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  • Dark forces in the departure lounge: a seven-point guide to resignation

    July 22, 2011 @ 8:30 am | by Laura Slattery

    With institutional corruption in the British media / police / parliament becoming increasingly difficult to veil in shabby apologia, the personnel involved are falling over each other to fall on their sword – well it’s better than falling into custody. Rebekah Brooks, Les Hinton, Sir Paul Stephenson, John Yates… all of them have clocked out with varying degrees of haste, style and dignity. But getting your resignation right is about more than securing a golden goodbye sealed with a loving confidentiality clause.

    You can resign to spend more time with your family, like a 1990s Tory minister, or to spend less time with your family, like David Miliband. You can be the first out of a revolving door, like Siobhán Donaghy, the first popstar to claim the title “ex-Sugababe”. You can cite principles, like crisp salesman Gary Lineker, who quit his column at the Mail on Sunday after it secretly recorded the head of the FA – only to sign up for the, er, News of the World instead.

    You can declare that there are “dark forces” at work, like one of 2011′s leading sexists, the ex-Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys. Or you can attempt a temporary blaze of glory like Steven Slater, the Jet Blue air steward who upon landing announced his resignation via the plane intercom, grabbed a couple of beers from the trolley and activated the emergency inflatable slide – only to later change his mind about wanting to quit.

    For those who have the opportunity to figure out the best way to shuffle off the official payroll, there’s a menu of eclectic exit strategies to choose from:

    1. A distraction, not a disgrace.

    Classic PR manoeuvre: Attribute your resignation not to your alleged mistake/offence, but to the public outcry about that mistake/offence, then follow this up with a bold claim to selflessness. In a spot of medal-winning rationale, Met commissioner Stephenson felt it best to go now rather than get stuck into the security preparation for the London 2012 Olympics with a Murdoch-shaped cloud hanging over him – that just wouldn’t be fair to Londoners. Similarly, Anthony Weiner, the former US Representative obliged to resign after sending what we will politely call a graphic tweet, regretted that “the distraction” had made it impossible to continue “to fight for the middle class and those struggling to make it”. He was abandoning the cause, he said, “so my colleagues can get back to work”.

    2. Stylistic flourish 101

    While the Twitter monster has doubtless not yet claimed its last scalp from office, a tweet can also be the medium by which you announce your sacking departure. Jonathan Schwartz, the chief executive of Sun Microsystems edged out last year when Oracle bought Sun, decided to merge social media platform with historic cultural artform when he tweeted his resignation with a haiku. “Today’s my last day at Sun. I’ll miss it. Seems only fitting to end on a #haiku. Financial crisis/Stalled too many customers/CEO no more.” The poetry must have sapped his inspiration, however, as @openjonathan hasn’t tweeted in quite some time.

    3. Stylistic flourish (Honours)

    It’s always a good idea if you can combine your resignation letter with a de facto application for your next career. This, essentially, is what ex-Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt did when he decided he’d had enough of reporting fantasy as news. “I see a cascade of shit pirouetting from your penthouse office, caking each layer of management, splattering all in between,” he wrote to proprietor Richard Desmond. Nice. If you’re a man who wants to write for a living, rather than spend your days impersonating Muslim women for the sake of an inflammatory headline, it’s a smart move to make sure everyone knows you can master such basics as a) rational argument, b) sentence rhythm, c) dry, cutting humour and d) the personal touch. Peppiatt’s letter was published by more than one “quality” newspaper and he is now found frequenting television studios providing an insider’s commentary on all things dodgily tabloid – thanks to News International, he is a pundit much in demand.

    Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks appears before a parliamentary committee on phone hacking on Tuesday. But was it her tardy resignation that did the most PR damage? Photo: REUTERS/Parbul TV

    4. Scorched earth policy

    Sarcasm and contempt are cheap if you’re so rich you never have to pretend to work again. Hedge fund trader Andrew Lahde made an 866 per cent return in 2007 by betting that the US subprime market would collapse. His farewell open letter on quitting the industry in 2008 was withering about “the low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA”. They were “there for the taking”, he said. “These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behaviour… only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.”

