New Labour's weirdness in conversation with Nick Cohen
Tawfiq Chahboune (TC) interviewing
Nick Cohen (NC)
Due to the length of this interview we are publishing it in two
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…”
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
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
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
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
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
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
TC: But I find it literally
incredible that they can’t try this man for anything and just keep him locked
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.