How very interesting to read the following on another political website:
One of Labour’s biggest donors today warned the party’s moderate wing to “wake up” to the fact that continuing to promise austerity-lite was the “road to unelectability.”
JML chairman John Mills, who is normally associated with the Blairite wing of the Labour party, said the anti-austerity policies being pursued by Jeremy Corbyn “made a lot of sense” and could be popular with the public in 2020.
Speaking to reporters in central London, he said it was a fundamental mistake to compare the nation’s finances to a household paying off its credit card, and warned the UK was being condemned to long periods of low growth.
He said the policies being pursued by the government, and endorsed by some in the Labour party, risked causing widespread dissatisfaction with the governing class and would lead to an increase in support for parties such as Ukip.
For This Writer’s money – and very good money it is, too – it seems clear the Torygraph was just trying to cause trouble; Mr Mills was never going to abandon Labour, but the suggestion would add fuel to the campaigns against him by Labour ‘intolerants’ such as Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt (whose Labour for the Common Good splinter group is name-checked as a possible alternative recipient of Mr Mills’s good graces).
We can hope that these, rather desperate, attempts to undermine Mr Corbyn will dissipate as we cross into 2016, but if they don’t, let’s all bear examples like this in mind…
And file stories like the Torygraph‘s in the litter bin where they belong.
Nicola Sturgeon has been crowing after the Independent Press Standards Organisation upheld her complaint about the ‘Memogate’ story that caused such a stir for the Daily Telegraph in April.
Ipso has ruled that the story – based on a memo that was leaked, we later learned, on the orders of the Coalition’s then-Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael – was “significantly misleading” because “the newspaper had failed to make clear that it did not know whether the account the memorandum presented was true”. It stops short of any suggestion that the story was false.
This means we still do not know whether the account in the memo was true.
A Cabinet Office investigation revealed that the civil servant who wrote the memo had a spotless record of accuracy and believed that it was accurate because it set down what he was told, faithfully.
But the SNP distortion machine has rolled into action to claim that Ipso’s ruling supports Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that the memo – and the story – were not true. This is a claim that we cannot accept on trust because, as one of the people involved, she has something to gain by making it.
In fact, none of the statements made by people who took part in the conversations mentioned in the memo may be taken at face value. The only person whose account may be considered impartial is the civil servant who wrote the memo – but everyone seems very keen to dismiss what he said.
According to The Guardian, Sturgeon said: “Subsequent events have proven conclusively that the story was entirely untrue, and today’s ruling simply underlines that.” This is a lie. They did not; it does not.
“They [the press] have a duty to ensure, as far as possible, that the stories they present to readers are fair, balanced and – above all – accurate. The Daily Telegraph, in failing to carry out the most elementary of journalistic checks and balances, failed in this case to meet that duty.”
Which checks and balances would these be, Nicola? Do you mean the Telegraph reporters didn’t ask you if the memo was accurate? Now, why do you think that would be? Could it be because the memo said you secretly wanted David Cameron to be the next Prime Minister, while open claiming you wanted Miliband – suggesting you were lying to the public? You’re too intelligent not to understand that this means anything you said about it would be suspicious.
Why are you insulting the public’s intelligence by claiming otherwise?
This is how the Labour Party responded to ‘memogate’. SNP supporters were incensed but it has not been proved wrong.
It was an official memo, it was leaked by the Scotland office – at the bidding of the Secretary of State, no less, and there’s no reason to believe that it is inaccurate.
That is the finding of the Cabinet Office’s report into the leaking of a confidential memo to the Daily Telegraph, which stated that Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP, had told the French Ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, in February that she would “rather see” David Cameron win the general election because Ed Miliband is not “prime minister material”.
The Torygraph story sparked outrage among supporters of the SNP, many of whom attacked this blog for reporting the story. It seems certain people owe This Writer a serious apology.
According to the Cabinet Office report, “The investigation team interviewed the civil servant in the Scotland Office who produced the memo. He confirmed under questioning that he believed that the memo was an accurate record of the conversation that took place between him and the French Consul General, and highlighted that the memo had stated that part of the conversation between the French Ambassador and the First Minister might well have been ‘lost in translation’.
“Senior officials who have worked with him say that he is reliable and has no history of inaccurate reporting, impropriety or security lapses. The Cabinet Secretary has concluded that there is no reason to doubt that he recorded accurately what he thought he had heard. There is no evidence of any political motivation or ‘dirty tricks’.”
