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Wednesday 1 February 2012

The Virgin Smearers

The modus operandi of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his obedient hackery, when any public figure takes a view of which they disapprove, is to attack. This usual form is for the assembled punditry to smear the individual, but only after there has been a softening-up from the “news” side of the operation, in the style of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

Thus it was when Richard Branson re-stated his stance last week that the so-called “War on Drugs” had failed. Branson, uniquely among businessmen, is linked to the Virgin brand so that whenever folks complain about Virgin Trains, they mention him in the same breath. Despite an arguably stronger connection, nobody grumbling about SouthWest Trains will make the connection with Wee Brian McStagecoach.

So the Mail has taken this link to personalise its attack on Branson, as punishment for sticking his head above the parapet. This started in earnest on Monday, as Rebecca Camber penned the headline “The Virgin Cops: Scotland Yard accused of hiring out officers as it emerges Branson paid fraud squad’s overtime”. Branson, at the time Virgin Media was created, had a 10.7% stake.

So he hasn’t been bunging the Met for their overtime while pursuing those who had been defrauding Virgin Media, then. And the article concedes – far enough in that the readers’ mind will already be made up – that “Under the 1996 Police Act, a force may provide ‘special police services’ to ‘any person’ subject to payment”. The judge said the arrangement was above board and the crims were sent down. Win-win.

The attack on Branson was reinforced by a “Daily Mail Comment” – for which read Dacre or someone with his approval – which thundered “A very dubious way for the police to raise cash”. Readers were told that the Mail revelation was “not only humiliating for a proud force, but also compromises some of the most fundamental principles of British policing”. Deft play of the patriotism card there.

This, though, was merely the first shot: yesterday came a further attack wave with “Branson offers cheap holidays to the police: Deal raises new questions over Met link to Virgin”. This is stretching things just a little: Met employees can get a 7.5% discount on Virgin Holidays. Well, whoopee-do. The piece later concedes that “Private companies benefit from a similar scheme”.

And the Met have said “The Met has no involvement in which companies provide benefits through the Met benefits scheme”. But that cuts little ice with Dacre’s finest, with Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips even managing a snark at Branson in her rant where she tries to stand up the lame proposition that “The police have lost their way”.

Branson is being kicked as punishment for his views. No change there, then.

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