Hi folks. Yes, this is another long post that takes a closer look at ‘Guido Fawkes’ and related issues, but this one comes complete with its own knockers…
The Independent – When it comes to a debate on Iraq, Tony Blair goes missing: Tony Blair has been accused of treating the House of Commons with contempt by failing to stay in the chamber to hear MPs protest about his disastrous handling of the chaos in Iraq. As MPs yesterday staged the first Iraq debate in government time since the war, the Prime Minister retreated to the quiet of his oak-panelled office behind the Speaker’s chair to prepare for a series of private meetings on more pressing matters – the row over gay adoption, a weekly briefing with a handful of senior backbenchers, and a speech to the CBI… Inside the conference, there was no mention of Iraq. “This is my second question time of the day; I think you are more polite than my first audience,” he told CBI representatives.
How interesting…. Blair runs away from the debate, leaving his flunkies to make odd noises designed to make you feel guilty about having the debate in the first place, and – from a safe distance – uses a one-liner to take a cheap shot at his challengers.
More on this further down the line. First, there’s the glorious return of hard-edged political opinion on Page 3. (Yes, I’ve been busy watching, even though I’ve been ‘away’.)
Today, lovely Nikkala (24, from Middlesex) is ‘astounded’ that the Home Office is in such a terrible state and says; “John Reid is a joke. We have dangerous criminals on the run, foreign prisoners let out – now jails are full. What next?”
Thank you, Nikkala.
One reason why the The Sun gets away with operating as The Downing Street Echo so often is that – at first glance – they appear to be even-handed in their ongoing ‘war on evil'; on the
tits face of things, Blair gets a hammering just as much as the other guy. But in reality, the readership is usually so blinded by their own hate and fear that they fail to realise that The Scum only lay into Blair or a member of his cabinet if a certain cabinet member is not to their liking and/or if Murdoch/Wade are trying to bitch-slap Blair or a member of his cabinet into line (usually on issues such as the EU, crime or immigration… and in this case, crime and immigration).
I’ve written about face/leg proximity of placement before, but I just want to jot a quick note about that right now and instead focus on the subject of the editorial I once used as an example of this; David Blunkett.
While I’ve been away, one small project I’ve busied myself with is a full dossier of Page 3 editorials… and something interesting has cropped up that I had not noticed before…
What I’m about to show you is a series of Page 3 editorials published between the dates of August 13, 2004 and August 17, 2004. There are a few things you need to keep in mind before you read them:
1. Page 3 editorials often bang on about the immorality or stupidity of this affair or that (in fact, there was one chiding Wayne Rooney on Aug 25 of the same year).
2. Over a period of about a week when the Blunkett affair was front page news everywhere (including The Scum), not one single Page 3 editorial appeared telling him what a naughty boy he was.
3. The media were not reporting on this at all until Blunkett dealt with the inevitable via NOTW on 15 August, 2004.
4. NOTW led the way with the ‘hard-working Home Secretary’ line, and The Sun followed this and went the extra mile by doing everything they could to cast Kimberley Quinn as a heartless, scheming monster out to wreck Blunkett’s career (example).
5. It became increasingly clear following these revelations how close Sun editor Rebekah Wade was (and is) to David Blunkett. Also, Blunkett had been dancing to Murdoch’s tune for years before (see: bitch-slapping, crime and immigration); in short, he was A Very Handy Home Secretary To Have On Board.
Now, watch this:
Yep: Home Office initiative, Home Office initiative, Home Office initiative.
Notice anything else?
Yep: The date on that first one is from the Friday before news of the affair was in the public domain (i.e. before Blunkett used another Murdoch title to push his line on the affair in an attempt to save his career).
Conclusion: David Blunkett knowingly acceded to the use of propaganda on Page 3 for his benefit, and did so with careful forethought.
