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New Labour's weirdness in conversation with Nick Cohen

(part 1)

Tawfiq Chahboune (TC) interviewing Nick Cohen (NC)  

Due to the length of this interview we are publishing it in two parts.

Read part two here


 

TC: You’ve documented some quite extraordinary New Labour weirdness. A good example is Philip Gould’s gobbledegook that he was building a vast multidimensional structure going forwards and backwards, upwards and downwards, meshing abstraction with concreteness. And you seem to be one of the few people to have noticed that Michael Young invented the term Meritocracy as a piece of satire, yet Blairites parrot the word “meritocracy” as if it’s a good thing. Then we have the incredible nonsense, unbelievably taken seriously by the zany New Labour high command, about six thinking hats from Edward de Bono [one should wear a different coloured hat for different situations]. What accounts for this descent to unadulterated weirdness, and why is it not picked up on?

 

NC: They absolutely mimic the weirdness of management schools of business, of advertising, of marketing. I think I say in the book that kind of gibberish would not be remarkable to you in a marketing department. They’ll say stuff like, “What the structure of the new organic company or Gaia company or…”

 

TC: Holistic?

 

NC: That’s the word I’m searching for. A holistic company. They would have said everything Gould had said. Gould is from advertising. The sad thing about modern politics is that you can account for both its success and its failure through it imitating business. On the one hand these things do work: New Labour does win elections. On the other hand it explains the disillusion, the low turnouts. Certainly when New Labour came in there was undoubted civility towards them within the labour movement and within the media, and people just go along with it. This is the history of totalitarianism. Who could believe what the Russian Communist Party came out with? Well, people did. And there was a bit of fear as well. Remember this was, after all, a Party that had been out of power for eighteen years. You’ve lost so many times that you’ll do anything to win. There’s also a slight corruption of victory: there were loads and loads of people who thought they would get on or get jobs, and it’s not an ignoble thing if you’re in politics to want to get in a position of power. It’s not an ignoble thing - that’s why you’re in it. And they swallow all that and go along with it. You must never forget these things [the mumbo-jumbo], and the media commentary is very good at making you forget. In the book I try to make clear that New Labour was a part of the world of the nineties - which was quite a nice world in its own way - the Berlin Wall was down, even the IRA had a ceasefire, the stock market was booming, the dotcom bubble, the dome, Brit-art and New Labour, and it all sort of fitted together. One of the reasons why Blair is in a lot of trouble at this election is he just ought to have gone by now, in his own terms. In the modern world nausea is the most common emotion. Blair’s been at the top of politics for ten years, and people are just sick of him. And it’s not all his fault; it’s the modern media.

 

TC: It’s not that the policies are pretty terrible? And people are reacting to the politics?

 

NC: We’ll talk about the policies in a minute. In pure electoral terms he’s yesterday’s star, he’s the oldest swinger in town. It’s nothing to do with politics. It’s to do with how modern societies work.

 

TC: I think the strongest part of your book [Pretty Straight Guys] is the chapter on asylum. Labour has brought in probably the harshest anti-asylum measures, and in many cases it’s near impossible to get into Britain unless you parachute in, and when Jack Straw was Home Secretary he thought Iraq a safe place for asylum seekers to be returned to.

 

NC: Northern Iraq - Kurdistan.

 

TC: Is that right? Is this New Labour at its most scandalous?

 

NC: I think so and for an interesting reason. Labour and the media concentrate on asylum seekers, and two things flow from that. One, it’s the big lie: we’ve got nothing against genuine refugees, it’s economic migrants we can’t stand. Actually the truth was the exact opposite. They and the media  - and the media is owned by very rich companies - want cheap labour. And so you’ve got the situation where  - it wasn’t quite true what you said that the only way for an asylum seeker to get into Britain is to parachute in - the only way for an asylum seeker to get into Britain is to come in illegally. And so you’re pushed into the hands of criminal gangs. So now we have the situation where if Michael Howard were to win the general election, and there’s an outside chance he could, he wouldn’t stop economic migration. He wouldn’t do it: business would start screaming, as would all middle-class homeowners in the South-East who rely on Hungarian nannies and Polish plumbers.

