a crime and NOT an item for politicking. If only every family-related crime was reported in the same fashion, regardless of the perpetrator's income.

In the last few days I wrote two posts (see here and here) about the neurotic double standards adopted by the British media and politicians in relation to crime. When my remarks were republished (though heavily edited) on Liberal Conspiracy, certain commenters went simply apeshit.

"Pretty fucking poor taste" and "the piece reads as if Claude is sneering at these tragedies" remarked someone. "Moir-esque", quipped someone else. "How low can you go?" was another comment and so on.

I didn't have a chance to reply, so let's take a look.

How the fuck did I "sneer at these tragedies"? How dare you? If there's anything I'm sneering at that's the patronising tone that millions of people under a certain income have to endure each and every single time a crime or a tragedy takes place amongst the least affluent.

I'm raising an eyebrow at the relentless tabloid barrage about the usual roll call of "broken society", "scumbags", "evil social workers" and "Labour bankrolling the feckless". The opinion columns slamming "welfare layabouts" (see here) or calling for the state "to curtail the rights of everyone to have children" (see this or this). The condescending inches of columns spewing out that "[T]he working class of the past had enormous self-respect [because] men, however poor, wore suits and ties" (click here, if you don't believe it).

I'm sneering at the lectures from vulture-like politicians preying about for political pointscoring, like Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith when he dubbed a report from his own Centre for Social Cohesion "timely" because it came out straight after the Baby P scandal. Or when, only last week, David Cameron felt the need to relate the brutal Edlington tortures to "Labour's moral failure".

As for "Moir-esque", the chap who wrote the remark needs to look up the word "analogy" in the dictionary. Because he may as well have compared my post to an hamburger or a Gary Neville own goal.

Moir did a vile, homophobic hatchet job on an innocent dead man. On the converse, I demanded respect for the dead, regardless of their family background. The aim of my post was to express frustration at seeing the most tragic of circumstances used as a fig leaf for class snobbery of the lowest kind- the type of sniping where even a family tragedy or a brutal murder is used to sneer at an entire class of people or to promote social engineering and cuts on the welfare state.

If you can't grasp the humongous double standards from both media and politicians alike, then I feel sorry for you. The evidence is so obvious that it's ridiculous.

The case of Fiona Donnison, the wealthy City woman charged with asphyxiating her children to death, has been reported the way such a chilling case should be treated: like a crime. A cruel, irrational, devastating one, with aggravating factors or mitigating circumstances - but a crime nonetheless and not an item for politicking.

Simply, many wish every family-related crime was reported in the same fashion, regardless of the perpetrator's income.

To wrap it up, I quote the spot-on words of a commenter called Jim.
"Whatever happens [Fiona Donnison]’s lifestyle will never be put under the microscope they way, say, Shannon Mathews’ mother’s life was. The poor on sink estates are never ‘under pressure’ or their life never ‘falls apart’. There is never any mitigation for a ‘home alone’ family that crop up.

We will never see the forensic unpicking of the family life of this woman; we will never read in lurid detail how many lovers she had or any drug use she has indulged in, the motivation for having these kids or any trends established, because when the middle class go postal, nothing could have prevented it. There will be no ‘baby P’ column inches for these children, no vilification of social workers, no rows of photographers encamped outside the doors of this dysfunctional family

Friday, January 29, 2010

Save us all, Iain Duncan Smith

A child murderer who worked in the City had just split from her husband. If only the Tories had been in power to give'em a tax break.

Yesterday it emerged that a former city worker living in a £500,000 home in East Sussex may have killed her own two children aged 2 and 3. They were found locked in the back of her Nissan and the post-mortem said they asphyxiated.

But the main point is this. According to the Daily Mail, Mrs Donnison and her husband had just split up. In fact, "the couple's marriage had been falling apart for a long time", adding extra strains on the woman.

No doubt if Iain Duncan Smith's tax break for married couples had been already in place the two would still be together. Under the Tories' proposals, with children under 3 the Donnisons would have been entitled to a tax allowance. And surely an extra twenty or thirty quid extra a month would have helped them patch their differences and nipped family arguments in the bud.

Like we wrote the other day about a similarly disturbing case, Fiona Donnison's child murders won't spark any national debate about Broken Britain, Labour's social engineering, lazy council estate dwellers or even the decline of coal mining: the killer was (very) wealthy so she simply snapped, that's all.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Causes of inequality according to the right

From surreal and absurd to shallow and hypocritical. How the Tories and the right-wing press reacted to the inequality report.

The National Equality Panel has published a comprehensive report on inequality in Britain, more confirmation that thirteen years of peripheral adjustments and papering over cracks did little to stop the growing gap between a super rich minority and a poorer majority.

The roll call of findings is depressing. In short, the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society; the gap is wider now than 40 years ago; the gender pay gap is significant and persisting; the UK is the seventh worst country for income inequality out of 30 industrialised countries; Britain has the highest poverty rate in Western Europe and social mobility has declined sharply.

That Labour failed there's no doubt. Thirteen years in government -and with humongous majorities, lest we forget- is an awful long time. They were hardly going to turn into the Robin Hoods of Westminster, but they certainly had the chance to make a more structural impact.

What's more interesting, however, is the clueless reaction from the right. They're barking at Labour's failures yet:

1) They've consistently sniped at any proposal directed at addressing poverty: just think of their fits of rage when the minimum wage was introduced and their fury each time it was raised; or their firm opposition to basic agency workers' rights; or the daily bombardment against social benefits for the unemployed;

2) Only two weeks ago Tory supremo Ken Clarke denied that class divisions exist at all in Britain. He said that society is "classless" and "meritocratic", indeed "transformed" from decades ago - an enviable grasp of the real world for the cigar chomping MP.

And so, according to the Telegraph, "today's equality gap is not a problem that results from the rich getting richer". No. "That is generally a good thing for society", the Tory paper says (without explaining why, of course). "The problem is that the poorer are not getting richer, too". And how do they do that, given that any notion that the low-paid should be paid a little better is invariably seen as a cross between Stalin and the Cloverfield monster?

Rest assured, here's the solution. Look at this:

"the core of the problem [...] lies in education and welfare policy [...] the growth of welfare dependency has crushed aspiration within the family. If you pay people to stay poor, you will never run out of poor people...".

So basically if you're amongst the 1.3m people who lost their job through no fault of their own during the recession, you should forget about help, otherwise you will stay poor. Knock it on the head altogether and bob's your uncle, we're all rich. Just take a look around, the country's bursting with well-paid jobs for the "aspiring" masses, isn't it?

