Posts Tagged ‘David Leppard’

Murdoch’s Editorial Interference and Right-Wing Bias

June 7, 2016

The phone hacking scandal has been rumbling on for what seems like forever now. For a moment it looked like Murdoch himself was going to end up in court, because of allegations that he personally interferes in editing his newspapers. According to Private Eye, he almost appeared before the beak a few years ago on a libel charge, after Michael Foot sued the Times for claiming that he was a KGB agent, based on the unlikely word of Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky was a former KGB agent, and self-confessed liar. From what I recall, a number of the Times’ staff were highly sceptical of the allegations, with the exception of the editor, David Leppard. And so the paper printed the story that Foot, a principled democratic socialist, whose loyalty to his country should never have been in doubt, was a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’.

Murdoch’s managed to escape these scrapes with the law, and wriggle out of them when he has been forced to appear before public enquiries and parliamentary committees, by claiming that he doesn’t interfere with his papers’ editorial policies. Mark Hollingworth, in his book The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, points out that Murdoch largely doesn’t need to. He appoints editors he knows will follow his political line, like Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil, who before he became editor of the Sunset Times was one of the editors on the Economist. Neil told his staff at a meeting of the Gay Hussar pub in London that he fully supported Thatcher’s policies on monetarism and privatisation, although on macroeconomic policy he claimed he was further to the left, and more like David Owen. (p. 18).

The News of the World

But Hollingworth makes clear that the Dirty Digger does interfere with the editor’s running of his newspapers, and certainly did so when he took over the News of the World at the end of the 1960s. Hollingsworth writes

However, when Murdoch was faced with an editor who didn’t share his political views and wanted a semblance of independence, the situation changed dramatically. when he took of the News of the World in 1969, Murdoch told the incumbent editor, Stafford Somerfield: I didn’t come all this way not to interfere.’ According to Somerfield, the new proprietor ‘wanted to read proofs, write a leader if he felt like it, change the paper about and give instructions to the staff’. As the paper’s long-serving editor, Somerfield was used to a fair amount of independence and he tried to resist Murdoch’s interference. In 1970 Somerfield was dismissed by Murdoch.

A similar fate befell another News of the World editor a decade later. Barry Askew had been appointed by Murdoch in April 1981 after a successful career as the crusading editor of the Lancashire Evening Post during which he published a series of stories about corruption among local public officials and institutions. However, when Askew and the News of the World declined, like the Times under Harold Evans during the same period to give the Conservative government unequivocal support, Murdoch took action. ‘He [Murdoch] would come into the office,’ said Askew, ‘and literally rewrite leaders which were not supporting the hard Thatcher monetarist line. That were not, in fact, supporting – slavishly supporting – the Tory government.’

Askew believes the big clash came over an exclusive story about John DeLorean, the car tycoon. A freelance journalist, John Lisners, had persuaded DeLorean’s former secretary, Marian Gibson, to reveal details about her boss’ business practices and alleged irregularities. It was a superb story, backed up by other sources and also cleared by Gibson’s lawyer-Clarence Jones.

However, just after noon on Saturday 3 October 1981, Murdoch telephoned Askew, as he invariably did every week, to discuss the main stories. Askew told him about the DeLorean scoop and Murdoch appeared initially to be enthusiastic. Later that afternoon Murdoch arrived at the office in Bouverie Street and went straight to the ‘back-bench’ to read the DeLorean material. One of the key sources was William Haddad, who had worked for Murdoch on the New York Post. On learning of Haddad’s involvement, Murdoch said: ‘He’s a leftwing troublemaker’, although he later denied saying this. ‘I may have referred to Bill’s love of conspiracy theories.’