 

TC: Won’t there be a time when they’ve stoked up the fears so much that it’ll be out of control?

 

NC: I think it’s out of control now.

 

TC: They won’t be able to rein it back in? Look at the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Sun, it’s really vicious stuff.

 

NC: I’m amazed there hasn’t been more racist violence in Britain.

 

TC: Another thing you bring up, but not I think in the book, is the new UK-US extradition treaty [the US need only identify the UK citizen it wishes to extradite, with no evidence of wrong doing necessary. The treaty is one way. The UK can’t do likewise], which no other EU country has signed up to. What’s behind this? Why not even insure that it works both ways?

 

NC: My guess is that because - and you can see all this stuff at the moment - they’re prepared to tear up any law against anyone they think is an Islamist. If it means there’s no evidence against them, that’s fine. They’re prepared to do anything.

 

TC: It follows on to something Martin Bright [Observer Home Affairs Editor] has written about. There’s a very nice scam he’s unearthed and that you’ve written about. The security services brief journalists, on condition of anonymity, and then use the newspaper reports of the very same briefings they gave to the journalists, probably untrue, as independent investigative corroboration of their own efforts so that they may intern terror suspects. We also have the revelations in the Guardian in 1991 that the CIA has five hundred British journalists in their pay, and the Observer’s revelation in 1985 that the security services vet and veto senior BBC journalists and management. On top of all this we have evidence that the information on terrorism flowing from Arab countries not only comes from the use of torture and thus unreliable, but also that these despotic regimes see it as a way of targeting dissidents who have nothing to do with terrorism. It seems that fighting terror is the last thing on their minds.

 

NC: The Law Lords have struck down the anti-terror laws. I mean, it’s not going to work. There is a genuine problem. Since September 11th, what do you do about the possibility of a mass attack? There was a very stupid conference by the NUJ called something like “The Manufactured Panic”. The people in the centre are genuinely frightened; they’re genuinely not sleeping at night. And the problem is that they’re prepared to throw everything out of the window. If you were working for MI6 and you get reports from Egypt about an Islamist in Finsbury Park. It could have come from torture. How the hell do we know? We can’t interview people in Egypt. All we’re saying is that shouldn’t be a bar. And to which the answer is: “Well, yeah, obviously. Obviously, you can’t stop that.” But if you get a tip that someone’s in Finsbury Park planning to blow up the tube. You go round to their flat, interrogate them and put them under surveillance. I mean, it’s a tip off. What they’re trying to do is use torture as evidence in a sort of court, either for interning people or for these new house arrest orders. Now, no English court has ever accepted torture since the abolition of Star Chambers in 1641. And the reason I say to you Star Chamber justice is that Star Chamber was the absolute exception to English law. It was the King’s court where normal rules of Common Law didn’t apply. The rest of Europe and the bloody Scots allowed torture in the twelfth century when Roman law was rediscovered - Roman law allowed torture. The English clung on to the Anglo-Saxon tradition that you could never have torture. The only exception to that was Star Chamber. And we’re going back to the1640s. This is now being presented as evidence in court.

 

TC: You wrote a very interesting article about the so-called ricin factories. You had people like Margaret Glimour and the unfortunate Frank Gardner, who parroted everything they were told about these apparent “factories” without question, and it was all nonsense. There was no truth in it whatever.

 

NC: You have to be careful there. It may or may not have been nonsense, but in England you ’re not allowed to…Look, if you’re arrested and accused of something and I’m a journalist, I’m not allowed to prejudice the case. The ricin case may lead to convictions, but I’m not so sure about that. It’s all about contempt of court.

 

TC: I haven’t investigated it too deeply, but as far as I can see nearly all of those arrested under the Prevention of Terror Act have had nothing to do with terrorism. There was a whole load of stuff to do with forging passports or some sort of scam.

