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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Tory Bullying - Blaney In The Dock

While the press continues to pick apart the bullying scandal that is now in danger of distracting the Tory Party from its duty of forming the Government and running the country, one detail has come to light that suggests one of those who has so shamelessly lined up to throw former organiser Mark Clarke under the bus is rather more involved in what happened to young activist Elliott Johnson than he has so far admitted.
Donal Blaney at the centre of things, along with Mark Clarke and André Walker

Donal Blaney, founder of the Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF), so many of whose alumni have featured in the bullying scandal, and who also chairs the board of Conservative Way Forward (CWF), has already passed severely adverse comment on Clarke. But he has been tied in, by the recording Elliott Johnson secretly made of a meeting with Clarke, to Johnson’s being made redundant by CWF.

This has been detailed by Tom Pride (see his post on the whole sorry business HERE), who observed “the fact Elliott lost his job after complaining about Clarke is not all that surprising if it’s known that not long before Elliott was sacked Clarke had visited the Chairman of CWF Donal Blaney to warn him that Elliott was a ‘risk’ to the organisation … Clarke admitted this himself in a secret recording Elliott made”.

What has since been revealed, and which confirms Blaney was indeed intimately involved with Johnson’s redundancy, is confirmation by Johnson’s father Ray that his son’s redundancy letter came not from CWF, nor indeed from any part of the Conservative Party. Elliott Johnson’s redundancy letter came from Griffin Law. That is the legal practice run by Donal Blaney. And there is another can of worms opening up before our eyes.
YBF gathering, with Blaney, Grant Shapps, Mark Clarke, Alexandra Paterson ... and Elliott Johnson

Just who actually runs CWF? Its board consists of Blaney, his pal Paul Osborn, and Paul Abbott, another who claimed after the event that he had warned everyone about Mark Clarke, only to have had no problem being in his presence. Do we take it that CWF is being run as some kind of personal fiefdom by the man who called his creation, the YBF, a “Conservative Madrasa” which radicalised young activists?

So many times when examining those in and around the bullying scandal, the name of the YBF comes up. Clarke was, it has been alleged, mentored by Blaney. Grant Shapps, who has now resigned as a minister, was there at its last annual gathering. So was Clarke’s preferred choice to lead Conservative Future (CF), Alexandra Paterson. And so, in the group photo at the end, was Elliott Johnson.

The influence wielded upon the Tory Party by Donal Blaney and his pals appears to be considerable. Yet until now he has remained free of scrutiny. That has to stop, and any trace of infiltration or entryism exposed and eradicated, should it be found. If CWF, an important and significant group, is being run out of Blaney’s legal practice, that by itself should have already set alarm bells ringing.

Donal Blaney has to be quizzed by the inquiry into the bullying scandal. And at length.

Jeremy Corbyn Is Finished

The Labour Party may have only elected its new leader in September, but it is now clear that they will be electing another in the very near future. After many of the party’s MPs have spent the intervening time throwing a variety of mardy strops, the time has come when, whatever assurances Jeremy Corbyn gives in rounds of media interviews, he will no longer be permitted to function as party leader.
That the endgame is now being played is not down to the tedious succession of whinging pundits, for whom nothing less than the reinstallation of Tony Blair at the head of the party will be enough to quell their anguish, but that the petulant behaviour of some MPs who should know better has now been accompanied by clear signs that potential leadership contenders are breaking ranks and going, shall we say, “on manoeuvres”.

First of these, although he did not submit himself to the membership earlier this year, has been Hilary Benn, who is determined to speak in favour of dropping significant amounts of high explosive on the mainly civilian populations in those parts of Syria controlled by ISIS. That Benn - and several other Labour MPs - give the impression of wanting to rain death on the unfortunate inhabitants of Raqqa as a way of kicking Corbyn shows just how shameless and insular this exercise has become.

Once Benn had kicked off, and apparently he continued to reinforce his position at yesterday evening’s meeting of the Parliamentary party, the effect was as to fire the starting gun, and soon deputy leader Tom Watson was, effectively, positioning himself for what was becoming the inevitable end of the Corbyn era.

Not to be outdone, Andy Burnham “the shadow home secretary, who is not convinced about airstrikes, used some of the strongest rhetoric as he said he refused to be part of a ‘sham shadow cabinet’”. So he’s getting ready to run, too, as is Yvette Cooper, “who made similar comments to [Margaret] Beckett accusing Corbyn’s supporters of trying to divide the party”. Benn has now said he doesn’t want the leadership, but the damage is done.

What part does this week’s Oldham West and Royton by-election play in the scrabble to get Corbyn out and another leadership election on the go? Should UKIP actually win the seat, it is highly likely that Corbyn’s leadership will be tipped over the edge there and then. But even a close finish - say, a Labour majority of less than 5,000 - will be used as an excuse to move the Islington North MP closer to the exit door.

Now that the pushing and shoving among potential leadership candidates has started, there is no way back. Labour has not removed a leader without allowing them to contest a General Election since the fall of George Lansbury at the 1935 party conference. But that is the course of events that has now been set in train. Not even the Labour Party will entertain a leader who is quietly principled but insufficiently bellicose.

