A big boo to the bully BlairBy Michael Ancram
I FIND TOTALLY amazing the strange reluctance in the Tory leadership stakes to take on Tony Blair. Whatever the focus-group-led excuse, it is now feeding the popular suspicion that politics is a cosy conspiracy in which we are complicit. I was recently accosted with the accusation that we no longer even have the bottle to say boo to a goose!
To a goose, yes. But apparently not Tony Blair. What on earth has got into us? The general election may not have changed the Government — but neither did it change the truth, and we should say so.
Tony Blair has done more to undermine the values of our country, to destroy its institutions and to emasculate its democracy and civil liberties than any prime minister before.
It’s high time to say boo to his goose. We must wake up to the half-truths and deceptions of spin that have poisoned the well of public integrity. We must wake up to the growing power of private money to buy government favours; to the gamey whiff of corruption at the very heart of this Government itself; to the dangerous politicisation of our once proudly independent civil service. We must wake up to this brave new Labour world where criticism is met with character assassination and moral blackmail. All this is profoundly wrong and we should say so.
Nor should we stay silent when political correctness gnaws away at so many of the freedoms that we cherish — not least the freedom of speech.
Our system of government, rooted as it is in interdependent checks and balances and a ethos of genuine public service, has long been our defence against the naked pursuit of power for its own sake. Today it is being dismantled bit by bit.
All that it takes for authoritarian government to become entrenched is for oppositions to remain silent. Freedom is fragile and easily uprooted by contempt for our standards and our sense of right and wrong.
Freedom withers in a society where criticism of government is treated as national disloyalty, and where bureaucracy has become the supine servant of Labour’s agenda. Freedom dies in a society where the bully reigns because no one is prepared to stand up to him.
We must stand up to the bully and be counted. And if that means aggressively attacking Tony Blair, far from shrinking away from it we need a leader to lead it.
Where is that leader?
Malicious? That really is a jokeBy Roy Hattersley
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS. Yesterday a wise editorial in this paper urged the Chairman of the BBC to read the transcript of John Humphrys’ speech to the Communication Directors’ Forum, chuckle and move on to more serious matters. Yet it was The Times that turned Humphrys’ remunerative moonlighting into a cause célèbre by publishing his so-called jokes about politicians. So why has a flippant speech, made in June, caused such a fuss in September?
The answer is depressingly obvious. Politics is about to get back into full swing and some ministers — or their satraps — decided, in the patois of football supporters, “to get their retaliation in first”.
Today’s combative presenter has become an obsession with new Labour. One official complaint to the BBC referred to what it called “the John Humphrys problem”. The problem is his habit of asking awkward questions. Sensible politicians respond to rough interviewers in kind — or decide that the public will admire them more for accepting the aggression with good humour. They do not, in a free society, attempt to emasculate their tormentors with the smear that a couple of feeble attempts at humour has put their impartiality in doubt. And that is what has happened to John Humphrys.
The accusation is absurd. I heard Humphrys’ “party piece” a month after he repeated it aboard the good ship Oriana. He made the same “jokes” at the Buxton Festival. They were certainly stale. The question “Why do people take an instant dislike . . . ?” has been asked about a dozen politicians with the invariable answer that it “saves time”. Some of the jokes were insensitive. But the claim that Humphrys was malicious is absurd. The malice lies in the allegation.
Humphrys is the one survivor of the most inglorious episode in the BBC’s recent history — the grovelling apology for the suggestion that the Government had “sexed up” its report on the threat from Saddam Hussein and the consequent removal of the chairman and director-general. Someone, somewhere wants to make a clean sweep. c Strange though it may seem, Humphrys is an easy target. He is not a man who inspires sympathy. But he is the sort of journalist who is essential to a free society. The Chairman of the BBC must know that to be true. He should not waste his time on a speech of no consequence.
Humphrys spoke the truth: that's why Labour got itself in a spinBy Boris Johnson (Filed: 08/09/2005)
You know I sometimes wonder what kind of country we really are. We think of ourselves as a happy jabbering bazaar of free speech. Yet when a notoriously cantankerous broadcaster utters the round unvarnished truth, he receives a rebuke from the top of the BBC that is so sinister, and so plainly the result of internal wrangling, that it can have been inspired only by the Labour Government itself.
