Monday, 21 May 2007

Letters from London

To find out what is happening in the UK, why not read Larry Miller's latest Letter from London on CBS news? Miller reports that the memo in connection with which Leo O'Connor and David Keogh were jailed was

a memo of a White House meeting between President Bush and Prime Minster Tony Blair, during which Mr. Bush reportedly suggested that bombing the Arab TV station Al Jazeera might be a good way of controlling its coverage of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Miller also reports that the government has been told to release John Williams' first draft of the Iraq Dossier.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Not convinced, Gordon

On Comment is Free, Anne Perkins has a strong piece in which she says that MPs have brought derision on themselves by excluding themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. She hopes that Gordon Brown really means it when he talks about bringing openness and accountability to government, but has some well-deserved criticism for his campaign manager, Jack Straw.

Also on CiF, Frank Luntz argues that Brown should do a better job of getting across his claim to be moving away from spin.

Fisk fisks Blair

I'm a sucker for any linguistic analysis so Robert Fisk's Chomsky-style attack on Tony Blair's "lies and linguistic manipulations" is right up my street.

Fisk describes Blair's use of foregrounded elements - "something unusual, a phrase placed in such a way that it warned us of a lie to come."

Another clue is that his lips move.

Friday, 18 May 2007

The Beeb bites back

Having had a bit of a go at the BBC yesterday over its political cowardice, I've been a bit gobsmacked to see its coverage of the MPs' vote to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act.

The online coverage only gives a small hint of the way the TV and radio news has covered the story - a full-on attack. Of course, the BBC is in favour of freedom of information as a journalistic institution, less keen as on it as a public authority as Steven Sugar points out here.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

A new spin on things

I've got a new piece on Comment is Free this afternoon, partly about the dossier story and partly about this blog.

If anyone has come to this blog from the CiF piece, this post sets out what it is all about.

Intelligent spin

The Sun has the best headline on the Harry not going to Iraq story: For you Harry, the war is over. The Mail goes for the Target Harry angle, with General Sir Richard Dannatt saying that he has learnt of threats beyond those that have been made publicly. It's always useful to say you know something we don't, so that anyone criticising you doesn't have the full facts.

Quite ironic of course to use intelligence as an excuse not to send a soldier to Iraq. Could catch on.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Harry spins out of Iraq

Congratulations to Prince Harry for exercising the royal prerogative of having your cake and eating it. He doesn't have to go to Iraq but we're led to believe he really wanted to. Had the royals decided on this outcome a while ago, would they have done it any differently?

So I'm now paying Harry to do two non jobs. Is there not a welfare to work scheme we can put him on?

Personally, I'm pleased he's not going. Not that I am
concerned about him any more than anyone else who is in danger in Iraq. But if he was killed - or worse, kidnapped - we would never hear the last of it.

Bright's Blog goes cryptic

Martin Bright, who broke my story on the Iraq dossier, has started to blog more frequently and to good effect.

In one piece An outrageous judgement he fiercely criticises the ongoing reporting restrictions on the recent trial of two men over a leaked memo. He notes that

in a bizarre twist, the judge has stated that the contents of the leak -- which is thought to involve a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush -- can be reported as long as they are not linked to the case and appear on a separate page of the newspaper involved.
On a different post, on a separate page, A missile for Al-Jazeera he reports an issue that he does not link to the leaked memo story at all. Apparently George Bush had a plan to bomb the Arabic television station al-Jazeera. Bright links to Richard Norton-Taylor's Guardian piece on the missile for al-jazeera story.

Some straight talking

No spin or mincing of words in the Telegraph's lead story. US neo-con John Bolton says "We must attack Iran before it gets the bomb". Very scary.

Rather less straight talking from Tony Blair, who again failed to produce any basis for his September 2002 claim - in Parliament - that Iraq could get the bomb in "a year or two". It was made up.

Mention the war

Mark Steel has a typically entertaining piece in the Independent. Funnily enough, Don't mention the war isn't really about people not mentioning the war at all but about the absence of any debate in the Labour leadership elections.

The best bit is this, about "the supposedly spontaneous outpouring of love for Blair" from Labour members at his big retirement announcement in Sedgefield:
The only other people who failed to spot this was a contrived media event, involving a handful of selected vetted guests, appeared to be the media itself. I expected the commentators to shriek: "Oh, and there's a litter of grateful kittens who've come out to wave him goodbye with 'We love Tony' tattooed on their paws. Well he certainly has always been very popular among kittens."
Of course, the media attend so many contrived media events that they might never stop pointing out that they were contrived. Looking back at Gordon Brown's big announcement last week and his difficulties with a badly placed autocue (actually a badly placed camera operator), makes me wonder why television always colludes with politicians to keep autocues out of shot.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

More on Prescott and Johnson

It seems that Jackie Ashley agrees with me that a Prescott-endorsed Alan Johnson as deputy leader is The last thing Labour needs.

