Tuesday, 26 June 2007

How many agendas?

Andrew Rawnsley's film The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair seems to have gone down well enough. I saw the second part last night and was disappointed to see one Blairite after another excusing Blair and having a kick at Brown. Peter Mandelson trotting out the old line that the the Ecclestone affair was just a presentational issue. David Blunkett suggesting that Blair only got things a little bit wrong, in an unforgiving environment. Very little serious dirt dished.

At least Lucy Mangan in the Guardian has seen through some of it.
With so many contributors' agendas to keep track of, it was hard to answer the question at the forefront of our minds: why is this particular bastard lying to me (or at least putting a seriously revisionist spin on things)?

Monday, 25 June 2007

Harman in a spin

It has taken less than 24 hours for Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman to retract her view that the government should apologise for the Iraq war. In the process, she has also trashed her view that the government should stop spinning.

Unfortunately for Harman, the BBC is comparing her denial that she called for an apology with what she actually said on the Newsnight "hustings". It's not rocket science and all media should do this more often. The Guardian recently did the same to England cricket captain Michael Vaughn.

Will Brown dare neuter freedom of information?

The Independent reports that the Constitutional Affairs has come out against "Lord" Charlie Falconer's plans to water down the Freedom of Information Act, supposedly to save a paltry £5.7m. The Committee concludes:
There is no objective evidence that any change is necessary. There is clear evidence that the proposed amendments could be open to manipulation and abuse.

Warming up that tongue

The Guardian's Patrick Wintour is clearly warming up to be the big cheerleader for Brown that he has been for Blair. Sometimes when journalists tell you what politicians sincerely "believe" they are just being naive. Here Wintour is just spining:

[Brown's] aides believe David Cameron's only selling point is the offer to the country of change from 10 years of Blairism, leading Mr Brown yesterday repeatedly to promise that when he takes over on Wednesday he "will lead and heed the call of change".
Meanwhile, the Times has the spin that Harriet Harman's victory is an empty one.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Another Blairite jumps

So "Lord" Goldsmith is the latest Blairite to state that he will leave the government with Blair, as if we didn't know that already. Goldsmith represents more than anyone the corruption of the Labour government. He could have stopped British involvement in Iraq by sticking to his guns and re-stating his view that its legality was questionable but he buckled under political pressure. As if that wasn't bad enough, he was at the heart of the decision to stop the BAE/Saudi corruption investigation.

Goldsmith is getting a pretty bad press, with the papers reminding everyone of his misdeeds. Some, including the Guardian and the Telegraph, carry Blair's response. Blair told Goldsmith that he had carried out his role
at all times with integrity and professionalism ... You have shown an unwavering commitment to the importance of the rule of law and human rights.
Of course, this means the opposite of what it says, as most of Blair's words do. What Blair means is, "when I asked you to compromise your integrity in the name of political expediency, war-mongering and corruption, you obliged and I couldn't have done it without you".

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Doing the dirty work

The BBC's story tonight Lib Dem anger over Brown 'tricks' is a quite outrageous example of journalists doing the dirty work of politicians who don't have the guts to say things on the record. We are told that:
Lib Dem sources said Mr Brown had used "underhand tactics" by going behind the back of leader Sir Menzies Campbell.
Why are the BBC allowing these "sources" a free pop at Brown, behind the cloak of anonymity? In whose interests is it that this accusation, essentially political comment, is anonymised? Was the source Campbell, who repeatedly to criticise Brown in an on the record interview?

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Not quite lying

Adam Boulton has had a bit of a go at "Lord" Charlie Falconer for saying in May that he had no plans to let prisoners out early to ease overcrowding, something he did yesterday. Falconer says he was not lying because he had no plans at the time, honest. He also said at the time it would be wrong to do it.

Boulton also throws in an example of when Alastair Campbell lied to him. Just the one time?

And the logic is?

Simon Heffer in the Telegraph has a typical Telegraph rant at the BBC, picking out a few instances in a report that reportedly (I haven't read it) clears the Beeb of systematic liberal bias.

