Tag Archives: islington

More from the IP Wars front line

I wrote an article back in December about intellectual property becoming one of the big ideological political footballs in ther 21st century and it got a good reception. Time for an update of some recent trends methinks.

First of all, numerous posters have recently gone up around Islington claiming that, as you can read in Islington Now (PDF), DVD piracy “finances crimes including child trafficking, drug smuggling, gun crime – even terrorism.” If I were an Islington council tax payer I’d be demanding my money back.

Leaving the claims to one side for a moment, why is council and the police devoting so much resources into what is a civil matter? Couldn’t these resources be better allocated elsewhere? This is doing the film industry’s job for them, isn’t it?

Fundamentally though, is there really any evidence that dodgy DVDs fund trafficking? I get the impression that Islington officials have been watching too many 1960s espionage TV series. There is no global criminal organisation that exists to simply do evil things for their own sake. Is it really that complacent for me to suggest that if child trafficking, drug running and illegal arms dealing were such loss-making industries, people wouldn’t do them?

As for terrorism, anyone who has ever sat in a pub or cafe around Chapel Market will know who does the bulk of the illegal DVD selling in Islington: it is Chinese immigrants of presumably dubious legal status. I have to say I’m rather dubious about the claim that the money they make will be going to Al Qaeda or even Kim Il-sung. Is it really so hard to believe that illegal activities might be going to fund… criminals?

Onto other matters, and a return of the Performing Rights Society. The Federation of Small Businesses has been complaining that many of its members have started being harassed by the PRS – something which I reported on here late last year. I can certainly confirm that when the PRS rang my office it was of a distinctly threatening nature.

I can understand why any business which uses music as a marketing tool ought to pay the PRS, but why should TV license fee payers, listeners of commercial radio and individuals who have already paid for the music they want to listen pay twice? In that, I’d include car mechanics and people sitting in an office listening to their personal stereos. This isn’t about whether people should pay for the music they listen to, it’s about why they should be forced to pay twice.

And as for the PRS’ claim that 90% of their members are small traders themselves, that may be true, but you can bet your bottom dollar that those members don’t get 90% of the revenue the PRS raises. Perhaps if they did (but really, why should they?), they might expect a little more sympathy. But of course it is the big music stars who get the lion’s share so let’s not kid ourselves this is about sticking up for the little guy.

Finally, from PRS harrassment to harrassment by the US military. Clive Stafford-Smith wrote an interesting and at times amusing article in the Guardian on Thursday about how the US uses music as a torture weapon, and how the music industry doesn’t seem to care. It’s ironic, isn’t it? The music industry is busy trying to lock up everyone with an illegal download on their iPod yet are quite sanguine about using their intellectual property to hurt people (presumably the US army has a PRS license though, so that’s okay).

What is most interesting is the reaction of the musicians themselves. It should surprise no-one that Napster-slaying and all round dickheads Metallica seem to think it is wonderful (“If the Iraqis aren’t used to freedom, then I’m glad to be part of their exposure,” according to James Hetfield). David Gray at least laments it: “It’s shocking that there isn’t more of an outcry. I’d gladly sign up to a petition that says don’t use my music, but it seems to be missing the point a bit.”

He has a point in that the real issue is music being abused in this way, not whose music. But he can do more than sign a petition – it is surely within his rights to not allow it to be used in this way? If intellectual property rights are worth fighting for at all, surely they should be used in this way? If I owned a gun and left it lying around I would be criminally negligent. Surely it is equally negilgent (morally, if not criminally) of musicians to knowingly allow their music to be used in this way? If musicians aren’t prepared to stand up for their rights, why should we respect them?

Emily Thornberry caught abusing Commons stationery

Oh dear. It would appear that Omar‘s boss has been ticked off again.

