Tag Archives: scandal

The Pope in Britain

I’m a Catholic because I’m half-Irish-half-English and, as my dad isn’t much of a believer, I ended up getting baptised – not that I actually go to church. My attendance record is pretty much based on weddings and funerals.

But, when I was asked if I would be interested in working with the government Cabinet Office to follow Pope Benedict around the UK during his visit, providing live commentary via Twitter and blogs, I jumped at the chance. Though I’m not a follower, the teachings of his church have permeated their way into my consciousness just because I was always surrounded by Catholics when I was growing up – and who wouldn’t want to be embedded with a head of state providing a live Twitter feed of what really happens ‘backstage’?

But it was the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who invited the Pope to the UK. And Brown is no longer in office. And the current Prime Minister is either less interested in the Pope visiting, or more attuned to the scandal that will be caused by his visit. Most probably the latter as the child sex scandal furore only seems to be getting worse and the present Pope was previously in charge of handling complaints against the Vatican, and should therefore be acutely aware of the issues – and be handling them rather better.

So the regular media will continue to cover the visit, but all additional nice-to-have coverage (like a live blogger backstage) were all canned.

It’s a shame as I was looking forward to trying to offer some insights. The views of the church often rub directly against my own liberal opinions – I was working in Malta last week and I was surprised to hear that divorce is illegal there because the church won’t allow it. The Catholic church has some way to go to reach the standards considered acceptable in a modern-day society where free expression and respect for Human Rights are considered essential.

But the church has an immense history and tradition and is followed by hundreds of millions of people. I was looking forward to exploring these questions of how faith collides with modernity, but now I won’t get the chance anyway. Another thing I can blame on David Cameron.

What a shame.
Art installation, Central St Martin's

Mahindra Satyam at the FIFA World Cup

Have you been watching the FIFA World Cup? Perhaps you have given up now that England is out of the tournament. Or you might still be holding a torch for the South American giants such as Argentina or Brazil? Whatever your choice of team, it’s impossible to ignore the advertising at the stadiums. This time, the boards around every stadium are entirely electronic. They change about 2 or 3 times a minute, serving up huge exposure for the brands that sponsor these places. Companies such as Adidas, Brahma, and Coca Cola have had prominent advertising popping up. But what’s that Mahindra Satyam one?

Well, of course it’s the Indian technology firm Mahindra Satyam – the technology people that deliver the systems used at the world cup. No doubt they get the advertising as part of their arrangement to deliver technology services to FIFA. But is it actually worth anything to a company like Mahindra Satyam to even bother putting their brand on boards by a football match?

Mahindra Satyam is in the B2B business. They don’t sell a consumer product like Coca Cola. They only have a relatively small number of possible customers around the world – company chiefs needing help with IT or hi-tech services. I admit, some of those company bosses may be watching the football and may be impressed to see the company logo there. But is that measurable? And should a B2B even be focused on that kind of warm fluffy brand perception marketing?

Perhaps it’s a more oblique strategy to raise the profile of the firm, tainted by the Satyam scandal only just over a year ago – an accounting fraud often termed ‘India’s Enron’. The brand was damaged substantially and perhaps this blanket bombing of the world cup is to emphasise the strength of the Mahindra Satyam brand – as opposed to the bad-taste-in-the-mouth Satyam one.

So perhaps the perception building is more about trying to get good people working for them rather than trying to win new business. Coders sitting in bunkers in India must be puffed out with pride when they see their company logo all over the big world cup games – with TCS, Infosys, and Wipro nowhere in sight.

But even if FIFA is offering the ad space for free as a part of the IT contract, will it get Mahindra some new business? None of the technology or marketing executives I speak to think that this is the way to go… if someone from Mahindra Satyam wants to contact me, I’d be happy to talk to you about this strategy directly.
Press mob Kiran Karnik

David Laws. Why is the media not able to report this fairly?

Millionaire claims government expenses. Pays gay lover thousands of tax payers cash… This story has been presented as a fait accompli by all the press without digging into what happened at all. I’m not even a Lib Dem supporter, but I have to say I feel sympathy for David Laws.

