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Lord Evgeny Lebedev Joins Enterprise Run by Saudi Ruler Accused of Approving Killing of Journalist Khashoggi

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/07/2022 - 12:44am in

The owner of the Evening Standard and Independent has reinforced his ties to the authoritarian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reveals Sam Bright

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The UK-Russian newspaper proprietor Lord Evgeny Lebedev has joined the board of a non-profit enterprise created by the Saudi Government, holding his position alongside Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who, according to US intelligence services, personally approved the capturing and killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The enterprise is called Hevolution – founded to research the science of anti-ageing, which is a preoccupation of many wealthy ‘philanthropists’.

“It’s time to focus science and business on ageing as a treatable process, not just on its terminal symptoms,” its website states.

Funded by the Saudi state, Hevolution reportedly has an annual $1 billion budget to fund the science of increasing the healthy human lifespan.

The head of the Hevolution board of trustees is Crown Prince bin Salman, the authoritarian ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The board also includes Abdullah bin Bandar Al Saud (Minister of the Saudi National Guard), Yasir Al-Rumayyan (Governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund), Fahad Toonsi (advisor to the Saudi Royal Court) – and, of course, Evgeny Lebedev.

Screenshot: Hevolution website

Lebedev, born in Moscow but now a British citizen, is the proprietor of the Evening Standard and the Independent, after Lebedev Holdings – funded by his father, Alexander Lebedev – purchased the titles in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Alexander Lebedev was a director of Lebedev Holdings from 2008 to 2016.

Evgeny Lebedev became a member of the House of Lords in July 2020 after being nominated by Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister reportedly pressured the UK security services to reverse their assessment of the appointment, with the initial intelligence advice being that “there could be a threat to national security”.

According to reporting by The Times, Johnson “took a personal interest in the case” after meeting with Lebedev in March 2020 – following an initial rejection of the peerage. “A former advisor said [that Johnson] refused to accept the verdict of the security services and would not drop the issue,” The Times has reported.

The minutes of this discussion between Johnson and Lebedev were not recorded. The Prime Minister denies that he overruled security advice but has said that “it’s very, very, very important that we get the message over that we’re not anti-Russian”.

Despite this, the Government has so far refused to release information about the decision to make Evgeny Lebedev a peer, having been instructed to produce this evidence by Parliament.

Alexander Lebedev, Evgeny’s father and the source of the family’s wealth, was a KGB officer in London from 1988 to 1992.

Moving into the financial sector, Lebedev senior amassed vast personal wealth – listed as the 39th richest Russian by Forbes in 2008, with an estimated wealth of $3.1 billion, which diminished after one of his Russian newspapers published an exposé about Russian President Vladimir Putin and his alleged affair with a famed gymnast.

Evgeny Lebedev is a renowned figure in London high society and has seemingly been a close acquaintance of Crown Prince bin Salman for some time. Indeed, Evgeny hosted a dinner with him in 2018, during the latter’s state visit to the UK. They were joined by Virgin co-founder Richard Branson, whose spokesperson confirmed bin Salman’s attendance.

Moreover, Lebedev Holdings – which in turn owns the Evening Standard and Independent – has been accused by the UK Government of being part-owned by the Saudi state, due to a series of “unconventional, complex and clandestine” deals involving a Saudi businessman that resulted in a 30% acquisition of the firm.

The Government initially sought to investigate the deal, suggesting that the Saudi Government could now potentially exert editorial influence over the publications. However, a tribunal ruled in 2019 that the Government had missed the deadline to force a full investigation into the investments.

“Editorial independence and freedom of expression have always been, and continue to be, critical to our publications,” a spokesperson for the media outlets said after the ruling.

Yet, there are reasons to doubt this statement. As revealed by Byline Times last year, the two publications accepted an undisclosed sum of money from Saudi Arabia to publish dozens of positive environmental stories about the country before, during, and after the COP26 UN climate change summit in Glasgow.

Special Relationships

These links are particularly concerning given the Saudi Government’s repression of freedom of speech and the press. Most grotesquely, former Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018.

Khashoggi was a critic of Crown Prince bin Salman’s regime, having previously been an advisor to the Saudi Government. He fell out of favour and went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017.

American intelligence agencies concluded that Crown Prince bin Salman “approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi” – a conclusion backed-up by UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who accused the Saudi state of the “deliberate, premeditated execution” of Khashoggi.

Crown Prince bin Salman has denied any role in the murder and has said that the US intelligence report is “negative, false and unacceptable”.

However, reports of Saudi human rights abuses are widespread. The Kingdom reportedly executed 81 people just days before Boris Johnson’s recent trip to Riyadh, and three on the day he arrived.

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“Saudi authorities in 2021 routinely repressed dissidents, human rights activists and independent clerics,” according to the monitoring organisation Human Rights Watch. “Detainees, including children, commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest.”

Human Rights Watch has also highlighted the country’s prolonged war in Yemen, which it has waged for the best part of the last decade – claiming 377,000 lives, according to the UN, by the end of 2021.

The UK has approved £11 billion in military exports to Saudi Arabia since 2010 – comfortably the largest total exported to any country in the world – despite the country featuring on the UK’s human rights watchlist. Of the licenses granted, £6.2 billion was for ‘aircraft, helicopters, drones’ and £4.3 billion was for ‘grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures’.

Boris Johnson has been courting the Saudis in recent months, encouraging the Gulf state to invest heavily in the UK as part of his Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. He used his recent trip to Riyadh to push the Saudis to increase their energy output, in order to compensate for declining imports from Russia.

Asked about criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record during the trip, the Prime Minister said: “I’ve raised all those issues many, many times over the past... and I’ll raise them all again today. But we have long, long standing relationships with this part of the world and we need to recognise the very important relationship that we have... and not just in hydrocarbons.”

Johnson also has a special relationship with Evgeny Lebedev, having regularly visited the Lebedev family home in Perugia, Italy, during his time as London Mayor and Foreign Secretary – including two days after a high-level NATO summit April 2018 focused on the West’s response to the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury.

Johnson seemingly abandoned his security team for this trip – a breach of government protocol – and was pictured at San Francesco d’Assisi airport looking dishevelled, clutching a book about war strategy. Alexander Lebedev attended this party and reportedly offered to mediate between Johnson – at the time the UK's Foreign Secretary – and Vladimir Putin.

Johnson also celebrated his landslide victory in the 2019 General Election by attending Alexander Lebedev’s 60th birthday party; while Byline Times has revealed how Evgeny Lebedev attempted to lobby Johnson, while he was London Mayor, to support his pet projects – including a Russian Arts Festival in the capital.

Minutes from the meeting show that the festival was aimed at “transforming global perceptions” of Russia and that Lebedev boasted of his links to the Kremlin as a means of obtaining funding. Ultimately, Johnson provided no support and the event didn’t materialise.

Alexander Lebedev has recently been sanctioned by Canada, for being among those who had “directly enabled Vladimir Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine”. These sanctions haven’t been matched by the UK. Lebedev senior severed his links with the Independent the day after he was hit with the sanctions.

“Lord Lebedev was nominated for a peerage in recognition of his contribution to the UK, including his charitable endeavours,” a Government spokesperson said. “All peerages are vetted by the House of Lords Appointments Commission and the process was followed correctly in the case of this nomination. The then Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Bew, has since made clear that no pressure was exerted on the Commission on this matter”.

Neither Hevolution, the Independent, nor the Evening Standard responded to Byline Times’ request for comment.

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Behind Closed Doors: The Murdoch Soirée the Public Isn’t Party To

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/06/2022 - 9:30pm in

Under Boris Johnson, the press baron is back in town like hacking never happened, says Mic Wright

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Rupert Murdoch held a party this week. It’s unlikely you’ve heard much about it.

Beyond an aside in the Mirror’s report on the Conservative Party’s summer fundraising bash, which also took place on Monday night – "[Boris Johnson] was later spotted, along with much of the Cabinet, at Rupert Murdoch's summer party at the Serpentine Gallery".

And as a small item in the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary – "... some went to the Conservative V&A summer party, but one said the best ticket was a Rupert Murdoch bash at the Serpentine. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and other ministers attended".

The occasion went unreported. While it’s unsurprising that Murdoch’s own titles – The Times and Sun newspapers, as well as his radio and TV stations – failed to mention the event, it is curious that other outlets also ignored it so assiduously. 

In June 2011, when the phone-hacking scandal was coming to the boil, the Guardian reported extensively on Murdoch’s party at the Orangery, which was attended by, among others, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. 

The following month, William Shawcross – the author of a fawning biography of Rupert Murdoch – wrote in the Spectator: "Ed Miliband was beaming when I saw him talking to Rupert Murdoch at the media magnate’s summer party at the Orangery, Kensington Palace, just three weeks ago. The Labour Leader has since admitted that he did not raise the matter of phone-hacking that evening. Of course not! He was trying to charm."

In Rupert Murdoch: A Reassessment, the Australian academic Rodney Tiffin wrote: "Murdoch’s annual London summer party was an ostentatious show of his power. Most prominent people in Britain wanted an invitation and felt obliged to attend, whatever they felt about Murdoch and his papers." 

Asked at the Leveson Inquiry whether Gordon Brown has attended his previous party, Murdoch replied: “Yes, I think so. Most people did.” 

“Most people did.” And yet, a press that is well aware that the party took place has not deigned to tell its readers the individuals comprising “most people” at this year's bash. It matters because we know that this is not just a jolly reception but a way for politicians to pay homage to Rupert Murdoch. 