Now, does anyone wish to explain to the class the definition of propaganda and how this classifies as same? Anyone? Bueller?*
[*Note – Fans of Ferris Bueller will, of course, contest that this commonly-used sign-off is not a correct quote, but rather, a useful composite of two quotes. I fully acknowledge this. I also choose to keep to myself the reason(s) why I am thinking about that lovable, cheeky scamp today.]
By now you’re probably wondering why this is about Paul Staines (he who likes to swan about town under the name ‘Guido Fawkes’).
Well, let me tell you:
I’ve discussed this directly with Staines on a number of occasions, and – happily – his official line on this was published right here:
“Some time ago, sparked by Tim’s obssession [sic], I asked Trevor Kavanagh about the Page 3 girl’s political [sic] reported political views. He basically said they did it to wind up people like Tim.” – Paul Staines
The first thing to note is Staines’ use of the word ‘obsession’ (see: briefing).
The second is another apparent reason to ‘let it go’… they are only doing this to wind me up. It’s just a bit of a larf.
I’m not entirely sure if Staines is buying this idea or trying to sell it… but I do know that it’s based on an extremely dishonest argument:
What winds me up about it is that it has a carefully disguised purpose; but this argument seeks to deny the existence of that purpose (and discourage me from looking into it) by claiming that it has no purpose but to wind me up. But what winds me up about it is…
So, back to Staines… I’ve seen a few comments around about his Guido Fawkes site being compared to The Sun on 18 Tory Street recently. I’m not sure in what context, but I think it’s a fair comparison.
Many people think that what the character Staines has invented does is ‘wind people up’ for ‘a bit of a larf’, and on the surface it would appear that he takes no prisoners… but I contend that the Guido Fawkes weblog also has a carefully disguised purpose, and that the New Tory relationship with him is not unlike that between The Sun and New Labour.
Paul Staines takes all sorts of cheap shots at the other parties (more on this below), but at the same time, he also seeks to bend and shape the Conservative party to his will.
There’s even a Page 3 parallel… Staines also uses what he calls ‘totty’ (in a strictly post-modern sense, obviously) as a political weapon:
Now, you may notice the odd left-wing totty piece over at Staines’ site, but these are carefully balanced with ‘ugly’ attacks. (Basically, the “Would you want to sleep with a sandal-wearing, lentil-munching soap-dodger?” line of thinking that has also manifested itself recently as one of Team Guido’s key reasons why bloggers should ignore what I say about ‘Guido'; like most lefties – apparently – I am ugly, fat, flatulent and cannot get a girlfriend.)
New Tory, on the other hand, is the All Teh Sexy…
See? The Tories not only have snazzier uniforms, they get a shot at hotter totty, too (come join us, join us, do).
Compare this with Page 3:
The purpose of the Page 3 editorials is clear; what once used to be a small level of detail that allowed wank-happy readers to imagine themselves being a little bit closer to the model currently contains a political view. It’s not quite as straightforward as Pavlov, but generally the idea is that now the wank-happy reader needs to adopt, favour or entertain a political view before they can imagine themselves being close to the model.
Where I come from, we call this “thinking with your dick” (which, I’m sure you’re aware, mostly leads to trouble and regret).
And now, finally, we bounce back to this morning’s Independent and approach the close…
The Conservatives have mentioned the war (once), and they think they’ve gotten away with it:
Independent – Steve Richards: Blair looks weak and cowardly, while both Labour and the Tories are trapped by Iraq: The calamity of Iraq hovers darkly over a confused and bewildered Government, sapping its morale and draining any moral energy. It hovers over the House of Commons too. Some argue that Britain’s support for the war highlights an urgent need for constitutional reform. There is such a need, but that has nothing to do with the war. Too conveniently the constitution gets the blame for the decision taken by ministers and a big majority of MPs to support Tony Blair. In reality minister and MPs could have blocked Blair, but chose not to do so… If the Conservatives had opposed the war from the beginning, Blair would not have dared to take as many political risks. Instead they were with him all the way. Do not underestimate the significance of this.
