Sleaze and the BBC

I remember when Labour started their nasty sleaze camapign in the 1990s against the Tories I thought they were fashioning a boomerang. It was over the top, and unnecessary – the Conservative party was going to lose the election anyway. It was bound to damage politics as a whole and to make the life of a future Labour government more difficult.

I also remember that the BBC was willing to glorify little known Tory backbenchers who had made a mistake or were the subject of allegations as "Top Tories" caught in a "sleaze row" or just in "sleaze". Experts were wheeled out to tell us it was a government in crisis. Tory interviewees were subject to endless interruption and innuendo, as the party was confused with the individuals.

How different it is today from the BBC. Labour’s Chief Whip Mr Hoon is allowed to tour BBC studios to make statements about how it will all be sorted out in an enquiry, and how the government is moving quickly to show it is a model of probity, without interruption or innuendo. The BBC does not line up experts to comment on the seriousness of the possible criminal charges, or the seniority of the Labour figures involved. Nick Robinson is an honourable exception, as he is doggedly trying to get to the truth.

When Labour came to office they changed the climate of journalists towards sleaze overnight. The fiat went out that in future husbands cheating wives – or wives cheating husbands – was not sleaze, but a personal matter that the BBC should ignore. Several of the cases of so-called sleaze for the Tories were stories of broken relationships. Under the new regime a succession of broken marriages and affairs received their lurid coverage in certain newspapers, but were not given the sleaze treatment by the BBC in genuflection to Labour’s new settlement.

The Ecclestone affair alerted Labour to the dangers of funding sources to their own reputations. It and other crises led them into legislation to tighten up the regime for reporting sources of funds. They introduced the double jeopardy system for MPs receiving money to help with their political campaigns – the need to report it to the Register of Members’ Interests in the House and in certain cases to the newly created Electoral Commisssion as well. Labour wanted belt and braces, and submitted MPs to their form filling compliance culture.

It is not without irony that it should be this very form filling culture that they have fallen foul of in these latest revelations. It was a failure to register the true donor of large sums of money that led the Prime Minsiter to admit that the party he leads had broken the rules. The first defence mounted was that the General Secretary – Labour’s own senior Compliance Officer – did not know the rules and was resigning because he and he alone had made the mistake. Many in the press doubt that only the General Secretary knew of the arrangement. The testimony of Hilary Benn, Margaret Jay and Harriet Harman – and their respective assistants – will be important in working out just how many people did know.

Today the position has been made worse for the PM by the revelation that his own fund raiser, Jon Mendelsohn, wrote a letter to the donor Mr Abrahams implying he too knew he was an important donor. This takes the whole issue that much closer to the doors of the PM’s study.

We should not lose sight of the reticence of the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears yesterday to answer questions how the decision was made to grant planning permission to Mr Abrahams. If the PM knew on Saturday of the problems, Hazel Blears and her department had some time to find answers to the obvious questions MPs and journalists were going to ask, but so far has not done so. The sooner she can give us an authoritative statement on how this was handled the better as far as the government is concerned.

There is also the question surrounding the gift of monies to intermediaries to pass it on to the Labour party. How have these transactions been accounted for? Are they all tax free transactions? Were there agreements in writing given the size of some of the sums involved? Why did the intermediaries agree to do it, as from their point of view it could prove to be all hassle and no reward if they received nothing in return for their deed?

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13 Comments

  1. Tony Makara
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Interesting to see Hazel Blears giving a cocky contented smile when asked about Mr Abrahams in the house. Such a trivial response shows that this Labour government is now completely arrogant and dismissive of all scrutiny. As David Cameron says the Labour government now thinks it is above the law and the recent whitewash over cash-for-honours has only made them more cocksure that they will never be touched.

  2. Ken Adams
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I think many of us would like to see a Conservative government cleaning out the nest of fellow travellers in the BBC. And either once more returning the organization to an impartial status or dismantling it completely. I could well be a vote winner!

  3. Ken Adams
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Sorry IT could well be a vote winner Not I

  4. APL
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    The BBC cannot be reformed, it must be dismantled and sold off – lock stock and barrel. Should have been done fifteen years ago when you had the chance.

  5. Tony Hannon
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Conservative politicians who cheated on their wives were pilloried not only because they cheated – but also because they advocated social conservativism and family values.

    Those Tories were hypocrites and there's one of the differences. The other difference is the lies that came following the allegations. Jeffery Archer was not jailed for cheating on his wife – he cheated on the sytem by perverting the course of justice.

    Remember – these sleazy Tories were only the ones we knew about – Edweena Curry and John Major were no "little-known back benchers"!!!

    Will you have the courage to approve this post John?

    Reply: Labour used the "family values" idea to give cover to their attack upon broken marriages. It would be quite easy for Conservatives to point to pro family statements and policies of this government to criticise all those Labour broken marriages, or to use it as an issue of trust – but we don't because we do understand how the whole Labour sleaze camapign dragged politics into the guttter and how no party has a monopoly on unfaithfulness.