In the week after The Times memory-holed a story about Boris Johnson’s efforts to secure a £100,000-a-year job for his then mistress Carrie Symonds, we should know which politicians are availing themselves of such a powerful media proprietor’s hospitality. 

After the Leveson Inquiry in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, Murdoch cancelled his 2012 party and there was a lull in his public demonstrations of power.

That ended in 2015 with a Christmas party at his London flat, which was attended by senior politicians and editors.

Jane Martinson wrote at the time: "[The] party, held at night and at home, may have been smaller but it marks Murdoch’s return to the centre of power more than almost anything else, the culmination of the process that has seen him regain his position at the top of British life."

Besides Johnson, Gove and “much of the Cabinet”, we don’t know who else was at this year's Murdoch party. Previous experience suggests that the guest list is likely to have included Keir Starmer and a significant number of the Shadow Cabinet. But we have to suppose that because rival newspapers and the broadcasters have not reported on it. 

This silence allows secrecy and the manipulation of the public for private interest. While official meetings between ministers and the media are published – months after the fact, it must be said, and still, not all of them – lots of unofficial encounters are kept off the books. They include events like the Murdoch party. 

The British press is fond of explaining that public figures must accept scrutiny but its proprietors are a group who still benefit from a level of outrageous secrecy. The absence of attention from Murdoch’s so-called rivals once again leaves the impression less of competition than a cabal. 

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Boris Johnson’s Telegraph Meetings Leave No Paper Trail

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/06/2022 - 8:13pm in

No notes were recorded at two meetings between the Prime Minister and his ‘real boss’ at the outset of the pandemic, reports Sascha Lavin

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When a Times story claiming that former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had tried to hire his then-mistress-now-wife mysteriously vanished over the weekend, an article about cronyism was transformed into an even more concerning scandal about the Prime Minister’s relationship with the UK’s most influential press barons.

The Murdoch-owned paper seemed to cave to political pressure from Carrie Johnson’s team – not legal threats – and pulled the story.

Now, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal more evidence that points to a worrying merger between Johnson’s Downing Street operation and the right-wing press.

The Cabinet Office has refused to release documents related to two meetings held between Boris Johnson and senior figures at the Telegraph at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Instead, in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the Cabinet Office claimed that “there was no agenda or papers” for the May 2020 meetings between the Prime Minister, Daily Telegraph Editor Chris Evans and the de facto heads of the Telegraph Media Group, Aidan and Howard Barclay. 

In other words: Johnson was holding undocumented meetings with the Telegraph at a crucial point in the pandemic – raising concerns about transparency and his dependency on the right-wing press.

Blankety Blank

On 19 May 2020 Johnson hosted Aidan and Howard Barclay – the sons of the late Sir David Barclay, who are thought to run the billionaire family’s business interests. Two days later, the Prime Minister held a meeting with Daily Telegraph Editor Evans. 

The Cabinet Office agreed to share some meeting details with the Byline Intelligence Team: the length – “less than an hour” with the junior Barclay brothers and “approximately an hour” with Chris Evans – and the location (both were held in Downing Street). But crucial details about content of the meetings remain unknown.

The agendas, briefings, and notes from the meetings were withheld because, according to the Cabinet Office’s FOI response, they simply do not exist. The Telegraph meetings were “informal business meetings”, they said, and so no such documents were to be expected.

A Number 10 spokesperson directed Byline Times to the Cabinet Office’s publicly available transparency documents, advising this paper that, “the Government transparently publishes informal meetings”. Yet, the entries for these two Telegraph meetings are conveniently opaque. Under the ‘purpose of meeting’ heading, there are only two words: “General Discussion”.

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What “business” took place at these meetings is unknown – the Telegraph did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment. However, one possible topic of discussion could have been the subsidies paid by the Government to the big newspaper groups, initiated during the early months of the pandemic.

The Prime Minister’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings has claimed that “Newspapers negotiated direct bungs to themselves with him [Boris Johnson]”.

There were “no officials on [the calls]”, he added, and Johnson “told officials to send the [money] dressed up as ‘COVID relief’”. 

Cummings’ claims confirmed exclusive reporting by Byline Times, revealing the ‘All In, All Together’ subsidy scheme, which had an initial three-month budget of £35 million, launched in April 2020, and was still in operation two years later.

Without official documents, however, it is impossible to say whether these two Telegraph meetings formed part of the ‘negotiation’ described by Cummings.

The Torygraph

This is not the first time that concerns have been raised about the Barclay family using their personal access to influence Conservative prime ministers. Aidan Barclay told the Leveson inquiry that he had advised David Cameron to call the then Telegraph editor, Tony Gallagher, every day in the run-up to the 2010 General Election. Barclay would also text Cameron, pushing for greater financial deregulation. 

Gallagher, in his new position as the deputy editor of the Times, was the person who decided to spike the story about Carrie Johnson over the weekend. He has previously been pictured jogging with Boris Johnson at Conservative Party conference.

Johnson’s relationship with the Telegraph is long-standing, having been a £275,000-a-year columnist for the paper under Gallagher’s editorship. The Prime Minister has even referred to the Telegraph as his “real boss,” according to Cummings. 

Indeed, Johnson has appeared to prioritise the Telegraph over the climate crisis, ducking out of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, hosted by the UK late last year, to take a private jet to a reunion party of former Telegraph journalists.

But it is not just the Telegraph that can boast a cosy relationship with Johnson’s Government: Byline Intelligence Team analysis revealed that between the beginning of 2020 to June 2021, ministers in Downing Street and the Cabinet office held 86 official meetings with members of the media – 70 of which were with journalists or executives at right-wing newspapers.

A free and fair press is necessary to hold power to account in a democracy. No wonder Johnson, in his bid to dodge scrutiny, has done his best to erode it.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Mainstreaming the Extreme: the British Media and Far Right Islamophobia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/06/2022 - 9:47pm in

Whether through propagating theories about 'Eurabia' or the Great Replacement, mainstream publications have helped radicalise public opinion, says Julian Petley

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According to draft extracts of the Prevent review leaked to the Guardian, the government’s counter-terrorism programme has been too heavily focused on right-wing extremism and insufficiently concerned with Islamist extremism.

The leaked documents claim that “there has been a ‘double standard’ approach to tackling different forms of extremism, with individuals targeted for expressing mainstream right-wing views because the definition of neo-nazism has expanded too widely, while the focus on Islamist extremism has been too narrow”. They also argue that it has taken a view on right-wing terror which has been “so broad it has included mildly controversial or provocative forms of mainstream, right-wing-leaning commentary that have no meaningful connection to terrorism or radicalisation”.

But as Sir Peter Fahy, the former police lead for Prevent, asked: “How are the police supposed to judge what is mainstream?” As he explained,  the police are concerned primarily with the likelihood of people being drawn into violence, not whether their views are mainstream. 

Given that the review is being undertaken by William Shawcross, whose antipathy to Islam hardly needs stressing, such sentiments are entirely unsurprising. They also need to be seen in the context of the growing assault on the numerous critics of Prevent. This is being spearheaded by Policy Exchange, of which Shawcross is a senior fellow, whose recent report Delegitimising Counter-Terrorism insists that "the biggest terrorist threat still emanates from Islamist, not far-right, extremism" and that "Muslim individuals who may present a security risk are being under-represented in referrals, given that Islamist terrorism is by far the greatest security threat".

This is despite of the fact that in July 2021, Ken McCallum, the director-general of MI5, warned that extreme right-wing terror accounted for one in five of all counter-terror investigations, a threat that had ‘grown and morphed quite substantially over the last five to ten years. A particular problem he identified was the ‘high prevalence’ of teenagers in right-wing terror investigations, which he suggested was because youngsters were being swept up in a ‘toxic ideology’ of ‘online extremists and echo chambers’. 

As Nafeez Ahmed has already pinpointed the report’s authors’ own imbrication in elements of the far-right, I want here to argue that much “right-leaning commentary” in sections of the national press in Britain goes far beyond the “mildly controversial or provocative” and has long been a key conduit by means of which the idea of “Islamisation”, long associated with far-right extremism, has been enabled to enter mainstream political discourse.

As the then UK Counter Terrorism Policing Lead, Neil Basu, pointed out in an open letter in March 2019:

"The reality is that every terrorist we have dealt with has sought inspiration from the propaganda of others, and when they can’t find it on Facebook, YouTube, Telegram or Twitter they only have to turn on the TV, read the paper or go to one of a myriad of mainstream media websites struggling to compete with those platforms."

However, in order fully to understand how such ideas have entered the mainstream, we first need to make a brief detour into history.

'Islamisation'

As is abundantly clear from the “manifestos” of mass murderers such as Anders Breivik, Patrick Crusius, Peyton Gendron and Brenton Tarrant, the perpetrators of the majority of far-right terrorist attacks on people of colour, and particularly Muslims and those who support them, have all seen themselves as foot soldiers in the war against “Islamisation”, whose latest guise is the “Great Replacement”.

This was actually the title of the manifesto of the Christchurch mass murderer, Brenton Tarrant. This notion was popularised by the philosopher Renaud Camus in Le Grand Remplacement (2012), which warns against the Islamisation of Europe and strongly influenced both Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour, the latter warning of mass immigration in Le Suicide Francais (2014). 

