I’ve been a Guardian reader for 40 years, but no longer. Here’s why. 

Today, I received a routine email from the Guardian regarding my ongoing subscription to the paper. I have been a regular reader of the Guardian for 40 years including as a subscriber in recent years. But no longer.

My email explaining why is listed below.

Hi there

Thank you for your recent email.

It has prompted me to contact you regarding my Guardian subscription.

I have bought the Guardian since the age of 12; I am now 52. I have always considered the paper to be fair and on the side of people who are trying to make a difference. The paper’s campaigning work is well known and rightly so. Even though I have not always agreed with the paper’s leaders and editorial line, mostly I have and one of the main reasons I have supported the paper for 40 years has been its left of centre position on the issues of the day.

Lately however, that support has been sorely tested. Your recommendation for people to vote for the Lib Dems at the 2010 general election (which helped to usher in a disastrous coalition government) was bad enough and a big thing for me which made me think long and hard but I stuck with you. However your current coverage of the Labour leadership election has become the last straw for me.

Ever since he was elected, your coverage of Jeremy Corbyn and the very many tens of thousands of people who support him has been the antithesis of the fair journalism and comment you have become known for. The recent leadership campaign coverage and that of the failed coup has displayed a shocking bias and can in no way be construed as fair. This bias, which has been confirmed by a number of academic studies, is not solely confined to the Guardian, but given your history and my previous views of the paper, frankly I expect better from you.

And I say this as a practising journalist myself.

Both in the printed paper and online you have carried a series of articles and news updates that have often relied on tittle tattle and smears from opponents of Jeremy Corbyn. Even when (rarely) reporting the view from the other side, this is usually accompanied by a snide comment or other ‘news’ to discredit the Corbyn campaign. 

I have tried to understand why this might be. I get that the Guardian is probably the most widely read broadsheet paper amongst Labour members and that there will no doubt be a massive PR effort from those who oppose Corbyn to secure coverage for their point of view, but many of your journalists seem to be playing a full and active part in that effort. I’m sure that many of them are probably personally opposed to the Corbyn campaign – the Guardian has been an ‘alma mater’ for many Labour MPs and their advisors in the past – but that is absolutely no excuse for your continuing biased, unbalanced and unfair coverage.
The latest example is your bottom front page lead today on the situation in Angela Eagle’s Merseyside constituency party, which appeared the day after one of the largest political meetings seen in Liverpool in recent years. The article is based on unsubstantiated comments from unnamed Eagle supporters and Corbyn opponents and is clearly an attempt to smear local party members before they meet this week to discuss a situation where their party was closed down undemocratically by Labour’s NEC with no inquiry or evidence being heard.

This is not the ‘journalism’ I expect from the Guardian and I am no longer prepared to put up with it. It is for that reason and with the utmost regret that I have decided to cancel my regular subscription to the paper. I cannot in all conscience continue to support such journalism in the way I do currently and I never thought I would ever say that. I have principles though and if they mean anything then I feel I have to end my 40-year support for the Guardian.

I hope that at some point you manage to rediscover that radical approach, cutting edge and fair mindedness which brought me to your paper in the first place, but until then, I’m afraid it’s goodbye from me.

Please cancel my subscription with immediate effect. I have asked my bank to stop my regular payments to you.

Andy Walker

Walkers lead way to a litter-free Lakes

I’ve just come back from a three-day break in Grasmere in the Lake District and, apart from feeling suitably refreshed and chilled out after some quality walking in one of the most beautiful and uplifting parts of the country, I was struck by the apparent lack of litter around and about the place.

According to Keep Britain Tidy’s stats and surveys, people are less likely to litter an area if it’s well kept and stays free of litter. But what about the people who lead to this lack of litter – the hundreds of thousands of walkers who tramp the fells and hillside footpaths of the Lakes year after year? What makes them do the right thing and take their rubbish home? Perhaps there is merit in Keep Britain Tidy partnering with The Ramblers to research their members’ attitudes towards littering and how best to foster the right approach. Of course, the Lake District’s stunning scenery is a vital element in deterring litterers, however we also have great views around our coastlines and beaches and that doesn’t stop those being despoiled with unsightly rubbish.