 

NC: Maybe, maybe, I don’t know. But the point is the rules of English justice are quite radical, and in the past it was the judges who didn’t follow them, and now it’s the Government. Wherever you look you find presumption of innocence under attack, or criminalizing non-criminal behaviour: that’s what antisocial behaviour orders are.

 

TC: There was an ASBO served on someone for being sarcastic.

 

NC: Prostitutes have been given antisocial behaviour orders, and beggars. They break them and end up in prison. Now it’s not an imprisonable offence to beg, nor is it an imprisonable offence to solicit, but people end up in prison through use of the civil law, which is sort of what Clarke is trying to do now with these orders on terror suspects. It’s almost the same thing.

 

TC: And that brings us neatly to the case of Omar Deghayes. This, I would suggest, is the best example of why the anti-terror legislation is just not going to work. I’d also add that the legislation has very little to do with, or combating, terror, but that’s another story. In Deghayes’s case the evidence just so happened to have happened to have been put forward in a Spanish court, and from what the BBC has been able to unearth, the security services have arrested the wrong guy. It was just a case of mistaken identity and Deghayes hasn’t done anything. They’re arresting the wrong people and don’t seem too bothered by it..

 

NC: There was the case of a guy - one of the people who was rounded up when a whole bunch were rounded up, one of them was Abu Qatada, who is one of the most reactionary Islamists on Earth…

 

TC: A deeply unpleasant man.

 

NC: A very unpleasant man. Why isn’t he being prosecuted? Well, perhaps all there is is his ideas. His sermons keep turning up. Mohammed Atta had videos of him. With Qatada you can sort of see that if you were a civil servant in the Home Office, someone would say to you: “But look, come on, no government on Earth is going to let this man walk around…”

 

TC: But I find it literally incredible that they can’t try this man for anything and just keep him locked up.

 

NC: So do I. I, and people like me, went potty about the 2000 Terrorism Act, where pretty much any kind of direct action was terrorism. If I’m at a meeting for, say, Chechen independence and some of the guys in the room in the meeting room are deemed terrorists, I could be arrested. If a bucket goes round and I give money, I could be arrested. In the last Iraq war in 1991, they rounded up ninety Palestinians and Iraqis, and the Palestinians were meant to be terrorists and the Iraqis meant to be Iraqi soldiers. By the end of the war, after people like me banged and banged and banged away at it, they had to release every single one of them, and said you’re fine to stay in Britain. It was just all wrong, all the people they rounded up were wrong. This time there was a guy they rounded up who was Gareth Pierce’s translator. He’s a Moroccan. And they said, “We’re locking you up because you’re a terrorist. But you’re free to go.” So he says, “Well, alright, I’m going to Morocco then. I‘m just a bloody translator.” It’s not a place you’d choose to go to if you were a radical Islamist. So he goes to Morocco, and we interview the head of the secret police in Morocco. He says, “There’s no way this guy’s a terrorist. We’d torture him if he was. No, he’s fine.” It’s the quality of the intelligence, and that is what they can’t get away from. Now, the sad thing is - it’s not sad in a way, it’s true - because as my old colleague Neil Ashton used to say, “Always watch the way governments treats foreigners; it’s the way they’d like to treat British citizens if they could get the chance. They’ve extended it to British citizens and now all hell’s breaking loose.”

 

TC: We’re meeting a day after the House of Commons voted on Labour’s proposed anti-terror legislation. Bob Marshall-Andrews said that Labour MPs were desperate to find a way to vote the way Blair wants them to. They’re absolutely desperate because they know it’s wrong and they know the legislation won’t work. You have this idea that these people can be tagged or put under house arrest or some such nonsense, but everyone seems to have forgotten, and correct me if I’m wrong, that even some of the 9/11terrorists were being followed by the FBI. So if these guys are out on the streets, well, God knows what they’ll be up to. If you were serious about terrorism then you’d either put them in prison and throw away the key, and pass legislation like in France to allow that, or try them. The last thing you would do if you were really faced with fanatical terrorists is to tag them!

