Andrew Gilligan, it should not be forgotten, once saw better days. Thirteen years ago, the BBC reporter’s role in making clear that the Blair administration purposely sexed up the first of the two dossiers advanced in fraudulent justification for the invasion of Iraq should rightly have won him every journalistic prize going, not to mention the plaudits of the entire left.
Predictably, the New Labour machine responded with all the brutal fury it alone could muster. ‘Scuse French if I quote verbatim the party’s then director of communications Alastair Campbell, a thuggish adversary with rather better claim to the epithet “Stalinist” than the incumbent, who openly averred his determination to “fuck Gilligan”.
Fuck Gilligan Campbell proceeded to do, and fuck him most royally, come to that. For the crime of reporting a story that was pretty much on the money, Andrew lost his job, and was subject to some spectacularly salacious innuendo about his solitary sexual practices in Private Eye. For many years, his name was unfairly upheld as synonymous with sloppy journalism. All that, of course, was in 2003, and the years immediately thereafter.
Fast forward to the current decade, and he has now sadly re-emerged as specialist in churning out meretricious ostensible exposés of Labour activists for the benefit of politically prurient Telegraph readers. He’s hardly Britain’s sole purveyor of vindictive high-octane Corbynista bashing. Far from it. But the regularity of his broadsides do make him stand out, even at a time when socialists are being exposed to a level of vituperation unprecedented since the heyday of Bennism.
In the 1980s, the victims were the likes of Joan Twelves and Greg Tucker, Linda Bellos, Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Derek Hatton, Mandy Mudd, Pat Wall and the man the Sunday Express (27 October 1981) memorably branded “IRA-loving, poof loving” Ken Livingstone.
Some of those at the sharp end were friends of mine then, and some of those who have not subsequently passed away I am glad to call friends still. Today, it seems only the names have changed.
Andrew Fisher, James Schneider, Christine Shawcroft, Simon Hewitt, Michael Chessum, Frankie Leach, Louise Whittle, Marshajane Thompson, Jackie Walker and Jill Mountford, to name but a few, have all been hung out to dry by sections of the right-wing mass media. Spent convictions — and shamefully, even the criminal records of people’s parents — are plastered all over the public prints. Past political follies and asinine Tweets are relentlessly brought to light. If there is no dirt, what the heck, these guys are fair game to be named and shamed anyway.
This sort of treatment comes with consequences. Most obviously, job prospects may suffer. There will be strains in family life. And I know for a fact that some comrades that hit the headlines in the 1980s paid a price in terms of their mental health, and it wouldn’t surprise me were that to recur this time round.
Let us be clear, nobody has been caught red-handed running Kalashnikovs for Islamic State, or dangling kittens over bunsen burners as sweet little Sunday School kiddies look on aghast. The targets for Gilligan’s venom have done no more than to engage in the democratic process, and given up more Saturdays to sit in committee meetings than anybody reasonably should. Gilligan’s latest epic appears under the headline ‘The radical hard-left Momentum activists mounting a ruthless purge of Labour’. Purge? My, how wonderfully evocative of the USSR in the 1930s that term is, and entirely deliberately, of course. But Momentum has ‘mounted a purge’ how, exactly? Since Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership last September, not one single MP has been deselected, and, to the best of my knowledge, not one single party member has been expelled on ideological grounds.
If some MPs are not chosen again as candidates in 2020, that will be through the mechanism of trigger ballots rather than the mechanism of triggers. No-one will be shot in the back of the neck and the family presented with the bill for the bullet. Old uncle Lavrentiy Beria would no doubt be thoroughly ashamed of those of us now branded his spiritual children for wimping out, but hey, that’s the way it is with the new kinder, gentler politics. We’re just too damn nice to our opponents.
The suggestion in the subhead that ‘the identities and backgrounds of those controlling Momentum can be revealed for the first time’ is equally daft. Anyone could readily have ascertained the identities and backgrounds of everyone mentioned via an expedient no more strenuous than entering their names into Google.
Of course, people who engage in politics at any level should be subject to scrutiny. But repeated corrosive attacks in mass circulation newspapers, with no means of redress, raises the obvious question of just who is being bullied here. Clue: it isn’t hapless Blairite MPs. I’m not one of those lefties who makes counterproductive calls for state intrusion in what still counts as a free press, even in broadsheets owned by tax exiles with their own private Channel Island. Vindication will come through the success of the Labour left project, if it comes at all. But Andrew — a guy I used to know well enough to be on first name terms — really needs to rethink this tawdry little vendetta and recall that the best traditions of the investigative journalism in which he once excelled do not run to kicking seven shades out of the defenceless. It’s all a long way down from rocking governments, isn’t it, mate?