Should we laugh when the Daily Mail flex their muscles?

I admit it. I laughed at #piggate. But should I have?

Four years ago, a scandal engulfed the newspaper industry. The News of the World was closed down, and News International reporters were arrested.

Before, all politicians knew, if a major tabloid newspaper targeted them, they had good reason to be afraid.

After, I remember the heady celebration of politicians who compared it to liberation from a police state.

“Don’t worry,” one said, when asked if this kind of threat would return. “It’s like when people stop being afraid of the secret police. If no one is afraid, they lose their power.”

Well, if I were a politician who has made an enemy of a tabloid, I’d be pretty nervous now.

It doesn’t matter if they’ve nothing to hide themselves. How many politicians don’t have a friend or a relative who has a secret they don’t want spread across the front page?

Besides, the authors of this book acknowledge that this is an unsubstantiated allegation, and that it could be a case of mistaken identity.

I’m no fan of the Conservatives. Their budget after the May elections was a disgrace. Robin Hood in reverse, covered by the fig-leaf of the Living Wage, which itself may result in 60,000 people losing their jobs.

However much I dislike his policies, without proof, we should regard Cameron as innocent.

As Liberal Democrats we believe in justice for all, even our political opponents.

Yes, I laughed. I shouldn’t have.

* George Kendall is the acting chair of the Social Democrat Group. He writes in a personal capacity.

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  • Patrick Murray 23rd Sep '15 - 11:32am

    glad to see this article George. I admit I laughed too, but it looks very much like a former donor who bought himself a seat in the Lords and thought he could buy himself a senior Government position, found that he was ‘only’ offered a more junior post and so has avenged this ‘snub’ with a fairly outrageous smear. The much bigger part of this story is the open corruption part.

    I’m no fan of Cameron at all, but a single unnamed source is just not reliable enough for me, especially when it’s published in such a bastion of misinformation as the Daily Mail. Just because the Mail’s going after Cameron, doesn’t mean they aren’t telling their usual batch of porkies… (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

  • I’m no fan of Cameron, so it just keeps giving. This is his place in history like Marie Antoinette and cakegate.

  • I think the thing we laugh at is that although the Mail is no great fan of Mr Cameron, and likes to poke him for a few days with this little stick, just think of how they would have dealt with these allegations had they been a Lib Dem or Labour Leader.

  • Dave Orbison 23rd Sep '15 - 1:05pm

    George interesting post no least because a few days you wrote “The election of Jeremy Corbyn last week could give our party a chance to survive, which might not have been there before. His view of a government run economy, of printing money for projects, for abandoning the EU and our nuclear deterrent gives the Tories a huge amount to attack him on. We all know that the Tory press will have a field day.” Corbyn hasn’t abandoned the EU. Many in the LibDems support unilateralism. Many posts on here have happily parroted anti-Corbyn stuff with no concerns to its accuracy.

    I agree with your sentiments – I posted recently that once upon a time a Liberal Leader would have stood up and condemned witch-hunts in the Press. Sadly Farron seems willing to use the Tory Press as leverage to attack Corbyn. Interesting then that it is the report of Cameron that causes you to speak out. By the way I think the stories of the Bullingdon Club -smashing restaurants, burning £50 notes in front of homeless are not fiction. Whether piggate is real or not, the other exploits of the Bullingdon Club ‘members’, even allowing for the dismissal excuse of youthful immaturity, tells you all you need to know about these people. Dig deep but I have yet to hear anything like this that is a stain on Corbyn. I can understand that the LibDems have political differences with Corbyn’s Labour Party, though they have jumped too soon in my view, but it seems a great shame that the Media witch-hunts of politicians has been, to be charitable ignored until Cameron is the target. The LibDems even seemed unmoved to condemn the suggestion of a coup by a serving general – but piggate and attacks on Cameron…. well, that just going too far.