 

NC: Or put them under secret surveillance. The Home Office is such a mess. Leave aside everything else. Leave aside whatever you think about all this, and just say, “In practice how is this going to work?” You’re going to have guys under house arrest. You’re going to have pickets; you’re going to have demonstrations; you’ll have Al Muhajiroun and the Muslim Association of Britain and they’ll all be there getting recruits. You know, it’s not going to help.

 

TC: Something along the lines of the backlash against internment in Ireland?

 

NC: At least when people are in a prison, you can picket a prison, but it’s kind of crap really. But in a house with people shouting through the window, it’s going to be a real focal point for radical Islam these guys.

 

TC: It might cause racial tension.

 

NC: Yeah, it might cause all kinds of problems. And it’s just dumb, the whole thing is just dumb. What you do is, you either have internment - we’ll they can’t do that now. Or you have proper trials, or you have secret surveillance, and you say he’s a threat and he’s not. He’s a threat, we’ll map all his associates, find out what they’re up to and arrest them.

 

TC: It shows such astounding bumbling that they don’t even think to themselves, “Let’s keep this a secret. We’ll follow these chaps around. They’ve actually been broadcasting that, ‘Yes, we’re going to start following these guys we’ve tagged’! ” Anyway, perhaps we should move on. You retell the disgraceful story about the Clinton administration putting the thumb screws on Mozambique to allow their corporate chums to run a natural gas project. Essentially, the US was prepared to crush a Third World country - Tenth World would be more accurate - if it didn’t sign up to a deal that would be absolutely disastrous for it. We had the same thing here with Labour trying to force on Tanzania a BAE air-traffic control system that was not only exorbitantly priced but also something Tanzania didn’t need or indeed want. I would respond that this is the history of capitalism. What do you expect?

 

NC: Yes.

 

TC: Yet Blair can talk about how Africa is the scar on the conscience of blah blah blah… Surely Blair is just another one of capitalism’s pimps, desperate to screw the Third World for more?

 

NC: Hard to tell with Blair. One thing the book tries to chart is the drive for capitalism in the nineties. That was an age of capitalist utopias.  I try to say this in the chapter “Bribed and Unbribed”…

 

TC: There’s that great American phrase: the scandal isn’t what’s illegal, it’s what’s legal.

 

NC: There’s that old ditty: “You cannot bribe or twist, thank God, the English journalist. To see what the fellow will do unbribed, there is no occasion to it.” Enron is really, really interesting. It’s a fascinating company, because that was just a case of a company corrupting politicians, and they were quite naked about it everywhere, from India to Britain to America. Wherever they operated they would go in and say…

 

TC: I’d hate to disagree with you, but I’m not so sure. I’ve always bought into Ralph Miliband’s The State in Capitalist Society argument that this is the way capital works. You don’t have to bribe anybody; political power is more than happy to bend over backwards to accommodate the wishes of capital. They’re pretty much the same thing.

 

NC: That’s my point as well: governments would have done that anyway, but in the nineteen nineties capitalism was utopia. This was the way to do things, the way to organise the Earth. And it’s all to do with the death of socialism. People who run the Labour Party are not necessarily corrupt or bad or whatever. They’re moulded by the ideas of their time and the idea then, and to some extent now, is markets, the profit motive, and that’s the real problem. The real problem is not so much the corruption; it is that ideology, and is there something to replace it.

 

TC: I think you’ve come up with probably the best definition I’ve come across yet of what New Labour is.

 

NC: Oh, really?

 

TC: If asked to describe what New Labour is, most leftists would reply something along the lines of, “Oh, they’re basically Tories now. The differences are so insignificant.” By contrast, you give a different definition or analysis to what New Labour is, and it’s an interesting one. When Blair gave his rather strange conference speech about “The forces of conservatism, the cynics, the elite, the establishment…” what he means is that everyone who hasn’t seen the light, a new light, which happens to be highly capitalistic, is a conservative, whether you are a trade unionist or a socialist or a Tory or a Liberal or Old Labour or whoever. They’re all conservatives.

