29 December 2012


I've no desire to speak ill of the dead, but William Rees-Mogg, who has just died, was the Man Who Got Everything Wrong. He was a great modernising editor of the Times. More than anyone else, he turned it into a modern broadsheet paper between the late 1960s and early 1980s: it stopped being fuddy-duddy and dull and put on circulation.

But after he left the chair, is there anything he got right? His columns in the Independent and later in the Times were fuddy-duddy and dull and became a laughing-stock because of his enthusiasm for ill-informed predictions – Private Eye taunted him as "Mystic Mogg" – but they never went away. He was wrong about everything imaginable, from the state of the world economy and other geopolitical issues right down to the minutiae of arts policy, and was wrong so barmily and systematically that his column became a must-read for anyone with a taste for comedy. We need another chief establishment chump, and we need one now.

24 December 2012


Can you imagine what it's like to be in the bunker with Bashar Al-Assad? I can, but it's not journalism. As his regime crumbles – or does Russian military aid keep it going? – all the user-generated-content new-media palaver shows only that his regime is brutal and cynically prepared to do anything to stay in power. We've got more pictures than we're used to. Some of them are shocking. But are we any better informed about what is actually going than the outside world was in 1917 about the October revolution in Russia? We're not, and technology will never replace journalists on the ground. Where is the correspondent with Assad's ear?

19 December 2012


Aaaargh! Press, a new Brit alternative small press, is celebrating its birth with a party in London next month to mark the publication of its first titles, Reaching for my Gnu by Anna Chen (Kindle e-book and paperback) and The Guitar Geek Dossier by Charles Shaar Murray (Kindle e-book only for now).

Reaching for my Gnu, a collection of poems by British-Chinese poet and performer Anna Chen is available as a paperback here for £9.99 and as a Kindle e-book here for £1.99.

'Brilliant and dangerous ... one wild-ride roller-coaster that soars to altitudes of unfettered wit and then plunges with a startling and implacably knowing anger' MICK FARREN


'Charming, witty and sophisticated' SUNDAY TIMES
The Guitar Geek Dossier, an author's-choice collection of columns from Guitarist by legendary music journalist Charles Shaar Murray is available as a Kindle e-book here for £1.99.

'The Johnny Cash of rock journalism' PHIL CAMPBELL, MOTORHEAD

'The rock critic’s rock critic' Q MAGAZINE

'Front-line cultural warrior' INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

Charles is author of Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix And Post-war Pop and Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century (both Canongate). His first novel, The Helhound Sample, was published by Head Press in 2011.

The details of the launch party, which will be something to remember, will be posted here and on the official Aaaargh! Press website very soon.

1 December 2012


A few points to add to what has already been said elsewhere:
  1. As everyone says, the Croydon North, Middlesbrough and Rotherham by-elections were good for Labour (as indeed were Cardiff South, Corby and Manchester Central earlier in the month) – but it wasn’t just because Labour won what had been safe seats. Most importantly, in Rotherham and Croydon North it saw off what ambushed it in Bradford West, a populist-left challenge from Respect, and it did so convincingly.
  2. Respect was written off by most commentators after the 2010 general election – but it sprang miraculously from the dead when George Galloway won Bradford West in March. It is not going to get a better shot at replicating that than Rotherham – a disgraced Labour MP, a large Muslim population, momentum from Bradford West. But it failed. Its performance (just over 8 per cent for Yvonne Ridley) was good for a far-left party historically (anything over 5 per cent is) but poor given everything that it thought was going in its favour. And 707 votes for Lee Jasper (and sixth place behind the Green) in Croydon North was risible. Respect is now nothing more than George Galloway’s personal political machine.
  3. UKIP did well, but the hype should be kept in perspective. New insurgent parties have actually won by-elections in the past rather than celebrate their best performance as coming a distant second with 22 per cent of the vote. UKIP has a long way to go before matching the Scottish National Party in Motherwell in 1945, let alone the Social Democratic Party in Crosby in 1981.
  4. The real danger from these by-elections is that they encourage Labour to adopt an even more opportunist populist approach to Europe and immigration than hitherto because that’s where the voters are. In Rotherham, more than one-third of those who voted chose candidates to the right of the Tories on Europe and immigration – and Labour’s focus groups are jammed with people moaning about bloody foreigners coming over here from eastern Europe, taking our jobs and houses and scrounging on the dole. The Labour leadership is of a generation that listens to the focus groups then works out what it believes – and Ed Miliband, despite his coherent though hardly inspiring speech in favour of remaining part of Europe the other week, has not broken the habit of telling people what the focus-group analysts think they want to hear. I’m afraid I expect a lot of Labour attempts to hijack UKIP themes over the next few months.
  5. It's utterly disgraceful that there was not a proper by-election news programme on the BBC last night or for the previous round of by-elections. If the public service remit of the BBC means anything, it is that it reports the proceedings of British democracy. Last night, the Croydon Advertiser's blogger beat the BBC to the Croydon North result (though he or she got a lot of the figures wrong) and the BBC didn't run a comprehensive report on the results until 40 minutes after the declaration. It was better by far in the good old days of Vincent Hanna and sing-songs round the piano with Larry Whitty.