Then there's Max Hastings in the Daily Mail. To him, the root of the problem is even simpler: "It's not the middle classes but social engineering zealots like Ms Harman who are to blame for Britain's inequality gap", he writes. His article takes the scattergun approach: a combination of PC gone mad (based on this non-story from his own paper), the end of grammar schools and lack of good old discipline.

Bring back the cane and get those chavvy kids to sit properly and, sure enough, millions of well-paid jobs will materialise and no-one will work for £4 an hour. Ever again.

Because, Hastings informs us, "[i]t is no longer a class divide which disadvantages Britain's poor. Nobody is denied a job or promotion because they don't speak proper or hold a knife and fork right". And stupid us thinking that that was the problem all along.

Then there's Theresa May, Conservative MP and Shadow Minister for women and equalities. She said:

"Labour has had a one-dimensional approach, looking at the symptoms, not the causes. For example, one in six children are growing up in a workless household. We need policies that can make equality a reality."

But Ms May is wrong on two fronts.
First, sod one in six children, under the glorious Tory days of the 1980s and 1990s unemployment was consistently higher than it ever was under Labour- regularly topping 3m. In fact, the last fifteen years have seen, by far, the lowest unemployment figures since the 1970s, a trend that only ended with the crisis kicking in in 2008.

Secondly - and more importantly - low unemployment is hardly tantamount to equality. Like I've just said, dole queues were at their smallest in the years 1997-2007, yet the levels of inequality galloped anyway.

And this is because you stand better chances of winning the lottery than hearing a British MP questioning the "quality" of employment.

Tories and Labour alike had better get this into their head and quick. It matters little if unemployment stands at 5.5% or 6% if so many people in employment are paid a pittance, casualisation continues unabated and so does the erosion of basic rights in the workplace. The minimum wage was a step in the right direction, but obviously not enough.

Look at this ordinary example. A 40-hour working week paid £5-60 an hour. It pays £890 a month. You detract national insurance, council tax, rent and bills to pay and how on earth are you and your family going to escape a circle of depression? You'd have thought that the new Cameron-era would be good at empathy!

Which leads to the only factor that can make a difference. Higher wages. Which, in turn, can either come out of your boss's own goodwill, or from redistribution - read taxing higher incomes.

In Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark the top rate of income tax ranges between 52 and 58 per cent. All of them officially boast the lowest levels of poverty and inequality in the democratic world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Crime on a council estate? Ten times as bad

While the Edlington case sparked a national debate on "Broken Britain", a trial about a beastly murder took place elsewhere. You didn't hear about it because it didn't happen on a council estate.

You already know that last weekend newspapers were full of news and analyses about the Edlington brothers' trial and their brutal actions.

But exactly at the same time, a court case went on about a merciless, sadistic murder that took place in a "neat" and "respectable" privately rented terraced home in the town of Chilton, Co Durham. With the exception of some sporadically recycled wire copy, a piece in the Mirror and the local press, nationwide the case went largely unnoticed.

And yet it was the prefect tabloid material, a case so shocking that it would not be out of place in a horror movie script. In fact, it bears disturbing similarities with the tragic story of Sylvia Likens (later the subject of the film An American Crime). It was a killing so savage, cruel and calculated that the DCI leading the investigation said he "had never seen anything like it" in his lengthy police career.

The details of the case are disturbing. When 35-year-old Andrew Gardner died, his girlfriend Clare Nicholls told the police he'd been assaulted by muggers while on his way home. Yet, the details that emerged painted a radically different picture. Andrew had not left home for months. During that time, he'd been meticulously tortured and gradually starved to death by Clare, along with her ex-lover and her brother.

The postmortem showed the victim had "150 injuries including 21 rib fractures, a broken skull and brain injuries so severe they were like those suffered in a car crash or fall from a tall building". The torture took place in front of Andrew and Clare's own daughter and the woman's other three children who were even encouraged to take part in the assaults "because they thought it was normal". At one stage a noughts and crosses game was carved into the skin on the victim's back.

In the end, Ms Nicholls was sentenced to 32 years in jail and her brother to 25 years. This was a case that would grant an entire conference on psychopathic and murderous behaviour and the press hardly blinked.

Rest assured, however, that if the murderer hadn't lived in a nice privately-rented house, didn't have "a pristine public image" and hadn't helped at the local charity shop, the papers would now be oozing headlines such as "MOTHER OF PURE EVIL", "LAZY SEX MAD WITH A RING FROM ARGOS SYMBOLISES BROKEN BRITAIN" and "MURDERS WILL KEEP HAPPENING IF WE KEEP BANKROLLING THE UNDERCLASS".

The double standards are just amazing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

0.1 reasons to cheer

Has recession really ended?

"I've been proven right", announced Gordon Brown yesterday following the publication of figures from the Office for National Statistics indicating a quarterly growth of 0,1% for the first time in two years.

Amidst the flurry of analysis that crowds the paper today, some of which betray hurried optimism, David Prosser in the Independent tells the most interesting story.

His angle is that there's more to the recession than sterile graphs. For example the fact that 1.31m people lost their job during the downturn and, out of those back in employment, "two-thirds [...] are in a new job are earning less than they were previously. The average loss of wages is 28 per cent".

Also, few are saying it out loud, but the foreseeable future is one lined with pay freezes across the spectrum against a background of price inflation and cuts in public spending.

Mass redundancies are still taking place. It may not have hit the front pages, but this morning steel firm Corus announced that its job cuts in the UK will affect 2,500 people. Last week Bosch broke the news that 900 jobs are going to be axed in Wales, followed by Cadbury's own admission that job cuts are "inevitable" amongst its 4,500 UK employees.

Not crowing over the recovery is one thing. Popping the corks of optimism on account of an infinitesimal number (while mass redundancies are still taking place) is another. And it's done in real bad taste.

Also on the subject and explained in a non-arsy accessible language, take a look at this article on

Monday, January 25, 2010

Five living heroines

Step aside Lady Sovereign. For all your calculated in-yer-face hand gestures, you couldn't hold a candle to these ladies even if you tried.

We always hear about and criticise the Jordans and the Paris Hiltons of this world and the role they play in society. So here is to some of my favourite female talents:

5- Clare Short
Yes, she didn't resign before the vote on Iraq and she'll always bear that cross, but this blog's own MP is in a different league from New Labour automata a-la Hazel Blears or Geoff Hoon. Independent, blunt and outspoken on anything from foreign policy and the environment to page 3 and the electoral system, Ladywood will dearly miss her when she stands down from Parliament.

