Running a ‘spoiler' is the most joyous pleasures the rat like editor can experience. He knows that a rival paper has a great story coming, so he works out what he can about it and publishes another paper's exclusive as his own. The Mail on Sunday seems to have done just that with its pre-emptive strike on my Observer colleague's Andrew Rawnsley's forthcoming book which is due out in a month.
Sensational claims that Gordon Brown has physically attacked his staff in a series of outbursts in Downing Street - and once in America - have rocked the Government.
Well-placed sources say the Prime Minister has been accused of hitting a senior adviser, pulling a secretary out of her chair and hurling foul-mouthed abuse at aides while distraught over an alleged snub by President Barack Obama.
The claims, which are fiercely denied by Mr Brown's allies, are linked to a new book about Mr Brown by respected political journalist Andrew Rawnsley.
Indeed they are being denied. Patrick Hennessy of the Telegraph, who is, shall we say, always welcome in Downing Street, duly popped up. He quoted a source close to Mr Brown as saying, "This is all absolute rubbish. Nothing like this ever happened. Journalists are free to investigate whatever fanciful stories they wish." The source, Hennessy continued, pointed to ‘author Rawnsley's close links to allies of Tony Blair, with whom Mr Brown had many angry clashes. He added: "You have to wonder what the motivations of some of these people are."'
Note the instant attack on the messenger, and then ask whether journalists are free to investigate Brown. We are, of course. Britain is not Iran. Yet when we do it, the dirty tricks department swings into action. Fraser Nelson of the Spectator is facing a libel writ after describing the alleged bullying tactics of Brown's aide Charlie Whelan. (If the court finds that it is false and defamatory to describe Whelan's tactics as ‘bullying', by the way, the judgment will be one of the legal wonders of the 21st century.) Quentin Letts is being sued by Brown's showbiz business minister Lord Sugar. Meanwhile no newspaper apart from Private Eye (not online) has reported what happened to Martin Bright, the political editor, of the Brownite New Statesman after he crossed the prime minister. Last April the Eye said,
Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown's former spin-doctor, still acts as an enforcer for his old boss, and at the British Press Awards, he was in his usual thuggish form.
He toured the tables at the Grosvenor House Hotel in the company of fragrant Tory hackette Tara Hamilton-Miller. It was late in the evening, and he was a little tired and a touch emotional.
Hamilton-Miller introduced him to Vanessa Thorpe, the Observer's arts correspondent. ‘I'm sure we've met before,' said Whelan. Thorpe explained that she was the partner of Martin Bright, the New Statesman's political editor, and they had bumped into each other at a Labour bash. ‘In fact,' she added, proudly, ‘Martin and I have just got married.'
Instead of congratulating her, Whelan's face darkened. Geoffrey Robinson, the wealthy Labour MP and one of Brown's oldest friends, bankrolls the Staggers. Next to its office, is the Robinson-funded Smith Institute, a think tank that so blatantly provided jobs and favours for Brown's allies, the Charity Commission investigated it.
Brown's aides expect Robinson and everyone he employs to follow the party line. They hate Bright because in a documentary for Channel 4, he investigated the corruption allegations against Ken Livingstone's cronies, the London Mayor's use of public money for political purposes and his alliances with ultra-reactionary Islamists. He then compounded the offence, by writing articles for the Statesman that were insufficiently adulatory about the Great Helmsman.
Immediately after the Livingstone documentary, Neal Lawson the Brownite lobbyist was telling anyone who would listen that Bright had to be punished.
Whelan followed up by giving Thorpe and listening hacks a rambling monologue in which he asked her to agree that her husband and father of her two children should be fired. ‘I'm no fan of Livingstone but Martin Bright should not be political editor after what he did,' he said. ‘You can see that. I'm going to talk to Geoffrey. He can't allow this. He can't allow criticism of Gordon. If Geoffrey's got any sense, he'll listen.'
A few months later, Bright was forced out. I could go on and talk about the smear stories planted in the tabloids to hurt Labour ministers who cross Brown, and the concoction of pornographic libels against his Tory rivals. But I shall just leave it by saying that the notion that the Prime Minister believes in fighting fairly and leaving journalists ‘free to investigate' is absurd.
PS Harry's Place links to this post and adds,
"Instead of Bright, we get Mehdi Hasan: a man who believes that non-Muslims are “kafirs” and like “cattle”, and who both praises and takes a face value the Supreme Leader of Iran’s ersatz anti-nuclear rhetoric. The punishment of Livingstone’s critic contrasts dramatically with the favour shown to the former Mayor. Despite having allied with supporters of the clerical fascist parties, Hamas-Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami, despite having stood against an official Labour candidate, despite having integrated the leading members of the anti-Labour Trotskyite cult Socialist Action into his office, Livingstone is honoured by the Labour Party. Indeed, this weekend, two Labour ministers participated in his “Progressive London” conference, at which the USSR’s former ‘agent of influence’, Richard Gott, and the self-admitted traitor, Azad Ali also spoke.The justification for the indulgence, I assume, is that Livingstone is considered an electoral asset, who can energise the Party faithful. Therefore, he deserves protection. That’s not my view."
Nor is it mine.
PPS Guido links to this post and says
When Brown has gone after the election it seems inevitable that we will eventually have a Khrushchev moment, where a senior Labour figure articulates what everyone knows. It will be devastating. Gordon Brown is a malevolent, deeply damaged and unpleasant human being. He is at the centre of a culture of political bullying that has been unhealthy for the Labour Party and the government. The loyalist cabal around him are unpleasant people who have no place in a healthy political culture, they are as secretive and malicious as they are vindictive and vicious.
From a Labour point of view of course, it would be better if destalinisation happened before the election. Then maybe we would have a chance of winning.
Nick Cohen took this weekend's reports of Gordon Brown's treatment of staff to remind readers of his Standpoint blog about Whelan's threats against me before I left the New Statesman (delivered in true Whelan style to my wife at a press awards ceremony where she was nominated for a prize).
As the issue of my departure from the NS has now been picked up by Guido and Harry's Place I should probably clarify my position on this matter.
Former owner Geoffrey Robinson saw fit to write a letter to the Times denying that the Prime Minister had a role in my departure from the magazine. He also pointed out that the matter was covered by a mutual confidentiality agreement (thus breaching the agreement in quite spectacular fashion).
The following can be said about this without fear of further breaches:
1. The account of events at the UK Press Gazette Awards of 2008 as related in Private Eye and posted by Nick Cohen over the weekend are accurate. No apology has ever been made by Charlie Whelan for his disgraceful behaviour that evening. However, I have no evidence that he ever voiced his opinion to Geoffrey Robinson or Gordon Brown that I should be removed from my job.
2. Geoffrey Robinson made it clear that he disapproved of a programme I made for Channel 4 Dispatches on Ken Livingstone and an article I wrote for the Evening Standard urging people not to vote for Livingstone as mayor.
3. John Kampfner was removed as editor of the magazine shortly after the programme was aired.
4. Geoffrey Robinson's preferred candidate for the job was Patrick Hennessy, the political editor of the Sunday Telegraph and a Brownite loyalist. I was urged to apply for the job to stop this happening but continued to support the acting editor, Sue Matthias.
5. Maintaining my position and independence as political editor became increasingly difficult from the moment I exposed the inner workings of Livingstone's city hall.
6. I was deeply unhappy with the decision by the magazine to settle a libel action with the Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi.
This may not be of interest to many people but I happen to think the freedom of the press is a precious thing.
Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate) and What's Left? How The Left Lost Its Way (Harper Perennial). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint, is available as an ebook.
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