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’

- by Richard Pendle­bury UK News · Conservative Party (UK) · United Kingdom · London · Bank of England · England · The Financial Times Share Index · Laos · Currie · City of Westminster · Whitehall · Senegal · Puerto Rico · Journalism · Tories (British political faction) · Bureau of Investigative Journalism · McAlpine (Alfred) plc · Financial Times · Middleton · Robert Peston · Data Protection Act 1998 · Marjorie Scardino

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.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Influence: The Leve­son team (from left) Ge­orge Jones, Shami Chakrabart­i, David Bell, Lord Jus­tice Leve­son, David Cur­rie, Paul Scott-Lee and Eli­nor Good­man. Above: Com­mon Pur­pose founder Ju­lia Mid­dle­ton
Influence: The Leve­son team (from left) Ge­orge Jones, Shami Chakrabart­i, David Bell, Lord Jus­tice Leve­son, David Cur­rie, Paul Scott-Lee and Eli­nor Good­man. Above: Com­mon Pur­pose founder Ju­lia Mid­dle­ton
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK