Archive for August, 2003
“Yep, a soldier walked into what I assume to the main EFI, saying he was buying cigarrettes for his unit, appro 50,000 or 250 packets! And promptly cleared out the EFI of stock and then left the country!”
Who cares about terrorists with these little sweethearts about?
I’m sure we’ll all be so happy to know that the chief executive of BSkyB, Tony Ball, doesn’t like the BBC. After his rant about it to the Edinburgh TV festival, that was clear enough. But the real question is why it was news. After all, Mr. Ball is something like Rupert Murdoch’s incarnation on earth, or at least in Britain. It is only to be expected that a Murdoch minion would use his moment in the spotlight to hammer and blast at public broadcasting. The language and culture of Ball’s speech was familiar. It was all about choice and freedom and value-for-money, nice meaningless words that tend to end up meaning their opposites. Because if Murdoch stands for anything, it is the combination of economic liberalism in words with monopoly in deeds. This has been one of the great themes of our time, of course, as the powerful have spent the last 30 or so years attempting to make the world look like the assumptions of classical economics. Had all the standard assumptions – that members of a market have no power to influence it, that we have perfect knowledge, that products are homeogenous and unbranded, no barriers to entry or exit – borne any relation to reality, it might all have worked. But, of course, they don’t – people are crossgrained and frequently irrational, branding has never been more pronounced, and monopoly power has rarely been as ruthless. Rupert has spent his career decrying any restriction on the freedom to trade, demanding the destruction of public broadcasters, regulations and the like – but only so as to then re-erect the barriers.
The classic example was of course football. With the aid of massive cross-subsidy, Sky bought up the rights to all the sporting events anyone cared about, all the while hyping it to the sky (where else?) – then, once a fairly large number of dishes had been sold, began to up prices and shift ever more content across channels, moving from the packages sold with the dish to ever-pricier extras. That is to say, “competition” had consisted only of the creation of a monopoly and the construction of a never-ending succession of toll booths on the road to Wembley. The same landgrabber’s approach is visible throughout the Sky empire. Get a monopoly. Loss lead. Then turn on the screws. Mr. Ball’s Big Idea is apparently that the BBC and Channel 4 should be forced (someone always seems to get forced) to sell all their decent programmes at the end of each year. As ITV is apparently on its last legs, and Channel 5 will soon be for sale to Rupes once the Comms Bill goes through, it’s clear who would buy them. It’s also clear, given the compulsion of the BBC to sell and the utter lack of other buyers, that Sky will get them for peanuts. So – public money creates, Sky profits. If you want to see the next series of Spooks, you’ll have to cough up. Free money for Murdoch, and the perfect foundation for a later declaration that the BBC “isn’t working”, doesn’t get the ratings, should be “modernised”.
This should not be underestimated. Should Blair survive this autumn, we can expect a government revenge campaign against the BBC. Charter renewal will be used to force pro-Murdoch conditions on the corporation. Intensive and tiresome propaganda cheerleading in the rightwing press can only be dreaded. The question is the model of the attack – will it be Railtrackisation (some form of deliberately unworkable public-private pissup), Royal Mailing (regulatory and financial bullying “to prepare for competition”, making operations impossible) or industry-ing (mass layoffs, closures, piecemeal sellout – the nuclear option)? My money at the moment would be Mailing – if you should hear that Ofcom will “regulate” the BBC, watch out!
I recently looked at the collected Steve Bell cartoons for 1987, and I was horribly struck by the fact that they seemed quite right for this week. A British prime minister of utter dishonesty but given to fits of emetic moralising over trifles, an imbecile US President high on war and goddery (“Yes! I was a martyr to my Twinkie habit until I discovered Moral Majoridy…..Now my head is clear of chemical junk and FULL of DANGEROUS RIGHTWING CHRISTIAN HORSESHIT!”), a general sense of impending doom, a government bent on building as many motorways as fast as possible…it’s like I hallucinated all my life since ’87 and time has been standing still. Was anybody else as depressed as I was by the decision to widen the M25? Roadbuilding was so much the hallmark of the rotten grimgrey Major years, and the centre of so much of the stewing opposition to them. This was a government that was obsessed with pouring concrete over the most beautiful parts of the country so that philistines could sweat in more traffic jams on their way to stack up more debt in giant US-owned shopping malls, whose answer to anyone who didn’t like it was to pass a law that tried to ban a particular kind of music and march up a thousand cops, and who compared themselves to the Romans whilst they were at it. No wonder they seemed like mutants. And now wonder it felt like such a victory when Blair shitcanned their roads programme in 1997. Now here we are – back to square one, with mobile phones, Dubya, debt and not much else. Everything keeps happening again and it’s worse every time!
