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Showing posts with label Murdoch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Murdoch. Show all posts

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Sheridan’s are together again–a brave, loyal woman is reunited with her husband–I wish them both well.

Since I wrote this over thirteen months ago, Andy Coulson has resigned from his post as Cameron’s spin doctor, Rebecca Brooks resigned from News International, both have been arrested, the News of the World closed in ignominy, senior police officers have either resigned or been prosecuted – or both – and the Murdochs have been humiliated. But the Cameron gang have got away unscathed so far.

The Scottish Justice system and the police consumed an enormous amount of taxpayers; money and time on this misconceived prosecution in straightened economic times – and to what end?

I hope Tommy Sheridan rebuilds both his life and his career. I wish him and the brave, loyal Gail well. I know one thing – the shameful assault by Glasgow City Council and the police on the Jaconelli family and the destruction of the lives and small businesses in Dalmarnock would not have gone by virtually unremarked and unchallenged by the Glasgow media and professional classes and ALL of the politicians of the West of Scotland. The closure of The Accord Centre for disabled children would have had a charismatic champion who would have kept it in the media eye, instead of being relegated to footnote.


Friday, 24 December 2010

Sheridan: Yesterday the verdict – today the inquest

I would categorise the polarities of the reactions – media and individual - to the verdict in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial as follows -

1. Justice has been served – he brought it upon himself.  Sheridan was undoubtedly guilty. Perjury is a serious offence, and has the capacity to seriously damage the criminal justice system – it must be feel the full force of the law and be punished severely. It was not a political trial – it was public money well spent.

2. It was a political trial – a show trial – designed to satisfy News International, Rupert Murdoch, those who detest socialists of whatever ilk, and it was also a valuable smokescreen to cover the much more serious questions hanging over Andy Coulson, former editor of the NotW, now a senior advisor in the ConLib Government, over the phone tapping scandal by the News of the World. Tommy Sheridan is innocent of all the charges brought against him. There was a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring him down, one that included most of his former Scottish Socialist Party colleagues, News International, the Scottish Police and the Scottish justice system.

The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between, and that is the area I find myself in, much as I would like to be absolutely clear-cut in my view.

Let’s try to nail a few things down …

Did Tommy Sheridan bring it upon himself?

Leaving aside for the moment the question of his guilt or innocence (the Law has spoken but in a free country we may express our doubts over its verdict), Tommy Sheridan faced two crucial decision points – one when the News of the World’s made allegations about his private life, and the second when the Crown Office launched a prosecution for perjury against him and his wife, Gail Sheridan.

The original choice was to either ignore or contest the NotW allegations. To ignore them would undoubtedly have cost him his leadership of the SSP, and perhaps ultimately his parliamentary seat, but he could have survived that, diminished but not destroyed. His enemies would have claimed that his failure to contest the allegations was tantamount to an admission of guilt. His wife, the staunchly loyal - and in my book, wholly admirable - Gail Sheridan, would have stood by her husband. He could have rebuilt his career, perhaps with a new, Jack-the-Lad dimension to it, and could even have enhanced a media profile.


If Tommy knew the allegations were true, he was extremely unwise to pit himself against the Murdoch empire, and in choosing to do so, he was following the paths of Aitken and Archer, both of whom destroyed their political careers and were imprisoned as a result of their choice. Only cynical self-interest, the instincts of a gambler and vanity could have led him to contest allegations that he knew were true.

If Tommy was innocent of the charges, then given his personality and the core of his political convictions, he was inevitable going to engage in the fight, even though the risks were appalling.

My advice to him, regardless of his guilt or innocence of the charges would have been – don’t do it, Tommy.

Nobody expected him to win, and there is some evidence that he did not expect to win against such a powerful adversary. Although he trumpeted his win in typical barnstorming, populist style, he must have known the inevitability of what would follow. The die had been cast, and a 21st century tragedy was about to unfold.