In The Strange Death of Europe (2017) it was cited by Douglas Murray, who warned that “Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide … As a result, by the end of the lifespans of most people currently alive Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place in the world we had to call home”.

There is in fact nothing essentially new in such ideas, which date back at least as far as the Reconquista – the centuries-long process in which the Christian Iberian kingdoms opposed and conquered the Muslim kingdoms. Much more recently, President de Gaulle argued in 1959 that it was better to grant Algeria independence than to offer Algerians full French citizenship, as that would turn France into an “Islamic country”, famously declaring that “my village would no longer be called Colombey-les-Deux Eglises but Colombey-les-Deux Mosquées”.

Also worth noting is Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel Le Camp des Saints, in which France is overthrown by Indian refugees. Significantly, this became a best-seller in 2011, is much admired by Steve Bannon and Donald Trump and is discussed at length by Murray in The Strange Death of Europe.

In 1993, during the Muslim genocide in the Balkans, the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic told the journalist Paul Koring that “the Islamic world does not have the atomic bomb, but it has the demographic bomb”, and in the same year the Serbian academic Darko Tanaskovich, in an article headlined “Europe Will Not Avoid the Demographic Jihad”, warned in a Serbian newspaper of “an economic, diplomatic, and especially a demographic jihad”. Nor were such sentiments limited to Serbia. For example, in America Alone (2006), Mark Steyn, who had by then been a regular columnist for the Telegraph for several years, appeared to suggest that genocide was an understandable reaction to demographic change, stating that: 

In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em. The problem that Europe faces is that Bosnia's demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent.

In this respect, it is surely highly significant that Tarrant live-streamed the Christchurch assault to the backdrop of Serbian nationalist music, including a piece which glorified the Bosnian Serb nationalist leader, Radovan Karadzic.

The notion of 'Islamisation' informs in one way or another books such as Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996), Patrick Buchanan’s The Death of the West (2002), Melanie Phillips’s Londonistan (2006), Michael Gove’s Celsius 7/7 (2006) and Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV (2007). And in the first decade of the new millennium, the idea of “Eurabia” became fashionable in anti-Islamic circles. One of its most prominent early exponents was the journalist and author Oriana Fallaci, who attacked what she called “Islamofascism” in The Rage and the Pride (2002) and The Force of Reason (2004). In an interview published by the Wall Street Journal on 23 June 2005 she stated that “Europe is no longer Europe, it is ‘Eurabia’, a colony of Islam, where the Islamic invasion does not proceed only in a physical sense, but also in a mental and cultural sense”.

Eurabia

However, the notion of Eurabia found its fullest expression in Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (2005) by Bat Ye-or (Hebrew for ‘Daughter of the Nile’), the pseudonym of an Egyptian-born Jewish woman, Gisèle Litmann, who fled Cairo for Britain after Suez and now lives in Switzerland.

This advances the truly bizarre thesis that Eurabia was a deliberate political project whose roots lie in the European Community’s establishment, during the 1973 oil crisis, of the Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD). This was intended to forge closer political, cultural and economic links between Europe and the Arab world, but to Ye’or, however, this was the sinister means whereby European politicians and civil servants willingly laid the groundwork for the subjugation of Europe and its irreversible transformation into Eurabia.

Through EAD, European media, universities and schools were converted into channels for Arab propaganda and historical disinformation that exalted the Islamic contribution to European civilisation and negated Europe’s Judeo-Christian heritage. The process allegedly begun by EAD continued with EU initiatives such as the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation on the Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations established by the European Commission in March 2002, and, in Ye’or’s view, the results are clearly evident in Europe’s “resurgent anti-Americanism”, “Judeophobia” and, most of all, in the “cult” of “Palestinianism” which “poisons Europe”

The Eurabia thesis has been aptly described by Matt Carr in the journal Race and Class as “flat-out barking gibberish, which falls somewhere between hyper-Zionist propaganda, crude conspiracy theory and delirious fantasy”. Yet the notion rapidly percolated through to sections of the British press.

For example, the historian Niall Ferguson referred to Bat Ye’or in an article entitled 'Decline and Fall of the Christian Empire' in The Sunday Times, 11 April 2004. This concerned Europe’s “demographic decline” and warned that “a youthful Muslim society to the south and east of the Mediterranean is poised to colonise a senescent Europe to the north and west”.

Likewise, in a Mail article on 4 November 2005 about the urban disturbances in France, headed 'Ghettoes, Race Riots and the Lessons for Us All', Melanie Phillips cited Bat Ye’or to back up her claim about “the erosion of national identities across Europe”, and similarly in the Telegraph, 8 November 2005, Steyn referred to the disturbances as “an early skirmish in the Eurabian civil war”. 

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The Great Replacement

Exactly the same process of percolation and propagation can be observed in the case of the Great Replacement theory.

This is the subject of much of the sixth chapter of Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe (once promoted, incidentally, by Viktor Orbán on his Facebook page). As Peter Oborne has pointed out, “the inexorable rise of Douglas Murray tells us a great deal about public discourse in Britain. Twenty years ago he would be on the far-right fringes”, but now he has become one of our most notable “public intellectuals”’: associate editor of The Spectator, a frequent contributor to the Mail, Telegraph, Mail and The Times, a regular figure on BBC political programmes, and from 2011 to 2018, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society. 

The “theory” is only infrequently cited explicitly in Murray’s myriad articles for British publications, but it deeply informs virtually everything that he has written about Muslims and Islam. To take but one of numerous possible examples: in an article on the 2011 census in the Mail, 11 December 2012, he argues that, for the first time, “less than 90 per cent of the country is white, while the population is increasing in size at an unprecedented rate as a result of immigration”. In his view, this has “dramatically changed the cultural make-up of this country” and “spells the end of our unified national way of life”.  

The “theory” also underlies Zemmour’s remarks in a softball interview with him in The Spectator, 27 November 2021, in which he states that “immigration is war. They want to invade our European countries”  and goes on rage that “it is by destroying our cultures, our history, that they [the “woke”] make a clean sweep of all that and allow a foreign culture, history and civilisation to come and replace it”. And even though it isn’t named, the Great Replacement idea absolutely dominates the diatribe by Lionel Shriver against immigration in The Spectator, 28 August 2021, in which she draws on statistics in two highly questionable reports by Migration Watch to warn that “the country’s original inhabitants” risk “becoming a minority in the UK”, a situation that she describes as “socially and even biologically unnatural”.

Not for nothing has Otto English described Shriver as “Tommy Robinson with a thesaurus”, and as Kenan Malik pointed out in the Guardian, 5 September 2021, what she is essentially arguing here is that for Britain to remain Britain, it must remain predominantly white. 

'National Cultural Sabotage'

That such ideas, once confined to the far-right fringes, now appear in a publication such as The Spectator is less a sign that they have become mainstream and more an indication that “right-wing-leaning commentary”, to use Shawcross’s phrase, now includes, in certain publications, views which are in fact very far from mainstream, even on the Right. 

In this respect, it is instructive, as well as profoundly disturbing, to note that in his 1,500-page “manifesto”, A European Declaration of Independence, Anders Breivik, the perpetrator of the Norwegian massacre on 22 July 2011, repeatedly referenced articles in British right-wing newspapers. He also reproduced two in their entirety, one from the Mail by Melanie Phillips and the other from the Telegraph by Philip Johnston and Robert Winnett. 

The former, from 29 October 2009, is a jeremiad against what Phillips claimed was Labour’s immigration policy, and it takes up a full three pages of the manifesto.  Given that Breivik “justified” his massacre of young Norwegian Labour Party members on the grounds that their party’s immigration policies and support for multiculturalism had opened the door to the “Islamisation” of Norway, it isn’t exactly difficult to see what appealed to him in this typically overwrought and apocalyptic tirade, which accuses Labour’s immigration policy of being nothing less than “an act of unalloyed treachery to the entire nation” and “a deliberate and secret policy of national cultural sabotage”.

Very much in the same vein as Bat Ye’Or, Phillips claims that Labour’s aim was to “destroy Britain’s identity and transform it into a multicultural society where British attributes would have no greater status than any other country’s”. 

Warped Perceptions – and Their Consequences

Of course, all of the British journalists quoted in this article would vehemently deny that they were deliberately trying to incite racial violence – but that is not what is implied here. However, what it has shown – by quoting from a very small selection of myriad possible examples – is that there is a considerable overlap between ideas which appear in sections of the British press and those which animate far-right extremists, including, at worst, street fighters, and, at the very worst, actual terrorists.

As Jonathan Portes has argued: “Intellectual, political and street-level bigotry are inseparable, both in theory and practice”. The sentiments of Enoch Powell, which frequently found house room in right-wing British newspapers, were, for all the fancy language in which they were expressed, not significantly different from that of the National Front in the late 1960s.

Similarly, the regular columns on racial matters by Roger Scruton that appeared in The Times columnist, Telegraph, Mail and Spectator from the 1980s onwards found very distinct echoes in the propaganda of first the British National Party and then the English Defence League, and helped to give them a degree of ‘intellectual’ legitimacy those who made such claims”. And the same spectrum exists today between, on the one hand, those who use the pages of mainstream publications to claim, for example, that “immigration is war” and “the native-born are effectively surrendering their territory”, and, on the other, the street fighters of Britain First.  

If readers of supposedly reputable publications are told incessantly, year after year, that Muslim immigrants are overrunning their county and destroying its national identity, and if they believe this and then use social media to spread far and wide these highly inaccurate and inflammatory assertions, this simply cannot be without consequences.