4- Isabelle Huppert
My all-time favourite actress. Extraordinary in her portrayal of the most fucked up, maladjusted characters, this French legend has managed alone to turn good films into masterpieces: from La Cérémonie to Madame Bovary or Michael Haneke's Piano Teacher. Stunning.

3- Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
I was a touch disappointed when I found out that the former Orwell Prize-winner and current Independent columnist is also an occasional Daily Mail writer. But I still respect her immensely for having the guts to go against the grain - whether it's speaking out for oppressed Muslim women or for the rights of ethnic minorities in Britain to live free of prejudice.

2- Bonnie Greer
The daughter of a Mississippi sharecropper, she became one of the most distingushed playwright of her generation. I admire her for her plain speaking and choice of subject matters and her unique knack for digging up stories and angles that were forgotten for decades.

1- Chrissie Hynde
Such was her love of music and her determination to start a band that, aged 22, she moved to London all the way from Ohio, beginning a quest to find like-minded musicians that would not be out of place in a film script. And then she formed The Pretenders, one of the most formidable bands to stem from the so-called 'new wave' scene.
But what makes Chrissie Hynde a rare breed is her tireless work as an animal rights activist. She was arrested several times while carrying out acts of civil disobedience in defence of the defenceless, displaying a pair of jaffas most men could only dream of.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bonus culture: in a parallel universe

Reporting from a world where bonuses are dished out to workers performing a public service.

Scene 1.
"The cynical, the envious and the tin foil hat wearers can whine as much as they want. Our duty is to recruit the very best", argues Hugh Jass, headmaster of a local comprehensive. "Investing in education is investing in the country's future, so if public money has to be spent, at least there's no better spending than this. If you want good teachers and a competitive edge, then large bonuses are a must", notes Mr Jass, spreading his arms. "After all", he adds, "better to reward good teachers than, say, investment bankers. Which contribute more to society?"

Scene 2.
"The NHS? It's a headhunter's dream at the moment. If your government curbed bonuses, the most talented British doctors and nurses would look for work here in the US", says Don Key, spokesperson for a large US private health care firm. "The NHS board has had legal advice that they would have to resign if the government blocked bonuses they regarded as essential to incentivise NHS staff", adds Mr Key. "There's a significant opportunity to raid that talent. I mean, if you Brits don't reward people who save your lives, where else are state funds going to go...banks???"

Scene 3.
"There is nothing worse than a sloppy bus service tarnishing the visitors' view of our city", points out Ben Dover, CEO of a bus company. "A punctual, competent, cutting edge public transport is what defines us. It is therefore in the interest of the public that we pay our staff decent bonuses. If you don't pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise. Those best drivers and staff can get jobs other places, they will leave", concludes Mr Dover.

Scene 4.
"The compensation always correlated with the results of the service", says Justin Case, Head of the Fire Service. "Our bonuses were therefore dispensed accordingly", he added. "Firefighters put their life at risk and we want to attract the best and most motivated staff", Mr Case remarks. "At the end of the day, it's not as if we're getting yearly bonuses of £1bn. Now, that would cause terrible damage to the economy".

Scene 5.
"Our soldiers are essentially the people who put their lives at risk for our country, often in very difficult conditions. Who in their right mind would continue to do that if bonuses are taken away?", are the forthright words of Dan D. Lyons, AG to the British forces. "I mean, if money isn't invested in selecting the best soldiers" continues General Lyons, "what else is the state going to spend it on, banks???"

Scene 6.
"Our workforce did what they were asked to last year and made profits. So when we consider how to treat them, the issue is how much worse can we treat them compared to any other transport service in the world", says Leigh King, union convenor at London Underground. "If you want security and efficiency to be paramount, you have to pay our staff accordingly. London would grind to a halt without us. Luckily we still live in a world where workers are rewarded for carrying out a public service, unlike bankers who are in for themselves. Let's just hope it stays this way", King concludes.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Can evil always be explained?

It is perfectly normal that we try to explain a crime or an act of evil. But the obsessive, opportunistic search for scapegoats often verges on the pathetic.

With the shocking case of the Edlington attacks coming to court, I've lost count of the number of hacks and politicians explaining what turned those two children into "monsters".

David Cameron was quick at pointing the finger at "Broken Britain" and all that is "going deeply wrong" in society under Labour, words that anyone with half a brain would associate with the most distasteful cheap political pointscoring. As if no heinous crime took place when Maggie and Major were in government in the 80s and 90s - something so obvious that it's actually painful to type up.

To be fair, Robert Reiner is even more pathetic. In his view, the fault lies with "the key aspects of neo-liberalism", he writes in today's Guardian, adding that "the embrace of unfettered free-market economics by [Cameron's] party in the 1980s and by their buddies around the world" is to blame. Wasn't there anyone at hand to tell this man that the Moors Murders took place in the early 1960s?

David Wilson follows similar lines. "Boy torturers were already tortured", is the headline to his article in the Guardian. He insists that the two torturers already experienced a background lined with neglect, that they were even allowed to watch porn or gory films like Saw and that they often witnessed their aggressive father in action. All ingredients that would make 3/4 of the UK population potential "monsters" then.

Along the same lines, left and right, the roll call of social services and children boards, blood-spattered movies and porn on tap, Labour's Britain and Thatcher's neo-liberalism, the death of the coal industry and state benefits, narcissism and the underclasses.

However, what if -for once- we stopped our finger pointing and quit digging up explanations at all costs?
Can pure evil always be explained? Could it be that the responsibility lies solely with the perpetrator and that the irrational, inexplicable evil streak that runs through humankind sometimes cannot be deciphered?

Because unfortunately, torturers, serial killers and assorted scumbags have stemmed from all decades and walks of life, pre- and post-Thatcherism, pre- and post-New Labour, in council estates and in more affluent homes, the product of a "broken family" or an apparently solid one. They may have watched horror films or not. They may have been into classical music or Marilyn Manson.

John George Haigh, the "Acid Bath Murderer" wasn't on state benefits, didn't smoke spliffs and didn't have the opportunity to watch Saw as a child. He was brought up a devout Christian and even went to a grammar school. Alas, that didn't stop him from dissolving nine people in acid.

Fred West may have come from a poor family of farm workers with a terrifying history of incest and bestiality, but Harold Shipman was brought up in an apparently stable and religious house, completed his studies and remained a respected and well-paid GP until someone found out he murdered up to 250 people for no apparent reason.