Blairites for Johnson

The blairites seem to be lining up behind Alan Johnson for deputy leader. According to Patrick Wintour and Will Woodward in the Guardian, the backing of John Prescott is a "significant boost to the education secretary". All the other candidates would no doubt kill to have a discredited buffoon backing them.

Meanwhile, the Independent and the Telegraph put different spins on Gordon Brown campaigning on education today. Both use the same previewed quotes. The Independent talks about Brown making the issue a "personal passion", while the Telegraph says Brown will make an explicit attack on Blair's record.

Monday, 14 May 2007

They don't like it up 'em

There's an excellent piece by Philip Johnston in today's Telegraph, on how Labour is supporting an attempt to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act.

But, of course, ministers did not really want transparency at all; they wanted to be congratulated for having legislated to bring it about but the public was not actually meant to be given anything so dangerous as a right to know. Heaven forfend.

Once again we see the distinctive hallmark of New Labour, the yawning gap between rhetoric and achievement. In the immortal words of Lance-Corporal Jones in Dad's Army: "They don't like it up 'em." Ministers have clearly tired of having to divulge all those secrets they were so keen to extract from the executive when they were in opposition but can find a myriad reasons for keeping now they are in office.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

More on Brown and spin

In the Sunday Telegraph this morning, Patience Wheatcroft can hardly wait for the End of New Labour Spin.

Meanwhile, all the papers have the story about Brown's plans to build new "eco homes". On the BBC:
Mr Brown will present the plans as a sign that it is Labour not the Conservatives who stand for aspiration, BBC political correspondent Reeta Chakrabarti says.
He doesn't need to: she's just done it for him.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Campbell "a liar" shock

On newsnight last night, Michael Howard called Alastair Campbell a liar to his face.

What can I say?

Will Brown be spin-free?

After the 2001 election, the spin from Downing Street was that the government would rely less on spin that it had previously. Look where that got us.

Now, claims that a Brown administration will be spin-free are already being questioned.

How many layers of spin are there in this piece from today's Times?

In general, the Chancellor is said to want a Cabinet of "boring competent" ministers - "solid bank manager types" in the words of one ally - to emphasise a commitment to delivery rather than spin.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Saying goodbye

As Blair begins his slow ride off into the sunset, who else will we be saying goodbye to? Perhaps those journalists who serve no function other than apologists/cheerleaders for Blair? John Rentoul? or Martin Kettle?

And what exactly is the point of Patrick Wintour, once described by a colleague as "so far up Blair's arse..."? Here is a piece of spin from this morning's Guardian:

"Mr Blair wants to bring down the curtain on his time in high office in the place where he began his fight to succeed John Smith and create the New Labour electoral success story."

Is any of this true?

The BBC's regurgitation of the official version of this morning's Cabinet Meeting is very entertaining.

Mr Blair earlier told the Cabinet he did not want ministers paying tribute to him, adding "that can be left for another day".

But as the meeting was breaking up, Mr Brown said he "did not think it would be right to let Cabinet finish without offering thanks to the prime minister".

He praised Mr Blair's "unique achievement over 10 years and the unique leadership he had given to the party, Britain and the world".

His comments were greeted by "much thumping of tables" by Mr Blair's colleagues, the prime minister's official spokesman told reporters.

Meanwhile, the BBC is running a comical poll on what Blair will be most remembered for:

  • His international role
  • Domestic policy
  • Reforming Labour Party
  • None of the above

"His international role"... what is it they are trying not to say? Rearrange these four letters to get the name of a country: RAQI.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Time to move on?

Having set up the website and proved conclusively that the government's spin doctors were, after all, on the inside of the process of drafting the September 2002 dossier that took the UK to war, I'm turning my attention to the influence of spin elsewhere.

I'm not going to be giving up on the dossier story, even with Tony Blair's imminent departure. There is much more to come out about how the dossier was sexed-up. There are fundamental questions to be answered about how Blair took the country to war on a cooked-up pretext and how a series of establishment inquiries and the British media failed to get to the truth. How an institution like the BBC was humbled and beaten into submission over a story that it got 90% right.

But the influence of spin doctors is endemic in modern culture, particularly political journalism. The questions I want to ask are questions like: why do journalists think it's their job to spin for politicians? and where does spin end and journalism begin?