At best, these publications contribute significantly to a process whereby people’s perceptions of social reality become seriously warped – at worst, such perceptions may lead them to take violent action against those they hold responsible for what Phillips calls “national cultural sabotage”. Such articles do indeed play a significant role in the process whereby people come to over-estimate grossly the numbers of Muslims living in the UK: research by Ipsos in 2016 showed the perceived figure to be 15% whereas the actual figure is 4.8%. They also lead to people to over-estimate the numbers of those living in the UK who were not actually born here:  research by Ipsos MORI in 2014 put the perceived figure at 31%, whereas the official estimate is around 13%. Furthermore, the report noted that “newspaper readership is much more likely to be significantly related to concern about immigration, after controlling for other demographic differences, than any other issue measured (including health services, defence/terrorism, education and crime”. Because of this, the report concluded that the accuracy and balance of newspaper coverage “needs careful scrutiny”.

“Mainstream Right-Wing Views” and the Extreme Centre

This scrutiny is most certainly not going to cpme from the supine and utterly compromised IPSO, since it has repeatedly made clear that it applies Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code, which relates to discrimination, only to individuals making complaints about language directed specifically at them, and that it will not entertain complaints about the use of inflammatory language about categories of people, such as Muslims.

Former IPSO Chair Sir Alan Moses was taken apart by the Home Affairs Select Committee when he revealed to general incredulity and derision that in a year in which IPSO received 8,148 complaints under Clause 12, it upheld precisely one. 

Indeed, given its woeful record in failing to uphold complaints about the frequently extreme comments and opinions expressed by the pundits of the right-wing press, samples of which have been quoted here, it’s very difficult to avoid the conclusion that IPSO shares exactly the same view as Shawcross about “mainstream right-wing views” and “mildly controversial or provocative forms of mainstream, right-wing-leaning commentary”.

However, if the sentiments expressed by the journalists quoted in this article really are now “mainstream”, the fulcrum of political debate in this country has shifted even further to the right than when Tariq Ali wrote The Extreme Centre: A Warning in 2015. And that is extremely troubling. 

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‘Carriegate’: How the Prime Minister and his Hacks Scratch Each Others’ Backs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/06/2022 - 9:08pm in

The mystery of a disappearing story about Boris Johnson’s wife once again confirms the merger between the political and media classes distorting British democracy, says Hardeep Matharu

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Another scandal hit the headlines this weekend – or did it?

The ‘Carriegate’ affair was the story that apparently wasn’t. 

The revelation by The Times that Boris Johnson wanted to appoint his then mistress Carrie Symonds to a £100,000-a-year role as chief of staff when he was Foreign Secretary was quite the scoop.

Published in the early editions of its Saturday newspaper, the story by Simon Walters built on claims that first surfaced in Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft’s biography of the Prime Minister’s now wife – but corroborated these with three other sources. MailOnline followed suit and published an article based on The Times piece. But then the story vanished.

It was not printed in later editions of The Times or on its website and the MailOnline article also disappeared. No explanation of where it had gone was forthcoming from either publisher, while Walters told the New European that he stood by the story. A spokesperson for Carrie Johnson then told the Guardian that the claims had been “totally untrue” – but this didn’t explain why an on-the-record denial had not been provided to Walters ahead of publication when he asked for it.

The exact details of what happened may remain a mystery (although a Downing Street spokesman has suggested to Byline Times’ political editor that it did speak to The Times in between it publishing the story and taking it down) but the symbiotic relationship of Boris Johnson and the most influential press barons in the country does not. 

As Brian Cathcart has repeatedly observed in these pages, in recent years, Britain has seen the culmination of a merger between its political and media classes.

Spearheading the Vote Leave ‘revolution’, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – rumoured to be considering taking on the editorship of The Times according to Byline Times diarist Peter Oborne – are the journalist-politicians who were propelled to power in no small part due to the support of their friends in the right-wing press.

Having made it all the way to Downing Street, all of their social and professional connections in the media have paid off. In turn, they have paid for this loyalty generously. 

Dominic Cummings recently confirmed just one example.

Tweeting that Johnson had personally negotiated “COVID bungs” for struggling newspaper titles during the pandemic – which he said were later dressed up as “subsidies” – the Prime Minister’s former chief advisor exposed a story Byline Times had reported two years previously. With zero interest by anyone in the established media. 

Despite this newspaper’s attempts to find out, we still don’t know how many millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was handed to the newspapers. What we do know is that the same newspapers that received the money have been largely sympathetic to an administration that has been mired in unparalleled levels of scandal and corruption in modern British political history.

It begs the question: do we have a free press or a paid for press?

In the wake of Cummings’ tweets, I contacted the editor of a reputable online publication not usually seen as part of the ‘mainstream’ circle of titles, to place an article on why the rest of the media had stayed silent on Johnson’s bungs for billionaire press barons and how such a close relationship between the media and the press remains dangerous for our democracy. I received no reply.

But the ‘Partygate’ scandal of lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street has shown that the press can hold power to account – when it chooses to. While ITV News and the Mirror led this reporting, the subsequent inquiries and the ramifications for Johnson’s Government with the public meant it could not simply be ignored by the right-wing titles or broadcasters such as the BBC. But Partygate wasn’t the first, or arguably the most egregious, of this administration’s scandals.

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Whether it’s the economic costs of Britain’s hard Brexit; the Government’s ‘herd immunity’ approach in the early days of the Coronavirus crisis; Russian interference in the UK; or the oligarchical cronyism on display around donations, contracts and access – so many big issues are not being properly exposed by influential elements of the established press because it’s not in the Government’s interests for it to do so. The Government’s interests are these newspapers’ interests. Even as they claim that everything they do is driven by the public interest and, in the name of press freedom, they go completely unscrutinised.

What Carriegate has merely confirmed is the huge amount of influence wielded by these newspapers as to what we, as citizens, do and do not find out about our Government. 

And when they decide that keeping the Prime Minister in power is no longer mutually beneficial for them, he will be dispatched. Whether through a fresh scandal they have been holding back for the occasion or because his daily failures of leadership reach an endpoint with the public. And Johnson will accept it.

For, as Carriegate has shown: scratching each others’ backs is a normal day at the office for the Prime Minister and his hacks.

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Carriegate: The Whittingdale Scandal and Press Cover-Up

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/06/2022 - 8:13pm in

Six years ago James Cusick revealed how four newspaper groups had spiked a scandal involving the then Culture Minister, John Whittingdale. His special advisor dealing with the press is now at the centre of another scandal

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Introduction by Peter Jukes

In the light of the strange disappearance of a Times exclusive by Simon Walters alleging that Boris Johnson, as Foreign Secretary, tried to install his then-girlfriend Carrie Symonds as his chief of staff in a £100,000 a year government post, James Cusick's revelations on the original crowdfunding site Byline.com six years ago about the spiking of four stories about the then Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, have a renewed relevance.

Not only did this story launch Byline's mission to expose the private interests of the press when they try to hide stories from the public, but Whittingdale's special advisor at the time was also Carrie Symonds, now Mrs Johnson. As John Sweeney explained two years ago on Byline Times, she was the official who formulated the evasive eventual press statement about Whittingdale's relationship with a dominatrix and spoke to Craig Oliver, head of communications at Number 10, as Oliver reveals in his book Unleashing Demons. Once this revelation was finally out in the press, a spate of other stories about Whittingdale's private life emerged - including allegations he dated the daughter of a former Soviet military officer.

As I said at the time, the private life of ministers is their own affair, unless it impinges on their spending of public money, or represents a conflict of interest. Meanwhile, six years on, the ‘Crisis in British Journalism’, the systematic corruption and failure of our press to follow the public interest, and the almost complete convergence between the media and political class in Boris Johnson's administration, remains a clear and present danger to us all

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By James Cusick. Published on Byline.com on 10 April 2016

Along with other journalists at the Independent newspaper, political correspondent James Cusick spent five months investigating why other newspapers had shut down a story about the culture minister, only to see his editor shut the investigation down too

The promotion of the former chair of the DCMS select committee to Culture Secretary last year means that John Whittingdale’s lengthy relationship with a professional dominatrix and fetish escort - known to leading national newspaper groups who held back from publishing any detail - left him increasingly open to potential blackmail.

Although there is no suggestion that Whittingdale was explicitly coerced by any of Britain’s newspaper bosses, questions inevitably arise as to whether concerns about publication of aspects of his private life about influenced his policy decisions inside the Culture department.

As culture secretary, with a brief that includes media policy, Whittingdale has a powerful influence over press regulation, the mooted privatisation of Channel 4 and above all the future finances of the BBC.

So far his key policy decisions have included:

* Serial attacks on the BBC’s independence and influence

* Backing for the Treasury’s assault on the public service broadcaster's finances

* Unilaterally blocking legislation recommended by the Leveson Inquiry into the press, passed by all three major political parties in Parliament in 2013

* Personal support for the press industry’s new non-Leveson compliant regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO.

Whittingdale, according to one Whitehall source, became “The culture secretary Rupert Murdoch dreamt of, and the cabinet insider those who fought Brian Leveson’s recommendations prayed they would get.” 

Keeping Whittingdale right where he is, rather than ousting him, perfectly suits those in Fleet Street who view Leveson as a commercial threat to business-as-usual.