It is unedifying. It is not pleasant. It verges on the desperate. And that, folks, is politics.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Guido Fawked - Segregation Hypocrisy

A favourite subject of Paul Staines and his pals at the Guido Fawkes blog for some time now has been the apparently fearless exposing of gender-segregated meetings, a subject where the Fawkes crowd can count on the enthusiastic support of the more vocal and partial, like (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch. Because the only meetings the Fawkes blog fearlessly exposes are Labour Party ones. And then only some of them.
Feared. But only in the retelling

The inference is clear: Labour tolerates this kind of thing, and because Staines and Co never feature a Tory Party example, his favoured political party does not. Hence today’s post titledLabour Hold Another Segregated Rally”, telling “Labour MPs attended a gender segregated rally in Oldham last night, with photos released from the meeting clearly showing Muslim women and men being seated seperately [sic]”.
There is even time for a little righteous posturing: “Readers will be well aware that this isn’t the first, or even second, time senior Labour figures have attended gender segregated rallies. When will Labour come out and denounce this gender apartheid?” All very noble, except that this is hypocrisy on two fronts. Let us first consider the Fawkes blog’s omission of Tory politicians attending and addressing gender segregated or all-male meetings.
As my good friend Sunny Hundal noted back in May this year “Boris talking to a male-only audience at a Muslim event. Where are the women? And where is the rightwing outrage?” And there is London’s increasingly occasional Mayor doing just that. Edward Anderson went one better: “Here is David Cameron at a Hindu temple in a totally gender-segregated audience (02/05/15)”. Dave did it too.
But at the Fawkes blog, such events went unnoticed. And it was not just Tory MPs who got that all-important free Fawkes pass, but those in Labour whom Staines and his pals deem useful to them. So it was that one MP happily advertisedGreat meeting with residents in our #Rochdale Bangladeshi community today - I like this photo!” confirming “Great meeting today at #Bangladesh Community Association in #Rochdale”.
Yes, Rochdale’s nominally Labour MP Simon Danczuk is another blind spot for The Great Guido, and not once, but twice, as Danczuk has also Tweeted “Such a diverse political culture in #Rochdale - does make elections fun as this rally today shows!” What this rally shows is another all-male gathering. Another example of gender segregation available to the Fawkes blog which they choose to ignore.
Very few Labour figures were invited to the Fawkes blog’s tenth anniversary bash last year. Simon Danczuk was one of that few. A more blatant example of rewarding the usefulness Staines and his pals believe Danczuk has to them by looking the other way would be hard to find. And a worse demonstration of selective reporting would be even harder to find. As for the credulousness of Ms Mensch, well, that’s just sad.

Still, as the Fawkes blog practises gender segregation itself, what else can we expect?

The Sun Misses Emma Pidding

As the Sun joins the chorus calling for the head of Tory chairman Andrew Feldman, with the party’s bullying scandal having already claimed the scalp of Grant “Spiv” Shapps, editor Tony Gallagher is seemingly still not asking why the stories brought to him by alleged “Westminster Correspondent” Harry Cole have suggested the influence of now-disgraced Mark Clarke - including the latest one.
The Sun misses out the one on the right

Let me put this directly: Cole’s stories have featured signed original letters to Clarke from Shapps, and David Cameron. Those letters can only have been made available by the recipient - Mark Clarke. Cole has not - yet - admitted to contact with his long-standing friend. But there must have been some sort of contact, otherwise those letters would not have been made available to the paper.

Clarke’s hand may have influenced today’s Sun splash, with Cole’s name one of two on the by-line (the other being Steve Hawkes), under the mock horror title “PM’s Pal Under Pressure … TORY CHIEF MUST STOP LORDING IT … Bully victim dad’s call”. Here, the Sun pretends that its story enjoys the approval of Elliott Johnson’s dad Ray, although it should be noted that he apparently has not spoken to Cole or Hawkes.

There is even a helpful and supposedly comprehensive graphic showing all the alleged participants in the bullying scandal … except one. Who is missing? Someone who is a family friend of Mark Clarke, who, it has been claimed, leaked details of complaints to him. Step forward newly-ennobled Emma Pidding, whose presence in the affair has been magically airbrushed out, almost as if Clarke had ordered it.
Look who's missing ... so why is that?

Emma Pidding was chair of the National Conservative Convention. She was also responsible in part for the RoadTrip 2015 operation masterminded by Clarke. The inquiry already under way within the Tory Party is understood to have her on its list of those that will be interviewed as part of the process. She is alleged to have been Clarke’s protector. Yet she is absent from the Sun’s supposedly comprehensive article.

As Simon Walters of the Mail On Sunday - who, to his credit, has been on this story from the word go - put it, “Newly ennobled Baroness Emma Pidding, a personal and political ally of Clarke and chairman of his rebranded Road Trip 2020, also faces questions. She arranged for Clarke to be feted by Cameron in public at the Conservative National Convention in July”. But she doesn’t face questions in the Sun.

It is entirely possible that Andrew Feldman has to go; after all, several papers are putting that proposition this morning. And it is equally possible that Harry Cole’s omission of Emma Pidding’s name is down to ineptitude rather than deliberate deception. But the impression that Mark Clarke is wielding influence on the journalistic process with the assistance of his pal is inescapable. And it stinks to high heaven.

