When political prejudice is all in the mind.

By DAVID WOODING

SOMEBODY tweeted me the other day asking why I only posted poll results which showed the Tories in front. 

I then dug out a tweet of mine from a few weeks earlier which began: “Labour surge into a six-point lead…”  Another time I wrote how  Ed Miliband has trounced David Cameron at PMQs. Within seconds, I received a reply from a top Tory asking if I was watching the same debate. On a single day I received tweets from a Leftie calling me a “Tory c*** sucker” and a Ukip supporter branding me a “first class Left-wing p****” who should be working for the Guardian or the Mirror. You see, it is all in the mind, depending on whether you wear blue, red or yellow tinted spectacles. In fact it is YOU the complainant who is biased because you only see it your way and don’t like your side being criticised.

Lots of fellow journalists get the same unwarranted criticism. I stumbled across this short piece by Michael Deacon of the Daily Telegraph which sums up why most of us are NOT biased while many of those who read us and get irate are.

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with a journalist being biased if he or she wants to. My good pal Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror is shamelessly Labour and does a great job of it. Call me simple, but I just like to get political stories, whoever it hurts or boosts – which is why I object to being called biased. Here’s Michael’s piece which you should read before you call foul at us again.

Every football journalist in this country is routinely accused of two things. 1) Being biased towards Manchester United. 2) Being biased against Manchester United.

It’s like that with politics. A lot of people on the Right think the BBC is biased to the Left. And a lot of people on the Left think the BBC is biased to the Right. I’ve been told that I’m biased for and against the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and Ukip (Ukip opponent: “You treat Farage with kid gloves.” Ukip voter: “You’re racist against Ukip!)

This is why I’ve got no time for the claims by some viewers that Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley were biased in their treatment of David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Some thought the presenters were nakedly Cameron. And others took them for blatant Lefties.

The truth about claims of media bias is that the claims themselves tend to be biased. People only ever detect bias against their own side.

To go back to football: fans always accuse the referee of being biased, but only in their opponents’ favour. You can start to take claims of bias seriously the day you hear them shout, “Oi, ref! That’s never a penalty! Our striker blatantly dived! Are you taking backhanders from our chairman or what!”

Well said, Michael.So next time you rush to Twitter to hurl abuse, just take a long look in the mirror (the one on your wall not the one that lands on your doormat) and ask who is really the biased one here. And don’t forget to re-tweet me when I land a blow on the other side.

Teacher has gone…but the music still lingers.

By DAVID WOODING

WE often talk about the need for inspirational teachers to help drive up standards in our schools.

Sadly, there aren’t nearly enough. But I was lucky to have come across one who made a big impact on me.

Ken Marshall was the man who introduced me to one of the enduring loves of my life – music.

He was a dedicated professional who would make that extra effort for any pupil in whom he spotted potential.

And I was among a group of 11-year-olds who seemed to show an interest after hearing a piece from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

So along with others, I was invited to Mr Marshall’s home on the first Saturday of every month to squat on the floor of his front room and listen to the works of great composers boom out of his two-foot high stereo speakers.

If we were honest, some were just curious about having a peek inside “Sir’s” home. Or perhaps it was the orange squash and biscuits served by his lovely wife, Joyce.

But we were all swept along by Mr Marshall’s infectious personality – and the music.

In between snatches of masterpieces – he only played enough to entice us – we listened enraptured as our wiry-haired, gravel-voiced tutor told us stories about the lives of Beethoven, Dvorak and Brahms.

He was knowledgeable, funny and enthusiastic and we learned so much more than just music. We learned about manners, use of language and how to sit still.

Mr Marshall wasn’t even my teacher. I was invited along by a former pupil of his I met when we started at the same senior school.

I had to take a typed note to be signed by my parents which outlined the Music Club rules. I still obey rule one to this day and chastise others who don’t. No talking when the music is playing.

So it came that through rain, wind and snow I would make the 40-minute Saturday morning trek to feast my ears on Mr Marshall’s music collection.

Before long, I had passed the fidget test and was allowed to go to a live concert. Mr Marshall had worked a bit of a scam with a friend who worked in the cafeteria of the Queen’s Hall in Widnes.

Whenever the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra came to play, he would smuggle a few of us in to hear the concert for free, kneeling on seats in the coffee bar to peer through a giant, decorative hatch in the wall to see the musicians playing below.

It was in this somewhat awkward position that I listened, usually in awe, for the first time such great works as Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Sibelius’s fifth symphony, Hindemith’s Nobilissima Visione,  Britten’s Les Illuminations and the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

I was hooked, and saved up my pocket money until I had 99p to buy my first LP – a Classics for Pleasure recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. I’d only heard the first 10 minutes of the work in Mr Marshall’s front room – but it was the first time I felt my spine tingle.