Last autumn, Emily Thornberry sent out what emerges came to 10,400 unsolicited letters to constituents using Commons stationary. Following a flurry of complaints, the Parliamentary Standards Officer Sir Philip Mawer has written to confirm that the cost of this stationary will now have to be paid back:

“It is clear to me that Ms Thornberry should not have used pre-paid envelopes at all for this exercise (since her letter was unsolicited) but should have covered the cost of the stationery and envelopes and the postage required directly, either from her Communications Allowance or out of her own pocket.”

“She has indicated that she will reimburse the cost of the pre-paid envelopes she used and I have asked her to do this.”

This whole adventure is estimated to have cost her around £4,250.

Of course, the “unwise” Ms Thornberry has form. Still, could be worse. At least she didn’t back Peter Hain in the deputy leadership contest!

UPDATE: Following my latest Swinsongate story, Young Labour have airbrushed their news story out of existence. This is at least better than retrospectively turning it into a different story entirely.

Why Islington Labour are the most appalling hypocrites

There’s been some hoohaa recently about Emily Thornberry MP buying up former housing association property at auction. Interestingly, she denies it is an investment, claiming the property will be used to, as Ms Thornberry puts it, “provide cheap and cheerful accommodation for some young people,” while the Islington Tribune article that appears in suggests it will be used for renting out to her “Parliamentary aides”. Does this mean she will be subsidising staff income by providing subsidised property? If so, my reading of the PPERA 2000 is that she will need to declare it as a donation in kind, either to Islington Labour or her Parliamentary Office.

All rather cheeky for someone who has adopted such a high moral tone about Islington’s housing crisis. But the fact is, Labour’s muddle over social housing in Islington doesn’t end there.

The latest episode in the council’s decision to sell off its commercial property portfolio is that apparently 50% of existing residents have either declined to buy their property, or failed to stump up the cash in time. I can see why these shop owners are nervous; Structadene’s bid does indeed appear to have been over the odds and they can expect to see major rent increases. I could bore you for hours about how the existing system gives rich landholders enormous benefits by enabling them to speculatively drive up the price of property and effectively squeeze the little guy out and increasing their property portfolio still further (in fact, if you are a long-term reader, I probably have). Perhaps Structadene will be model landlords and that the shop keepers who missed out were simply badly advised. Either way, the council has a legal obligation to sell to the highest bidder (courtesy: HM Labour Government), and will be using a substantial proportion of the money raised from this sale to invest in social housing.

Given that Structadene’s bid was so high, you would have thought Labour would be delighted. After all, back in April they were demanding that the District Auditor should investigate claims that the council was flogging these properties “on the cheap“. In the event, the money raised from this sale is £69m – £9m more than the optimistic forecasts. Now they’ve done a huge, vaulting, 180-degree U-turn and are claiming to be the resident’s new best friends. It really does beggar belief.

Bending the truth like Beckham in Islington

The Islington Tribune haven’t yet blamed the Liberal Democrat council for the weather, but I’m sure it’s only a matter on time.

This week, the paper is laying into them because they have ‘snubbed‘ Arsenal’s women’s football team after winning an historic quadruple of the FA cup, the UEFA cup, League title and league cup. Guardianista Michelle Hanson has laid into them, as has the Labour Opposition leader Catherine West.

Except that, as usual, it is total bollocks.

If, unlike most people, you can be arsed to read the second page, you will find a number of inconvenient truths to undermine Labour’s crusade:

  • Arsenal themselves aren’t interested in letting the women have their celebration. They don’t even let the team use the Emirates stadium.
  • The ladies’ team manager himself states “I don’t think it would (attract) enough people to attend it.”
  • Rhona Cameron who, as an amateur footballer herself is possibly the only woman in this whole article who knows what she’s talking about*, says “I think it is expecting a bit too much to expect street parades and mass jubilation.”
  • And finally, the coup de grace. It turns out that the council has actually contacted the club for advice on how to celebrate.

