June 2008 Archives
You can almost hear the thumbscrews being tightened and the shriek of pain from members of Birmingham City Council's planning committee who dared to speak out against a proposed 35-storey tower in Colmore Row.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that British Land will get approval for the ÃÂ£160 million scheme on the corner of Newhall Street, but it will be interesting to spot the councillors who undergo a Damascus-like conversion and decide to support the new tower by the time the matter returns to the committee later this year.
Picture by Lee Jordan.
The fate of Birmingham's Central Library is always a good topic to get Birmingham's blogosphere going.
Let the people decide is the clarion call coming from Liberal Democrat city councillor Martin Mullaney, who has launched a campaign to save Birmingham's Central Library from demolition.
He wants the reference section to be turned into a Tate Modern art gallery and a new library to be built on land occupied by the Conservatoire.
His vision, if it were ever realised, would kill stone dead the council's grand plan for a new ÃÂ£193 million library in Centenary Square - a project which Mullaney dismisses as poorly costed and "shoehorned" into an unsuitable site. It would also put paid to proposals to flatten most of the buildings in Paradise Circus and replace them with what Mullaney calls "soulless office blocks".
Poor English Heritage.
You almost feel sorry for an organisation that does its best to be fair, but usually ends up with few friends.
On the subject of Birmingham Central Library, the conservation watchdog took almost 10 months to decide to recommend to the Government that the 1973 structure should be placed on the list of architecturally important buildings. This mirrored a decision taken by English Heritage in 2003, and on that occasion the then Local Government Minister Baroness Andrews decided against listing the library.
But as an English Heritage spokeswoman pointed out, nothing has changed since 2003. It was always a safe bet that the organisation would reiterate its view that the building should be listed.
The legal system is cold, heartless and takes no account of the feelings of victims and the vulnerable.
Thank god for that.
We've heard a lot about respect in recent days over the Lisbon Treaty - which hopes to reform the EU and which was approved by parliament yesterday.
Gordon Brown said he respected the Irish people's decision to reject the treaty, which by all rights should leave it dead in the water. He added he had to respect the wishes of other countries that approved the treaty, and also respect the House of Commons, which also approved the treaty.
Here's an idea. How about some respect for the people of Britain?
It appears students are increasingly cheating. As well as cutting and pasting the work of others off the internet, they are now paying freelancers to do their work for them. It's called contract cheating.
Meriden MP Caroline Spelman, the Conservative Party Chair, is to face an inquiry into her use of MPs' expenses to hire a nanny, it has emerged.
The statement issued this afternoon by John Lyon, the official Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, comes as a surprise because just last week he seemed to be saying that no investigation was needed.
But Mr Lyon, the official Commons watchdog, has consulted a committee of MPs - chaired by Tory backbencher Sir George Young - which agreed an inquiry was needed.
The controversy surrounds Mrs Spelman's use of Commons expenses to employ a nanny, after she became an MP in 1997.
Mrs Spelman has said that the nanny, Tina Haynes, was paid to look after her children and do secretarial work for a "short term period" after her election to Parliament, between 1997 and 1998.
As MPs are allowed to claim expenses to pay their secretaries, this was not against Commons rules.
But it was claimed over the weekend that Ms Haynes in fact remained on the public payroll for almost two years, from April 1997 to March 1999, and that for at least some of this period she lived at the Spelman family home in Kent, more than 140 miles from Meriden.
We are waiting to see whether Mrs Spelman or Conservative Central Office will issue a formal statement in response to the news that the inquiry is going ahead.
But privately, Conservatives are drawing attention to the fact that Mrs Spelman herself asked for the investigation - and that there have been no official complaints about her.
Still, even the hint of sleaze at the top level of the party is a blow to the Tories.
Mrs Spelman will now be under a cloud of suspicion until the unquiry is completed - which could take months.
Supporters of the fledgeling campaign to build an ÃÂ£11 billion high-speed rail link between Birmingham and London would do well to remember the Brumderground fiasco.
At the heart of the Conservative manifesto for the 2004 city council elections was a headline-grabbing promise to investigate the possibility of replacing the Midland Metro tram extension with an underground railway network for Birmingham.
The party, spurred on by group leader Mike Whitby, even produced a London underground-style map depicting Brum's own version of the Circle, District and Metropolitan lines, while also making the highly unlikely claim that the whole thing could be built for ÃÂ£200 million.
I've met a few people of note in my time as a journalist. Heads of state. Sporting heroes. Dames and Knights of the Realm. Religious leaders. Celebs. But none have impressed me as much as Maureen Mitchell.
Two members of the Government have suggested to me that Labour should not even put up a candidate in Haltemprice and Howden - and let David Davis fight it out with Miss Whiplash and the Monster Raving Loony Party.
The idea would be to portray the Shadow Home Secretary's decision to resign from the Commons as a stunt, which will force an expensive by-election which nobody wants.