The second choice was whether or not to defend himself against the perjury charges laid by the Crown. Here, in my view, he had no real choice, whatever his private knowledge of guilt or innocence – he had to defend himself. To suggest as some have done, that he should not have defended himself to save the public purse the expense of a trial is utter nonsense. It is the legal system and the nature of the police investigations that create these enormous costs, estimated at £1m for the police investigation and £4m for the trial.

Sheridan was facing the inevitability of prison and crippling costs that would lead to bankruptcy. In my view, he had to fight, guilty or innocent. Most importantly, it would have been a betrayal of his wife’s unflinching loyalty and commitment to give up. There was no way back.


I say no to both questions. It should have been left to News International to decide what their remedies were after losing the initial civil action for damages.

Perjury, an offence that is committed countless times in every court daily throughout the land, is almost never prosecuted, and the egregious exceptions to this have been political – notably the Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer (Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare) perjury prosecutions.

In both these case, the prosecutions were justified by the rationale that these were powerful politicians and public figures – both Tories – who could not be seen to flout the law. Jonathan Aitken was seen as a future Prime Minister: Archer was a life peer and had been Chairman of the Conservative Party.

The same arguments and justification have been applied to the Sheridan prosecution. Why therefore was it wrong to prosecute him?

My answer is that in the Aitken and Archer cases, only they had been accused of perjury – in the first Sheridan trial, the Crown believed that many witnesses must have perjured themselves, but they only chose to prosecute Tommy and Gail Sheridan? Why not the others? Why not the ones who had testified against Sheridan? Why was a police investigation launched that appeared to focus solely on the Sheridans?

Secondly, the context in which a prosecution would have to be launched implied a political witch hunt, and some would say, a political smokescreen for the much more serious allegations against Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NotW, and now an influential man in Government, right-hand man to the Prime Minister.

All of this was taking place against a background where the very foundations of British democracy had been shaken by the expenses scandal, and were arguably being undermined by the concentration of power and influence in one media empire, News International, one that was seeking to extend its grip over news media by the BSkyB takeover.

And who would be the central players in a perjury prosecution against Tommy Sheridan?

News International’s flagship paper, the News of the World, and its former editor, now ConLib Government spinner-in-chief, Andy Coulson.

Where did the public interest lie under these circumstances, and where did the other, shadowy interests lie? In a time of economic stringency, was it wise or prudent to divert substantial police resource to investigating allegations of three-in-a-bed sex? To incur a cost of millions to the public purse for a long-drawn out show trial?

I close with a clip from last night’s BBC documentary on the case – a police interrogation of Gail Sheridan. These interrogation tapes appear to have been freely released to the BBC by the police, with what motive I cannot fathom.

But this excerpt is both damning and shaming in my view. It shows Gail Sheridan, a young mother, devoutly religious, deprived of her rosary beads, trying to act on the advice of her lawyers to exercise her absolute right not to answer questions.

Faced with her quiet determination to remain silent in the intimidating circumstances, after years of intolerable pressure on her and her family, in a bare room, the police interrogator virtually accuses her of having been trained in terror suspect techniques to avoid looking at the interrogator.

He refers to people “just like yourself” who have been held under the Terrorism Act for a period of seven days, “and that is the kind of activity I would expect from them. It is a recognised PIRA, IRA whatever – form of terrorism technique.” He waits, then asks “Who has trained you in the technique?”

And they say this was not a political trial …

Friday, 5 August 2011

Labour hypocrisy unabated - put up or shut up, Johann Lamont


Put up or shut up, Johann Lamont. You have full disclosure from the SNP - and there was nothing to hide.

Let Labour do the same, both for the McConnell administration and at Westminster level. Nae chance - but then perhaps Labour and the wee Baron of Glenscorrodale do have something to hide ...


The contrasting treatment of this minor story by the Scotsman and the Herald are instructive, especially when compared with Newsnight Scotland’s coverage of the matter.

The Scotsman has no doubt that this is the big story, leads with it on page one, while virtually relegating the real big story, the Eurozone crisis, to the business section, with only a single column on page one pointing to this. It devotes all of pages 4 and 5 to it.

In stark contrast, the Herald leads with the £50m global meltdown, and has an objective headline below it, Salmond reveals News International Meetings.