Thus began a lifelong friendship…and an odyssey, exploring the work of dozens of composers who have provided an endless source of pleasure and fulfillment.

Later, I began to attend concerts myself and now realise life would be empty had Mr Marshall not opened the door to the joy of music.

So I was deeply saddened to learn that the kind, encouraging man who put me on this wonderful path has died.

There will be many other former pupils whose lives were influenced by Mr Marshall who, like me, will want to say farewell and thanks for enriching our lives.

You may be gone but the gift you gave will stay with us always.

New Jeers Honours

By DAVID WOODING

THERE has been plenty of gloom in the corridors of power during 2013.

It’s been a year of squeezes and freezes as politicians tell us all to tighten our belts.

But through all the austerity, they still managed to make us laugh – if only at their own tantrums, cock-ups.

So let’s loosen those belts a notch or two as Sun on Sunday Political Editor David Wooding honours those MPs in his NewJeers Political Awards.

Prat of the Year

MEP Godfrey Bloom for a string of outbursts too brazen even for the “fruitcakes and loonies” of UKIP. He dubbed African countries “bongo bong land”, branding women who don’t clean behind the fridge “sluts”. UKIP boss Nigel Farage stripped him of the party whip – probably using even more fruity language in the process.

Gold medal for selfie-exposure

David Cameron was caught snoozing barefoot on a bed in the background of a picture, posted on Instagram, of his sister-in-law getting ready for her wedding. Clearly, the red ministerial box beside him was full of dreary reading.

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The Gillette Award for sharpest put-down

The striker whose one-liner floored Tory heavyweight Eric Pickles after he scoffed at the small number of union activists on a Whitehall picket line.The roly poly Cabinet bruiser laughed: “I’ve walked past longer chip shop queues.” Quick as a flash, the un-named striker retorted: “But Eric, you’ve NEVER walked past a chip shop queue in your life.”

Shafter BAFTA

London Mayor Boris Johnson with this put down for Labour leader Ed Miliband: “Only a socialist could consider family ties as being so trivial as to shaft his own brother.”

Gaffe of the year 1

David Cameron for declaring he was on “team Nigella” and almost halting the trial of the TV chef’s former servants. The judge told the jury to ignore what he said. Labour would, no doubt, agree.

Gaffe of the year 2

The PM again for being unable to quote the price of a loaf – then admitting he baked his own using a posh, trendy bread-maker and organic flour.

A League of Their Own medal for sport

Sports minister Helen Grant who failed to get a single question right in a TV sports quiz.  She couldn’t name the Wimbledon women’s champ (Marion Bartoli), the FA cup holders (Wigan Athletic) or the England rugby captain (Chris Robshaw). Back in training for you, Ms Grant.

Twit of the Year

Labour MP Jack Dromey favourited gay porn websites on Twitter. The dad-of-three accidentally clicked on posts about well-endowed gay black men while researching a holiday. His wife, equalities zealot Harriet Harman, will clearly be pleased with his efforts to achieve diversity.

Jingle Balls Medal

Ed Balls, under pressure over his red-faced blustering performance at the autumn statement, mis-timed his grade three piano exam for the same day and had to postpone it. But he did better in his first public recital when he played a piece for children with only a few bum notes.

Pants on Fire Diploma

This is always a tough one in politics, with so many liars to choose from. But Chris Huhne wins this year’s award on points…the three he had put on his wife’s driving licence. The former Energy Secretary was jailed for eight months for perverting justice, but freed after serving 62 days, describing it as a “humbling and sobering experience”. True to form, it wasn’t long before he shamelessly took to the airwaves pontificating on the behaviour of others. Huhne wasn’t the only politician to run into trouble behind the wheel, though…

Strop Gear Award for Motoring

Commons Speaker John Bercow was called an “arrogant toff” and a “little weasel” in a five-minute dressing down by a mum who claimed he pranged her car while parking.

The Red “Ed” Light Award for Road discipline

Ed Balls, famed for blowing his top during Commons debates, didn’t see red for once – at a set of traffic lights. The shadow chancellor was fined after police cameras caught him jumping a red signal in his car. He confessed only weeks earlier he had also been caught speeding.

We’re all in this (parking space) together medal

George Osborne, after his car was caught on camera using a disabled parking bay in the same week the Chancellor cut disability benefits. And while we’re on motoring…

U-turn of the Year

David Cameron promised to be the greenest PM ever but with a screech of tyres he then promised to “cut the green crap” to bring down energy costs. Foot on the gas, Dave.

Margaret Thatcher memorial medal for tributes

Respect – but not respected – MP George Galloway produced the most churlish response to Lady Thatcher’s death with “tramp the dirt down”. He shares the award with ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell who provided the most cringe-making tribute: “A grocer’s daughter who taught me anything is possible…x.”

