Scottish Daily Mail
A coup by the Left ’s old boy network
The Leveson Inquiry has momentous implications for free speech. But this Mail dossier raises disturbing questions about the inf luence of a quasi-masonic nexus of the ‘people who know best’
THIS has been an extraordinary week for the BBC as it tears itself apart over one of the most catastrophic journalistic errors of modern times.
False allegations of paedophilia against an elderly Tory Party grandee have led to the resignation of the Director-General, the possible demise of the flagship Newsnight programme, the paying out of substantial libel damages and, worst of all, perhaps a shattering blow to BBC News’s reputation for integrity.
How could this happen? Why did no one carry out ‘basic journalistic checking’ of facts? Why weren’t those ‘facts’ put to the other side — the first rule of journalism?
We don’t know, but we do know that behind this farrago is the work of a self-regarding body which calls itself the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), the organisation that took their ‘McAlpine exclusive’ to the BBC and whose managing editor resigned after gleefully tweeting about being ready to out a politician who was a paedophile.
In its recent submission to the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, the BIJ declared that its ‘output and editorial processes’ would ‘be a masterclass, a gold standard f or evidence- based journalism … journalism of an outstanding kind.’
To describe this as hubris would be an understatement.
And at the centre of the story is an obscure but immensely well-connected member of Britain’s liberal Establishment, Sir David Bell, one of five BIJ trustees.
As we shall see in this Special Mail Investigation, Bell’s campaign, which began almost a decade ago, to control Britain raucous popular press and, in the process, promote what he regards as ethical j ournalism, has had momentous consequences. ONE evening in January 2005 at the central London headquarters of Pearson Group — owner of the Financial Times — an extraordinary working dinner took place.
The host was Julia Middleton, a friend of David Bell’s and a brilliant networker, and the guests were a select group, drawn from the NewLabour-era Establishment. We know this thanks to an account of the event written for the left-ofcentre New Statesman magazine by one of the attendees, the financial journalist Robert Peston, now the BBC’s Business Editor.
Peston described ‘a debate on media standards — with two editors, another BBC executive, an investment banker, a Bank of England luminary, academics and a bishop, inter alia — (which) was more practical than most. We’d been summoned to dinner … by Julia Middleton, the unrecognised toiler for t he rehabilitation of the concerned, engaged citizen.
‘One of Middleton’s great skills is to persuade police constables, youth group organisers, permanent secretaries, FTSE chief executives and head teachers that they can learn from each other and could even cure some of society’s ills. However, almost all her meetings end up with a collective wail about the irresponsibility and excessive power of the media.
‘So she herded us into Pearson’s artdeco palace on the Strand in the hope that we could find an answer or two. Something may come of the proposals that were offered. Meanwhile, the discovery of the evening for me was that Pearson’s executive washroom is unisex, a la Ally McBeal. What is Marjorie Scardino, Pearson’s personable chief executive, thinking of?’
Peston was unnervingly prescient about one thing.
Something has come of that soiree seven years ago.
That something is the Leveson Inquiry into Britain’s beleaguered newspaper industry. Its conclusions, which are to be published imminently, could have huge implications for a press that has been free of government control for 300 years, and for freedom of speech itself. SIR DAVID BELL’S certainly a very busy bee. A greying, dishevelled figure in an ill-fitting suit, he appears to have been by far the most assiduous of the six ‘assessors’ appointed by the government to advise Lord Justice Leveson and his Inquiry.
Bell is an ideological bedmate of the aforesaid Julia Middleton — another very busy bee who has been described as the best-connected woman you’ve never heard of.
But while some of the Leveson assessors have patchy attendance records at the Inquiry, Sir David — whose unbridled eagerness to join the judge in his private rooms when the sittings rise has been remarked upon by observers — seems to have barely missed a day of the public hearings that began almost a year ago.
Public-spirited you may say. Except that an investigation by the Daily Mail raises serious questions about the suitability of Bell as an assessor and the impact this may have had on the objectivity and neutrality of the Inquiry itself.
BELL is a trustee and a former chairman of a leadership training organisation called Common Purpose, whose thousands of ‘graduates’ have been described as the ‘Left’s answer to the old boys’ network.’ (though not all share the same political views). Their identities are well protected.