    5. Exit, pursued by Ant and Dec

    With so many household villains seeking opportunities for redemption, the contestant wishlist of the producers of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here must be getting longer by the day – and if you think it’s unlikely that, say, an ex-head of the Metropolitan police would venture into the jungle in order to be dowsed in kangaroo saliva, then consider that former deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, Brian Paddick, did almost exactly that three years ago. Paddick, whose resignation from the Met falls into the “jumped after being pushed” category, survived the Queensland cameras with minimum humiliation and was last seen making a return to the more serious endeavour of being a London mayoral candidate for the Liberal Democrats.

    6. Leverage your experience

    As Bank of Ireland governor, Richard Burrows must have learned a thing or two about toxic industries. So upon leaving the bank in 2009, what better career move than to take up residency as chairman of British American Tobacco? Former Halifax Bank of Scotland chief executive Andy Hornby swapped mortgages for moisturisers when he joined Boots, only to resign from that job less than two years later, saying he needed a break. This week, he was appointed the boss of bookmakers Coral, making him the ultimate casino banker. In a corporate culture where the former head of risk management at Lehman Brothers can get a job as treasurer of the World Bank, it’s hard to sneer whenever someone whose career seems in the toilet talks about “pursuing new opportunities” round the other side of the U-bend. The chances are they will. 

    7. Why not get your life back?

    After the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP chief executive Tony Hayward’s entire lexicon, his entire demeanour, seemed like one big long resignation monologue staged to attract maximum levels of transatlantic opprobrium. The man dubbed “Big Oil’s Mr Bean” notoriously declared he would “like his life back” not long after the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 workers. The leak from its rig was still pumping thick black crude oil into the gulf at a rate of up to 60,000 barrels a day when Hayward decided to spend a day watching his yacht compete in an Isle of Wight boat race. His inevitable resignation statement contained a peerless mea non-culpa: “I will always feel a deep responsibility, regardless of where blame is ultimately found to lie.”

  • Why are the Irish not more like Spain’s Indignados?

    May 27, 2011 @ 10:01 am | by Laura Slattery

    The “Spanish revolution” saw thousands of young Spaniards embark on a week-long series of anti-establishment demonstrations, with tactics including Twitter calls-to-action and the setting up of a “tent city” in Madrid’s central square, Puerta del Sol. Spanish protesters, dubbed “los indignados” (the indignant), want jobs (Spain’s youth unemployment rate is around 45 per cent), better living standards, fairer political processes and changes to their government’s austerity programme.

    This sounds familiar.

    And yet despite the parallels in the economic plights of both countries (overheated property market, youth-concentrated unemployment), sustained and co-ordinated protests, youth-led or otherwise, have yet to take place on the same kind of scale in Ireland. This is much to the dismay of Irish activists, who wish their compatriots were more visibly angry about the extent to which external, unelected bodies have assumed the power to dictate social and economic policy here (via the usual method of debt enslavement).

    Independent TD Richard Boyd-Barrett, doing the loudspeaker thing at a Spanish solidarity protest in Dublin last Saturday, declared that Irish activists “want to see the Spanish revolution imported into this country”. But why do we have to import it? Why can’t the Irish be more like the Spanish? Without degrees in psychology, sociology, economics and European history - and a field study in both countries – that is not a question I am going to attempt to answer in a mere blog post. Oh no. But here are some possibilities.

    1. The answer lies in the numbers: Some 27 per cent of workers aged 20-24 in Ireland are unemployed (as of the end of last year), while almost half of 18-25-year-olds in Spain can’t find work. Could it be that somewhere in between lies the tipping point between tolerable and intolerable?

    2. The Irish media are innately conservative, promoting political consensus and a heads-down attitude to life… On the other hand, there’s nothing a home news editor enjoys more than a mass protest, what with its reliable capacity for producing a bumper crop of page-filling pictures of crowds bearing strong, witty placards – some of which manage not to be Father Ted references.

