Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: Gordon’s no Boon, Tim Montgomerie, Annoyment, James Purnell, BT and Twitter, Parris on Cohen

Freddy Brown Andrew Rawnsley appeared on Sky’s Adam Boulton show this morning leveraging his new book The End of the Party. The book gives a series of vignettes in which Gordon Brown is depicted in near murderous rages, abusing staff and colleagues with uncontrolled abandon, while rampaging through his work-space like a Visigoth.

This fellow is clearly not only a bottler, but a bottler-upper. His inability to express himself bursts forth from the dam in moments of high tension as he hurls office equipment around the room or manhandles secretaries out of their seats.

A real villain would ravish them on the spot. Gordon just takes over their job.

If he was a good Prime Minister we could perhaps stretch a point. But he’s not, and he was hopelessly inadequate as Chancellor as well.

Mills & Boon wouldn’t put up with him, and neither should we.

* * * * *

Tim Montgomerie got a good write-up in the FT last week in an article by Chris Cook, a leader writer. Two quotes caught Syntagma’s eye:

1. Tim Montgomerie: “If Britain’s relationship with the [European Union] is fundamentally the same after five years of Conservative government, the internal divisions that ended the last Tory period in government will look like a tea party in comparison.”

The piece suggested that “Cameron is planning a purely cosmetic Eurosceptic policy.” If true, it means he is out of touch with a large majority of the party — a very dangerous place to be.

2. “[An] element of the modern Tory platform may yet divide them: climate change. Montgomerie has become increasingly vocal in his scepticism. As he said just two months ago: ‘It is an issue that can split conservative parties around the world.’ Cameroons, take note.”

Another quote adds: “One front-bench MP described [ConservativeHome's] likely future role as a ‘serial harbourer of fugitives. I would expect Tim to back MPs who stand up to the whips in pursuit of the ConservativeHome agenda. God only knows what that means for our policies on climate change, Europe, on immigration or on defence.’ ”

If David Cameron fails at the General Election — Heaven preserve us! — would Tim Montgomerie make such a bad replacement leader?

* * * * *

Annoyment of the Week
A Gordon Brown-free zone

Imagine walking down the High Street of the quiet South-West town of Dorchester, minding your own business, only to be approached by the increasingly rotund figure of Ann Widdecombe.

Does she need directions to Thomas Hardy’s house, perhaps? Or is she about to ask after the bus station? No, Ann wants to know your opinion of the Ten Commandments.

Unlikely, most of us would think, but not where Channel 4’s increasingly bizarre Sunday night religious slot is concerned. Taking the concept of big tents to the limits of intelligibility, the new series on The Bible: a History includes the kind of people who might have walked straight off the pages of the Old Testament itself.

Ann Widdecombe is nothing less than certain about any topic, and might, on a good day, pass for a biblical Prophet. To her, the Ten Commandments are the foundations of law as it should be made. King Alfred the Great used them as the basis of his, and they went on to form our Common Law, now sadly depleted by the inanities of the Human Rights Act.

A perspiring Christopher Hitchens appeared fleetingly, but walked out of Ann’s interview. Stephen Fry was adamant the Commandments were all a load of rubbish cooked up by old desert tribes.

Tonight, Gerry Adams, former IRA leader, talks about his hero, Jesus Christ.

Sometimes putting out-of-place people into unusual slots yields unexpected insights. I shall not be finding out this Sunday evening.

* * * * *

James Purnell has never resonated strongly on my political radar. I watched him on Newsnight a couple of months ago and was not particularly impressed.

This week he announced he is standing down as an MP at the early age of 39.

Judging by the hagiographies from various commentators, he was a political giant waiting to happen. He had real views, real nuances, social policies galore and an ability to get to the very top.

What a pity he sat through 13 years of Labour attacks of this country’s very existence without a public squeak of protest.

* * * * *

My BT wireless hub broke down 10 days ago. Although I fixed up an old modem and ethernet cable, I anxiously awaited a replacement of the hub.

It took BT three days to reply and promise me the goods the next day before 6pm.

It’s now four days later and still no replacement. On Friday I tweeted about the frustration on Syntagma’s Twitter page. A day later “BTCare” tweeted back and added itself as a “follower”.

I have great hopes that Twitter will succeed where four emails and two telephone calls failed.

Modern technology is both a bane and a boon at the same time.

