[Update at end of post]
The campaign for the London Mayoralty had been, until recently, low key and relatively benign in its coverage. But following opinion polls suggesting a narrow lead for Labour challenger Ken Livingstone over occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the panic button was pressed in earnest, and the smear machine was cranked into action.
At first, the creative storytelling was restricted to accomplished purveyor of dodgy journalism Andrew Gilligan at the Telegraph (examples HERE, HERE and HERE) with the baton then passed to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, at the Guido Fawkes blog. But the less than dynamic duo proved their ability only to put the ball in their own net.
So now the knocking copy factory has widened its attack, with two purveyors of high principles today going after Livingstone. First over the top has been Matthew “Gromit” Elliott of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, making a spurious complaint to HMRC merely for propaganda gain, and following this has been a “charity ‘kickback’” (subtlety not always the Dacre empire’s strong suit) smear in the Mail.
Both these latest pieces have been deliberately timed: neither the HMRC enquiry, nor any action should the Mail have strayed over the defamation line, will be resolved before the Mayoral election, and this will suit the TPA and Mail just fine, as neither is interested in such trivia: the only reason for the attacks is to damage Livingstone and bolster Bozza.
Take Elliott’s letter to HMRC – gleefully relayed to a wider audience by Andrew Gilligan – which expresses not certainty but its author’s “belief” that wrongdoing has occurred. This is a missive constructed not even in the hope of a result: it is the last move from the right leaning blogosphere to derail the Livingstone campaign after the Fawkes blog chickened out of going to the Electoral Commission.
Gilligan milks this for all its worth, under the headline “Inquiry as Ken Livingstone saves thousands in tax bill”, demonstrating afresh his ignorance of taxation matters by asserting that Livingstone “avoided at least £50,000 in tax” (he didn’t), while falsely equating payment of corporation tax and higher rate Income Tax. Only later do readers find that HMRC “may well open an inquiry”, so they may well not.
But at least there is some reasoning behind the TPA attack: that in the Mail has no substance whatever, as it tries to link possible donations to the Livingstone campaign to previously alleged tax avoidance. It’s just another example of the Mail going in to bat for Bozza by kicking his opponent. As with the TPA effort, it shows just which political party these organisations support.
Of course, the TPA calls itself “non partisan”. That’ll be another sick joke, then.
[UPDATE 1800 hours: Andrew Gilligan has taken to his bully pulpit on Telegraph Blogs to try and discredit Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy, suggesting that he is party to the Livingstone campaign. Well, at least he hasn't tried to accuse Ken of paying LibCon out of untaxed earnings (yet).
Gilligan justifies the attack from the TPA by asserting "Ken's official campaign started in September 2010, within the scope of the accounts he has filed". Well, Livingstone was selected as candidate at that time, but to prove that there is any connection between the 2010-11 period and the expenses accusation, it has to be shown that those payments happened at that time.
This is not provided by Elliott's letter to HMRC, nor by any of Gilligan's articles. Moreover, the repeated assertion that Livingstone "explicitly admitted setting campaign expenses against tax" in his interviews with Vanessa Feltz, Nick Ferrari and Andrew Marr is flagrantly dishonest (The links are provided for anyone wanting to refresh their memory).
And those still wanting to accuse Livingstone of hypocrisy over his tax affairs would help their case if they could provide one example of where the Labour challenger has condemned, or merely passed adverse comment on, anyone else who works through a limited company.
Dan Hodges has failed so to do, Gilligan won't bother any time soon, and I'm still waiting for Damian Thompson from the Telegraph to volunteer an answer. I may be in for a long wait]