Murdoch then consulted his legal advisors and they decided the story was legally unsafe. The story was killed. The next day the Daily Mirror published the same story on its front page and the rest of the media followed it up. Interestingly, according to Ivan Fallon and James Srodes’ book DeLorean, it was Murdoch who arranged for Lord Goodman to act as DeLorean’s lawyer to discourage the rest of Fleet Street from pursuing the story. Within a year DeLorean’s car firm was bankrupt. Within two months, in December 1981, Askew was dismissed and he returned to Lancashire a bitter man. ‘I don’t think Fleet Street gives a damn about ethics, morality or anything else. It gives a damn about attracting a readership that will attract an advertising situation which will make a profit which will make the press barons powerful politically.
(pp.18-20).

The Times

This editorial interference did not stop with the News of the World. It also extended to the Times, when that august paper was under the editorship of the highly respected journalist, Harold Evans. Hollingworth continues

But by far the most revealing example of Murdoch’s desire to set the political line of his papers also came during 1981 when the Conservative government was very unpopular because of high unemployment. when Harold Evans was appointed editor of the Times in March 1981, he was given official guarantees by Murdoch about editorial freedom. On 23 January 1981, the new owner of Times Newspapers had given formal undertakings that ‘In accordance with the traditions of the papers, their editors will not be subject to instruction from either the proprietor of the management on the selection and balance of news and opinion.’

Within a year, however, Evans had been dismissed, claiming he had been forced to resign over constant pressure by Murdoch to move the paper to the Right. Evans’ added: ‘The Times was not notably hostile to the [Conservative] government but it wanted to be independent. But that was not good enough for Rupert Murdoch. He wanted it to be a cheerleader for monetarism and Mrs Thatcher.’ Murdoch denied the charge: ‘Rubbish! Harry used to come and see me and say, “Rupert, it’s wonderful to have you in town. What do you want me to say, what do you want me to do, just let me know.”‘ On this crucial point, Evans told me: ‘Lie plus macho sneer with a useful ambiguity. It is a lie that I ever asked him what to say… It is true that I asked his view from time to time on developments of the paper. The truth is that far from asking Murdoch “what to say”, I followed an editorial policy often in opinion at variance with his own Thatcher-right-or-wrong view.’

The evidence certainly gives credence to Evans’ interpretation of events, although he also fell out with some of the staff. According to leader writer Bernard Donoghue, features editor Anthony Holden and executive editor Brian Macarthur, there was political pressure on Evans because of what Mrs Thatcher called ‘the Times centrist drift’. When unemployment had reached three million in the summer of 1981 Murdoch and Gerald Long, Managing Director of Times Newspapers, wanted the Times to emphasize the number of people in work. Evans declined and Murdoch snapped at him: ‘You’re always getting at her [Mrs Thatcher].’ The Times editor and his proprietor continually argued over economic policy and on one occasion Evans received an extraordinary memorandum from Gerald Long: ‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer says the recession has ended. Why are you have the effrontery in the Times to say that it has not.’

Evans believes the Times was simply taking a more detached, independent editorial position. But by early 1982, Murdoch was clearly losing patience. According to Bernard (now Lord Donoghue, a leader writer and now a stockbroker at Grieveson & Grant, Murdoch had promised Mrs Thatcher that the Times would be back in the Conservative camp by the Easter of that year. But the editor refused to submit to what he later called ‘political intimidation and harassment’. On 12 March 1982, Evans wrote the following editorial: ‘ Unemployment is a social scandal… We favour a more competitive society as against one which is subject to the monopoly power of capital or the trade unions. Three days later Evans was dismissed.

Such lack of sovereignty and independence by the editor has been prevalent throughout the Murdoch empire. ‘I give instructions to me editors all round the world, why shouldn’t I in London,’ he told Fred Emery, home affairs editor of the Times, on 4 March 1982. However, since 1983 all four of Murdoch’s London papers have taken a consistently pro-Conservative government line and so there has been no need to interfere. According to a report on the Sunday Times’ ‘Insight’ team, this is how the system works: ‘Murdoch appoints people who are sympathetic to him. Thus most of the senior staff like Hugo Young have left or been completely emasculated or replaced… To survive you have to self-censor. You approach a story in a different way than if you’d run it in the way you wanted to.’ (pp. 20-1).