* * * * *

Matthew Parris quotes the poet/singer Leonard Cohen in a recent column:

“I’ve studied the world’s great religions,” he says — then pauses. “But cheerfulness kept breaking through.”

As it will. I’ve always recommended studying the world’s great religions — see my book.

John Evans

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Apple iPhone Day UK tomorrow

Apple iPhone It’s here at last. After all the hype and the raves from across the Pond, Britain is to be let into the iPhone secret tomorrow, Friday, at 2 minutes past 6pm on the dot.

As forecast here in Syntagma, the contract has gone to former BT-owned — now Telefonica-owned — mobile giant, O2. They seem to have paid through the nose for the privilege.

The 8GB iPhone comes in at a whopping £269 ($565), way above the new lower price in the States. But there’s more to pay : you have to take out an 18-month contract with O2 costing £630 ($1,323). That’s a commitment of $1,888 just to get you into a locked-in deal.

On those terms, you would normally get the handset free. BT is offering a free BlackBerry at under £40 a month — $84. The Vodaphone deal is £5 cheaper still.

So are we Brits going to buy this? A couple of weeks ago I wrote that we have a new Apple store opening here in Exeter, the capital of distant Devon. Here’s how it looked yesterday :

I doubt they’re going to get that open by tomorrow. And even so, my instinct is that we’re not going to pay a Spanish telco that kind of money for gimmicky technology that just does what can be got elsewhere at a fraction of the price.

My brilliant Sony Ericsson does the MP3 bit, has the same camera, logs on to the internet and even takes phone calls. The only thing missing is the touch screen.

Am I going to pay nearly $2000 for a touch screen? Do I have to answer that?

It’s also known to be slow accessing the internet (no 3G yet) and has to be sent back to change the battery. Yikes, talk about built-in obsolescence.

Message to Steve Jobs — Apple CEO
Steve, it may be a great piece of kit, but it’s a novelty product that will appeal to a small audience here with more money than sense.

Those of us who like a bit of bang for our buck will avoid this pretty bauble. You should not have asked for such a large slice of the action from O2, and they should not have premiumed up the device so far.

I’m afraid this is going to be one massive turkey here in the UK.

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Macs and iPhones for Christmas

The Americanization of Devon, England continues apace. Here in sleepy Exeter we’ve long had a MacDonald’s, more recently a Starbucks, and this month a sparky transatlantic style shopping mall. All we need to complete the process is an Apple store.

You’ll never guess what I disovered this morning while walking through the new shop zone? …

Well waddayaknow! I wonder if Steve Jobs will open it in person. Exeter’s geek community can hardly wait.

The upshot of all this is that we’re going to get iPhone availablility on our doorstep before Christmas. In my mind’s eye I can see the long line of people snaking down Princesshay and right out of town as we queue for a limited supply of these must-have gizmos.

Maybe there’ll be the iPod Touch too — great for web browsing, we’re told. And, of course, that other agonizing decision : to become a Macboy — or not.

I’ve used Windows PCs for years because life is too short for chopping and changing operating systems. Yet, almost my first serious computer was the earliest Apple, the Lisa. I already had the IBM PC in my office where I worked as a marketing manager for British Telecom. Those were the days when you had to input strings of code to do anything with it, and the WP was Wordstar, which operated solely from the keyboard.

Then the Apple Lisa arrived complete with built-in dot-matrix printer. I don’t think it was called a Macintosh in those days, but it had the very first use of “windows” as a feature, plus icons operated by a mouse.

Microsoft soon purloined these ideas, of course, launching its now dominant OS, Windows.

However, I got there first. I launched a series of publications for BT using a system of icons and a kind of window-like presentation. It was all in print, of course, but I did actually steal Apple’s clothes before Bill Gates did.

I think a statue should be erected somewhere, don’t you? Maybe outside the new Apple store.

England strikes back.

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Journalism or blogging?

City of London A few years ago, when I headed up a marketing department at BT (British Telecom), I asked a Sunday Times tech journalist, whose work I admired, to write a short piece on packet switching (the base technology of the internet) for one of our publications.

When the copy arrived I thought it must be a joke. The piece was full of spelling mistakes and basic grammatical errors. I was shocked by the lack of pride in craftsmanship — although technically it was correct.

If I tell you it was only 300 words long and the asking price (agreed) was £300 ($600), you get some idea of my disappointment.