FOUNDED by Ms Middleton and registered as a charity, Common Purpose boasts a ‘considerable reach’ throughout senior positions in public life. Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money have been spent on sending public servants on its courses.
THREE of the six Leveson assessors have Common Purpose connections, either through direct participation or through senior colleagues within the organisations they lead or have led.
BELL and Middleton set up the Media Standards Trust, a lobby group which presented a huge amount of evidence to the Inquiry. The Media Standards Trust, whose chairman was Bell, gave its ‘prestigious’ Orwell Prize for political writing to a journalist who turned out to have made up parts of his ‘award-winning’ articles.
THE Media Standards Trust established Hacked Off, the virulently antipopular-press campaign group which has boasted of its role in significantly increasing the Inquiry’s terms of ref- erence. The Media Standards Trust shared the same headquarters address as Common Purpose. It then shared an address with Hacked Off, whose funding it controlled.
MANY of those who provided the most hostile anti-press evidence to Leveson are linked to senior figures at the Media Standards Trust and Hacked Off.
THE Media Standards Trust has strong links with Ofcom, the statutory media regulator which, despite its denials, some suspect has ambitions to regulate Britain’s free press. Ofcom’s ex-chairman Lord Currie is a Leveson assessor.
MUCH of the financing of the Media Standards Trust comes from a charity of which Bell is a trustee — a practice that, while legal, would seem to many to be inappropriate.
DESPITE being formed by the Media Standards Trust, which is campaigning for ‘transparency and accountability in the news’, Hacked Off refuses to make explicit the sources of its own funding.
AND, of course, Bell is a trustee of the now notorious Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has wreaked such damage on the BBC.
Indeed, like some giant octopus, Common Purpose’s tentacles appear to reach into every cranny of the inner sanctums of Westminster, Whitehall and academia — bodies that often view Britain’s unruly, disruptive press with disdain and distrust.
Lord Justice Leveson has already said that he hoped his report would
be based on ‘unanimity’ of thought between him and his half dozen assessors, none of whom have ever worked in the popular press.
It should be stressed that there is absolutely no suggestion that Leveson — who did not choose his assessors — has any connection t o Common Purpose nor t hat he i sn’t a man of integrity who has conducted his inquiry with impartiality.
But imagine the public outcry if it emerged during a criminal trial that half of the jurors, and many of the witnesses, were linked to bodies that had ‘wailed’ about the defendant, against whom they had a powerful shared antipathy.
That is the case with the Leveson Inquiry, as we shall show in this i nvestigation i nto the Bell and Middleton network of influence. We will also be raising questions about their charity’s own behaviour. For we can reveal that …
COMMON PURPOSE almost certainly breached t he Data Protection Act (which guards the confidentiality of digitally stored information), the very charge levelled by the Leveson Inquiry against virtually all newspapers.
COMMON PURPOSE is connected to some of Britain’s most powerful lobby and PR groups, whose influence on British politics has provoked continuing controversy.
COMMON PURPOSE linked figures have a significant influence on t he appointments process in Whitehall. Until last year, Common Purpose’s David Bell sat on the committee that appointed Britain’s ‘Top 200’ civil servants.
As we shall now show, Hacked Off, one of the lobby groups created by Sir David Bell (who stepped down as chairman of the Media Standards Trust only when he was appointed a Leveson assessor) and Julia Middleton’s network played a significant role in creating and shaping the Leveson Inquiry, which will cost the taxpayer almost £6 million.
That is their campaign’s proud boast. And, as we shall see in this investigation, it is hard to dispute. IN JULIA MIDDLETON’S book Beyond Authority, which sets out Common Purpose’s l eadership philosophy, she describes how she was told by a ‘ group of peers’ the way in which to ‘ force’ issues on to the agenda at Westminster.