Baby P was tortured and abused by a crack cocaine addict and a sadistic neo Nazi in a manky council flat, but six innocent people were chopped up by Dennis Nilsen, a soldier, then a policeman and then a civil servant in middle-class Muswell Hill.

Some people may argue that he was a loner though, which may have given the game away, but then look at Peter Sutcliffe. His social life was apparently "normal", he had mates, but still he became known as the Yorkshire Ripper.

Mary Bell, convicted of the manslaughter of two boys in 1968, was the daughter of a prostitute and an unknown father. Steve Gerald Wright though, known as the Suffolk Strangler, came from a middle-class family and later became a pub landlord.

So to Daily Mail readers, Thatcher-haters, political opportunists and all the devil's advocates crying out for mitigating circumstances: stop trying to single out water-tight and predictable patterns of psychopathy. Shovelling blame onto others will do no good. As loath as I am to admit it, some people are simply beyond help.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Top Tory brands Cadbury's workforce 'whingeing'

Press release from Unite the Union.

Workers from Cadbury's Marlbrook factory in Herefordshire are furious over comments made by Tory MP Bill Wiggin describing the workers who now face a very uncertain future as 'whingeing'.

Bill Wiggin said on BBC Hereford and Worcester: "Who wants to hire a whingeing workforce when you can have a positive upbeat one".

Unite, the union representing the workers, has charged Mr Wiggin with a complete failure to represent his constituents working at Cadbury, who have been told job cuts across the company are inevitable.

Mr Wiggin refused to sign an Early Day Motion calling for Cadbury to stay independent. On 15th January on BBC Hereford and Worcester, Mr Wiggin told listeners that he was not a fan of Unite - the union campaigning to protect his constituent's jobs - and the campaign would not make any difference as he believed Cadbury would not sell and stay independent. How wrong Bill Wiggin was.

On 20th January on the 8am news on BBC Hereford & Worcester, Mr Wiggin decided to again go on air, expressing to listeners that the Cadbury Marlbrook workforce should be more positive about the situation, as the new employer will not take kindly to whingeing.

Unite's national officer Jennie Formby said: "Mr Wiggin is a disgrace to his constituents and has done Cadbury's workers a great disservice. Voters will remember when this MP turned his back on Cadbury's workers in their hour of need.

"Cadbury's workers face an uncertain future, they are campaigning to protect their jobs - it's not whingeing, it's standing up for their livelihoods, homes and their families. This is a classic example of the uncaring Conservatives."

The union's convenor at the factory has written to Mr Wiggin to express the workers' fury.
Also read: Birmingham Mail- "Tory MP Bill Wiggin calls Cadbury workers 'whingeing'".

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Human Nature

How can so many members of the public display such a penchant for servitude and submission?

Contribution by Stan Moss

When I first read (and then wrote) about Billy Bragg's "NoBonus4RBS" campaign two days ago, I was expecting to read all sort of feedback online.

What shocked me however, is the length which we're prepared to go and the straws we're desperate to clutch at in order to (subconsciously or not) justify our subordinate position.

Let's start from the actual Facebook campaign. This is what someone called Duncan wrote:
"In order to make our money back RBS needs to have a competetive edge, one that it would LOSE if they had to cap bonuses. Imagine asking Manchester united to improse pay restrictions and how loyal tdo you thing their players would be?"
This is based on the usual assumption that huge bonuses are essential if a company want to retain good employees. A logical twist you only find (on such a massive scale) when banking executives are trying to cover their backside.

Why not apply the "competitive edge" maxim to shop assistants, teachers, soldiers or you name it? Would that be sustainable? Thought so.

Not to mention that the analogy with Man Utd doesn't have a leg to stand on. Man Utd is not propped up by the taxpayer. End of. We would have no right to interfere with Man Utd and their salaries. RBS is a totally different kettle of fish: with the state owning 84%, the bank owes its whole existence to the taxpayer.

And this in line with all sorts of people coming up with rolls, handsprings and somersaults to justify the unjustifiable.

The comments on the Daily Mail website are just stunning. Here, as if by magic, the topic is no longer RBS, the megabonuses and the gigantic bailout. No. The focus becomes Billy Bragg's wealth.
"Never seems to mention his £1 Million beachfront house in Doreset though does he?????",
writes a chap from Slough, his observation so acute that the fact that Bragg's earned his money without a state bailout eluded him completely. As for bikerboy from lancashire, this is what he has to say:
"another champagne socialist who as soon as he makes a fat pile of cash for himself by singing about the poor down trodden masses goes to live as far away from them as possible ie large detached walled gardened house in the countryside".
There is plenty more, but you get the general idea.

In short, what is it with our inner servitude that, whenever we are presented with a chance to improve our social conditions or reduce arrogance by a weeny fraction, some of us start clutching at the unlikeliest straws in a way that simply perpetrates the existing status quo of privileged and minnows?

And this is the crux of the matter. I can understand why a banker would want to cling onto his years of binge and act as if he was entitled to loadsamoney by rights, regardless of performance.

But to have ordinary members of the public (the same people who will have public services slashed as a direct consequence of the biggest bailout since the Ice Age) engage in industrial amounts of sawdust and planks dispensed with one logical ricochet after the other is frankly depressing.

Keep obeying the big people then, slave, and don't forget to remain where you are unless you're told otherwise. Oh and...Parade, REST!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cadbury? But that's the free-market, mate

Everyone's crying over Cadbury but the hypocrisy is vomit-inducing.

"A bitter taste in Bournville" and "Cadbury: Not such a sweet deal", writes the Guardian. "Why takeover bids rarely work", warns Jeremy Warner in the Telegraph. "Kraft takeover jobs bloodbath" and "High price for handing UK PLC to foreigners" are the headlines in the Daily Mail, while the Independent notes that "Bournville laments saddest day for 10 years".

Today's papers couldn't agree more. In essence, the widespread opinion across the spectrum is that another British institution is going, that the usual City "short-termists" are making a mint off the back of a local community, that the economic long-term interests of the country are being ignored and that Britain's surrendering to one too many foreign takeovers.

They're being very good at tutting at the "inevitability" of job losses, or at the CEO's £12m payout, or at the simple fact that the buyers Kraft are a company ridden with something like £22 billion of debt. Yet very few are grasping the fundamental reasons behind this mess.

For instance, the fact that the industrial policy of the past thirty years has been coherently and systematically biased towards the professional short-termism that turned London into the Mecca of City spivvery. And that's under the active complicity of both Tories and Labour.