It's certainly hard to see what a by-election will prove. If his seat was a Conservative/Labour marginal then, perhaps, a by-election resulting in a crushing Tory victory would prove that the public backs Mr Davis in his campaign to defend "fundamental British freedoms".
But it's actually a Tory-held seat where the Lib Dems are the challengers - and they're not even going to stand against him. Referring to Wednesday's vote on holding terror suspects for 42 days, Mr Davis said that if he is returned to Parliament it will be "with a single, simple message - that the monstrosity of a law that we passed yesterday will not stand." But the message, surely, will simply be that without a Lib Dem candidate, his is a safe Tory seat.
There's only one story tomorrow at Westminster, as MPs vote on the Government's plans to allow the detention of terror suspects for 42 days.
If the Government wins it, the credit will belong partly to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, who won over some doubters with her speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party last week. If they lose, it will inevitably be seen as another blow to Gordon Brown.
Labour has today been very open about the fact that it may lose the vote. This could be a deliberate effort to warn rebels that there will be consequences if they oppose the Government - vote against the proposal and the horrible predictions in the newspapers could come true. Horrible from Labour's point of view, that is.
I wouldn't like to place a bet on the outcome tomorrow. It really is too close to call.
You've got to admire the Government. It's basically hung an axe over the head of 638 secondary schools it believes aren't doing well enough.
These schools now either need to shape up or face the consequences, which could include being shut down.
Aside from other measures, if generating discussion was an aim for The Big Debate then you could call it a success.
If you missed out on the event at the time then you can still watch it on this Bambuser channel. Live-blogged transcripts of the debate are also available on The Birmingham Post courtesy of Pete Ashton and on my own personal blog.
While the debate was going on, the emergent back channels for discussion were recognised, with Pete's live-blogging projected on a screen behind the panel. His chat featured some of the discussion taking place via Twitter and the relevant tweets can be seen on Summize.
So much for the live reporting of the debate. I often find the value in these things comes after the event itself when people get a chance to digest what they've heard, discuss things with others and put down their own thoughts.
And so, over this afternoon and this evening blog posts have cropped up in response to the debate.
David Harte used his Birmingham Post blog to opine that, as far as social media is concerned, useful or useless' is a more pertinent question than 'more power or more powerless'.
Nick Booth gave a round-up of several others with some of his own input on the issue of the digital divide.
Stef Lewandowski started writing a comment under Nick's post which turned into a bog post of his own. Following events in New York, he found the debate unfocussed. He referred to the notion of 'usefulness' and would welcome a discussion on the 'why' of digital media.
Jon Bounds also picked up on the issue of the digital divide and sees much more room for discussion there. He's critical of two of the panel and identifies topics that were skirted over, that of privacy in particular.
Jason Norris considered many of the topics raised, saying "perhaps the Digital Revolution has redistributed the power, but to both parties".
A couple of quick points were made by Simon Howes and Russ L. The former points out why it's ironic that BBC and BT representatives were sat side-by-side discussing on-demand services. The latter claiming that there wasn't much new said.
Adding some variety, cartoonist Alex Hughes was there and made a few sketches of the panel.
Finally, after reading what everyone else has said, I made some notes of my own on my blog. You can see that by clicking Chris Unitt.
If you've put down your thoughts about the debate somewhere then please link to them in the comments. Not got a blog to air your views on? The comments are waiting for you too.
It's been a hectic few months since we launched The Birmingham Post's new website, in which time we've seen the number of daily users more than double, page impressions increase by a similar amount, and hundreds of people sign-up for our e-newsletters.
But the real success story is in what we've learned - and continue to learn - about this medium, and how it changes the very journalism of papers like The Post.
- The Big Debate is today, 12.30pm to 2.30pm at the ICC.
- You can still register to attend.
- The debate will be shown live here.
- The debate will be live-blogged here.
- You can comment in the chat-box here or by using the #bigdebate Twitter hashtag
The Big Debate takes place at the ICC at lunchtime (well, 12.30pm to 2.30pm) today. From what I hear the big, shiny 'places strictly limited' button has done it's work, meaning there are plenty of spare places available. If you can make it, take a sec to register and pop on down.
Although the debate is taking place in the middle of the working day there's actually more opportunity to see it and get involved than in previous years and that's down to, yup, online interactivity.
Joanna Geary has applied the kind of thinking and innovation that's got her noticed in journalism circles and, as a result the debate will be broadcast live on Bambuser (a natty little video service) and Pete Ashton will be live-blogging (making notes/commenting about the debate live) using a service called CoverItLive. You can follow this here on the Birmingham Post site.
So that's the broadcasting covered, what of the interactivity? Well, people can comment on the Bambuser site in a chat-box next to the video. Also, for those that use Twitter (essentially a groovy online text messaging service) Pete will be monitoring any messages that include '#bigdebate'.
Noteworthy Bambuser comments and #bigdebate tweets will be fed into CoverItLive which, as well as being on this website, will also be projected on a screen behind the panel.