The Sun

Hollingsworth concludes that Murdoch actually rarely interfered with the Sun, as under its editor Larry Lamb, who was knighted by Thatcher in 1980, it had already moved to the Tory right, a policy that was continued by the succeeding editor, Kelvin MacKenzie. (p. 21).

So while Murdoch may not interfere in the day-to-day editorial matters of his newspapers any more, they do reflect his personal political opinions and his own personal style of journalism, as carried out by compliant, sympathetic editors.
There was an outcry when he tried to buy the News of the World in 1969. The paper’s then-management were worried about how he would change the paper. And the same fears were raised again when he went off and bought the Times in the late ’70s or first years of the ’80s. There were indeed plans to refer his proposed purchase to the monopolies and mergers commission, though that might have been when he bought the Daily Herald and turned it into the Scum.

And his critics were right. He is not a fit and proper person to own a paper, and he should never have been allowed to buy them. It says much about Thatcher’s grubby, domineering leadership that he was.

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The British Intelligence Service’s Plans for a Coup and the Internment of Radicals in the 1970s

February 17, 2016

Earlier this evening I reblogged a piece from Vox Political, where Mike discussed a piece in the Canary about Cameron’s plans to isolate Islamist radicals in a special prison, rather like Guantanamo Bay. Mike raised the obvious and chilling question of whether this would be a concentration camp, especially with the government’s secret courts providing the legal basis for the Nazi-style Nacht und Nebel round-up and imprisonment of radicals.

I believe Mike’s fears are entirely justified. In the mid-1970s there were sections of the establishment that openly advocated a coup against the-then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. They’re discussed by the journalist and frequent guest on the News Quiz, Francis Wheen in his book, Strange Days Indeed: Paranoia in the 1970s. They’re also discussed, along with other intrigues and campaigns by MI5 and MI6 against the Labour left in ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone’s book, Livingstone’s Labour: A Manifesto for the Nineties. He writes

As the economy disintegrated under Wilson’s mismanagement, there began to be talk of the need for a change of government or even a coalition of the great and the good drawn from the British establishment. In the summer of 1967, the CIA, the FBI, MI5, MI6, and the Australian and New Zealand security services met in secret in Melbourne, Australia. They were addressed by Golitsin about his Wilson allegations and Wright presented information which he claimed raised the question of the loyalty of Willi Brandt. This meeting was followed by a visit to MI5 by Angleton who claimed to have confirmation from another source, whom he claimed could not be named, that Wilson was indeed a Soviet agent.

Matters began to hot up when the press baron Cecil King, a long-standing MI5 agent, began to discuss the need for a coup against Wilson. He informed Peter Wright that the Mirror would publish any damaging anti-Wilson leaks that MI5 wanted aired, and at a meeting with Lord Mountbatten and the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Solly Zuckerman, King urged Mountbatten to become the leader of a government of National Salvation. Zukerman pointed out that this was treason and left the meeting which came to nothing due to Mountbatten’s reluctance to act. (P. 53).

He also states that one army intelligence officer states that the security services had also convened meetings to determine the location of a possible internment camp for radicals in the Shetland Islands. One of those involved in this process was George Young, who had been the deputy head of MI6. ‘Red’ Ken quotes this passage from Young’s Subversion and the British Riposte, published in 1984:

(A) security counter-action need cover no more than 5,000 persons, including some 40 MPs, not all of them Labour; several hundred journalists and media employees, plus their supporting academics and clerics; the full-time members and main activists of the Communist party and the Socialist Workers Party; and the directing elements of the 30 or 40 bodies affecting concern and compassion for youth, age, civil liberties, social research and minority grievances. The total internment could easily be accommodated in a lesser ‘Gaelic Archipelago’ off the West Highlands.