 

NC: That comes from business. If you go into the advertising industry…If you read Thomas Franks, a brilliant satirist, he ferociously dissects how capitalism became funky in the sixties, and how the language of revolution, the language of protest has been… I mean, it’s really annoying that people like Michael Moore, who is a buffoon, and Naomi Klein, who is just an idiot, are pocketing… because Tom is just dazzling, a dazzling writer and really, really interesting. Tom makes the point that in the advertising industry, the people who don’t respond to advertising, who in the past you’d say “Well, they’re at the very least independent minded or not going to be brainwashed”, they’re reactionaries, they are the forces of conservatism. That comes from business, from Enron. It’s a double-edged sword in that for many people capitalism was liberation. You’ve lost the shackles of slavery; you’ve lost the shackles of segregation; now lose the shackles of the state, you‘re free to choose. It is the great strength of capitalism. So Blair’s speech was a hyper-capitalist speech.  And just as unions are a threat to modern business, so are old conservative attitudes that would say, for instance, it is wrong to use sex in advertising, from a moral conservative point of view.

 

TC: I usually don’t try to get into people’s heads and see what’s going on. It’s a waste of time trying to figure out what makes Blair tick. I mean, as has been said many times before, if we take the most extreme case - Hitler. He never looked in the mirror and said, “Crikey! I’m a real monster.” People can always find ways of justifying their actions, but it seems strange, to say the least, that Blair or any New Labour zealot can still argue that they’re a social democrat or even a socialist and rave about capitalism at the same time.

 

NC: It’s a funny thing, New Labour. I think the history books will be far kinder to it than people are at the moment. I mean, it has redistributed vast amounts of wealth to the poor.

 

TC: Is that because of the money that came in from the bubble? Under New Labour we’ve got the lowest corporation tax in the Western world…    

 

NC: Actually what they’ve done - and if the Tories had any sense they would go on about this - they’ve taken wealth from the middle-class and redistributed it to the poor.

 

TC: The working-class and middle-class are fighting and redistributing wealth among themselves while the very rich have made off. 

 

NC: The heaviest taxed people are those on about £38, 000 a year. It’s a really dumb place to be. The very rich are just getting away with it.

 

TC: I’d like to move on to your very vitriolic criticism of Andrew Gilligan. This can be divided up into two parts. One, he betrayed his source. Here you have every reason to damn him: a journalist should never betray his source; a journalist should be willing to face a long stretch. Betraying a source is the highest journalistic crime. Two, you say his infamous broadcast was wrong. We now know that his broadcast was actually right. The essential part of the broadcasts are that the government knew the 45-minute figure was wrong, and that the dossier was sexed up. Both those statements are true.

 

NC: It’s not that. You have to go back to the precise quote. They ordered the intelligence services to lie.

 

TC: He never actually said that.

 

NC: What Gilligan says is: “…Downing Street, our source says, a week before publication, ordered that it be sexed up, ordered that it be made more exciting. More facts to be discovered.”

 

TC: But that is true. We learn from the Hutton and Butler inquiries that the evidence on WMD was passed round and round, a week before final publication, with what can only be described as cries of “find new stuff; this isn’t enough”. We have Jonathan Powell asking, “What do we want the Evening Standard to be?” on the day of the dossier’s publication. They’re sexing it up. I mean, we have Hoon’s testimony to the Hutton inquiry where he admits that he knew the 45-minute figure was nonsense but decided not to tell anyone about it. If you believe that, you’ll believe anything. That is essentially Gilligan’s argument: the government knew it was passing on garbage.

 

NC: Hold on. Point one is that in all probability the government knew the 45-minute figure was wrong but ordered the intelligence services to do it anyway. Point two is the government sexed it up. On point two, and I say this in the book, absolutely the government did sex it up, and I say that at the end of the book that Tony Blair should fall for this.

 

TC: So you agree that the government did sex it up?

 

NC: Yeah, yeah.

 

TC: And you’d admit that they knew the 45-minute figure was wrong?

 

NC: No, no. Kelly never said that…

 

TC: If you read Hoon’s testimony to the Hutton inquiry you’ll see that he himself admits that he knew the 45-minute figure was nonsense, and that Iraq didn’t have WMD in the conventional sense.