Will Tony Gallagher now put Cole on the spot? Sooner or later, he will have to.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Harry Cole - Bullying Personified

After the character of the 36th Vice President of the USA became more widely known, Democrat Presidential challenger Adlai Stevenson gave a warning that was heeded rather more in 1974 than 1956: “Our nation stands at a fork in the political road. In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland. But I say to you that it is not America”.
The bully may also be an unappealing slob

Today, out there on the right, there is a true heir to the Nixon tradition of low and nasty politics, who knows full well about the kind of bullying that went on when Mark Clarke was welcomed back into the Tory Party, because he has been a full participant in that kind of behaviour. Step forward Harry Cole, exponent extraordinaire of the loud and shouty.
The photo that launched an intemperate phone rant (the young woman at left is Carrie Symonds)

Cole perfected his act as a dishonest and unprincipled bully and smear artiste while at Edinburgh University, where he stood for the top post at the Students’ Association and asked his opponents to sign a “clean campaign” pledge, while also running an anonymous smear blog, which was duly rumbled. He lost. Sadly, the techniques honed there were seamlessly transferred to his time at the Guido Fawkes blog.
The bully need not vary his behaviour merely because he is attacking women

Here, the bullying element reached its zenith in January this year, when an inoffensive post on Zelo Street which said nothing other than that there might be a good reason Cole had wisely gone on a diet resulted in an intemperate, shouty phone call and a follow-up email, of which this is a typical sample: “Now, that picture is owned by David Bennett via Getty Images. It needs to go. You do not have permission to use it and you can take it down now or I will call him to make sure he pursues payment”.
All the unappealing bullies together. Cole is the last one to be untainted by scandal

He had no intention of ringing anyone. That was not the point; the point was to use bullying to bend others to his will. He would take the same approach whoever opposed him, as witness his dismissive and patronising tone to Naomi Colvin over the earlier behaviour of Mark Clarke, to whom his loyalty included turning up to see his newly-born child.

Behold another of the YBF's alumni

The bullying tone extends into Cole’s media appearances: any kind of intellectual process is eschewed in favour of loud proclamation of his case, and if he deems it necessary, even louder dismissal of dissent, or any attempt at argument. And now it extends into his reporting on his friend Clarke.
This is how close he is to Mark Clarke - something Sun readers are not told

Sun readers are not informed that Cole and Clarke are friends, nor that they go back a long way. Both were part of the now-moribund Trade Union Reform Campaign, along with disgraced ex-MP Aidan Burley and Clarke’s sidekick André Walker, where they dishonestly used the presence in the Commons of Darren Gough to promote themselves. But none of this is presented to Sun readers, despite the clear conflict of interest.

Harry Cole is the modern face of Nixonland. He is congenitally dishonest, utterly without either principle or shame, and quite prepared to verbally and physically bully anyone and everyone who opposes him. He and Mark Clarke are honoured and, indeed, decorated alumni of the Young Britons’ Foundation. He knows all about bullying in politics because he is one of its most able practitioners. 

And he will still not come clean with Sun readers. Bullies can also be cowards.

Mark Clarke - Buyer’s Remorse

As the Tory Party finds itself distracted once again by the bullying scandal that has taken hold since the sad death of young activist Elliott Johnson, the name of one organisation, an organisation that claims to be non-partisan but calls itself a “Conservative Madrasa”, comes up time and again. That organisation is the Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF), and its involvement was clear way back when Mark Clarke became a Tory candidate.
YBF stalwarts: Mark Clarke, André Walker, Donal Blaney and Matthew Richardson

Conservative Home has helpfully preserved its reporting of Clarke’s win, in an open primary, of the right to represent the Tories in the Tooting constituency at the 2010 General Election - as well as the comments. And it is the latter that are most revealing. There are, let it be put plainly, several happy YBF supporters among them.

Conor Burns praised Clarke: “Well done to Mark and to Tooting Conservatives. Look forward to supporting you on the stump in the near future”. Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, has spoken at successive YBF annual gatherings. His meetings with Margaret Thatcher in her last years, and subsequent claim to the true Thatcherite inheritance, chime well with the YBF, whose head man Donal Blaney is looking to establish a Thatcher Centre to rival the Reagan equivalent in the USA.

Likewise Matthew Richardson, who commented “Good work, Boss. You deserve it after all the hard work you have put in this year”. Richardson is Executive Director of the YBF. He recently joined UKIP, a rare YBF foray into a party other than the Tories. He is also easily identifiable in that photo of Mark Clarke.

And Daniel Hamilton: “My only surprise with regards to Mark's election is that ConHome considers it a surprise! This is excellent news. Exactly the kind of candidate we should be putting forward”. Hamilton is another YBF stalwart. He was one of the losers in 2013 when a slate of YBF candidates contested elections to the City Of London Corporation. Other losers on the same night included André Walker … and Mark Clarke.

So is James Cleverly, whose response to Clarke’s selection was “A huge well done to Mark. I have worked with him and he will bring a lot to what is already a good fighting assn … I think that we can expect to see him as an MP at the next election”. He will be speaking at the YBF’s next annual gathering in December.

As Simon Hattenstone observed in his Guardian article on the bullying scandal, “Blaney has called YBF ‘a madrasa’ that radicalises rightwing conservatives and embraces American-style ‘attack-dog’ politics”. It is not a party, but its influence is all over the Tories right now. And Clarke was one of theirs: he had been YBF Director of Outreach.