Livingstone goes on to state that in the end the talks of coups amounted to nothing through a variety of factors. King lost his place at Mirror newspapers because of his increasingly erratic behaviour, which got worse. In 1974 he gave a speech to a group of officers at Sandhurst, urging them to overthrow Wilson in coup. ‘They thought he was made’, says the Bane of Thatcher. (p.54)

He also states that MI5 was also behind smears that Ted Heath was gay. Apparently the Tory MP Captain Henry Kerby was used to spread the rumour that the Tory Prime Minister was gay and had had an affair with a Swedish diplomat. Says Ken ‘I suspect that for some in MI5 being a Swedish diplomat and homosexuality were virtually synonymous anyway.’

Livingstone says that this sound like something from one of Frederick Forsythe’s grotty novels, but it’s all true and deadly serious. I’m sure he’s right. And the same kind of rumour mongering started again in the 1990s about the late former Labour leader, Michael Foot. It was Golitsin again. According to the defector, Foot was a KGB spy codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’. Really. And the conduit for the smear, which cost Murdoch a liberal actions, was the Times under its editor David Leppard.

You’d like to think that MI5 and MI6 had changed since the days of Thatcher. David Cameron, however, is despite all his verbiage about ‘One Nation’ Toryism, a Far Right authoritarian. I simply don’t think you can discount the idea that he would start rounding people up as subversives, not just Muslim radicals, but anyone, anyone at all, if he could get away with it. And his decision to start setting up special jails of Islamists seems to confirm it.

Cameron’s is a government of ‘filofascisti’. It’s the terms the Italians used to describe the ’80s generation of Yuppie Fascists. Rather than appear in Blackshirts and jackboots, they all adopted sharp business suits, and posed for the cameras like the models in GQ adverts for suits. The desire to imprison, beat, and attack immigrants, trade unionists, Socialists, Communists and others remained. Just as it is with Cameron and his pack of thugs.

Guy Debord’s Cat on the Hypocrisy of the Democratic Unionists

October 7, 2015

The Cat has also written an article about the hypocrisy of the Democratic Unionists in claiming that their opponents are supporters of the IRA, while they themselves have also links to Loyalist terrorist thugs like the Ulster Volunteer Force. These paramilitaries have connections in their turn to British Fascist groups, like Britain First.
The Cat’s article begins

The stench of hypocrisy coming from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has been overpowering. In the last few weeks, we’ve been treated to Peter Robinson flouncing out of Stormont on the grounds that “the IRA continues to be active”, while Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader at Westminster rose to his feet during Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday to accuse John McDonnell of being in league with the IRA. Yesterday, Dodds appeared on The Daily Politics to repeat his smear. Andrew Neil, who had earlier interrupted economist, Richard J Murphy, sat there passively while Dodds came out with smear after smear. Not once did Neil mention Dodds’s appearance at the funeral of John Bingham, a Loyalist thug. Not once did Neil mention Dodds’s leader’s involvement with Ulster Resistance, a Loyalist outfit with links to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Red Hand Commando (RHC). Not once did Neil challenge the DUP’s credibility. It was as if none of this mattered. This told The Cat that the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media continues to have a blind spot when it comes to links between the DUP and Loyalist paramilitaries. Some of those paramilitary groups, the UVF especially, acted as death squads for the British state.

Since Jeremy Corbyn entered the Labour leadership election, the mainstream media has constantly sought to discredit him. Once he became leader, those efforts have intensified. Now it’s guilt by association. The recent accusation that Corbyn and McDonnell have accommodated ‘terrorists’ is predicated on two things: first, that talking to the IRA is in itself an indication of support for terrorism and second, the Thatcher government never made any contact with the IRA. Both of these things are untrue. The Thatcher government maintained contacts with the IRA throughout the 1980s. This has been continually overlooked by the likes of Andrew Neil and others.

This last paragraph was born out today by Cameron’s gross lie that Corbyn was a supporter of terrorism. There was no evidence produced to support this piece of vile rhetoric, so I suppose it must be based simply on Corbyn’s expressed support for a united Ireland.