Newsnight Scotland’s Isabel Fraser interviewed Johann Lamont and Stewart Hosie on this last night, and, as always, asked all the right questions of both. The programme started with an objective and fairly detailed summary of the meetings and correspondence between the First Minister and News Corp executives, setting the scene.

Isabel Fraser opened by asking Johann Lamont what Labour meant by accusing the First Minister of Scotland of “highly questionable behaviour”.

Johan Lamont said that it was “remarkable” that 40% of all Alex Salmond’s media contacts in the last four years were with News International, and he met with them on more occasions than other media groups, but she then retreated into admissions that all – or most – politicians had courted Murdoch, and came out of it badly. She touchingly thought that “a line had been drawn under it” by Ed Miliband, and piously hoped that Alex Salmond “would recognise that he had an inappropriately close relationship” with News International.

Isabel Fraser then administered the Vulcan death grip.

“So what you are saying in effect is that Alex Salmond’s behaviour was as craven and as sycophantic as Tony Blair’s, Gordon Brown’s, Ed Miliband's, Ed Balls' – the list goes on and on from the Labour Side”.

Johann was not exactly tickled pink (Labour’s favourite colour these days?) by this, and gave the muted reply that nobody came out of this well. She then, however, grabbed the spade again and began digging furiously. Other First Ministers – Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish, Jack McConnell – did not behave in this way. The way she took the bait reminded me of spinning for mackerel, or as Americans say, shooting fish in a barrel. The line was snapped taut instantly by Isabel Fraser, who reeled in calmly.

She detailed Jack McConnell’s meeting with News International executives or journalists – three as Finance Minister, one as Education Minister and ten as First Minister. “Are you saying that is inaccurate?”

No, replied Johann, but it was not 40% of all media contact in his time, nor was he offering opportunities to go to the Ryder Cup at taxpayers’ expense.

Isabel Fraser picked up on this in her first question to Stewart Hosie. Some of the offers made would have been paid from the public purse, but were they actually about developing a personal relationship between the First Minister and Rupert Murdoch or James Murdoch?

Stewart Hosie chose to focus initially on the level of disclosure by the Government – not just one year of meetings between the FM and News International but four years of the contacts between the entire Government and all parts of the media.

Like for like year, Alex Salmond met nine time compared to Ed Miliband’s fifteen times and David Cameron’s twenty seven times.

The entire Scottish Government met with News International in four years on less than half the occasions that Labour met with them in a single year in opposition.

Labour were up to their necks in hypocrisy. At a time when the Scottish government had been incredibly transparent, we still don’t know a single thing, other than the information that Isobel Fraser had just read out about Jack McConnell, nor about the meetings held by Labour in 2007, 2008 and 2009 when the Operation Motorman Report was sitting on Gordon Brown’s desk.

(Operation Motorman was a 2003 investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office into allegations of offences under the Data Protection Act by the British press.)

Isobel Fraser returned to her question – could Stewart Hosie clarify what his thoughts were on whether or not it was appropriate for the First Minister to offer hospitality to Rupert Murdoch at the taxpayers’ expense?

The Ryder Cup wouldn’t have been at the taxpayers’ expense, replied Stewart Hosie. Looking at all of the correspondence between the FM and News International – all of it – it was about jobs, economic development, inward investment, and it was about promoting Scotland abroad. One would have thought that the general public would expect their First Minister to be seeking media outlets to promote Scotland.

Isabel Fraser:Johann Lamont – will now Labour publish all correspondence, and all details of the last four years between Labour Ministers, Labour Prime Ministers and Labour advisers?”

Johann Lamont:Well, I certainly think that Ed Miliband has made it clear that he recognised that there was an inap … it was … we have … we’re in the wrong place, I think in relationship – all of us, across the board, in relation to News International.”

Isabel Fraser: Will you publish the sort of information that allows the public to make an assessment of the nature of that relationship in the way the SNP has done today?”