And there they were in support at his moment of triumph. Well, along with the occasional visitor who had lost their way, such as the last commenter on that ConHome post, who said “I want to congratulate Mark as well - he was also featured in yesterday's Evening Standard on this story. Brilliant work in exposing the scandal”. The “scandal”, over deaths at an NHS hospital, involved Clarke being less than honest over the numbers.

The commenter? Louise Bagshawe, who has since done rather a lot of misleading of her own. But the point about the YBF stands: Mark Clarke was their man.

Top Six - November 29

So what’s hot, and what’s not, in the past week’s blogging? Here are the six most popular posts on Zelo Street for the past seven days, counting down in reverse order, because, well, I have kitchen tidying to do later. So there.
6 Stig Abell - Pants On Fire The Sun’s managing editor wrote to the Guardian defending his paper’s claim that one in five British Muslims sympathised with ISIS, or whatever it’s called this week. But his case depended on a false premise.
5 Shapps Is Sacrificed The Tory bullying scandal took its first major scalp as former party co-chairman Grant “Spiv” Shapps resigned. He will not be the last to go.
4 Bullygate - Cole Clueless The odious flannelled fool Master Cole’s view of the Tory bullying scandal managed to miss out rather a lot of the story - like his personal knowledge of many of those involved.
3 Sun Muslim Poll Unravels The pollsters disowned the Sun’s interpretation of their data, and then we discovered that the paper’s usual pollster YouGov had refused the assignment.
2 Tory Bullying - Behind The Spin Simon Hattenstone’s Guardian article pulled together the threads of the scandal. But there were a few details to add to his analysis. See them right here.
1 Sun Muslim Bigotry Busted The paper’s claim of British Muslim support for ISIS was downright dishonest. Worse, it was so obviously dishonest that the story unravelled almost as soon as it hit the newsstands.
And that’s the end of another blogtastic week, blog pickers. Not ‘arf!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Shapps Is Sacrificed

A week, Harold Wilson once observed, is a long time in politics. Why this should be has just been pointed out as former Tory Party co-chairman Grant Shapps has become the latest casualty in the fallout from the bullying scandal now engulfing it. Previously, nothing, but nothing, could dislodge Shapps from his co-chair position; this tells anyone who may have thought otherwise that this is very serious problem for the party.
Previously, Shapps had been discovered to have promoted a piece of software that operated in flagrant violation of Google’s rules. His routine deceits included pretending to be someone else: at least two aliases, Michael Green and Sebastian Fox, are well-known. He had used his position in the Tory Party to bully a constituent, and threaten legal action against them. None of these was sufficient to dislodge him.

Nor was his singularly ill-judged “Tory Bingo” graphic, which suggested that the working class were “they”, and was therefore patronising in the extreme. The only thing that removed Shapps from the co-chair was when he was forcibly removed after the General Election. Some right-leaning pundits concluded he had been badly treated. They did not know the half of it. Sadly, they might not even now.

Shapps resigned for one reason, and one alone: it was he who welcomed Mark Clarke back into the Tory fold last year, awarding him the title of “director” in charge of RoadTrip 2015. For this, and apparently not acting earlier to head off complaints about Clarke’s behaviour, he had to go. But he is only resigning his ministerial portfolio, remaining as MP for the seat of Welwyn Hatfield. That’s not good enough.

Shapps’ litany of double-dealing, dishonesty, bullying, chicanery, and forthright spivvery, added to his singularly unfortunate judgment call on Clarke, should easily be enough to have him drummed out of the Commons. At the very least, the Tory Party should expel him, and man up sufficiently to put a new candidate before the electorate in a by-election. Only then will the catalogue of misbehaviour be properly closed.

And, as I outlined in an earlier post today, there are several others with questions to answer, and that is several as in additional to Andrew Feldman, the current party chairman. Meanwhile, in case anyone had forgotten, this is first and foremost about Elliott Johnson, and his Dad Ray has spoken approvingly at Shapps’ decision to venture into the room with the whisky and revolver and do the right thing.

But, as he points out, “It’s about time, he should have resigned several weeks ago … It justifies our view of Grant Shapps. But there are others involved and we need to ensure there’s a clearout of all these unsavoury characters at CCHQ”. Added to that I would include those who may not be at CCHQ, but are active on the fringes and have knowingly and enthusiastically participated in bullying.

Zelo Street readers will hear more on one of those fringe figures tomorrow.

Tory Bullying - Behind The Spin

For a story that was recently dismissed by Toby Young and Julia Hartley Brewer as not being the kind of thing one might find on the front page, the scandal concerning bullying in the Tory Party, given its initial momentum following the sad death of activist Elliott Johnson, has gone mainstream to the extent that newspapers are actually competing with one another to splash yet more revelations about the whole sorry saga.
Mark Clarke, India Brummitt, Grant Shapps and Emma Pidding. This photo is being used by the press in an edited form - the editing being to remove Ms Pidding

Little, though, was done to pull the threads together in order to give a coherent view of just who was involved - until today, by Simon Hattenstone at the Guardian, with the clear approval of Johnson’s parents. Those involved to a greater or lesser extent with the now disgraced Mark Clarke are interviewed, profiled and their litany of variously lame excuses analysed - except for one. And it is an important one.

This post will reveal who Hattenstone left out, and that many of the others are spinning, manoeuvring and positioning themselves in order to avoid being sucked in to the ever-deepening whirlpool. We start with the missing name.