One factor that might save us, though, is the class question. Destroying the railways was one thing, but there the people involved were mostly oh-so-unsexy, unreconstructed, male working-class strivers. Fresh meat for the market state. The BBC, however, has been something like the Church was in the 19th century – the career of choice for the younger sons and daughters of the educated middle classes, absorbing great swathes of recent graduates every year and positively dripping with public respect. British politicians since Gladstone (“an insular country subject to fogs and with a powerful middle class”) have rarely come away from a row with the suburbs with all their limbs. Tackle the BBC again? Now that’s gonna hurt.
Oh Christ…”Dr David Kelly told a UK diplomat he would probably be “found dead in the woods” if the UK invaded Iraq, the Hutton inquiry has heard.”
It gets worse.
“Mr Broucher said the remark was made after Dr Kelly had explained to him that he had assured senior Iraqi officials that if they cooperated with United Nations weapons inspections they would have nothing to fear.
“The implication was that if the invasion went ahead, that would make him a liar and he would have betrayed his contacts, some of whom might be killed as a direct result of his actions,” he said.
“I asked him what would happen then. He replied, in a throwaway line, he would probably be found dead in the woods.”
Mr Broucher said he had thought Dr Kelly was talking about possible Iraqi vengeance.
“I now see that he may have been thinking on rather different lines,” he added.”
Indeed he may. (BTW, wasn’t it Freudian that Tuesday’s mistress of state morality said he’d been killed?)
I naturally tried to get in to the inquiry for Campbell’s turn on the grill. I even got up earlier and got to the Royal Courts of Justice just under an hour earlier than on Monday. It didn’t help – a queue of around 160 people had gathered. I recalled that 40 tickets were available. Obviously, my dear blog, I would have to jump the queue. Aiming at some Mancs near the front, I engaged them in conversation. Simple hustling, no? Get into their group and slide in behind them once the queue began to move. Yes. Things were going well, when a fat busybody ahead of us began to show signs of activity. It was a porker, embarrassingly male, belly bulging out of a ridiculous blue-and-white striped sports jacket’n'slacks – huge scowl, heart-attack red with weeks of sun and gin. Curiously, a pin bearing the sign of the CIA was visible in his lapel. The shade of red darkened and turkeyish sounds were audible. He is looking at me…definitely..what a bore!
“Bray bwah jumping the queue!” I said – “Yes.” Hoping to brazen it out. He addressed the general public – “He won’t get in yaknow – I’ll see to it that you don’t get in the first ten!”
“Can I ask you why you’re wearing a CIA badge?” I stalled. “Indeeed youth may”.
“I just have, 007.”
“None of your bishness!”
Kiboshed. So I queued. Naturally, when I reached the front of the queue, no tickets. But at least there had been some entertainment…I was behind a pathologically neat woman who looked like Miss Moneypenny’s boss, to take the James Bond theme a little further before hurling it behind a convenient hedge. We spoke of news websites, and blogging. That wasn’t too bad, but then we had to get on to the matter at hand. And this was that terrible moment when an otherwise simpatico person suddenly opens up and reveals the terrible leathery fangs, green saliva, obscene stench, Jewish conspiracy hobby…all that good stuff.
She began by declaring that “I heard you use the word rational..well I think the public’s reaction to this has been very irrational and emotional. It’s Diarna (that was how she pronounced it) all over again!” I remarked that this was rather more serious. “Oh, I quite agree. But what people will not understand is that Kelly was killed (eh?) because he lied! He said one thing to his chaps, and another thing to this – journalist.” (To get the sense of this remark, replace “journalist” with “smallpox” or “rat” or “paedophile” or “Nazi”.)
“You see, he showed no loyalty. Loyalty!” At this point I endeavoured to point out that perhaps a conflict existed for Kelly between conscience and loyalty, but she was building up a dangerous head of pomposity….”Nobody is at all loyal these days, and if there is no loyalty to authority then there is no morality at all. These 18-30s ransacking through Greece! And this drugtaking!”