 

NC: No, no. It’s about shells, not long range missiles.

 

TC: That’s an admission of knowing the 45-minute figure was wrong, isn’t it?

 

NC: No, no they don’t. Do you think Blair lied about weapons of mass destruction?

 

TC: Yes and no, and I’ll tell you why. Yes, because he knows the intelligence services are telling him that what anyone would call weapons of mass destruction do not exist in any conventional form in Iraq - again, see Hoon’s testimony. But no because he can still believe otherwise. Someone can honestly believe the Earth is flat, it doesn’t make it so, especially when all the evidence is to the contrary. Belief complicates things. I’m interested in how it is what he was told became something else.

 

NC: That’s not what the intelligence services are saying. They’re not saying there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. What they’re saying is that there’s a lot of stuff knocking about but they haven’t got a delivery system…

 

TC: Yes, that’s what I was saying. They’re not what you would call a conventional WMD threat.

 

NC: Blair clearly didn’t buy: “Oh, Iraq have nothing, and I’ll just make it up.” Everything about it, the way he behaved, what came out at Hutton. What he did was he spun it and spun it and spun it. With Gilligan, to me, when Gilligan says, “In all probability he knew it was wrong”, well, no, Robin Cook believed they had chemical weapons, the Iraqis believed he had chemical weapons, possibly even Saddam Hussein believed he had chemical weapons.

 

TC: That doesn’t make any sense. We have Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, about a year before the invasion of Iraq, saying that there are no weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq isn’t even able to project conventional power. William Cohen [Defence Secretary under Clinton] says exactly the same.

 

NC: What everyone believed was that there were chemical and biological weapons there, but there was no delivery system. How could there be? The country’s been under British and American over flight since 1991. Anything like a rocket plant couldn’t be there. I do say in the book that even if what Blair thought was there had been found, like even if they had stumbled across some depot in the desert with a lot of anthrax, there would still be as much fuss about the war now as if there had been nothing, because it would almost be a bit of a joke. It would be: here we are and we have this shell or here we are and we’ve got this old nuclear reactor - which, incidentally, is true, and is the great problem of a lot of the antiwar argument.

 

TC: There were sanctions.

 

NC: But the sanctions were falling apart, and if you let the sanctions go then Saddam will build up again.

 

TC: That isn’t true. The sanctions killed a million people, but as a tool for stopping Saddam’s rearmament it worked. Anyway, you could have had what were being discussed years before the invasion: the so-called “smart sanctions”. Sanctions which only target the military. You could do that.

 

NC: How do you enforce those?

 

TC: I’m sure that not only would every country have agreed to that, but Iraq would allow inspections, which they were in the past more than…

 

NC: To go back to Gilligan. Everyone was saying that it’s being spun; that it’s being plated. I was writing it; everyone was writing it. But what made journalists shoot up in bed at six in the morning was the accusation that Blair had lied. They knew he was probably lying…

 

TC: But didn’t the fallout begin - the Gilligan fuss - only months after the broadcast? A diversion? Only after no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq did the fuss start about that original broadcast?

 

NC: No, no. Three days later it shoots round the world, and Blair is questioned about it abroad. Trust me about this. It turns out that poor old David Kelly is having a gossip.

 

TC: Kelly was telling everybody. He’s saying different things to different people. He’s saying one thing in public and another in private.

 