Emma Pidding: the newly-ennobled Conservative Party insider has been kept off the front pages, often by the crude device of editing her out of the group photo with Mark Clarke, his mistress India Brummitt, and Grant Shapps. The edited photo has been all over the front pages. It has been popular with the Murdoch Sun. But she should not be edited out.

Ms Pidding is a close friend of the Clarke family. It is suspected that Clarke got wind of complaints against him because she - improperly - had access to the information and passed it on to him. For that reason alone, she warrants further investigation.
Mark Clarke (top right) with his right hand on the left shoulder of Paul Abbott. Also note Harry Cole at front middle

Paul Abbott: formerly Grant Shapps’ chief of staff, now desperately trying to pretend that he too had reservations about Clarke. It won’t wash. Abbott, as can be seen from the post-cricket match photo taken recently at Didcot Parkway station, had no problem with being in Clarke’s company. And he has one very serious charge to answer.

Abbott was in charge at Conservative Way Forward (CWF) when Elliott Johnson was given a job there, only to be made redundant two months later. The redundancy coincided more or less exactly with Johnson making a complaint about Clarke’s behaviour. So, Paul Abbott, what changed after Johnson had been employed at CWF for two months, other than a complaint made against Mark Clarke?
Donal Blaney seemingly not being repulsed by the presence of Mark Clarke and André Walker

Donal Blaney: the founder of the Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF) has been frantically erasing all reference to Mark Clarke from the YBF website. This, too, will not wash. Clarke was awarded the YBF’s highest honour, the Golden Dolphin award, which was in the personal gift of Blaney. He, too, as the photo shows, had no problem being in Clarke’s company. His excuses are craven in the extreme.

André Walker: Elliott Johnson, it is clear from Simon Hattenstone’s article, put his trust in Walker, whom he regarded as a friend. That trust was cruelly and viciously abused. Walker was a close friend of Mark Clarke, and no stranger to underhand methods and playing dirty, having lost his job at Windsor and Maidenhead Council after he was caught plotting against then deputy leader Alison Knight.

What is most revealing about the Hattenstone article is that Walker apparently promised Johnson he would set up an interview with “Guido”, that meaning the Guido Fawkes blog. Again, Johnson was seemingly unaware that proprietor Paul Staines was also a close friend of Mark Clarke. Clarke was on the guest list for the Fawkes blog’s tenth anniversary party last year. The idea that Johnson would have been offered a job there is laughable.
In case anyone forgot: Elliott Johnson seen in happier times. Mark Clarke is there again

All of which brings us to Harry Cole. Hattenstone does not mention Staines’ former sidekick, so let me put all concerned straight. Cole, now at the Sun, has like the others been advancing the pretence of faux horror at news of bullying which he almost certainly knew about all along. Sun editor Tony Gallagher may think he has an inside track on the Tory Party’s goings-on via his “Westminster Correspondent”. He has been duped.

Cole’s “revelations” this week have included a letter from Grant Shapps to Mark Clarke welcoming him to the fold and confirming his title as a a “director” in charge of RoadTrip 2015. This is a signed original. In other words, this is the letter that Clarke would have received - it is not a copy.

This has been followed today by an article featuring a signed original letter from Prime Minister David Cameron to Clarke. Once more, this is the letter which Clarke would have received - it, too, is not a copy.

These two letters put together lead to only one conclusion: the source for Cole’s “revelations” is Mark Clarke. Cole is apparently using his position at the Sun to spin for Clarke - as well as make excuses for Paul Abbott. It is as if the death of Elliott Johnson has been forgotten as those likely to be caught by the aftershock of this particular earthquake try and salvage reputations, or take others down with them.
This group photo from YBF XI was formerly used as a Twitter background, but has now been removed. Easily identified are Donal Blaney, Grant Shapps ... and Mark Clarke. Also at left can be seen Alexandra Paterson ... and Elliott Johnson

And then we come to another singularly unsavoury character not picked up on directly by Hattenstone, Paul Staines. What contact did he have with Elliott Johnson, if any, in those last fateful 48 hours? Johnson talked of betrayal. Was the meeting with “Guido” part of that? Did it not happen at all? I do not expect Staines to answer anything I put to him, but with the certainty of night following day, someone else will put the question later.

Those who read the Guido Fawkes blog will, of course, have seen the familiar story played out there: claims to have the inside track, faux shock at what happened, and a desire to have prying eyes “look over there” at Clarke, Shapps, anyone but Staines and his crew.

Only one conclusion comes clear from examining the behaviour of those involved: the death of Elliott Johnson has been the signal for far too many in and around the Tory Party not to search their consciences, do the right thing and come clean, but to enter a phase of desperate damage limitation.

It goes without saying that Ray and Alison Johnson deserve better. The only way that will happen is if the inquiry process is removed from the Tory Party and made properly independent. Only that way will the facts emerge, untainted by the manoeuvring, positioning, spin and deceit that has been on view thus far.

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Corbyn And The War Nerds

After Young Dave pout forward his jolly good proposals for sending someone else off into harm’s way, and in the process fly over parts of Syria controlled by ISIS, or whatever they’re called this week, and drop a few tonnes of high explosive on them, many of the assembled punditerati proclaimed that this was A Very Good Idea: we have to confront ISIS, we have bombs, therefore we must confront ISIS with bombs.
But there was, as Captain Blackadder might have observed, only one thing wrong with this idea - it was bollocks. There is no benefit to the safety of anyone in the UK from bombing parts of the world that have already had the crap bombed out of them several times over. This inconvenient fact caused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to dissent from Dave’s view.