Nelson Mandela Award for Name-dropping

Nearly all top politicians were quick to boast how they once shook hands with Nelson Mandela…apart from Nick Clegg. But that didn’t stop him making a personal tribute on his death. The Deputy PM was greeted with howls of laughter as he told the Commons he never met the South African leader – but knew somebody who had.

Snouts in the Trough Award

Millionaire health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who blew £3,700 of taxpayers’ money learning his Chinese wife’s language, was front runner. But he was pipped at the post by most of the 650 other MPs who demanded an 11 per cent pay rise while the rest of us have our wages squeezed.

Fashionista of the Year

Labour’s Stella Creasy left kitten-heeled Home Secretary Theresa May in the shade by donning a chic blue PVC pencil skirt to question the PM in the Commons. Perhaps she’ll land a shadow Cabinet job – but her leader will make the vinyl decision.

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Rocky Belt for Parliamentary punch-ups

Hellraiser Eric Joyce spent a night in police cells after a brawl in a Commons bar – just a year after being charged with another Westminster fracas. But it was his decision to stand down as Falkirk MP which started the mother of all punch-ups as Ed Miliband squared up to union militants over who should be Labour’s new candidate.

Snooze-night award for political broadcasting

Newsnight editor Ian Katz wins hands down for taking to Twitter to brand Labour’s rising star Rachel Reeves “boring snoring” moments after she went on his BBC2 show. Ms Reeves replied simply: “Thanks”. But red-faced Katz, only two weeks in his job after leaving the Guardian, apologized in writing.

Plain speaking award

John Prescott, who on hearing his successor as deputy PM, Nick Clegg, has 15 advisers, quipped: “Even Jesus Christ capped it at 12.”

Political wisdom award

TV’s Jeremy Paxman for summing up the three choices facing voters at the next election – barely 500 days away – thus: “The people who gave us five years of austerity, the people who left us in this mess and  the people who pledged they would not raise student fees – the most blatant lie in recent political history.”

Scottish independence: The choices in a nutshell

By DAVID WOODING

MUCH has been said and written about the break up of the United Kingdom and what it would mean for the people of Scotland and the rest of these islands.

Some have claimed that a fully independent Scotland would be landed with a debt-ridden economy and others have argued over the timing of a referendum and what the question on the ballot paper should be.

Michael Gove (left) with David Wooding

But nobody has brought the key issues into sharper focus than Education Secretary Michael Gove.

In a few off-the-cuff words, he summed up the choices facing voters north of the border. He accused SNP leader Alex Salmond of ducking the big question about independence – and lacking the nerve to call a referendum on full independence.

Scots-born Mr Gove’s unrehearsed words on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning get straight to the point and are worth reading in full.

He said: “We need to have a decisive yes or no question on whether or not the people of Scotland want to be independent or not.

“Alex Salmond has been trying to play a tactical game here in order to strengthen the political position of his party. By doing so, he has avoided and dodged so far some fundamental questions.

“Do the people of Scotland want to have the same level of welfare benefits as the rest of the United Kingdom? Do they want to be part of the same nation that has the British Broadcasting Corporation and a National Health Service?

“Do they want the Royal Navy and the British Army to remain institutions that embody patriotic feeling and sentiment or do they want to sunder and separate them?

“Do they want you and I to be forced to choose between being British and Scottish, to have a narrow, exclusive, ethnic nationalist identity as our only choice or do they believe that we should be plural, multi-cultural, modern and 21st century?

“These are big questions that Alex Salmond has dodged. He shouldn’t have to dodge them for ever.”

Cameron in debt speech U-turn

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

DAVID Cameron has been forced to tear up his big  speech to the Tory conference amid a backlash over a section urging people to pay off their credit card bills.

The Prime Minister had planned to tell supporters that the only way to end the financial crisis was to get rid of family debts.

But his remarks – briefed out by Number 10 ahead of this afternoon’s address – sparked claims he is out of touch.

Hard-hit families complained that they don’t have the spare cash to pay off the outstanding balances – and using plastic was the only way to buy essentials during hard times.

Experts also warned the economy would shrink even further if people stopped buying by credit card.

This morning Mr Cameron hastily re-wrote the section of the speech referring to the bills – and Number 10 staff hastily put out a “clarification” of the pre-briefed remarks.

Mr Cameron had planned to say: “The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills.”

In his speech to the Manchester rally at 2.30 this afternoon he will now say: “The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That’s why households are paying down their credit card and store card bills.”

The PM will say he understands voters are living through an “anxious time” of rising bills and job losses and will promise to deliver real leadership for troubled times.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC it was common sense for people to pay off debts when they could and that the Government would lead the way.

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