Wanting a united Ireland does not automatically make you a supporter of terrorism. There are many people, who’d like a united Ireland, but who have no sympathy for terrorism of whatever stripe. The border with Eire is entirely artificial, to the point where it apparently cuts across farmer’s fields. Ireland was a united country before it was split into two following a Loyalist uprising in Ulster in the wake of the creation of the Irish Free State. In many ways, a united Ireland would make quite a bit of sense, though it should have to be done with the consent of the Protestant majority.

As for Thatcher not talking to the IRA, as I’ve said in my last article, this is another lie. She, and Heath before her, both talked to the IRA, though the Tories only settled on a peaceful solution after the IRA bombed Canary Wharf, and so threatened British financial capitalism. The people, who’d been murdered in terrorist attacks before then didn’t matter, except possibly as propaganda material to fuel further outrage. What really mattered to the Tories and their elite backers was the economic threat. It shows precisely where their priorities lie, and continues to lie with their demonization of the poor and sale of cheap, benefit-slave labour to big business under the workfare schemes.

And all this bile and hypocrisy has just come back with Cameron at the Tory party conference. More proof that the Tories have never changed, and that when they’re challenged, they’ll come out with a lie about the other fellow being subversive. Like when the Times, under David Leppard, ran a completely bogus story about the former Labour leader, Michael Foot, being a KGB agent with the codename, ‘Comrade Boot’. Or when the Sun ran a ‘Red scare’ story during the 1987 General Election, effectively claiming that Labour were full of dangerous Communists ready to hand Britain over to Moscow. Well, this was the plot of one of Frederick Forsythe’s wretched books, and he was Thatcher’s favourite novelist. We’re back, once again, to Maggie and her posture of embattled, defiant patriotism, dividing the country into those who were ‘one of us’, and those, who weren’t.

Cameron claims he’s leading us to the future. He’s not. This is the politics of the Thatcherite past, including the terrorist bloodshed across Ulster and Britain. Cameron owes his position as leader of the Tories to a campaign in which he attempted to position himself as more like Tony Blair than Maggie. He claimed to show that his party was more than just Thatcher. It wasn’t, and isn’t. And this latest attack shows it.

Owen Jones on the Middle Class Domination of the Houses of Parliament

May 5, 2014

I posted a piece this morning on early trade unionist campaigns to get the vote for the working class and working men into parliament and the local authorities. This was in response to the way working people have become increasingly ignored and excluded by the political class, to the point where many feel disenfranchised.

Owen Jones in Chavs describes the way parliament has become overwhelmingly upper and middle class in its composition:

We’ve seen that prominent politicians manipulated the media-driven frenzy to make political points. Like those who write and broadcast our news, the corridors of political power are deominated by people from one particular background. ‘The House of Commons isn’t representative, it doesn’t reflect the country as a whole,’ says Kevin Maguire. ‘It’s over-representative of lawyers, journalists-as-politicians, various professions, lecturers in particular … There are few people who worked in call centres, or been in factories, or been council officials lower down.’

It’s true to say MP’s aren’t exactly representative of the sort of people who live on most of our streets. Those sitting on Parliament’s green benches are over four times more likely to have gone to private school than the rest of us. Among Conservative MPs, a startling three out of every five have attended a private school. A good chunk of the political elite were schooled at the prestigious Eton College alone, including Tory leader David Cameron and nineteen other Conservative MPs.

There was once a tradition, particularly on the Labour benches, of MPs who had started off working in factories and mines. Those days are long gone. The number of politicians from those backgrounds is small, and shrinks with every election. Few than one in twenty MPs started out as manual workers, a number that has halved since 1987, despite the fact that that was a Conservative-dominated parliament. One the other hand, a startling two-thirds had a professional job or worked in business before arriving in parliament. Back in 1996, Labour’s then deputy leader John Prescott echoed the Blairite mantra to claim that ‘we’re all middle-class now’, a remark that would perhaps be more fitting if he had been talking about his fellow politicians. (p. 29)

It would be easy, but lazy, to portray parliament as a microcosm of the British class system. It isn’t, but it certainly showcases the gaping divides of modern society. When I interviewed James Purnell just before the May 2010 election that brought the Tories and their Lib Dem allies to 10 Downing Street, I put to him how unrepresentative Parliament was: two-thirds of MPs came from a professional background and were four times more likely to have attended a private school than the rest of the population. When I referred to the fact that only one in twenty MPs came from a blue-collar background, he was genuinely shocked. ‘One in twenty?’