Johann Lamont: Well, I understand that the SNP gave the information, which was under Freedom of Information Act – clearly, under if under Freedom of Information request, the same information would be provided. I don’t think that there’s …”

Isabel Fraser: Well, why wait for that? If you’re acting in good faith, why actually wait for that – why wait for that trigger? Why not just say ‘We want to put a line underneath this …’ – just get it all out there.”

Johann Lamont: “I don’t want to sound defensive about something that’s not within my remit.” (simultaneous cross talk) “It feels very much to me at this time, in order to build trust – rebuild trust - with people you do have to be transparent. There will be a bit of to and fro’ing amongst the parties on this question – who has been open and who has not. But at the heart of this, for too long, people – given our experience in ‘92, when the party realised what happens when you’re up against something like News International – and people realise you have to have a relationship with newspapers – we understand that – but there was a recognition then that it’s gone to far. I now think Alex Salmond should recognise that there was a mixing together of two things – a bit about jobs, but an awful lot about Alex Salmond on the world stage.”

Isabel Fraser: (to Stewart Hosie) “Do you now think that Alex Salmond has to recognise that the relationship was inappropriate?”

Stewart Hosie: I think the transparency the Scottish Government showed today in publishing all of this material is first class – that’s the best disinfectant for any allegations. I think it’s time Labour came off their high horse and publish the same over the last four years.”


In just under nine minutes, Isobel Fraser and Newsnight Scotland got to the heart of this matter, in contrast to the Scotsman, which succeeded only in demonstrating why politicians get paranoid about the press, and why its circulation and influence are inexorably - and probably terminally - declining.

To those Scottish nationalist critics who think the BBC is the Great Satan, I ask where they think objective coverage of this story, and a forensic questioning of the party spokespersons would have come from, if not from the BBC?

But we are left with the fact that television journalism, powerful though it is, can be ephemeral in a way that print journalism is not.

Why is it left to a rank amateur like me – a blogger with a political agenda, but trying to be objective – to try to capture the essence of this vital analysis by Isabel Fraser and the Newsnight team in print when we have professional print journalists and supposedly ‘quality’ newspapers to do a proper, balanced analysis and ask the right questions?

(I know the answer – it’s the bloody Union, stupid – and the referendum.)


If I may join the assembled masses of commentators offering advice to the Scottish Labour Party, may I suggest that Johann Lamont does her homework before she comes on television, and that she strives for a delivery style that owes less to Lord Prescott’s fractured syntax and more to better models from her party, however hard to find they are these days?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

News of the World: a note of distinct unease among the unionists - and others…

I never went to university, having been forced to leave school at fifteen to earn a living to support myself and my widowed mother. The Glasgow of 1950 was an unforgiving place to someone of my class and economic circumstances. But over the years, especially during my management consultancy years, I have had contact with universities, enough to realise that the groves of Academe are as rife with feuds and petty politicking as industry and commerce, and that such behaviour often rages unabated, unchecked as it is by any accountability to shareholders, give or take the odd undergraduate riot.

So I took some amusement from reading in today’s Scotsman of the behaviour of sundry professors at the University of Abertay, and the clear evidence that fancy dress doesn’t protect one’s back from being bitten.

But what caught my attention was a little piece tucked away up in the corner of page 7, at the end of a four-page coverage of the phone hacking affair. It is by a sociology lecturer at Abertay University, one Stuart Waiton, and it is entitled Analysis: NotW closure an act of liberal intolerance.

I wouldn’t exactly describe it as an analysis, more a little anti-liberal rant. Stuart is fond of inverted commas, which doubtless in the flesh he would offer as raised eyebrows while twiddling two raised finger as enclosing quotes to what he says. Paraphrased, his piece comes down to saying that the News of the World closure is a bad thing, brought about by “right thinking” people, the “liberal” elite - a “tolerant” group, driven by snobbery and fear of the “mob”. He dismisses the idea that the “right” is all powerful in our “neo-liberal” world as a myth. The quotes are all from Stuart, who clearly deeply distrusts “right thinking” people, “liberals” and their “tolerant” pretensions.