Talking of manufactured outrage, the other thing the council are being pillioried for this week is the fact that charities who have been renting property from the council at subsidised rents are outraged that they are now being forced to pay market rates as part of the mass council property sell off. For once, Cllr West has opted to remain silent; fortunate since she was in the paper a fortnight ago claiming that the council should be forcing rents up even more. Some of us might want to know why charities, which already receive subsidies from the taxpayer, should expect to be further subsidised by the local authority as of right, but clearly this is not a view shared by the Green Party.

What I most like about this article is the transparent grasping attitude of the charities and the Greens:

“We’re a charity and obviously couldn’t afford to pay a market rent.”

Well, obviously.

“We are often a thorn in the side of the council and if they wanted to get rid of us this [rent increase] would be the way.”

It’s all a sinister conspiracy, see. Green PPC Emma Dixon goes on to explain in the letters page:

…even the council realises voluntary groups will not be able to afford market rents, so it proposes to give grants to some lucky groups on the basis of stringent criteria.
These include whether the council thinks the group makes an “appropriate contribution” to Islington; whether the group has a “business plan” to reduce “dependency” on the council (a dependency only created by the rent rises); and whether the group is located (in the council’s view) in “the most suitable property for their needs”. If not, they may be asked to move out into a “managed office” hub – or, presumably, fail to qualify for a grant for their rent.

Er, where do I start? How is a charity which needs rent subsidies not dependent on the council? What is wrong with encouraging them to become more independent? What is wrong with a council examining how best to spend taxpayer’s money instead of just doling it out willy-nilly to whichever organisation is lucky enough to already be a council tenant? This woman is apparently a barrister. I hope she’s never mine.

The real problem here is not anything the council have done but the over-heated nature of the London property market. Subsidising rents here, there and everywhere doesn’t just cost us more council tax, but ensures the market remains over-heated and makes it harder for people like you and I to get onto the housing ladder. When politicians and the press over-indulge such misguided nonsense they do us all a great disservice.

* Before the hate mail starts to pour in, I’m not saying women don’t know anything about football. I AM saying that women (and men for that matter) who up until last week were probably unaware that Arsenal even had women’s football team and have decided to jump on a political bandwagon, don’t know what they’re talking about.

Islington Labour – the shopkeeper’s friend?

Sometimes I wish the journalists who work for the Islington Tribune actually engaged critical faculties before publishing a story. This week, they have effectively republished a Labour press release calling for the District Auditor to look into the Lib Dem run council’s sale of 220 properties, mostly shops, which is being hotly contested. Many of the existing tenants are up in arms because, as the piece says, “Shopkeepers fear the new owners will charge huge rents, forcing the closure of businesses built up from scratch over many years.”

Labour’s allegations warrant some scrutiny. They are claiming that the real problem is that the council is selling the ‘family silver on the cheap’, and that the valuation they have based their plans on doesn’t accurately reflect what they could get over the next 20 years from the property if the council kept it. They claim the council could make more money by borrowing off the value of the property.

I will happily claim ignorance – I have no idea whether they are right here or not. The District Auditor certainly should pay close attention, as it should whenever any council proposes selling off part of its portfolio. But let’s be clear what Labour are, and are not, saying here. They aren’t questioning the principle that the council must get the best value out of its portfolio and that best value means, brutally, the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s buck. Many of the shopkeepers involved in this dispute have argued that this should not be the case and to some extent I have sympathy for that view – nevertheless, Islington Council have a clear duty to enforce the letter of the law.

But more to the point, what Labour most definitely are saying is that the best value can be achieved by raising rents.

Indeed, although the Islington Tribune has criminally failed to join the dots, they state so quite clearly:

The council’s outside independent advisor, Erinaceous, produced an options appraisal weighing up the financial benefits of retaining the portfolio against selling it off.

Cllr Greening added: “That was based on the current rental income of around £2.5 million. But I have seen a new document produced by Erinaceous, which now estimates the rental will to go up 50 per cent to £3.7 million within the next few years.

“My belief is that that, in the long term, the council will lose money. Within 30 years you will hit the break-even point – when the benefit of the sale and having the rent will be equal.