    3. Irish people are lazy.

    4. Irish people are not lazy; they just don’t feel very much like marching for an hour, then waiting at the bus stop for the same length of time.

    5. Irish people are not lazy, just waiting for the summer. Boyd-Barrett has named July 16th as the date on which “the spirit of Spain” will be brought to Ireland by way of demonstration, which gives Ireland’s Indignados plenty of time to figure out how to erect their tents.

    6. Irish people are righteously indignant, but it’s much easier to RT an online petition than it is to mobilize.

    7. Irish people are more cynical than the Spanish about the effectiveness of political protest when it comes to changing law and government policy, and are less likely to value benefits such as the fuzzy feeling of solidarity, post-chanting catharsis and the opportunity to flirt self-deprecatingly with fellow protestors.

    8. The Spanish protesters were partly objecting to Spanish government austerity measures and its all-round handling of the economy, while Irish people are resigned to the idea that the Irish government has already ceded control of both of those things to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

    9. The Spanish political establishment isn’t as good at divide-and-conquer as its Irish counterpart.

    10. There aren’t any encampment-friendly open spaces in Dublin city centre that are equivalent to the Puerta del Sol… on the plus side, for “boutique” demonstrations, the Spire is a foolproof meeting point.

    11. Media coverage of protests focuses disproportionately on incidences of violence by protesters, putting people off attending.

    12. Media coverage of protests focuses disproportionately on incidences of violence by Gardaí, putting people off attending.

    13. Media coverage of demonstrations makes protests look boring and protesters look cold.

    14. Media coverage of demonstrations is all about logistics such as road closures that might possibly crimp the extremely important day of people who are not actually marching and have no intention of ever marching, while giving comparatively little attention to the “ishoos”.

    15. Television news coverage of protests patronises protestors by constantly congratulating them for being “peaceful”: You know, it’s almost as if they’re disappointed when there isn’t a massive rumble followed by an all-day kettling.

    16. Irish people don’t know any good protest songs. “This is what democracy sounds like”, indeed.

    17. Young Irish people would prefer to rant about the state of the nation from the comfortable distance of Scruffy Murphy’s pub. Which, last time I checked, was in Sydney.

    18. There have been plenty of decent-sized protests in Ireland, including the snowy outpouring of November 27th, 2010. Where have you been?

    19. A combination of the above.

    20. All of the above.

    21. None of the above.

    22. Other _________________

  • Crackbird: The tweet-to-eat Temple Bar pop-up restaurant that’s all gone on the credit card

    February 19, 2011 @ 12:31 pm | by Laura Slattery

    “This is on a credit card,” says Joe Macken, owner of Rathmines restaurant Jo’Burger, of his strictly temporary new Dublin chicken eaterie. He doesn’t mean a solitary meal at Crackbird has been put on plastic – he means the entire operation. The 12-weeks only casual diner, housed in a trendily dingy Crane Lane premises in Temple Bar, has a total card-financed investment of €15,000, confirms Macken’s business partner John Roberts.

    “I spent double that on the tables in the last restaurant,” observes Macken. But that was then.

    The “pop-up restaurant”, which opens on Monday and will allow up to 36 Twitter-bookers to eat for free each day, is Macken’s first venture since the failure of the Blackrock branch of Jo’Burger and Orange Square, a sandwich shop on Baggot St, which are now both long gone.

    As was reported at the time, debts run up during Macken’s attempted expansion forced Jo’Burger into examinership in September 2009, owing €350,000. The original Rathmines burger bar traded successfully throughout, however, and the company restructured its debts and survived.

    With new investor Roberts on board, Macken was itching to “do something different” again. He’s found his hook. Tweeters who follow @CrackBirdDublin and send them a reservation request using the #tweetseats hashtag will – if their requested booking is available – eat for free at a special six-seater booth at the back of the restaurant. There are six “free” sittings per day, starting every two hours from midday, and the #tweetseats stream shows they’re already filling fast. The other 54 seats are intended for paying customers.