Tell it as you see it, Stuart. The only obvious omissions from your piece are references to the silent majority and an attack on The Guardian. It’s safe to assume that Stuart and I would not choose each other as drinking companions. Sociology must be an interesting discipline at Abertay, in among the coup plots, the spying, the allegations of the incompetence of the university court, the grievance letters, the resignations - a rewarding research laboratory right on a sociologist’s doorstep, with the conflict doubtless being exacerbated and its extent exaggerated by tolerant, right-thinking liberals and the mob.

For the record, Stuart: Rupert Murdoch took the decision to close the NotW, not tolerant, right-thinking liberals or the mob.

However, this strange little outburst, and a piece on essentially the same theme on page 29 by Allan Massie - who could not easily be mistaken for a liberal - gave me cause for wider consideration about just what is happening here …

The phone hacking crisis has been building for some years, but the accelerated pace of events over the last week, the enormity of the revelations, and the magnitude of the impact on the hitherto seemingly impregnable News International monolith have been welcome to many - including me - but deeply threatening to some.

Professional journalists have been uneasy over the closure of The News of the World, and are worried about just what form regulation of the press might take. These fears are entirely understandable, and in some respects, well-founded. When journalists of the reputation and calibre of Harry Reid and Tim Luckhurst call for a period of sober reflection before rushing into regulation of the press - as they did last night on Newsnight Scotland - we must listen and take account of their views.

But the collapse of the News of the World, the sudden ebbing away of power from the Murdoch organisation, the threat to the BSkyB takeover, the serious questions over the behaviour of the Metropolitan police, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron towards News International are of deep concern to other groups, with very different motives, sharing very different fears about the pattern of recent events and the forces that precipitated them.

The Guardian newspaper played the central role. This venerable news organ, once The Manchester Guardian, with a formidable reputation beyond its regional origins, was a formative influence on my political thinking throughout my youth and during my middle life. It is of course the bête noire of the right, infested as it is by tolerant, right-thinking liberals.

Throughout my career in business, espousing liberal - with a small l -values and ideals was treated with deep distrust by my main employers, and reading the Guardian newspaper was regarded as clear evidence of pinko-lefty tendencies and general unsoundness. One employer objected to my bringing it into the senior management/directors dining room, the existence of which, in itself, was evidence of their non-liberal values!

The forces in our society that were hostile to liberal values had initially seemed to me to be the forces of the right in politics, e.g. the Tories, and amoral big business, the military/industrial complex, and fundamentalist religious groups. However, this distinction - which had been blurring for decades - became irrelevant from Tony Blair onwards, as the Labour Party effectively became - and remain - the Tories Mark II.  Since the Liberal Democrats were becoming increasingly illiberal and undemocratic, especially in Scotland, it seemed at one point as though the game was lost to the forces of the right, and liberal values were in total retreat. The only gleam of hope for me was the SNP win in 2007.

In the absence of any effective opposition to the juggernaut of right-wing values and the increasing dominance of war, the military/industrial complex and the nuclear deterrent as the operating principles of the United Kingdom, those of a liberal persuasion in Scotland had the Scottish National Party, whereas the the people of England were left with no real political choice except the feeble, vacillating Liberal Democrats, who experienced a dramatic but short-lived revival of their electoral fortune before the 2010 general election, but then promptly betrayed their mandate utterly in coalition.

In short, the forces of reaction, anti-liberalism, anti-democratic values, anti-Europeanism, power and privilege were incarnate in the UK, in its three main political parties  - Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats - and the ever-present, ever-powerful unelected British Establishment.

The only possible response of the people to this denial of their democratic rights and freedoms was to operate outside of the perverted democratic process, through alternative media, friendly mainstream media and the power of social networking. Since the UK is not yet a totalitarian dictatorship, it has been possible to do this effectively without the use of violence, although inevitably some mass demonstrations had egregious episodes of violence by a tiny and unrepresentative minority. This has been in marked contrast to the so-called Arab Spring - a spontaneous wave of people power, with violence as its only route, provoking even more violent responses, with as yet unresolved and unpredictable outcomes.