When I asked him if this had made it more difficult for politicians to understand the problems of working-class people, he could hardly disagree. ‘Yes, indeed. I think it’s become very much a closed shop …’ For Purnell, this middle-class power grab was the result of a political system that has become closed to ordinary people.

In the build-up to the 2010 general election, a number of excited headlines claimed that trade unions were parachuting candidates into safe seats. ‘Unions put their candidates in place to push Labour to the left,’ bellowed the Times. And yet, in the end, only 3 per cent of new MPs were former trade union officials. There was no similar outrage about the number of prospective candidates with careers in the City – the sector that, after all, was responsible for the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. One in ten new MPs had a background in financial services, twice as many as in the 1997 landslide that brought Labour to power. Politics has also increasingly been turned into a career rather than a service: a stunning one in five new MPs already worked in politics before taking the parliamentary oath. pp. 104-5).

He then contrasts with the great political figures from Atlee’s cabinet of 1945 from the working class: Nye Bevan, Ernest Bevin, and Herbert Morrison. They were a miner, farm boy and grocer’s assistant, respectively. He contrasts this with the Tory jeers about John Prescott’s working class origins.

When he entered the House of Lords, that retirement home for the ruling elite, the Telegraph’s chief leader writer scoffed: I’m not sure ermine suits John Prescott.’ the comments left by Telegraph readers on the newspaper’s website were a class war free-for-all. One passed on a friend’s hilarious description of him as ‘the builder’s bum-crack of the Labour Party’. ‘Baron Pie & Chips’ and ‘Prescott is a fat peasant’ were other witticisms, as was ‘John “here’s a little tip” Prescott’. Someone has to serve the drinks between debates!’ guffawed another. Prescott was ridiculed because some felt that by being from lowly working-class stock, he sullied the office of deputy prime minister and then the House of Lords. (p. 106).

We desperately need more working class people in parliament. And as for the Telegraph, Buddyhell over Guy Debord’s Cat has posted a long series of pieces on just how frighteningly far-right the commenters on their website are. Very many of them post horrendously racist and overtly Fascist messages. One even suggested that the Nazis were being demonised out of ignorance (!) and that this would not happen if people knew more about them. (!)
No, the Nazis are demonised because people know exactly what they are like. Hence the attempts by Nazi apologists to deny the Holocaust ever happened, or played down the number of people who were murdered. The Cat has noted that the Telegraph uses the excuse that it can’t be held responsible for what it’s commenters post, and it is therefore not responsible for the ravings of the assorted stormtroopers that post there. This won’t wash. Other website are modded, and stopping genocidal racists from advocating mass murder is one of the few infringements to the right to free speech that most people would applaud. But not, it seems, the Torygraph. Either – God help us! – the editors secretly agree with these rants, or else they are following the old tactic Enoch Powell adopted with his supporters from the Far Right. Powell actually personally wasn’t racist. He spoke Urdu, and had served on various official bodies promoting civil rights for Blacks and Asians before the infamous ‘River of Blood’ speech. See the section on him in Bloody Foreigners: Immigration and the English. He actually hated the NF, but cynically used their support.

As for the Times, this is the quintessential paper of the establishment. I’ve got a feeling it was edited for a time by the very blue-blooded Peregrine Worsthorne. Under David Leppard, it saw fit to publish the lie that Michael Foot was a KGB agent. No wonder it printed scare stories about a coming union left-wing takeover.