Heffer angrily rejects these findings on the grounds that he has met many people who have worked at the Beeb and tell him that
a prevailing wind of Leftism blew strongly, and, if they wished to remain in productive work, they knew it was best to sail with it.
Of course Heffer comes across a wide cross-section of right-wingers. His answer, of course, is to privatise the BBC.

Not letting them off the hook

Bloggerheads has a very entertaining Goodbye Tony Blair video, and "pardons" for some old enemies to celebrate. I'm pleased to see that Jack Straw is not let off the hook and indeed, the "pardon" for Gordon Brown is conditional on Straw not being in his cabinet, which of course is going to happen. Bloggerheads' Tim Ireland cites Straw's denial of torture and denial of extraordinary rendition (kidnapping and torture). I'm more concerned with Straw's role in promoting the war in Iraq and the September 2002 dossier.

Someone else who is not getting a "pardon" is Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, Ireland is trailing a forthcoming Murdoch Watch site with the rationale that:
Nobody voted for Rupert bloody Murdoch, but that doesn't stop him from interfering with our lives on a daily basis
It's also worth mentioning Daily Mail Watch, which has to be done.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

An unbiased Observer?

The lead story in today's Observer is that:
Tony Blair agreed to commit British troops to battle in Iraq in the full knowledge that Washington had failed to make adequate preparations for the postwar reconstruction of the country.
It is based on an article by the paper's Blairite cheerleader Andrew Rawnsley, recounting interviews with people at the top of government for a tv programme. Interviewees included Sir David Manning, who was sent by Blair to Washington a year before the invasion. According to Manning:
Blair was extremely exercised that the Americans did not have a clue what they would do after the removal of Saddam.
According to Rawnsley:
This tells us that it was very early on that Blair was preparing to send British forces into Iraq. Whatever he was saying in public at this time, he was working on the basis that there would be a war a full year before the invasion. It also tells us that he was prescient enough to identify the danger that the Americans would make a catastrophic mess of the aftermath. And it highlights his own failure to translate that anxiety into effective action to ensure that there was a plan for post-Saddam Iraq.
Rawnsley does little to explore the fact that Blair was lying through his teeth throughout 2002 but takes the Blairite line that Blair saw it coming and has limited responsibility to the extent that he failed to persuade the US to do something about it. Clearly, there was no question of not going along with a war that was both launched on a cooked-up pretext and (rightly) seen as potentially disastrous.

The Observer is in an unfortunate position here, having been one of those papers that fell for and regurgitated the government's spin on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. It is surely one of the key players that a forthcoming book by the Guardian's investigative reporter Nick Davies will "name and shame", according to Martin Bright.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Bright pops the question

Martin Bright has a very good piece in the New Statesman today, one of many in response to Blair's attempt to blame the media. On Tuesday, Bright asked Tony Blair about the missing draft of the Iraq dossier and used the government's cover-up on this issue to ask who is really at fault. He does blame the media for failing to challenge the government's propaganda in the run up to the Iraq war and mentions the author of this blog.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

A fair hearing?

Tony Blair's attach on the media seems to be getting a mixed response, with Michael White of the Guardian largely agreeing and the Independent, specifically Simon Kelner, saying it's a badge of honour. Some bloggers think he has a point, too.

I can only state the obvious. Our media can be pretty biased, bullying and self-righteous but when you decide to start a war on a cooked-up pretext and manipulate the facts, the intelligence and the media to pull it off, you have no right to complain. Blair's complaint that everything has to be extreme and absolute for the media is probably accurate but didn't he tell us that intelligence had "established beyond doubt" that Iraq had wmd, when he was told no such thing?

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Government supports police shock

I watched the BBC news last night where the lead story was the rejection by Liberty and the Liberal Democrats of police claims that there is no evidence of extraordinary rendition (kidnapping and torture) flights passing through Britain. Perhaps the BBC is discovering a bit of backbone.