Gordon Brown is crying that he'll do his best to secure jobs and the right-wing are shouting revulsion at the foreign companies who suck the blood out of British firms and then discard them like a piece of tissue after a couple of years. But this is the free market: a script we already saw with Rover and more recently with Bosch and Corus, "sorry very much, but it's all shareholders uber alles and tough for whoever's left to mop up the mess".

Bournville is one of the prettiest areas of Birmingham as well as one with a fairly solid community spirit. One can only imagine what would happen if the factory that's provided a living to thousands since the 19th century was to up sticks or be significantly scaled down.

And yet the picture's pretty clear. Like they point out at Unite, wherever it's gone in the past 10 years, "Kraft has sacked 60,000 workers to pay for other companies it has eaten up". The sourest irony of all is that the £7bn Kraft raised to table the bid were financed by RBS which is 84 per cent owned by the British government.

And until any of the major political parties
will say it loud and clear that Britain can't carry on turning into a country exclusively centred around City gambles with the rest working in call centres and mobile phone shops, we will witness similar devastation time and time again.

So are all the opinionmeisters that today are crying crocodile tears for the "loss of a British institution" prepared to change their tack - given that they normally spot the dark shadows of "socialism" lurking behind the slightest governmental intervention (unless it's the banks bail-out)?

Are they prepared to accept that only a state that plays a bigger role in protecting manufacturing can halt the dependence on Bullshit Economy? Can they clock that protecting long-term stability, often the default policy in France, the US and Japan, doesn't mean that Stalin and Lenin are on their way back?

Sign the petition to Keep Cadbury Independent here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Total bankers

Billy Bragg lays out his plans on bank bonuses.

Do you remember when the government bailed out the banks to the tune of £850bn? Didn't Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling insist that conditions be attached, that it would all be very strict and that, with the government as major shareholder, the banks would not be free to slip back into past excesses?

"[The deal] will carry terms and conditions that appropriately reflect the financial commitment being made by the taxpayer" - said Darling in 2008.

Back to today, and neither Labour nor the Tories are saying a word to the scandal that is quietly unravelling before our eyes.

RBS, where the governments owns a stake of 84%, have announced that they're about to dish up £1.5bn to £2bn in bonuses, with the board threatening to resign if not allowed to do so. Remember this is the same bank that in November 2009 announced plans to cut 3,700 jobs in addition to 16,000 already planned.

And yet they don't need to worry. There is no way anyone at Westminster is going to stop them.

Which is why the most sensible article I've read in response is the one penned yesterday by Billy Bragg in the Guardian.

"Until the chancellor of the exchequer acts to curb the bonus payments to investment bankers at RBS", the musician writes, "I am withholding my tax".

Bragg also highlights the discrepancy between both parties' professed commtment to cuts in public services versus their total lack of "will to do anything about excessive bonus culture".

If you agree with Bragg, then take a look at this campaign: NoBonus4RBS.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ghost goal of the century!

Forget the 1966 World Cup final, Diego Maradona's 'hand of god' in 1986 or Thierry Henry against the Republic of Ireland last November.

Look what happened during Duisburg v Frankfurt in the German Bundesliga2 and decide for yourself whether the picture on the left was a goal. The referee had no doubt.

(Click here for the full video).

A Tory 'Best of' in one fell swoop

David Cameron's plans for school teachers.

David Cameron's latest announcement of a "brazenly elitist" approach to teaching standards is a spectacular "Golden Collection" of snobbery, incompetence and misconceptions all in one.

The plan says that under a Conservative administration, no one with less than a 2:2 degree would be granted taxpayer’s money for postgraduate teacher training.

While that may make some sense, the bad bit is this: only maths and science graduates from the 25 best universities who go into teaching will have their loans written off - a scheme that would automatically rule out graduates from most former polytechnics.

Now, scratch beneath the headlines of "noble profession", "elevate the status of teaching in our country" and "best brains" - who would disagree with that - and you can see why Cameron's Etonian Grand Plan contains more holes than Swiss cheese. In succession:

1) the shallow, outdated, misled, based-on-nothing assumption that a 'good degree' is what makes you a good professional;

2) the total lack of a correlation between a good grade obtained when you are 20,21 or 22 and the ability to inspire interest and passion amongst pupils for the rest of your career;

3) the frankly vile discrimination against bright and inspired graduates who did not have the financial means (read: wealthy family) to attend one of the 'Top 25' universities in the country;

4) the effect that this could have on former polys - officially, literally, relegated to proper 'inferior' status - with the knock-on effect this will have on hundreds of thousands of degrees.

This is the crucial bit: the Tories are not saying that don't want to deter people not capable of teaching, whether they be from university or polytechnic -which would be commendable. They are saying that this will exclusively apply to people from former polytechnics.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

No class division in Britain, says Kenneth Clarke

Tory Shadow Minister shoots himself in the foot

There is nothing more contemptuous than a Cambridge-educated man with a posh, la-di-dah, upper-class accent telling the country that class divisions are no longer relevant and that all is well with social mobility.

Kenneth Clarke's words on BBC Question Time three days ago showed how weird the Conservatives' grasp of society is.

"I like to think of British society as classless, as meritocratic. I think it is. It's transformed", he proclaimed to a bewildered audience. And the trouble is, people like Kenneth Clarke really think so, because they are so detached from reality that they know no different.

So when the Tory MP informed the country that class division is no more, he was probably thinking of the people he hangs around with, the Shadow Cabinet, a group truly devoid of the socially inferior.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Telegraph: woe betide the rich

A remarkable piece of ideology-soaked thinking in today's Torygraph.

When the top rate of income tax rises up to 50 per cent in April, a person earning £1m in Britain will have to pay £491,278 in tax.

An article by Damian Reece in today's Telegraph ('Tough times for the rich') compares the situation with the equivalent in Frankfurt (£486,808) and Paris (£461,128), London's two biggest financial competitors in Europe. "We really are going backwards", is the concluding remark.

It's interesting how Reece only draws comparisons with places such as Switzerland and Hong Kong, but not with Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands, where the top rate of income tax ranges between 52 and 55 per cent.

Or indeed Denmark, described by US business magazine Forbes as the country with "the best business climate in the world" as well as one with the lowest levels of income inequality. And, don't say too loud, the top rate of income tax in Denmark stands at 58 per cent.

However, the above doesn't fit the Telegraph's ideological propaganda.

Otherwise they would do good to mention what the Institute of Fiscal Studies reported a month ago: the fact that "earnings from employment [are] the main culprit in driving up inequality [in Britain]", and that unequal distribution started growing dramatically in the 1980s.