His letter bears close examination: “The Prime Minister made a Statement to the House today making the case for a UK bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria. A copy of my response has already been circulated … We have all been horrified by the despicable attacks in Paris and are determined to see the defeat of ISIS … Our first priority must be the security of Britain and the safety of the British people. The issue now is whether what the Prime Minister is proposing strengthens, or undermines, our national security”.

I do not believe that the Prime Minister today made a convincing case that extending UK bombing to Syria would meet that crucial test. Nor did it satisfactorily answer the questions raised by us and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee … In particular, the Prime Minister did not set out a coherent strategy, coordinated through the United Nations, for the defeat of ISIS. Nor has he been able to explain what credible and acceptable ground forces could retake and hold territory freed from ISIS control by an intensified air campaign”.

He concluded “In my view, the Prime Minister has been unable to explain the contribution of additional UK bombing to a comprehensive negotiated political settlement of the Syrian civil war, or its likely impact on the threat of terrorist attacks in the UK … For these and other reasons, I do not believe the Prime Minister’s current proposal for air strikes in Syria will protect our security and therefore cannot support it”.

This is an entirely sensible and indeed courageous stance. For taking it, Corbyn has been castigated by a number of his own MPs, and especially those pundits by whom he has been judged insufficiently bellicose. Gripes of “George Lansbury” and witless comparisons to the expansionist tendency of the Third Reich are being cited. It would be moderately amusing, were it not so unedifying. Why the tendency to war in every situation?

Ah well. Not only do we now have a generation of politicians for whom personal and intimate involvement in war is almost totally absent, but we have a pundit class filled with nerds who are frightened shitless of being considered less than totally patriotic, and even cowardly. To compensate for their inadequacy, the response at all times is to advocate war. No-one can say in the retelling that they lacked guts.

Why the bombing will not work has been outlined by Jürgen Todenhöfer in a piece for the Guardian; he was the first Western journalist to spend time with ISIS and then return safely. His article shows why Corbyn is right and the nerds are wrong.

He does suggest a way out: “But there are ways to beat Isis. First, America has to stop Gulf states delivering weapons to the terrorists in Syria and Iraq … Second, the west has to help Turkey seal its long border with the ‘Islamic State’, to stop the flow of new fighters joining Isis.”

Third, Isis can only exist because it has managed to ally itself with the suppressed Sunni population of Iraq and Syria. They are the water that carries the Isis project. If the west managed to bring about a national reconciliation in Iraq and Syria, and integrate Sunnis (which in Iraq would have to include former Ba’athists) into political life, Isis would be finished, like a fish out of water”.

Jeremy Corbyn needs to latch on to this, and very soon. He then has not only the correct call on Cameron’s ill-judged call to drop bombs “because we have them”, but also a credible solution to the problem. It is a sad thought, though, that so many of his MPs will ignore and even castigate him because they naively see belligerence as a passport to more job security.

Meanwhile the class of war nerds will carry on masking their inadequacy by calling for the bombing to start, knowing that when it all goes wrong and Corbyn is proved right, enough people will have forgotten to allow them to cary on penning their witless bletherings.

Katie Hopkins - Sore Loser

Fortunately there has been little news of late concerning pro-am motormouth Katie Hopkins, the pundit who was too toxic even for the Sun, as she has been reduced to online-only status at the Mail. That is, until Brunel University decided to invite her to participate in a debate as part of their 50th birthday celebrations, and rather a lot of students showed their displeasure by walking out on her.
Viewers may want to look away now

Ali Milani, from the Student Union, was clearly proud of the point that had been made, but also wanted to put the protest in context: “The inclusion of Ms Hopkins has been met with widespread outcry from the student body and the Students' Union … It is important to note that the conversation at no point has been about banning Ms Hopkins from speaking on campus, or denying her right to speak”. That is important.

Do go on. “It is instead about saying it is distasteful and incongruous for our University, as part of a 50th celebration event, to provide a platform to someone who adds nothing to the intellectual or academic discourse; and an individual who publicly utters such overtly bigoted views … In short, we have a far higher opinion of our institution than Katie Hopkins”. That, of course, cut no ice with a clearly sore Ms Hopkins.

So off she went on one today: “After what happened to me at Brunel University I wonder if we no longer teach students how to think but what to think … A terrifying number conform to one way of thinking. Not only do they demand that you comply with their view, but seek to deride and delegitimise anyone with an alternative opinion”. Christ on a bike, they walked out on you of their own accord. It was their choice, made freely.

But listen up people, she’s a victim, like … Tim Hunt! Seriously, she puts herself in the same category as a Nobel laureate. And she knows what’s to blame: “This generation of students raised on social media are fast to join crusades and shun traitors, and demand the head of the guilty served to them on a pike”. That would be the social media that has been effectively the sole means by which Katie Hopkins has advanced herself.

But on she whinges: “Students no longer debate. They label and slate … All because my views are different from theirs … I am so used to students trying to discredit me with labels, I even sent Brunel a list in advance, spelling them in the way those ill-educated by reality might choose to do”. She thought it would be a good idea to mis-spell something and thereby suggest her audience hadn’t been educated properly.