This morning the BBC reports "Police supported over CIA inquiry". It would be something as a surprise if the government were ungrateful enough to reject the finding they wanted the police to come up with. Meanwhile, the BBC reports the Liberal Democrats as saying that the joint intelligence and security committee is better placed than the police to find out what is going on, on the basis that the spooks will have agreed it and will tell the committee. Seems a bit naive, but we'll see.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

To the government's defence

Is it not slightly suspcious that the BBC, which usually studiously ignores or plays down controversial stories like allegations or "extraordinary rendition" - otherwise known as kidnapping and torture - suddenly promotes a non-story to the top of its news agenda. The Beeb reports somewhat naively that:
An inquiry has found no evidence that British airports were used by the CIA flying terrorist suspects for torture in other countries.
doesn't look at if they tried very hard - or are they just saying they don't know what happened to people once they were out of the country. As Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti says:
When politicians spin it is disappointing. When police engage in the same activity, it is rather more dangerous.
When the BBC does it, no-one really notices. And why did the BBC repeatedly call the findings of a 19 month Council of Europe investigation "claims"? The Telegraph has no problem reporting that:
The CIA ran secret prisons in Poland and Romania to interrogate and even torture some detainees in its "war on terror" under a programme authorised by the countries' presidents, an official European inquiry concluded yesterday.
It seems that the BBC's criteria for deciding to promote a story or treat it with scepticism are largely a question of whether it is helpful or embarrassing to the government.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Spinning the retreat

Andrew Grice in the Independent reports that Blair is now planning a tactical retreat when he gets nothing of substance out of George Bush on global warming.

Mr Blair said he was seeking "a specific target for a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions" but did not mention the figure. He would portray a G8 declaration in favour of substantial cuts as a huge step forward even though it would fall short of his original demands.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Spinning Gordon

A brilliant piece of analysis from Iain Dale, showing how Gordon Brown spun and bullied so that opposition comments were excluded from his story on getting tough on terrorism .

As Dale rightly observes, it only works if the hacks go along with it. The spinners rely on their competitive instincts suppressing their journalistic ethics, and of course their stupidity in not realising that they are all being given the same "exclusive".

Any change on climate change?

It is interesting to compare the different leads in the Guardian and the Independent, both looking forward to the G8 talks on global warming, less worryingly(?) known as climate change. The Guardian has an interview with the outgoing PM, rewarding the persistent sycophancy of Patrick Wintour. Blair resorts to his classic tactic of calling any position other than his "absurd". Most people think that Bush's big announcement last week was a meaningless ruse, so Blair says:
I think the announcement by President Bush last week was significant and important, and it is absurd to say otherwise, since it moved things on.
The Independent takes a view closer to my own, comparing what Blair has done for Bush (Iraq, Guantanamo, Rendition, Middle East...) with what Bush has given Blair in return (a medal).

Here's the spin:
As ministers stepped up the pressure on the US to move further on climate change, Downing Street officials admitted there were three sticking points with the US and conceded that Mr Blair may not secure victory on all of them. They insisted that he and Chancellor Merkel were right to "set the bar high" in advance of the meeting even if that led to them being "cruficied" for not achieving all their goals.
So the tactic is a kind of double bluff - to manage expectations by saying that you are going for a lot, admit that you might fail but ward off any criticism in advance. Meanwhile Grice, who should no better, falls for a politician telling him what he sincerely believes:
Mr Blair believes that Mr Bush made a landmark policy change last week when he committed himself to a long-term worldwide framework to tackle global warming for the first time.
As the Guardian piece shows, Blair is keen to present Bush's announcement as a significant change in position. Here he adopts the classic tactic of saying that he "believes" this and an experienced journalist reports as fact something that he has no objective knowledge of. When will they learn?

Monday, 4 June 2007

Spin and cover-up

I've not been blogging for over a week as I've been on holiday. I didn't want to advertise the fact in case the Foreign Office released the John Williams draft of the dossier in my absence. No danger of that. They have decided to spin the saga out further with a futile appeal to the Information Tribunal. Still, we know it's worth waiting for.

I noticed while I was away that Labour deputy leadership contender Harriet Harman has come out against the culture of spin, which is great. I got a campaign leaflet from Harman this morning. Unfortunately it was addressed to someone else with a name close to mine in the alphabet. They've got their address list misaligned, which is a bit embarrassing and presumably not the sort of mistake ex-postie Alan Johnson will be making.