  6. David
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Don't worry John, no matter what goes wrong with this government, they'll never be as sleazy as you. This country will never forget the hell that Major's government put us through.

    Reply: On the contrary, Labour are better at sleaze – and they invented the whole concept.

  7. ron bradbury
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I have been waiting for this to happen to neo-labour for well over ten years when it suddenly dawned on me how unfair the bbc can be with it's reporting. It loads the debate to serve the neolabs, it loads the panels to serve the neolabs, it dodges the right questions to serve the neolabs, the questioner is by accident or design totally ignorant of the subject matter to serve the neolabs. They buried bad news for the neolabs before jo moore first started plucking her eyebrows. I think it is time to show a bit of fairness. Clean up your act BBC or be as neo-labour. If you do "clean up" we will be able to call you neo-BBC.

  8. tommysunshine
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Good point. I would go further than that. In New York where I live, you would be taken far more seriously by the media than in London. Your equivalents in the Republican Party are given a serious platform on Sunday morning politics shows contrasting the Beeb which devotes its time to patronising 'youth politics' and plugging people who are on BBC TV shows .
    Consensus is a dirty word in US politics and whatever the defects of the system over here, we're all the better for it.

  9. Gaz
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Re: Ken Adams

    The only thing I worry about, is whether or not we will have enough lamp-posts and enough rope to do the job properly.

  10. Tapestry
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    As you say Nick Robinson is trying to make headway. The rest of the Beeb are a disgrace to their profession.

    Nice to read a calm reasoned assessment here in the middle such a grubby depressing time for British public life. Who would have thought we would be grubbing around in the gutter like this with all the high moral talk from Blair and Brown?

    If it were not for blogging, I imagine the Beeb would ignore the whole episode, but the MSM has no choice but to tackle this, or see their audience migrate.

  11. Tony Hannon
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Credit to you for posting comments of those who disagree with you.

    However – What country are you referring to. Labour never used "family values" to attack anything. They NEVER attacked broken marraiges. The Conservatives are the ones who said the tax system should "recognise" marraige.

    Answer the issue about prison – two Conservatives went to prison for perjury. THAT's sleaze – John.

    Reply: Some labour figures have praised marriage. This government says it wants to restore trust and believes in truthful dealings. Cheating your wife or husband means not being trustworthy. If Conservatives wanted to they could replay to Labour what Labour did to Conservatives in the 1990s. We have decided that would not be a decent thing to do.
    Many voters think Labour breaking its promise to hold a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty is a more serious offence – and one entered into by most Labour MPs who were all keen to be elected on a platform which included the referendum promise.

  12. Tony Hannon
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Prison issue not addressed.

    Praising marraige is not legislating for it.

    You tragically misrepresent what happened to the Conservative government in the 1990's. You weren't run over in 1997 because of the BBC or how Labour painted your government – among other reasons on the economy, trust, Europe, the NHS and Europe – you were ran out because people were sick of you and thought you embodied the nasty side of politics.

    Much to his credit, your leader has recognised as much and is doing his best to address it.

    REeply: I am glad you like what David Cameron is doing. I have set out elsewhere (In Singing the Blues) why I think the Conservatives lost in 1997. No party has a monopoly on individuals who make mistakes or commit offences, as today's climate should warn any Lanbour person wishing to go back to a distant Conservative past.

  13. Janice Small
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    As always, calm commonsense from John.

    No government minister was put up by Labour for last night's news, however the female Rottweiler, Caroline Flint, broke cover who, I must say, put up a feisty defence of her party's wrongdoings on Question Time.

    John is right in his assessment of the broadcast coverage of this story but the press have turned on Gordon Brown, mostly because of his young and naive puppies playing with the them over the autumn election that never was. They haven't forgiven him for that.

    This is also the chance for Mr Yates of the Yard to finish what he was prevented from doing a few months ago. Did you get the impression that when questionned by MPs that he had a lot to say but (ed – was reluctant to say it)?

    As always, I urge Tories to call the BBC if they do not feel that their stories are getting fair airtime. I blogged on this repeatedly in the spring and during the summer and was very pleased to find that the BBC switchboard was deluged when they dragged up the old footage of John singing the Welsh national anthem.

    A number of us also complained that the BBC had not covered the Pro-Referendum march in London. The following week there was my family duly covered by the BBC in their summing up of the week and on their complaints programme.

    Leftist attitudes are rife in the BBC and in the public sector and something we need to rectify when we regain power. An example of this was when I was interviewed for a non-exec board position at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust. I was repeatedly asked about my political views as my work for the Conservative Party was on my CV. The questions were totally irrelevant to my ability to do the job and irrelevant to the job description. I didn't get the position.

    Reply: They should balance these boards – bad luck.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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