John Whittingdale, MP for MaldonSources in Downing Street say the Prime Minister initially offered the job of Culture Secretary to Boris Johnson. But after the London mayor refused, Cameron, who initially doubted Whittingdale’s suitability, decided instead to give him the job after taking little or no counsel.

More than a year before the May 2015 election, Number 10, according to Westminster advisers, knew some of the raw detail newspapers held on Whittingdale’s private life.

This should have rung alarm bells when the prospect of a cabinet job was mooted in the immediate election aftermath. Instead, the danger was dismissed.

Number 10 was asked this week if Mr Cameron knew his culture secretary had engaged in a relationship with a prostitute, or if John Whittingdale had been open about it to the Prime Minister before he was appointed to the cabinet. 

Whittingdale, according to one Whitehall source, became “The culture secretary Rupert Murdoch dreamt of"  

Downing Street said they would be making no comment on the matter, and as it related to Mr Whittingdale’s private life, it was up to him to comment.

The same sequence of detailed questions was put to Mr Whittingdale and his advisers. There was no response.

With Cameron’s reputation on the line over Panama and off-shore finances, and the outcome of the referendum on Europe looking far from clear, the political risk the PM took in appointing Whittingdale now looks like another serious misjudgment.

How Whittingdale reached the position he holds and manages to sustain it, is an uncomfortable chapter that does little for the reputation of Britain’s press, supposed to have cleaned up its act in the fallout from hacking.

The reality? The last chance saloon of press self-regulation, as famously described by David Mellor, has been given a convenient make-over on Whittingdale’s supplicant watch.

Round One: Mirror Group and Phone Hacking

During a five-month-long investigation at The Independent last year, it was discovered that several newspapers had got wind of Whittingdale’s relationship with a dominatrix called Olivia King. There were rumours that she had connections to the criminal underworld, but they remain as yet unsubstantiated.

The paper which mounted the first serious investigation, and put what resources they had into uncovering what was regarded as a classic tabloid tale, was the Mirror Group’s Sunday People.

In November 2013, the People’s news editor, James Saville, was contacted by a woman who was a regular source of profile stories. She offered details of Ms King’s regular job at a London sex club near Earls Court, the London Retreat, where she was alleged to use the name “Mistress Kate”. The paper was told Whittingdale and King planned to attend the 2013 MTV Europe Awards together at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam that month. MTV were said to have paid all the travel and hotel costs with Whittingdale invited because he was chair of the DCMS select committee.

A Mirror Group newspaper exposing Whittingdale in 2013 therefore carried a risk that he could retaliate through his committee and start an Inquiry into Mirror Group Newspapers

A well-known celebrity photographer is alleged to have organised a surveillance operation of the couple in Amsterdam and to have subsequently tried to sell a folio of photographs. He initially denied knowing anything about this. However, he later revised his explanation, saying the couple may have been followed, but that he had nothing to do with it.

Two weeks later the picture desk at the People used Matt Sprake, a photographer working for a daily shift rate at the paper, to take pictures at a sports awards ceremony that Whittingdale and King were expected to attend together. The main guest at the SportsAid Ball was the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton

Pictures of Whittingdale and King arriving and leaving together, hugging each other as they walked, travelling home on the tube, were taken. Ms King was also followed the next day, with pictures secretly taken of her outside the Earls Court club. A young reporter was told to investigate and dig up what he could. Although Saville has subsequently downplayed the significance of Whittingdale as a tabloid target, the MP was no ordinary backbencher. He had been Margaret Thatcher’s political secretary and a special adviser to Norman Tebbit and Leon Brittan.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Department of Culture Media and Sport committee, which Whittingdale chaired, conducted an inquiry into the future of the BBC, conducted a lengthy and high-profile investigation into phone hacking at News International. The committee brought James and Rupert Murdoch to Westminster to answer MP’s questions at a hearing which led to global news coverage.  The furore around the phone-hacking scandal led to the year-long Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, which concluded in a report by Lord Justice Brian Leveson which recommended independent oversight of any new regulator which replaced the discredited Press Complaints Commission(PCC). A cross-party agreement, signed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, endorsed both by a Royal charter-based system, and a set of incentives passed by Parliament. 

However, by October 2013 senior press figures had begun to resist any real change, stating they would not sign up and branded the proposed independent Charter oversight of self-regulation “state interference.” Although Whittingdale initially backed the charter and its costs-incentives, his position, at the time the People were probing his private life, was changing In the Commons that month, he warned the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, that it would be “infinitely preferable” to achieve a system of press regulation that delivered the “objectives” of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, but which also “commanded the support of as many newspapers as possible, rather than none of them”.  Although phone hacking turned out to have been deep and widespread inside Mirror Group Newspapers, in October 2013, a year after civil claims were first launched, the company was still vehemently denying in public that there was any problem. It was only in September 2014 that MGN formally accepted liability for hacking and began paying any compensation to victims. 

Although Whittingdale initially backed the charter and its costs-incentives, his position, at the time the People were probing his private life, was changing

A Mirror Group newspaper exposing Whittingdale in 2013 therefore carried a risk that he could retaliate through his committee and start an Inquiry into MGN activity as they had done for News Group. That could have proved damaging, embarrasing and expensive for MGN executives. The People, as part of their investigation, did gather potential reaction to their story. One senior Labour MP says that he was approached by the paper for his views on the allegations but was “not surprised” to see nothing was published. Saville said MGN’s lawyers did look at the evolving story. But he didn’t know how high up inside the company the consequences of the Whittingdale investigation were discussed. He also said he didn’t know for sure if the story had been explored by other MGN titles. The outcome?  No Mirror paper published anything. Paul Vickers 

At the top of MGN’s legal chain was Paul Vickers. In 2012 Vickers became head of the press industry group that produced proposals to sideline Leveson and lobbied MPs and the government against the new charter. He later chaired the Regulatory Funding Company, the body that went on to fund and control the Independent Press Standards Organisation(IPSO).  Those expecting that the People’s expose would mean big bucks for their information were left disappointed.

Round Two: the Sun and the BBC Cuts

The pictures of Whittingdale and King were nevertheless hard currency in the tabloid village. Sprake, with Saville and his source’s permission, now had an agency, FameFlynet, which put the photographs on the market. He took them to Fleet Street’s biggest deal-maker, Max Clifford, the now-jailed former king of kiss n’ tell. Conference calls involving the Sun and the Mail on Sunday are alleged to have quickly been arranged. 

A potential deal with the Sun was explored. The pictures were shown to Dominic Mohan, then the Sun’s editor. No money is said to have changed hands. And nothing was published. Two - possibly three, if the People was not the first - UK national newspapers now had the Whittingdale story and access to the pictures, if they wanted them. It was suggested that £20,000 was the price tag. But still nothing was published.

In late 2013 Whittingdale was continuing his attacks on the BBC, warning the corporation that revelations about six-figure payoffs given the issue of a fresh inquiry “more urgency”.  He told the Financial Times his committee would be looking at every aspect of the BBC, its structure, the role of the BBC Trust, and how the corporation was funded. If the threats sounded familiar, that’s because they had been said before – often by James Murdoch.

Whittingdale told Mosley: “You are a public figure and you know the British press. You know the appetite of the British press for stories of this kind."

The implied promise that the BBC would have its authority and power cut back, was delivered soon after the Conservative victory at the general election. Cameron’s first meeting with his new culture secretary had one item on the agenda – the BBC. A few MPs who know Whittingdale well, said he was at times relatively open about his relationship with Olivia King, but not open about what she did. He is said to have taken her to the river terrace of the Palace of Westminster to watch the 2014 New Year fireworks over the Thames.

Whittingdale had given Max Mosley a moral lecture in 2009 during a Commons hearing of his select committee. He told Mosley: “You are a public figure and you know the British press. You know the appetite of the British press for stories of this kind. Had you not always felt this was a time bomb that sooner or later was going to go off?”  This was insight and advice he seemed incapable of using when it came to his own life.

Round Three: The Mail on Sunday - 'No Holds Barred'

New information was given to the Mail on Sunday in February 2014 prompted an editorial rethink about how important the Whittingdale story was.

A small team of reporters, including some specialist correspondents, was put together by the paper's editor, Geordie Greig.  According to Mail on Sunday staff, Greig made a moving speech to the gathered team, saying this was the type of political story that defined great newspapers, and if the MoS backed off, it had no right to call itself a newspaper. 

Reporters were sent to the village in Essex where Ms King lives. Neighbours were spoken to, the ‘Dungeon’ club in Earls Court was visited, other addresses she used were checked.  The Mail on Sunday operation was described by one journalist as “serious – no holds barred.” Another journalist involved said Whittingdale (or his close advisers) were told about the likelihood of publication and that Downing St had also been contacted. No formal response was received.

Greig made a moving speech [and said] if the Mail on Sunday backed off, it had no right to call itself a newspaper.

Months later, a friend of Ms King said Whittingdale had offered his partner an assurance that nothing would be published and all she had to do was essentially “sit tight” and do one important thing. He advised that she contact the press watchdog at the prime, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), and demand that the Mail on Sunday disclose what they had ahead of publication.

The Mail on Sunday lawyers received a call that was, in the circumstances, unusual. The PCC, led at the time by Tory peer David Hunt, did not usually get involved in stories till after publication. It had no power to intervene before stories were published, and could only question news-gathering techniques. During the Leveson Inquiry, the press made much of the need to ensure that no regulator could impose “prior restraint”. Sir Brian agreed. So this was a marked break with routine protocol. 