Or they would remind the reader of what The Economist - hardly a mouthpiece for socialism - remarked in a special report in 2007: that "income is distributed more unequally in Britain than in almost any big rich country except America" and that "fat pay packets have helped London house prices to triple over the past decade".

According to IDS (Income Data Service), in 1988, the average FTSE boss earned 17 times the average employee's pay. In 2008 the figure stood at 75.5 and, in 2009 - sod the "credit crunch" - 81 times the average pay of full-time workers.

With all of the above factors put together, it seems only reasonable for the government to take small steps towards redistribution. Quite simply, if top bosses don't act towards establishing more humane wage differentials, somebody else will have to.

It makes easy headlines to say that higher taxation "makes the threat of a gradual exodus from London real" - and we keep hearing it time and again - but god alone knows how many young talents would be ready to fill the shoes of the same egomaniac financial barons that brought the country's economy to its knees.

Also, like Robert Peston remarked last month, "taxing bankers rather than banks would not weaken the banks themselves, at a time when they need to accumulate capital".

Finally, it looks like it still hasn't dawned on many that an over-inflated financial sector carries enormous side effects which is precisely the reason why the UK was so badly affected by the crisis.

And by the way, while that thrives safe in the knowledge that bail-outs will come if the going gets tough, and manufacturing keeps going down the pan, how many mobile phone and fast food jobs are there to sustain the country?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What did you say about "Class War"?

Is poor health stopping you from working? Then, for Britain's no.1 right wing paper, you look like this.

In recent weeks we've been subjected by cries that there's an ongoing Class War waged against David Cameron and the new Tory generation.

Many in fact have been pointing out that a potential future Conservative administration would be packed with people from a supremely unrepresentative background: a quick look at David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne will show staggering levels of privilege.

Indeed a Class War has been going on for years, except in reverse. The bombardment from the Tory press (75 per cent of all UK dailies) has been so relentless that we've grown accustomed to it. The lower classes have been ripped to shreds at all levels: scroungers, spongers, lazy, thick, chavs, criminals, promiscuous, irresponsible, you name it.

A millionaire who burns his whole family alive in a fit of rage? Just a sorry tragedy. People on a council estate who do the same? It's all the fault of the welfare state, social workers, PC councils, single mothers and Labour's social engineering and more reasons to tear apart people with cash flow problems and push a political agenda.

Take a look at today's Daily Mail piece about people, and women in particular, on sickness benefits.

Look at the headline, picture and caption. They're all centred around Waynetta Slob. The caption in particular is poisonous: "The type of people mocked by Harry Enfield's character Waynetta Slob have increased", it reads. Because, of course, in Daily Mail Planet recipients of sickness benefits are all chain smoking, lager swigging, unhygienic scumbags.

The piece, by DAILY MAIL REPORTER, is loosely based on this study by Sheffield Hallam University, except that it contains about 0.1% of what the study was about and its findings. Spend twenty seconds on the news brief that accompanies the study and you'll spot nothing that validates the Mail's hasty piece and its choice of illustration.

What's ridiculously obvious is that the Daily Mail Newsroom had been long gagging for the opportunity to stick a photo of Waynetta Slob next to an anti-benefits rant.

In short, just another day and more chances that, out of the thousands who flick through the tabloids as they wait to have their gnashers checked up at the dentist, a few will interiorise another bit of poison that equates benefits with noxious lazy subhuman scroungers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Help Haiti

(Crossposted from Left Outside)

A huge 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti last night. This is one of the worst crises to crisis ridden Haiti.

The extent of the devastation is still unclear but it is likely thousands have died and many many more are trapped in the rubble. The early signs are not good, with communications down across the country Haiti’s large expatriate population are still unclear what has happened to their relatives and friends.

There is very little any of us can do but look on aghast but there are organisation which are helping.
  • Oxfam has long experience in Haiti, and they are rushing in teams from around the region to respond where they’re needed most. They already have a team in Port-au-Prince and their response will include providing clean water, shelter and sanitation. This is where my donation has been directed.
  • UNICEF have issued a statement that “Children are always the most vulnerable population in any natural disaster, and UNICEF is there for them.” UNICEF requests donations for relief for children in Haiti via their Haiti Earthquake Fund.
  • Medicins sans Frontieres are responding to the Earthquake in Haiti with their usual speed and efficiency and any donations would be of a great help.
  • Mercy Corps are also seeking donations so they can expand their aid efforts in Haiti.

More organisations seeking donations are available here.
Please help in whatever way you can.

Why banning Islam4UK is a very good thing

Democracy does not mean that you can call for the stoning of all homosexuals or the massacre of those who insult Islam.

Isn't it touching to see the chiefs of Islam4UK , the same people who once famously held placards that read "FREEDOM GO TO HELL", whingeing and moaning that "freedom is turning into a dictatorship" on the day the government finally decided to ban them?

Isn't it stunning to savour the contradictions of a man, Anjem Choudary, who calls for a fundamentalist Muslim regime in Britain where every single citizen should convert to his particular brand of Islam, while at the same time crying for his "freedom of expression"?

Isn't it pathetic to read that "Muslims merely stand up and say that we are being oppressed, that our brothers and sisters are being murdered", while not a word is ever said about the thousands of Muslim brothers and sisters who are butchered every month in the name of Islam in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries (see this)?

True, in theory the ban on Islam4UK and its sister organisations al-Muhajiroun and al-Ghurabaa may be a bad day for freedom of speech.

But their track record is just intolerable. Democracy does not mean that you can demonstrate in central London waving banners such as "Massacre those who insult Islam", "Be prepared for the real holocaust" and "the Fantastic 4 are on their way". You can't call a press conference and call for the "stoning of all homosexuals" without facing the consequences.

Anjem Choudary, current leader of Islam4UK, is the same man who went on BBC Hardtalk (and shame on those who invited him) and said that the victims of the 7/7 atrocity were fair game because "only the Muslims are innocent" and if you don't accept Islam "that is a crime against God". He refused to condemn the London bombings, called the 9/11 attack "magnificent", publicly remarked that "Islam is not a religion of peace" and said that "the Pope should face capital punishment".

A year ago, his mentor Omar Bakri, now in Lebanon, said at a public meeting "Do not obey the British law" and "we must fight and die for Islam".

If all of the above (and that's just a brief summary) isn't incitement to hatred, violence and terrorism, than what is? How can normally commendable bloggers such as A Very Public Sociologist write that "[Islam4UK] do not intimidate their opponents" and that the ban is "indefensible"?