That worked well, then. Ms Hopkins can’t see that patronising her audience might have been part of her problem. For her, it is all about The Left: “Encouraged by Left-leaning tutors, students do not wish to open their minds to society. They want to hear what they have already decided is true”. And to that I call bullshit. Students are the most independent of thinkers. They are always prepared to listen to new and different views.

What Katie Hopkins doesn’t realise is that she adds so little to any debate that her audience is unlikely to miss anything important by walking out. That is her problem, and hers alone.

Migrants - Thousands Of Them!

If there is one subject that tabloid hacks and their editors love, partly because it is one of the oldest and most reliable dog-whistle issues going, is migration, and especially immigration. Because immigration means “they” are coming here. “They” are different to Mail and Sun readers. “They” talk foreign. “They” are alleged variously to breed, not maintain adequate standards of hygiene, and not speak English to one another.
The inconvenient fact that “they” are coming to the UK because it is seen as a growing economy - those same papers that whine about immigration love to trumpet the Government’s spin on its record - and that “they” are prepared to work hard, therefore contributing to that economic growth as part of a virtuous circle that improves matters for everyone, is of course not told to the readers.

It was certainly not allowed to enter at the Sun, where Craig Woodhouse’s article was headlinedIMMIGRATION AT RECORD HIGH WITH 636,000 FLOCKING TO UK … Huge increase in number of Romanians and Bulgarians coming to Britain”. Yeah, all those flocking immigrants! Only further down the piece are readers told that 300,000 left the UK in the same period, but the frightener had been administered.

It got worse: “Immigration has surged to a record new high, figures revealed today, piling pressure on David Cameron to win back border control in his EU renegotiation”. Yeah, right. Free movement rules mean that pissing about with border controls would have no effect. Only at the very end does Woodhouse mention Young Dave’s daft pledge to get net migration into the tens of thousands. Because it’s the EU’s fault.
The Mail was equally horrified: “A new wave of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria is behind the increase in the number of Europeans coming into Britain … Citizens of the two states, which joined the EU in 2007, now make up almost one in ten of all UK immigrants … Romania ranks behind only India and China as the country sending the most migrants to this country, an Office for National Statistics report said yesterday”.

This was reinforced by a suitably thunderous Daily Mail Comment: “At 9.30am, the Office for National Statistics released figures showing net migration to Britain was an utterly unsustainable 336,000 last year – an all-time record which is adding 920 people to our population every day … Net migration from inside the EU (over which Brussels allows us no control) was up by 42,000 to 180,000 – including, just as the Mail predicted, to sneers from the BBC, 50,000 Romanians and Bulgarians”.

Yes, it’s the BBC’s fault, as if we needed to guess. But nowhere do the Mail and Sun allow the obvious point to be made: a growing economy and the impression of opportunity are bound to attract migrants. Why else does the press think that so many made the journey across the North Atlantic to start new lives in the USA?

That argument is too complicated for the press. So frightening the punters into buying a few more copies it is, then. Sad.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Cameron ISIS Strategy Is Bust

Today, Young Dave has come to the Commons to tell MPs about his jolly good wheeze suggesting that we should go and bomb Johnny ISIS in Syria. Many on his side of the House are clearly prepared to vote for this latest effort for someone else to be put in harm’s way in order to kill and maim whoever is unfortunate enough to be there when the bombs land. He is in confident mood. But his case is utterly empty.
I say you MP cheppies over thyah! Vote for one to go orf and drop bombs on Johnny Foreigner, wont'cha? Jolly good sheow!

Cameron claims time and again that this is not a Something Must Be Done response following the Paris attacks, but that is exactly what it is. In addition to the French and USA, there are several Middle Eastern countries already queuing up to bomb ISIS. But, although this has made the group less able to move around its territory, it most certainly has not “shrunk” by the 30% Cameron has claimed.

Otherwise, how could ISIS have captured Ramadi and Palmyra? Moreover, as Ewan MacAskill has noted, “The pilots frequently return to base without firing missiles or dropping bombs, partly they say because of fear of hitting civilians but mainly because after a year there is little left to hit. So what can the UK add? Nothing much that is not already being done by the US, France and other allies”.

There would, let us be in no doubt, be no point whatever in joining the bombing. It gets worse: when asked about which troops on the ground would follow through and consolidate gains, Cameron continues to resort to citing the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is claimed to have a strength of 70,000. But the FSA’s primary focus is the régime of Basher al-Assad, and Dave has said we’re not proposing to take action against him.

Fancy getting involved in this, Dave?

The idea that we could command part or all of the FSA to drop what they’re doing and run along to those ISIS areas to help chuck them out is utterly fanciful. Since the USA ceased training rebel groups recently, the amount of leverage that Western countries wanting to damage ISIS could exert on groups like the FSA is vanishingly small. On top of that, the number of rebel groups is, shall we say, significantly more than one.

On top of all of that is our past litany of involvement: Iraq, which was a coherent whole under the Ba’athist régime we helped to topple, is little more than a failed state. Afghanistan is similarly fragile. Libya, which we helped to bomb and then ran away from, really is a failed state, with hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into neighbouring countries and across the Mediterranean. Syria has already generated millions of refugees.

So, Dave, what is the point? Sure, the right-leaning part of the press will rejoice at any sign of increased bellicosity, so long as someone else is paying. No convincing evidence has been presented of terrorist threats linked to ISIS in Syria except to say that there have been “plots”, and the rest is secret. All our action could do is to generate more refugees, which we would not have to take - but someone would.

