A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the Local Government Awards hosted by the Municipal Journal. The event was well-organised, very enjoyable, and the hosts kind enough to say that my speech had been the best they had had.
A day or so later the Londoner’s Diary in the Evening Standard reported that I had failed to address issues of local government (not true) and that I had been heckled when pointing out that Michael Gove seemed allergic to praising State comprehensive schools.
Now on the scale of things, not a big story and not a big deal. However, Mike Burton, the editor of the MJ, was moved (not by me, before you ask) to write to The Standard to point out that they had been very happy with the speech and also that the heckling had been by one person only, and that the said person was Harry Phibbs, once a far-right young Tory and now a Tory councillor and contributor to the … Londoner’s Diary.
Once it became apparent Mr Burton’s letter was not going to be published, he sent it to me. Then by one of those strange coincidences the Standard asked me to write the diary for their magazine. 800 words of whatever I fancied. I did so, and included at the bottom the following paragraph … ‘The Standard’s Londoner’s Diary recently reported that I was heckled during a speech I made to the Municipal Journal’s Local Government Awards. The MJ editor has written to the paper explaining that the sole heckle came from Tory frother Harry Phibbs who writes for the, er, Londoner’s Diary. Journalist makes his own news shock. The letter hasn’t been published so thanks for the opportunity to point this out.’
You can read my diary, as published yesterday, here … and guess what, you won’t read anything about Mr Phibbs or the MJ dinner. The paragraph was dropped without consultation. As I have been saying for many years, the papers love giving it out, but they’re not so good at taking it. It is one of the reasons they are in such a mess now.
Now to the rather more serious matter of Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the second piece of dishonest journalism I wish to report to you, from a source familiar with such a concept, namely Andrew Gilligan.
Helped by his frequent appearances on a non-challenging (to him at least) broadcast media, he has been busy parading himself as champion of a free press and peddling the view that his story about Iraq and WMD was ‘right’. His story was that we – and specifically I – had inserted false intelligence into the WMD dossier Tony Blair presented to Parliament, knowing it to be untrue, and against the wishes of the intelligence agencies. Every single part of that story was false, and remains so now.
He was condemned by both MPs and by the Hutton Inquiry, and rightly so. Indeed Lord Hutton pointed out that even if it transpired there were no WMD found, the allegations Gilligan made remained false. Before he is allowed back into a TV studio, I suggest interviewers go back and read Gilligan’s evidence to select committees and to Lord Hutton, and also read their conclusions, and then perhaps desist from being rolled over in his dishonest rewriting of history.
Meanwhile, as members of the DCMS select committee get ready for their quizzing of the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks, I hope they are not forgetting the importance of making sure that the debate on standards and practices is not restricted to News International.
It is remarkable how little focus there has been on the Mail and the Information Commissioner’s report on the trade in illegally obtained information via a network of journalists, police officers and private detectives. Louise Mensch, Tory MP, your time is coming.