What was so "misguided and inappropriate" in the remarks of John Humphrys? There is nothing controversial in saying that Gordon Brown is on the dull side in debate. The Chancellor prides himself on his dullness. If anything, Humphrys was too mild. Most of us who have endured Gord's Budget speeches would happily pay Humphrys's exorbitant after-dinner rate not to hear another word from the man, and as for the suggestion that John Prescott is difficult to understand, it is as blindingly uncontroversial as saying that Tony Blair has a simpering grin.
What enraged the Labour Party was nothing to do with Brown or Prescott. The reason they are persecuting Humphrys is that they still cannot face the reality that the BBC was right about Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair, and the sexed-up dossier about Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
Every day the Government receives fresh confirmation that the war in Iraq was catastrophically ill-thought-out, and has involved the deaths of tens of thousands of people we were supposed to be liberating. They must live with that. What they cannot abide is the suggestion that it was fought on a lie. They know in their hearts that the casus belli was at least in part based on a witting untruth, in that Downing Street embellished claims about Saddam's weapons, to persuade Labour MPs to support the war, when those claims were a tissue of falsehood, and when they knew that they were stretching the evidence.
Labour ministers hate that fact. They hate it as they hate hell, because they know it illuminates the sick mendacity at the heart of New Labour. They will stop at nothing to prevent the repetition of that truth, and that is why they drove Andrew Gilligan and Greg Dyke out of the BBC, with an unspoken threat to remove the licence fee.
That is why a former Downing Street spin-doctor is now trying, with the assistance of various toadying journalists, to bully Humphrys: because he dared to speak the truth about Campbell, lies and the WMD, and I would be astonished if this was not being done with Labour collusion.
It infuriates me that Humphrys has been "rebuked", in this pompous way, because there are countries all over the world where the sound of Lillibullero still means liberty, and people who still believe in the absolute ability of the BBC to give the world the truth.
Let me give one example. I badly want Turkey to be a member of the European Union. I believe that we in western Europe have a historic choice in the next few years, and that we can be visionary, or we can funk it. We can either turn our backs on the Turks, and declare openly or in code that a Muslim country, no matter how secular, may not be admitted to Europe. Or else we can show courage and leadership and begin the great task of the modern age, effecting a reconciliation between moderate Islam and the West, by bringing one of the largest and most powerful Muslim nations into the EU.
To understand how beneficial this might be for Turkey and Europe, think back to Spain under Franco, or Greece under the colonels. Who can doubt that EU membership was good for those countries and their concepts of democracy and human rights?
So it would be for Turkey. That is why we partisans of Turkish accession have been so disgusted by the decision of the Turkish government to prosecute the country's greatest living novelist, Orhan Pamuk. His crime? He referred in an interview to the killings in Turkey of Kurds and Armenians, both of which have undoubtedly happened in the last century.
Mr Pamuk's figures may be wrong; he may be out by a factor of 10 or 100. But he has a right to say what he believes to be the historical truth. The government of Prime Minister Erdogan has decided that Mr Pamuk - author of such wonderful novels as My Name is Red - must be tried for "insulting the national character", so exposing him to the possibility of three years in prison.
This is a country that wishes to be part of the EU! What is going on? Have we heard the slightest protest from Jack Straw? Is there any kind of initiative from the Foreign Office? Has anybody bothered to ask Mr Blair what he thinks of this blatant repression of freedom of expression?
The only sign of life from Labour has been from the maverick former Europe minister, Denis MacShane, who was himself whacked by Blair for being too free in speaking his mind.
MacShane is going to the trial of Orhan Pamuk in Turkey, and anyone who cares about freedom, democracy, and the future of Europe should be encouraged to do the same.
But what kind of authority does poor Denis carry in this matter? He will arrive in Turkey as the representative of a governing party that not only bullies the BBC for speaking the truth about the conditions under which Britain went to war. Denis and his Labour colleagues have just voted for the religious hatred Bill - possibly the most serious erosion of free speech introduced by any government since 1945.
Britain still has a global reputation - based largely on the BBC - as the home of free speech. Across the world, and especially the Islamic world, it is more vital than ever that an increasingly cynical audience should believe in the freedom of BBC journalists. That, above all, is why the bullying of Humphrys is so creepy and so wrong.
Boris Johnson is MP for Henley and editor of The Spectator