Naturally, I refused to pay — an office junior could have done better. The journalist pointed out that we had use of his name (true) and that he had sub-editors at the Sunday Times to knock his copy into shape. He then threatened that if I still refused to pay, he would get the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to picket BT Headquarters.

The Honcho above me ordered me to pay him off immediately. The Chairman would be incensed to find pickets on his red carpet entrance.

Although I’d done a bit of freelance journalism for the nationals before then, it was my first real taste of in-house pros. I was not impressed. (I should point out here that I commissioned other journalists after that and many were just fine.)

Now to blogging. In my view, online writers let themselves down by taking pride in the wild and woolly world of blogging. There are some excellent writers in the tech blogosphere, some even write for the nationals. Jeff Jarvis (The Buzz Machine), for example, pens frequent features for The Guardian (UK). And there are many others. The distinction between print and online publishing is narrowing by the day. Print journalism isn’t disappearing, it’s just taking over more and more of the online space.

The description “blogger” has a certain cachet in the political world, because politicians, with lots to hide, are terrified of them. The mainstream media watches them like hawks in case they miss a scoop or some realtime dirt. But this is a narrow slice of a much wider market for news, commentary and on-the-spot reportage.

I have to say, there’s a bit of cultural cringe about blogging in general, especially among those who take themselves half seriously. The belief that mainstream journalists are necessarily better, or better informed, is not borne out by facts. In the tech sphere, for instance, online material is usually way ahead of the MSM in detail and accuracy.

Take the recent Wall Street Journal non-story on the “10th anniversary of blogging”. The reporter made a good stab at the topic but was no match for people writing online who had been in on it personally. Like most inventions, there’s a long incubation period involving different individuals who each put a piece or two in the jigsaw puzzle. But the editor seemed to want a nice crisp date, and a hero to parade before the world. There wasn’t one, so an obscure figure was dredged from the swamp of time and shoved into the limelight with mud still running down his face.

D’you know, I can’t even remember his name, poor devil.

Back to the tag “blogger”. It’s a well-known fact that in the theatre a tragedian is taken far more seriously than a clown. Sometimes that’s unfair, because the clown can have more talent, and entertain many more people.

By tagging ourselves as bloggers, we hand a monumental advantage to the print journalist. We can be dismissed as clowns and unprofessional bag carriers.

For the political thorn-in-the-side, it’s a smart move. For anyone who wants to be taken seriously by the big, rotten world, not only their peers in Techmeme, it’s not just shooting oneself in the foot, it’s aiming a silver bullet at the heart.

So let’s resolve to be writers, journalists, authors — not bloggers. Forget the medium, think the message.

As our lamented former Monarch, King George V might have put it, “Bugger blogging!”

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iPhone goes to O2 in UK

Good news for those of us in Britain delicately poised between buying a Blackberry (I know I’m behind the curve here) and waiting for Apple’s iPhone to arrive. O2 is about to sign the much sought-after contract for the UK and may have it out for Christmas.

It means switching mobile networks for me — I’ve always bought Richard Branson’s Virgin-Motorola phones, and stuck with BT for broadband and landlines. O2, which started off at BT when I worked for them, is now owned by Spain’s Telefonica.

The BBC posted this at midnight last night, after spending most of yesterday at the top of Techmeme :

The agreement with O2 is reported to include Apple receiving a continuing share of the revenue generated for the network operator. The handsets are expected to be sold for about £300 and O2 will be hoping that the lure of the fashionable phone is enough to win customers from rival networks.

It certainly will — has done in my case — and will be a terrific boost to lacklustre O2.

I’ve been watching the hysteria around the iPhone in the states, and read so many reviews of it through the usual suspects, it would be hard to ignore the tiny beast when it arrives. And £300 is only $600, a smallish premium on the U.S. price. Normally, we can expect to pay double.

I wonder though why we have to be so far behind America in these launches?

Update: The Register has just published a piece claiming that the components in the 8Gb iPhone cost $220. That makes the expected UK price of $600 pretty fair taking everything into account. The $220 doesn’t include the cost of assembly, shipping, marketing, or the price of the software that makes the iPhone work. Clearly Apple is relying on lifetime revenues from O2, and sales of other media to make its fortune with this gadget.

Update 2: Bob Cringely is now reporting, “It is my understanding that Apple and AT&T are planning a fall rollout for full 3G iPhone service.” Let’s hope O2 is up to speed on that one.

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