Close to the Saturday deadline, with the Whittingdale-King story scheduled as the front page, an all-out effort was made to bypass this legal hurdle: they needed to find King and secure a comment. To Greig’s frustration, she couldn’t be found, and the story was pulled with a promise that the operation would resume the following Tuesday – the first working day of the next week.

Greig simply told them the investigation was to stop. No further explanation was offered.  

When the small team of journalists returned to the Mail’s Kensington headquarters on the Tuesday they expected to redouble their efforts to track down King. Instead, Greig simply told them the investigation was to stop. No further explanation was offered.

Over the next few days, some Mail on Sunday journalists claimed Greig had been told to back off by Associated Newspapers' editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre. Others said Dacre didn’t need to lay down the law, that what he wanted was embedded in the DNA of the Mail Group. Another said Greig was simply told to drop the Whittingdale investigation by an executive higher up the Associated Newspapers chain. Two years on, nothing critical has been published on Whittingdale’s private life in any Mail title. When The Independent’s editor, Amol Rajan, made a similarly abrupt halt to his paper’s own Whittingdale investigation, he too offered no explanation. It was left to a senior editor at The Independent to say: “We’ve got no choice. We can’t take an asset away from the Mail.”

Round Four: The Independent and the New Cabinet Minister

Throughout 2014 Whittingdale continued to attack the BBC, branding the licence fee “worse than the poll tax.” He called the fee “unsustainable” and claimed it hit the poor hardest

By September 2014 Whittingdale was treating the industry-backed regulator, IPSO, with a high degree of respect. He called one difficult story a “test” of IPSO’s credibility, saying "we need to give IPSO a chance." By February 2015 the BBC was back in the cross-hairs.

A DCMS report questioned the size and remit of the corporation, suggesting it should be cut and asked: “What is it [the BBC] there to do?” It objected to the idea of BBC One +1 channel because iPlayer was already a catch-up service.  Three months before the election, Whittingdale also appeared to know more about the inner workings of press regulatory bodies than IPSO’s chairman, Sir Alan Moses. He told one committee hearing that he knew Paul Vickers was standing down as chair of IPSO’s industry-funding body weeks before it was formally announced. Sir Alan responded to Mr Whittingdale’s insight saying “You have news that I do not.” 

One Senior Independent editor said “Whittingdale is the Mail’s asset – we can’t take that away from them."

By the time The Independent began investigating the reasons why the Whittingdale-King story had never been published, despite being known to at least three national newspaper groups, the relationship had ended and Whittingdale was now inside the cabinet. Key elements of the story however required confirmation. Did Whittingdale take Olivia King to Amsterdam and accept the hospitality of MTV? Matt Baker at Viacom International Media Networks [the parent company], confirmed in an email that return flights and hotel accommodation had indeed been paid by MTV and that Olivia King had travelled with the then chair of the DCMS select committee. (In subsequent emails Matt Baker confirmed "And yes, the invitation was +1.") Whittingdale did not declare the trip in the Register of Members Interests. Under the Commons rules for MPs, if the trip’s costs were less than one percent of a current parliamentary salary (£66,300) he didn’t need to. Flights for two from London to Amsterdam, and an overnight in a swish hotel might indeed come under the £600 mark. But the basic rule, especially for members – let alone the chair - of a high profile select committee, is set out clearly. It states: “If in doubt, declare it.”  

Asked to explain why he didn’t disclose anything about the MTV-Amsterdam visit with Olivia King, Whittingdale has remained silent. There was also a clear public interest in investigating a politician who was a member of the Cornerstone Group, a group of traditional conservatives with the motto “Faith, Flag and Family”. That doesn’t sit easily with an MP who enjoyed a relationship with a dominatrix allegedly selling sadomasochistic services.

Whittingdale’s record in the Commons on issues relating to Britain’s sex laws, including age of consent, sexual offences or prostitution, also saw him regularly voting against any greater liberalisation, this despite the secrets of his own personal life. 

By deciding against joining IPSO, along with the Guardian and the Financial Times, The Independent had no obvious reason to help sustain Whittingdale as Culture Secretary. Just as it did over phone hacking at News International and the Mirror Group, The Independent had always reported accurately any misuse of authority, including the subservience of the Chancellor, George Osborne, who met Rupert Murdoch in Downing Street before the BBC was told it faced severe budget cut-backs.

But as the investigation advanced nearer to publication, with the paper’s lawyers backing the investigation’s focus on a wider political and commercial cover-up rather than just the detail of Mr Whittingdale’s personal liaisons with a prostitute, it became clear the editor, Amol Rajan, had a problem.  The Independent newspaper, before it was shut down, was housed in the Mail’s Derry St building. It was a tenant of Associated Newspapers, relying on their IT services, canteen, security, building services, and other functions. The online version of the paper is still run from there. 

In one meeting which discussed the investigation’s progress, it was suggested we might write the story without naming the Mail on Sunday, or that perhaps the Guardian or the New York Times could be given the story, and a deal arranged to ensure they went easy on The Independent backing off. One senior editor suggested that wasn’t an effective solution because “The Mail know we are doing this and they’ll know we leaked it.” There was no suggestion that the story itself was something the paper had moral difficulties with, or was a subject matter The Independent shouldn't be wasting time on. The plan to offload it to Guardian or the New York Times suggested taste wasn't an issue and that several public interest factors - namely Whittingdale’s contradictory moral stance, his voting record in the Commons, the Mosley lecture, and questions over his expenses - all justified publication.]

Amol Rajan had a problem... The Independent was a tenant of Associated Newspapers

To complete a required legal element of the story before publication, it was important Olivia King be given the opportunity to respond. On October 19 last year “Mistress Kate” was scheduled to work at the London Retreat. Permission was sought from the editor to go to the club and speak to her. The same day Amol Rajan was speaking at a Society of Editors conference. John Whittingdale was speaking at the same event just before him.  The following day Rajan sent this email: The “explanation” promised in the email never materialised. Executives above Rajan, at board level in IPL (Independent Publishing), knew about the decision to end the investigation. Those outside the company who asked what had prevented the story appearing were told there had simply been a failure to stand it up - which wasn't true. Over the next five months, till The Independent finally stopped printing, no explanation was offered by Rajan despite repeated promises. One senior editor however said it was the “least he could do” to explain. He said “Whittingdale is the Mail’s asset – we can’t take that away from them. “ He said it was a “ludicrous situation” to be the Mail’s tenant, adding “But - that’s where we are.”

Feeling Invincible: the Minister for Media

So three newspaper groups, Mirror Group, Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, and the Mail all had vested interests in keeping Whittingdale in place as the UK’s culture and media secretary. The Independent’s editor and proprietor had their own reasons. They were prepared to bury the Whittingdale story because they supposedly feared the wrath of a displeased landlord, or feared being ostracised by a larger conservative establishment. Between them all, they managed to leave John Whittingdale, according to one of his Westminster colleagues, “feeling he must be invincible.”

By stalling indeterminately a critical element of the law passed by parliament in 2013, related to the imposition of costs penalties on newspapers who fail to join a charter-approved regulator, Whittingdale effectively gave himself an unfettered executive power over the press. This was something that all sides at Leveson said should never happen. Although victims have complained of betrayal and broken promises made by David Cameron, Number 10 is currently staying silent and allowing Whittingdale free rein. 

The power the Culture minister believes he is entitled to use, greater than any of his predecessors, is reaching elevated proportions. Whittingdale recently suggested he should appoint the members of the BBC Trust, rendering the corporation an effective “government-approved” broadcaster - a situation which would destroy its independence and erode public trust in one of the world’s most respected institutions. A legitimate question to ask is therefore: who exactly would benefit from a BBC whose powers and reach have been severely attenuated? He appears to have unilaterally decided to shelve the promised Part II of Leveson.  His reasons? None have been forthcoming, 

A legitimate question to ask is therefore: who exactly would benefit from a BBC whose powers and reach have been severely attenuated?  

During a recent meeting with victims of press abuses, Whittingdale was quizzed on why he wanted to retain a unique executive power that allowed him alone to decide whether or not he would commence a provision on costs that Parliament had passed into law 3 years ago.  His answers mentioned everything from the Convention on Human Rights, to the right to freedom of expression. He said he cared “very deeply” about the freedom of the press and was concerned about the impact of imposed “sanctions” and “penalties” on the newspaper industry. He said his decision not to bring into effect a law voted through by Parliament, which both he and the Prime Minister had previously acknowledged was an important incentive, didn’t mean he wasn’t ready to do so. He said the uncertainty kept the press “on their toes.”

When Whittingdale spoke to the Society of Editors last October he announced he had no immediate plans to sign into law any new financial penalties. He said he had listened to their concerns and would continue to review the matter.  The gathered editors and newspaper executives didn’t sound as though they were being kept on their toes. They burst into spontaneous applause.

Read James Cusick's comment on this article here

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Tι θα έπρεπε να κάνει η ΕΚΤ, το οποίο αρνείται να κάνει – Σχόλιο της Les Echos σε συνέντευξή μου στην Le Temps

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/06/2022 - 4:25pm in

Με άρθρο του στη γαλλική εφημερίδα «Les Echos» ο Pierre Demoux σχολίασε την κριτική που έκανε σε συνέντευξή του στην ελβετική εφημερίδα «Le Temps» ο «αντικομφορμιστής πρώην υπουργός Οικονομικών της Ελλάδος», όπως χαρακτηριστικά αναφέρει, Γραμματέας του ΜέΡΑ25, Γιάνης Βαρουφάκης, αναφορικά με την ανακοίνωση της Ευρωπαϊκής Κεντρικής Τράπεζας για σταδιακή αύξηση των επιτοκίων.