It required: ‘ A small committed and co- ordinated group of people producing pressure from the outside. Two or three determined fifth columnists on the inside. And the stamina from both groups to keep on and on and on putting them on the agenda until they eventually had to be discussed …’
In another passage she wrote: ‘ I spoke to a friend recently who described how she had set someone up. Using all her charm and flattery, she had drawn him in and then installed him as a convenient useful idiot … My friend’s intention was to get him to produce a report which she knew full well would be a perfect smokescreen for her own activities …
‘Have I ever done this? Yes … it was certainly useful to produce the distraction of creating a subcommittee, led by someone who did not really understand the big picture, to look into an issue in depth, with no timetable, so we could get on with what we saw as important issues.’ IN THE past year, a firestorm has swept British journalism. The initial spark was the Guardian’s revelations that individuals employed by the News of the World had illegally hacked the voicemail messages of mobile phones of hundreds of celebrities and people in the news, including murder victim Milly Dowler.
Phone hacking is illegal. Currently dozens of journalists are under arrest in relation to such offences or making illegal payments to public officials.
But it was the claim that the News of the World had deleted Milly’s phone messages that provoked Prime Minister David Cameron — who against the advice of many had persisted in retaining former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his press spokesman — to set up an inquiry into the British press, led by the respected Lord Justice Leveson.
No matter that the Guardian’s crucial allegation — that the News of the World had deleted voicemails from Milly’s phone which caused her parents to have had false hopes that she was alive — turned out almost certainly not to be true.
By the time that terrible error was revealed last December, the News of the World had been closed and the Inquiry widened to envelop the whole of the British press.
That is the triumph of those who, like Bell, have striven for years towards restraining what they see as the ‘excessive power’ of the British press. Yet, far from representing the ‘general public’ and the ‘people’ — both terms which they frequently appropriate — those people who know best are drawn from a narrow and powerful section of the liberal Establishment that has come into increasing conflict with much of Britain’s newspaper industry.
Significantly, among the leadership of Common Purpose, the Media Standards Trust and Hacked Off, vested interests intertwine. Many, but by no means all, of the most prominent activists are politically left of centre. Some are involved in the quangos that the New Labour project created.
As such, they are representative of a new elite.
Bodies such as the BBC, the London School of Economics and, as noted, Financial Times owner Pearson Group are conspicuously over-represented.
‘Big money’ in the form of senior executives from some multinational banks and financial institutions most culpable in the global financial crisis of 2008 (and the resulting multibillion-pound public bailouts) is also a notable presence.
No friends of the popular press, which has savaged City greed, are these. And at the heart of this matrix stand David Bell and Julia Middleton.
Lib Dem donor and one-time SDP activist Bell is a former chairman of the Financial Times, at the time Fleet Street’s most zealous supporter of the European Union. Bell is also a former director of the FT’s parent company Pearson, which was a financial backer of New Labour.
Mother- of-five Middleton is the founder, chief executive and presiding guru of Common Purpose. She has been described as ‘messianic’ in her crusade to improve standards in corporate and public life.
The question, of course, is why do so many of her soirees end in ‘a collective wail ’about the irresponsibility of the media?
A clue can perhaps be found in a speech made to the LSE in 2004 by Geoff Mulgan, with whom Middleton had founded the New Labour thinktank Demos, described by the Pearson-owned Economist magazine — of which David Bell is still a nonexecutive director — as ‘Britain’s most influential think-tank’.
A Guardian report of the Mulgan speech was headlined ‘ The media’s lies poison our system: The ethic of searching for truth has gone; now there’s just cynicism.’
Mulgan, who with Peter Mandelson was an intellectual founding father of New Labour and later became Blair’s Head of Policy at No 10, thundered:
‘ Problematic, however, is the lack of a strong ethic of searching for the truth in much of the media … For from Europe to migrants, there is a wide gap between what the public believes and the facts … For many [newspapers] it doesn’t much matter whether what they print is true.
‘The net result is that the public are left with systematically incorrect perspectives on the world, on issues ranging from Europe and migrants to
public services … Journalists who used to dine with politicians now dine on them.’
It seemed what really concerned Mulgan — described as ‘the ultimate New Labourite’ — was the conservative press’s antipathy to the EU, mass immigration and incompetent public services.
There can be little doubt that he was referring to newspapers like The Sun, Express, Mail and Telegraph — papers read by the majority. It is they who were the most critical of New Labour’s policies on the EU and mass immigration.
It was they, we can surmise, who provoked Ms Middleton’s wails.