What is noticeable over at Northcliffe House is the tendency to blame someone else when they get called out for being less than totally honest with the Miliband team. Take, for example, “Senior Miliband aide in 'Northerners are backward' storm over replacing elderly male MPs with young women”, by the Mail On Sunday’s less than totally savoury political editor Simon Walters.
He's still up there in the polls, Mail people
What’s this about? “A senior aide to Ed Miliband called Northerners ‘backward’ over choosing women MPs in a blazing row with a Labour veteran, it was claimed last night. Anna Yearley, the Labour leader’s political secretary and ‘fixer’, is said to have made the remark in an argument over moves to replace Northern male Labour MPs with younger, female ones”. Quote marks, “it was claimed”, and “is said to have”.
Walters is taking advantage of supposed claims by soon-to-retire MP Austin Mitchell, who has represented Great Grimsby for the last 37 years, and whose majority in 2010 shrank from more than 7,500 to just over 700. Mitchell, who some of us of A Certain Age remember as a presenter of Yorkshire TV’s evening news magazine programme Calendar, has been increasingly off-message of late.
Mitchell is doubly useful to the Mail here: first, he is cited as the source for the claims made about Ms Yearley, and then, when the paper concedes “The furore took a further turn last night after Labour denied Ms Yearley had made the comment”, they dump on him, even though Ms Yearley said “Story about me in Mail On Sunday totally untrue. I did not say the words attributed to me”.
In other words, she is not blaming Mitchell, but the Mail is: “Labour in threat to sue its own MP in row over 'backward Northerners': Veteran clashes with Ed's woman ‘fixer’ over call for female lists ... Labour threatens to sue Austin Mitchell over Anna Yearley comment”. Meanwhile, Ms Yearley is confirming that “I have denied it. I absolutely did not say that”. So what is going on?
While Austin Mitchell may have used a little creative retelling of his own – there appears to have been a full and frank discussion between him and Ms Yearley – the real story is that the Mail has broadened its campaign to undermine Miliband from mere abuse – which, it is belatedly realising, is not working – to deriding the way that Parliamentary candidates are chosen, particularly the drive to elect more women.
In this, they roped in Mitchell, whose whimsy of last week was upgraded yesterday to the “backward” claim, which, for Labour heartlands across the north of England, is potential dynamite. Walters and his bosses know this: the calculation is that, even if Labour takes legal action, enough mud will have stuck to dent the party’s poll ratings. So they make the claims against Ms Yearley, then hide behind Mitchell.
They should apologise. But they won’t, and it will get dirtier in the next few months.