“That’s when council tax-payers will have to pay.”

In other words, the Labour supposition is based on a policy of increasing the rents by 50%.

This is slightly nonsensical because if the potential value of the assets is so high, the bids are likely to reflect that fact. They have a point only in so far as the council may need to revise its reserve price. But they are most definitely saying that regardless of whether the properties are kept by the council or sold off, the shopkeepers can expect a hike in their rent. The only real difference here is whether the shopkeepers should be given the opportunity to buy their own property, or not.

The bottom line is, this is happening all around the country, and it is happening as a direct result of national (Labour) government policy. The only thing Labour has to say to the shopkeepers affected is that the Lib Dems aren’t proposing to fleece them nearly enough.

Meanwhile, I do wish the Tribune at least occasionally attempted balance, instead of this hyperbolic nonsense (on the other hand, if it was boringly unbiased, I probably wouldn’t make a ritual out of reading it every week).

Islington Tories – even their Guacamole is Blue

Normally, the Islington Tribune is the Lib Dem bashing paper of choice, but the innate nuttiness of Islington’s Conservative-inclined inhabitants means that every so often they just can’t help making themselves look stupid.

Firstly, there is dear old Boris, calling for “Sharia law for bike thieves“. We must assume that this is meant in jest, but his equivocation about his famous apology to Liverpudlians might be of interest to those of you of a Merseyside bent:

“Islington is one of the few places in the country that I’ve not yet insulted.

“It was the people of Liverpool who got very upset – or rather some journalists who wound them all up.”

But we don’t need to rely on old Boris to make the Tories look stupid in North London. The local Tories have hit out at the council’s £3m investment plan to reduce Islington’s carbon footprint as a “symbolic stunt“. So far, so much politics. But then they have to go and take it that little bit further:

The party’s chairwoman, Margaret Reese, launched her attack on Tuesday at Highbury Corner, opposite a derelict site believed to be owned by Network Rail.

She said: “Labour’s nuclear-free zone was a meaningless symbolic stunt 20 years ago and so is this one about climate change.

“The difference is that the ruling Lib Dems are spending £3 million of our cash.

“It is not for councils to tackle global warming by spending council tax. It’s something governments do internationally.

“Meanwhile, we have these appalling eyesores – like this one at Highbury Corner – which make the borough look like a Third World site. This is the first bit of Islington that a lot of people see and I’m ashamed of it.”

Tim Newark, local historian and former Highbury Conservative candidate, argued that the council is spending money on a “fashionable theory”.

He added: “We have no real scientific proof that links rising carbon emissions and pollution with climate change. Indeed, recently scientists have been arguing that the theory is a lot of hot air.

“In fact, from 1945 to the early 1970s, when carbon was actually rising because of the post-war boom, global temperatures went down.”

Say what you like about Islington Lib Dems, they’ve done a lot to crack down on anti-social behaviour and crime, with measurable results. When it comes to the environment, the local Tories can’t even be consistent, with Margaret Reese calling for it to be tackled globally – presumably ignoring inconvenient global agreements like LA21 – and Tim Newark claiming it’s all a myth anyway. Do you think they bother to actually agree on a party line, or do they just switch their brains onto ‘vent bile mode’ and let rip?

How does dear Margaret think international agreements get implemented? Does she think a few people just have to sign their name on a piece of paper in New York and global warming will simply vanish? And since when is Tim Newark, an historian, a world authority on climate change? One can’t help but get the impression that the sum total of his knowledge is watching that Channel 4 documentary a couple of weeks ago.

What dissent there is on climate change is miniscule compared to the widespread consensus amongst scientists worldwide. In fact, the only people who seem to be going out of their way to cast aspersions about climate change at the moment are Tories. Cf Iain Dale. It’s beginning to resemble a concerted attempt to undermine Cameron himself, something which appears to have not escaped his attention.

It doesn’t bode well for when Cameron has to start announcing some actual policies.