This means there is no reason to believe claims that the memo is inaccurate. The “lost in translation” comment cannot refer to the conversation between the civil servant and the French Consul General, and must refer to his understanding, or recollection, of the account he heard of the conversation between Ms Sturgeon and the Ambassador.
The Consul General has, of course, denied that he said any such thing as is described in the memo. He would, wouldn’t he?
The memo was leaked to the Torygraph by Euan Roddin, special advisor to then-Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael. The Cabinet Office report states: “Mr Roddin… told the investigation team that he acted in what he saw as the public interest and that in his view the public needed to be aware of the position attributed to the First Minister.”
Alistair Carmichael, who is a Liberal Democrat, has admitted authorising the leak. Vox Political commenter Joan Edington suggested at the time that it could have come from the Secretary of State, so kudos to her.
He has since apologised and given assurances that, if he had remained Secretary of State, he would have considered this a matter requiring his resignation. Neither he nor Mr Roddin will be receiving their severance pay.
He has also apologised to Nicola Sturgeon, saying “details of the account are not correct”. This is curious, as he has no reason to suggest it.
Nicola Sturgeon has been quick to claim that the report clears her of any dodgy behaviour. This is not true.
The memo, from an impartial source, states that she said she would prefer to have David Cameron as Prime Minister and we have only the comments of people with an interest in denying that claim to back her up.
On balance, it seems very unlikely that she didn’t say she supported Cameron.
It would clarify what seemed to be a contradiction in the SNP’s election campaign, in that the party was attacking Labour hard in Scotland, while apparently claiming it wanted to do a deal with Labour in order to keep the Conservatives out of office. If the SNP’s leader was in fact supporting Cameron, then the “deal” rhetoric was a lie and the campaign against Labour north of the border makes sense.
This would, of course, mean that she was lying, bare-faced, to the public all the way through the general election campaign period.
It will be up all of us to decide what we think is the truth, based on what Ms Sturgeon – and her party – does next.
Does she prefer him to Miliband? It would help her cause to have a government to fight against, but there are too many unknowns about the Telegraph’s story for anybody to be certain – yet.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has been quietly telling other people that while she outwardly says Ed Miliband should be the next Prime Minister, she secretly supports David Cameron – or has she?
The details are in a memo allegedly “seen” by reporters for the Daily Torygraph. The story broke the day after Ms Sturgeon struck a chord with the British public in the televised leader debate with support for many of Mr Miliband’s policies, and on the same day that it was claimed the Conservative Party was putting together a deal with the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
SNP cultists (the rabid members of that party’s following who refuse to see any wrong in what its leaders do) instantly leapt on the story, demanding that it was not true, that its writers should resign and its publishers apologise, and all the usual things they say.
The basic details of the story are that Ms Sturgeon told the French Ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, in February that she would “rather see” David Cameron win the general election because Ed Miliband is not “prime minister material. The comment forms part of a leaked memorandum written by “a senior British civil servant” and dated March 6.
The story states: “It is a common diplomatic courtesy if an ambassador to the UK visits one of the three devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland for the British Government to be given an official readout of the conversation although the SNP leader, who has only been in position since the autumn, may have been unaware of this formality… The disclosure of her private comments may undermine Miss Sturgeon’s new-found popularity.”
Spokespeople for Ms Sturgeon and the French Embassy have stated forcibly that the story is not true. The Foreign Office has denied the existence of such a memo and the Scotland Office… well, the Scotland Office says it doesn’t give out information about them. Hmm.
In response to repeated calls to show proof that the memo exists, the Torygraph published what it described as the “full text of Nicola Sturgeon memo” – but failed to show photographic evidence that would indicate that it was an official government document (not that the SNP cultists would have accepted this – they have already said they would not).
As a reporter, the situation disturbs This Writer. The libel laws of this country are extremely robust and it would be the height of foolishness for any newspaper to risk prosecution under those laws, just to drive the ‘Crosby wedge’ between two political parties (Conservative strategist Lynton Crosby campaigns on a ‘divide and conquer’ basis, meaning that he will seek to end alliances by any means).
Journalists are warned to make sure every detail of a potentially contentious story is supported by hard evidence – and also to get ‘balancing’ comments from the people named in the story if possible. If not, they should have the right of reply. The Torygraph story did not contain any such remarks from Ms Sturgeon when it came out, but does carry the claim that it is untrue at the time of writing.