The Scottish Parliamentary elections exploded into the complacent UK Establishment  consciousness in May of this year, delivering an unequivocal mandate to the Scottish National Party, and the ability to call a referendum on Scottish independence.

In the space of 24 hours, the possibility of the break-up of the UK, the removal of the nuclear bases from Scottish waters and Scottish soil, the removal of Scottish armed forces from Westminster control, the removal of Scottish oil revenues, Scottish tax revenues, Scottish whisky duty revenues - all of these things became a frightening reality for the UK Establishment and Westminster.

The present outbreak of consensus between the three UK parties, their enthusiastic but belated condemnation of Murdoch, News Corporation, News International, Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks, the police and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all, is an attempt to mask their complicity in what had gone before. This entire web of corruption and influence was and is the UK in all its sordid operating reality - a conspiracy of the rich and powerful - and those politicians who aspire to be both - to exploit the ordinary working people of this kingdom in its four component parts.

It was forced upon them, as was the exposure of the expenses scandal, of the cash for influence scandal, of the revelations of egregious incompetence of the Ministry of Defence, of the sordid machinations of the UK’s complicity in illegal and/or misconceived wars by the actions of those organs of the Press and media that remain beyond their influence and control - and most of all by the people, in their campaigns, in their use of the new media, and in their overwhelming disgust for what is being done to them in  the name of democracy.

And the Scottish manifestation of this deep unease with the true voice of the people, and their aspirations for a real democratic state has been to give a powerful mandate to a party they believe in. This mandate cannot be attacked directly by Scottish unionists, but they have targeted it obliquely by every avenue open to them, questioning the reasons that led them to decisively reject the unionist parties, trying to pretend that the electorate were fools and had been manipulated, that the turnout and the proportion of the vote was not a real mandate - the list of ‘charges’ is endless.

But in the phone hacking scandal, the unionists have taken to attacking the people themselves as deluded, complicit, as bringing it upon themselves.

Allan Massie, Defender of the Union par excellence, closes his otherwise bland piece - which contained no new insights, and says little that has not already been said - with an extraordinary final paragraph.

“Nobody owns the moral high ground in the present kerfuffle - and this includes the public with its appetite for salacious gossip. Of one thing we may be sure. If the Press is curbed, the appetite for such gossip and slanderous comment will not disappear. Already you can find more - and nastier examples of it on the so-called social media. The public indignation now being expressed is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the glass.” 

In other words, it’s all the fault of the people - they are not driven by revulsion at the hacking of the phones of murder victims and their families, of the families of servicemen and woman killed in the UK’s foreign wars, nor at the manifest corruption of the Metropolitan Police Force, nor of those at the heart of government. The people are themselves to blame for bringing all this upon themselves and will do so again - their moral outrage is hypocritical.

I have this to say to Allan Massie - in choosing between the culpability of those who create, feed and profit by depraved appetites and those who suffer from them, the line of argument that chooses the victim is despicable: we have heard it articulated over alcohol abuse, over rape, over drug addiction, etc. and it is usually accompanied by a wish to avoid any form of legislation or practical action that would ameliorate the abuse, substituting instead moral posturing and an attack on the victim rather than the perpetrator.

Any commentator who values his or her reputation for objective comment, as I am sure he does, should consider vary carefully using any argument that contains a hint of this. In his unionist campaign to prevent Scots from achieving their nation’s freedom from and independence of the UK, Allan Massie should be alive to these dangers of unwitting association with the more extreme examples of this blame-the-people mode.

He says that nobody owns the moral high ground. I agree with him on that at least.

But some of us are on higher moral ground than that occupied by the present London-based UK political parties and by the British Establishment, and that higher ground is increasingly occupied by the people, especially the people of Scotland.

I invite him to join us on it - it will be worth the climb …

POSTSCRIPT: As of this afternoon, News Corp has withdrawn its bid for BSkyB.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Resign? Moi? Je ne regrette rien. Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose ...

Or, as we say in Glesca - Aye, right, Jimmy ...

And so the Dogged Sleuth of the Met passes into legend - or a pension?