Lets explore a few of the facts.

1. He started renting a flat in London at taxpayers expense, as he is entitled to.

2. He started a relationship with the landlord of the flat

3. He was scared of being outed as gay because he spent his life hiding his sexuality so he continued with the flat rental, rather than not paying the man who was now effectively his partner. Though of course there would in any case need to be a decision on how long you need to be together to be considered partners anyway…

That’s the whole story. If he followed the rules he should not have paid a partner, but here the reality is a bit fuzzy because he was already paying a landlord who eventually became his partner.

If he was open about his sexuality he could have switched his second home to his mortgaged house in Yeovil and the tax payer would be paying a mortgage much bigger than the rent on the London flat. Or he could have bought a new house in London with his partner and the tax payer would be paying that mortgage – plus furniture and expenses.

All these alternative options would have involved claiming more expenses which means he was not motivated by the need to claim and much as he could – he just wanted to keep his head down and not attract attention to his sexuality.

I don’t think a modern-day MP needs to hide his sexuality – we have had many gay MPs in the past – it’s just not an issue, but if he felt that he had hidden it to his friends and family for so long that coming out would be an issue, then that’s clearly his own decision.

So, David Laws did break the rules on renting from a partner, but do the rules state when a person switches from being a landlord to partner if you start dating your landlord and why do the press present him as a money-grubbing pig with his snout in the trough when he could have easily maximised his expenses by being open about his relationship and getting a new family home?

It’s all over for the PM

It must surely be all over for Gordon Brown. Events over the past few weeks feel like the dying days of the Conservative government in the mid-1990s. Who can forget that era, when every week brought a new tale of scandal and sleaze, always committed by a Conservative minister?

And now the smell of sleaze has returned to haunt the government, though this time it haunts the Labour party. But this time is quite different and more orchestrated.

This system of government expenses has existed in its current form since the 1980s – the expenses system has not been recently introduced – yet it has taken subterfuge and Freedom of Information to finally figure out that many politicians take far more than they need to subsidise a constituency home. It’s unfortunate that some hard-working and honest MPs have been hounded from office when they have not even broken the rules. How can it be that a member who follows the rules to the letter can be so hounded by the press that they indicate they will not stand for office again? In the current environment, several have done so – along with those who clearly made claims that stretched credulity.

I really thought that the government was going to be able to ride out this expenses scandal. The Tories were just as guilty of making dodgy claims, and though the Telegraph initially aimed their ammunition at Labour MPs, they eventually started detailing examples of Tories who were also abusing the system.

Surely, a cross-party committee aimed at a reform of the way MPs work within Westminster could have stopped the daily tirade of abuse from the press? Something radical, something akin to constitutional reform. Something that would have rekindled what the Labour party started back in 1997 when they attempted to reform the bicameral system itself. Why didn’t Gordon Brown start this process and just stamp on the political editors who were undermining his authority weeks ago?

Instead it looks like his premiership is going to limp to a close mired in sleaze.

And the Labour party is now suffering voter apathy. They have had 12 years of power, in which they have genuinely made some great achievements. Surely the private healthcare business in the UK should be scared of people waking up to the fact that the NHS has improved so much?  Crime has reduced. Schools are better. These are real quantifiable achievements that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown brought about, yet the voters are seeking alternatives because everyone gets bored of a single party leading the nation after a decade or so.

But even if they change leader now, within a year of a certain general election, will the public just vote for change anyway?

The new generation Labour party has some great talent; James Purnell, David Miliband, his brother Ed, Ed Balls… the list goes on. But if there is going to be regicide in the party then they need to get the PM to stand aside soon, so they have time to regroup with a new leader, in time to create a credible general election campaign. My money is on Alan Johnson being the kind of person who could pull it off as leader.

If the pressure is on for an immediate election, then I guess we are in for a Tory future. However, it may well be that any new leader of the Labour party would secretly prefer a spell in opposition because who would want to lead the country through this economic mess anyway?