Συγκεκριμένα, αναφέρει το άρθρο, ο Γιάνης Βαρουφάκης κατηγορεί ευθέως την Ευρωπαϊκή Κεντρική Τράπεζα, που, στις 9 Ιουνίου ανακοίνωσε πως θα αυξήσει κατά 0,25% τα επιτόκια τον Ιούλιο και θα προχωρήσει σε δεύτερη αύξηση των βασικών επιτοκίων τον Σεπτέμβριο, ότι είναι εκείνη που τροφοδότησε τον πληθωρισμό. Η μόνη λύση, υποστηρίζει ο Γραμματέας του ΜέΡΑ25, είναι μια μονομιάς δραστική αύξηση των επιτοκίων προκειμένου να επιβραδυνθεί αποτελεσματικά η άνοδος των τιμών.

Το άρθρο υπενθυμίζει τα λόγια του Γιάνη Βαρουφάκη στην εφημερίδα «Le Temps»: «Η σταδιακή αύξηση των επιτοκίων είναι σαν να υποβάλεις σε αργό βασανιστήριο σε έναν κρατούμενο», δήλωσε χαρακτηριστικά, και πρότεινε την αύξηση των επιτοκίων κατευθείαν στο 3% καθώς, σύμφωνα με εκείνον, μόνο ένα τέτοιο μέτρο μπορεί να επιβραδύνει την άνοδο των τιμών των βασικών καταναλωτικών αγαθών και να καταστήσει τα ακίνητα πιο προσιτά. Παράλληλα, σύμφωνα με τον Πρόεδρο της Κοινοβουλευτικής Ομάδας του ΜέΡΑ25, με αυτό τον τρόπο «θα μειωθεί το χάσμα μεταξύ του επίσημου επιτοκίου και αυτού που εφαρμόζεται στην πραγματική οικονομία». Όπως αναφέρει το άρθρο «Ο άνθρωπος που βρισκόταν στο τιμόνι των οικονομικών της χώρας του κατά την περίοδο της οξείας ελληνικής οικονομικής κρίσης του 2015 και στην πρώτη γραμμή στις δύσκολες διαπραγματεύσεις με την τρόικα (Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή, ΕΚΤ, ΔΝΤ)» δε διστάζει να αξιοποιήσει την εμπειρία του.

 

The post Tι θα έπρεπε να κάνει η ΕΚΤ, το οποίο αρνείται να κάνει – Σχόλιο της Les Echos σε συνέντευξή μου στην Le Temps appeared first on Yanis Varoufakis.

On Board the Post-Prime Ministerial Gravy Train: The Lavish Life After Number 10 Awaiting Boris Johnson

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2022 - 10:21pm in

Tom Robinson explores the fortune that the Prime Minister can expect to earn after his reign finally comes to an end

Boris Johnson remains in Number 10, but when he is eventually forced to relinquish his grip on power, the blow will be somewhat softened by the knowledge that he is joining the post-prime ministerial gravy train. 

It seems unlikely that Johnson will choose to languish on the backbenches after leaving office, surely preferring instead to leave frontline politics altogether (although being an MP doesn’t always act as a blockade to personal enrichment).

And so the man who reportedly told friends he is “permanently broke” and needs at least £300,000 a year to survive – double his current salary – has the lucrative world of commercial speaking, book deals, lobbying and consultancy to look forward to. 

After leaving office, Tony Blair became the highest-paid public speaker in the world and regularly charged £200,000 a speech. Goldman Sachs even paid him an extraordinary £300,000 for one such event back in 2008. Even Theresa May, lacking the charisma of both Blair and Johnson, is charging an average of £8,422 an hour for her speaking engagements. 

She has earned £1.9 million in commercial speaking since leaving office. Her earnings are not paid to her directly, but instead to the Office of Theresa May, a listed company from which she pays herself an £85,000 salary for working three days a month.

Joining the gilded world of the speaking circuit would likely come as some relief to Johnson, for once he leaves office he will no longer have to rely on Conservative donors to pay for his flat refurbishments and childcare costs.

Similarly, David Cameron earned millions as a commercial speaker after resigning in the wake of the Brexit vote. His limited company reported profits of £1.6 million from 2017 to 2019. In April 2019, however, he took the highly unusual move of re-registering the company as an unlimited company. This means shareholders have unlimited liability, yet the set-up comes with one specific positive – unlimited companies don’t have to file public accounts. 

Lucrative Lobbying

By the time Cameron registered his unlimited company, his lobbying career with Greensill Capital was gathering pace. He notoriously bombarded senior ministers and officials with texts and emails, signed off with emojis and “love DC” to sway them to give Greensill Capital access to millions in COVID loans.

Despite being unsuccessful in his lobbying attempts, Cameron earned £7 million before the financial firm collapsed in March 2021. 

The trick, it seems, is not to get caught. While the Commons Treasury Committee said Cameron displayed a “significant lack of judgement”, it found he hadn’t broken any rules. A more shrewd former prime minister-turned-lobbyist may well find greater success if they embark upon this gravy train. 

Tony Blair cast his gaze more internationally post-premiership and made a fortune in the world of 'strategic advice' while simultaneously holding the role of Middle East Peace Envoy.

Through his umbrella organisation, Tony Blair Associates, he worked with controversial clients such as oil companies and the governments of Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Saudi Arabia, among others – earning himself millions. He was also retained as an advisor to Zurich Financial Services and JP Morgan, raking in a combined annual fee of £3 million.

Another particularly lucrative opportunity for former prime ministers are book deals, one Boris Johnson will undoubtedly take up, with a book on Shakespeare still reportedly in the pipeline.

Johnson has already penned 11 books, including a biography of Winston Churchill and a novel about a tousled-haired, bicycle-riding MP who foils a terror attack to distract from scandals about his personal life. 

Blair sold the advances to his bestselling A Journey for £4.6 million, although later pledged to donate all profits from the book to the Royal Legion. Cameron, who was reportedly asked to cut 100,000 words from his initial manuscript, sold the rights to his memoirs for £800,000.

Taxpayer Cash for Life

Prime Ministers are surrounded by an extensive staff while in office and life outside Number 10 can be a shock to the system. 

After leaving Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher didn’t know how to dial a phone and resorted to placing calls on a police line from her garage with the help of her Special Branch protection team, which was stationed there.

Taking pity on his predecessor, John Major introduced the Public Duty Cost Allowance, which provides an annual entitlement of up to £115,000 to be spent on office and secretarial costs. Since 2013, when full details of the scheme were first made public, it has cost the taxpayer £4.1 million. 

Tony Blair, whose personal wealth is reported to be up to £50 million, is the only former Prime Minister to have claimed the full amount every year since leaving office. He has claimed £920,000 since 2013, with Major claiming £919,935 and Gordon Brown £891,258. 

Since leaving office in 2016, Cameron has claimed £497,06 and May £92,668 since 2019. Nick Clegg too, despite never being Prime Minister, has claimed £444,775 since 2015. 

Yet, Brown seemingly bucks the trend of former prime ministers leveraging their status and connections to feather their own nests. He earned millions on the speaker’s circuit after leaving office, yet did not personally receive a penny of it. Instead, it was all either donated to charity or the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown to fund their public service and charity work and from which he derives no income. 

It seems unlikely that Boris Johnson, however, would adopt such an approach once he is evicted from Number 10. His money struggles are well documented, as is the fact he took a £670,000 pay cut to fulfil his life’s ambition of becoming Prime Minister – referring to his former £250,000-a-year second job at The Telegraph as “chicken feed”.

He has faced two costly divorces, has seven children – many of whom he still financially supports and a wife with a hankering for upmarket furnishings. 

The post-prime ministerial gravy train will offer Boris Johnson a way to maintain the lifestyle to which he is accustomed while indulging his ego – a combination he will, as many of his predecessors did, surely find hard to resist. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Boris Johnson ‘Bending Rules’ to Protect Alexander Lebedev as Russian Oligarch Cuts UK Ties

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/05/2022 - 6:17am in

The Former KGB officer appears to be cutting his financial ties to the UK as Johnson’s Government refuses to join Canada in sanctioning him, reports Adam Bienkov

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Boris Johnson has been accused by Labour of "bending the rules" to protect his personal associate, the Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev, as the former KGV officer continues to cut his financial ties to the UK.

Lebedev was recently sanctioned by the Canadian Government which described him as one of the "key members of Putin's inner circle" who had “directly enabled Vladimir Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine”.

However, Johnson's Government has so far refused to take any similar action against Lebedev, whose son Evgeny is a close friend of the Prime Minister.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told Byline Times last week that the UK had taken a "different judgement" about Lebedev to their Canadian allies.

However, the refusal means that Alexander Lebedev has been free to cut his financial ties with the UK.

Companies House records show that two days after Canada announced they would be sanctioning him, Lebedev ceased to be a director of Independent Print Limited.

The company is connected to the Independent Newspaper, which is partly owned by his son Evgeny Lebedev.

Records seen by Byline Times show that within days Alexander Lebedev had also cut his connections to the Lebedev Foundation charity, which has now applied to be struck off the register.