  • George Kendall 23rd Sep '15 - 4:03pm

    @Patrick Murray
    Thanks 🙂

    @Dave Orbison “a few days you wrote…”

    Surely, you’re mistaken. That was Gerald Vernon-Jackson writing here:

    “Many posts on here have happily parroted anti-Corbyn stuff with no concerns to its accuracy”

    Some of the stuff will have been inaccurate, just as you were inaccurate in your quote of me, but surely you’re not arguing that those inaccuracies are as serious as the piggate slur?

    Jeremy Corbyn has been attacked a great deal for statements he has made, and for policy positions he is believed to have held. Some of that will be inaccurate. It’s regrettable, but it’s normal in the rough and tumble of politics for people to be sloppy when claiming what someone said or what someone believes.

    The Ashcroft book is an attack on a totally different scale. Frankly, if I were Corbyn, I’d strongly condemn what Ashcroft has done. That would be the right thing to do. It’d also be politically clever. And, Jeremy, if you’re reading this, there’s still time to do it!

    I’ve not read any attacks on Corbyn from Farron that were anything other than perfectly normal attacks against a political opponent.

    “By the way I think the stories of the Bullingdon Club -smashing restaurants, burning £50 notes in front of homeless are not fiction”

    Probably. I’ve no idea if Cameron was personally involved with them. After the recent budget, I’m not feeling well-disposed to him, but I’ve no evidence that he was involved.

    But that’s by the by. Surely you need to be totally sure of your facts before launching an attack as serous as piggate?

    “unmoved to condemn the suggestion of a coup by a serving general”

    Fair point. I’ll condemn it now. And I’m not happy with the excuse of the MoD that finding the identity of the general would be impossible.

    But I’m not planning a post on that. I’m currently thinking about two posts: one showing how regressive the budget really was, and one attacking the way that welfare is now run.

  • Dave Orbison 23rd Sep '15 - 7:34pm

    @ George – please accept my apologies I should have addressed my comments to Gerald whom I quoted, though my sentiments are the same. I have no doubt whatsoever that Jeremy Corbyn would have nothing to do with piggate. His conduct in the Labour Leadership election was exemplary in sharp contrast to his rivals. But as to your reference re the “normal in the rough and tumble of politics” that is a different matter. The scale of the assault on Corbyn by the Media is far from the ‘norm’ and is too be lamented. Much of the attack on Corbyn, including here on LDV, is because he is advocated pushing back on the austerity programme. He has come up with an alternative that many economists support. However, Farron and others here, have rejected Corbyn’s approach ‘as silly’ and ‘not grown up politics’ and worse. Yet he has in his speech committed to support the deficit reduction by 2018. Presumably without huge cuts in benefits or public services? I’m not sure. Can anyone tell me what Farron’s economic plan is?

  • Graham Evans 23rd Sep '15 - 9:10pm

    Unlike many people whose reputations are tarnished by the Press, Cameron can afford to sue the Daily Mail and Lord Ashcroft. Surely it is his duty to do so, if only to make the point that the Press cannot always get away with peddling lies.

  • George Kendall 24th Sep '15 - 7:44am

    @Dave Orbison

    That’s fine, David. We all make mistakes.

    One of the reasons for the above article, is I’m planning a series of articles which will be very critical of Cameron. And I felt, in conscience, before that, I had to disassociate myself from attacks that are, in my opinion, totally unethical.

    You’re right, of course, that the scale of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn have been enormous. But any more than those on Nick Clegg just after the first debate in the 2010 General Election? Not that I remember.

    In my opinion, Corbyn partly has himself to blame. If you are engaged in shuttle diplomacy, and you call both sides friends, that’s common politeness, But was he engaged in shuttle diplomacy? Had he in any way tried to engage with the Israeli government, or called them friends?

    It’s true that UK political leaders use similar language when dealing with Saudi Arabia and other countries with bad human rights records. But their reason is obvious. They believe that the UK, as a trading nation, has to deal with these countries, in order to sustain our economy.

    Jeremy Corbyn didn’t have the same excuse. He might have thought he could afford the damage to his reputation, because, at the time, he was a Labour MP with had no standing within the Labour parliamentary party. Maybe his only motivation was to build relationships with these people, so he could privately urge them to stop firing rockets at Israeli towns, and join Mahmoud Abbas in trying to make peace.

