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3 August 2007

Shark-infested waters

Holding a steady course through summer silliness

By Simon Hooper

Through the shark-infested waters of the summer silly season, has endeavoured to hold a steady course this week, although it hasn’t always been easy.

First we broke exclusive news of a big row between the Tories and the Lib Dems after the latter accused the former of being disingenuous on gay rights by exposing the shadow cabinet’s damning voting record on major legislation including equalising the age of consent and Section 28.

Alan Duncan, the first openly gay Conservative MP and now a shadow cabinent member, was in combative and forthright mood when he spoke to our reporter, telling him the Lib Dems were “shits” and should “scurry away and eat their words”.

Duncan took offence at being criticised by a party whose chairman, Simon Hughes, he says, once ran against Peter Tatchell in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election with the campaign slogan, “the straight choice”.

But Jo Swinson, the Lib Dems’ equality spokesperson, hit back by commenting on “Whatever accusations Mr. Duncan may chose to throw at me for saying this, the voting record of the Conservative party, including the voting record of the party this year, would send a chill down the spine of most, if not all, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender members of society. It is not unreasonable to point this out.”

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In the week after another teenager was gunned down in a south London, we have an exclusive report from the Stockwell estate where the shooting occurred.

Ruth Hedges has spent much of the past few months working with youngsters there as part of the Headliners project, a news agency run by junior journalists aged 8 to 19.

Behind the media hysteria about youngsters in the grip of a violent gang culture, Ruth discovered disenchanted teenagers more interested in ping pong tables, youth clubs and tuck shops who had been badly let down by chronic underinvestment.

Our regular bloggers and columnists have also been in angry mood. Mark Thomas highlights Coca-Cola’s hypocrisy over an advertising campaign that paints the company as a “Happiness Factory” while workers at its Wakefield bottling plant have been forced to strike over pay cuts, 12-hour shifts and worsening working conditions.

As for the advert itself, Mark says: “It is cute, clever and if I was a child watching it I would have the uneasy feeling that I was being ‘groomed’ by Coke.”

Meanwhile Sian Berry reports on BAA’s efforts to thwart protesters planning to demonstrate against Heathrow expansion at this month Camp for Climate Action. As Sian points out, the BAA could hardly have done a better job of publicising the campaign and highlighting the environmental devastation being wrought via the expansion of the aviation industry.

The 2008 U.S. presidential election has already been billed as the first “YouTube” election, with candidates vying to out-do each other by demonstrating their Web 2.0 savviness. The video-sharing site recently linked up with CNN in what was billed ambitiously as the “first debate in history to be driven by user-generated video questions”, giving YouTube users the chance to put Democratic candidates on the spot directly – or so the theory went.

The results, in fact, as Raffaello Pantucci reports, was something wholly less impressive, from which neither those quizzed not those asking the questions emerged with much dignity. As one of the candidates, Joe Biden, summing the whole thing up in one exasperated response to a particularly dumb enquiry: “This is a ridiculous exercise.”

Then of course there’s been our Shambo the Bull Head to Head – quickly climbing our list of most popular stories. Read Ramesh Kallidai of the Hindu Forum on why Shambo deserved to live and then Jay Lakhani on why he had to die – and then make up your own mind.

With Parliament in summer recess, Martin Bright has been keeping himself busy by stoking the fires of an almighty spat between Nick Cohen and Johann Hari on Facebook.

Between that and circulating the must-see clip on the aforementioned YouTube of Filippino prisoners performing Michael Jackson’s Thriller to the rest of the office, it’s no wonder our Political Editor feels its time for a holiday. Ben is back from his break to cut down on such pointless silliness next week.

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