So, maybe we do have something to learn from walkers who, on the evidence of my visit to Cumbria, seem to be doing the right thing. This Walker was certainly impressed and inspired by their actions.

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Me and my shadows – Ed names his team

After one of the most eagerly awaited (by the media and politicos) shadow cabinet announcements of recent times, Ed Miliband has named his team to take on the Tory/Lib Dem coalition.

So far the reaction from pundits and some Labour activists has been muted, with mutterings about missed opportunities from not putting Ed Balls into the Treasury or parking Yvette Cooper at the cul-de-sac of the Foreign Office. Having thought about today’s announcement for a while and taken a few soundings, I have to confess that I don’t share the pessimism of those who think that Ed could and should have chosen differently.

Maybe I’m mellowing out in my old age, but I think that It’s not necessarily the best move to go with the obvious choices from day one. Why go with what people (and your enemies) expect?

Lets face it, the Tories in particular but also the Lib Dems are in for a bruising battle after the announcement of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) on 20 October. So, why not put some tried and trusted people in the key positions to take advantage of this. Johnson is generally acknowledged to be a smooth operator but one who is convincing. He should be a good match for Osborne and the Tories wont be able to use the Balls/Cooper angle on the crucial battleground of the economy.

Another useful move by Ed Miliband I think is to use the female ‘bloc’ where necessary against the coalition’s key performers. Yvette Cooper against William Hague and Caroline Flint against Eric Pickles should be very interesting and entertaining to watch. While I would have liked to see new faces in the shadow ‘nations’ posts, Ed has brought back Hain and Woodward because he didn’t have any other experienced alternatives for Wales and Northern Ireland.

Today’s announcements show that Labour’s new leader is more than prepared to show the coalition that they will not be able to have a go and portray him as someone who is a rabid left winger but a serious contender for PM. I think he sees the long game and I reckon he is preparing accordingly.

Phase one is to negotiate the CSR and come up with a credible alternative. Phase two should be to start to set the agenda in preparation for the next election. An election, by the way, which could still happen sooner than people think.

Politics has just got a whole lot more interesting.

Ideology, the NHS and the Big Society

Check out the lead batch of letters on the government’s plans for the NHS in the Guardian letters page today. Published in the wake of Polly Toynbee’s excellent piece yesterday, Charles Sharp’s in particular is very apposite.

Are we moving more and more to a pay-as-you-go health care system?

Taken alongside the ConDem coalition’s approach to public sector pensions and their accelerated cuts programme, it strengthens my belief that the government is looking more and more to individuals to ‘sort themselves out’ and will rely less and less on the state. It’s an ideologically driven agenda of which, frankly, the heirs of Margaret Thatcher would be justifiably proud.

I can’t see how actions like those above will stimulate the private sector economy – unless we are about to see a mushrooming of health service management consultancy provision to run the new NHS and a massive increase in private insurance firms to enable people to buy their way to the top of waiting lists and to sell pensions to public sector workers who no longer have them?

Is this the Big Society approach that we’ve heard so much about? Discuss.

Received opinion, ‘facts’ and the public sector

This morning, the media is falling over itself to present the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ (IFS) latest pronouncements on the economy as received fact. The three main parties are not being straight with us, according to the IFS. The key issue of the general election will be the economy and how the country weathers recessionary pressures, claims the think tank. So far, so blindingly obvious.

What’s less obvious though, is what the solution to our current economic woes are. “Cut, cut and then cut again” says the IFS. Meaning cut, cut the public sector. The sooner and the harder the better. This mantra of chopping public services is repeated over and over by the media as if such an approach is the only way out of the current economic malaise. It has become the received wisdom. The ‘established’ fact.

Slashing the public sector will affect real people, real jobs and the services we all depend on.

But just hang on a minute here. It wasn’t too long ago that the established wisdom was that the last thing you needed to do was saddle the banking system with more regulation. Banks are complicated institutions. Politicians shouldn’t be intervening and tying up these wealth creators with red tape. Left to regulate themselves, all will turn out for the best, we were told by the ‘experts’, who included many of the IFS’s friends. And look where that got us.