    This time around, there are no boom-era rents to contend with. Excluding rent (at €27 per square foot), Crackbird cost just €8,000 to set up. The fitout, to be completed this weekend, is all being done “on a shoestring”, Macken declared proudly when I met him on Thursday. His task for the night ahead was upholstering the picnic bench seating himself, while students from the National College of Art and Design have been put to work hand-sewing table linen in exchange for a nominal sum and a party. “Bartering”, Macken explains.

    It has to be this way, he says, as he recalls the ”really hard 18 months” at Blackrock. On a high from the success of Rathmines, he signed up to pay top-end rents at a second Jo’Burger just as Ireland went bust and the young heavily mortgaged locals were losing their jobs.

    Outgoings adjusted to suit the times, Macken is now taking advantage of the latest economic phenomenon – retail market turbulence – by securing a temporary lease on an unloved premises that he estimates has only been occupied for 18 months over the past decade. He’s actually cheerful about the atmosphere among city centre traders. “Everyone is pulling together, it’s great. People are really trying to help each other out.”

    Crackbird, incidentally, refers to the “addictive chicken” varieties on the menu, cooked from scratch on site. And, yes, they have thought that name through. “It’s irreverent,” Macken laughs, claiming his mother and granny approve. He seems unfazed by the possibility that paying Irish diners might not go as wild for buttermilk-marinated, skillet-fried chicken as they do for Jo’Burger’s award-winning offering – or that they might get lost on the way down Crane Lane and end up in the strip joint next door.

    Even if the pop-up restaurant thrives, he insists it will close down anyway after 12 weeks and that he and Roberts will try another one somewhere else. But they do – “please god”, says Roberts – hope to be able to pay off the credit card bill.

  • Have yourself an even cheesier Christmas

    November 5, 2010 @ 11:38 am | by Laura Slattery

    I was expecting The Index, my new daily* business/current affairs blog, to have its cheesy moments, but I admit, like the rest of the country, I was taken by surprise this morning when it emerged that the Government is to distribute that well-known ingredient in Christmas dinner – a great slab of cheddar - under an EU-funded free cheese scheme.

    Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Brendan Smith announced on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that a large stock of cheese (at least several cows’ worth), will be available for distribution by voluntary organisations in Dublin, Laois, Waterford and Cork from Monday, November 15th, “in time for Christmas”. The scheme is aimed at people “who are in living in poor circumstances and are under pressure”, which presumably means those same people whose welfare payments are under threat from the Government’s not-so-cunning plan to suck €6 billion out of the economy and try to plug the holes with some leftover bits of brie.

    Needless to say #freecheese is now trending on Twitter**, where the hashtag has become an instant symbol for the general economic chaos enveloping Ireland. Luckily, there was a recent #cheesesongs Twitter thread – Gouda Vibrations, Hit the Road Monterey Jack, Edam I Wish I Was Your Lover, that kind of thing – which meant everyone was well-primed on which cheeses are good for punning. Many more comments were along the more serious “no byelections, but they’re giving us EasiSingles” variety, as well as the despairing “how has it come to this”.

    What it’s come to, of course, is a full-fat circle. Butter vouchers funded by the Department of Agriculture were actually part of Ireland’s social assistance programme until as late as 1999, although the value of the vouchers decreased steadily from the early 1990s. A study by the ESRI’s Brian Nolan and Helen Russell on non-cash payments and poverty notes that in 1997, for example, recipients were entitled to one voucher for themselves and one for each dependant per month. At this point, the vouchers paid 48 pence towards the cost of butter.

    “Government cheese”, distributed to US food stamp recipients, was also a plank of early Reagan policy – indeed, “living off government cheese” became synonymous in the US with receiving government aid in general. As the programme started out as a subsidy to dairy producers, the phrase was used in connection with both assistance for poor families and “corporate welfare”. In a sentence: “Stop hoarding all the government cheese, AIB, and lend us some cash.”

    * When I say daily

    ** Follow me at Twitter.com/LauraSlattery, but only if you’re desperate to know my thoughts about #xfactor.


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