François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire, put it thus: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”. The concept should not be a difficult one to grasp – that no-one should object to free dissenting speech. This idea, however, has not impressed the proprietors of the Daily Telegraph, that same paper that is presently engaged in prolonging Expensegate (now also Suspensiongate, Stepdowngate, and Prematureretirementgate).
Thus far, there had been little dissent from the Telegraph’s attack, though the targets cannot have found it pleasurable. On Friday, however, the ranks broke when Tory MP Nadine Dorries, whose “Zimbabwe moment” I covered earlier, dissented in some style. Such was the vehemence of Ms D’s dissent that the Telegraph’s proprietors, David and Frederick Barclay, aka The Fabulous Bingo Brothers, instructed their lawyers and had the Dorries blog, where the dissent had been forthrightly aired, taken down. The Guardian has the story here.
So what caused the lawyers to get involved? Ah well. There has been a wider discussion for some weeks now about the motivation for the Telegraph campaign, which I considered recently. Ms Dorries has now had her ninepence worth: her target was not the paper, but its proprietors. The Bingo Brothers didn’t like that. Thus the intervention.
The specifics of the Dorries attack are therefore not easily repeated. What is possible to say is that the motivation of the Bingo Brothers is not only being analysed, but questioned. And on this, they have previous: their investment in the island of Sark. The Bingos backed candidates in elections at the end of 2008; those thus favoured lost and so their backers took their bat home, making around a hundred workers redundant. The message from the electors may not have been well received, but it was a clear one: live among us, invest here, but don’t expect it to buy you influence.
What parallel may be drawn with the Bingo Brothers’ stewardship of the Telegraph? My own conclusion is that they wanted to have their money buy influence on Sark, and that they would like to have influence elsewhere, while remaining very much in the background. But getting influence after overseeing the shafting of Parliament is highly unlikely. More possible is that present and future political leaders will treat them as pariahs.
And the idea of remaining in the background? Stuff that for a game of soldiers!