I’m no economist or wannabe think tank self-publicist, but what I am is terrified by all this talk of slashing the public sector in a country that still depends on it to a very large extent in many areas as a significant driver of the economy. In the North West, where I live and work, as a result of the new fiscal constraints in which local government is working, it’s estimated that employment won’t get back to 2008 levels until 2018. Further massive public sector cuts now would take a still fragile recovery and throttle it. People would lose their jobs, more businesses will fail, life enhancing initiatives will be shelved, families could be turfed out of homes they can no longer afford, futures will be ruined.

These are facts, not opinion. I should know. I’ve seen the effects of ideologically driven cuts before. At 46, I’m old enough to remember the 80s and 90s where cuts in the public sector had a knock-on effect on the entire economy, including in the private sector. Some communities in the UK are still suffering from the legacy of that era. Do we really want to go through all that again?

Remember that when it’s just you, a piece of paper and a pencil on 6 May.

Remembering Harry Carpenter (1925-2010)

I was sad to hear of the death today of the BBC’s ‘voice of boxing’ Harry Carpenter. A true master of his craft, Carpenter was perhaps best known for commentating on Frank Bruno’s fights and interviewing the boxer afterwards when Bruno would inevitably utter his memorable catchphrase “Know what I mean Arry”

Harry Carpenter was the BBC's voice of boxing for half a century.

He also interviewed Muhammad Ali, describing him as “not only the most remarkable sports personality I have ever met, he is the most remarkable man I have ever met”. Carpenter was one of the BBC’s top sports commentators, a true wordsmith alongside such masters of the microphone as David Coleman, Alan Weeks, Ron Pickering, Ted Lowe and Jim Laker.

Many of the tributes to him describe Carpenter as being humble and totally unflash. It’s something I can vouch for, having met the great man in 1990 on a standard class train carriage en route from Newcastle to London. It was the day of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation and on hearing the news from a passenger who had just got on the train, Carpenter looked up briefly from reading his paper and said simply: “Quite remarkable”.

He was himself a quite remarkable broadcaster. He’ll be greatly missed.

We need more ordinary people in Parliament and less career politicians

I’ve just read today’s Guardian editorial “Byers for sale” taking former cabinet minister Stephen Byers to task for allegedly offering, on camera, to use his access and influence to lobby for private clients for up to £5,000 a day.

While condemning Byers for his greed and stupidity, interestingly, the Guardian also feels let down by the sight of a leading “centrist” being so eager to enrich himself. The paper also sees a potential conspiracy in Byers being exposed by The Sunday Times and Channel Four’s Dispatches, all the more so given that other MPs similarly identified as ready to make a fast buck included Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon, ‘architects’ of the botched coup to remove Gordon Brown earlier this year.

The Guardian suggests that the last thing one should expect from “progressive centrists” is a willingness to dip their noses in the parliamentary trough like all the rest. Byers’s actions, the paper says, are a setback for progressive politics and he, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon should know better. But, should we really be surprised when MPs of whatever political colour continue to feather their own nest?

A Parliament more representative of the general population is an essential step in addressing sleaze.

The problem as I see it is an old one. We have MPs who are far removed from the lifestyles of the people they represent and who are so out of touch with the daily grind faced by their constituents that they act as if it’s almost ‘normal’ to look to enrich themselves at every opportunity. Until we have elected representatives who are more in tune with the lives, hopes and aspirations of their electorates then we will continue to see MPs mired in a tide of scandal and sleaze.

To those who say that we need to pay MPs more in order to get the right calibre of individual into Parliament and to prevent them taking well paid jobs elsewhere, I say that these ‘career politicians’ are precisely the sort of people who we do not want taking decisions on our behalf.

Personally, I’d rather see a few more health workers, community campaigners, teachers, construction workers, administrative assistants, engineers and bus drivers in Westminster. Perhaps then we’d get a better politics, with decisions more in tune with the lives lived by the majority of the population and not the privileged few.

Ashok Kumar MP (1956-2010)

I was very sad to hear of the death of Dr Ashok Kumar MP today at the tragically young age of just 53.

