Notes on a Scandal.
Well, here we are again.
Blair must go, screaming headlines, allegations of a cover up, the whiff of scandal, sleaze and corruption. Prime minister weakened, Blah blah, blah de fucking blah.
I haven’t written much on the cash for honours scandal, because, in common with the vast majority of those writing on the subject, I haven’t got the foggiest what the case is.
To sum up the current state of play: No-one knows if there will be any charges, and if so for what. No one knows how far along the investigation is. No one knows what direction the investigation is taking (lots of people are claiming to know, but their reports are confusing and contradictory and often wrong).
We do know someone is giving information to the media that is bad for No 10. They might be at the crux of the enquiry, or they might not, or the briefings might be intended to get various actors in the drama to react to the briefings themselves. (This, by the way, would be a perfectly fair police tactic).
We also know that four people have been arrested and released. They’ve been questioned on various charges.
We know that if Ruth Turner and/or Lord Levy were charged it would be very difficult for the Prime Minister to continue.
We know that the vast majority of the PLP, including the entire cabinet, are anxious to ensure that the transition to a new leader happens smoothly. So we’re unlikely to see ministerial resignations and ministers calling on the PM to go.
We know that the Labour party constitution makes it impossible to remove a sitting leader until after party conference, by which point the PM will already have gone.
So we can reasonably deduce from this that unless someone is charged, the PM will not quit (and those of us who like him will add, and why should he?).
Everything else in the media is huff and puff.
However, there is a second point. One of the recurrent journalistic motifs in recent “SCANDAL” reporting is usually delivered by a reporter at the end of their package, cataloguing the woes of whatever minister is under pressure or by a comment writer setting out the loathsomeness of the said minister. It goes like this
“Of course, No-one knows if these allegations are true, or if Minister X knew anything about Scandalgate, or if there was any wrong doing at all. But while this political storm breaks over the minister, respected voices are now asking if they can hang on and if they understand the damage they are causing to the party”
This really pisses me off. The insidious notion here is that merely being the subject of controversy is bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re not found to have done anything wrong, or if your actions were correct, or even if the whole thing has nothing to do with you, If somehow you find yourself at the centre of a media firestorm you must immediately be considered a liability and the speculation must begin.
Now, New Labour’s media management was partly responsible for the rise of the notion that the whiff of scandal = resignation, but this is one area where Alistair Campbell was wrong to encourage the PM to sack ministers being run ragged, probably because as a newspaper man he over estimated the importance of the media.
The truth is things are suspected of being wrong all the time but only facts count. I might suspect my deputy is skiving when he says he has a Friday afternoon meeting and won’t be back in the office today, but I’ll only sack him if I actually discover he’s snorting coke off a Tory researcher’s nipple in work hours (Just like in Party Animals).
So please, whenever you hear a reporter or journalist using the “Suspicion of Scandal = pressure to resign”, just regard it as what it is, meaningless filler. The only reason someone quits under those circumstances is if they can’t take it any more or the PM gets rid of them. This PM has made the mistake of giving the media scalps for running these campaigns before, and doesn’t want to give them any more; especially when the prime scalp is his own.
Journalism in the Dark.
If you don't know what lies behind a story, why not just report what you think it might be, and then speculate on haw damaging it would be if the thing you've just speculated about was true? It's far sexier than jst saying you don't really know what's happening.
A question for journalists. Why is it that the worst sin in journalism is admitting you've got no idea what's happening?
So, Party Animals starts tonight.
The Hamers over at BBF
have been chipping away at this for some time and are frothing at the mouth with excitement at the prospect.
After their superb 30 yard effort in tearing the premise of the series apart, it feels wrong to try and toe-poke the Ball into the net and try and claim credit for the piss take. Still, since the ultra innovative viral marketing people have created a site that pupports to be a gossip site for young, fit politicos
(It's like Recess Monkey
, but less absolutely fucking abysmally shit*) and have seen fit to link to me, I thought I'd try and give impressionable visitors an idea of what life is really like in the glamorous world of politics.
INT. DAY. HOUSE OF COMMONS OFFICE .
It is 9.31am.
