Now that the good people at BuzzFeed News have made their decision, Zelo Street can reveal just what they have bought after they acquired the services of Alex “Billy Liar” Wickham, soon to be former teaboy to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog. And nothing highlights Wickham’s dishonesty better than one story from the run-up to the election for the Greater Manchester Mayoralty.
Milk, no sugar, hold the smears
On March 14 last year, the Fawkes blog brought its readers “Leaked Burnham Draft Manifesto Reveals Made-Up Stories About Women”. This claim had not been put to the Burnham campaign beforehand; had the Fawkes rabble done so, the sound of laughter coming down the line might have made them stop and think.
Here’s what “News Editor” Wickham told his faithful followers. “Guido has obtained Andy Burnham’s draft manifesto for the Manchester mayoral election, which is set to be unveiled tomorrow. The section above is particularly moving, telling the tragic stories of a woman who found it difficult to find work and was forced to take up a zero-hours contract’, as well as another woman ‘who had her retirement plans ruined and has now lost her independence’. All very unfortunate.” Then The Great Guido went wrong.
“Just one problem: these stories are not real and the women do not exist. Despite the apparently personalised stories, there are no names in the draft text, instead the letters ‘XXX’ appear as Team Burnham try to find women who fit the gloomy narrative. Struggling to find case studies for their tales of woe?” That is one heck of a pack of lies.
The problem for Wickham was that the stories were real, and the women did indeed exist: had he checked, he might have found that out. But the witless teaboy had failed to factor in the way in which he had received that draft manifesto. Zelo Street can now reveal how the Fawkes blog came by the draft, and why it was redacted.
Andy Burnham and his team had put together a manifesto for his candidacy. They were also aware that, out of courtesy if for no other reason, a number of senior Labour figures from councils across Greater Manchester should have a sight of it.
But here a problem entered: Burnham’s candidacy was not universally popular with all of those senior figures. Moreover, his team knew that the content may be leaked.
And here's his pal - also now in disgrace
One figure they knew they could not trust was Rochdale Council leader Richard Farnell: the Labour establishment there had tried its damnedest to stop Burnham speaking to members and putting his case. Ivan Lewis and Tony Lloyd, the other two Labour hopefuls, were on the other hand welcomed in by Farnell and his pals.
What was also known was that, despite his suspension from the party, Rochdale’s then MP Simon Danczuk was still big pals with Farnell.
It was also well-known that Danczuk was a Fawkes informant.
So in order to protect the identities of those named in the manifesto’s case studies, their names and any personal details were redacted. The decision turned out to be a wise one.
Richard Farnell received his copy of the Burnham draft manifesto. He immediately passed it to Simon Danczuk. Danczuk in turn passed it to the Fawkes blog.
Andy Burnham - unaffected by Wickham's lies
And that is how The Great Guido came by the Burnham manifesto - but a copy that had been redacted. Wickham now had a choice: did he put his story to the Burnham campaign, or just make it up and go ahead anyway?
That goes to the heart of Alex Wickham’s character. When push comes to shove, it matters not a jot how well connected he is, or what a great pal and drinking mate he might be, but that his instinct is to talk well, and lie badly.
Wickham made a totally untrue assumption about why the draft Burnham manifesto had been redacted - and, hell’s teeth, one might have thought that anyone with a shred of journalistic nous would have factored in the route by which the Fawkes blog got the document, and that the Burnham team would know the risk of giving a copy to Farnell.
In any case, the Fawkes story, if anything, only served to make Burnham’s candidacy look the better bet when the reality of the redaction became known. The former minister had secured the Labour nomination on the first ballot; he was then duly elected.
So, BuzzFeed people, now you’ve made your choice, Zelo Street has turned a few of those cards face up. How many more in the deck are still to come?