Even the idea that the ban may "force some people underground" is ill-informed. To start with, you have to balance it out with the effect that Islam4UK's ultra-inflammatory activities can have on community cohesion and the stirring up of tension and violence.

Second, one assumes that security forces would be keeping an eye on those groups anyway, the only notable change being that their odious public glorification of terrorism and abuse against sexual minorities and other religions (which is illegal) will have to stop.

The fact that Islam4UK isn't a "white" or "christian" brand of nazism does not make it any less dangerous. To quote journalist Johann Hari, "the real racism would be to hold non-white people to lower standards, as if their bigotries were less real or less deadly".

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Daily Mail slams swine flu scare machine!

Coming next: Simon Cowell chastising the X-Factor and Hugh Grant moaning about 'chick flicks'.

Six months ago Britain's tabloids were tolling the bell of a looming Armageddon. KILLER FLU IS HERE, NOW SWINE FLU PANIC SWEEPS BRITAIN, SWINE FLU WILL KILL 350 PEOPLE EVERYDAY and CHILDREN ARE SPREADING BUG were some of the somber headlines from the Daily Express.

As for the Daily Mail, headlines ranged from IS SWINE FLU ALREADY HERE? and SWINE FLU: IT'S GETTING SERIOUS to SWINE FLU NOW THE BATTLE TO CONTAIN IT and that's without counting the paper's first page warnings that "65,000 could die [and] one in three could get infected", printed in the 7 July 2009 edition.

Or even, still in the Daily Mail, the priceless Obama's swine flu scare after shaking hands with archaeologist who died a week later headline.

So you will excuse us if we laughed out loud this morning when the same paper published what is already on course as the most ridiculous article of 2010, a faux-outraged piece by Christopher Booker that goes: After this awful fiasco over swine flu, we should never believe the State scare machine again!

Now. We already know that the Daily Mail and its readers don't excel at irony. We also know that their memory doesn't stretch past the last time they filled up their 4x4 with petrol. But to have the paper that most contributed to stoke the flames of swine flu hysteria blame "the State" for fear and panic is can I put it..."you couldn't make it up"!

Just remember that, in the week that followed the Daily Mail's epic "SORE THROAT" headline (which falsely linked the death of a six-year-old girl to the H1N1 virus), the number of people contacting their GP over swine-flu related fears jumped 50%.

Booker's piece follows yesterday's report by Fiona McRae: The 'false' pandemic: Drug firms cashed in on scare over swine flu, a reference to the recent claims by Wolfgang Wodarg, health chief at the Council of Europe, who recently branded the H1N1 panic as "one of the greatest scandals of the century".

Wodarg pointed out that too many things don't add up. From the World Health Organisation changing the definition of 'pandemic' in order to include the H1N1, to the fact itself that the so-called "swine flu" affected infinitely less people than any other pandemic in the past or even seasonal flu, with fatality rates "considerably less lethal than feared".

Just to give you an idea, the infamous pandemic of 1918 affected 500 million people, that is 33 per cent of the world's population, whereas the so-called "swine flu" or ("killer flu" to quote the Express) affected an estimated 600,000 people worldwide with a death rate of 0.03%.

In short, the Daily Mail has radically changed its tune. From equating a sore throat with the grim reaper all the way to Mr Wodarg's views - now that's quite a Road to Damascus.

So when Christopher Booker concludes his article by saying that "misreadings of the scientific evidence [...] can eventually make all of us look very silly indeed", he should speak for himself and his mates at the Daily Mail. And then, perhaps, look up the word "ridicule" in the dictionary.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Shooting at immigrants: the case of Italy

Last week's riots highlighted the explosive combination of modern slavery, organised crime and racism.

The old saying that history tends to repeat itself is looking particularly true these days. Last week the Southern Italian region of Calabria ('the toe of the boot') became the theatre of a depressing anti-immigrant witchhunt eerily reminiscent of last century's Ku Klux Klan violence in the US.

First off, the background. Like in most of Europe, fruit-picking is carried out by immigrants, except that in the South of Italy, those are largely underpaid and illegal - under the ruthless watch of the local mafia (n'drangheta), one of the most powerful groups of organised crime in the country.

Reports suggest that up to twenty thousand illegal immigrants in the region are paid £20 for a 12 or 14-hour working day minus a £5 'fee' handed to their gangmasters for transport and "protection".

They live in appalling conditions, amassed in rat-infested warehouses with no light and poor sanitation and with nothing to do but work and sleep - effectively becoming profit fodder for the n'drangheta. Every morning they are rounded up together, packed into rusty trucks and driven to orange or olive groves.

Last month, a report by Italian daily la Repubblica highlighted a ticking bomb, comparing the migrants' living conditions to concentration camps. "About seven hundred of them live jam-packed into a derelict paper mill", wrote reporter Carlo Ciavoni. In the article, volunteers from Doctors without Borders described an alarming high rate of respiratory illnesses amongst the migrants, "mostly due to fumes coming from the fires they start in the warehouse to cook and keep warm ".

Calabria is also the poorest and least developed Italian region. The grip of organised crime is visible at all levels. Many councils in the area were long ago "dissolved" on suspicion of mafia infiltration and provisionally handed to a commissioner.

The levels of unemployment are staggering: 28.3 per cent with peaks of 65 per cent amongs those under-25. Per capita income is 50 per cent the corresponding value in the Centre-North of the country.

It is against this background that one of the ugliest pages of European history was written last week. On Tuesday a legal immigrant from Togo was wounded in a random pellet-gun attack which was reportedly carried out for fun by youths associated with the local mafia clans.

This became the spark for the immigrants' frustration. Obviously letting off steam for their subhuman exploitation, hundreds took to the streets of a town called Rosarno. According to the BBC, "the protesters clashed with police in riot gear [...]. Cars were burned and shop windows smashed. Many shouted 'We are not animals' and carried signs saying 'Italians here are racist'".

It's at this point that Ku Klux Klan-style lynching took over. In succession, immigrants were runover by cars (and in one failed attempt, a bulldozer), more locals began shooting at any non-white person they could spot (injuring several) and, in many cases, gangs of youths beat up migrant workers with iron bars. Amongst shouts of "negroes out", about thirty immigrants ended up in hospital.

Things turned even uglier when volunteers who were spotted taking meals and warm clothes to the migrants became the target of a spontaneous local residents' demonstration. A crew from national television RAI was pelted with stones and, according to peacereporter, journalists were threatened with phrases ranging from "don't you dare take photos" to "mind your own fuckin business".