BEN, 25, enters the office. He is wearing a cheap Marks and Spencers suit with an ink stain on his left cuff, a shirt that remains resolutely unbuttoned, not due to political fashion but because he's put on two stone since he stated going to the terrace cafeteria for lunch. He carries the Guardian. He is, clearly, a Labour researcher. Lib Dems don't wear suits.
Ben sits at his desk and reads the paper discontentedly.
BEN: Jesus Christ. Fucking morons. (PAUSE) Honestly.
DISEMBODIED VOICE: A fire alarm is being investigated in your area. Please await further announcements.
THE FIRE ALARM MESSAGE REPEATS THROUGHOUT THE SCENE.
SFX: PHONE RINGS
BEN: Hello. Yeah, hi Alison. Sorry, fault on the Northen Line. Yeah. How is it in Oldtown?
So when's the meeting? Friday? Hmmm. Well,. I'll get him to call her. Well, he's got an adjournment tomorrow. and there's the Crossrail Bill for three hours today.
Well,he annoyed the whips. No, I'm not expecting him till two. Some union meeting. OK, See you.
CUT TO CLOCK SHOWING 11AM.
BEN is at his desk. He appears to be working, but he could just be looking at crap blogs on the internet.
CANDY, Ben's american intern. enters. She is possibly the least attractive American in the universe, but is extremely expensively dressed. She is clearly hung over. Ben loathes her.
CANDY: Hi Ben.
Ben: Hi Candy. You OK?
CANDY: Yeah- we went to Sketch last night. Soo cool. I've never had Vodka Redbull before.
BEN: Riiight. Want anything from the Terrace?
CANDY: Oooh- can you get me a coawfee? four Sugars.
BEN (flinching): Right
CUT TO ENTRANCE TO TERRACE CAFETERIA
BEN is walking into the large cafe.
He gets there just behind a dozen contractors ordering full english breakfasts.
Obviously he has nothing in common with the representatives of the actual existing proletariat, but wishes to show solidarity with them. So he keeps a small distance and tries not to look annoyed that although they only have blue passes they are in the cafe during a grey pass only period. He's a true socialist like that.
Immediately after BEN enters there follows what appears to be an outing of the British Young Estate Agents association, but turns out to be a gaggle of Tory researchers. The men are all in oxford cotton shirts with thick footballer ties, while the women are in top shop skirts and business like blouses and pearl necklaces.
(Yes, pearl necklaces. You can only hope it's ironic.)
TORY MAN: So, Camilla, lot of totty at the Dinner last night? I wished I could have made it- prime pulling ground!
TORY GIRL: Oh, Miles, they wouldn't have been interested in you, they were all crowding round Steve and George. No-one would have cared about some oik from Kettering.
TORY MAN: Osborne was there? Shit I should have gone..
TORY GIRL: No, not Osborne, Eustace. The one who did sex parties, I think.
BEN, caught between his loathing of the Tories and his fear of the builders, shuffles slowly towards the till, forlornly grapsing his croissant. As he reaches the till, he looks up, and his eyes lock with that of the actually rather attractive Tory Girl.
They smile at each other.
BEN decides to go for it.
BEN: That's a nice Pearl Necklace. I wish I'd given you one.
TORY GIRL turns on her high heels and walks away.
*Actually it's got better since the one who isn't Recess Monkey does most of the posts now.
As a former, junior, bottom feeding, no name “spin doctor” (though in my case I was more of a spin hospital porter) I feel like I’ve moved into some bizarre alternate reality.
I’ve just stopped caring about the media.
First, I’m suffering from crisis fatigue.
I’ve stopped believing that the latest media crisis is a crisis, or even vaguely worrisome. I just don’t pay too much attention to it.
The sound of Kay Burley, Jon Snow or that smug one from ITN news hectoring a minister over some scandal or other fills me not with fear or delight but ennui.
I don’t respect the judgement of their editors, I don’t respect the research that lies behind their questions and I don’t respect (in most cases) the grasp of the issues of the day's presenter.
I don’t think most news editors know what a crisis actually is. There are more prisoners in jail than ever before. Why? Because we’ve been what every voter in the country wants us to be: Tough on Crime. We've imposed longer sentences. So we need to build more prisons. At the same time Crime is falling.