    But that’s certainly not how most Israelis saw it. And I’m afraid if you use words you know make you sound like a Hamas/Hezbollah sympathiser, it’s a little absurd to be surprised if that’s how your political opponents describe you.

    @Graham Evans (and @Glenn/Tony Dawson)
    Maybe Cameron will sue, but he won’t have time while PM. Besides, whether he sues or not, surely, if we fail to complain now, our case will be far weaker when the Mail do exactly the same thing to a victim we do have sympathy for.

  • Dave Orbison 24th Sep '15 - 9:16am

    @ George I’d refer you to Jenny Tonge’s comments on Corbyn re his aims and sincerity on this matter if you doubt what Corbyn has said himself. She too met with representative of these groups as I understand. As in all violent conflicts there are wrongs on both sides. The only prospect of peace is by talking. It is simply unhelpful attacking those who become actively involved in this humanitarian crisis by labelling them as ‘sympathisers’ etc. It invites people to believe that these people condone the use of violence by any given side. I don’t believe that for a minute. Is it better to sit and watch Coronation St etc. (certainly safer in avoiding criticism) and steer well clear of ‘problematic issues’ where our motives and reputations could be tarnished or misrepresented in the Media? Or should we applaud people who are prepared to get involved in such difficult issues because they care?
    I know of no evidence whatsoever that Corbyn or Tonge would refuse to talk to Israelis. In fact I find it inconceivable. Is there any suggestion that Corbyn and Tonge were encouraging armed struggle? Of course not. The plight of the people in Gaza is horrendous. The Israeli Government have overplayed the anti-Semite card. To be critical of Israeli policy does not make one anti-Semite anymore than criticising Hamas for its use of rockets makes one a mouthpiece for the Israeli Government. To deconstruct the efforts of anyone who is concerned about the humanitarian aspects of conflict, to call into question their integrity because they have the courage to say this is wrong, to reduce the argument to “good vs. bad” achieves absolutely nothing. The more people understand the issues, the more all sides feel they have a voice, the more that encourage open dialogue the better. End violence, respect people’s human rights, jaw-jaw, not war-war is what we should be about. That is all I see in Corbyn, Tonge or for that matter the repeated efforts of successive US presidents efforts in recent years.

  • Graham Evans 24th Sep '15 - 9:40am

    “Maybe Cameron will sue, but he won’t have time while PM. Besides, whether he sues or not, surely, if we fail to complain now, our case will be far weaker when the Mail do exactly the same thing to a victim we do have sympathy for.”
    David Steel regularly sued when he was Liberal leader and had far fewer financial resources than David Cameron. Besides, most people whose reputations are traduced have far less support than the PM is dealing with the issue. I think the fact that he is PM is ultimately just an excuse, and is indicative of the fact that Cameron feels that he can rely on the Murdoch press to defend his case. Few other people are as fortunate. Moreover the experience of others who have turned to the courts to deny accusations of this type is not encouraging since even if piggate turns out to be a fantasy, Cameron’s student days can of course be poured over by the defence. As others have pointed our, people who are rich seem to get away with outrageous behaviour when young; it is the poor who often land up with a criminal record.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Sep '15 - 10:41am

    George Kendall

    I admit it. I laughed at #piggate. But should I have?

    I yawned. Boring. Someone did something silly when they were a teenager? Er, why is that news? I mean is is not like it was something damaging and hurting others, like burning down a precious cactus collection that was someone else’s life’s work to build up …

  • George Kendall 24th Sep '15 - 10:43am

    @Dave Orbison

    I’m afraid I’m no fan of Jenny Tonge either. If you’re a public figure, you have a responsibility to think carefully about what you say, and ensure that it cannot be interpreted as endorsing the bombing of innocent civilians. When she said, she could imagine herself doing the same, maybe that was true. But she should never have said it in public, and having done so, she should have immediately withdrawn the comment.