NC: The whole thing is a weird business. As someone who’s done investigations… Like, you work for any organisation and you come to me with a story which could lose you your job, or, say you’re a civil servant, lose you your job and possibly send you to prison. First of all, you are incredibly nervous. I mean, you’d spend a long, long time checking whether you could trust him. Second, I do everything I can to protect you: I warn you about it all. Poor old Kelly just has a chat with Gilligan. No way does he behave like a classic leaker. At no point either does Gilligan behave like a journalist. At no point does Gilligan say, “You’re telling me this, David, how do I know it’s true.” At no point afterwards, when the shit hit’s the fan, does Gilligan phone up David Kelly and say, “David, there’s a fuss about this story. Are you sure what you told me is true?” At no point does the BBC say, “Christ, our source could be in danger. He could lose his job; he could go to prison. For fuck’s sake, Andrew, get to meet with him, tell him to lie low and to deny everything.” It’s the first thing you say to any mole.  Why does Gilligan not do any of these things? Because he knows what he said isn’t true. He made up his notes. You’ve actually got the testimony of Kelly’s friend, Olivia Bosch, who the entire media ignored. But the one person we know Kelly’s talking about this to is Olivia Bosch. He’d say: “I had this strange interview with this guy called Gilligan. He tried to put words in my mouth.”

 

TC: But Kelly never denied any of this. When Gilligan asks, “Did they sex it up?” Kelly says, “Yeah.” “Who did this? Was it Campbell?” And Kelly would reply, “Yeah.” Putting words in his mouth is a bit strong. Kelly could have denied this stuff at any time. Every time Gilligan leads Kelly on to what he wants to hear - hardly a crime - Kelly says, “Yeah.” Kelly could always say, “No.”

 

NC: You’re assuming it’s true. You’re assuming what Gilligan is saying is true.

 

TC: We have the testimony of, and evidence from, Gavin Hewitt and Susan Watts.

 

NC: Susan Watts? Susan Watts account is fine and is true. It’s not the same thing as what Gilligan says. And the reason why the government was… Why does Campbell go for Gilligan? When all is said and done, this is a broadcast in the early hours of the morning. Why does Campbell just go for him? Because if you’re in a corner and you’re in all kinds of trouble and loads of people are making accusations at you, the smart move is to wait for the idiot who goes too far. And you go for him and you say to everyone else by association. We’ll see what this exalted drama-doc says, but history’s not going to be very kind to the BBC. What’s interesting about it is the way the modern media is going. The media, as a collective, being immensely powerful, but individually nearly all its component parts are in crisis. They’re suffering crisis from market share. Newspaper circulation has being going down steadily since the sixties. Television - well yes, fine, partly because of television we have a decline in literacy - but television is fragmented into hundreds and hundreds of channels. And poor old Peter Preston on the Guardian will go to his grave hounded by Sarah Tisdall. Peter never met Sarah Tisdall, never knew the existence of someone called Sarah Tisdall. All he did was: when a court ordered him to he sent back a document, which he didn’t realise Sarah Tisdall could be identified from that. Gilligan absolutely stitches his source up like a kipper, and there is no condemnation of Gilligan in journalism. The old rules of journalism, which were moral rules, because, obviously, the law was often against you are gone in the pursuit of market share. It’s kind of an unbridled capitalism.

 

TC: I think you’re being slightly misleading, if you don’t mind me saying so, when you say that because John Scarlett had “ownership” of the dossier then Blair and Co. are off the hook for any creative input they had. If Blair inserted Saddam Hussein started World War I and Scarlett signed it off, it doesn’t mean it’s true. I’m sure Scarlett realises this stuff isn’t true.

 

NC: Of course. All I’m saying is that I’m trying to explain in that postscript [to Pretty Straight Guys] what it’s like being an investigative journalist, and you can’t get round that as an investigative journalist unless you have proof of Blair ordering Scarlett to lie.

 

TC: But he doesn’t need to. As you well know, the intelligence services have a knack of finding ways to make their political masters happy.  They always have. People forget the “dodgy dossier” or the Scott inquiry. But the best case is probably that of Daniel Elsberg in the United States. I mean, Vietnam was a lie for fifteen years, possibly more. Everyone in the Pentagon and the State Department knew it was a lie and no one said anything.  

 

NC: I do know all this. There’s a chapter I put in rather deliberately which is not of great interest, but I think is important: it’s the chapter on the Hinduja brothers. Look, if I say you’re a paedophile, I’ve got to be able to prove it. The fact that I suspect it is not enough. That’s all I’m trying to say. You know, this guy makes no checks on the story, he betrays his source, and then his source kills himself.

 

May 2005

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