Labour's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner told Byline Times that the Government were being "too slow and too soft" to target Lebedev and others linked to Putin.

“The Conservatives have been too slow and too soft in issuing sanctions to those with links to Putin", she said.

"Following UK Ministers’ repeated refusal to follow Canada’s lead in sanctioning Alexander Lebedev, it now appears this former KGB agent and longstanding acquaintance of Boris Johnson is being allowed to move his cash with impunity before Ministers of the Crown take any action.

"This looks like yet another case of this Prime Minister bending the rules to protect his friends."

Johnson has met with Alexander Lebedev on multiple occasions, including at a party held by his son Evgeny in his Italian villa.

In 2018, the then Foreign Secretary left his security detail behind in order to attend the event, held just days after a Nato meeting to discuss Russia’s poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the UK.

Johnson also ennobled Alexander’s son Evgeny in 2020, despite warnings by the UK’s security services.

Multiple reports suggest that MI6 initially advised against Lebedev’s appointment due to concerns about Alexander Lebedev’s suspected links to Putin.

As Byline Times first reported, this advice was changed following a private meeting between Evgeny Lebedev and Johnson, of which no minutes were kept.

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Alexander Lebedev and Evgeny Lebedev. Photo: WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy

The Prime Minister recently refused to comply with a vote by MPs ordering him to release details of the advice he received from the security services against placing Evgeny in the House of Lords.

The Labour Party accused the Government of a “cover-up” for refusing to release the information.

Correspondence revealed by Byline Times earlier this year showed how Evgeny Lebedev built a close relationship with Johnson over the course of a decade.

The letters show that Lebedev lobbied Johnson to support a new Russian arts festival while he was Mayor of London, which he said had “substantial support from the Russian Government”.

Johnson, who attended dozens of dinners, parties, drinks and meetings with Lebedev during that period also told the newspaper proprietor that he would “thrilled” to secure his support.

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The Sue Gray Report: The Rotten Heart of a Political Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/05/2022 - 5:15pm in

The 'Partygate' scandal represents a systemic failure of multiple British institutions – with the fault not solely lying with Boris Johnson, says Jonathan Lis

The ink has been dry on the Sue Gray report for only a few days and already the media has begun to move on.

There was little we hadn’t already guessed and no ‘smoking gun’.

The arguably most serious incident – Boris Johnson’s apparent ‘ABBA party’ in the Downing Street flat after the departure of Dominic Cummings – warranted no investigation at all. Mysteriously, Chancellor Rishi Sunak chose the day after the report’s publication to introduce major new assistance to tackle the cost of living crisis.

And yet, 'Partygate' is not over, in any sense. Substantively, Johnson still faces an investigation by the House of Commons' Privileges Committee about his statements to Parliament. Politically, his party continues to lag in the polls, with voters expected to punish the Conservatives in two forthcoming by-elections. Ethically, he is beyond redemption.

The Sue Gray report does not merely expose the lack of principle and integrity in the man entrusted to lead us – he exposed that himself long ago. It also lays bare the decay throughout an entire state architecture.

A Culture of Impunity

A broad sweep of Sue Gray’s report emerged at the end of January, before the Metropolitan Police began its investigation into various lockdown-breaking parties held in Downing Street during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In her initial findings, the civil servant judged “a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time”.

She further declared that there had been “failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10”.

Given that the ultimate responsibility for the leadership of No 10 lies with the man who lives there, this marked an implicit condemnation of Boris Johnson himself. Crucially, Gray’s initial conclusions cut through all of the Prime Minister's excuses: that his role is not simply to observe the behavioural norms of the general population, but to set an example for it. Johnson failed to do either.

The full report reveals more detail of wrongdoing.

Contrary to what the Prime Minister always insisted, it makes clear that the guidance was not, in fact, followed. There were drunken parties long into the night; the Deputy Cabinet Secretary arrived at one with a karaoke machine; cleaners and security staff were treated with “a lack of respect” on multiple occasions; red wine was splashed up the walls of the heart of Government.

Officials’ private communications did not reveal the slightest concern about law-breaking, still less the risk of actually spreading a lethal virus – only the fear of how it might look. They did not care about following the laws they made; they cared only about getting caught.

But this was never principally about the officials. Culture is set from the top. And Sue Gray affirmed that “senior leadership must bear responsibility”. The only action Johnson has taken is to move some of his staff out of their jobs.  

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The Man at the Top

What do we learn about Boris Johnson from the report? The short answer is nothing we did not already know.

At no time has he shown any sense of duty or respect for his position. In response to the report's publication he first claimed that he was "humbled", then "vindicated". For months, he had told people to wait for the inquiry and now it had been delivered it was simply time to move on.

Facing repeated questioning in Parliament, the Prime Minister frequently smirked or looked bored. He did not dispel the perceived lack of gravity – or suggestions of undue influence on the report – by repeatedly referring to the civil servant by her first name alone.

The problem for Johnson is that each new lie demands an elaborate infrastructure to sustain it. Because he needs to maintain the proposition that he did not mislead Parliament, he must pretend never to have known that the events were illegal and never to have sanctioned – even implicitly – their wilder elements. Most preposterous of, in response to the report, he declared that attending leaving events for staff members in person was his duty.

For all this, Johnson relies on the public and media not simply taking him at his word, but responding to the issue on his own terms. It requires people to accept that he was attending ‘work events’ – an exemption that never existed in the law. This has become such an accepted part of ministers’ rhetorical ammunition that few journalists ever observe that it does not exist.

Contrary to Johnson’s claims, large social gatherings were never permitted in workplaces. People were not allowed to have parties in an office through the night just because people had performed essential work there during the day.

Nobody needs a law degree to understand this point. Imagine for one moment a 2020 press conference in which a journalist had asked Johnson whether in-person leaving events could take place. Perhaps, to mark the special occasion, there might be speeches, alcohol and food. Anyone who lived through that period will instinctively know the answer. During lockdown people were not even allowed to attend the funerals of close relatives. The Prime Minister would have emphatically said no and advised people to perform such events online.

Johnson takes us for fools, but we do not have to turn into them.

Given that everything about the COVID-19 lockdown was unprecedented, it is sometimes hard to place Partygate in context. It seems strange to ask how Attlee, Wilson or Thatcher would have responded to illegal parties in Downing Street because parties have never before been illegal. But it is necessary to do so.

Regardless of politics, and without any need for rose-tinted spectacles, previous prime ministers have had a basic sense of honour, duty and integrity. Some may have been narcissists, but they understood their responsibility and strove for something greater than basic self-interest.

This was never just about people eating cake or sandwiches. It was about basic decency and respect; taking a pandemic and laws to fight it seriously; treating the highest office in the land not as a personal amusement or unending vehicle for self-gratification but as an instrument of power to be revered and respected. To accept that the role of Prime Minister is to serve the people, not the other way round.

Boris Johnson not only failed to attain a higher level of behaviour, he even failed to meet the lowest common denominator.

Britain’s Institutions

If this was simply a story about one man, we could seek to isolate both. The problem would be Johnson, and when he finally moves on to his next entertainment, we could remove the cordon sanitaire. But it is not just about Johnson. He sets the national tone and political culture, but he is also enabled by it. Partygate reveals a devastating decay in the heart of key institutions.

First is the Conservative Party.

The number of MPs to have publicly called for Boris Johnson’s resignation currently stands at around 6%. There is no sign that there are enough MPs yet to force a vote of no confidence. The signal is clear: the Prime Minister can preside over industrial law-breaking in a national emergency – even receiving a fine for breaking laws he made – and nothing needs to happen. It does not matter that the Conservatives are basing a calculation on their perceived electoral interests and would happily despatch Johnson if it was opportune – they are content to place self-interest over basic standards in public life.

Then there is the Civil Service.

As former senior civil servant Jill Rutter has noted, civil servants were not simply involved in the law-breaking itself but the cover-up afterwards. Sue Gray was careful to note that not all civil servants participated in this culture, but it is clear that a sizeable element was prepared to degrade itself.

More worrying still is the police.

For months, the Metropolitan Police repeatedly declined to investigate the Downing Street parties. The force then appeared to derail Gray’s inquiry by changing its mind just as Gray was about to release her report. Now the investigation has concluded, it is clear that junior officials have borne the brunt of sanctions, even though their bosses – including the Prime Minister – attended the same events.

Indeed, reports suggest that Johnson was only personally investigated for two events and that the police declined to investigate the ABBA party at all. The former senior police officer Brian Paddick has suggested that the police may have sought to help the Prime Minister and has launched a judicial review.

Finally, there is the media.

While the Daily Mirror and ITV News have driven this story from the beginning, the right-wing press has done everything to trivialise and mock it. Part of that, no doubt, springs from the revolving door between the media and No 10 – one of the illegal parties was, after all, honouring the now deputy editor of the Sun, James Slack. But it is also about naked partisanship.

The Daily Mail, in particular, devoted seven successive front pages to a curry eaten by Labour Leader Keir Starmer during an election campaign. But the day after Gray’s report revealed endemic law-breaking in Johnson's No 10, the newspaper simply asked ‘Is That It?’. Much of Britain’s media is no longer interested in upholding standards – it solely wishes to defend its team.

Partygate represents a systemic failure of multiple British institutions at the same time. Boris Johnson drove and engineered the contamination, but it goes far beyond him. The poison will linger in the body politic long after he has finally vacated it.

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