I remember Ashok when he was a local councillor when I lived in Middlesbrough in the late 1980s. He was a passionate campaigner and a genuine, gentle man, who always had time for people and was willing to discuss political ideas. I recall him being particularly keen to encourage young people and I’m sure that he influenced many on Teesside to get involved with politics and to campaign to change things for the better.

Ashok Kumar, pictured with Redcar steelworks in the background.

He was one of the few engineers in Parliament and I also remember him attending various industry-related functions in the House when I worked in the construction industry as communications director with the Association for Consultancy and Engineering. Ashok helped the association make contacts with supportive MPs and was always willing to fight the corner of engineering in the Commons.

I also think that Ashok may have been one of the first Indian men ever to win a by-election in the UK when he won the Langbaurgh seat in 1991. Although he lost the seat to the Conservative candidate in the 1992 election, he returned to Parliament when he won Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland at the 1997 election and held it until his untimely death today.

Ashok was also a great supporter of the British Humanist Association, an active member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group and a self-described life-long “liberal humanist”. He campaigned prominently in Parliament for a national holiday on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, to honour one of the fathers of modern science. As a chemical engineer, science was one of Ashok’s great passions and he took every opportunity to promote it during his time in the House.

When I knew him, he always had time to talk to people and even when he did not agree with you he was still willing to debate and argue in a friendly and fraternal manner. His death at such a young age is truly a tragedy, for his family and for all who knew him.

Gooses and golden eggs at the News of the World

So, Max Clifford has accepted £1m from the News of the World in return for him dropping his legal action against the paper over them intercepting his voicemail messages. That’s illegal phone tapping to you and me – an offence that would see us prosecuted and probably sent to prison quicker than you could say: “press three to delete”.

A profitable relationship: Max Clifford and the News of the World

Clifford and the News of the World’s cosy cover-up (sorry settlement) means that the downmarket tabloid may now avoid having to disclose court-ordered evidence that was likely to reveal the involvement of its ‘journalists’ in illegal information gathering (phone tapping of celebrities and others) by shadowy private investigators.

So far so grubby. It’s par for the course for a so-called newspaper that apparently believes it can buy the silence of people who had their phones hacked. Apart from wondering whether the paper will now hand back the various awards it has won over the years for ‘investigative journalism’, I can’t help wondering about Max Clifford’s motivation in helping the News of the World avoid further embarrassing disclosures.

Over to you Max. “I’m now looking forward to continuing the successful relationship that I experienced with the News of the World for 20 years before my recent problems with them,” said Clifford after the settlement was announced. I’ll bet he is.

Gooses and golden eggs anyone?

In defence of the BBC

I’ll declare an interest from the off. I’ve always been a BBC man. One of my earliest memories was sat on the stairs at home, aged four, ignoring Zebedee’s “Time for bed” instruction from The Magic Roundabout so I could sneak a listen to Kenneth Kendall or Richard Baker reading the early evening news. Listening to the news aged four? No wonder I ended up working in PR!

We were a BBC family in our house, you see. Blue Peter not Magpie for us. David Coleman not Brian Moore. Frank Bough not Dickie Davies. Robin Day not Bryan Waldon. Look North not Calendar. TV choices were much easier back in the day. Our old Rediffusion wall clicker switch hardly ever moved from position Beeb. No multi channel, multiple choice then. It was all so simple.

Would you trust this man with the BBC?

I like the BBC. At it’s best it provides quality entertainment, sport, documentary and news output that is rightly the envy of the world. Yes, it has its faults. What massive organisation that has existed for years and years wouldn’t? And of course it can be improved. But the latest statements coming from the BBC’s current director general Mark Thompson represent something much more than a corrective trimming of the Beeb in the face of difficult economic times.

Thompson’s plans, cheered on by a voracious pack of vested interests in the commercial, terrestrial and satellite media, represent an assault on public service broadcasting as we know it and should be resisted. Do we really want to see the increasing Murdoch-ification of our media? I don’t and I hope there are enough ex-followers of Peter Purves, Valerie Singleton and John Noakes who keep the faith to stop this madness.

If you feel the same, register your opposition here and join the fightback!