I felt my gob gaping at this remarkable statement. Loyalty to Authority indeed! “I can’t really see my way to considering “my country right or wrong”, or worse “my government right or wrong”, to be a particularly moral statement – after all some of the worst crimes and errors in history have been committed just like that..” But this wasn’t going to deny her – “If he had any concern, he should have confided in his line manager – instead of … whispering to this journalist!” (rat, smallpox, nazi – you get the picture)” The previous days, I thought, had shown exactly how much confidence Dr. Kelly could have had in his line manager. She erupted – “What are you – 22,23,24? What experience do you have? You’ve never been a civil servant (actually I have)!”
I thought of Frederick the Great’s crack about the two mules in his army that had done forty campaigns, but were still mules, but decided against it. She now turned on a functionary who had appeared to spread the bad news about tickets. But she still didn’t get one. Ha! Later in the day, I attempted to infiltrate through the building and got as far as the stairs outside Courts 72 and 73 before the same functionary nixed me. So, the only option was to wait for returned tickets. There were none, as a messenger from the gods in the form of a policeman revealed to us. But ARD – German television – interviewed me. I failed, you’ll be disappointed to know, to expose a body daubed with this site’s address in fetching dayglo orange or indeed to promote it in any other way.
More seriously, what are we to make of the fact that “Dr Kelly is not asked for example whether he knew about the 45mins allegation being added in late. He is never asked that in interview by the MoD” (James Dingemans QC) which emerged on Monday? Clearly, the facts didn’t matter a damn..
“This was clearly an issue which was being overseen on the presentation side by Alastair Campbell,” said No.10 Official Spokesman Godric Smith of the dossier today. Really? Only yesterday he had nothing to do with it!
So said Ali C in his “not for publication” (you bet?) diary..
BBC NEWS | Politics | Campbell defends dossier role
As promised, I went off to the Inquiry today. And what a day it was.
First of all there was the MoD News Director, Pam Teare, who tried to tell us all that she had only decided to name Dr Kelly for the sake of other civil servants. Yes! It was all just to keep the poor dears out of “the media spotlight”. This remarkable humanitarianism was hardly surprising though, seeing as she had apparently done nothing all the time. Despite being Director, everything seemed to be someone else’s problem. It was Sir Kevin Tebbit. It was chief press officer Kate Wilson. It was Tebbit’s secretary Dominic Wilson. Anyone but her. One of the day’s most telling questions was the one inquiry QCs Dingemans and Knox asked everyone: “Was it not your understanding, therefore, that he did not want to be named in the statements? No-one said anything to you about that?” No. “And you did not ask?” No – she didn’t. Neither did No. 10 Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, apparently think about the “strain and burden that might be imposed on Dr Kelly giving evidence to both the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee” as Dingemans put it. “It was not something that came to us.” was his reply. And the story sounded menacing that way.
In a No.10 meeting held at 0900 on the 7th of July concerning the Foreign Affairs Committee report, a group including all the key men – Omand, Scarlett, Tebbit, Powell, Jack Straw and Tony Blair – discussed Kelly. Sir Kevin Tebbit, it appears, said to Blair that Kelly might “say some uncomfortable things” about Iraq to the FAC. He went to say that he “undertook to find out more about his publicly expressed views”. And Tony Blair “made it clear” that the MoD should be in the lead at all times and that Kelly should be called back from a training course at RAF Honington to face a second departmental grilling. This apparently was the subject of a sinister email sent by Tebbit to Powell that day. One line only: “The interview is at 1600. I am told you will know what that means!” And at some point in the discussion, Jack Straw had cause to mention Kelly’s employment rights. Mr. Powell said nothing to clarify what Straw meant by this. He says he forgot. You can believe that if you wish. Mr. Powell had some other things to explain as well. For example, if No.10 had nothing to do with it – then how did he come to write an email to Alastair Campbell (who naturally had nothing to do with dossiers either!) saying “Firstly, the document does nothing to demonstrate an imminent threat…to his neighbours let alone to the West”!
Another well-known denizen of Downing St who got caught was one Tony Blair – who at “that meeting” asked for a “more forensic” analysis of Kelly, and another interview….