Sad news for rodent-faced wretches in malodorous raincoats: the newspapers won’t be needing you to rummage through politicians’ bins any more, and you’re all on zero-hours contracts, effective immediately. After all, what’s the point in paying for pieces of evidence that, however compelling, stink the office out and make your colleagues boak uncontrollably, when you can just come straight out and print a pack of lies?
That seems to sum up the new journalism, spearheaded by the Daily Telegraph, which at least had some self-respect in the old days, when it preached the patronising, po-faced piffle of privileged persons, but now waves its knickers shamelessly above its head as it pimps the agenda of tax-dodging billionaires. It doesn’t even bother checking its stories these days; as long as they don’t bugger up the HSBC share price or the Barclay brothers’ pampered Channel Islands lifestyle, let the presses roll!
Under the malign influence of its Scottish Editor, half-man-half-bog-brush Alan Cochrane, the Telegraph has long been squirting poison about the SNP into its readers’ eyes. No wonder delicate dimwit Anna Soubry quivered as if she’d had an ice lolly shoved down her front when Andrew Marr plonked her on a sofa alongside the terrifying Alex Salmond.
So how the Telegraph’s collective bile duct must have sizzled with anxiety at the prospect of Thursday’s Media City Mega-Hustings! Nicola Sturgeon, fresh from rockin’ the SECC and making the other parties’ conferences look like they’d taken place in broom cupboards, was about to introduce herself to the British public. The fiction of Salmond as the bogey-man, still secretly in charge with a jelly-baby version of Ed Miliband in his pocket, looked set to be ripped apart like a paper hanky in the wash.
But if surgin’ Sturgeon’s emergin’, you can be sure a Project Fear smear’s near. The carefully-chosen agent was Graeme Archer, a hitherto unregarded widget in the Telegraph’s hyper-bollocks machine, who’d had an Ayrshire upbringing uncannily similar to Nicola’s, except that it had left him with a cultural cringe beyond the help of even the sturdiest crowbar.
In an argument of brain-frazzling absurdity, Graeme portrayed West Sound Radio news and adverts as nannying, Scotland under the SNP as a state-run gulag and, consequently, Nicola as “the most dangerous woman in politics”. You’d have thought she was about to roar on stage astride a motorbike, hurl a phial of anthrax into the audience, lamp her opponents with a shovel and hold Julie Etchingham hostage until proclaimed Empress of the Universe.
As the world now knows, the result of the debate was “no clear winner”, roughly translatable as “Bugger! Nicola won everyone over, let’s pretend it didn’t happen”. But, with voters in England busily Googling how they could vote SNP, the cat wasn’t merely out of the bag, it was performing cartwheels interspersed with V-signs. Across Britain, as the prospect of a bloc of SNP MPs standing up for their constituents loomed, clock towers began to collapse and rumours of a honey-for-tea shortage circulated.
Once again the criminally lax journalistic standards of the Telegraph came to the Establishment’s rescue. With timing that’s in no way clumsy or suspicious, as long as you regularly drill holes in your head and fill them with custard, an explosive memo had reached the desk of Simon Johnson, the Telegraph’s Scottish Political Editor. Perhaps a thieving magpie had swiped it off a desk at the Scottish Office, or a mysterious wind had blown it capriciously across London, or it had been accidentally e-mailed thanks to a security loophole in the government’s antique Windows XP system. It’s none of our business, really, which is why the information will be redacted when the enquiry reports in 70 years’ time after everyone involved is dead.
Anyway, the memo was one person’s uncertain recollection of what another person said he had heard in a conversation between two other people a few weeks previously. By Zinoviev Letter standards, that isn’t even a picture of someone’s willy scrawled on a postcard. All the Telegraph had to do to determine its reliability was speak to any of the three participants in the original conversation. Instead, they obtained unchallenged “SNP bad” quotes from Jim Murphy and Willie Rennie, who presumably just happened to be standing there at the time, emblazoned the story on their front page and got straight on the blower to the BBC.
Well, unless you’ve been voyaging on the dark side of the moon, you all know what happened next. The French Ambassador, the Consul General and Nicola herself all denied that she'd said anything like the remarks attributed to her, and - assuming the UK is serious about maintaining diplomatic relations with the rest of the world - that should be totally, unequivocally, piss-off-and-don’t-bother-me-again the end of it. Everybody knows it’s a cack-handed smear and, even if MI6 came up with some illicit recordings purporting to suggest otherwise, we’d just assume it was the BBC’s James Cook putting on funny voices.
But we shouldn’t simply leave it there, should we? This whole episode is shabbier than Worzel Gummidge after a night on the razzle, and there are several organisations whose putrid machinations could do with being illuminated by the taser of truth.
J’accuse the Telegraph, not of slimy propaganda, because we can take that as read, but of total abandonment of journalism in any sense of the word. I’ve done 97 times more fact-checking today than you could be arsed to do with your Scottish Office “bombshell”, and I’m only writing a rib-tickling blog for my social media pals. Why don’t you change the title of your scrofulous little rag to Fantasist Playground Bully Daily and have done with it?
J’accuse the Labour Party, with the honourable exception of Malcolm Chisholm and a few others, of letting blinkered hatred of the SNP drive them to chunter on about today’s allegations long after everybody knew they were total pish. What the hell did Ed Miliband think he was playing at, effectively accusing the French diplomatic corps of lying? Maybe, even if Nicola never said it, he really does feel, deep in a neglected corner of his hard drive, he’s not fit to be Prime Minister?
J’accuse the Lib Dems, in particular Alistair Carmichael, the thinking man’s Rab C Nesbitt, who’s featured in a few of his Telegraph buddy Simon Johnson's SNP-bashing articles and, surprise surprise, bears responsibility for the department that spilled the beans. And how come Willie Rennie, of all people, was in the right place at the right time to provide a quote? You wouldn’t normally trust that bloke to be facing the correct way round at a urinal. I wouldn’t say the whole thing smells, but my olfactory receptors are beginning to consider industrial action.
J’accuse the BBC, who leapt on the initial allegation like a starving man on a tub of Kentucky Fried Chicken and treated the subsequent denials, particularly from the French diplomats, like Kevin the Teenager contemplating a spot of room-tidying. Some reports were so weasel-worded they should have come with half a pound of tuppenny rice. And as for James Cook and his high-pitched “Och, but it’s what you all think, isn’t it?” questioning of Nicola in George Square: spare us the boyish butter-wouldn’t-melt cuteness, son, you’re getting a yellow card.
J’accuse the Civil Service of outrageous politically-motivated fiddling. If the memo’s wrong, do you intend to drug-test your staff more effectively in future or just start entering them for the Booker Prize? Even if, against all reason, it’s correct, why was it leaked? Is driving a double-decker bus through the Official Secrets Act acceptable in this case, because you regard certain democratic choices as against the “national interest”? Would you like to tell the electorate of England, Wales and Northern Ireland what parties you’d rather they didn’t vote for?
Finally, j’accuse anyone who thinks this sort of crap is acceptable, or unimportant in the context of the Big Picture, or worth putting up with because the Union is such a beacon of fan-dabby-doziness, of criminal complacency. The democracy-subverting bastards who are engineering all this behind the curtain may have their hands full with us the moment, but rest assured they’ll be yanking your chain soon.
And you probably won’t even notice until it’s too late.