Scottish Labour leapt on the story as evidence that Ms Sturgeon is not to be trusted; the argument is that, obviously, if you want independence, it is easier for your cause to have a government you can actively fight – witness this tweet from ScotLab: “Devastating: @Telegraph reporting Nicola Sturgeon secretly backs Cameron #voteSNPgetTories”
And this one, from Frances Hinde: “Sturgeon has calculated that a Tory gov. is best for her aim of breaking up UK- course she wants a Tory government.”
Scottish Labour followed up the tweet with this image:
Mark Ferguson of LabourList took a more balanced view: “For many of the SNP’s online hardcore base, this Sturgeon story will be viewed as conspiracy. Pause for thought for undecided voters though.”
The Guardian’s Scotland correspondent Severin Carrell tweeted: “French consul general tells @GdnScotland no such views given by @NicolaSturgeon ‘absolutely no preference was expressed’ on #GE2015 outcome.” But then, the French consul general would say that, in order to prevent ill-feeling against France itself.
Simon Johnson, the story’s co-author, responded: “The man said what he said in private to the UK Government. It’s in black and white,” and then stopped tweeting for the evening – which some may also have viewed with suspicion.
Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK fame, tweeted: “Try as I might I just can’t imagine Nicola Sturgeon discussing possible election outcomes the way that is being suggested.” He continued: “The Sturgeon / French story is a non-eye witness London civil servant version of events that all participants say did not occur. Odd that.”
Perhaps we would be best-served by asking what this achieves. Mhairi Grealis tweeted: “The question here is who stands 2 benefit from trashing Sturgeon. No SNP voter will buy this so..?”
Is this true? Certainly no SNP cultist would, but they are only a certain percentage of the Scottish population. Many are planning to vote SNP because they have been persuaded to; this could persuade them back…
… but only back to Labour. What does the Conservative Party have to gain from this?
You see, the bottom-line assumption has to be that the aim of the story is to benefit the Conservatives. The paper responsible for all this isn’t called the Torygraph for nothing!
The SNP’s Angus McNeil tweeted the following image:
The trouble with this cartoon is that it claims an innate racism in the Labour Party that isn’t there. “That’s the Scots telt!!” says the Labour apparatchik, as though Labour thinks all the Scottish people need somehow to be put in their place. It’s a gross assumption from the SNP cultists, and one that does them no services at all.
“The Telegraph provided Labour with a gun – they duly obliged,” he tweeted. But this claim that Labour shot itself in the foot by seizing on the story only works if the majority of people who were persuaded to vote SNP aren’t persuaded against the SNP again by this story. And that is by no means certain.
Certainly, as a maxim, it is true that Labour would be ill-advised to put too much credence in a Tory-supporting newspaper’s story, without a lot more evidence; there remain too many uncertainties about this story to predict the likely outcome.
Perhaps Eoin Clarke is right: “Labour & SNP have both ruled out a Coalition. UKIP & the Tory Party have not. Torygraph smear is to divert attention.
Maybe. But at the time of writing the story is still the Torygraph‘s lead, and we have a possible source for it in the Scotland Office.
The rabid SNP supporters will do their cause no favours by denying it outright and pointing the finger at Labour; Scottish Labour will do its cause no good by blindly supporting it and pointing the finger at the SNP.
Perhaps we should all look to the Torygraph and its reporter Simon Johnson – and pile on the pressure for hard facts.
Mr Barlow was part of the Conservative campaign in 2010 – what a rock’n’roller YOU are, Gary!
Did anybody bother to read a story in the Daily Telegraph that claimed Ed Balls had accused the Conservatives of wheeling out Gary Barlow to speak against them in an almost-total misrepresentation of the Shadow Chancellor’s words?
Mr Balls referred to the Take That singer in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, linking him with Alliance Boots boss Stefano Pessina as people who have spoken out for the Tories.
Here’s what he said: “I would think in the next three months we are going to have a number of people brought forward by the Conservatives – whether it’s Gary Barlow or Mr Pessina – saying don’t vote Labour.”
It’s clear that Gary Barlow is used because of his part in the Conservative campaign of 2010 and, because of that, it’s fair comment to suggest that he might be fielded again.
But there’s a lot of clear blue water between that and “Ed Balls has claimed that the Conservatives are enlisting Gary Barlow, the Take That singer, in a plot to destabilise the Labour Party.”
Is the Torygraph taking on staff from the Mail or Sun, perhaps?
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