In the end, three hundred policemen were called into the area to save the immigrants from being lynched. Most migrants have now been evacuated from the area and scattered around asylum centres around Italy, while encampments have been bulldozed by the authorities.

In the midst of all this mayhem, the target chosen by Home Secretary Roberto Maroni, from the far-right Northern League, was clear: "In all these years illegal immigration has been tolerated without doing anything effective, an immigration that on the one hand has fed crime and on the other has led to situations of extreme squalor such as that at Rosarno". "All the clandestine ones will be expelled. Someone could have died there", he added.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

EasyJet, DifficultJet or Pisstake?

A routine tale of bad customer service.

Bad weather across Europe has been causing severe travel disruption, including a large number of flight cancellations both in the run-up to Christmas and in the last few days.

I was amongst the tens of thousands of people affected and this is my story.

Let's start by spelling out some objective truths: 1) Severe weather is nobody's fault, airlines included; 2) Whatever the quirk of fate, Easyjet was particularly badly affected; 3) Airline passengers' consumer rights are incredibly vague and open to interpretation; 4) The expressions 'no frills airlines' and 'customer service' cannot sit together in the same sentence.

So here's what happened. The night before flying I was informed by email that my cheap £30-worth Easyjet flight had been cancelled. Amidst a flurry of "we are sorry for any inconvenience", I was also offered the chance of a refund (which is in line with EU Regulation 261/2004, see here).

Meanwhile, I swiftly went on to book an alternative route with another carrier which, through a combination of last minute-booking and high season, ended up costing me £168.

So far so good. However, here's where complications started. Go on the Easyjet website and see for yourself. A customer-based business with a visible contact page within reach? You've got to be joking, you pedantic customer.

And yet, the British Airways website is only two clicks away from giving out an email and phone number and, hear hear, even the kings of no-frills at seem to have the words "Contact Customer Services" visible straightaway on the home page.

If you've chosen Easyjet, however, the ordeal has just begun.

In fairness, their home page does sport the word 'Help', albeit in tiny writing, at the top. Fine, you think.

When you click on it, you're presented with a list of 33 "items" ranging from "Add speedy boarding" to "Booking ski accomodation". No mention of refunds or cancellations - you'd have thought that after three weeks of solid travel disruption for thousands, the two items would be amongst Easyjet's top priorities.

The 33rd item on the list, however, reads "Our FAQ and contact details". With a sigh of relief, the customer can click on it. However, still we're nowhere near the end. A page appears with a massive header that says "Check the status of your query" (which, it turns out, you can only do if you've opened an "EasyJet account" - more of which later). Below follow nine options. Still none of them mention the words refund or cancellation.

When the puzzled customer scrolls down, he's presented with "236 answers available", in smaller fonts, divided up into 24 separate pages. Luckily, questions related to cancellations or refund now appear in the first lot, because until four days ago, to spot the word "cancelled" or "refund" you'd have to scour page after page until striking lucky.

Anyway, when you finally click on "What can I do when my flight was cancelled, what are my options?" you are then presented with two options: free rebooking or refund.

When you select "please click here" next to "refund", you are taken to a drop down box. You enter your email address, stick your flight details and booking reference in and then you are also kindly presented with a list of additional expenses - in particular, "alternative carrier" or "overnight accomodation" that can be reimbursed. It may sound promising but, like a certain woman once said: "You ain't seen nothing yet".

After typing in the details, you can attach a receipt (i.e. ticket for alternative flight) and Easyjet assures you that your query will be dealt with as soon as possible.

Call me an ageist pig, but it's hard to imagine some people of a certain age, like my parents, being able to navigate such a torturous online maze.

Surely though, a company as prestigious as Easyjet will cut you some slack with easy access to a telephone number, right?

Well, try and find out for yourself. Going back to the above mentioned FAQ page with "236 answers available", you can either scavenge through them all or try the keyword search. When I typed in "telephone", I was presented with options leading up to this page.

"What is your telephone number?", it reads. Except that there are nine options that don't include a related answer. You still have to scroll down. And down. Where it finally lists the opening hours of Easyjet's "Customer Experience Team" and below a list of countries to pick from.

Once you click on the country of choice, you are finally informed of a number. Incidentally, the prices range from 10p a minute in the UK to a piss-taking 1.03€ a minute in Germany!

If you do call, you are immediately informed that the queues are long and waiting time can approach half an hour. I guess that would put off quite a few people. If you're phoning from Germany, just waiting for your turn can cost you more than the actual flight.

Anyway. A couple of weeks after my first enquiry, Easyjet replied with an automated email. Signed by one "Nina Honarmand, Customer Experience Champion" (seriously), the message announced the reimbusement of my cancelled flight within 5-10 days but also informed me that my claim for the alternative flight could not be processed as my attachments were not in PDF, JPEG or BMP formats.

So I immediately repeated the whole process making sure that I'd attach my receipts in JPEG format.

Three days later, the very same e-mail came back. Identical. "Nina Honarmand, Customer Experience Champion", again informed me that the cancelled flight would be reimbursed within 5-10 days but that my claim for the alternative flight could not be processed as my attachments were not in PDF, JPEG or BMP formats.

Then it said "please click here and we will be more than happy to assist you further". I did click "here" and look where it took me.

Remember earlier I mentioned opening an "Easyjet account"? Well, here it is. I don't remember ever opening one. So I went for the third option: "If you do not have an account...Create a New Account". But as soon as I started the process, the system informed me that my e-mail was being picked up as part of an already existing account.

So I went back. Perhaps I had opened an account after all. Option two is for people who have forgotten their password. I went through it and, sure enough, it said that "a new password will be sent to your email address shortly".

I checked my email inbox and, voila', Easyjet just sent me a message. Perhaps we're seeing the end of this, I thought.

Wrong. The email informed that my password is, literally: (none set).

Desperate, I tried to type in "none set" or "noneset" as the password to my alleged pre-existing account, by neither worked.

"Have you tried to complain?", I hear you asking. Yes, but -again- in order to be forwarded, the online complaint form has to include your "Easyjet account" details, so jack.

I accept that all airlines are being inundated with queries and requests these days and that customers may have to be extra patient and hold on for more than a reasonable number of days. I accept all that.

What I don't accept is the notion that, in 2010, a 'no-frills' airline can get away with total lack of basic customer service and a ridiculously user-unfriendly website that feels like bouncing against a brick wall.

And I'm sorry to say, but if all of the above is the best Ryanair's biggest competitors can manage, gobby Michael O'Leary can sleep safe and sound - total air traffic domination is within his reach.