    In case you weren’t sure, I’m no apologist for Israel. I think that the Israeli state has stolen innocent people’s land, and their actions have often been disproportionate. But it is vital that public figures think through the consequences of what they say in public, and, while she’s a very minor public figure, I think her remarks will have only harmed the peace process.

    Regarding Corbyn, I only just heard this clip, and I’m a bit surprised it hasn’t received more coverage.

    Corbyn’s refusal to condemn the IRA is almost exactly the same form of words that Gerry Adams when asked the same question. Both refuse to condemn, not civilians killed in crossfire, not accidental killing, but the deliberate killing of civilians.

    I can’t understand how Corbyn has got away with portraying himself as a straight-forward man, who answers straightforward questions, considering his response in this radio interview.

    As I said, I’m no fan of Cameron either. But the attack by the Daily Mail, using, as far as we know, a complete fiction, is totally different to the attacks on Corbyn. The two are not equivalent.

  • Dave Orbison 24th Sep '15 - 4:43pm

    George I listened to it. He condemned violence on all sides. Yes, the interviewer wanted him to say a certain phrase as the interviewer had an agenda. This is common with most interviews, an attempt to pin Corbyn with some sort of embarrassing headline rather than any genuine interest in what took place and why. Isn’t this par for the course with most political interviews? You pick out of the interview what you want by all means. But rather than condemn Corbyn for what he did not say, just to be clear, was there anything, I mean anything, including the unqualified condemnation of violence, that you disagree with?

  • George Kendall 24th Sep '15 - 9:01pm

    @Dave Orbison “He condemned violence on all sides”

    Gerry Adams used almost the exact same words. He had the excuse that he was a leader of the IRA, and was trying to bring it into a peace process. Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have that excuse.

    People who put bombs in civilian areas, which sometimes killed lots of people, are doing something which is totally wrong.

    The police and army are different. The police are trying to enforce the law. The army to prevent armed paramilitaries from destroying civic society. Of course the police and army had some bad people in them, sometimes some of the leadership of the police and army collaborated with paramilitaries, which was unacceptable. But that’s different from an organisation that systematically terrorised people with kneecappings and assassinations.

    How would the following have generated a bad headline?

    “Yes, I do condemn the paramilitaries on both sides who planted bombs in civilian areas, and who terrorised ordinary people with the threat of kneecappings and murder.
    There were times when members of the army killed innocent people. But I acknowledge that while some of them killed illegally and deliberately, many of those killings were simple mistakes – people caught in crossfire, or soldiers losing control when under immense strain. Deliberate murder is different.”

    A statement like that would have reassured me. That he repeatedly refused to say something equivalent is significant. Sometimes what you don’t say speaks louder than what you do.

  • George Kendall wrote:

    “Deliberate murder is different.”

    “Deliberate murder” is tautology. All murder is deliberate. The mens rea is an intention to kill or cause serious injury, or to foresee death or serious injury as a virtual certainty.

    Having got that bit of pedantry out of the way, let’s take a look at Mr Corbyn’s past role as an apologist for the violence meted out by Sinn Fein-IRA.

    Democrats (and Mr Corbyn claims to be a democratic socialist) believe in self-determination and fair elections. However, Sinn Fein-IRA was deeply opposed to both. They rejected the right of the people of Northern Ireland to self-determination. Their objective was to force the people of Northern Ireland into an all-Ireland military dictatorship ruled, not by Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, but by Sinn Fein-IRA. As for fair elections, Sinn Fein-IRA was notorious for its use of intimidation and mass voter fraud as tools for winning elections. And it is worth pointing out that, in opposition to Sinn Fein-IRA’s claim to be the protectors of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, many of its victims were and continue to be Roman Catholics, who have to put up with Sinn Fein-IRA “policing” their streets and controlling their lives on a daily basis.

    It is Mr Corbyn’s ambivalence towards Sinn Fein-IRA that makes me regard him as a political pariah. He may be committed to some kind of watered-down socialism, but cannot be regarded as a democrat and a believer in civilised politics.

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