Cameron’s Syria case is not just flawed, but bust. And so is anyone voting for it.

Stig Abell - Pants On Fire

While the Super Soaraway Currant Bun’s managing editor Stig Abell could not tear himself away from what appears to have been a daunting schedule of hair appointments to defend his paper’s borderline incitement of racial and religious hatred when the matter was debated on Channel 4 News, he was miraculously available to review the papers later the same evening on Sky News (“first for breaking wind”).
No they don't

And he was also able to take the singularly courageous step of penning a letter to the deeply subversive Guardian, in which he defended the Sun’s claim that one in five British Muslims was in some kind of agreement with ISIS, or whatever they’re called this week, using the well-known Murdoch press technique known as dishonesty. The crucial passage is in the second paragraph of Abell’s letter.

The question about sympathy for Muslims ‘who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria’ was clearly – by its context and ordinary meaning – a reference to those fighting for Islamic State, and was chosen by the polling company”. Stop right there. For starters, that the polling company chose the question does not legitimise the Sun’s blatant misinterpretation of the replies. And no, “fighters in Syria” and ISIS are not the same thing.

We can be more certain of this because the Sun’s upmarket sister paper the Times, which had run its own version of the “one in five Muslims sympathises with IS”, has now published an item in its “Corrections and clarifications” section saying so (the Mail, which at first also ran the story, later had second thoughts and pulled it completely). The Times clarification effectively kicks the ground from under Abell and his fellow apologists.
Here’s what it says: “We reported the findings of a Survation poll of 1,000 British Muslims … Asked ‘How do you feel about young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria?’, 14 per cent of respondents expressed ‘some sympathy’ and 5 per cent ‘a lot of sympathy’. The survey did not distinguish between those who go to fight for Islamic State and those who join other factions in Syria”. And there’s more.

And it did not ask about attitudes towards ISIS itself … Our headline, ‘One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis’, was therefore misleading in failing to reflect this”. Oh dear Stig Abell - your own sister paper threw you under the bus! So what has been the Sun’s reaction to yet further embarrassment? As if you need to ask: their only form of defence is yet more attack, fronted today by semi-professional slob Rod Liddle.

Why such outcry when we simply published the cold hard facts?” moans Liddle, before blaming the usual suspects: “The message is always the same from the deluded and infantile white liberals”. The dissent against the Sun in that Channel 4 News debate came from Bradford West MP Naz Shah. Perhaps slob Liddle and his managing editor would like to explain to her why she’s  an “infantile white liberal”.

The Sun caught lying again. On top of all the other lies. Time to say sorry, lads.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Dan Hodges Sees Red

Most people will not have noticed, but today the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, stood up in the Commons to give MPs the dubious pleasure of listening to his Autumn Statement, the detail of which has been lost in the clamour to heap disdain on his Labour opposite number John McDonnell by the assembled punditerati, and in which they are at least party right.
He's desperate, Dan

McDonnell had made a half-decent fist of responding to Osborne, especially given his lack of front bench experience and that this was his first Autumn Statement or Budget response. But referring to Mao Zedong is best avoided, and brandishing his Little Red Book is a no-no, even though McDonnell was using it to make the point that Osborne is happy about nationalisation, so long as the Government is in countries like China.

This cut no ice with the Telegraph’s not at all celebrated blues artiste Whinging Dan Hodges, who had made his mind up beforehand that Labour were rubbish, and whatever recourse to Phil Space journalism would fill his next column. “Why doesn't John McDonnell just sit down … This has to be the most embarrassing response to a government statement in the history of parliament” he carped plaintively.

And, for the Colonel Nicholson of the Labour Party, the mood was about to darken. “Stop. Please. Just stop … Labour has ceased to exist as a party of opposition”. Then came McDonnell’s “Mao moment”, and he was off. Somewhere. “John McDonnell pulled out Chairman Mao's red book and quoted it from the despatch box. That happened. I saw it. I sat here. And I saw it”. Yes Dan, there is a live TV feed. You were not uniquely privileged.
Soon, Hodges had journeyed even beyond Mao, to Pol Pol, although that name went unmentioned: “Corbyn and McDonnell want to destroy the Labour party don't they. [Question marks still a problem, I see] They literally want to destroy it and start again”. There was more: “Osborne announces £20 billion cuts in departmental spending. Labour turns it into a political triumph for him”. Aren’t we missing something?
Tax credit cuts at least re-thought, if not totally backed out. Police cuts - trailed for some days now - abandoned. And while Hodges was having his mardy strop, he seems not to have noticed that the Junior Doctors’ dispute has been taken off Jeremy Hunt and sent to ACAS. But that doesn’t count: “Seema Malhotra sent out instead of John McDonnell. He's not just an idiot he's a coward as well”.
I’m sure Osborne never did that (don’t mention Chloe Smith or Newsnight, folks). But now he had the inside track: “Labour MP texts me. ‘I'm in tears in my office’”. Laughing at Dan’s Twitter whinge, perhaps. And then a last, desperate appeal to Look Over There: “Don't forget, the John McDonnell red book fiasco is all the fault of the Tory press and disloyal Labour MPs”. But Hodges will never get a Labour leader he can back.

Even though he is a loyal party member. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.