And, as this opinion piece also points out, they cannot credibly claim to have been ‘duped into it’ (but this doesn’t stop them from bandying this notion about in arenas where it is less likely to be actively scrutinised).
The Conservatives are quite adept at riding upon the level of distrust borne from what has happened in Iraq (and many other callous manipulations of the ‘war’ on terror) without acknowledging their often willing role*.
[*Note – if you want to be exceedingly generous, feel free to argue that the Tories have been repeatedly cornered by a political need to ‘out -tough’ New Labour.]
If it helps, try picturing a surfer who requires at least a passing knowledge of tides if he wants to catch a decent wave, but denies all knowledge of such things because he “Just wants to surf, dude!”
And this is what makes Paul Staines so very, very useful to the Conservatives; with what is widely perceived as a ‘take them all down’ attack in a time of unprecedented distrust and distance, ‘Guido’ can pick off individual targets and/or ensure that money this, peerage that or cocktail sausage in the other is what officially brings about their downfall… and not Iraq, torture or the manipulation of fear to further a political agenda.
I’m sure you can guess why this would be a desirable development for them.
It is equally useful to the Conservatives that discussion of wider issue(s) on any given topic is strictly forbidden at the Guido Fawkes website… and a closer look at Staines’ editorial choices is even more revealing…
An excellent example; you may want to have a poke around Staines’ website and see how many features he has run on the subject of torture (or, if you prefer, ‘extraordinary rendition’). The subject is used repeatedly to bash Labour (both old and new) under comments, but features? I had trouble finding any. You can go and have a look and see for yourself if you like, but the real ‘tell’ for me was that the hero-blogger who claims the fearless leaking of secret documents as part of his shtick did not take part in – or even link to – Craig Murray’s release of the torture memos in late December 2005 (you can read a nice round-up of this activity here).
At the time, Staines even claimed that things were “thin politically”, and therefore he had nothing to report. (Psst! You can see a subtle little dig from me here. Guido would have deleted anything more overt.)
Further, when Paul Staines and Iain Dale first began cooking up their Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze, they produced this list of scandals. In this long list, Iraq gets a passing mention under ‘David Kelly commits suicide’ and torture is not mentioned AT ALL.
[MINI-UPDATE – Yes, I’m aware of Iain Dale’s ongoing support for the war… but it is possible to support the war and still be alarmed by the way the Blair government conducted themselves. No, really. And you’re not going to get far applauding the removal of a torturing, murdering bastard if you keep schtum about those who torture and murder for our side.]
Have a look through the comments on that last link and you’ll see a few people picking up on the omissions. You may also notice that Iain Dale does not respond to these comments. In the relevant ‘Guido’ thread, you’ll find no mention of Iraq and torture (and you’re probably already aware that I have a little theory that explains why none would remain, even if they were published in the first instance).
Now, I make no excuses for initially buying into Staines’ and Dale’s bullshit – it was an error, and not one that I plan on repeating – but at the time, I was more concerned about adding what was missing rather looking at what was missing and wondering why.
First, I approached Iain Dale about a chapter on Page 3 and suggested that Craig Murray cover torture. Like Staines, Dale “couldn’t understand” why Page 3 was an issue, so instead I wrote the chapter about torture (a key subject that should have been an obvious inclusion in the draft list, but wasn’t).
It wasn’t until I received my hard copy of the book that I realised that neither ‘editor’ had actually read the fucking thing! (Hint: if you have the book to hand, there’s an obvious copy error/omission in the last paragraph of my article.)
You may have to be a Douglas Adams fan to get this next bit (clue/spoiler)…
Now, there are some things the Conservatives cannot openly avoid when challenged, but what they appear to be doing is not walking out the door and facing the real world, but instead climbing out of the window into a universe that has been created especially for them.
Paul Staines is one of the budding architects of this false reality.
Because it is damaging to the blog community and our democracy, I wish to make people aware of that.
I also think the Conservatives deserve a special heads-up… I’m not sure if they realise the impact the ‘vision’ of an architect can have on any given project.