So, bearing in mind the panel are expected to be largely technophile and this is a debate about the pros and cons of digital ('more power or more powerless?') a few cynical voices from the audience might be needed to prevent a huge back-slapping sesh. I do appreciate that it'll be digital interactivity giving voice to such cyncism, though.
At the moment the message from Birmingham's digital media early adopters seems to be that online media of all sorts can be used to help improve society. Blogs can give the disenfranchised a voice and tie together communities; the Big City Plan could be developed publicly via a wiki; free wi-fi access across the city would drive business...
These may all be valuable things that should be pursued and there's nothing wrong with racing ahead. However, I see more value in the less sexy work of bringing those lagging behind up to speed. With this in mind I was pleasantly surprised to see the content of Digital Birmingham's current 'Get Into Digital' campaign.
As Digital Birmingham's about page says:
We want to help citizens, communities and businesses in Birmingham to use digital technologies more widely and in new ways, whilst recognising differing interests and varying skill levels
It's the last part of that statement that I like.
The campaign recognises that some people (in fact, I'd go so far as to say many people) haven't got a clue about digital technology and seeks to bring those people into the fold.
A series of courses and lessons are taking places in libraries across the city on easy, non-threatening, basic topics like 'how to set up an email account' and 'how to trace your family tree' - the kind of thing people might have a personal motivation for learning about.
At the same time, within the digital bubble, conversations are starting about how the early adopters can use their skills and knowledge to help people, communities and so on. They would do well to heed this example and consider the language and level of what they're pitching - talking about blogs, memes, social media, feeds, wikis, metadata and taking pride in describing it all as geeky will inevitably alienate people and send them running in the opposite direction.
It's about getting out of the bubble, using your audience's language, seeing what people need and finding ways to achieve that. It's not about jargon or pushing the latest fascinating thing you've found.
Digital Birmingham come in for a bit of stick - birminghamfiz? No RSS feed for their news? - but here I think they're to be congratulated because it's initiatives like this that will help to address the widening digital literacy gap.
It has been clear for a number of months that the procedure to select a candidate to replace Clare Short as Labour's official candidate for Ladywood at the next General Election was becoming mired in controversy, not just over the matter of an all-woman shortlist but also as a result of the constituency's complex ethnic make-up.
The decision on Saturday to choose Asian Muslim candidate Shabana Mahmood rather than black Christian city councillor Yvonne Mosquito has already triggered allegations of dirty tricks and it would take a supreme optimist to imagine that claims and accusations will die down anytime soon.
Scandal is the word that springs to mind. I'm talking about a Government report that shows children from the poorest areas have the least qualified teachers.
It makes you wonder what education is for in this country. Is it to perpetuate social inequality or is it to help children no matter what their background make the most of their lives?
Although I'm generally a fan of new digital shenanigans I appreciate that it's not all fun and games for everyone. For example, I accept that it's possible to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available online.
At a conference on digital media I attended earlier this year, a delegate asked the panel despairingly "how do you deal with information overload?" The term 'infobesity' was used, adding a nice, quasi-medical twist.
The panel pointed out that this isn't a new problem. How many books are printed every year? How many films are released? How many TV shows are broadcast over how many channels every evening?
Germaine Greer is now posting over on the New Generation Arts blog and gives a similar answer to this question:
"Communication overload was around long before we had digital technology. We've had to pick our way through too much information for a generation."
So there's a sense that there is 'too much' information out there but it's nothing to get stressed about. That's good to know, but we still need a way to manage the unmanageable. How do we do that?
Without thinking about it consciously, we've each developed systems to navigate through high volumes of irrelevancy and dross. Our systems may use guides, reviews, recommendations, experimentation and dumb luck. These systems can apply to news, books, TV, film, music... and the internet.
For example, we trust in search engines to bring us the information we need. Friends tell us about websites or email links to things we might like. Bookmarking service like del.ici.ous can be used to save and share links to websites
It's true there's a lot out there but it's nothing to worry about, honestly.
Details of the panel for The Big Debate, taking place at the ICC on 9 June from 12.30 to 14.30, are available on the Big Debate website. What struck me is that, of the five people involved, only one comes from a small, digitally-minded company (and even then a relatively old one).
The other organisations represented are BT, Trinity-Mirror and the BBC (twice, including the Chair). All large, blue-chippers that are being compelled to develop their existing business models to incorporate the effects of the recent digital explosion.
My question is, are they best placed to lead a discussion about the direction of this brave new digital world?
Awards. What are they good for? Advancing careers, mostly.
These days there's an award for everything, from best restaurant to best inside leg measurer. OK, I made up that last one. But you get the point.
Is the digital age eroding our national right to queue? Chris Poolman and Keir Williams, creators of the Digital is Dangerous campaign, present their "political manifesto" explaining why the information revolution is not all it's cracked up to be.