Former culture secretary John Whittingdale is a very well-connected man: as the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr has noted, he has “close financial ties to the Ukrainian oligarch at centre of Trump scandal”. That’s Dmitry Firtash. Also, “Dom Cummings’ brother in law was a joint business director with Mrs Firtash”. And not forgetting “Boris Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds was Whittingdale’s SPAD last time around”.
Whitto’s name is also present on That Tory Spreadsheet, which records his relationships with women who turn out to be sex workers, although he has claimed to have met them on Match Dot Com. It was one of those relationships that our free and fearless press was, by complete coincidence you understand, not reporting on when Whitto stalled on commencing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. Which they didn’t want.
(c) Steve Bell 2016
He had been seeing a woman whose other, er, contacts included at least one London gangster. There was a clear potential blackmail risk. But one title after another declined to run the story: the Mirror, Sun, Mail on Sunday and Independent had all either passed on it, or investigated, only to have the story spiked later on. Then the story broke.
Byline Media ran it. Zelo Street ran it. After the press’ excuses, Private Eye magazine ran it. After that, BBC Newsnight reported on it. Then came howls of “Non story” and “Conspiracy theory”, just as they had with phone hacking. But the story was now out there, and could not be stopped. Whitto might not have been happy that the hated BBC had helped it on its way. The licence fee settlement he imposed on the Corporation carried the suggestion that he was not a fan. And now he is back in Government.
Doing what? As he himself has revealed, “I am thrilled to go back to [the DCMS] at such an exciting time. There are huge challenges facing UK media but great opportunities too. Am looking forward to working with [Oliver Dowden] and the team”. His forte is, apparently, going to be the future of broadcast media. Which means the future of the BBC.
Peter Jukes was mildly sceptical on those “opportunities”, musing “Great opportunities for a different model of broadcasting: the Russian model, the Belarus model, the Ukrainian model - courtesy of Dmitri Firtash and Sergey Nalobin”. Whitto’s contacts among those from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are well-known and, er, diverse.
So what do those who served with him on the DCMS Select Committee think his appointment will mean? Former Labour MP Ian Lucas was in no doubt: “BBC RIP”. The Corporation has alienated many, especially on the left, who would in the past have been first to man the barricades in its defence. Now it really needs them, they may be loath to respond. The press will be salivating at the prospect of Whitto taking the axe to the Beeb.
And the security risk is most likely still there. Whether that means Whittingdale being open to potential blackmail, or just being open to being leaned on by the Fourth Estate, the outcome will be broadly the same. He will do the bidding of our free and fearless press, because, as with the sex worker revelations, they have all the dirt on him.
John Whittingdale used to be called the Minister for Murdoch. I’ll just leave that one there.
Enjoy your visit to Zelo Street? You can help this truly independent blog carry on talking truth to power, while retaining its sense of humour, by adding to its Just Giving page at