Right, so we need to build some prison places. Fair enough. But CRISIS OH MY GOD PEOPLE WHO WOULDN’T EVEN HAVE BEEN IN PRISON A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO MIGHT BE RELEASED!!!!
Or is it that the Home Office itself is in crisis. Perhaps it’s unmanageable. Can’t do the job. FILES HAVE BEEN LOST!! CRIMINALS HAVE GOT INTO THE COUNTRY!!
Did I mention that crime is falling?
Right, so where exactly is the huge crisis that is going to engulf us all? It’s not that these aren’t issues, or significant, or need to be managed, but the sense of permanent crisis is so ludicrous that it's impossible to take seriously.
Then there’s the po-faced hypocrisy.
Today it’s gambling. A presenter from Sky News shouts at a MP because he won’t accept that Government should stop people from gambling. I turn over to watch high stakes Texas Hold Em. On Sky.
It’s all so boringly predictable. Find a crisis. Take the moral high ground. Use it to promote whatever political agenda your news organisation supports.
On TV this tends to be a general sense of frustrated outrage that these things can’t all be sorted out, immediately.
On the Newspaper side, I can’t remember the last time a daily newspaper surprised me with their response to a particular issue.
The take of a newspaper is so boringly predictable. Whether it’s the Mail’s righteous anger (paedophiles on the loose – thanks to our lax society), the Independents morally grating sanctimony (Want paedophiles in prison? then free these nice middle class people) or the Sun’s mixture of escapism and vindictiveness (Suzy, 23, thinks John Reid’s lost his marbles…).
I don’t hate them. I don’t care about their approval. I don’t want to froth and rave like I used to. I just don’t care any more.
Truth is, most of them don’t really know what they’re talking about. So why pay any attention to what they say?
Shurely Shome Mishtake?
"Instructing Muslim parents to spy on their children. Offending our war heroes with the proposal of a new 'Veteran's Day' when we already have Remembrance Sunday. Suggesting that we put flags on the lawn. These and similar clunking attempts to address the complexities of community cohesion show a serious misunderstanding of the scale of the challenge, and the shape of the solution."
David Cameron in the Observer, Sunday Jan 28th"THE Queen’s Birthday will become a national holiday under Tory plans to create a sense of “True Britishness”, David Cameron tells The Sun today. The Tory leader wants everyone to have a day off to celebrate Her Majesty’s official birthday in June — and mark what it means to be British.
"The civil service already gets that day off, and Mr Cameron would give the nation a break as well. He says: “The suggestion of a national day is a very good one. It should be held for everyone. It’s above politics and it unites people around the Royal Family.”
David Cameron in The Sun, Monday, Jan 29th
Cowley Streets Ahead
No, not the Lib Dems, but rather the good and great Philip Cowley
, who has written a marvellous submsission to the Commons Modernisation Select Committee
about reforming the role of the backbencher that includes the following example of.. err.. "heavy handed" whipping.
"The MP was said to be thinking of rebelling, and so Cocks explained the party’s position to him. The MP – who happened to represent the constituency of Blackburn – replied that he didn’t find it a particularly convincing argument. ‘At this point, Michael Cocks seized Jack by the genitals, held on to them tight while Jack turned white in the face and finally released him with the comment, ‘Are you convinced now?’"
The Committee on Modernisation is Chaired by the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, the honourable member for Blackburn (squeezed).
In an amazing co-incidence, David Cameron's argument on Multi-culturalism has been backed up today by a report by the charity/Think Tank Policy Exchange
The BBC and Sky described the Think Tank as an "independent Think Tank", which is how they promote themselves. It is, of course, total bollocks.
Read their events page
, and count the number of times the word "Conservative" is used. Check their recent list of speakers, and see that the last three were Gove, Hague and Osborne
. The endorsement on their front page? From Letwin.
Their staff desriptions
include two Tory Councillors
, a ex-CCO staffer
, an adviser to a Tory peer
and David Willett's old researcher
. Oh, and a leader writer for the Daily Telegraph
The BBC and Sky just got played by a Conservative front group. Suckers.