Monday, July 21, 2003

The fix is in....

It didn't take long for the government's line of attack to become obvious after the death of Dr Kelly, and it could hardly have been more depressing, more unworthy or more dishonest. The strategy is obviously to whip up a BBC-bashing campaign in the Murdoch press, always willing to have a pop at their oh-so-inconvenient competitors, in order to demonise the BBC and divert attention from the government. A succession of voices were put up for this task - the first being Lord Barnett on Radio 5 this Saturday. Barnett is a Labour peer and former minister in the Wilson-Callaghan administration, and was once one of the BBC governors. He couldn't get going quickly enough. It was the BBC's fault. They had clearly sexed up their story. No mention of the clear and evident fact that the dossiers are a crock of shit - practically nothing in them appears to be supported by reality, and there are absolutely no points on which they err towards caution. All the falsehoods support the government's view - an interesting coincidence. Whether or not Alistair Campbell personally altered them after the intelligence services had finished is irrevelant - the government lied. Gilligan's report is in fact broadly true - the dossier bears as much relation to reality as a porno film. Lord Barnett is largely remembered for the Barnett formula, the arcane mechanism by which UK government payments to Scotland are calculated and which means that the government must needs spend considerably more for every Scot than for anyone else. If that was my political legacy, I'd shut up, but his lordship clearly finds it necessary to do Ali C's dirty work from beyond the political grave.

No amount of BBC bashing can explain or excuse the fact that MOD, having apparently initiated a witch hunt for Kelly, then decided to ask journalists to put forward their names for the source, promising to tell them if they were right. (That the ministry knew demonstrates that the witch had already been located.) This unpleasant, gangster proceeding effectively made the hacks accomplices in the Whitehall effort to silence criticism within the civil service - for what else was it? - and guaranteed a maximum of publicity. Why were MoD policemen sent with him to the select committee? Why, in the account of the Guardian's Patrick Wintour, was one of the Modplod taking notes of Kelly's evidence? After all, they could always have read the transcripts. Yesterday, I saw on the cover of the Independent the face of Geoff Hoon - the chubby arrogance, the tiny piggy eyes, the vast braying mouth, the nauseating hauteur - and it struck me that it was the face of a Tory, a disgraced and disgraceful reactionary. Born to rule. And - I felt absolutely nothing. It's the end. For the first time, I really don't care whether they stay in government.

What can we expect? It depends, I suppose, if the No.10/Murdoch campaign against the BBC sticks or not. If the spin offensive succeeds in getting a high-profile scalp at the BBC, the media machine will move on and the government will have got away with it yet again. And they will ask us to forget all about their lies, and all about Dr Kelly. Will we? Somehow I doubt it. Blood will out, and this is the first British scandal with a body for years. I doubt, though, if that will be enough to shift Blair if he succeeds in bullying the Beeb. In this case, we will go on much as before with a government increasingly the butt of general distrust and alarmingly intense loathing, a furiously excited press and a prime minister more and more deluded by power. The government will continue to rule by virtue of incumbency, without the real consent of the public. It is to be expected that the government will attempt to take revenge on the BBC, roared on by Tories and the Sun. This could take a few forms - intensive bullying of senior staff and interference with appointments, with the invaluable aid of the coming renewal of the Royal Charter as a big stick. Call it Berlusconisation. Or perhaps Railtracking - a forced reorganisation with the effect of making the corporation ineffective and of raising a certain amount of money by partial privatisation? Either way, in this case Blair will either finally fail in trying to control the BBC, or he will Texanise the media (even if he doesn't want to) and leave us without a real news network, but with really cheap cable repeats.

If the scandal cannot be shifted, though - what then? It is hard to imagine Clare Short's "elegant succession" being realised, as Blair will doubtless convince himself everyone still loves him. But in this case, he can hardly survive. There will be an undignified scrabble followed by abject scuttle as those MPs whose morals are sufficiently weak to back him finally feel the waters rising and flee the ship. (Think of Eric Illsley, of the Foreign Affairs committee, who today declared that the BBC reports were "made up". So where are the weapons then Eric? And how long will he stay so loyal before betraying? I'd give him about five minutes.) Unfortunately, he's too young to disappear into decent obscurity, and will hang around annoyingly for years. Let's drain the swamp. We could...have a general election. Now there's an idea - perhaps we could even call it democracy.

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