Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Forget dog-food, it's moat maintenance we really need to halt

    Jan Shure
    May 13, 2009

    My colleague Jenni Frazer has already touched on the subject of MPs expenses in her blog (, and while I am equally amused by the female MP who claimed £4.47 for dog food, that particular member's misuse of the system pales so far into insignificance compared to that of the swimming pool-owning class of Tory MPs, that I actually feel pity for her.

    That her name could be traduced (by the Daily Telegraph) for claiming less than a fiver to feed her mutt, seems positively spiteful compared with the abject greed revealed by the MPs who claimed thousands for such "essentials" as swimming pool maintenance, gardening (one Tory's £5,650 over nine months for the maintenance of his patch), stamp duty, manure for perfecting a lawn, a helipad and even Douglas Hogg's moat clearance.

    If there really is a will among party leaders to clean up this appalling misuse of taxpayers money - as both David Cameron and Gordon Brown have claimed - it seems that someone needs to work out a formula that is as close to fair, equable and abuse-proof as it is possible to be. And that means taking away the ability of MPs to submit claims for pretty much anything they fancy (dog-food, gardening, helipads, moats), and their ability to choose any kind of home (or homes) they feel appropriate. There are, after all, only so many permutations of family homes and constituency locations and by working out what they are, specific sums - with London weightings - could be applied to homes, travel and very tightly scrutinised living expenses.

  • Yes, really, flights at 2005 prices to Tel Aviv

    Jan Shure
    May 13, 2009

    Whoever said competition wasn't healthy clearly knew nothing about the price of flights to Israel or the impact of the economic downturn on the travel business.
    Until comparatively recently, the London-Tel Aviv route was neatly shared by BA and El Al, who charged roughly similar fares for roughly similar dates.

    Then, along came bmi, with its business-friendly service and - from this month, - a second daily flights from Heathrow to Ben-Gurion, and it must have dawned on Israel's national carrier that they might need to actually become a bit more competitive if they wanted to hang on to their business share from the UK.

    As we have seen, the first move - following the demise of Thomson's Tel Aviv route from Luton - was to introduce more or less daily flights from Luton (so convenient for the Jewish heartland of north London) to Tel Aviv, with a lower price introductory fare.
    And today, the airline has announced a new instant purchase economy flight from £267 return from Heathrow to B-G, and from £254 from Luton to B-G - both fares cheaper, in real terms, than in 2005. The fares are for travel only up to July 3 (and may be booked up to the date of travel), but for everyone who wants to avoid mid-summer, and isn't tied by school holidays, it is very encouraging news. Now, if only Israeli hoteliers could be a bit more competitive, life in Planet Travel would be perfect.

  • Money grows on trees at the BBC

    Stephen Pollard
    May 12, 2009

    There's an excellent clip on Comment Central of an interview given in defence of the Speaker by George Foulkes.

    I have to say, however, that I am far more interested in the revelation by the presenter that she is paid £92,000 a year. 

    Her name is Carrie Gracie. Until now, I had never heard of her, or - as far as I can remember - seen her. She is in every way I can judge, entirely unremarkable.  And yet this woman takes home £92,000 of our money.

  • Train spotting

    Stephen Pollard
    May 12, 2009

    It's 76 miles from Kettering to London. How long do you think it takes by train?

    Eighteen hours.

    Or rather, eighteen hours if you make the journey on Saturday week, involving seven changes and
    five bus replacement drives on a 295-mile tour.

  • Court raps US teacher for slamming creationism

    Simon Rocker
    May 12, 2009

    A teacher in a public school in southern California violated the constitutional separation between church and state when he condemned creationism as "superstitious nonsense", a court has found.
    Guardian commentator Andrew Brown concludes: "The result of this case... is that evolution becomes harder to teach, and creationism harder to mock, because science and atheism have become so entangled in the public mind."

  • Ludicrous

    Stephen Pollard
    May 12, 2009

    I'm not sure if I believe this story:

    A Muslim catering manager has accused the
    Metropolitan Police of religious discrimination as he was told he may
    have to handle sausages and bacon.

    Hasanali Khoja was told he would be expected to handle pork
    products at his new job at the Empress State Building in Earls Court,
    west London.

    His lawyer said Mr Khoja was excused from pork meat in his previous job at Hendon Police College in north London.

  • Jordan and Peter Andre split

    Alex Kasriel
    May 11, 2009

    The couple have just released an official statement confirming they have separated.

    Whatever you think about the glamour model (real name Katie Price), her lewd antics and her pneumatic breasts, it is still a sad fact that her marriage of four years is over.

    This is especially true as they have two children together: Junior, three, and one-year-old daughter Princess Tiáamii.  And Jordan, who is halachically Jewish has another son, Harvey, six by footballer Dwight Yorke.

  • BBC gets it wrong as always

    Stephen Pollard
    May 11, 2009

    Shockingly bad coverage of the Pope's visit to Israel on the BBC. I've just watched the 5pm bulletin on News 24, and the reporter, Paul Wood, comment thus on Benedict's opening remarks: 

    For the Israeli government, these were unwelcome words. They don't want a two-state solution - a Palestinain state alongside Israel. The Pope does.

    This from an expert correspondent? Can Mr Wood really not get his mind round the distinction between not publicly embracing an idea and being opposed to it? Formal acceptance of the idea of a two-state solution is simply being held in reserve by Netanyahu in return for...well, that's the real question.

  • When 'Middle East' really means Arab

    Jan Shure
    May 11, 2009

    We are, in case you need reminding, half way through 2009; it is 31 years since the Camp David agreement, close to 20 years since the Arab boycott of Israel officially ended and 16 years since Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn, leading - supposedly - to the normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

    Yet how often does the phrase "Middle Eastern" in any kind of commercial context, actually include Israel, and how often is it a handy euphemism for "Arab nations", invariably excluding Israel.

    This is always made very clear at the UK's main travel exhibition, World Travel Market, held each November - these days at ExCel in Docklands, but in former years at Earls Court. Whatever the venue, the "Middle East" invariably fails to include Israel; at last November's show, Israel was somewhere between Greece and Portugal in the North Hall sector entitled "Europe and Mediterranean", while all of its geographical neighbours were located in the South Hall sector named "Middle East and North Africa". The organizers of WTM may, of course, have placed Israel there on security grounds, possibly at the request of Israel.

  • Collaboration

    Stephen Pollard
    May 11, 2009

    I hold no brief for the Evening Standard under its old regime. But compared to the new look paper... The relentless froth and puffery is plain dull. I can't think of a single reason why anyone would buy it, rather than grab one of the freesheets.

    As for the paper's 'Sorry' campaign - here's what the previous editor, Veronica Wadley,. has to say:

    London is laughing at this ludicrous campaign. Saying 'Sorry' for
    the past smacks of a Soviet courtroom 'confession'. 'Sorry' has all the
    hallmarks of a KGB-style smear campaign. It denigrates the judgment of
    500,000 loyal readers who have been buying the paper in recent years.