Our free and fearless press is an entity with the most selective form of amnesia: when it sees the need arise, it can forget all manner of bad things in order to make those it champions seem that little bit more noble. And no bout of selective press amnesia is as blatant as that conferred on former Labour MP Ian Austin, who is now revered as if he were some terribly wronged victim. He is nothing of the sort.
Expenses: cheating is now good ...
When Austin did the media rounds yesterday, telling anyone who would listen that Jeremy Corbyn was not fit to lead the Labour Party, his theatricals - voice supposedly close to breaking, fragile state, apparent sincerity - went unchallenged. How different it was in the mid Noughties when he worked for former PM Gordon Brown.
Back in 2006, Fraser Nelson told in a Spectator article that “Senior Blairites are furious that Mr Austin seems to have escaped almost all blame for the circulation of letters from Labour MPs that eventually forced the Prime Minister to announce he would be gone in a year. ‘It was that bloody Ian Austin,’ says one Cabinet minister. ‘He’s the real assassin.’”
Nick Cohen, in a Standpoint magazine piece, recalled how “all [Brown’s] men - [Damian] McBride, Ed Balls, Charlie Whelan, Ian Austin - share a prolier-than-thou belief that their opponents, whether Blairites or Tories, are decadent fops from a depraved elite. Any tactic is justified in the campaign against them”. And there was more.
Suzy Jagger penned an article in the Murdoch Times recalling “Gordon Brown’s attack dogs … They’re macho, they’re male and they’re out to get Gordon Brown’s enemies”, going on to tell readers of “This inner circle - which includes Damian McBride, Charlie Whelan, Ed Balls, Tom Watson, Ian Austin, and Nick Brown”.
And their modus operandi? "Thuggish, bully-boy characteristics, for example, employed to keep the press in line, trash rivals, seek to destroy the Tories and nurture allies … If the likes of Alastair Campbell and Lord Mandelson used metaphorical scalpels on their enemies, Brown’s gang use hammers”. Yet now, all of this is forgotten.
Worse, Austin’s starring role in the MPs’ expenses scandal has also been forgotten, which is an interesting one, given he is the one slagging off Corbyn, someone whose own modest expense claims have attracted not a jot of criticism. The Telegraph noted “Ian Austin completed the purchase of the Waterloo flat on March 31 2006 but submitted claims for the stamp duty in two separate amounts: £6,770 on March 28 and £1,344 on April 3. This allowed him to claim the majority of the money under his second home allowance for the financial year 2005-06. In total, he received £21,559 - £75 below the limit - that year”.
... while not cheating is very bad indeed
There was more: "the Dudley North MP was allowed to claim the legal costs associated with the move in his 2006-07 expenses. In that financial year, he went on to claim £22,076 - £34 short of the maximum. Mr Austin also ‘flipped’ his second home designation weeks before buying the £270,000 flat across the Thames from Westminster”. And more.
“Among Mr Austin’s other claims was £467 for a stereo in his constituency shortly before he changed his second home designation to London. He then spent more than £2,800 furnishing the new flat, claiming £1,199 for a DVD player and television, although this was reduced to £1,000. In the 2006-07 financial year, he claimed a further £1,298 for a sofa and armchair from Marks and Spencer, although the receipt was dated March 21 2006 - during the financial year that had already finished”. And yet more.
“The next year, he claimed £154 for electrical goods and £171 for bedding, plus a further £700 for a bed and bedside table and £199 for a vacuum cleaner … [Austin claimed] that he had claimed for the sofa and armchair ‘in line with advice from the fees office’”.
And yes, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog are as guilty as their press pals: in 2009, The Great Guido told readers of “brutal, malevolent, mendacious unpleasant-to-the-core people like Tom Watson, Ian Austin, Nick Brown and Damian McBride”. But by yesterday, Austin had been miraculously redeemed.
So after another of those screeching 180-degree U-Turns, we read instead “Ian Austin, Gordon Brown”s former press secretary and Labour MP, says Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be Labour leader or PM. He says the choice is between Corbyn and Johnson. Patriotic Labour voters should, he says, vote for Boris, his voice breaking with emotion”.
Quite apart from showing clearly how the Fawkes massive has gone from outsider to insider in the intervening period, this perfectly encapsulates the selective amnesia of the media establishment - along with its rank and stinking hypocrisy.
Ian Austin was a complete shit in 2009. Nothing has changed in the meantime.
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